Thursday, May 22, 2008

Atta, boy!

May 21, 2008

H/l: 56-year-old goes back to law school
Intro: Studying law to fight cases free of cost for harassed husbands in city
Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: While other men his age eagerly anticipate the retirement years or enjoy the company of their families, Mohanlal Gupta (56) pores over piles of heavy law books. The former IITian is not studying to add to his skills, but out of a humane necessity to save men and families troubled by scheming wives.

“I am the oldest person in the Siddharth Law College, older even than the principal by 15 days,” laughs Gupta, who spearheads the Mumbai chapter of the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), which has been helping men who are at the receiving end of the deadly Sec 498 (A) of the IPC since 2005. However, Gupta’s merriment disappears when he explains why he gave up his booming consultancy practise and took up studying law.

“My only son was, and continues to be a victim of the extortionist element ingrained in Sec 498 (A),” he says. “His wife left him after just three months of marriage, then demanded monthly maintenance from him. We paid her for 15 months till my son finished his studies, then he filed for divorce. When she realised that he would not meet any more demands, she alleged harassment.”

The dreaded Sec 498 (A) deals with 'Husband or relative or husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.' The case is still on at Mulund court, and Gupta vows that once his studies are over, he will fight his son’s case and put the girl behind bars.

“There are scores of men out there, all like my son, who have horrific tales to tell. When I heard their stories I decided to fight such cases free of cost once I became a lawyer,” he says.

The SIFF members in Mumbai are also part of the Protect Indian Family Foundation (PIFF), which operates three helplines in Mumbai. There are over 5,000 active SIFF members in the country today, with over 175 in Mumbai. “We are handling 100 new calls per month, and will start more helplines to serve every needy person.”

Apart from PIFF taking a rally to Bandra Family court in June, the movement is set to hit TV screens as well. “We are registered with Indian Motion Pictures Association (IMPA) and are working on a teleserial dealing with husbands’ harassment by misusing the laws,” Gupta says.

If your wife and in-laws have slapped Sec 498 (A) on you and you need counselling, call M R Gupta on 9869323538 or B R Gokul on 9821414336. Nationwide helpline numbers are available on

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blog. Blank Noise.

May 20, 2008

H/l: How a blog sparked a national movement
Intro: Blank Noise, a protest against street sexual harassment moved from the streets to cyberspace and became a national movement
Byline: Vrushali Lad
Slug: Fighting street harassment

Mumbai: Jasmeen Patheja was just 18 when she moved from Kolkata to Bengaluru to finish her art studies in 2003. But a few lecherous men gave her the first taste of street sexual harassment on the roads, prompting the gritty undergraduate, alone in an alien city, to fight back.

But she soon discovered that attitudes towards eveteasing were to blame. “There is an underlying feeling that women ‘ask for it’. Men are either protective or they believe that women provoke a reaction from men. Meanwhile, women model themselves in a way as to not to be targeted. Basically, society says that a woman on her own must accept eveteasing,” the 23-year-old fumes.

Undeterred, she started ‘Blank Noise’ in 2003. “It was a shift from silent grousing to dealing with offenders in public places. We had workshops exploring such issues as ‘feeling victimised’ and being a threat to men. But it was still a small-time project,” she says.

Blank Noise would have remained unknown if Patheja had not moved on to the internet in 2005. “I started the Blank Noise blog, and put up pictures of offenders and the many stories of women who had endured or hit back. Suddenly, there was a lot of interest and questions about the project, and the project became a movement that swept across the country.” A 2006 blogathan on the issue elicited even more response from both men and women.

Cut to 2008. The simplicity of the project – anybody anywhere can join and chart their activities – has helped create Blank Noise core teams and yet more teams within, and so much participation that there is no way to map the numbers. All activities, from getting new members to deciding venues and timings of activities are decided on the blog. “We have a huge presence in all the metros and the smaller cities. Recently, there are requests for a Pune chapter,” Patheja explains.

The philosophy of Blank Noise is to help women understand that nobody has the right to intimidate or insult them. The project has empowered many women and men around the country to fight back and do something when placed in humiliating situations.

“When we initiate a project, we arm all the volunteers with whistles, so if any woman gets into a confrontation, all the volunteers assemble on the spot.” The combat philosophy is to stare in the offender’s eyes in silence till he cracks. “Mostly the men either apologise or shuffle away,” Patheja explains.

At the core of the movement, however, is the idea that a victim must heal and confront the experience by sharing it with others. “It is not okay to be sexually harassed on the street. It is not okay to put up with it,” Patheja signs off.

Want a piece of the action?
Log on to and get updates on where the next interaction is happening. The blog will also give info on what constitutes eve teasing and be sure to check the stories of others who are part of the network. If you want to start a chapter in your city or town, contact Jasmeen Patheja on for details.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Part 3: Villagers fight back

Mulshi, Maval ready to take on Tatas


For decades, farmers from Maval and Mulshi talukas have silently watched the far-away Mumbai city thrive by using the energy produced on their land using water in their region. But now with the Tatas proposing yet another dam near Chinchavli that will impound enough water to produce 100 MW of power, the villagers have decided that enough is enough.

They are set to launch an offensive against the Tata move, which is likely to submerge eight villages spread over 14,500 acres, just the way 109 villages had lost over 58,000 acres from 1917 for the six dams built earlier.

In a distant echo from the past, when Senapati Bapat had led the famous Mulshi Satyagraha against the Tata dams, the farmers are again gearing up for a big ?ght.

“We will not let Tatas build the dam,” said Indubai Enpure, sarpanch of Chinchavli and three villages. “We demand free power and water. If not free, power and water must at least be subsidised. We can’t sit and watch a dam being constructed and our people being relocated without something tangible in return,” she said.

“If the Tatas and the authorities try to evict us by force, we will have to resort to other means,” Enpure warned.

Activist and former Bhambarde sarpanch Eknath Dighe said, “The lease granted by the state to the Tatas expires in 2014. By initiating work on a new project, the company thinks it can get the lease extended. We will oppose that until we get a signed agreement accepting our demands.” Maval villagers have pre pared over 1,100 affidavits for submission to a court. The affidavits seek free power and water from the Tatas.

“When resources of an area are used in a project, local citizens have the first right to the output. The tehsildar’s office has no legal documents to show that our lands were acquired and compensation paid.

So our demand for free water and power for 24 hours is justified,” points out Tata Dharan Grast Sangharsh Samiti secretary Niketan Palkar.

Scores of activists like Dighe and Palkar are trying to educate villagers about the dangers of allowing a new dam. “Lack of awareness has allowed outsiders to grab what belongs to us.

Even now, the impression is that it is pointless to fight for what is lost. But we will try to ensure that future generations don’t have to go through what we did,” says Dighe.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Part 2: Mumbai 'farmers' grow money on land

IT'S A RICH MAN'S WORLD Mumbai 'farmers' grow money on land


Given India’s agrarian economy, it is likely that the ancestors of each of us were farmers. But many of Mumbai’s rich and famous have used that fact to prove by default their farmer status and buy forest land.

While actor Amitabh Bachchan’s farmer status raised a controversy after media reports that he had purchased 20 acres of farmland in Pavna village in 2000, it is now known that many more ‘farmers’ hold sizeable land in Maval, Mulshi and Pavna villages.

Thespian Dilip Kumar owns 221 acres in Kurvande village.

He has a bungalow there, complete with water bodies and sprawling lawns. Through his partner Col. Baldev Singh Bhatti (Retd), Dilip Kumar is developing a major portion of the land to build villas for sale.

Col. Bhatti told Sakaal Times, “The land was purchased in 1981, and the house built shortly thereafter. Most of it is grassland, some of it being of semi-agricultural variety. Dilipsaab had produced his farmer documents at the time of purchasing it. “ Talathi Kalbhor said, “ Dilip Kumar’s documents showed that his family was into farming in Peshawar (now Pakistan).” In Kurvande village is actor Kanwaljeet Singh’s sprawling home. Further down the road are several more lush bungalows belonging to film personalities and businessmen.

People objecting to tower blocks in Mumbai on forestland have obviously not visited Mulshi. Levelling of hills and cutting down of trees are rampant here to make way for private housing or vacation resorts. The construction industry is booming in many villages. Most of the owners are from Mumbai.

Pavna taluka is simmering because of an unusual type of land acquisition. Over 1,000 acres of semi-agricultural surplus land was leased to private parties after 1995 for irrigation purposes, although, according to a 1978 policy decision of the State, unused surplus land should be returned to the farmers. “However, according to a 1995 Supreme Court order in a case from Kerala, there is no need to return the land if it was used for public purposes by the state or was auctioned,” says local activist Vikas Thakar.

The mistake the farmers committed was to delegate development rights to the land agents. “The agents exploited the farmers to the hilt. The result is that there is hardly any farming activity in the region any more,” says local resident Kisan Kalekar.

Sixty Pavna plots were leased in 1995 for Rs 20,000 for five years. “They were leased for farming or developing nurseries. The lease has now expired. But there has been no farming,” Thakar says.

Only farmers have been the losers in these transactions.

“They were given Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 per acre. Now the developer is selling at Rs 20 lakh and more per acre, “ says Thakar. The most expensive land is priced at as high as a crore of rupees per acre or even more.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Part 1: So that Mumbai, Pune could have light

Nowhere does a time warp exist as it does in the Mulshi and Maval talukas of Pune district. As many as 109 villages here have facilitated the progress of Mumbai and Pune with a key input - uninterrupted power supply. Yet, lights remain switched off more often than not in these villages.

In 1917, villages in the Western Ghats had no modern amenities or power, but they did have steady income through farming. Then Tata Power Company arrived, first in Maval and then in Mulshi.

Through the State Council, it acquired 44,000 acres of land in Mulshi and another 14,000 acres in Maval to build six dams.

To ensure Mumbai’s march to progress, water from these reservoirs was taken to three power stations at Bhira, Khopoli and Bhivpuri. They provided, in JRD Tata's own words, “clean power for Mumbai city”.

The prosperous local landowners, however, did not get power for 60 years after the first power generation unit was set up in Khopoli in 1918, despite giving up their land for the power generation project.

Cut to 2008. Mumbai faces no load shedding except in some areas. The city shines brighter after darkness envelops other regions. In Pune, life goes on under lights. In a tragic paradox, 109 villages in these talukas consider themselves lucky if one gets a power line, a community water tap or an approach road. They're exceptionally lucky if they have all three.

Nine villages in Mulshi have never flipped a light switch on. Piped water has still not reached 16 villages in the two talukas. Over 5,000 affected families live on the fringe of their former homes, spread over 58,000 acres of agricultural land in arid settlements lacking basic amenities.

The absence of roads and streetlights means that people from Susale have to trudge 2 km from Gaute to reach their village, which has no power.

However, 300-mw power comes from the reservoir near Susale.

There are some more weird facts: 18 nameless villages in Bhushi region have to pay encroachment tax, as they are not marked in the City Survey! At Bhushi, villagers trudge 3 km for cremations. And they have no public toilet.

Sahara's Amby Valley has 24hour drinking water and power supply, but the village that gave the valley its name Aambavane - has no water and suffers 8-hour power cuts daily.

In an even stranger twist, naval training school INS Shivaji was set up in Maval in the 1960s after displacing two villages. It has its own dam. The two villages and its residents settled 3 km away are now not allowed to venture into the area.

“The company makes Rs 25,00,000 per minute by selling power from our land. We have neither amenities nor something that can be described as life. Why should Mumbai progress at our cost? Why must we continue to be poor?” asks Niketan Palkar (42), secretary of the Tata Dharan Grast Sangharsh Samiti (Maval and Mulshi). How much power do the villages need? Adding up all domestic use and small industry consumption, not more than 10 mw. The three powerhouses supply Mumbai 444 mw. And there is a proposal for a 100-mw unit by constructing one more dam.

To be Concluded

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Here I is.

I am back. Back with a huge reality check. It's pointless to say how lucky we are that we live in Mumbai blah blah. The point is not to mull over the given. The point is to explore and live with the other side of the story. There is always a dark other side - sometimes obvious, sometimes clothed in ironical humour.

The point of being a journalist is to see the other side. Numerous times through the two days I came close to tears. Nothing can make you want to cry than the sight of a child playing with somebody's discarded wooden toy as if it was a Barbie. There is no chance of that child ever knowing or experiencing the thrill of owning a Barbie. It tears your heart when so little can make someone so happy. At a time when you're in the prime of your life and seeking newer avenues in the quest for professional and personal excellence, it stops you in your tracks to know that for somebody out there, there is no avenue and there is no prime of life.

All there is, is hope and a huge measure of enforced poverty. This is how we are progressing in the 21st century...with the rich getting even richer and the poor not moving beyond the confines of their homes because there is nowhere to go.

Little wonder that terrorism is born everyday. There's always a reason for even the basest of acts - depriving someone of their resources to gain something for yourself, is one of them.
The stories will appear in serialised form. Look out for each in the space above this one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bring in the new

This post is a plug. And for good reason, because Sakaal Times launches tomorrow. Pune office is an excited kind of tizzy - apparently they've been putting in tonnes of work for over a month getting ready for the launch. The new product is for them to actively nurture and take the brickbats for. Over here, life goes on much as usual.

Wow, I'm actually part of a process that will see a new hope for all of us idiots who still believe in the power of the written word.

Keep logging on to for daily updates on just about everything.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

You know you're in love when...

- You don't need to spell out anything, just a glance will do. Like when we're in a restaurant and a really fat person passes by, we just widen our eyes a bit.
- You go all gooey at the sight of a chubby infant.
- You tell yourself, 'My kid is going to be like that'.
- You want your kid to have his looks and your brains, not the other way around.
- You have a set of words and incidents that can make you laugh no matter what or where.
- You've just dropped the person off after a long day together but you still want to go back and complete the conversation.
- Your daily schedules match, right from the time you wake up till the time you sleep. And you're in two different houses and offices.
- You start the day by cribbing unitedly about a bad display for your story or about how bad the HT is.
- You make lunch dates you don't honour but don't fight about.
- You wait hours at railway stations so you can travel back together.
- You refuse to sit through bad movies and cry like kids during good ones.
- You are intellectually and ethically well matched but you notice that only when thrown in together during a crisis.
- You wait patiently at night, armed with books and snacks, for him to reach home and call you so you can say goodnight.
- Also because you have no other way of knowing when he got home.
- He goes out shopping for you though he's daunted at the prospect of going through girly stuff.
- He smiles when you ask him to though he's not in the mood. Only because you like his dimples.
- He cries with you.
- You hug him and he's a perfect fit.
- Both of you love harassing your younger sister.
- You can't imagine being with anyone else, ever.
- You can argue like cats and make up later, with the promise of not fighting again. Then you fight over that, because you like to fight.
- You find two white hairs on his head and think they're cute.
- You have this conversation:
"Gosh, I'm bored."
"Hmm. Chal, bhaag jaate hain..."
"Not today. I'm bored."
"Okay, kal."