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Vivian Fernandes
Thursday , June 14, 2012 at 19 : 17

Suckered by Jaswanti


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In May 2008, when the economic slowdown was beginning to bite, I traveled to Rohtak for a feel-good TV story which I thought would go well in the prevailing gloom. A large Delhi-based garment house was imparting stitching skills at a local community center to women with BPL (below poverty level) cards along with the offer of a job for Rs 4,500 a month. I was amused when I pointed to the gold bangles that a trainee was wearing and the lack of any signs of physical wear and tear.

'Are you really below-poverty level?' I asked her. She said no, almost none of them were. Her father owned a TV repair shop, she said. But they all had BPL cards. It was like an entitlement. This was the Lok Sabha constituency of Deepinder Singh Hooda, the Haryana chief minister's son. Another girl was an MBA student. She was buying insurance by learning an employable skill, at her father's persuasion. It soon became clear why.

I was also touched when I saw 26 inmates of a shelter for abandoned women taking a new jab at life. In a blog I wrote for www.moneycontrol.com I observed that 'the sewing machine was for them a tool to regain self-esteem'. Stitching was therapy to rebuild lives and repair relationships. I was moved by their stories. 'From being renounced by a family over an elopement to being sold by a husband - there is an individual imprint to each sad story,' I wrote. I thought of Leo Tolstoy's comment in Anna Karenina: 'All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'

When I went to shoot footage at the shelter, I found some girls writing furiously. 'What are they writing?' I asked the lady in charge. 'Dissertations for M.A and M.Phil students.' she told me. Booksellers would earlier outsource the writing of dissertations. When college union leaders came to the shelter with food to donate, they chanced upon the academic service that the inmates were rendering and decided to cut out the middlemen. The dissertations were being written at the rate of thirty paise a page! Some of the writers had studied up to the 5th standard. No wonder the MBA student had little faith in her course.

The lady who ran the shelter was a big woman who seemed to have a big heart. Recently I came across news reports about a Rohtak NGO trafficking in girls. I reached for my mobile and did a search for Jaswanti. 'Bharat Vikas Sangh' the phone prompted.

'I have got this ladder, I will start climbing from here,' Ashu Singh Kirat, a young inmate had told me.

She was actually on a greasy pole.


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More about Vivian Fernandes

Vivian Fernandes is a senior journalist with nearly 30 years of practice, 19 of them in television, all of which he spent at TV18. Vivian’s last assignment was as executive editor of a book on India and China written by the founder of the Network 18 group, Mr Raghav Bahl. He has been an observer of Indian business and politics, and had reported on economic policy making as reporter, chief of Delhi bureau of correspondents and economic policy editor. Vivian has traveled abroad with Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. He was also reported on the World Trade Organization’s trade talks from Cancun, Hong Kong and Geneva. He continues his association with the Network18 group, but not as an employee.
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