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Meeting with Monique Villa and Serena Grant by Alexandra Mochnacz, Intern

CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Founder of TrustLaw and Trust Women, Monique Villa, was welcomed by Apne Aap staff on April 8. Girls, aging from 10 to 16, from the Dharampura centre in Delhi, joined the discussion in order to communicate some of their concerns as part of the Perna community, a denotified tribe.

The discussion between Villa, her colleague Serena Grant (co-head of Legal for Thomson Reuters) and the girls was largely concerned with issues of identification. Villa and Grant expressed surprise upon finding out that these girls, as well as their parents, make up a fringe group of society that has neither a political voice nor legitimisation from the state. None of the women and girls hold caste certificates, which would grant them subsidisations and access to many governmental programs, as well as schooling. One of the girls, no more than 15 years old, already understood the stigmas her tribe held in society, claiming that government officials avoided their area at all costs. The point was made: this community is criminalised by others and suffers from resultant marginalization and discrimination.

Sadly this community is not small, in Delhi alone it makes up approximately 50,000 people. There are at least 198 of these tribes spread across the country. With these approximate statistics in mind, Grant agreed to work with lawyers she knew in India, who could work on this systemic issue. For a group of people in the 21st century to be ostracised from their society because of a cultural heritage imposed on them by the British and blocked from developing as a community with very few formal job opportunities, is a problem stemming from a severe lack of political will.

For any progression to occur within the dynamics of these communities, the state needs to understand the demographic of this population in society. Only then can they understand the kind of programs needed to help sustain these people. What we need, what is important right now, are lawyers, government officials and researchers willing to take on the task of providing an identity these individuals can relate to in society.

Feminism Beyond Boundaries: Apne Aap’s Director, Dr Abhilasha Kumari in conversation with Artist, Leena Kejriwal

Oxford Bookstore,  Delhi, 11th Feb 2014:
The UN Development Programme (2010) claims that Asia is missing approximately 96 million women, as a result of death through practices such as neglect, sex selective abortion and domestic violence. India’s Census (2011) reveals that only 914 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, which shows that a huge proportion of these missing Indian women were not just killed, but never born at all.

Leena Kejriwal, a Kolkata based photographer and artist, considers this to be a devastating social truth and has forced her art and audience to address this issue. Kejriwal has been working alongside NGOs that combat trafficking and prostitution for some time, but it was her latest piece M.I.S.S.I.N.G… which launched at the India Art Fair 2014 which provoked countless international discussions and media attention onto this stigmatised topic.

‘It should be there for everyone to see it, even if they don’t want to’ Kejriwal insisted to the audience  and Dr Kumari as she described the idea behind her latest outdoor installation. M.I.S.S.I.NG…, uses black steel to portray  an inescapable and mesmerising silhouette of a girl against the backdrop of the sky. Kejriwal’s ‘public art’ is an enormous political statement. By taking her art out of the confines of a gallery space, Kejriwal jolts the collective consciousness of India and beyond, and urges everyone to realise the extent to which these girls are disappearing.

Dr Kumari talked with Kejriwal about the anonymity of these figures, maintaining that the indistinguishable nature of these silhouettes  reminds us of the lack of support and protection the women and girls who are trapped in trafficking and prostitution receive. ‘They are invisible citizens, without identification cards, without any kind of legal documentation’.

Kejriwal’s installation reveals the powerful way in which art can be used as a medium to express anti-trafficking messages on a global scale, which is something that Apne Aap wholeheartedly supports in their effort to reach and save the most marginalised, last girl.

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Field realities from denotified tribes: Apne Aap organizes a talk about the exclusion, deprivation and state of discrimination of the tribes

Swati and RuchiraNew Delhi, 10th February, 2014:- Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a registered charitable trust in India committed to work towards the empowerment of girls and women today organized its seventh session of ‘Terrace Talks’ at their head-office at India International Centre, New Delhi. The talk was chaired by Swati Chakraborty, Head-Monitoring & Evaluation at Apne Aap Women Worldwide. The discussion revolved around ‘Field realities from denotified tribes’.

The ongoing study on the educational status of de-notified Tribes by Apne Aap Women Worldwide in the states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal clearly shows that these communities are still treated as outsiders by society and discriminated and victimized by authorities. Suspicion and traditional stereotyping (as criminal) is still a standard yardstick with which these communities are looked at. This is due to both conventional belief as well as ignorance about them among the authorities as well as the general public.

The session further delved around the findings of the study, where Swati and the team found  that young girls were seen as a financial resource and often  kept as security with brothel owners for a specified time period against a specified amount in case of familial dispute.  It threw light on the incidents when poor families have been forced to use their daughters more than once. There are endless stories of extreme exploitation of young girls and women .One member of Kanjar communities told the study team: doh hi chiz to bikte hain. ek hain aurat r ek hain zameen. hum logo ke paas to zameen hain nehi—toh aurat hi bech te hain.Aur keya kar sakte hain. (Two things can be sold—one is women and other island. We do not have land so we sell our woman. What else we can do).

Participating in the discussion Abhilasha Kumari, Director Apne Aap Women Worldwide said, “Many of these denotified tribes practice inter-generational prostitution which is the extreme form of exploitation of young girls. Being an anti trafficking grassroots organization, Apne Aap came into the picture largely because we wanted to create an impact about this practice. We consider that every child that is put into prostitution is trafficked. We realized most of the people didn’t know about denotified tribes so we took the help from ICSSR. ICSSR has supported this research and provided us with authentic information and evidence. These findings will help us to develop, strategies and policy formulation for the development of these communities”.

Elucidating on the denotified tribes study , Swati Chakraborty highlighted how across the states, despite being extremely poor and low on all human resources indices,  this study found that de-notified communities are not entitled to the various government schemes meant for the poor and backward communities. There is abject poverty among them across states. Police find it convenient to hold these communities responsible for any crimes both in rural and urban areas. Speaking at the session, she said It is very easy to show  through statistics  how many children are not attending school, but the reason why they are not going or what  are the factors that are pushing them away can  only be known by having a field experience and by conducting studies of this kind”.

The session concluded with the audience discussing various measures to implement the much needed reforms towards the cause of these tribes.