Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Plastic Problem: Alternative and Solution

The Delhi Government has enforced a complete ban on plastic bags. Few months back, When I saw people carrying huge brown bags, I could not help a smile. The fact that the Government has succeeded in implementing a law flashed a ray of hope. But it is fading away. Few days back, I came across Plastic Bags issued by Delhi University.

Why is it difficult to replace Plastic? But a question more basic to ask is the problem with Plastic Bags. Plastic Bags are non biodegradable. Unlike Paper, it does not dissolve in water and chokes gutters. If burned, it pollutes the air with toxic fumes. It is prepared using the scarce and non-renewable resource of Petroleum. It is difficult and costly to recycle them. Cows choke to death when they try to eat food stuffed in polythene bags. Plastic Bags contain harmful toxic metals like chromium and copper which can cause diseases like cancer, malfunctioning of kidneys, limbs etc.

Absence of Perfect Substitutes makes it difficult to replace Plastic Bags. Paper Bags are not strong enough. They cannot hold liquids. Steel Containers pose an expensive alternative. Plastic Containers are not popular among the small vendors. Saying No to Plastic Bags is not workable.

The alternatives should be used to the extent possible. But the focus should be on finding a solution to the Plastic problem. MCD provides two dustbins – Green and Blue. While Green accommodates biodegradable waste, Blue is for non-biodegradable waste such as Plastic. These colour coded bins should be widespread. Plastic Bags should be disposed in the Blue Bin. Awareness about the same should also be propagated. Plastic can be recycled. Centre for Environment Education was awarded the ‘Plasticon 2005’ for innovation in Recycling Technology. It invented Polyloom. The Polyloom is a plastic weaving handloom that can recycle plastic bags(Polythene Bags). Like the Kabad shops, there should also be collection points for plastic bags. A minimal amount can be paid to encourage people. Polythene Bags should not be free of cost. This would discourage their use. People would be forced to reuse them or find alternatives. The cost of plastic containers should be reduced so that small vendors prefer them over polythene bags. Plastic Bags cannot disappear overnight. A change is always a process. But the Bags of pollution will have to and will go.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Third Gender: Hijra Community in India

In a posh colony in Delhi , huge celebrations are on for welcoming a new born. Sounds of drums fill the air. The best halwai of the city is called. The entire colony is present. But soon the celebration gets interrupted by sounds of repetitive claps. A group clad in sarees , wearing gajra and heavy makeup enters. They , however , have masculine facial features and voice. They danced and blessed the new-born. They then demand a huge amount. The family refused. They threatened to lift their sarees. There was terror on everyone’s face. To everyone’s relief , they were paid. The family was saved from being ‘cursed’.

In India , the hijra culture still exists. Other names are Kinnar , Aravani , Kohjas etc. The population of hijras in India is estimated to be between 50,000 and 1.2 million. Since the hijras are neither true man nor woman , they are a distinct identity. They are secluded and a plethora of stereotypes have been generated for them. There are stories of people raising them in secrecy. This is because they are not accepted by the society. They are left to join the hijra community. The hijra community lives outside the society. They have no respect. They have no right to a dignified life. Law is silent when it comes to recognising them as the third gender. As their gender cannot be identified , they are highly discriminated in terms of access to education, employment and health care. They have no documents as identification proof – driving licence , voter ID , ration card etc. Education is a distant dream. They have no access to decent jobs. Begging and Prostitution are their only means of livelihood. They are also prone to HIV and STDs due to unprotected sexual activities. One out of every third eunuch in Mumbai is HIV+. They donot possess basic human rights. They are often sexually abused. On one hand they are secluded from the society but on the other , they are supposed to be involved in it for endowing blessings. The traditional occupation for hijras is begging for alms when bestowing blessings on new-borns and at weddings. But apart from that, they are not deemed "fit" for any other occupation. But why?

Just because they cannot reproduce, they have no right to live as a human being? There is more to a person than his/her sexuality. No one is destined to be treated as a sub-human being. The hijras are also not happy begging and ‘cursing’ people but the society doesn’t give them any option. We take them from granted. We feel disgusted seeing one. We make fun of them but we never try to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s not important to be a victim to support a cause. They raise their sarees to show their identity. It sounds really disgusting but it’s the society who is to be blamed for this. Development is not just in economic sense. There is also a social dimension to it. Social Development means breaking the stereotypes and creating a just society. Tradition should not pull us back. The hijra culture is not humanistic. It’s not human to discriminate some just because they cannot reproduce. Being developed should mean being rational and humane.

In recent decades , with the growth of India economically , the society has also underwent changes. It’s becoming liberal and rational. The third gender is coming out of the shadows. In 1994 , they were given the right to vote. In 1999, Shabnam Mausi Bano became India's first hijra MLA. In 2003, Hijras in Madhya Pradesh have established their own political party called "Jeeti Jitayi Politics" (JJP). In recent elections , Daya Rani Kinnar , a transsexual activist , stood as an independent candidate from Ghaziabad constituency against Rajnath Singh.

Tamil Nadu became the first state to give recognition to the transgender. In official forms , there is ‘t’ along with ‘m’ and ’f’ in the gender identification column. In Chennai , toilets are being built for the transgendered. Recently a large no. of NGOs have come up to work for the transgendered. Things are changing. But the limits to these changes are our mindsets. There is a need to broaden our mindsets, to make our mindsets more human or more rational.