Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Eyes Wide Open – The power of Social Conscience

Date - 25th February 2015
Speaker - Dr. Praveen Patkar

The colloquium by Dr. Praveen Patkar, Founder-Director of PRERANA and Founder and Managing Trustee of PARIWARTAN - 84,
was an eye-opener for most of the students present in the session. Dr. Patkar, a dedicated and passionate sociologist addressed concerns faced by societies in different parts of the country. Sensitive issues like child labour, prostitution, HIV prevention and numerous other issues which are widespread in India are perceived and acted upon in a unique and commendable manner by his team.

The session commenced with Dr. Patkar addressing the gathering on the topic of child labour. Children coming from remote villages in the rural areas are forced to work in households and commercial establishments as servants and janitors. They are subjected to severe torture and physical abuse in most cases. Although the law does not allow the employment of children, most cases go unnoticed. As Dr. Patkar suggested, the police always turn a blind eye to these issues. There have also been instances where children have succumbed to the injuries caused by their employers. These atrocities are usually swept under the carpet by the wealthy employers with whom the police work hand in glove. According to him, poverty and unemployment suffered by their parents have forced the children to take up these tasks. There have also been reports where the children are sold to child trafficking groups by parents and acquaintances due to hunger and poverty. 
The children live under extremely unhygienic conditions in slums and shacks where basic shelter and sanitation is a luxury that is way out of their reach. Another instance of children working at a firecracker and brick making unit were discussed. The children are made to work under highly hostile conditions in the summer and with toxic chemicals which have a devastating impact on their health and well-being. The bodies of children who lost their lives working in treacherous conditions are sometimes not even given back to their loved ones by the employers to avoid legal and social problems. There are also cases where children are trained in warfare and violent activities by Maoists in Central and Eastern India. This form of child labour has increased over the past two decades with the Maoists gaining power. 

Dr. Patkar has been involved in providing recreational facilities, building of homes and sanitation development for tribes in remote villages and forests in Maharashtra.

The problems faced by tribes and farmers during the months of paddy were also touched upon. The paddy harvests influenced the lives of the farmers in a major way and they depend on successful paddy harvests to feed their hungry family. Issues of child labour have been persisting in the society for a while now, and with the noble deeds of individuals like Dr. Patkar working for children’s rights and the emergence of numerous NGOs, there still is hope.

Prostitution and sex trade in the urban society was the next issue discussed by him. Dr. Patkar, from his numerous activities and campaigns against prostitution and sex trade and interactions with social and medical experts, explained that 88% of the cases of HIV transmission is observed due to heterosexual activity. Other causes like improper syringe disposal and usage, transmission from mother to child and blood to blood transmission constitute minute percentages. Awareness campaigns with prostitutes and the general public are often initiated to control and educate the people regarding the problem. The victims of sex trade undergo traumatic experiences which involve severe physical and sexual abuse.

According to Dr. Patkar, on most occasions, prostitution and sex trade are forced activities. Young girls are kidnapped and brought to urban cities by notorious sex trade groups for prostitution and labour related activities that are against the law.  Dr. Patkar explains that abuse is not just experienced by the prostitutes and the victims of the sex trade but there is a considerable degree of trauma and abuse that the young children of these women, some of them who are infants, are exposed to hostile and notorious environment. He also mentioned a terrible instance of the death of a new born whose mother was a sex trade victim due to negligence and improper feeding patterns as she was busy doing her job.

Dr. Patkar has initiated various recreational and development activities for the prostitutes in Mumbai. He is also involved in rescue activities and the legal proceedings involved with it. It was a thought provoking session where he explained to the gathering about his various experiences during his rescue and awareness activities. The issues that were addressed by him, is an open secret in the society. 

The session gave us a sense of belief that with personalities like Dr. Patkar around to provide inspiration through selfless dedication, there is still a ray of hope for the well-being and development of the helpless with a serious intention of improving the society.