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Two Women Reach Out To Voters Against A Backdrop Of Maoist Violence
Sarada Lahangir

In the region where the three states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand meet, the threat of Maoist violence is real. All three states had reported casualties to Maoist-driven violence in 2013. While Jharkhand saw 383 such incidents in which 150 civilians and security personnel were killed, there were 353 such cases in Chhattisgarh leading to 110 deaths, while Odisha witnessed 101 cases of violence in which 35 people lost their lives. This disturbed situation has dissuaded many candidates from campaigning in the areas where the Maoists have a presence, but two courageous women did not allow such fear to come in the way of their electioneering. While Soni Sori contested from Chhattisgarh's Bastar Lok Sabha seat this time, Dayamani Barla stood from Jharkhand's Khunti Lok Sabha. Both were Aam Aadmi Party candidates and both have been driven by a fierce determination to help the marginalised tribal community of which they are a part.

“As long as my tribal people are with me I don't have to fear. It is not my fight but the fight of each and every poor tribal man and woman who is struggling to get a square meal every day.”

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Third Gender Aspirant Uttam Senapati Dreams Of Parliament

2014 is proving to be a year of significant victories for the transgender community in India. While the Supreme Court has recently given a landmark judgment formally identifying them as the third gender and effectively making their rights to vote, own property and marry “more meaningful”, a handful of transgender candidates across the country have made their presence felt on the political landscape in the General Election. Among them is Uttam Sapan Senapati, 32, the first transgender person from Nagpur, Maharashtra, to stand for the Lok Sabha polls. This independent candidate fielded by the Bhartiya Kinnar Sarva Samaj Sewa Samiti, dresses in bold colours but her loud exterior belies the serious intent reflected in her kohl-rimmed eyes: she wants to be an agent of change, not just for her community but for ordinary citizens, too, who she says are reeling under the effects of poverty and unemployment today. Elected or not, Uttam ‘baba’, as she is popularly known among her ‘chelas’ (followers), is all charged up to work with people to help build a more just and safe society.

“Hygiene, health and employment are things we all need to lead a decent life. Why should anyone have to scrounge for these basic rights? Why should the wealthy and well connected be the only segment to get the plum jobs, prime health facilities and world class services?”

[Photographs Available]

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The Night Is Ours And We Will Claim It
Elsa Mathews

The issue women's safety in the Capital has hit the headlines, time and again, ever since the December gang rape case in 2012 firmly brought it to public consciousness. But despite efforts like a random increase in policing, better street lighting and the setting up of helplines, the situation on the ground remains quite bleak. For women, negotiating public spaces after sundown is still fraught with fear. Nandita Chatterjee's heart skips a beat every time a car slows down while she is walking on the street. Akangshita Dutta, who works for a business firm, insists that an office vehicle follow her as she drives back home late at night. US-based Reva Datar, who has been interning in Delhi, has changed her lifestyle, and her wardrobe, in order to “blend in”. But amidst these efforts at self-policing, there are also events organised by activists like ‘Take Back the Night' and ‘Reclaim the Night’, where women are encouraged to assert their right to free movement in the night.

“There has certainly been an increase in awareness, but the system is not ready to take the load. Men have become aware and are willing to join in and stop crimes of this nature that seem to get even more horrific with time. ”

[Photographs Available]

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Weaving A Timeless Mangalagiri Sari
Sudhamahi Regunathan

Step into one of the many cooperatives of master craftsmen in Mangalagiri, the temple town located 11 kilometres from the city of Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, best known for producing wonderful handloom saris, and it's a sea of colour that meets the eye. There are yards of dyed yarn drying in the loom room as well as in courtyards, waiting to be woven into richly-hued Mangalagiris with their sparkling nizam border. There are elderly expert weavers like Sivaramakrishna and Sivaramulu sitting at their pit looms laboriously creating the exquisite nine yard creation – it takes two days to produce a single sari – but all their hard work really amounts to a mere Rs 800 per piece. Like most traditional weavers, Mangalagiri's craftspersons are in trouble, but they are hanging in there for the sake of maintaining an age-old custom. After all, there was a time when no visit to the ancient Lakshmi Narasimha in town was considered complete till the woman of the household bought herself an original Mangalagiri.

“We belong to the Padma Saliya caste. Of the 8,000 weavers, 80 per cent are old like me. Few youngsters are willing to do this laborious job. To me, however, it still has a unique charm. I can say with immense pride that the sari I weave will last forever.”

[Photographs Available]

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Supreme Court Verdict On Adoptions Is A Turning Point
Saumya Uma

The three-Bench judgment of the Supreme Court of February 19 – Shabnam Hashmi vs the Union of India and Others, provided a considerable advancement in law on the issue of adoption. It ruled that all persons, irrespective of religion, caste and creed, have the option of adopting a child under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) (JJ) Act 2000. In other words, the judgment has extricated adoption from the labyrinth of family laws and given it a universal application cutting across religious identities.

Adoption is not merely a legal issue; it has many social ramifications. India has a large number of children abandoned at birth. A petition to the Supreme Court filed in 2011 ?had stated that there are about 11 million abandoned children in India, 90 per cent of whom were girls.

[Photographs Available]

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