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Justice please

ANJANA RAJAN speaks to Amarendra Kishore, who is making a film on the tragedy of unwed mothers of Orissa's tribal communities.

Amarendra Kishore lending a helping hand to a social cause. Photo: V. Sudershan.

THE LURE of glamour, the thrill of passion, innocent surrender and amorous jungle trysts. This scenario is replete with tales of fleeting love and bewildering abandonment, of lingering hope and crushing disappointment. But these are not elements from a Bollywood thriller before the happy ending. These are real-life, unending horrors of women of the Orissa tribal areas, where the ugly, exploitative face of our `fast developing' society is exposed in all its brutality. The destitute unwed mothers of the Orissa tribes and their children stand testimony, if ever any were needed, that the `civilised' model of living has wreaked havoc in the centuries-old lifestyle of the tribal population, that there is no beast on earth more cannibalistic in nature, less caring of its own kind, than man.

Working against the tide of apathy is the Indian National Trust for the Welfare of Tribals, INTWOT, whose leading lights Sunita Sharma and Amarendra Kishore are well-known crusaders attempting to bring basic amenities and justice into the lives of the exploited tribals. Besides numerous projects, Amarendra is in the process of making a film, "These Unwed Mothers"to raise awareness about the plight of young girls who have been raped or seduced by the forest officials, Government employees or others temporarily posted to these remote regions and later left to fend for themselves with the double burden of growing children and social stigma.

Planning the film in English, Hindi and Oriya, Amarendra - who hopes to raise funds for INTWOT through sale of the CDs - explains the manifold aspects of the problem. It is not only that tribal societies are close to nature, trusting and therefore their womenfolk are easy to exploit. In the original tribal social structure, sex before wedlock was not taboo. Unwed mothers were therefore also not looked down upon and it was considered honourable to marry a woman who had already given birth to children. Young people were trained in sexual skills before marriage, through youth centres. Tribal society recognised its responsibilities towards children that might be the result of relations before marriage. But with the invasion of the `developed' world, with its lethal mix of license and hypocrisy, the young girls get exploited by urban men who satisfy their lust and later abandon them.

The tribal society has been invaded in more ways than one. Its young men, influenced by the culture of "Govinda films", says Amarendra, no longer wish to marry girls who are not "fresh". The result is total destitution for these women and children, and agony that often leads to mental imbalance.

The shocking prevalence of such examples in Orissa does not mean it does not occur elsewhere, points out Amarendra. "I was moved to make this film when I once asked an unwed mother why this occurs so much in Orissa. She said, if there were no facilities for abortion or contraception in places like Delhi, the problem would be huge there too."

He goes on with bone chilling statistics about the dire poverty of the region. "A labour contractor pays Rs.45 to a man and 35 to a woman for a day's work. But he tells a woman that he will pay her Rs.100 if she spends the night with him as well. Even a kilo of chicken costs more than Rs.65. This means the value of a woman is less than this."

The message of this filmmaker - who has made films such as "Kalahandi, the Planet of Herbs on biodiversity of the region as well as one on the stone cutting mafia of Bihar which he says is still in the cans due to threats to his family's welfare - to the Government is: "You have no policy for these people who have no one to speak for them." Though there are programmes for the "Five J's" - jal, jungle, zameen, jaanvar and jan - he feels this important and shameful aspect of India has been totally neglected.

Providing for the children is one of the vital aspects of his work through INTWOT, and while he sponsors a few himself, he hopes for funds and support from the public for more sponsorships.

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