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Mysore palace and trafficked children.

Solo travel

26 °C

In the few days I had been in Mysore, I had been unable to find any postcards. Suppose not being a tourist hotspot this was understandable. I always send postcards to my aunt, who eagerly awaits the cards to arrive. However, Ganga informed me the only place to buy postcards was at Mysore Palace. I had passed the great palace each time I went into town; it was listed as the number one sight to visit in Mysore. However, not being one particularly interested in this side of tourism, I had previously decided not to visit. I was meeting Stanley from Odanadi at 1 o'clock and decided to pop into the palace to buy some postcards.

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The bus dropped me outside the palace, an area that also hosted several small temples. The smell of incense was in the air and people were praying to a range of Hindi gods. I was told that at exam time, temples to Ganesh are particularly busy since he is the deva of intelligence and wisdom. After buying my ticket I entered the grounds and followed the crowd. We were soon to arrive at a counter, with an amusing sign, where we changed our shoes for plastic flip flops.

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I entered into the palace and we were herded around like sheep into the different glorious rooms, of a time gone past. I was soon to learn that the other visitors were tourists from other parts of India. I had short conversations with some younger tourists, who continously asked for selfies. I joked to one guy "I feel like a celebrity!", he replied "You are to us". However, I also quickly realised this was an excellent photo opportunity where I could capture some of the faces and diversity of this immense nation.

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Folk who had travelled from the likes of Kerala, Rajastan, Bangalore and Mangalore all captured with my camera. Oh, I nearly forgot the postcards with all that snapping. I asked a guard where I could buy the cards and it turned out to be beside the shoe swap counter. So got a pack of 10 ancient looking cards of the palace and its inhabitants and was on my way.

I decided to grab a quick lunch before heading to Odanadi. I soon found a little cafe serving thali's for four rupees and had my fill.

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Following a few failed attempts, I eventually got a rickshaw driver whose meter was working! Drivers quite often tell foreigners their meters are broken, to get a higher fare. For drivers whose meter's were working, I always gave a good tip. Hopefully they will catch on! Soon I was on my way to Hootagalli on the outskirts of Mysore, where Odanadi is based. On arrival, the gate was opened by a lovely young woman called Sabhi, who addressed me as "sister". She accompanied me to Stanleys office where I also met Gordon from the UK. Gordon explained he was retired and having previously lived in India, decided to get involved as a trustee, raising funds in the UK for the organisation. Both men were lovely and on commenting that I was surprised Odanadi was set up by men, Stanley commented they are 'human beings'. Being humane, compassionate and commited to equal rights; is more important than gender. He is quite right. He explained he was previously a journalist and was covering a story that brought him into contact with a young woman involved in prostitution. Having previously considered 'prostitution' to be a 'choice'; he changed his mind when he learned she was 14 years old when trafficked from a village in north India and forced to work the streets. This was to be the start of his work, first identifying trafficked children, rescuing them and offering the range of support necessary for them to heal.

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At this point a girl of maybe 14 or 15 came into the office. She was giggling and covering her mouth. Stanley laughed and joked with her. She was called Seva and appeared to have a learning disability. When Seva left, Stanley told me her story. She was actually 21 years old but looked much, much younger. Seva had been found 9 years ago in an open sewer in a village outside Mysore. She had been left for dead after being gang raped. Having unknown Seva, Stanley was unsure whether she previously had developmental issues or if her presentation was the effects of complex trauma. Odanadi had been operating for 20 years, was well known and had recruited vigilanties in villages surrounding Mysore and further afield. These brave people would monitor newcomers to their villages and if they beleived there was a risk of trafficking, they could contact Stanley.

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Sabhi appeared at the office asking if I would like a tour around the centre. So off we went, with Seva soon following, then after plucking up the courage, she took my hand. It turned out Stanley had developed two social enterprises, to enable the girls to learn skills and to provide them with an income. First, we visited the beauty parlour where I was greeted by a chorus of "hello sister". A wide range of services were on offer including massage, hairdressing, nails; in fact, all the services you would expect, all in professional surroundings. A sweet unmistakable smell led us to the young women who were training as bakers and whose customers were queuing up waiting for their orders. Sabhi selected some freshly baked cakes and pastries, took me back to the office and went off to brew some coffee. On asking, Stanley then told me Sabhi's story. There was currently a high profile court case implicating two famous Indian actors in the sexual exploitation of Sabhi. She had been trafficked to Mysore and was sexually exploited in a brothel in the city. Whilst many perpetrators visited the brothel, Sabhi recognised these famous men. Stanley explained members of his team often receive counter allegations when raiding brothels. Surprisingly, he pointed out that 40% of politicians in India have criminal records; some of these are for involvement in trafficking or sexual exploitation. Therefore, having so many powerful people involved underlies the counter allegations. Stanley and his team are often accused of sexually assaulting women in brothels. He explained in India the system means that every allegation goes through the court. No Procurator Fiscal there determining whether there is enough evidence for cases to be heard or not. He was due at court the following week.

The coffee arrived at the same time as Kumudini, Stanley's wife. She is a Professor in Social Work but also does charity work. One project I was really interested in, was her work with the unfortunate manual scavenger people. She explained a little about the Hindu varna (caste) system where the 'scavengers' are a part of the lowliest group of untouchables. Whilst there a hundreds of sub-division and communities within the system, the 'scavengers' really are at the very bottom of the tall heap. They live outside cities, far away from others, as it is beleived they will 'pollute' others. The work you do in India depends of your varna. A Brahmin is a member of the highest varna in Hinduism. They are from the varna from which Hindu priests are drawn, and are responsible for teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge. Manual scavenging is the term used for the manual removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines with hands, buckets or shovels. It continues to this day although officially prohibited by law in 1993 due to it being varna-based, dehumanising practice. Kumudini set up a small school in one of the areas. Not only is this academic, she also ensures children get an understanding of their self-worth and value, since they internalise how others treat/refer to them. Hopefully before I leave I can accompany her to the school and meet some of the people who live there.

It was coming to the end of the day for Stanley and Gordon. Gordon invited everyone back for a drink at his hotel. So off we went in the car to the beautiful 'Green Hotel'. Luckily Stanley liked a cigarette, so we asked the waiter for a 'smoking' table. Yes, even in the open air, with huge spaces they separated us lepers! The others had a beer and I was soooo tempted! However, I decided on a real diet coke! Before we left Stanley invited me back to Odanadi on Saturday for the Independance day celebrations. He didn't need to ask twice.................

Posted by katieshevlin62 01:37 Archived in India

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Comments

Happy and sad, this blog has both - as does Indian society.

by Keep Smiling

I know Mike. It really is the extreme in India. It always amazes me the people who take it upon themselves to help others.

by katieshevlin62

What brilliant work they are doing at Odanadi! Your experience at the palace echoes what we have found visiting tourist sites in India - as a westerner you are as much a 'sight' to the local tourists as the palace/temple/whatever itself. In Rajasthan our driver joked that there would be as many photos of us in Indian homes as there were of Bollywood stars! But like you we appreciated the opportunities to take photos of them in return. Everyone's a winner

by ToonSarah

Yeah Odanadi are great Sarah. Never thought of myself up on a wall beside the Bollywood stars! lol But your driver could be right! I was reading your blog this morning about the lions, fantastic writing and pictures. Loved that you couldn't wear animal print clothes! But yeah makes sense. Will finish reading it later.

by katieshevlin62

It's a sad story about the Indian system... India is like Janus, the Two-Faced God...

by Vic_IV

Thanks Vic! I'm actually in the process of updating that blog with new info! Where are you from Vic?

by katieshevlin62

We live in Severodonetsk, Ukraine (eastern part of the country...

by Vic_IV

Wow Vic! I've only been to Kiev, many moons ago! Take care.

by katieshevlin62

I have read a bit about the caste system. I guess you can never get out of it or am I wrong?

by Ils1976

More or less, difficult for the low castes to move up. A few have in the public eye eg in the arts and music. But its shocking the treatment the lower or outcasts receive.

by katieshevlin62

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