Nalini Sharma

‘Cab Ride Drove Me To Nervous Breakdown’

U2 on the last stretch, one that I deemed safe. Just near the Delhi-Gurgaon border, my cab screeched to a halt in front of a dingy little building. Before I could say a word, the cabbie coarsely told me: “Madamji tax katwana haiBorder aa gaya (I have to pay the border tax).” It was 1.30 am. As I protested, he shut the door on me and walked away into the dark. I was in this dead cab, alone. All I could see outside was other cabs parked in disarray, drivers of sizes and sorts, smoking, chatting and staring at me like circling vultures. The road that was so familiar in the day appeared to be ghoulish place. All the streetlights were on the divider; I was in semi-shadow. The minutes passed and there was no sign of my cabbie. Fear took hold of me, but I shook it off and used the one device at my disposal: my phone. The first thing I did was call home and tell my husband about my predicament. I knew he would reach me in 20 minutes, but that was still far too long. In near panic by then, I dialled 100. I locked my cab from inside and got back on the phone with my husband. Another few long minutes passed before the cabbie returned with a business-as-usual air about him. A police van had reached the spot by then. A lengthy conversation ensued between them, the cabbie and me. My husband arrived in the meantime. I reached home at 2.30 am, shivering from the cold and the fright I had got. I am a journalist. But the experience of using cabs in the late hours has made me an ex-journalist till I can make my own travel arrangements. It’s just not safe otherwise, and even if it is, it never looks like that. (Identities of the writer and her workplace have been withheld on request by LokMarg)]]>

NCR Uber Driver

'Life As An NCR Uber Driver Is A Struggle'

ut as completion grew, his work hours went up and earnings dived. After paying up the loan instalment, house rent and the company commission, Bhabani barely makes to feed his family of three.

Everybody thinks that we Uber drivers have it made. We drive fairly new cars; we have GPS-enabled devices that help us navigate our vehicles; and we, at least most of us, look happy. But as Uber makes life easier for you, for us it has become harder. There are at least 1.5 lakh Uber cabs registered in Delhi. And an equal number of Ola cabs too. That means making a living from driving cabs is all about extra long hours and shrinking earnings.

Just to give you an idea, consider this: If you want to go from Gurgaon’s Galleria Market to Cybercity, an Uber can take you there for as little as ₹69. Do you know what an autorickshaw will charge you? ₹100. The Hyundai Accent I have is a year old. I paid ₹6.55 lakh for it for which I took a ₹4.6-lakh loan. My monthly loan payments are ₹13200 for four years.

There are other regular monthly payments that I have to make: Rs. 3000 as toll tax; about ₹1000 every day to Uber in commission; and fuel costs (I use CNG so that is about ₹15000 a month). If I take the car out at 6.30 am and work till 9.30 pm, after paying Uber and all the other costs, I usually end up with ₹16-18,000 a month. I have a wife and a five-year-old child and we live in a small room in Delhi’s Dakshinapuri.

I pay a rent of ₹4000. That leaves us around ₹12-14,000 on which to live. Things used to be different when I started out a year back. Uber offered good incentives and I could make around ₹25000 a month. But those good days are gone. There are too many of us on the roads now and the company has cut down all those incentives.

All through the day, I have to struggle to make even ₹2500 on trips. Every time a customer orders an Uber, there are at least five or six cars in the fray to capture that order. Then there’s the competition from Ola. I have a friend who works 24 hours at a stretch to make ends meet. He starts his day at 5 am, works till 5 am the next morning, and then sleeps the next day before repeating the same schedule the next day.

He’s 25 but looks like he’s 40! If I worked as a driver for someone, I think I could make more but now I’m stuck. I bought the car, have to pay back the loan, and I have to keep these long hours. Perhaps I should never have left my village in Tripura. (The author’s name has been changed to protect his identity; his version, based on an interview in Hindi, has been translated and edited by Lokmarg’s editors).

Jaswinder Singh Bedi

'Can The Builders Pay For My Unborn Child’

Jaswinder Singh Bedi, 43, a sales manager with a pharmaceutical company, sold off his ancestral house in Noida to move into a gated housing project which promised to be a mini-town with international security features. But, the project never materialized. His entire savings stuck, stress mounted in the family. Bank loan, monthly rental, child education… hard put to meet the expectations, Bedi sunk into depression. His wife suffered a miscarriage. Today, the Supreme Court is his last hope. “If the court also fails, I will move back to Punjab,” he says.

I had an ancestral house in Noida but was smitten by the glass-and-concrete high-rise housing societies. The ads said these were self-sufficient, secured mini-towns with First World facilities within the housing compound. I sold off my house to invest into a posh housing society of JayPee Group. Even the name, Kensington Boulevard, had a ring of English elite to it. The plan looked awe-inspiring. The builder promised to deliver the apartment in 2013. But knowing how most contracts go, I had mentally and financially prepared myself for one extra year to move in. But, when bad luck strikes it never rains, it pours.

The first indication to our misfortune came when we visited the housing site a few months before the possession deadline. The project had barely moved. I had moved into a rented accommodation. And I was already struggling to match the high rent as well as bank instalments. I had invested more than Rs 70 lakh into the house and naturally I began to get jitters. The stress began to tell on the family too.

We had planned our second child with the expected time of our moving into the new house. With the trouble and tension mounting, my wife suffered a miscarriage. There were health complications that required costly care but our financial condition was such that we survived only by the sheer grit. But things were only going downhill. For some time, my wife and I went into depression and needed expert help. Every day we prayed for the bad times to end and waited for a miracle to give our children a better living space and conditions.

Eventually, the rent of Rs 20,000 for a 2BHK begun to burn our pockets. We had been living in the apartment for five years. My daughter moved to Class 3 and a second child happened at this time. But instead of moving into a larger house, I was forced to move into a 1BHK. One solace was that it was bought by me with several years of hard-earned money. The finances are in such conditions after exhausting all my savings that I till date do not have the money to pay for the registry of this house.

With cost of living becoming expensive by the day, I often consider moving back to Punjab in an affordable city like Amritsar where children can too be brought up in a safe environment. My wife and I have spoken to some schools in Amritsar that accept admissions towards the end of the year. I am waiting for some more time to sort out my finances and soon we may be leaving NCR for good. All of us want to move upward in society to provide our children a better surrounding to grow up in.

The builders and real estate agents thrive on this weakness of middle class. I wanted to give my best to my family. I had hoped that my children to go to best western modelled schools and grow up in a healthy environment. The housing project took away all my ambitions. There is some hope for homebuyers like me after the Supreme Court has taken cognizance of the matter. But every night when I close my eyes I think if I had invested in a housing project that would not be abandoned, life would be a dream. For now, the nightmare continues.


Hometruth – ‘Dream House Or A Nightmare’

A decade ago, Sanjay Kaushik, 45, took pride in calling himself a real estate consultant. He would often tell his clients and potential investors that this was the sunrise sector where money only grew in leaps and bound, better than gold, better than stock market. He is a broken man today.

I lost my savings to two real estate projects that were abandoned by the promoter – JayPee Group – and my wife committed suicide due to depression. Were it not for my children, who knows, I could have also taken a drastic step too.

I got married in 2003. My wife was employed with a Central government hospital in New Delhi and we stayed in government staff quarters. I was self-employed as a real estate professional. With two children from our marriage, life moved like a dream. In 2009, I became ambitious.

I used all my savings, dug into all bank fixed deposits and secured a bank loan to invest in two housing projects: first, a two BHK to move in and the second, a one BHK as investment. Knowing the realty field, I believed it would be wise to put my savings in separate housing projects.

But I made one mistake – of choosing the same builder, JayPee, probably because of its reputation then. Those days, property consultants in Noida and Greater Noida would say that JayPee had such deep pockets that even the (Mayawati-led BSP) government was functioning from there. The shift in power in Uttar Pradesh brought an end to the rising fortunes of JayPee (In 2012, Samajwadi Party took over and ordered an inquiry into several of JayPee real estate deals).

My ambitions crashed with it. We were living in a government accommodation and had planned to leave it 2013, when the possession was scheduled. We were hoping that by leaving staff quarters will save us a substantial amount as HRA (housing rent allowance). As the date of delivering the housing project drew closer, the real estate market saw a huge crash (2012). My earnings dwindled.

This began to tell on our family life. Loud arguments between my wife and I were a daily routine. We dreaded the date of our EMIs, school fees and other monthly expenses. Every time, an unseen expenditure cropped up, we felt humiliated.

Even though the matter moved to court, there was little progress in terms of repayment of buyers’ money. To avoid domestic fights, and probably being an escapist then, I separated from my wife. Yet, there was no peace. The demand in realty sector dried up, so did my income.

Three months back, I was met with another shock. My wife committed suicide. Today, over Rs 30 lakh of my lifetime savings is stuck in the housing projects. I have lost my wife. I have a 14-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. On top of that, I have bank loan to repay. I had to relinquish government accommodation. My children ask me when we are moving into our own house. Life is miserable. Would JayPee promoters ever know how many lives they have destroyed?

Also Read: Home Truths II – Affordable Housing Is A Major Sham

Low-Cost Spa

‘Low-Cost Spa Workers Often Treated as Prostitutes’

Meenu, 32, moved from Manipur to Delhi a few years ago for better work prospects. She was lucky to find work at a reputed spa chain in the national capital region. That was a time when massage parlour business was mushrooming across NCR and she was soon offered better salary and ‘perks’ by a lesser known spa. “That was the biggest mistake of my life,” Meenu tells LokMarg.

Seven years back, when I moved to Delhi from Manipur, I was happy to be selected for training as a therapist by an international wellness chain. The group had branches in south Delhi, west Delhi, and NCR. I was posted in their Noida unit and was happy with the HR policies of the spa management.

Although we had an eight-hour shift, we were allowed to decline more than five hours of therapy sessions. If the number of sessions exceeded five hours, we would get incentives. Yes, there would be odd clients who asked for various favours, like ‘happy ending’ (a term used for masturbation performed at the end of a massage therapy), but we had management support in walking out on such clients.

Yet, most of the therapists obliged ‘decent’ clients for a ‘generous tip’. Things changed when I switched job to another local spa for want of better pay. This is when I realized the dark practices in those low-cost massage parlours that were mushrooming all over the city and offered services at half the cost, sometimes even lower, than the more organized establishments.

The high cost in my previous group discouraged or filtered the ill-intentioned clients. But in the new unit, I would meet patrons who made lewd passes, enjoyed talking dirty, flashed their genitals (often refused to wear the disposable underwear) and offered money for fellatio and ‘home-services’.

At times, some of them will take advantage of Valentine’s Day offers, come with a female partner and used the premises as ‘love nest’. When I complained about a certain regular client about his unruly behavior to the manager, the response was shocking.

The manager asked me insensitively if he had raped me. ‘Keep quiet and don’t ruin the business. The competition is tough,’ he said. I soon learnt that most of my fellow therapists had little training about a human body or muscle relaxation. They were there only to give the ‘services in demand’.

I also learned their operational terminology: ‘B2B’ meant body-to-body massage, which meant lying over a client with minimal clothing; Topless meant the client will touch or fondle your naked breasts and; ‘Full Service’ meant sleeping with the client.

Massage was never the call a client came for. As soon as the door was locked (in my previous spa centre, the door was closed but never locked) the deal would begin between the ‘therapists’ and the patron. It was nothing short of organized prostitution. The clients looked at you as if they were examining a commodity before purchase. I felt cheap.

I took leave and started negotiating with my previous employer for a return. They asked me to wait as they were facing low clientele due to tough completion. Then one day, my former manager called up to tell me that two of their therapists had left and there was a vacancy.

My first reaction was to call those who had left the job and ask them if they were joining some low-cost ‘massage parlour’; I wanted to tell them the risks involved. But, I let it be. We all learn about the perils of easy money our own hard way.

(The names of the therapist and her employers have been withheld at her request by LokMarg)

Cancer Village

Visiting The 'Cancer Village' Of Haryana

Mohamad Irshad does not understand who, or what, to blame for the death of his father from lung cancer. He lives with seven other members of his family in Sakras village of Haryana’s most backward district of Nuh, earlier known as Mewat. This southwestern part of Haryana is an arid region with a history soaked in the blood of many battles, its sand-and-rock margins blending into Rajasthan’s Alwar and Bharatpur districts.

In this district where Muslims make up almost 80 per cent of the population, Sakras, about 75 km from Delhi, is known as the ‘cancer village’— over 45 cancer deaths have been reported here in just the last three years, and 100-odd in the last decade. “It is hard to pinpoint the reason for many cancer deaths, including that of my father.

We live in constant fear after my father Abdul Razzaq died on May 1 this year. Earlier, his three brothers Bashir, Shahabuddin and Qayyam Ali also died due to cancer in chest, mouth and throat respectively over the last two-and-a-half years,” Irshad says. “My father had undergone chemo therapy for one-and-a-half year, including nine months at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi, but he did not survive.” Sakras residents say life in the village is harsh as it is, with a crushing lack basic amenities like drinking water, proper drainage system and sanitation.

Most blame the ground water, their sole source of drinking water, as responsible for the frequent cancers. It’s contaminated, they say. Niyamat Ali Khan says even the taste of the water in the village is different. “Our village has a population of about 28,000 and is considered one of the largest in Ferozpur Jhirka tehsil of the district. We have sunk borewells at several places in the village to extract groundwater for drinking.

Apart from the area near the drain, the entire village gets salty water to drink. Hence, the villagers have installed half a dozen submersible pumps next to drain to fulfill their daily needs,” Khan says. It is clear he believes the drain to be the culprit. Other Sakras residents share his suspicions. Most say that the sewage water in the drain is being sucked up by the surrounding soil and subsequently contaminating groundwater.

But there’s no choice, they say. Then again, the pipes used by the submersible pumps to extract groundwater are also variously immersed in the drain as they snake the shortest way to their user destinations in the village. Fazaluddin Beser, the former sarpanch (village head) says the village has been witnessed deaths due to illness for a “long time”, but the numbers have gone up alarmingly only in the last three years. “We have noticed several deaths due to illness in the last two-and-a-half years that reveal an alarming trend of cancer in the village.

I have immediately brought it to the notice of the district administration so they can find out the reason behind these frequent deaths. Officials took samples of water from the village a month ago and their test results are awaited,” Beser says. The former sarpanch, too, subscribes to the groundwater theory. “We have strong suspicion that the groundwater the villagers are using for their domestic needs is contaminated in some way.

That the public health department of Nuh has not revealed the result of water sample testing is only adding to the fear here,” Beser says, pointing his finger at the district administration of Nuh for not coming up with a proper action plan like installation of a common water purification system in the village. “It’s not the mobile transmission towers,” he says. “If that be the case, patients would have brain cancer which is not the case here with most patients dying due to lung cancer and some to cancers of the mouth and throat.

Cancer experts from different states, including Punjab, Delhi and Rajasthan, came here but none could pinpoint the cause of the high cancer rate here.” What does the government-appointed civil surgeon have to say? Shri Ram Siwach calls the situation “really alarming”, adding that the health department of Haryana is deeply concerned with it. “We have collected water samples and analysis continues. We are also taking help of prominent cancer experts,” he says. Meanwhile, cancer continues to stalk the untidy streets and warrens of Sakras.


'Politicians need to deliver on promises'

was among them. Lokmarg met Abhishek’s father, Dinesh Patidar. Here’s what he had to say.

I have lost my son; this state (Madhya Pradesh) has lost so many farmers but their situation has not changed one bit. The condition of farmers in the country can be estimated from the fact that if we invest ₹100 in a crop we will earn only ₹40 to 60. Forget profit margins or breaking even, the question is about existence. And the situation is the same for every farmer no matter how much land they have. I was born to be a farmer. In the 1980s we used cattle for farming in 28 bighas (A bigha of land measures a little more than a fourth of an acre) of ancestral land. But as times changed technology came into place. New machinery, equipment, better irrigation facilities, fertilizers, and seeds, but this all has only increased our capital expenditure. We cannot even realise the price of a tubewell even after five years of farming. So despite new kinds of farming, the debt of farmers is only increasing. All the farmers are using latest seeds and fertilizer for better crop so that we can get better prices for our hard work but the end of the day we cannot get adequate price for our cultivation. I feel the government has taken few measures for the relief for farmers but those are only in government files as no relief or aid is reaching farmers. We are getting cheaper electricity but fuel to run latest machinery and equipments are abnormally high. Even the cost of transporting produce from our fields to the mandis (grain and vegetable markets) is only increasing. This region lost many farmers in police firing and lathi-charge in June 2017, but the farmer of this region is still forced to commit suicide. Where will a farmer go if he doesn’t even earn what he has invested? We Patidars believe giving subsidy or writing-off debt is a long-term solution. I strongly believe a farmer can grow only if he gets fair prices for his hard work. Farmer of this country can only prosper if the government makes sure each crop is brought at the right price. We still sometimes recall the violent action in which I lost my son. We are still angry that no action has been taken against the policemen who killed my son. One year after police firing in Mandsaur, anger among farmers persists. Abhishek was a class 12 student and was also one of the five killed in police firing against angry farmers demanding a better price for their produce, and a loan waiver. For political gains, politicians keep coming to our village but none of them are going to get my son back nor can they stop farmers’ suicide. Rahul Gandhi’s Mandsaur’s visit and farmers rally kick-started Congress’ MP election campaign but is there anything he can do in a BJP ruled state? Netas should now deliver their promises made to the farmers or there will be no one to work the fields.

With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

Also on Lokmarg

Baghpat farmer ‘ready for suicide’

‘11,400 farmers committed suicide in 2016’

Tamil Nadu transgender

Tamil Nadu transgender sets sights high

was empowered by the landmark 2014 Supreme Court judgement that gave transgenders the right to decide their own gender. Sharmila has become a lawyer, and wants to be a judge next. Her story:    “I will work my way up the ladder and one day want to become a judge,” says Satyashri Sharmila, the first transsexual from Tamil Nadu to enrol as an advocate with the Bar Council.

With immense satisfaction, Sharmila says enrolling as a lawyer as a trans person with the Bar Council was a milestone she had been trying to achieve for over a decade now. Now that she has done that, she says she will happily set her sights on moving forward.

Sharmila is among the over 400 law graduates who enrolled as lawyers yesterday with the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry here. “Now I am 36. I will work hard, learn the ropes and am confident that one day I will become a judge,” she said, adding she was however undecided about which branch of law to pursue.

Sharmila,who completed her course in law from the Central Law College in Salem way back in 2007, says she could have enrolled right after graduation in 2008, but chose to wait as she wanted to be on the rolls only as a trans person. In the enrolment event, Justice P N Prakash said it was his desire to see a transsexual as a judge of a High Court during his lifetime.

On her choice of law,Sharmila says she was not particular about pursuing it in the beginning. It was her father, however, who wanted her to do well in her studies. “It was NALSA (National Legal Services Authority vs Union Of India and Others, 2014) judgement by the Supreme Court which gave me courage and hope and the time has finally come to get attired in the robes of a lawyer.

” In that landmark judgement, the apex court upheld a transgender’s right to decide his or her gender and directed the Central and State governments to grant legal recognition to such choices and suitably identify them as “male, female or third gender.” Born in backward Ramanathapuram district to middle class parents, Sharmila grew up in Paramakudi as Udayakumar and did her schooling and graduation in Corporate Secretaryship in the same town.

During the 10 year period after her graduation, she took up various assignments, including working for an NGO, besides for the transgender community. On her identity, she says, “all along I had felt that I am a woman and am happy to be a trans person.” Sharmila now lives at Pukkathurai Natarajpuram village, a transgender neighbourhood near suburban Chengelpet.

She says she is “very happy to render legal services to my sisters here.” On Sharmila’s enrolment,transgender rights activist Banu says it is a big achievement which will be a big motivating factor for other transgenders pursuing legal studies. Bar Council of India co-chairman S Prabakaran said the legal profession was open to all people. A career in law is ideal for the marginalised sections to grow and help others, he said. — PTI