Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Sex Workers (Devadasi) in the Karnataka region, ATM coming soon.

In Documentary work, India, Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, Portraits, Sex Workers, Tamracphoto, Travel, UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women on December 9, 2012 at 11:17 am

With the tripod finally fixed I could focus on my next assignment. I would be travelling from Bangalore in the Karnataka region of India. This part of the trip would require an overnight train. I have to say I was a little excited about this train although at the same time perhaps a bit nervous. I had heard of many train “incidents” in India and of course I did not want to be part of one.

Before I was going anywhere I would meet the team of the KHTP. This is an amazing NGO that has done so much for AIDS prevention and awareness. Having been funded by the UN as well as The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation they are one of the most successful NGO’s around, in fact what they have learnt about AIDS prevention and education has been picked up by other countries and organizations. Ironically they have done such a good job that they have essentially put a large part of themselves out of business. Since they have been so successful in what they do, the new AIDS cases have fallen and education is up. Still there is a lot of work to do.

The KHPT offices in Bangalore, India

The KHPT offices in Bangalore, India

Sex workers will be my focus for the coming days. These sex workers are subjected to violence and harassment from different people and not always the obvious ones. It is most often from family members as well as police vs. their clients.

After our meeting and briefing about the project it was back to the guesthouse to freshen up.  Once I was fresh (whatever that means) we went back to the office and headed out to the train station for the overnight train to the town of Hubli. From Hubli we would meet our driver to take us to the Bagalkote district. Once in this area we would travel to small villages such as Mudhol/Jamkhandi and Taluk. The drive from Hubli in darkness was a bit scary since our driver was moving along at a pretty good clip. Seems like they just don’t like to be held to the designated lane so even with no obvious reason (to me) he would drive in the on coming lane.  Up until this drive I had not actually seen any accidents but on this road we did see a pretty bad accident involving a tractor and a truck. I was assured people had been killed!

Hubli Station after the 12 hour overnight train.

Hubli Station after the 12 hour overnight train.

Eventually we made it to the Mudhol were we would be staying in a hotel and I use “hotel” loosely. It was like so many of these little towns; very congested with cars, trucks, Tuk Tuk’s bikes and motorcycles. Of course this had its fair share of cows as well.

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Later that day we went to the CAPWS (Chaitanya AIDS Prevention Women’s Sangha) this is where the sex workers support each other and offer information for AIDS prevention as well as support for violence that may be perpetrated against them. I met some amazing women here who must provide all the money for their families through sex work. Often nobody else will work. The family will take the money made by the sex worker and use it to drink or whatever else they like. The family feels it’s the job of that person to support the family through sex work. The sex workers are called Devadasi.

Often these sex workers are alcoholics and very sad. Through their loneliness  they will eventually find themselves involved with one of their customers. This person is called the IP intimate partner and often this IP has a wife and family as well. Even though this IP is married they will maintain a relationship with the sex worker for years. Ironically becoming jealous if they are working in the very job that had allowed the two of them to meet. This often leads to abuse both physical and mental. Since most of the women are illiterate KHPT has created an ingenious way for the workers to communicate in writing and pictures what kind of abuse and from whom they have received it from. These pink cards have been incredibly helpful.

The Pink Card

The Pink Card

It’s a complicated relationship between the worker and the IP. Since the women are so desperate for some kind of love and attention they often put up with abuse. These woman are abused by all sides, from family, the police their IP’s. It’s important to remember that even though sex work is not illegal it is looked down upon.

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Still in these hard times the woman have set up support communities and even a bank to loan money and encourage savings. They raise families pay their taxes and generally contribute to society. In fact one of the homes that I saw would have been a great place to live even by NY standards.

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Just for a little clarity they can have as many as 5 partners per day. Tough life and yet they still manage to sing and smile. I found these women to be very nice and sweet despite what they face on a daily basis. I even had some offers for FREE!!!

Some other things I saw on this part of the journey was the migrant workers who spend months on end camped out in the shadow of a huge sugar cane factory or cement factory. I was a bit nervous about going into their tent city and asking to take photos but of course like so many places when they saw the camera they lit up. Here are a few images from that time.

Our driver going to town on some sugar cane.

Our driver going to town on some sugar cane.

Boiling the sugar cane.

Boiling the sugar cane.

Migrant worker

Migrant worker

Migrant worker family

Migrant worker family

South to Bangalore and the kindness of strangers!

In Giving Back, Kindness of Strangers, Portraits, Travel, UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women on December 1, 2012 at 5:49 am

I woke up early, 4am for my flight to Bangalore, the streets were empty so the drive was easy. The driver also knew how to get to the airport in Delhi so that made the commute that much easier. One of my concerns for this trip was that all of my traveling schedules were very tight with very little room for mistakes. Those mistakes could be coming from me, the drivers, the airlines, airports, trains, demonstrations or who knows what.

Although I had a bit of help with a band-aid fix to the tripod it was far from fixed. The bolt holding the head on was about 3cm shorter than it needed to be so it kept falling off. My number one priority was to try and get this thing fixed. I was thinking I can go to a camera shop, Think FotoCare in NYC or PIX in LA. A place that would have gear and the expertise to fix a little thing like this bolt. Problem is I could not find one for the life of me. Lucky for me my driver who was part of the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (more about these amazing people soon) used to be a mechanic and would stop at nothing to help me get this fixed. He mentioned that the threads were not the normal type they use in India and that they were wider apart. So we set about looking for a tool and die guy to actually cut a new bolt. We went from place to place. All found on these little roads with 125cc motorbikes zipping up and down. At each location we were told that it could not be done or that the guy who MIGHT be able to fix it was not in and would not be back for a few days. I was starting to give up hope when we went to one last guy (don’t you love how it’s always one last guy?) Anyway we show up at Deen Cine Engineers (Manufacturers of Projectors, S P Machines, Tube, Bottle Filling Reduction Gear Box, Garments Machine Components, Precision Turning, Milling, Slotting, Gear Works) No joke that is what is on the card! I’d give you the address but just email me if you need it.

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Anyway after a little chat with the owner and my showing him the bolt he says he can do it. He says it will take around 30 min. I figure sure why not. I should say that this guy had a machine shop that was about 200 square feet and it was packed with about 5-7 large machines of which I have no idea what they are called.

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There was curled pieces of mettle all over the place and the smell of grease. He had an upstairs loft that I suppose was his office. He took the bolt and used some precision measurement tools and then asked me what I wanted to make it out of? I asked what it was currently made of and he said brass but that brass was very weak. Of course I wondered why Induro tripods would use a bolt  made of brass. He suggests stainless steel and says that it is much stronger and would not break, I say sure, go for it. Next thing I know he pulls this little cylinder shaped piece of mettle from some place. He places it on the die cutting machine (I think that is what it’s called) and spins it up.

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He starts to shave it down to the right diameter. Little by little it starts to get to the right shape. Once it’s the right diameter he starts to slowly cut the thread into it. This particular bolt actually has two sizes built into it so it can fit different sized tripod openings in cameras. So from the one piece he cut the two sizes. After about 35 min he took the new bolt off the machine and screwed it right into the tripod. Perfect fit right out of the gate, it went in and held the head safely and securely to the body of the tripod! This was VERY cool. Here is a guy who does not know me from Adam and takes about 40 min out of his day to make me one little bolt. Normally he would not even take a job unless it was for hundreds of units. I can’t thank him enough. He was even kind enough to let me shoot him while he was doing this and then signed a model release so I have the opportunity to use the images for stock. The problem I now realize was that this supposedly great iPhone model release program called iD Release has decided not to save the releases I worked so hard to input. I offered to pay him but he would not accept. What can I say other than this was a very generous man and it really was like so many people that I met in India. They were all so warm and helpful.

I left with the tripod fixed and ready to take longer exposure shots that I just knew were coming my way soon enough.


Side note, this iD Release app is junk! it has now let me down for the second time. I can’t find half of the releases I had inputted into the machine. If having a model release is important to you than avoid this one at all costs!