Saturday, May 31, 2008

Abused women in India

One of our volunteers and mom of a couple of our kids at KM has been constantly abused---physically, sexually, and emotionally---by her husband for the past ten years. The most recent occurrence was yesterday. In the morning, at their home in a slum area, he started an argument with her. This led to him grabbing her by the throat, throwing her against a wall in their house, beating her legs and body with a stick until she got huge bruises, throwing a rock on her back, and then holding a knife to her.

She bravely wrestled the knife from him and then ran to her sister-in-law's house for protection. He then proceeded to throw her prized possessions---her saris---into the gutter.

The beatings have gotten progressively worse over time, and we and Auntie (she works for Auntie as her housekeeper) encouraged Mary (name changed to protect her identity) to really do something this time. She has wanted to leave him for some time now, but society's pressures encouraged her to stay. They have tried counseling, but that only encouraged her to try to be the "good wife," and the counseling, offered only once a month, addressed just basic issues in a marriage and not his violent rages. This time, we got the police involved. A women's police department exists here, and their primary function is to help women who are victims of domestic violence.

Filing the formal complaint was the typical Indian process that took over four hours, but in the end Mary got a case number, which means that she can now officially take him to court and file for divorce (unfortunately, divorce here can take years, but it is possible). If he is seen loitering around her place of employment, the neighborhood police can now arrest him and throw him in jail, not just an overnight holding area. He can get out on bail but it will be conditional bail, and if he approaches her again, his bail will be rescinded.

Tomorrow the police are going to her house where it happened to talk to the neighbors, collect evidence, then try to arrest him.

It's a long road for Mary, especially in India. We congratulate her courage in doing what's right for her safety and the safety of her kids. She is an example for the countless Indian women (and women everywhere) who are abused by their spouses. She has the guts and the self-respect to want out of a horrible situation, even though such action goes completely against her culture's ways of thinking. The typical reaction here is, "oh, this is common among 'their people'." Pointing out that it's still not right, no matter how common, often bring an uncomfortable silence to the conversation. As a divorcee, Mary will be shunned by her community and viewed as "dirty." He, on the other hand, will be free to marry again, as many times as he wants, in fact. Such is how it is here. But she’s got guts to do this, and enough self-respect to refuse to be abused by him anymore. So we and Auntie are doing whatever we can to help her.

Shanti at Karunya Mane

A new girl, Shanti,moved in today. Her mom lives next door to Vishnu's and Pallavi's mom in the slum area, and her dad ran away a long time ago. Shanti is nine and has been going to school for a few years. Her mom washes pots and pans at a restaurant, and seems to have some kind of skin condition, or perhaps some form of leprosy. We told her to come to the street one morning and we'd take her to the doctor.

Although Shanti should start fourth grade, she's being put into first grade. The headmaster said she has the potential to learn, she just needs a better opportunity.

Vishnu’s mom told us that both the girl and the mom want Shanti to live at Karunya Mane. Sometimes deciding to take them in is difficult if we haven't known the kid or mom for very long. Since Shanti came referred by one of our trustworthy moms, has only one parent, and wants to continue her education, she met our criteria.

Two more women on antiretrovirals

This month, two more of our women began taking antiretrovirals (ART) as treatment for HIV. One woman, Yashwini (named changed to protect her identity) had her CD4 test done at the government clinic in late March, and the results showed a 303 count. After she had gotten sick, she was referred to the private HIV clinic in the area that had the facilities to admit her and care for her as an inpatient. While there, the doctors suspected that her CD4 count of 303 was incorrect and ordered another test. That test came back at 44 (people with healthy immune systems register CD4 counts between 1000 and 1500), dramatically different from the first test and a bit upsetting.

The doctor recommended that she start on ART, but since Yashwini had been discharged, we could not find her very easily---the street women sometimes wander around the city, or go back to their village for a couple of days.

In mid-May, Yashwini finally reappeared and was quite ill, with a fever and severe dehydration and fatigue. We admitted her to the HIV clinic, where they treated her, and she finally started on ART.

Our second woman recently found out that she is positive, but the government clinic did not do a CD4 count that day and told her to return in two weeks. As she was moving into Karunya Mane, we took her to the private HIV clinic for a checkup and requested a CD4 test, as she seemed quite weak and frail, weighing at most 25 kg (55 pounds). Her test results showed a CD4 count of 26, and she immediately started on ART.

The ART has some side effects, such as dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. Encouraging the women to continue taking their medicine even while experiencing these side effects is very important, as once the drugs "kick in" (after about a month), we have seen tremendous improvement in their health status, which is then their encouragement to take good care of themselves and to properly take their medicine.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Back-to-school health checkups and school bags

Since school started on the 26th for the kids, Saturday the 24th was our back-to-school health checkups for the kids. On that day, members from SWARG also arrived to pass out school bags to all of our kids.

Dr. G (our fabulous doctor on our board in India) brought a couple of pediatricians, including Dr. Umesh, head pediatrician at JSS Medical Hospital, to see our kids for free. Here's Surya getting his weight checked, and Dr. Umesh checking Anand's throat.

Everyone got their height and weight measured, Dr. Umesh was pleasantly surprised to see that most of our kids are very healthy and well nourished.

SWARG (which in Hindi means "the heaven we desire") is a charitable organization started by young, proactive, open-minded individuals from Infosys who want to give back to their society, particularly by harnessing the minds of deprived children, identifying the children who cannot afford education, focusing on innovative methods of preventing poverty, providing health care throughout the year, prohibiting child labor. We also make sure that all the benefits directly reach these children and transparency is maintained (from the SWARG What we do statement).

From SWARG's Who we are statement: The greatest stumbling block of a human mind is to think that 'No one is there to take care of me.' If we can make these children feel that "WE" are there to take care of them, their lives would change. So WE, a continuously expanding group, have set out on a mission to change this world. And if not change it, try to change it. In a country where religion dominates every nook and cranny of life, SWARG's religion is humanity.

SWARG accomplishes their objectives by working with organizations such as Operation Shanti.

On this same Saturday, four members from SWARG passed out school bags to all of our kids.

It's safe to say that everyone had a great time on Saturday and the kids made some great new friends in the members of SWARG. Top two and last photos courtesy of SWARG.

Little Jeevan at Karunya Mane

Little Jeevan, Asha's cousin, arrived at Karunya Mane on May 24. He's four year old and suffers from asthma, as does his mom. Mom is Asha's aunt, and when we went to visit her today and get some of the photos that Asha had from various yoga student friends, she asked if we could take Jeevan.
Mom lives in a shack in the slum area called Hale Kesare, and Asha stayed there after her mom died and before she came to stay with us. Their roof often leaks when it rains and the floor is made of hard dirt. Mom gathers up paper from trash cans to sell (4 rupees for 10 kg of paper) and sometimes cleans houses for extra money. She's a good woman, and only wants to see Asha and Jeevan safe. She is obviously very poor, but during her first Sunday visit to KM, she brought enough cake for all of the kids.

This is Gowtham (kneeling), Jeevan's two-year-old little brother. We hope he'll come to stay with us next year. He lives with his mom and she has him in the local daycare center so that she can work during the day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Book donation

Applied Materials in India held a book drive and selected a few charities to receive their donated books. We were lucky to receive a box full of great books for our kids.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The May fundraiser

On May 23, the "One Night Off the Mat" fundraiser was hosted by Santosa Cafe, good friends of Operation Shanti. Food was donated by Anu and Ganesh of Anu's Internet Cafe. Countless people helped organize the event, and numerous generous folks in the community donated chai, auction prizes, and entertainment. The event was a huge success, a lot of fun for all, and raised enough funds to help pay for school fees, bunk beds, and medicines for our kids at Karunya Mane.

The first seven kids that we met three years ago
(Chumi, Pallavi, Latta, Prema, Venkatesh, Nanjunda, and Asha) attended the event. They had a great time watching the magician do his tricks and the Snake Sam show off his incredibly slippery snakes!
Latta and Richard hanging out

They also loved the chocolate-covered bananas and the chocolate fountain. The auction was the hit of the evening, with PJ and Richard as emcees, and many in the community donating amazing prizes.

As one generous donor said, "We were just doing our homework. Bad karma: 0; Good karma: 1".

Om namah shivaya.

Nanjunda, Pallavi, and Sumitra, and a bunch of yoga students

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Baby moves to KM

In early May, a man visited KM with his mother-in-law and a young woman, who turned out to be an orphan. He was inquiring about whether this orphan, named Baby, could come to stay with us. Years ago, she had been taken from her home to be child servant in a house in Coorg, three hours from Mysore. At that house, she was beaten and punished often, so she ran away.

She was found by this family sitting at a bus stop in Bangalore, crying. This man's mother-in-law saw her there, brought her to their home, and they named her "Baby." Although they had her doing chores around the house and (for whatever reason) didn't send her to school, they did take good care of her and treated her well. She stayed with them for ten years, til they brought her to us.

Recently, they learned that she has a few health problems that they as a family believe they are unable to deal with, so they brought her to us, hoping that we could help her. Baby is now with us at Karunya Mane, where she gets proper treatment and lives in an accepting and healing environment.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prema's second ear operation

Prema was discharged today from the hospital, after a four-day stay to have her right ear operated on. She had the same surgery a few months ago on her left ear, as she suffered chronic ear infections since birth. She lost some hearing in her left ear and can later be fitted for a hearing aid, but the doctor thought her right ear would function almost normally, having suffered less damage.

Prema is recovering quite nicely back at Karunya Mane, and she's enjoying the arrival of her friend Amita.

Amita comes to Karunya Mane

Amita, Lokesh's sister who didn't go to boarding school last year because mom said no and was not allowed to come to KM until now, finally managed to convince her mom to let her come to stay with us. They live in a slum area and Amita had attended the nearby government school, where she did well as a student, but obviously is still far behind where she should be---she should be in seventh grade, but the new school has put her back a few years, to fourth grade. Amita and Prema are good friends.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Kaveriamma's mom passes away

Kaveriamma, a 50-year-old woman we've known for three years, lived on the streets for over 25 years. She moved into Karunya Mane when we opened in February. She has a sister but won't go to her house, thinking she'd bring shame to her family because she lived as a street woman. In early May while at Karunya Mane, Kaveriamma received a letter from her sister in her native place (Kumta, about a day's bus ride from Mysore) that their mother had passed away four months ago. Kaveriamma was very sad and cried as she told us the news. It had been years since she last saw her mother, as she could never afford the bus fare to take trips to see her family back home.

This month, Kaveriamma took the trip with her son to Kumta to visit her remaining relatives and put closure on her mom's passing. She brought back photos of her late father and her sister as keepsakes.

Her fondest memory of her childhood is when her dad would carry her on his shoulders when they went to the fair.

Kaveriamma was married off at the age of twelve. Her husband brought her to Mysore, where she worked cleaning houses. She had her first child at the age of thirteen, then when she was seventeen, her husband left her and her three children. She was not from Mysore and knew nobody locally. Eventually, she could not earn enough to pay the rent, and ended up living on the street, trying to make ends meet selling vegetables or begging. She lived a very hard life on the street, and suffered a stroke four years ago that left her left side partially paralyzed. Late last year, we helped her get an operation that she needed at a nearby hospital.

Living on the street, Kaveriamma endured things that we can't even imagine could happen to another human being, let alone a woman. Through it all, she has maintained her dignity and continues to be a good friend to Operation Shanti.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Welcome to the Operation Shanti blog

We are starting the Operation Shanti blog to provide you with timely information on our kids and moms. The intent of our blog is to highlight what's going on in their lives and to focus on social issues that they encounter as destitutes. We hope you'll take the time to get to know them better.

For more on our work and our projects, and to make a donation, please see our website at