Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Philosophy of Paulo Freire

by sunny kulathakal

Renowned educationist Paulo Freire has said that for the creation of a new world order, it was necessary to remove many of the handcuffs of mankind adding that this is possible only through practical education.

Freire made this remark during an interview he gave during his visit to Bangalore to speak on “Whether Education is torture or liberation” at an All India seminar organised by the Ecumenical Christian Centre.

Paulo Freire hailing from Brazil is a renowned educational activist, working at international level to bring in a revolutionary change in the educational front by mooting a new educational system helpful for lakhs of people to overcome their problems in life and convince the mankind of the realities of life.

There were emotions of a truthful approach and sincere commitment explicit in the words of Freire who had to gone through a series of bitter experiences of agony and starvation ever since his birth in 52 years ago in utter poverty. He put those who have caused the degeneration of education as an instrument to safeguard vested interests in the stand of the accused during his talk. He became very much emotional while presenting his educational concepts and philosophy which got evolved from his own experiences.

The Silence

Freire was of the opinion that it was due to the ignorance and lethargy of the have-nots that the social and political dominance existing in several parts of the world is growing uncontrollably. He termed this phenomenon which he came to discern through his close mingling with the poor as the “culture of silence”. He says that education is acting as a medium in the perpetuation of this culture.

Even those who do not cent percent agree the effort of Paulo Freire to introduce educational system in a new perspective in the nation building process by synthesizing the different aspects of the philosophies of Sartre, Monshear, Eric Frome, Louis Althusier, Mao, Martin Luther King and others as correct or practical will not say that there is no relevance at all in bringing in changes in the existing educational system.

His revolutionary ideas relating to educational system happened to become popular beyond the boundaries of Brazil. His educational agenda awakened many in Latin America and acted as a motivating force to engage in meaningful nation building process.

Paulo Freire who pointed out that the people of Brazil were still reeling under the exploitation of the ruling class despite the fact that it was now 150 years since the country managed to free itself from the yoke of Portuguese colonial rule added that the source of his wealth of experience was the exploited lot of his country.

“My knowledge of education was not gained just by reading. It is the sum total of my direct taste of a variety of agonies”, he said. Recalling the agonizing memories, he continued his exciting story:

“I was born in a middle class family in the most difficult area of my country. This gave me the opportunity to face many a tough challenge. I used to closely watch each and every movement of my fellow countrymen. The economic recession of 1929 virtually ravaged my family. I was so young at that time. We could only helplessly watch poverty and starvation playing havoc with our family. I have closely come to know what hunger really means and what the emotional upsurges at the height of hunger are. We all feel hunger through knowing whether we need to eat or not to eat. I could understand more about those experiences today than what I could in those days. Though I could understand the “geography” of my hunger and the flora and fauna around me during those days, I was not much unaware of the geography of the text books. I was more inclined to truly know the existing realities. I didn’t have the craze to secure a degree. I was studying in a secondary school at the age of 16-17. I never used to waste a single moment. Even when I was outside the school I was engaged in directly learning about the existence of myself and my fellow beings. I still continue to be the same boy having a practical and probing mind”.

How much the agony of others influences him could be understood from his narration of what he saw when he landed in Mumbai for the first time. A humanist to the core, Freire who felt sympathy for the condition of the people he saw sleeping on the pavements said:

“What I saw there were not human beings, but their shadows. Is it because of being lazy their condition has become like this? Never; it was the existing social set up that has landed them in such a situation. Since I have dedicated myself to such people, I feel that I could identify myself with them more than anybody else.

Freire who was well aware of the possibility of using education either to enslave people or emancipate them has devised an unusual literacy scheme meant for the illiterate. As a result of this, many who have become literate enough to read and write started to view their social situations in a critical angle. It was in a thesis prepared for his PhD, Freire introduced his educational philosophy for the first time. He gave final touches to the philosophy while he was working as a professor in a Brazilian University and working among the illiterates later. The authorities were in panic at his revolutionary philosophy. It also led to his imprisonment in 1964. Fryer who was let out after 70 days went to Chile. There he was engaged in some UNESCO activities for five years. Thereafter he worked as consultant of the Harvard University’s School of Education. He is at present working as the advisor to the World Council of Churches.

Freire has authored several books and essays in Portuguese and Spanish. His books titled “Pedagogy of the oppressed” and “Cultural action for freedom” have been translated into English.

In the educational philosophy of Freire who believes that people teach each other through the society as medium, there is no distinction between teacher and student. A person is both a student and teacher at the same time. “If some one claims that he is a professor or a scholar, I will definitely disagree with it. Knowledge is not a package which one could distribute to anyone and anywhere without difficulty”, he said and went on to quote Socretes who said “the one and only thing I know is that I don’t know anything”. He is fully aware of the fact that he is engaged in the process of learning through teaching and teaching through learning.

Learning is not just blurting words nor reproducing some words and phrases after by-hearting the same. According to him what needed over and above just reading and writing is critical reflective thought.

Banking Education

The viability of his educational scheme will be clearer if one listens to what he has pointed out about the existing teacher-student relationship.

The teacher is just conducting a narrative process while the student is just acting the role of a listener. Even if the summary of the narration might be about values or life experiences within the framework of realities, it usually will be a frozen and lifeless style. Freire who established that this kind of education suffers from “Narration sickness” describes the same as “banking education”. What guides the teachers is the notion that they are entrusted with the responsibility to fill the students with the summary of the narrative relating to various subjects.

In fact such summaries will have the least relationship to the realities. It will be a gush of words that are empty. Those hollow words will not be capable to hold in it the solid realities in its fullest sense so as to help the students to make use of it in their practical life. One major handicap of narrative teaching is that the focus given to the pronunciation of words is not given to the transformation power of the words. Because of this the students engage themselves in the process of just by-hearting the information they scribble while hearing the narration. The students are liable to reproduce in whatever manner as demanded by the teacher who has deposited the same in the “never drying” vessel which is the student. Viewed in this angle education has come down to just a depositing system. The students are just submissively accepting what all the teachers deposit in them without any reciporcal understanding, synergy of ideas or mutual Communication.

Freire who opined that education has lost its direction due to its inability to bring in creative transformation has mooted the idea of “Problem posing education” as an alternative to the present “Banking education”. He believes that this alternative system of education will help a person to critically analyse things beyond the mask of apparent realities, become creatively active and effectively face the challenges of day to day life.

When problems affecting students come up one by one in the world the students will inevitably have to take them as challenges. When each challenge becomes integrally linked to the total life situation, it would be impossible for the students to view them just philosophically. The very awareness that the knowledge they have imbibed has a bearing on their daily life will motivate them to accept new challenges and form new ideas. In turn this will make them work with more dedication.

Sunny 46-the culture of education

Scattered Truths

by sunny kulathakal

“Oh World, shed tears for the prostitutes who die due to venereal ailments in the stinking drainages of the society after dispensing pleasure to man. Prostitutes are angels, they are sages, and they are goddesses, shed tears for them” this plea is from the pen of M Mukundan. Those who have directly heard and read prostitutes’ “confessional secrets” which have the “dampness and taste of tears” would never hesitate to shed tears for them. Whether just tears are enough for those thousands of young women who are destined to spend their days and nights within the confines of iron cages like that of birds with only stories that have the sour taste of tears tell the outside world is yet another issue.

Many of those hapless women who had had to lead an immoral life after being cheated by bogus romance might deserve respectful sympathy. What they could tell are not just the heart rending stories of a sinful life and the pathetic condition of the dirty drains on which they had been drifting. Also they need not consider the offensive things they had committed in their cursed life are all wrong. To them the border line between right and wrong will be very thin.

We have already seen that many of them had to succumb to prostitution due to broken human relationships, molested womanhood, life of starvation and poverty, the shock and insecurity following the death of those who were the pillars and shade of the family, the inevitable destiny to follow their hereditary profession of selling their body along with a host of compelling social and economic circumstances.

It is high time to raise voice against the social system which revels in putting such fallen women behind bars for life, making them showpieces and draining out their blood to the last drop. While those who mate with the prostitutes walk in the society with their heads held aloft, the nightingales who dispense pleasure to them are portrayed as despised and sinners.

Brothels are virtually dungeons. There is no one to hear the agonized writhing and sobs of the self crucifying souls emanating from there. The brimming grief of the prostitutes always merges with the melancholy hovering over their very surroundings. The distress of the souls which could aspire for freedom will be writ large on their faces.

We also are human beings

The voice of prostitutes emanated from Maharashtra and Paris in 1975 which was celebrated as the “International year of the women” caught the attention of the world.

“Give us and our children the respect and love on par with the rest of the human beings” this was the voice of the Devadasis of Maharashtra. The highlights in the Charter of demands submitted by the committee of prostitutes working in Paris were their demand to ensure full freedom and citizenship to them. “Let us be allowed to live in dignity by freeing us from the troubles of the police and other authorities” they pleaded in a single voice. They demanded old age pension and social security on part with the rest of the French women. The charter also demanded that prostitution be recognized as an industry which helps a section of the society to fulfill its sexual needs.

The authorities taking necessary measures to ensure the health and welfare of the society which creates the community of prostitutes are not giving due consideration to the issues of the prostitutes. There are even complaints that a conspiracy is on to deprive them of their status in the society. The strangest thing is that those who frequent the prostitutes are also among those who clamour for casting them out of the society and pelting stones by labeling them as vendors of venereal diseases.

Law as a weapon

Thinking that prostitution can be done away using law as a weapon is nothing but absurd. The fact is that it cannot do much in eliminating prostitution nor in weakening it. History has proved that laws and restrictions could not bridle prostitution as a profession. If the battle against prostitution turns into a war against prostitutes, it will be a total failure. The incidence of concerned authorities effectively using the arrows in the armoury of laws against prostitution effectively is also very rare. Most of the time, it will finally land on the chest of the hapless and fallen woman.

There are many discrepancies in the ongoing efforts to protect the fallen women who are ousted from the mainstream of public life. Only when they were taken up individually and their individual life and the past were examined, then only one could understand in what all realms their emotions are traversing and know how to handle them.

Zheney’s experience

Zheney who was a wonderful phenomenon of the 20th century literature took to stealing due to starvation. Retorting against the society which branded him as thief and deserted him, he wrote like this “when I was cast out of the society, I pampered the reality of being deserted through lusting male prostitutes, craving for theft, and participating in crime. Thus I denied the society which denied me”. The same is what happens in the case of the prostitutes who are cast out by the society.

Society needs them

St Augustine who said with foresightedness 1700 years ago that prostitutes were an essential component to the society had contended that sinning with a prostitute was better than raping a modest woman. Athanesious has recorded that slave women were bought s as to avoid molestation of modest woman. An 18th century philosopher has pointed out that society was bound to be indebted to the services rendered by the prostitutes to ensure the modesty of the general womenfolk. Scofanhore (19th century) has said that prostitutes are the human scapegoats sacrificed in the altar of monogamy. Many scholars also have acknowledged the existence of prostitutes as strong sentinels for protecting the chastity of other woman. Balsaat in his book on marriage has written like this: “They (prostitutes) are dedicating themselves to the country. In safeguarding the nobility of families they submit their body as a protective wall”. The English philosopher (1725) has noted “the harmful aspects of prostitution can be avoided to a large extend if it can be considered as a profession running on strict rules and conditions”.

Listen to the opinion of Saunders Welch who was magistrate in Westminster in 1758: “any person should be given the power to hand over to the law enforcement authority women who were seen enticing men for prostitution in public roads and streets. The concerned persons in charge should be given the powers to decide the punishment for women who are thus jailed on studying their state of mind after admitting them in a special hospital”.

In this context it is of relevance to recall the agitations staged in Europe in the 17th century. In Germany brothels were attacked and drove out prostitutes out of the town. In France the pimps were hanged. Prostitutes were subjected to lashes. Heads were tonsured. They were exiled for an indefinite period. But none of these helped to solve the problem. Prostitution only flourished in those areas.

How a country where prostitution is neither illegal nor a crime could handle the issues arising out of it? Illicit and public enticement, sexual relationship with pre mature women, rape, and incest, protection to brothel and income from the same are the main offences in India. Existing laws are giving silent permission to cut at the very roots of prostitution. Moreover, only the women who are subjected to prostitution caused by the men’s lust are being punished and assigned to rescue homes. Under the existing system men who exploit women in the darkness not considered guilty in the eyes of the law.

The contentions of those who suggest for nationalizing the profession of prostitution and favour its continuance are also worth noting in the current context. Much more serious are the things happening in broad daylight than the prostitution that is taking place under the guise of darkness. Moreover it is dangerous trying to bridle the sexual activity which is one of the prime biological needs of humans. Since sexual feeling is a state of mind and a physical inevitability, man is bound to do anything to satisfy that desire. Just like not minding to eat or drink anything at anywhere once you are thirsty and hungry, many things may be indulged into without minding the consequences to quench the sexual appetite.

The necessary evil

In short, prostitution is an essential evil that helps to siphon out the dangerous passions of the society. It is the prostitutes who act as the safety valves of social life who protects the modesty of our mothers and sisters. Moreover prostitution is the bread and butter of many women and those who are dependant on them. See the other side of it too.

The basic objections to prostitution as a profession are the following: It will increase sexual crimes, it will spread venereal diseases, it will make spoil the youth, and it will lead to moral degeneration and so on. Some of these have been questioned also. For example listen to the argument that it will spoil the youth. It is argued that moral strength has not been seriously affected in countries where prostitutes are available in plenty! In the US where prostitution is illegal, a major chunk of the youth is addicted to drugs. The argument is that problems could be solved if prostitutes are approached instead of drugs. But what could happen be other way. The youth will prefer to live with drugs on one hand prostitute on the other hand rather than making a choice. Those who favor prostitution is of the view that cuddling a prostitute after forsaking drugs will help one to live without inviting any harm to the brain. Whatever it is one thing is certain: Prostitutes cannot become a substitute for drugs.

If the problem of starvation and unemployment are solved prostitution could be reined to an extent. However, high level prostitution could not be eliminated.

Training at home

If the friction in marital life and disruptions in family life are rectified, prostitution can be controlled to a certain extend. If sufficient training to become a matured personality and control passions sensibly are gained at home, many of the problems could be solved.

If sufficient housing facilities are provided in cities and towns, the craze to depend on brothels for satisfying a biological need may come down. The mental stress of persons who leave wives at native place because of the non availability of family accommodation in cities they work is likely to come down if such facilities are made available.

Reduce demand

Prostitution is not a problem which could be solved just by providing the necessary sex education, livelihood and punishing the exploiters. The demand for prostitutes will come down when the number of men uncontrollably inclined to approach other women for new experiences and situations wherein sexual needs could be satisfied in the normal manner arise. As long as demand does not come down, prostitution will continue in the society as a head ache.

Prostitution will come under control only when the system of treating women as salable commodity is scrapped. There also should be change in the outlook that woman is an instrument for sexual pleasure and are shadows programmed to move according to commands pre-set.

Strict control

Though it would be impossible to totally ban prostitution efforts are on to put strict control over it. It is said that it is due to the existence of prostitutes that there are now over 20 crore persons affected by venereal diseases. Braving the medical science this disease has already become a nightmare for the world population. In fact it seems that the venereal disease which can be contacted by anybody through sexual relationship is a weapon with which the nature is compelling the mankind to bridle prostitution.

Public cooperation is essential to fight prostitution and venereal diseases. Prostitutes will have a dignified life only when the society accepts and recognizes them. The tendency to brand them as sex vendors and keeping them away needs to be stopped. It is difficult for many to admit that prostitution is a reality of life and it is neither wrong nor right in itself.

Let those who have not sinned pelt stones

The crowd which brought a prostitute for stoning to death as per the Jewish law was told by Jesus “Let those who have not sinned among you pelt the first stone”. According to Bible they all departed one by one without even have the guts to bend themselves to pick up a stone. Jesus who pardoned her sins gave her an opportunity and encouragement to follow the right track in the future.

In the present circumstances what usually happens is that a woman who falls into the pit once ends her life in the same pit. This is an extremely pathetic situation. It will be virtually impossible to even those who wish to get out of that deep pit. The efforts being made by voluntary organizations and the government through rescue shelters for such women are hardly sufficient when compared to the gravity of the issue.

It was a woman named Josephine Butler who spearheaded the agitations at the international level against prostitution. She had not only set up an organisation called Boleshenist Federation, but also could draw the attention of those who have social awareness to from across the globe to this issue. The steps taken by the League of Nations to control prostitution was based on the philosophy of Josephine.

The Indian penal code and Suppresssion of Immoral traffic in Women and Girls Act 104 of 1956 also to an extend help in controlling prostitution.

Apart from what is being done now to throw light into the social anarchy being created by prostitution several other things also need to be done. Before prescribing guidelines after analyzing the right and wrong of prostitution, solutions have to be found out for the basic reasons for prostitution. There is a need to make the ordinary public aware about the world of prostitutes. And this is not for making the public to ritualistically shed tears for the prostitutes. Instead it should be meant to infuse the feeling that they are also human beings. This may lead to not creating the conditions conducive for prostitution in society. The dangers of prostitution could be possibly avoided if a conscious and wholesome effort is made towards the total progress and prosperity of mankind. Let me repeat the lines of Vayalar once again: “May be wrong, but wrongs took birth after the ages and they are winning”. (From the book titled “the world of prostitutes”)

Individuals going astray

by sunny kulathakal

A priest, a doctor and a social worker were interacting on the subject, “Youth and narcotic drugs” with a packed crowd at a church in London. When the question & answer session came, the youths one by one without any hesitation stood up and started shooting questions. What is the proof for the contention that pep pills meant for stimulation is harmful to health? How much heroin can be consumed safely without the fear of addition? What can happen to us if we smoked dry plantain stem after burning it? The questions were interestingly vivid and strange at times.

On the back row of the audience there were a few reputed middle aged persons. Being residents of city suburbs they didn’t have much idea about these issues. How could that older generation know about the intricacies of drug abuse? According to one youngster in the gathering, what could be done in the issue of drugs was just to make it available in sufficient quantities to the needy. The problem of another was that his weight had come down a little due to usage of drugs and he has some anxiety about the same. A young lady claimed that she had taken 23 tablets that evening.

Youngsters who attended had only unsatisfactory remarks about the meeting. They complained that only the opinions of the elders were discussed and they were not allowed to come to the stage for presenting their arguments. “The old men could not understand all these. When we argue in favour of drugs they naturally adopt a negative attitude to it” they were saying.

There is at least some substance in this criticism. Narcotics are a subject on which the youngsters don’t have the right knowledge while the old generation has a strong prejudice. We could hear the clamour on the one side for counter measures by those who just brand “drug abuse as the bane of the youngsters” and despise the same. On the other side there is an undue hue and cry about drug abuse. But no one is really bothered about the dangerous side of drugs. Between these, the lack of communication and generation gap are creating more widespread problems.

There are at least a few among the older generation and younger generation who could think in a matter of fact manner. It is desirable if they could find answers for the questions cited below.

What are the explanations of the medical science about narcotic drugs?
Why some are self-experimenting with such drugs?
What are the social and personal factors that make some get addicted to drugs and its consequences?
What the society needs to do for solving the issues arising out of drug abuse?

There are people who think that intoxicating drugs are only those which are being used illegally. This is not correct. There are many other drugs being abused other than those which are illegal. Drugs which transform human mind and the sensible planes of man are catching the attention of the world of late. Each drug has its own harmful effects and lead to dangerous consequences. One common characteristic of drugs is that they create a kind of psychedelic dependence. “The mental temptation to use drugs from time to time or regularly as a means to get relief from discomfort or as a time-pass (Psychic drive)” this is how WHO has described such kind of psychedelic dependence. Heroin and sleeping pills contain in itself the power to create such kind of dependency. This is present in a minimal measure even in nicotine contained in cigarette and caffeine contained in coffee.

As already mentioned, some drugs can lead to psychedelic dependence. Since they cause some chemical change in the body, there will be serious physical problems when one discontinues using the same. Heroin, arrack, morphine and sleeping pills belong to this category. These also can be listed as some of the strongest narcotics. Once it was thought that only severe drugs can cause addiction while soft drugs are not that dangerous. What is caused by the former is described as addiction while that caused by the latter is known as habituation. There is a possibility of people depending to the maximum on drugs like cannabis which does not cause physical addiction. That’s why WHO is inclined to use the word “dependence” instead of “addiction”. The variance of this kind of dependence will be in accordance with the psychological characteristics of the individual users. Hence the categorization as heavy intoxication and lighter intoxication might not always be correct.

Apart from physical and mental dependence, narcotic drugs can also cause drug tolerance. This leads to progressive hiking the dose of the drugs to get the satisfaction, the users initially used to have. In the book “Confessions of an opium eater”, the author, De Quincy, an Englishman has described his own experience. He confesses that he had to increase the dose of opium manifold over the course of time to get the satisfaction he got when he used it initially. Those who are tolerant to a particular drug are likely to develop drug tolerance towards substances similar to that particular one. This is known as cross tolerance. For example are the tolerance to heroin and pethadine by users of opium.

The features observed in persons who attempt to discontinue using certain drugs are known as withdrawal symptoms. These are likely to create serious problems. It is safer to have such a withdrawal process take place under expert medical supervision. These withdrawal complications are because of the loss of equilibrium which, the user had attained due to regular usage of some particular drugs and his acclimatization with the same. The initial symptoms will be lethargy and weakness followed by restlessness and panic. Stomach ache and omitting also may occur. Sleeplessness and disruption in speech are also likely to happen. In short it will be a virtually pathetic condition. Withdrawal symptoms are most agonizing among the users of morphine, opium and heroin. To know the severity of physical dependence, the best thing is to stop the supply of opium to a regular user.

Manamanath Guptha, during his jail days happened to directly witness the experience of a political prisoner addicted to opium failed to get it. He describes the incident like this: “When opium was not available in the jail he was totally broken. By next morning he had almost become a dead man. He could not even move his body. Just like a deflated balloon, all his laughter and enthusiasm had departed from him. He was totally disinclined to move and talk. Even his responses to anxious and sympathetic enquiries were in an extremely feeble and tired tone. He lied down covering himself in a blanket. The fellow prisoners could not discern what his ailment was. When the barracks closed in the evening what we heard was that he had managed to get out after submitting a letter seeking pardon. Had he got opium according to his need, I am sure that he would not have written for pardon”.

Have a look into what is described in a Malayalam novel about the peculiar condition of the people who are regular users of opium. Kunjonachan, the central character of “Arnazhikaneram” the novel of Parappurathu is asking the doctor “is there any harm in eating opium?” The doctor’s reply was like this “opium is of course harmful, but stopping at this stage will do only more harm. Even if it is poison, if one takes it in a fixed measure over a long period, it will become a necessity for the body”.

One thing is clear from all these. Whatever is the drug it will have its adverse impact on the human body. In short, the physical and mental problems will be manifiold for those who take drugs for some temporary relief and pleasure.

Views on the occurrence of addiction of drugs are varied. At what stage it turns into addiction varies from individual to individual. The evaluation of the intensity of addiction varies depending on the difference in perspectives like medical, psychological or social. A doctor’s interest comes only when the health of the person who uses drugs is in danger. The social workers intervene when the productivity of the society gets affected. Psychologists turn their attention when the problem assumes psychic dimensions in individuals. It is also worth noting that not all the drugs create the same kind of addiction.

What contained in narcotic drugs are substances-either natural or synthetic- that create the temptation to enter an unusual state of deep sleep or hallucination. These drugs are generally called as narcotic drugs. Even a minor dose can affect mental sharpness. It helps to conduct painless surgeries and cause deep sleep. But overdose of these drugs might lead to unconsciousness, over sleep, emotional outburst, total collapse and even death. The best examples of narcotic drugs are opium and its extracts like heroin and morphine. Those who depend on them on a regular basis used to become slaves of the same and their life will be in doldrums. Apart from mental and moral degeneration it will also lead to physical ruin.

Drug dependence and drug abuse are two different things. Abuse of drugs tells on the value judgment of the society. While talking about the abuse of drugs in general, nobody thinks much about its medicinal values. Use of drugs other than for medicinal purposes can also be listed as abuse of drugs. Excessive and unnecessary administration drugs other than narcotic ones can also be categorized as drug abuse. The word abuse is generally used to highlight the harmful consequences of developing drug use as a habit and getting over- intoxicated with drugs.

There are many who ask the following questions: why should the society bothered about the harm occurring to an individual due to usage of drugs? If the behaviour of such an individual does not directly affect the society is there any need for the society to intervene? Those who ask such questions have not studied exactly what narcotic drugs are. They are also the ones who have not thought the least about its harmful impact. They are also not realising the fact that it is the totality of the individual activity of each person in the society that controls the pulse of the society as a whole. In this context an analytical study of the realities of drugs in the light of medical science is of great relevance.

In the land of oil

by summy kulathakal

You may not know Khader, who has a shadows lurking face. He belongs to Kannur. Current occupation: selling oranges to earn a living in the heart of Dubai city. He is just one among the thousands of youngsters who ventured into the sweltering sands in search of the oasis of earning a living.

Standing on single foot, his eyes were roaming around. He seemed to be ready to flee at slightest signal of danger. There was a clear trace of panic in his eyes

An array of motorized canoes will always be there at the busy Creek region of Dubai for ferrying people. He is standing there as if he is unaware of anything around. But, at times he was glancing at the orange basket placed next to him. There were some ripe ones in the basket. These oranges come from Lebanon.

I approached Khader with the excitement of meeting yet another character. I bought an orange for one and half rupee. While trying to peel, the pulp resisted to part with the skin. After handing over the orange, Khader moved away as if loathing my presence. But I went close to him. It seemed that he is under the spell of some fear. I enquired the reason. The fact is that those who don’t have license to sell on the roadside or elsewhere will be instantly caught and sent behind bars. That is the law. If he is an outsider, deportation is for sure. There is no leniency. It is the strict rule of the Dubai Municipality.

Then I recalled the situation in some of the Indian cities. I have seen police chasing away the pavement vendors near the premises of Flora Fountain in Mumbai and Majestic in Bangalore. Most often these are lightning raids, but always they get a tip off from a police itself. Within seconds all the vendors along at least a 2Km stretch of the pavement will vanish. Their merchandise will be safely deposited in some hideouts in the city itself. Once the police leave, the vendors will instantly be back in the same place.

This will never happen in Gulf countries where the police will not collude with unauthorized vendors on the sidewalks. Guys like Khader also lack the tactics to dupe them. Another handicap is their poor skill in communicative Arabic. However pavement vending like what we witness in Indian cities is possible in gulf region also provided if you have an Arab as your partner.

My days in the land of Oil

During my travel across the length and breadth of the Gulf region both by air and road for nearly one and half years, I had personally come to know the variety of problems being encountered by our people mainly the Keralaites who struggle for a living in this alien land amid numerous adversities. What I recount here are not the stories of those who landed here in search of fortunes and managed to reach top positions.

Many of the early birds have managed to reach top positions. But I had occasions to hear many a pathetic story of those who arrived in later years and landed in troubles in the wake of new legislations. There are several Malayalees who are yet to gain a foothold in Gulf region with their fate hanging in mid air. Also there are many who are for years on job hunt in the scorching desert sands braving both the extreme heat and chilling cold. And who is there to heed their woes?

Many of these stories could not be openly shared with the relatives and close ones when they reach the homeland. There are many who come home on just two or three weeks leave after a gap of two or three years. They are compelled to opt for a kind of indiscernible mask over their face when they come home. During the few days at home they try their level best to make happy their parents and relatives who struggled hard to sent them to the heavenly land of Gulf with great expectations

Typical is the story of this youth hailing from Chenganasserry. (Not disclosing the name) He came home on a three weeks leave for his marriage. I happened to meet him when he came to a local press to print his marriage invitation. He was wearing an electronic wrist watch in the hand, a Rolex camera hanging on the shoulders, a costly filter cigarette between the fingers and he was wearing a turlin shirt and bell bottom trousers, apparently of foreign origin. He was washed in the fragrance of French perfume, foreign talcum powder, hair cream, and snow. His behaviour could impress anyone and his conversation was interesting. All made it quite plain that he has come home from Gulf. He introduced himself as a supervisor in a Dubai construction company. I made it a point to write down his address.

I reached Dubai in 1976 December. I wrote a letter to him in the address and waited. But he did not respond or turned up. One day I was just strolling down the Creek next to the Dubai Petroleum Company, where I was working. Then I saw a few young men engaged in the job of filling the gutters on the road with the soil from a heap in front of a famous hotel. I looked back when I heard two of them wearing trousers and shirt talking in Malayalam. It was getting dark and the faces were not clear.

There is a saying that “the leopard will eat even grass when pushed to the edge”. There are a lot of graduates and technically qualified among those who reach gulf. There are literates and illiterates as well. Once they fail to get an employment to their choice they will be ready to do any job. This pitiable state of affairs is prevalent in most of the Gulf countries. I felt that it was time to correct the misconceptions about the “Promised Land” when I heard the real life stories of doctors working as nurses, and engineering graduates employed as clerks and higher graduates labouring in the gardens of Arab households. The condition of some of the educated youth is more than pathetic.

It was getting late. Those who were working near the Creek have stopped work and were returning to their tent. I wanted to talk to them, but they were trying to evade me. Among them I found a familiar face. He was that guy hailing from Chenganassery. ‘Don’t you remember me?” I asked. Suddenly he blushed. Then he sincerely narrated the whole story. We can find a lot of such self-proclaimed “supervisors” and others categories here.

U.A.E today

United Arab Emirates was among the destinations which attracted Malayalees the most. Though there are seven states in U.A.E which was formed as a federation in 1971, major chunk of Malayalees are in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Arabs who have come for trade in Mumbai and Kozhikode had a special corner for the Malayalees. However this special concern and respect is on the decline of late.

Growing anxieties

The recent legislations of U.A.E are not that much favourable to the Indians generally. It is anticipated that sooner or later similar laws would be enacted in other Gulf countries also. Those who are going to be the worst affected by this move which is aimed at making the laws uniform in the Gulf countries will no doubt be the Malayalees.

The crux of the labour law enacted in U.A.E in 1977 is that those who are not directly sponsored by the respective employer should not be appointed in any establishment. Moreover, immigration authorities are vested with the power to immediately deport any foreigner who is found to be working in any establishment without a valid visa. Both the employer and the employee who violate this are liable to be punished.

The ultimate result is that it will not be any more that much easy to get a job here. Earlier, one could manage to get an NOC either by falling at the feet of somebody or even by paying some money. The situation is different now. Equally difficult will be switching from one employer to another. One can enter a job only after “arresting” the appointment order detailing the wages and service conditions issued directly by the employer with the Indian embassy. Ever since these rules were made strict, getting a job in U.A.E has become all the more difficult.

What led to the enactment of these laws also needs to be noted. A large number of people from neighbouring Oman illegally crossed over to U.A.E in the wake of labour problems in that country. The stories of such people who have entered U.A.E duping the border security force are more pathetic than those who have reached here from Mumbai by illegal means. It is said that people from Oman were smuggled into U.A.E by stacking them in freezer trucks meant for carrying fish and vegetables. Once the truck crosses the border they will be let out of the freezer. Once it so happened that the freezer could not be opened since a police vehicle was following close behind. When the freezer was opened after the vehicle met with an accident en-route, what the police could find were a number of frozen dead bodies. Recently a number of workers were rendered jobless following the slowdown in construction industry. Needless to say, this also had its adverse impact on the labour.

Yet another vexed issue the U.A.E Government had to face was the problem of largescale fake NOCs a few years ago. It is said that some Malayalees were also involved in the racket. There were many who have earned millions through this fraud. Finally at least some of the culprits were nabbed by the police.

On the whole, the strict steps now being taken by the U.A.E Government are justifiable. They cannot remain insensitive to the situation wherein their populace is turning into a minority. The influx of job seekers into U.A.E was only below five lakh in 1975. This went up to as much as eight lakh the very next year.

Responding to persistent pleas from the business community issuance of visiting visas has been resumed of late subject to certain conditions.

There is the likelihood of massive shortage of job opportunities in U.A.E in the near future says, M John, former President of the Indian Association, Dubai. There are thousands of Indians working in construction firms. Once the ongoing projects of these companies are completed several workers will find themselves out of job.

There are many Indians who have reached eminent positions in various fields here. But many more are those who are still fighting burning issues. The efforts being made by the Indian Association to solve the problems of Indians especially Malayalees are commendable. John who had served as the Association’s President is the General Manager of a major firm employing about 700 workers. He continues to be a source of solace to many Indians reeling under a variety of problems.

Give Respect for Work

interview with Sunny Kulathkkal
by sailesh thrikkalathur

What is your notion about labour?

You should be ready to do any work. False ego is not good at all. The important thing is our capability and sincerity. What is important is how we perform.

In Kerala, there is a tradition of farmers dating back to ancient times. Malayalees who go abroad will not mind farming jobs even in the worst of the conditions. They will not do it Kerala. This attitude has to change.

What is the lesson you have learnt as a non resident Keralite?

In fact I lived a non resident life with my mind rooted in my homesoil. I had never remained without contact with my native land for a long time. I have never lived in air conditioned atmosphere only. There are people who imposed a particular diet and culture on their children without giving them the freedom of choice. I have seen people who lived a life of luxury here. There is no use in living without coming into terms with the realities. There are people who try to command respect which they never used to get in Gulf when they come home. This is enough to tempt others to migrate to Gulf. I have seen people who build houses worth 1.5 crore and struggle when they lose job. This is nothing but thoughlessless.

What happens when one comes back?

You should realize that you will not get any thing exclusively for yourself. You should understand that others also have a claim for whatever you earn. It we have such a perception of things life will be easy.

Only if you have this kind of an attitude you will be able to behave normally without any head weight when you meet your old friends on coming back.

What about personal friendships?

I forget everything, put myself in others position and do a lot. I always think what it would have been had I been in their position.

I have an experience related to M M Jacob who was the Governor of Meghalaya. He once landed at the Railway station in Bangalore. Congressmen have already reached there to receive him. He asked me how I came. I said that I came in my scooter. He opted to travel on the pillion of my scooter. He also stayed at my home. The same love is still there.

Of the people you got acquainted who gave you the best message?

When A C George visit Bangalore, I used to provide him with a collection of Malayalam Newspapers. Once he came as the Union minister to inaugurate the tiles factory of his sister’s son at a place called Hoondskar. I too went there. When he went back, I bought some chilled water and food from a nearby restaurant and gave to him in the train. When I told him that I have brought food he hugged and kissed me. He said that he would have starved if I had not brought the food. He used to help me a lot without asking. I also remember A M Thomas.

Any memorable incident while staying in a foreign city?

I remember one youth named Lawrence. He started a printing press in Bahrain. A Policeman who was his sponsor tried to take him to police station by framing him in a false case. Coming to know about this I called him to the the Indian Embassy. Got in touch with the police station. Fixed a time for talks with him at the embassy. The youth who arrived at the embassy premises was hijacked to the police station by the policeman who came without uniform. I complained to the embassy. It was due to the intervention of the ambassador, he was released from the police station. I was the one who took initiative for the same.

Please tell something about your world of writing

The feature series I wrote in the Illustrated weekly about the world of drugs in 1978 was discussed a lot. I had come to know that Mrs Gnadhi had made a reference about this article to A C George. I had written that if a job is assured in Dubai, the Malayalees would not mind reaching there by swimming across the sea and they could even bag an Olympics gold medal in swimming. I was the first to write in the media about the Indians in Gulf. I had written it on the request from the then editor, Kushawant Singh.

What about yours in interest in literature?

It was not selective reading that I had. I used to read anything that I could get hold of. I had read the books of E M Kovoor and Parappurathu at a very young age itself. Parapuurathu’s “Aranazhikaneram” was a favourite of mine. I used to read again and again the books of MT and Uroob. I also used to visit Thakazhichettan at his house. I have visited his house with family and taken photos of the visit.

Your trips?

I have visited all the European countries and traveled widely in the US. While meeting more and more people I used to think that I should have known their languages too. Their language is needed for them to understand us. What I am referring here is the situations wherein English is not enough.

What helped me was my adherence to the concept of “World as my home’. The people are the same everywhere and they are different only in their outside appearance.

I had the occasion to acquaint with Edamaruku since my early days of youth. This helped to have a change in my attitudes. My stint as Balajanasakhyam president I had the opportunity to closely mingle with a lot of people. This helped me to develop a world outlook.

How was your entry into the publishing?

It was in the 80s that the English magazine “Gulf Asian” started publication with Dubai as its base. The publication of Gulf Directory in 1978 proved to be of immense help to this venture. I had a somewhat good idea about the Malayalees with my first visit itself to the Gulf. It was through the discussions with D C Kizhakkemuri, I developed the idea of the Gulf Directory. It was at the Oriental Rissing press that the Directory was first printed. KC Varghese was the founder of that press. T K A Nair who is presently the principal secretary of the Prime Minister had extended his help from Punjab for bringing out the Asian Magazine.

Which is the best population in the world?
There is good and bad everywhere. What I liked most in the US was the absence of walls between houses. Since we had grown by seeing houses with compound walls, the absence of the same in the US are certain to amuse us. This indicates mutual confidence and love.

Any new projects?
I have plans to set up a village for the aged. Most probably it will be in Bangalore. India is the best place to take care of the aged persons. The quality of care is the best in India. One also can be assured of quality healthcare in Bangalore.

Tell me about your philosophy of life?

My family has a priestly tradition. My father was the 44th priest in our family. My father never compelled me to become a priest. What he did was to make me more independent. While going through the books authored by Rev Martin Luther King, I was convinced about the impossibility of me becoming a priest. The husbands of both my daughters are not Christians. If Christians only could go to heaven, then my relatives could not be there. I don’t want a heaven where they don’t have a place. Each one thinks that only his religion is great. This thinking should be broadened somewhat more. You should be able to imbibe the virtues of all religion. God is there in everyone and everything. I am always guided by the philosophy that everything is one and the same.

I recall the statement of Dr Kaj Bonda that the religions and religious concepts that we see today were never been there even in the dreams of Jesus. When I wrote this in one of my books, the members of my church disagreed with me. I believe that there is a beam of light in my mind. This very beam of light is leading me through my difficulties. The great thing is that this light will never burn off. In the marriage of my children what I considered important was the mental parity. I allowed this because I have witnessed the marriage between individuals belonging to the same religion ending in a wreck. I have always taken care to point out wrong things whenever I find them.

It is always good to do your job without caring for the reward. Reward will never fail to come through some other way.