Village farmers struggle to make ends meet

A farmer in Rampur Mathura uses a pair of oxen to plow a field before the rain sets in | Photo by Matthew Masin

A farmer attempts to hitch two oxen to a plow and simultaneously answer his ringing cell phone, trilling a pitchy, electronic Bollywood beat.

The farmers in Rampur-Mathura, a village two hours from Lucknow, India, are subsistence farmers. They own the land and not much else. Having oxen to help pull plows and other pieces of equipment is considered a luxury as they cost more than 17,000 rupee or less than $400.

In India, especially the province of Uttar Pradesh, programs have been created to aid struggling farmers. But because of corrupt officials, little of the allotted money ever gets to the people, said Sateyndra Singh, a village leader in Rampur-Mathura.

One program promises a fixed price for wheat, while another promises 100 days of labor during the rainy season when farming is impossible and still another guarantees a fixed price for synthetic fertilizer.

According to the farmers of Rampur-Mathura, the government’s program for guaranteeing the fixed price of wheat is particularly corrupt.

The going rate for 100 kg of wheat is 1,175 rupees, or a little more than $25.

“If you take in 100 kg of grain, the person at the scale will take out three kilos, and say ‘This is my commission.’ Then they will take out another 2 kilos because they say there is mud in it. Then they will take out one kilo, because they say that is how it works here. If you don’t like it you can take your truck and go,” Singh said.

“The government that is trying to make it fair is stealing. The government is in itself, corrupt,” continued Singh.

The farmers, as a result, can’t make a profit.

Wheat prices are supposed to be standardized but are not. Payments for sugar cane are often doled out six months after the harvest has been completed. And rice is sold through a middleman.

The farmers in this area live off less than 100 rupees a day, or about $2.25. To survive, they grow their own food. If they were to try to move to Lucknow for labor work, they would have a harder time surviving because of food costs.

People in this area don’t save, not in the American sense of the word. They don’t have bank accounts, or 401K’s, or mutual accounts. Retirement is non-existent in this part of the world.

Instead, money is put away coffee-can-style for future expenses and is generally accounted for before it is even received.

“You can’t save by earning. You can only save by saving,” Singh said.

At the end of the day, farmers, their families and their hired hands will go to their houses in the village and wake up the next morning as poor as yesterday, with no ability to break the cycle, and no government aid to help them.

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UNL students work with Indian journalists


Video by Poh Si Teng | Additional Video by Camila Orti

Poh Si Teng, a freelance videographer for the New York Times and a World Media Academy instructor, created a short video about our visit to Delhi and our work with WMA.

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Street family sees better future for children


Video by Camila Orti

A street couple live under a tree in Nizamuddin, India, and can proudly say its children are going to school thanks to an NGO called Dilse.

Additional reporting and translating done by Saurabh Yadav, Subuhi Parvez, and Sumeet.

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Journalist does more than take famous photos

Manpreet Romana isn't employed currently but is well-known for photographing an explosion in Afganistan. "I had to stay still," Manpreet said, "because I didn’t know if I was shaking or the ground was shaking." | Submitted photo by Maral Deghati

Story by Ryan Bramhall

Manpreet Romana was at the right place at the right time.

On July 14, 2009, Romana was embedded with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan   photographing soldiers and the lives of Afghans. He’d been with the brigade for five days, and was walking alongside soldiers for four hours when he saw a convoy of trucks coming the other way. He told a fellow journalist to stop so he could get a shot of the soldiers walking while the convoy passed them.

When the soldiers walked 30 meters ahead, he heard a blast and saw smoke through his Nikon D3.

“I heard a loud explosion,” Romana said, “probably the loudest explosion I will ever hear.”

He was the first photojournalist to shoot an improvised explosive device (IED) in wartime.

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Mamta school engages students’ imaginations


Video by Elisabeth Loeck

The Mamta School in Khanipur, India offers a unique education for local children. This school specializes in teaching young, underprivileged students about producing newspapers. By encouraging the exploration of various subjects, students are free to express themselves through various mediums. With this opportunity, these children have an outlet to use their imagination and creativity.

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Bits of America found in India


Video by Matt Heng

The views of Delhi citizens about their thoughts on American influence in politics, movies and fashion.


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Arranged marriage: Choosing a different path

Kiran Shaheen, 55, ran away from her orthodox home in Patna, Bihar, in 1973 to seek a life of her own. Today she works as a teacher, journalist and political activist. | Photo by Ujwala Viswanath

Story by Bethany Trueblood

On a summer night in 1973 in Patna, Bihar, a 15-year-old girl has a decision to make.

She has passed her school exams and awaits entrance into a university. But her orthodox Hindu parents from conservative Rajasthan won’t permit her to continue her education. If she stays at home, an arranged marriage will be her fate. Her duty will be to her home and she will never attend college.

This is not the life she wants.

At about 11:30 p.m. the house is quiet. The servant with the gate keys is asleep. The girl, who looks hardly older than a child, has made her decision: Her heart thumping rapidly against her ribcage, she cautiously draws the keys from the sleeping guard and slips out of the house without anything but the clothes she is wearing. She will never see her family again.

Today, at 55 years old, Kiran Shaheen remains a single woman and works as a journalist, teacher and activist. She completed her education at Magadh Women’s College, where she was admitted after spending an entire day outside of the minister of education’s office.

“I told him I escaped from my home and I want to continue my study,” she said. “I want to do something for my society and I want admission in the college and the hostel.”

The minister wrote letters for her, admitting her to the university and to the hostel.

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Arranged marriage: Living with abuse


Manjali Bhagwandas has been struggling with domestic abuse in her marriage for nearly 14 years. She is now taking a stand against it for herself and her children. | Photo by Bethany Trueblood

Story by Jennifer Gotrik

Manjali Bhagwandas didn’t know what to expect on her wedding day 14 years ago.

She had been shown one photograph of the man with whom she was destined to spend the rest of her life.  Prior to the wedding, all she knew about him was that he worked for an oil mill.

When she was 18, Manjali’s parents selected a 21-year-old man named Rakesh to be her husband.  As part of the wedding ceremony, the groom’s parents were given a dowry of a black-and-white television, jewelry, a cabinet, and utensils.

Two months after her wedding, Manjali was preparing dinner and relaxing in her home.  Rakesh arrived home in the late afternoon, showered and took a walk by himself.  When he returned, he approached Manjali and began hitting her repeatedly. He did not speak a single word.

This day marked the beginning of physical abuse throughout the marriage.

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Arranged marriage: Making it work

Srimati Udupa only met her husband four times during their engagement. She met no other marriage prospects before her parents set up their marriage. | Photo by Bethany Trueblood

Story by Hailey Konnath

Srimati Udupa was scared.

Dressed in a green traditional saree with a red border, the teacher was about to get married in front of 500 people on the patio outside her home. Like all women in Samagodu, a small South Indian village, she would be moving away from home and joining her new husband’s household. She would have new responsibilities and maybe have to give up her job.

And she’d only met her husband-to-be four times.

Marriage for many women in India is not about love. It’s about families getting along. It’s about convenience. It’s also about class. About caste. About finances. About location.

“The village culture is like that,” Srimati said.

Srimati knew from the time she was a little girl that her parents would be choosing her husband. She could’ve married for love if the man were from the village, of the same caste, or a certain surrounding area and her parents knew his family. But someone like that was hard to come by.

Her older sister and brother were already married. At 25 years old, she was next in line.

The people of the village and workers from the area gathered to see her entrance into life as a married woman that winter. She felt nervous about joining a family she’d only met once. But this was her future. And, although reluctant to leave her current life, she was ready.

Narayan Udupa was a rickshaw driver for schools from Mysore, a nearby city. Narayan and Srimati’s brother shared a mutual friend. He was from the same caste as her family and had met her parents. She met him only once before the engagement began.

In a six-month engagement, Srimati saw her fiancé infrequently. He would come from his city for coffee or to talk. He was the first and last man she ever met with marriage in mind. She was not given a say in the matter.

Aditi, Srimati and Narayan Udupa created a happy family from an arranged marriage, as is common for many Indians.Srimati Udupa only met her husband four times during their engagement. She met no other marriage prospects before her parents set up their marriage. | Photo by Bethany Trueblood

Twenty-two years later, Srimati is happy. She and her husband take care of a family’s home in a South Delhi colony. They cook, they drive, they do some cleaning. They have one daughter. And Srimati said she agrees with the arranged marriage concept.

“It’s better to be peaceful and in an arranged marriage,” she said.

Arranged marriages can be successful because they are matched so carefully, said Dr. Ramani Sundaresan, a psychotherapist in New Delhi who often works with married couples. They match background, religious beliefs, communities and other societal traits.

“It makes it easier (than traditional courtships) because you are already given a head start,” she said.

With marriages that aren’t arranged, like Sundaresan’s own first marriage, unanticipated differences may arise.

“You fall in love and then you discover there are so many things else,” she said.

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Indian brick layers show strength

Shanti Bai takes a limited break from her work. Bai was constantly running back and forth with bricks. Photo| Matthew Masin

Story by Carly Shinn

Shanti Bai paid 15 rupees, or 35 cents, for a one-hour bus ride to New Delhi. She spent the next eight hours working to build an entryway to one of its parks.

The three red brick walls are being constructed with wood poles for scaffolding and just a hammer and trowel. No levels, no fancy blueprints.

Bai and the two men working with her received their job assignment from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. MCD is among the largest municipal bodies in the world and provides civic services to more than 13.8 million citizens in the capital city.

A mother of four, Bai does a majority of the labor required to build the structure. From carrying bricks on her head to mixing cement with her hands, Bai will continue to work on the project until its completion. For one week of work she will earn 200 rupees, or $4.50.

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