Lt. Commander Vartika Joshi, who is set to lead India’s first all women crew to sail the oceans, says that a boat or the sea doesn’t differentiate between a man and a woman and there are no shortcuts to the physical and mental fitness required to sail the open seas.
Lt. Commander Joshi, along with a crew of five women, will soon go globe-trotting. Their adventure is likely to start in 2017. The team stood out at the just-concluded International Fleet Review (IFR) where the crew was on INSV Mhadei, a sail training boat of the Indian Navy on which they are currently training.
“We are training every day for the sailing and it requires a hard level of physical activity. You have to be physically and mentally very strong and there is no shortcut to it,” Lt. Commander Joshi told IANS in an interview.
“It does not matter whether you are a man or a woman, you have to do what you are required to do,” said the sailor, who is a naval architect by training.
The crew is being trained by Commander Dilip Donde, the first Indian sailor to circumnavigate solo across the globe on INSV Mhadei.
Commander Donde, in the same tone, said a sailor is a sailor, irrespective of gender.
“The sea does not differentiate between a man and a woman. A sailor is a sailor,” Commander Donde told IANS.
Asked about his guru mantra to the team, the commander said: “Never let your guard down… You have to be on your toes all the time.”
Riding the open seas in a sailing boat is not an easy feat to pull off.
The crew needs to be aware of every inch of the boat, which they may need to repair themselves in case of damage. Weather in the open sea also remains unpredictable, and smaller boats face more challenges.
Lt. Commander Joshi was confident.
“This is certainly Mission Possible. We have been taking a special training on circumnavigation since (last) April. The course included navigation, equipment, managing a crisis or distress situation and communication courses,” she explained.
The team sailed to Visakhapatnam for the IFR from Goa, and is now on its way back to continue the training.
The boat on which the journey will finally be undertaken is at present under construction in Goa, and the crew has to familiarize itself with every inch of the vessel.
Apart from Lt. Commander Joshi, the team includes Lt. Pratibha Jamwal and Lt. P Swathi in the core group, besides Lt. Vijaya Devi and Sub Lt. Payal Gupta. A sixth member is yet to be named.
INSV Mhadei had been used by Commander Abhilash Tomy for his own solo, unassisted, non-stop circumnavigation under sail. (IANS) (pic courtesy: shyamgopan.wordpress.com)
When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.
The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.
“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”
“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.
Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women
and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.
Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.
Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.
“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”
But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.
“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.
Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.
Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.
“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.
“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”
The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.
“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.
India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.
“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.
“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”
Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.
“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”
The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.
Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.
“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)