Monday, August 18, 2008

Krishnan Chinnapayan, a rat catcher from India's impoverished Irula community. Photo by Anuj Chopra

A better rat trap improves the lot of low Hindu caste

By Anuj Chopra

SIRIGUMI, INDIA -- The sun was blazing down on Krishnan Chinnapayan as he wiped the sweat from his chalky brow and stood on an arid patch of farmland, preparing for what seemed to be a military mission. "They can sense us," he said, pointing at a nearby burrow. "They are very clever creatures."

Through a hand-operated air pump attached to a cylindrical device, a torrent of smoke then entered the burrow. Seconds later, Chinnapayan pulled out a huge brown rat from a gray blanket of smoke, holding it by its tail before killing it.

In this impoverished tribal belt in southern Tamil Nadu state, catching rats has been a primary job for members of Chinnapayan's Irula tribe - an impoverished community of 3 million people at the bottom rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy who have often found themselves teetering on the brink of starvation.

But the introduction of innovative rat traps has remarkably reversed the Irulas' plight. By curbing the amount of rodents that have long menaced Indian farmers, the tribe has seen its income triple in the past three years, while bringing them new respect. The Irulas, who were once jeered by many locals as "rodent assassins," are now being touted as saviors by many farmers...

Guna Ponraj, an autorickshaw driver, who sold one of his kidneys in exchange for a mound of cash . Photo by Anuj Chopra

India's Black Market Racket in Human Kidneys

By Anuj Chopra

CHENNAI, INDIA— Tears well up in Guna Ponraj's rheumy eyes as he stares at the hideous scar running down his side. A year ago, he consented to a practice he assumed would be the swiftest way to escape his mounting debts: swapping a kidney for cash.
An organ procurer promised Ponraj, 38, an auto rickshaw driver with a fourth-grade education, $2,500 for one of his kidneys. "Humans don't need two kidneys, I was made to believe," he says, now lamenting his decision. "I can sell my extra kidney and become rich, I thought." But he was swindled and received only half that much. And since the operation, Ponraj often misses work because of excruciating pain around his hip, pushing him more deeply into debt.Many Indian cities, such as Chennai in southern India, are becoming hubs for the illicit kidney business, despite a 1994 ban on such trade in human organs. Organized rings of hustlers, working in cooperation with some doctors, prowl slum neighborhoods for vulnerable donors like Ponraj to supply a growing number of mainly foreign patients seeking kidney transplants...