Driven by dignity in divorce
Cablemen refuse to pay STAR bill
Exorcist sentences ‘witch’ to death by fire
Keshpur to Calcutta, the rush is for Rafiq
Hunt for pir in hospital sacrifice
Homoeopathy colleges face derecognition
Don Bosco urges action
Truckers strike a boon for Nagaland districts
Traders hail Bangla bus service
Nipamacha plots to oust Speaker

Calcutta , June 15: 
She sits in a corner of the small, damp room of her house in Narkeldanga. She has not been to a school, does not know the law of the land and has not even heard of Shah Bano.

Yet, for the past seven years, she has been battling for her rights, fighting to ensure a life of dignity in the hope that justice would one day be hers.

On Wednesday, Shakila’s efforts finally paid off.

In a judgment rekindling memories of the politically-charged Shah Bano case, Calcutta High Court ruled that 30-year-old Shakila be allowed to demand and receive alimony from her divorced husband “till she remarries”.

Under Muslim law, a divorced woman gets alimony only during the “iddat period”, just three months and 13 days after the divorce.

“Justice has finally been done to me,” says 30-year-old Shakila, her diminutive frame and frail voice not betraying the steel within.

“It is not only a great moment for me but for other women in our community, who live a life of hell after being divorced by their husbands.”

Shakila married Hyder Ali, a tailor, according to Muslim rites on May 5, 1991.

The couple lived in a slum off Narkeldanga Main Road for two years and then, suddenly, Ali decided to divorce her.

After pronouncing talaaq thrice, Ali drove Shakila out of the house and remarried within three months. Shakila was just paid Rs 1,575 for the “iddat period” and even the den mehr (dowry) of Rs 2,500 was not returned to her.

Shakila, with the help of her brothers, registered a case at the Sealdah magistrate’s court. The magistrate ordered the return of the dowry and a further maintenance of Rs 800 a month, but only for the iddat period.

Ali did not pay heed to the court order.

It was then that lawyer Manas Kumar Barman advised Shakila to move the high court.

“Today, the court has awarded me a maintenance of Rs 800 per month,” sighs Shakila.

“I am happy today, but it has been a difficult journey for me.”

The amount may not be hefty, but it will enable Shakila to meet her own expenses.

“At least I will not be a burden on my brothers who also live in poverty.”

From Thursday morning, Shakila’s neighbours have been streaming into her house to congratulate her. The media, too, have descended on her Kasai Bazaar bustee doorstep.

Shakila initially shrank from the glare of sudden attention and refused to meet anyone.

But niece Parveen then persuaded her to share her “day of happiness” with her “mehmaan”, and even helped her face the flashbulbs.

Despite being wronged by Ali, Shakila holds nothing against his two children from his second marriage.

“My husband may have made life hell for me, but why blame them?”

Amidst the euphoria of the judgment, Shakila is apprehensive that Ali may once again refuse to respond to the court directive.

“He has left the city and gone away to Mullickpur, in South 24-Parganas. How will anyone bring him back now?” Shakila wonders.

After a pause, Shakila herself answers the question, quiet determination coming to the fore.

“I will not allow him to get away so easily. I will track him down to wherever he is and, if necessary, move court again,” she vows.


Calcutta, June 15 
Five pay channels beamed by STAR TV remained switched off in over 125,000 homes on Thursday as RPG Netcom cable operators refused to agree to the new rates fixed by the satellite broadcaster.

STAR is firm in its decision to market the five channels to consumers at a rate of Rs 16.75 per connection, per month. The older rate was Rs 13.50.

Cable operators who retail channel feeds through RPG Netcom have decided not to pay the package rate fixed for STAR News, STAR World, STAR Movies, STAR Plus and National Geographic.

The impasse, persisting since April, forced STAR to switch off the feed on Wednesday evening.

Other satellite feed wholesalers like Siticable and some other private operators are, however, paying up and beaming all the STAR channels.

“We are against STAR clubbing the five channels in one package,” said Supratim Halder of the Cable TV Operators’ Association. “By clubbing these channels together, STAR is forcing us to retail less popular channels like STAR World,” he added.

The association members held meetings with other cable television bodies on Thursday, but they failed to arrive at a solution.

“We did not want this to happen. We are now having to explain the reasons behind this inconvenience to our member-operators,” said Halder.

With cable operators across the country accepting the new rates, STAR is in no mood to modify the decision it took in April.

“We waited for three months and after no decision was reached by the operators, we had to press the button,” a STAR official said.    

Calcutta, June 15 
She was branded a witch by her ‘samaj’, beaten and hounded out of home 10 months ago. Now, she has been awarded the “death sentence”.

Urmila Mullick, an employee of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), was dragged to Jan Guru Sukku Das on Tuesday and ‘sentenced to death’.

“The evil spirit of Urmila’s dead daughter, Rajkumari, has been working through her and that is the root cause of disease and pestilence in the Kora Bardan Lane conservancy colony. She should be burnt to death,” said Das, a sweeper with the Calcutta Medical College Hospital attached to the Green Ward.

Urmila fled the colony on Wednesday night in search of shelter. She was finally taken in by CMC doctor Tapati Mondol.

At Mondol’s Christopher Road flat, the 35-year old widow recounted her tale of horror: “Around 1.30 am on Tuesday, while I was asleep, Seusharan’s son, Pappu, and four other members of the colony kicked open my door, dragged me out of the room and forced me to go along with them.”

First stop, Seusharan’s house, where Pappu’s wife was suffering from high fever. In her delirium, she was, apparently, mumbling the name of Urmila’s daughter, Rajkumari, who died a few years ago. From there, Pappu’s wife and Urmila were taken to the Calcutta Medical College Hospital quarters of Jan Guru Sukku Das.

He “treated” Pappu’s wife, blamed it all on Urmila and asked her to cough up Rs 10,000 for a trip to Gaya “to appease the evil spirit of Rajkumari”. When Urmila said she couldn’t possibly pay up, Sukku Das warned her she would be “burnt to death”.

Tapati Mondol took Urmila to Taltala police station on Thursday evening. Urmila had lodged a complaint at the same police station in September last, when her ordeal began.

Soon after the report was first published in The Telegraph, mayor Prasanta Chatterjee had visited the area and told the police to ensure Urmila’s safety. But the police had done precious little.

“We will not allow this type of barbarism to prevail in the heart of the city. I warn the dwellers of the colony that any act of barbarism or torture on her will be punished severely,” said Probhakar Mondol, CPM councillor of ward 46.    

Calcutta, June 15 
Outside a three-storeyed house in Bhowanipore, Trinamul Congress candidates contesting the June 25 civic polls in Calcutta and Salt Lake often bump into one another. They exchange a “hullo” and, as each meets the other, the attitude is “what, you too?”

The Trinamul aspirants believe the dark, strapping middle-aged man sitting in a ground-floor room of the house can ensure victory for them at the hustings. The man is Mohammad Rafiq, a near- celebrity CPM defector to the Trinamul and Mamata Banerjee’s pointsman. All through Thursday, Trinamul candidates pleaded, even implored, him for help.

The importance of being Mohammad Rafiq really dawned on the party during the Panskura parliamentary by-election. The Left lost the seat after 22 years. His partymen believe Rafiq used his insider’s knowledge of the CPM’s electoral tactics to win Panskura for the Trinamul.

“My telephone has not stopped ringing ever since he has arrived in the city. Every time I pick up the phone, there is a candidate at the other end, begging for for Rafiq, as if he is a fire engine that must to deployed urgently to put out a blaze,” says Pankaj Banerjee, Trinamul leader.

Rafiq was born and brought up in Keshpur, in the Panskura Lok Sabha constituency, where he was an activist of the CPM. He is also the secretary of the Keshpur Bus Association, an organisation of public transport owners. He is credited with having singlehandedly chalked out strategies to wash out Left votebanks in Keshpur, Pingla and Nandanpur. In the Keshpur Assembly segment alone, Trinamul nominee Bikram Sarkar’s margin over CPI rival Gurudas Dasgupta was 17,000.

Rafiq comes from a family of traditional Congress supporters. “I was so dissatisfied with senior Congress leaders of my area that I had to hobnob with the CPM, particularly with DYFI leaders in Keshpur,” he says. His brief stint with the CPM enlightened Rafiq on how to manage poll victories. He used the carrot-and-stick techniques in Panskura.

Though he is in great demand, Rafiq has so far campaigned only in municipal wards in Mamata Banerjee’s parliamentary constituency. “I have campaigned for Minu Gayen, Prahlad Chakraborty and Mamata Majumder. On Saturday, I will campaign in the wards 111, 112, 113 and 114”, said Rafiq.    

Calcutta, June15 
The city police have begun investigation into an incident of a goat being sacrificed inside the Advanced Medicare Research Institute (AMRI). Sheikh Yusuf, a patient in the hospital, along with his family members, killed a goat on the premises last Sunday, at the instance of a Pir who said the ritual will help him get well soon.

A head-hunt was launched for the Pir on Thursday.

Sheikh Yusuf, of Pollock Street, was suffering from Hepatitis B and was admitted to the hospital on June 8. According to the officer-in-charge, Lake police station, Anil Jana, three persons were arrested and charged with animal slaughter.

“Yusuf’s bilirubin count was high and he was brought to the hospital with an acute condition of Hepatitis B,’’ a hospital spokesperson said. According to his brother-in-law, Akbar, Yusuf was suffering from multiple diseases for the past six months. “He was slowly turning into a mental wreck,’’ said Akbar.

Scared relatives consulted a Pir in central Calcutta last Saturday, who suggested that they sacrifice a goat in the hospital itself. “We were told to take the animal into the hospital, where Yusuf would touch its neck before it was slaughtered. This would please the Almighty and Yusuf would be cured immediately,’’ Akbar told the police.

“Yusuf was very excited about it. We consulted the attendant nurse, who said the authorities would never give us the permission to conduct the sacrifice,’’ said a relative, who didn’t want to be named.

Three family members arrived in a taxi with a butcher on Sunday afternoon. The gateman stopped them, but they told him that the patient would come down and touch the goat, after which they would take it away.

Yusuf also convinced the nurse that he would simply touch the animal and return to his cabin within five minutes.

As the patient stood on one side of the animal, the butcher brought out his sharp knife and severed its head.

Realising what had happened, the hospital employees raised an alarm and alerted Lake police station.

Police cordoned off the area and arrested the butcher, Mohammed Akram, Akbar and another relative of Yusuf. The weapon was seized.

“Yusuf was in bad shape and so we spared him,’’ said Jana.

Trying to play down the unsavoury incident, the chief executive of the hospital, Dr P.K. Hazra, said the slaughter was conducted outside the hospital.

Asked if he has ordered an inquiry into the incident, Hazra said it didn’t warrant one.

A hospital spokesperson said Yusuf was released on Wednesday as his condition had improved.    

Calcutta, June 15 
The Central Council of Homoeopathy, New Delhi, has recommended that the Centre derecognise the BHMS courses taught at three homoeopathic medical colleges and hospitals in Calcutta and Howrah. The city colleges are Calcutta Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, D.N. Dey Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital and Mahesh Bhattacharya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital.

A large number of students, teachers and practising homoeopaths are in a panic because when the Centre accepts the council’s recommendation, “persons awarded degrees by any of the three colleges will not be eligible to practise anywhere in the country.”

All four state-run homeopathic colleges have extremely poor infrastructural facilities.

After inspecting the colleges at three-year intervals over the past decade, the council had repeatedly urged the state health department to rectify the deficiencies.

All four colleges have inadequate teaching staff. The hospitals attached to the colleges are so poorly equipped that students have to go to nearby allopathic hospitals for practical classes. This is a gross violation of the council’s norms, said Mustaq Ahmed, a fresh BHMS (bachelor in homeopathy medicine and surgery) graduate.

“The council’s decision is very justified. The government repeatedly ignored the council’s suggestions,” said Ramkrishna Ghosh Mondal, veteran homoeopath and former principal of Mahesh Bhattacharya Medical College and Hospital in Howrah, one of the three colleges recommended for derecognition.

Homoeopaths said the notification did not state the cut-off date for derecognition. It gives the impression that the colleges are being derecognised from the current year. “Just decades ago, West Bengal was a pioneer in homoeopathic treatment. It is unfortunate that homoeopathy education is now on the verge of collapse only because of the state government’s negligence,” said Bhabani Prasad Ray of the Homoeopathy Medical Association of India.    

Guwahati, June 15 
The Don Bosco school has requested the superintendent of city police to dispose off the case and cleanse the reputation of the school, which has been tarnished by allegations of sodomy.

In a letter written addressed to the superintendent of police, the staff of the school said the incident, which was covered by various regional and national dailies, has vitiated the academic atmosphere and has taken its toll on the institution’s general discipline.

“It has affected the morale of the teaching staff and has strained the rapport which existed in the school community,” the letter said. The staff members pointed out that no member of the teaching or the non-teaching staff of the institute was involved in the incident which took place on April 18 inside the school premises. The police have already identified the culprit and is interrogating the person, who is a member of the institution.

It also pointed out that the Class II student, involved in the incident, was a doctor’s son and had “no connection with the incident involving an IAS officer’s son.” The staff members wanted to know why no action was taken even after the police identified the culprit. “If the accused has confessed to his complicity in the crime, why was no action taken,” the letter asked. “The institution cannot be held responsible for any such incident, which occurs outside the school,’’ it said .

The letter has been sent to the chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, education minister Thaneswar Boro and Kamrup deputy commissioner D.N.Saikia for necessary action.

For the first time in two months after the incident, the school has come out in the open. The letter was signed by five staff members.


Jorhat, June 15 
The strike by the Mariani Truck Drivers’ Union has come as a blessing in disguise for the people of three districts in Nagaland.

The supply of essential commodities to the three districts — Mokokchung, Tuensang and Zunhebuto — from the Jorhat wholesale market had been hit following the strike, which began on May 29. To tide over the crisis, goods are being brought from Dimapur via Kohima. During the process, it has come to light that food items purchased from Dimapur are cheaper by 68 paise per quintal than those bought from Jorhat even after taking into account the difference in transportation costs.

Citing an example, Mokokchung deputy commissioner Imkotnglemba said the price of a quintal of Andhra parimal rice is Rs 1,100 in Dimapur whereas the price is Rs 1,220 in the Jorhat market.

“Although the distance from Dimapur to Mokokchung is more than that from Jorhat to Mokokchung, the goods are cheaper by 68 paise if purchased from Dimapur. This is after taking into account the transportation costs,” the deputy commissioner said.

Sources said the people of Mokokchung have expressed their annoyance to the Mokokchung Chamber of Commerce for “cheating” them till now.

“Why should we buy goods from Jorhat when they come at a cheaper rate from Dimapur?” they reportedly asked the Mokokchung Chambers of Commerce. The three districts of Nagaland purchase goods worth Rs 20 lakh daily from the Jorhat market, which are ferried regularly by the Mariani truckers.

Reliable sources said more than 80 per cent of the business in the three Nagaland districts is controlled by businessmen from Jorhat. These businessmen have retail outlets in these districts. In 1997, business there had come to a standstill after traders fled to Jorhat alleging harassment by militants.

Traders in Jorhat have been incurring huge losses due to the strike. Food items valued at over Rs 5 lakh have perished.

“Jorhat has lost Rs 4 crore till date following the strike,” the deputy commissioner said. He added the people of Mokokchung are in no mood to pay that amount to Assam any more. “Why should we pay money to Assam if we can get what we want from Nagaland and that too at a cheaper rate?” the deputy commissioner said, echoing the views of the people. The people have directed the Mokokchung Chambers of Commerce to give serious thought to the matter of severing ties with their Jorhat counterpart. At a public meeting held yesterday at the Mokokchung town hall, it was resolved that no goods should be purchased from the Jorhat market till a permanent solution is found to the impasse.

Although the truckers called off their strike on Tuesday, trucks are not being allowed to enter Nagaland. The people of Mokokchung have sought an apology from the truckers for holding the people to ransom. They have also demanded a written assurance from the truckers that they would not go on strike in future.

The truckers allegedly go on strike at the slightest provocation. This is the second strike this year.

The Mokokchung deputy commissioner also observed that if the Mokokchung Chambers of Commerce decide to boycott Jorhat, it will have a cascading impact on the relations between the two states.

Keeping this in mind the Jorhat district administration should have taken steps to resolve the strike at the earliest, he said.    

Shillong, June 15 
The Meghalaya International Traders’ Association (MITA) has welcomed the initiative of the Sylhet Division Development Council to start direct bus service between Dhaka and Shillong.

Sources said the Sylhet council has recently urged the Bangladesh government to grant “formal clearance” for a direct bus service between Dhaka and Shillong for development of trans-border trade.

“This is a very good move by the development body of Sylhet,” general secretary of the traders’ association D. Khonglah said here. “If there can be direct bus service between Calcutta and Dhaka, why not between Dhaka and Shillong?” she asked.

She said Meghalaya is the largest foreign currency earner in the Northeast and they have very close trade relation with the Bangladeshi importers. Meghalaya exports huge quantity of coal, limestone and agro-horticultural products to Bangladesh, she added.

Apart from trade, the bus service will also boost tourism in both sides of the border, Khonglah said. “Once the bus service starts, we can interact much easily with our clients in Bangladesh,” she added. The sources said the Sylhet council told the country’s government that the bus service will also benefit the Bangladeshi students, who are studying in Shillong and Silchar. For the promotion of trans-border trade, the traders’ association demanded immediate opening of a Bangladesh consulate in Shillong.

The association felt the traders will be benefited by a consulate here as it will oversee the paperwork. The bureaucratic bottlenecks can also be reduced to a great extent for trade between Bangladesh and the Northeast, the association added. Khonglah said exporters at present travel to Agartala to get the visa, but a consulate here will cut down the cost and time of procuring the necessary travel documents.

“Moreover, our importers are mostly based in Sylhet. So to meet them, we need to take a long route from Agartala,” she said. She also felt the need for introduction of multiple visa between the two countries.

The president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Abdul Mintoo, during his visit to the northeastern states last year, had also emphasised on “greater mobility” of businessmen and investors between the two countries for promoting economic cooperation. Mintoo had also suggested the introduction of multiple visa facilities for traders to interact and identify key areas and accelerate trade growth between the two countries.    

Imphal, June 15 
Not one to forgive and forget, Manipur chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh is reportedly plotting Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy’s ouster because the latter dared to strike a “secret deal” with BJP leader R.K. Dorendra Singh in Calcutta recently.

The Opposition, too, is getting its act together before what promises to be a stormy monsoon session of the Assembly.

If Dhananjoy continues as Speaker for the entire session, beginning on July 4, Nipamacha Singh could well be stripped of the chief ministership. This is precisely why the latter is pulling all stops to oust Dhananjoy and take the sting out of Dorendra Singh’s campaign against him.

Nipamacha Singh recently sent one of his aides to New Delhi to consult constitutional experts on the pros and cons of removing the Speaker.

According to rules, a notice has to be served 14 days prior to moving a no-confidence motion against the Speaker. After the period is over, the onus is on the Speaker to initiate a discussion on the motion.

Another stipulation is that the motion against the Speaker must include specific charges.

What is worrying Nipamacha Singh is the possibility of Dhananjoy rejecting the proposed no-confidence motion against him. Moreover, the Speaker can also utilise the 14-day notice period to hasten the United Front of Manipur ministry’s downfall.

Having realised that the rules favour Dhananjoy, the chief minister has sought legal opinion on whether he can launch a surprise coup against the Speaker.

As far as “specific charges” are concerned, the chief minister has three against Dhananjoy.

The first of these charges is that the Speaker was responsible for the controversy involving the passing of the appropriation Bill during the last session of the Assembly.

Nipamacha Singh also plans to target Dhananjoy over publication of the wrong date for nomination of candidates for the deputy Speaker’s post.

The third charge against the Speaker pertains to the recruitment spree in the Assembly secretariat over the past month.

Legal experts have reportedly advised Nipamacha Singh to obtain a court order that will force the Speaker to admit the no-confidence motion against him. To elicit such a response from the court, the chief minister has to file a writ petition at least 20 days after serving the notice, by which time the Speaker will have refused to admit the motion.

With Nipamacha Singh planning to table a no-confidence motion against Dhananjoy on the first day of the monsoon session, the Opposition camp is keeping its eyes and ears open.

The Speaker and his aides are particularly worried about the possibility of the chief minister “manipulating” dates while serving the mandatory notice.

Dhananjoy fell out with Nipamacha Singh when the latter stopped consulting him on major issues. Dorendra Singh took advantage of the situation and joined hands with the Speaker to launch a campaign against the chief minister.    


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