51-year labour for eight-foot bronze dream
Village heads succumb to serial strikes
Teenager bites and dreams big
Birthday bait for dropouts
Lawyer family murdered
Jharkhand drains Cong
Medicated net shield against malaria
In vicious circle of anarchy, law banks on brutali
Boom time for Assam handloom
Abhiruchi Day held in Assam

 
 
51-YEAR LABOUR FOR EIGHT-FOOT BRONZE DREAM 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Sept. 3: 
Fifty-one years of efforts to have a national memorial for India in the US will be realised when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee unveils an 8-feet-plus bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to Washington this month.

Just as Gandhiji never made it to the Nobel Peace Prize list despite being nominated five times, the proposal for a Gandhi memorial in the US was first made in 1949 and had several false starts subsequently.

Ironically, there was no consensus on the proposal in the US which prides itself on the values of democracy and upholding the will of the people.

In 1988, the US House of Representatives passed a Bill authorising the memorial, but the legislation did not get past the Senate. Since the memorial was to be set up on federal government land, it required legislative approval by both Houses of the US Congress.

In a reflection of the growing clout of the Indian community in the US, a Coalition for a National Memorial for India was set up eight years ago. As a result of their efforts, the House of Representatives again approved a Bill in September 1998 and the Senate the following month.

It is also a reflection of the recent changes in Indo-US relations that soon thereafter President Bill Clinton not only signed the Bill into law but personally forwarded the legislation to Naresh Chandra, the Indian ambassador here.

The unveiling ceremony on September 16, which may be attended by Clinton or vice-president Al Gore, will have its poignant moments.

One of the invitees for the unveiling will be Max Desfor, a Pulitzer prize-winning Associated Press cameraman who was posted in India in the 1940s and knew Gandhiji closely. Desfor’s photograph adorns the Indian postal stamp showing Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru engaged in a conver- sation.

Also present at the ceremony will be Asha Sharma, grand-daughter of Satyanand Stokes, a Quaker from Philadelphia who went to India in 1904, became involved in the freedom struggle and was imprisoned along with Gandhiji.

Stokes converted to Hinduism in 1932 and died in India a year before Independence.

Sharma is the author of An American in Khadi, a biography of Stokes published by Penguin India this year.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Gandhiji and director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence in Memphis, Tennessee, will also attend.

The statue to be unveiled is a gift from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations while 14 donors from the US and eight from India have together contributed about $ 2,20,000 for the red ruby granite pedestal on which the statue will stand.

The Indian embassy here put a ceiling of $ 10,000 per contribution from the US in order to have as many contributors as possible in view of the enthusiasm for the project among the Indo-American community.

A US National Park reservation on which the statue will be erected is directly across the Indian embassy here with the backdrop of a canopy of trees, including a 100-year-old Weeping Beech tree.

A red ruby granite bench on the plaza directly in front of the statue will give visitors a place to sit and reflect in front of Gandhiji. The statue has been sculpted by Indian architect Gautam Pal.    


 
 
VILLAGE HEADS SUCCUMB TO SERIAL STRIKES 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 3: 
Village heads in Uttar Pradesh are a scared lot these days.

Though only a month has passed since they took up their postings, 13 panchayat pradhans have fallen to enemy bullets, making their job one of the most dangerous in the state.

The attacks on gram pradhans showed no signs of abating with the bullet-riddled body of Ram Lakhan Yadav, the pradhan of Pindsawa village in Barabanki, being recovered on Saturday evening.

FIRs have been lodged against four suspects, including Babulal Yadav, whom Ram Lakhan had pipped to the post in the recent polls.

One of the latest in a chain of 20 murderous attacks so far happened on Friday, when the pradhan of Itauja barely escaped being lynched by a crowd loyal to his opponent. The rampaging mob torched his house before fleeing with the loot.

The shaken headman later said: “I didn’t know a pradhan’s life was so cheap and risky.”

The same day, another headman, along with five others, was butchered in Bulandshahr.

On August 27, Bholanath Prajapati, the pradhan of Saimsi (Rae Bareli) was shot dead by the former headman, Ram Pyare Yadav, and his three sons, two of whom were later arrested.

It was followed by a daylight attempt on Zamin Ahmed, pradhan of Bhojipura Gaon in Bareli district. While Ahmed’s son and son-in-law were riddled with bullets, his wife and daughter are battling for life in hospital.

Before that, two Dalit pradhans were killed in Jaunpur on August 21 and 22 after they refused to bow before the diktat of some thakur leaders.

According to Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati, it was the state’s volatile caste politics that was behind the violence spiral. Maintaining that it was mostly Dalit pradhans who were being targeted by upper-caste adversaries, Mayavati said the killings were a reaction to the “awakening of the Dalits”.

Agreeing with her, another party leader said that of the more than 12 gram panchayat heads killed in the past one month, most of them were Dalits.

The figures are disputed by the police. But the chilling sequence has forced them to take a hard look into what they now term as “unprecedented” but of “a very serious nature of political crime”.

The grisly spate of murders have taken their toll on the terrified headmen. Some of them are even refusing to attend office without police protection.

“It is very unsafe to be a pradhan these days,” says a former headman of Bakshi-ka-Talab village near Lucknow. “The issue is no more about who is best suited to work for the village. It is plain and crass political rivalry.”

The reason, according to him, is simple: “Unlike in the past, panchayat elections are fought strictly on party lines.”

Though he concedes that the increasing attacks on panchayat heads was a “very disturbing trend”, additional director-general (crime) V. Kurien says it is still premature to link a pattern to the killings, but added that investigations were on in full swing and that quite a few arrests had already been made.

Some of the older pradhans, however, say a design is all too visible.

“It’s very lucrative being a pradhan these days. They play for very high stakes. Pradhans these days have a say in everything concerning the village and panchayats, right from construction of roads and boring of tubewells to appointment of teachers in schools,” says Hari Om Sharan, a former village chief.

More importantly, Sharan says, with their populist moves at the grassroots, the pradhans have the ability to make a huge impact on the outcome of Assembly and parliamentary polls.

As the old man says, devolution of power has, indeed, taken a very bloody route.

   


 
 
TEENAGER BITES AND DREAMS BIG 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Sept. 3: 
Call her biting fit.

At 18, Seema Bhadoria of Datia has drawn buckets full of water, dragged jeeps, trucks, matadors, a railway engine and finally, pulled two aircraft — with her teeth. She intends to chew her way up to The Guinness Book of World Records on the strength of her sparkling molars, pre-molars and canines, cleaned twice daily with home-made dantmanjan.

First on July 26, and again on August 30, Seema pulled an aeroplane weighing 3387.33 kg with her teeth on the tarmac of the Bhopal airport.

However, the owner of the formidable fangs which would shame any weigh-lifter into submission, is a slim, pretty girl with freckles, who stands at 5 feet 6 inches, weighs barely 56 kg and giggles shyly when asked to show her teeth.

She also has a strong will.

“I was eight when Gopal Shrivastava, a resident of my town, became famous by dragging a ship with his teeth,” Seema said. “But I was convinced that dragging a ship was not impossible. I didn’t tell my parents, but when no one was looking, I would try picking up stuff with my teeth.”

By 12, Seema was biting the pulley and picking up buckets of water, when not gritting her teeth.

“My father, Kailash Singh Bhadoria, is a bus conductor. He was amused when he saw what I could do. But my mother was shocked. She thought my teeth would fall off and would hit me in the mouth whenever I showed my tricks,” says Seema, who candidly admits that she is not a good student, studying in class X at 18 years of age.

But the youngest of five sisters and two brothers, Seema got away with being a tomboy. She also joined karate and judo classes.

At 13, Seema became famous in her locality when she dragged a neighbour’s jeep tied to a rope with her teeth.

On January 26, 1995, she pulled a Matador 407 and stunned the entire Datia town which had gathered for the Republic Day festivities. She pulled several Matadors and small trucks between 1996 and 1998.

On the Republic Day this year, she proved her might again by pulling two matadors. Her aunt Arti Bhadoria, a Congress worker, decided it was time to bring Seema into the limelight.

Arti secured permission from railway authorities and Seema pulled a 114-tonne railway engine in Gwalior in April. Next, Arti started running from pillar to post, from Congress leaders Madhavrao Scindia to Mahendra Baudh, asking them to help acquire permission for Seema to pull aircraft.

“They told us it wasn’t possible,” says Arti. “Then I thought of approaching chief minister Digvijay Singh.”

Singh had a hearty laugh but granted permission immediately. On July 26, Seema awed Bhopal by pulling the aircraft with her teeth. She repeated her feat again last Wednesday, proving that the previous one was no fluke.

“My dream is to pull a ship, a huge one, and go down in the Guinness Book,” she said, blushing. “No woman has done this kind of thing yet. I am the first one,” she claims already.

Seema’s teeth have also sent tremors down the toothpaste ad-world. She is getting splendid offers to bare her fangs from Himani and a host of other toothpaste makers.

“I am going to be a star now, doing commercials,” she gushed.

But what actually is the secret of her strength? “I love to drink milk with badam,” confessed Seema. “I think that’s made my teeth this strong,” she says, not to mention the “simple home-made dantmanjan” with which she cleans her teeth daily.

Can she break walnuts with her teeth? “What’s that?” she asks innocently. But the stones in ration-shop rice are no problem, she says.    


 
 
BIRTHDAY BAIT FOR DROPOUTS 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Sept. 3: 
School campuses in Andhra Pradesh may soon be resounding to the tune of Happy Birthday.

To check the alarming school dropout rate in the state — 15 lakh per annum — the government has resorted to the extra-curricular activity of celebrating birthdays of Dalit and tribal students. The dropout rate is highest among these sections.

The drive, to be carried out in government schools, is expected to make the students feel more at home among books. The administration also hopes that with the children staying on longer, it will be easier to monitor their health and work towards improving their social status.

The social welfare department in Visakhapatnam had come up with the brainwave of hosting the school birthday parties.

Besides distributing sweets, the department also gave the birthday child a token savings bond which after seven to 15 years would provide the seed money for higher studies.

“This is a token gesture, but it is expected to go a long way in the life of the poor who have nobody to celebrate their birthdays,” said R. Mallikarjun Rao, deputy director of social welfare for coastal districts.

“Since June, we have celebrated nearly 27 birthdays. There have been no dropouts during the period of farming till August 15,” said Rao.

But with birthdays catching on, the government seems to be in no mood to end the partying. The state education department is also planning on-campus celebrations of major festivals of all religions with a vengeance to retain more students.

Director of school education Nagarjuna points out that the dropout rate is increasing, though the literacy rate in Andhra is stable at 54 per cent. But there are special gifts for children and their parents to check dropouts.

The government has promised an annual excursion for the child and two members of the family annually if he or she does not skip the school and extra ration of 5 kg subsidy rice for the family which did not stop the child from the school.

The administration is also thinking of providing special tuition for the girl child from classes III to V.

There is, in addition, a move to introduce unadulterated nature into the syllabus. “We are encouraging the students in hostels to raise a small garden where they could grow vegetables,” Rao said.

But there is something for the grown-ups too. Andhra is also making efforts to improve adult literacy rate which stands at 76 per cent in the state. “By introducing only 33 letters in Telugu, we have succeeded in an experiment t make women who work on the fields to read and write in West Godavari district,” said Krishnamohan, the DEO of Elurus.    


 
 
LAWYER FAMILY MURDERED 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 3: 
Four members of a family, three of them advocates, were found dead with their throats slit open in their house today, sending shockwaves through Etawah.

The newspaper vendor discovered the killings early this morning and immediately informed the police. While Ranvir Senger, a senior advocate, was found beheaded on the first floor of his Friends Colony house in the heart of the city, his two advocate-daughters — Indu, 40, and Veena, 35 — were killed on the ground floor along with their mother Sashi Prabha.

The assailants did not even spare their pet dog, which was found lying in a pool of blood next to its master.

Refusing to give any details, Kanpur deputy inspector-general of police Dilip Trivedi said the police are yet to establish the motive behind the murders or the identity of the killers.

Furious advocates blocked traffic today and have called for a district-wide strike tomorrow in protest against police “unwillingness” to divulge any details of the case. The district bar association has also strongly condemned what they called “police inaction”.

Though the police remained tightlipped, some used plates and tea cups found in the house indicated the possibility of someone known to the family being involved in the killings. A couple of empty Coke bottles pointed to the involvement of more than one person in the crime.

A lawyer residing in the adjoining flat went to the extent of saying that the assailants had stayed over and left only in the morning.

He said that there were no signs of struggle in the house and, more importantly, no one heard any shrieks or noises. Electricity wires and telephone lines had been disconnected. Strangely, all valuables in the house were left untouched.

In an important breakthrough, the dog squad, which was pressed into service, led a police team right up to a ticket counter at the Etawah railway station.

The police are waiting for Senger’s daughter Sudha to arrive from Delhi to ascertain the possibility of whether the family was involved in a feud with someone known to it. “We cannot say anything until we talk to her,” said a senior police officer investigating the crime.    


 
 
JHARKHAND DRAINS CONG 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 3: 
Waking up to bifurcation reality, the Congress leadership has decided to upgrade the Jharkhand regional Congress unit to the state level even as it was left groping for a suitable leadership in Bihar.

At present, the Congress leadership in Bihar, consisting of Chandan Bagchi, Furqan Ahmad and Sarfaraz Ahmad, hails from its southern region that will go to Jharkhand after November 1.

The Congress high command summoned top party leaders from Bihar today to discuss the post-bifurcation scenario. Apart from AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar Mohsina Kidwai, Manmohan Singh, Ajit Jogi, Rameshwar Thakur, D.P. Yadav and several MLAs from Bihar were present.

The Congress wants the Centre to announce a financial package for Bihar. It also wants the three state-level panels on infrastructure, land reforms and industrial development to expedite their reports.

Singh said efforts should be made to kick off economic progress in Bihar. He said many sugar mills which had closed down, should be reopened and the Rabri Devi government should make special arrangements for agro-based industries as Bihar is famous for its lichis and mangoes.

In another development, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi demanded a probe into the recent police firing on sugarcane growers seeking payment of wages in Uttar Pradesh. Sonia condemned the firing and held the Centre and the state government responsible for the manner in which sugar units were sold to private units.

Sonia pointed out that farmers had not been paid their dues for years for supply of sugarcane. “The callousness of the government is further compounded by the fact that Uttar Pradesh Sugar Nigam sugar mills had been sold to influential private parties who had no intention of reviving them,” she said.

Sonia alleged that the Centre had turned economic reforms upside down so that what was meant to be the regeneration of industry had become the “graveyard of hopes of millions of people.”    


 
 
MEDICATED NET SHIELD AGAINST MALARIA 
 
 
FROM ANIRBAN ROY
 
Shillong, Sept. 3: 
There is finally hope of eradicating malaria in the Northeast. The Centre has offered an incentive of “medicated” mosquito nets to states which come up with viable action plans.

For a start, villagers in the malaria and encephalitis-infested areas of Meghalaya, bordering Bangladesh, will be given these special mosquito nets by the central health ministry. There is no way a mosquito will find entry because even where a mosquito net is torn, the insecticide will keep it at bay.

Ministry of health and family welfare regional director B.K. Borgohain said the first batch of 15,000 medicated nets reached here last week. “This gift from the Centre” will be distributed under the National Malaria Eradication Programme to the villagers in border areas soon, he added.

The nets are medicated with a modern insect repellent, Pyrrethroids, said Borgohain, who looks after the ongoing schemes in the entire Northeast.

“The insecticide is not harmful, even for children,” he said. It is so effective that the mosquitoes will not venture inside the net even if there is a big hole in it, he claimed. For better results the nets should be medicated once every six months.

Borgohain said the Centre will give 50,000 nets to Assam. The supply of such nets will be increased if the states come up with viable action plans, he added..

The regional director said many places like Shylla, Muktapur and Nongtallang along the Indo-Bangla border are a breeding ground for malaria, with several deaths reported frequently. More than 60 people died of this disease last year alone. “We have directed the state government to distribute the nets among people from the border areas who are below the poverty line,” he said.

The entire northeast is malaria-prone. The disease has claimed 35 and 18 lives this year in Assam and Nagaland respectively.

“We have learnt that Japanese encephalitis has claimed 60 lives so far in Assam and 100 people have been diagnosed with the disease at the Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh,” he said.

Many organisations have requested the Centre to launch a helicopter service to air-lift critically ill patients from remote areas. However, Borgohain said he was not certain of what steps the Centre intended to take in this regard. For now, the people will have to be content with a prophylactic step, since the therapeutic ones still have a long way to go.    


 
 
IN VICIOUS CIRCLE OF ANARCHY, LAW BANKS ON BRUTALI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Sept. 3: 
The beleaguered Bihar government is banking on its ill-equipped police force to tackle the deteriorating law and order in the state.

As the force is poorly-trained, the task of enforcing discipline is tough. It has, therefore, been resorting to lathicharge, indiscriminate firing and lobbying of tear gas shells to control unruly mobs.

“Mob violence has its origins in socio-economic grievances. We are not supposed to resolve these grievances. But we have to ensure the safety of public property. The police cannot but take recourse to hard strategies,” K.A.Jacob, state director general of police, said.

He admitted the deficiencies in the police force. He complained that the police chief is not adequately empowered to strengthen his department. He said many files on the modernisation of the force were awaiting approval.

The lower rung of the force is also a disgruntled lot. Sandwiched between a violent crowd and politicians, the shortcomings in the force have sparked anger in the policemen. The police are thus forced into vendetta missions against the common people.

Recently, a group of post-graduate students had sought an appointment with the minister for higher education, Saba Ahmed. Instead of reaching Ahmed’s office, they reached his house to sort out their problem related to academic work in the Patna University. With the university closed for a month, the students had lost faith in dialogues with agitating teachers which have yielded no results.

At the minister’s house, they went berserk and threw stones at the cars parked there, ransacked the furniture and smashed lampposts in the area. The irate lot had to be lathicharged.

In Hazaribagh and Ara, there have been allegations of police excesses. The rape and murder of a Dalit a week ago and the perpetrator going scot-free incensed people who took to the streets. Violence erupted and police opened fire.

Ara, which has seen a sharp forward-backward divide, earned notoriety ever since it became a battleground for the Ranbir Sena and the CPI(M-L).

“The police did not create this divide. Yet we have to impose order on the yawning social divide. It is an impossible task,” superintendent of police, Ara, M.L.Meena said. The police lost its cool in tackling a crowd of CPI(M-L) supporters, killing three, including a 15-year-old boy.

In Immamgunge, where three school children drowned while trying to escape a stampede caused by police firing a fortnight ago, caused public rage to rise.

“It was a protest against the Naxalite’s parallel rule which the police should have used to its advantage to corner the Left militants. Instead, the police got increasingly alienated,” Lakhsman Sahu, Janata Dal (United) spokesperson said.    


 
 
BOOM TIME FOR ASSAM HANDLOOM 
 
 
BY ROOPAK GOSWAMI
 
Guwahati, Sept. 3: 
The proliferation of centrally-sponsored modern looms and improved facilities is threatening to pull down Sualkuchi from the traditional shoppers’ guidebook as the one-stop ‘shop’ for the best mekhela chador and other Assamese dresses.

The central schemes have heralded a silent revolution in Assam’s handloom sector. Apart from the creation of new designs, a total transformation is also witnessed in the life of ordinary weavers.

Not far away from the city, life for Mini Devi has undergone a complete turnaround. “My gamochas were selling at a loss. After the ban on powerloom gamochas, mainly from the southern states, my income has increased,” she said.

Dogged by inadequate raw materials and technological obsolescence till recently, the state’s handloom sector is now banking on the modern looms, improved facilities and policy support by the government to regain the lost market and march ahead.

“Production has increased due to these new looms. Earlier three to four days were needed to weave one gamocha. Today I can produce three to four in a day,” said Sarita Das of Jalah village in Changsari.

The looms have also helped the weavers experiment and create new designs, she added. A co-operative society in the Changsari area of Kamrup district has created 34 new designs.

A state handloom department official said more than 60,000 commercial weavers have been covered under 360 project package schemes and 48 handloom village development programmes in a phased manner.

“The schemes will increase the working days of the commercial weavers from the present 120 days a year. Weavers will get aid to set up worksheds to continue work even in the rainy season,” the official added.

The weavers will get margin money of Rs 2,000 each to procure soft loans from banks. Modern implements will also be supplied to them. The schemes are set to commercialise the looms as there only 200,000 commercial weavers as against a total of 17,00,000 weavers in the state. The weavers are technically equipped to produce the finest fabrics. Each weaver gets a monthly stipend of Rs 750 besides learning the functioning of the modern looms. The monthly income of the weavers has also increased from Rs 300 per month to more than Rs 1,000.

“Holding of expos or trade fairs throughout Assam will help the weavers to get a better market for their products,” said Safiq Ali Mirza of a co-operative society in Kamrup district.

Handloom and sericulture minister Ramendra Narayan Kalita said the rate of production of gamochas has increased by seven per cent as the import of the item has completely stopped following the ban on powerloom fabrics.The state requires a total of six crore square metres of mekhela chador annually. About 3.8 crore square metre is produced locally while the rest (1.2 crore square metre) comes from the southern states. “The deficit from the ban will be met by the project packages and the handloom village development schemes,” a senior official said.    


 
 
ABHIRUCHI DAY HELD IN ASSAM 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, Sept. 3: 
It is the biggest birthday party Assam throws each year. And as always, thousands turned up today. But it is not as much about the occasion, as about the man. The man is Arjun Bhogeswar Barua, the only gold medallist from the state in an Asian Games sprint event.

Barua, an Arjuna award winner, created history in the world of sports of the state by winning a gold medal in the Bangkok Asiad in 1966. The feat remains unsurpassed.

Bhogeswar Barua’s birthday on September 3 has ever since come to symbolise the winner’s spirit. It also marks Assam’s tribute to a man who made his state conspicuous at the Bangkok event, despite the odds heavily stacked against him.

Abhiruchi Sports Day, the annual gala, commemorated today the achievement of the greatest athlete the state has seen. The event also entered its 17th year today. Bhogeswar Barua himself took part in the celebrations in Dhemaji, which is one of the 17 centres in the state, where the day is observed.

In the city, nearly 1,500 school children took part in a mass jogging as part of the celebrations. Former Indian cricketer Sadanand Viswanath was here to take part in the celebrations as a special invitee.

Chief minister Prafulla Mahanta flagged off the rally and the school kids spiritedly jogged down the Chandmari flyover towards the Nehru Stadium.

A dance and P.T. competition was followed by felicitation of noted sportspersons of the state. Many noted personalities of the country have graced the occasion previously including “Flying Sikh” Milkha Singh and supercop Kiran Bedi.

The day is observed under the aegis of Abhiruchi, the only sports magazine published from Assam, to promote sports awareness among the people, especially children.

Organising chairman Balendra Mohan Chakravarty said Abhiruchi planned to launch a mass awareness drive to promote sports in the state.

Members of the organisation will visit 20,000 households to make them aware of sporting activities in the city and also ask for active participation — either as spectators or as competitors. The awareness drive would be later introduced in other places, he added.    

 

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