Baby dogged by misfortune
Torture drives mother to feed son pesticide
Twin blasts kill girl, wound six
Criminals buy Kalighat puja rights
WEDDING BELLES
Five-day clinic for cars on Maidan
Meters junked in govt’s auto U-turn
December-end deadline for fake ration card drive
Cricket crest for DD Sports
Chakmas force militants to free hostages

 
 
BABY DOGGED BY MISFORTUNE 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
Four summers ago, abandoned by her mother, a new-born girl was protected through the night by three stray dogs on a pavement in north Calcutta’s Harituki Bagan Lane. She hit the headlines and sparked a sympathy wave that witnessed a clamour among ‘compassionate’ Calcuttans.

Today, she has a name, but no parents. An organisation that cares, but no home. For Bitosta (rippling stream) is a spastic, blind-deaf-mute child — a fact that drove away all those eager ‘adopters’.

She has, fortunately, been taken in by the Society for Indian Children’s Welfare, a non-government organisation, at Park Circus. Members of the NGO are trying their best to keep the child alive.

It was May 24, 1996, when Harituki Bagan Lane awoke to a strange sight. Three dogs, Lali, Kali and Sundari, were huddled around a bundle on the ground. When early risers approached them, the strays started growling and barking, guarding the bundle like their pups.

Suddenly, the local residents discovered that in the bundle of old newspapers lay a baby girl. The manner in which the dogs were protecting the abandoned baby made it clear that they had taken care of her in the night.

Ask Shambhu Patra about that morning and he says: “Yes, I remember the incident clearly. Policemen from Burtola came over and took her away... But I have no idea what happened to the baby afterwards.”

Neither does the city that prides itself on its warmth and compassion.

Within a month of the NGO ‘adopting’ her, it became apparent to doctors of the clinic run by the Society that there was something seriously wrong with her.

Recalls Shirin Dastur, chairperson of the Society: “During a routine check-up, the doctors found something wrong with her. They checked her thoroughly and confirmed that she would be both physically and mentally challenged.”

The worst was yet to come. Within six months, doctors discovered that Bitosta was blind, deaf and mute. “She suffers from corneal opacity, a non-curable eye-disease,” explains Dastur.

Can her physical condition be traced back to her first night, when she lay there on the footpath? No, says Dastur. “Doctors feel that the child was born with all the ailments, including her eye condition.”

For the first year, Bitosta could not even sit up without choking. But, gradually, she found her strength, and then her feet. By the time she was two, Bitosta was starting to walk. Today, she potters around, playing with toys and using the sense of touch to ‘connect’ with other kids at the centre.

“We are trying our best to take special care of her. A physiotherapist visits her thrice a week and orthopaedic surgeons check her regularly,” says Shilu Pathak, the Society’s project co-ordinator. Shilu, who has been looking after Bitosta for the past two years, is extremely attached to the child. “Her sense of touch is very strong. She can identify people, and communicate through her touch.”

Bitosta begins her day around 7 am. After milk and snacks for breakfast, she is given a bath at 9 am. A short nap brings her to lunch time, 12 noon. After an afternoon siesta, Bitosta is fed some fruits. The evening is for fun ‘n games (“she loves playing with toys”). Then, a light dinner and lights off at 8 pm.

What does the future hold for Bitosta? Shirin Dastur says it as it is: “We do not see any hope of Bitosta being adopted by a family any more. Who will come forward now? Initially a lot of people showed interest. Two women from the locality where she was found came to us and expressed the intention to take her home. But when we told them about Bitosta’s physical condition, they never came back.”

Back at Harituki Bagan Lane, the ‘baby-dog’ incident has faded into the distant past. An elderly lady who was keen to adopt the child, died recently. Lali and Sundari are still around, but Kali died earlier this year. For some months after the incident, the dogs were real ‘heroes’ — even drawing people from other localities. Now, no one really cares.

Recounting that May day, Ratikanta Pandey is convinced that “these dogs saved the baby’s life. We may forget the incident, but we believe that Lali and Sundari will remember the child forever”.    


 
 
TORTURE DRIVES MOTHER TO FEED SON PESTICIDE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
Unable to bear the torture of her in-laws, Chitra Mukherjee, 32, fed insecticide to her one-and-a-half-year-old-son Arkodeep and then consumed some of it herself on Saturday evening. Doctors said on Sunday that Chitra is “out of danger” but Arkodeep is fighting for his life.

The police have arrested Chitra’s husband Aditya, brother-in-law Anindya and sister-in-law Reba Karanji from their Aurobindo Sarani residence in the Shyampukur police station area. A hunt was on for Aditya’s other sister, Rekha Ganguly,

It was Aditya who discovered mother and son soon after they had consumed the poison and rushed them to hospital on Saturday. In a statement to the police, Chitra blamed her husband, brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law for torturing her constantly, “forcing” her to take “the extreme step”.

Deputy commissioner of police, headquarters, Narayan Ghosh said Aditya is a state government employee who married Chitra in April 1997. Preliminary investigations have revealed that Aditya and brother Anindya began to torture Chitra for dowry soon after the marriage.

Neighbours told the police that relations between Aditya and Chitra were strained. Police said Chitra’s sisters-in-law, Rekha and Reba, would frequent the house and make things even more difficult for her.

One of Chitra’s close relations told the police that she had expressed a desire to leave her husband and “return home”.

“Their demands are unending and they assault me every day. Some day, they will kill me and my child. Please save me,’’ she had pleaded with her family.

Of late, she was not being allowed to step out of the house or telephone her relatives.    


 
 
TWIN BLASTS KILL GIRL, WOUND SIX 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
A three-month-old girl was killed and at least six others were injured when two powerful bomb blasts rocked Metiabruz on Sunday. Earlier in the day, a Congress party office was blown up in Canning, wounding six.

A.K. Maliwal, superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, said: “We are looking into both the cases. Though no one has been arrested so far, the situation is under control.”

At around 11 am, the two powerful bombs went off inside a house at Mithaitala Road, opposite a closed jute mill in Metiabruz.

Local residents said the explosion occurred in the house of Loknath Sau, where two handmade bombs, allegedly stored in his house, went off.

Urmila Sau, barely three months old, was trapped under the debris when the roof collapsed under the impact of the blasts.

Her parents had rushed out of the house, leaving little Urmila behind. It was only when they heard the cries of the infant did they realise that she was trapped inside.

“A tile had fallen on her head,” said Md. Nizamuddin, a neighbour, who was among the six people injured in the blast.

“People panicked and started fleeing the spot. Initially, no one paid heed to the girl’s parents who were crying for help. When we finally hauled her out from under the debris, she was bleeding, but motionless.”

Urmila was rushed to M.R. Bangur Hospital by her parents, where she was declared “brought dead”. The roofs and walls of at least three houses in the vicinity either collapsed or developed cracks following the explosions.

A contingent of Eastern Frontier Rifles was posted in the area along with a police picket to keep strict vigil in the area — described by the police as “a den of criminals” — as tension ran high.

Earlier in the morning, six persons, including a woman, were injured when a bomb exploded near the local Congress party office in Canning. The injured were admitted to hospital, where the condition of two is stated to be critical.

Local Congress workers put up a road blockade for more than two hours from 8 am, demanding the arrest of the culprits and protesting police inaction. Senior police officers went to the spot to restore order.    


 
 
CRIMINALS BUY KALIGHAT PUJA RIGHTS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
Portrait of a place of piety as a den of vice. That’s what a recent police report reveals about the Kalighat temple.

According to the report, the temple has been virtually taken over by a bunch of criminals, The Chhotes, Bhutans and Dagi Dipus are buying palas — the right to conduct the puja of Kali inside the garbho griha for a day — from the paladars, and extorting money from the devotees.

The Halders are original sevaits or purohits of the temple and the legacy has passed onto generations of Halders through the years. There are around 750 members of the family who have the right to conduct the pujas.

City police chief D.C. Vajpai had ordered an investigation after renowned artist Arpana Caur complained on September 16 that pandas had misbehaved with her inside the temple.

Joint commissioner of police Kiriti Sengupta said that on September 16, original paladar Provat Halder, who was supposed to conduct the puja, had sold the pala to one Nemai Chakraborty for a handsome amount.

According to records available with the Bhowanipore police station, Chakraborty was arrested in the middle of 1997 for an extortion bid on a Sikh couple at the temple. He was later released on bail.

Officials confirmed that a panda called Babla, considered close to Chakraborty, had pushed Caur inside the temple and misbehaved with her. “Babla often fleeces devotees, but the police can’t take action as no one has ever dared to complain,” said a sevait, preferring anonymity.

The goons buying palas from the Halders and conducting pujas were all hauled up by Bhowanipore police on charges of extortion and under the Arms Act.

Most of the descendants of the Halder family are now employed otherwise and are averse to continuing as paladars.

The rules of the temple committee specify that those not keen to continue must inform the office-bearers, who later decide on awarding the pala to another paladar or do it themselves. “But in most cases, paladars, instead of informing the committee, sell off their shares to others,” said an official.

According to the police, descendants of the Halder family sell the palas for anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 50,000, depending on the occasion. The daily collection from devotees on weekdays is around Rs 30,000, while on Saturday, Sunday and other holidays, it goes up to around Rs 1 lakh.    


 
 
WEDDING BELLES 
 
 
BY RITA BHIMANI
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
It is not what you see through a lens
But the scene that lies beyond the fence
When you click in the moment
Of ebb and enchantment
All the suspense then turns to recompense

Calcutta seems to be going through a charming chiaroscuro phase in its camera-sensitivity right now. The current exhibition at Victoria Memorial is one such photographic exposition where Italian photographer and Indophile Antonio Martinelli has recaptured the Daniells’ aquatints in their present-day likeness. The photographs have a stunning symbiotic likeness to the graphic originals, which used the camera obscura technology.

Then there was the retrospective of Shambhu and Karuna Shaha’s photographs and paintings. I’ve never ceased to be amazed and admiring of the latter’s unfettered approach to her voluminous women — so very pulsating and contemporary. And the forthcoming event for Ahmed Ali, whose photographic palette is legendary, but whose paintings will in addition be showcased.

In the midst of all this camera-centric creativity, a duo appeared on the Calcutta scene last week, documenting, between them, the weddings of India. The timing of their visit was tailor-made for the recent Sarda wedding ceremonies that they attended avidly.

Of the two, Rosemary Feick is the older India hand, not as a tinsel tourist, but as an adventuring aficionado. She has braved one of the world’s most powerful rapids at the base of the Himalayas where she whitewater-rafted, and has ballooned over the Taj Mahal with Rajiv Gandhi.

Decked out in a swarovski-spangled turquoise salwaar suit at the wedding, where we watched an enactment of The Sound of Music by the girls of the Sarda family, the petite blonde hardly looked like a balloon pilot, which she is. When I asked her if she had got together with Richard Branson, another ballooning enthusiast, she admitted to knowing him well, but failed his ballooning prowess saying: “He doesn’t even have a full licence, and does bad landings!”

Whereas Rosemary not only has a British commercial licence for lighter-than-air balloons, she is also qualified to fly any shape or size of hot air balloons commercially, even airships and, some years ago, at the request of the India government, organised commercial ballooning in Delhi.

Joyous frames

In contrast is the taller Sheila McKinnon, a fellow Canadian, who is the photographer, and who, after studying art history and working in architecture and interior design, just woke up one morning and decided to go into photography. From early commissions for the New York Times Sunday Section and the Toronto Globe and Mail to photograph fashion collections in Milan and Paris, to the cinema photography for Fellini and Antonioni, she went on to travel photographs in non-western cultures. At one extreme have been the photographs in African countries, particularly of refugees fleeing from one country to another, and on the other, the images of children in Kosovo and in Iraq which will form part of a book by Unicef, Italy, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The pictures are joyous, she maintains, to project hope and it is this same joy she finds in the experience of photographing in India.

There is a natural communication that she finds here, and people reach out to thank her when she clicks them.

To see a lissom woman in a long flowing dress with two sets of heavy camera bags on either shoulder is in itself the subject of picturisation. Our lensman captured her taking pictures at the wedding with her battery of cameras, although what would have been more fascinating were the moments when she breezed through the Calcutta fish and flower markets, for scenes that would lend a different background air of credibility to the book on Weddings, which is being done jointly with Rosemary, her long-time friend.

They meet together on assignments like this one, which Rosemary plunged into after the death of her husband William Feick in August this year. While Rome has been home for Sheila for the last three decades, Rosemary’s base is New York with other homes in Canada and Mexico, where, in Cuernavaca, she promotes hand-crafted decorative products amongst Mexican housewives.

Both have this in common too — the teaching of women to return to their original artisan talents. Both are total workaholics, game to get up and go anywhere, anytime. I didn’t dare ask the age of either lady, but judging from their experience of several decades, they’ve been around for a long time. But with continued unflagging energy, and plans to keep going, looking good and keeping up long-term relationships, we should be seeing the duo back in India soon.

Rekindling ties

When I first met “Posy”, as she is more popularly known, it was with my friends Jane and Hugh Faulkner, in their elegant French vineyard which they run, so it was a renewal of a relationship. But her Calcutta connection is with fashion designer and socialite Kitty Bhargava, with whom she shares a friendship of 30 years.

So, there was a whirlwind of parties. But work was primary for both and they blanched at nothing, whether it was the humungous drive to Udayan to photograph the children, or the odd-hour coverage of a mehndi ceremony or walking into Victoria Memorial to see the Oriental Scenery exhibits. This was of special interest to Posy Feick, who is a member of the advisory board of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Venice, an interest she shared with her late husband.

As a well-established writer and, in her earlier years, a television personality, Rosemary has written extensively from her first-hand knowledge about her experiences on land, on the water and in the air. From riding elephants and “being driven wildly up the stairs at the Piazza de Spagna” to crewing on Sumurun, a winning yacht near the Isle of Wight, she has been-there-done-that and published it all.

Equally, Sheila McKinnon has done the gamut of photography and photo-journalism. She looks more Italian than Canadian, with her long, Melina Mercouri-type dresses in light colours and clingy fabrics contrasting with her rich tan.

We couldn’t reproduce any of the wedding or other Calcutta scenes simply because Sheila McKinnon is hugely particular about their processing back in Italy.

But if life is about coincidental meets, like mine with Rosemary’s, then perhaps the McKinnon-Feick team might just bump into Mira Nair to photograph her making of her latest movie Monsoon Wedding in Delhi.    


 
 
FIVE-DAY CLINIC FOR CARS ON MAIDAN 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
Does your car or two-wheeler have a hiccup or do you have doubts about the quality of the smoke it emits? Well, here’s the chance to take your vehicle to a clinic for cars, opening on Monday on the Maidan.

The five-day clinic is being organised by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) and will be inaugurated by state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and environment minister Manab Mukherjee. Hotshot car-makers are arriving with state-of-the-art equipment and have set up stalls on the Maidan, right across Ispat Bhavan.

Mercedes, Fiat, Mahindra, Maruti, the Hyundais and everyone else is supposed to be there to give the vehicles of whoever volunteers a once-over. “This is basically a pollution control check-up camp,” said Vinay Nevatia, past president of the Federation of Automobile Dealers’ Association (FADA), which is an active participant in the camp.

“The new cars are Euro-compliant. But the old ones need to be checked up,” Nevatia said. “All the vehicles that our engineers will adjust and check, if found complying to the emission norms, will be issued a ‘pollution under control’ certificate,” Nevatia said.

Deepak Laylka, of Rahul Udyog, the Fiat dealer, said that Mercedes would set up what is known as Star Diagnostics, equipment to check a whole lot of performance parameters of cars. “This will provide an unique opportunity for car-owners to have a first-hand health check for their cars,” Laylka said.

Nevatia said it was initially the manufacturers who wanted to create some sort of awareness among car-owners to keep their wheels in good condition. “What we are trying to achieve is to build awareness among people, especially the old car-owners, to keep their vehicles in top order so that air pollution is curbed in the city,” said Nevatia.

With the phase-out of 15-year-old vehicles looming large, the car clinic may be shunned by many. But their fears are unfounded, Nevatia said. “The camp is totally voluntary and we have told the traffic police to assist us and not to force anyone to join the clinic,” Nevatia said.    


 
 
METERS JUNKED IN GOVT’S AUTO U-TURN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
In a complete capitulation to the demands of steadfast autorickshaw-operators, the government is planning to amend the existing motor vehicles rules to enable operators ferry passengers against a pre-fixed fare and without a fare meter.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has also extended the deadline for three-wheelers plying in the city to obtain valid papers to December 31 after a meeting with auto operators at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Sunday. The department had earlier fixed October 31 as the deadline.

Making a complete mockery of the police crackdown on errant automen to improve road safety, the government has also decided to allow four persons in a vehicle. The meeting was also attended by State Transport Authority deputy chairman Lakshman Bhattacharya and joint secretary in the transport department Asim Das.

The transport minister said no auto will be allowed to ply without a valid permit after the deadline expired. “The police and motor vehicles inspectors will seize all illegal three-wheelers,” he said.

According to transport department officials, nearly 8,000 autos ply in the city and the suburbs, of which only 4,000 have legal documents. According to the Motor Vehicles Act, three-wheelers are bound to ply with fare meters. But the operators charge a ‘fixed’ rate in complete violation of the rules.

Minibus meeting: Bhattacharya will meet minibus-owners on Monday to convince them to accept the new fare chart. Though bus-owners have accepted the revised fares, minibus-owners have not complied, demanding a further hike. Disgruntled mini-owners are still charging old rates from passengers.    


 
 
DECEMBER-END DEADLINE FOR FAKE RATION CARD DRIVE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
The food and civil supplies department has initiated a drive to detect and confiscate fictitious ration cards in and around Calcutta. The drive is expected to be completed by the end of December.

Calcutta and its suburbs have more than 1.35-crore ration card-holders. Of these, more than two lakh cards are bogus, civil supplies department sources said.

Many card-holders have either died or changed their addresses but the civil supplies department was never informed and the cards of those who died were not surrendered. Moreover, many people have been found to possess more than one card.

Minister for food and civil supplies Kalimuddin Shams said the Centre has instructed his department to identify card-holders above and below the poverty line. Tax payers have been asked to mention their permanent income-tax numbers on the cards and they will not receive sugar through ration shops.

Shams said: “Though forms have been distributed through 10,000 ration shops, many have not filled them up. We are sure they possess fictitious cards. The Centre is gradually trying to wind up the public distribution system but we are against the move.”    


 
 
CRICKET CREST FOR DD SPORTS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
Match-fixing or not, Calcuttans have given Test cricket the thumbs up. Mounting demand from cricket fans has already forced the introduction of Doordarshan’s sports channel DD Sports in certain areas, with the rest of the city all set to follow suit.

All three control rooms of SitiCable have already accepted the pay channel and SitiCable homes were watching uninterrupted live telecast of the India-Zimbabwe Test on Sunday.

Chances of RPG Netcom following suit have also brightened, following discussions with a section of operators. “We have, in principle, accepted the pay channel, but of course, on our own terms,” said Tarak Saha, convener, Forum of Cable Operators, following a meeting with representatives of MEN, distributors of DD Sports.

However, there seem to be some points of discord among various factions of Netcom operators which need to be sorted out first. “We are meeting the MSO on Monday to resolve the issue,” said Supratim Halder, chief of the Cable Television Operators’ Association.

Most operators, as well as Netcom officials, however, agree that there has been considerable viewer pressure to switch on the channel despite DD beaming chunks of the Test match live on the national network as well. On Saturday and Sunday, viewers got to see the match live on DD1 for 75 minutes of the morning session and also towards the end of the day’s play.

RPG Netcom CEO Probir Bose, though, felt the earliest DD Sports can be switched on in his network is Monday, when the Sachins and Souravs take guard. “As soon as the majority of operators can convince me they are ready to pay for the channel, I will switch it on,” he said.    


 
 
CHAKMAS FORCE MILITANTS TO FREE HOSTAGES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Nov. 19: 
Two Chakma women were abducted yesterday by a group of heavily-armed National Liberation Front of Tripura militants from Tuichakma village under Gandacherra subdivision. The abduction was carried out to avenge the lynching of two comrades of the rebels. The women were, however, set free today following public pressure.

Chakma villagers raided the forest where the women were being held hostage by the NLFT militants and obtained their release.

Before leaving the village with the women yesterday, the militants had warned the residents, mostly Chakma tribals, that unless they gave up their resistance movement against the NLFT, more such raids would follow and the abducted women killed.

Giving details, police sources said the Chakma tribals of Tuichakma village had organised a community meeting on October 27 and unanimously resolved to resist NLFT rebels. They also issued a call to all Chakma militants, mostly collaborators of the NLFT, to give up arms and join the mainstream.

The militants were also threatened with dire consequences unless they complied with the directive of the Chakma community council.

On November 7, two known NLFT collaborators, Jyotirmay Chakma and Kripajay Chakma, entered Tuichakma village to extort money. When the villagers refused, they beat up some of the residents.

The enraged villagers pounced upon the militants, lynched them and handed over their bodies to Raisyabari police station. The villagers’ wrath found expression the next day when the slain Kripajay Chakma’s father described his son as an “enemy of the society and also of the family” while speaking at Gandacherra hospital morgue.

The slain Jyotirmay Chakma’s father did not even accept the body of his son.

Planning to avenge the killing of their comrades, a group of heavily-armed NLFT rebels yesterday stormed Tuichakma village during the day, when most of the men were out working.

They abducted at gunpoint two middle-aged Chakma women, Taranga Lata Chakma and Rongabonti Chakma and escaped into the forest.

The residents of the village, regardless of political affiliation, immediately held a meeting of the community council and resolved not to budge an inch from their chosen path of resistance against the NLFT rebels.

The meeting also set a deadline till the end of this month, asking all Chakma youth engaged in militant activities to return to the mainstream. They asserted that unless the rebels did so, people belonging to the tribal community all over the state would take necessary action.

Significantly, the meeting also resolved that the community council reserved the right to even pass death sentences on any Chakma youth following the path of militancy in defiance of the call.

The meeting lambasted the NLFT for carrying out “mafia-like activities to the detriment of tribal interests.”

Official sources here said that coming close on the heels of the anti-NLFT stand taken by the Jamatya and Uchoi tribals of West and South Tripura respectively, the Chakma community’s call for resistance would help people wake up to the situation and back the government’s counter-insurgency operations.

Speaking on the issue, veteran Chakma tribal leader Sroto Ranjan Khisa said, “This was only to be expected because like all other tribal and non-tribal people, the Chakmas are also badly affected by the depredations of the NLFT, which has no defined objective.”

Khisa rued that the NLFT was causing the greatest damage to the tribals themselves, adding, “A section of Chakma youth, mostly thugs, are working as collaborators of the NLFT in lieu of payment but they are not trusted enough to be enrolled in the main body of the organisation.”    

 

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