Schoolgirls’ Mumbai dream derailed
Newborn found dead on college grounds
Three women held for torture of minor servant
Hospital fracas
Frames of passion on Calcutta canvas
Kumbh draws Sagar sadhus
A special race, and winners all
SEB cutback plunges city into darkness
Fur and family friends
Search on to trace abducted rail staff

 
 
SCHOOLGIRLS’ MUMBAI DREAM DERAILED 
 
 
BY SOUMYADIPTA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Two sisters from Bolpur, one star-struck and the other desperate to become an artist, were stopped in their tracks minutes before boarding a Mumbai-bound train at Howrah station on Sunday evening. They were produced in a Howrah court on Monday and handed over to their father.

The two girls, one 17 and the other 14, were noticed by the Government Railway Police when they started quarrelling between themselves. The police also grew suspicious as they were lugging 13 bags between them. “We were really surprised to see these little girls carrying such a huge amount of luggage,” said Nilmoni Barik, officer-in-charge of the Howrah GRP station.

It took no time for the police to realise that they had fled home. The two, one elder dressed in salwar-kameez and shawl, and the other in jeans and sweater, were taken into custody.

They were carrying “all their savings”, amounting to around Rs 3,000, with them.

The elder sister, a student of Class XII in Bolpur town, said that on Saturday night, she had quarrelled with her parents about wanting to study fine arts. The altercation ended with her father slapping her.

“That’s when I decided to run away from home. My sister had always wanted to go to Mumbai to meet Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan. So, I told her ‘come on, let’s go to Mumbai tonight itself’,” said the 17-year-old.

The two packed their bags after their parents went off to sleep.

“Didi and I took everything we could... She took her pencil-sketches and watercolour paintings, while I took my teddy bear... We even took a broom to sweep the floor of the house we would stay in,” said the 14-year-old.

“I was running away to Mumbai, which is far away from my house, with my didi...,” wrote the student of Class VIII when the GRP asked her to put down their tale on paper.

Barik said the girl’s father, who works in a private firm, told the police that they had locked both parents in their room before fleeing.

While the younger one seemed all-excited at the prospect of meeting her heroes, Shah Rukh and Hrithik, her sister was most upset with her parents.

“I ran away from them... They don’t appreciate anything I do. They just scold and beat me... I thought of going to Ramakrishna Mission because a monk from there had once told me that they allow their students to pursue whatever career they want,” she said.

But she had no idea that Ramakrishna Mission did not allow girl students.

“I have never been to Calcutta or Mumbai. I have just seen them on television... But I thought that everything would work out once I reached a Ramakrishna Mission school in Mumbai,” she said.

The sisters refused to return home with their uncle, who arrived late on Sunday night from Bolpur after being informed about the incident by the GRP.

“This happens in every household. Don’t all parents scold their children if they refuse to listen to them? But we couldn’t ever imagine that they would to run away from home like this,” their uncle said.

   

 
 
NEWBORN FOUND DEAD ON COLLEGE GROUNDS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Gurudas College, in Phulbagan, was shell-shocked after students discovered the body of a newborn girl wrapped in a newspaper inside a pit in the library compound on Monday morning. Police said the baby was possibly abandoned by her parents shortly after birth.

On hearing about it, college principal Rupayan Bhattacharya informed Phulbagan police station. The police took the infant to NRS Medical College and Hospital, where it was pronounced dead. A doctor at the hospital, who examined the baby, said the newborn died of heart seizure following exposure to severe cold.

The dew-drenched body, with newsprint sticking to it, was first spotted by a first-year girl student, who went to the library around 11 am. While the student was walking through the field on her way to the library, she saw the newspaper-wrapped bundle inside a pit. Holes had been dug in the ground to erect a makeshift dais for a cultural function a few days ago.

She went close by and noticed a tuft of human hair sticking out of the hole. She touched it with her feet and felt something soft.

“Sensing something wrong, she called a classmate, who brought out the bundle with his fingers. They realised that it was a baby and raised an alarm,” said policemen investigating the case.

The incident created quite a sensation in and around the college. Students from the two other buildings of the college came running to the library campus to catch a glimpse of the dead baby.

“Some students scurried into my office and told me about the dead baby. I was feeling a little nervous when I heard about it. I thought it best to call in the police immediately,” principal Bhattacharya said. He said he had never heard of such a thing happening either in Gurudas or any other college.

Police questioned some students who witnessed the incident. “We are yet to come up with anything positive about the whereabouts of the dead child’s parents or why she was abandoned,” police said. It is learnt that teams of policemen will be sent to different red-light areas to gather information about the possible desertion of an illegitimate child by her mother.

Hospital fracas BY A STAFF REPORTER Calcutta, Jan. 9: A sub-inspector of Jadavpur police station was severely injured and the superintendent of Bagha Jatin state general hospital was taken ill during a protest by Trinamul Congress and BJP supporters at the hospital on Monday afternoon. The activists were protesting the poor services and quality of food at the hospital.

The demonstrators gheraoed the office of superintendent G.C. Sarkar and forced their way in. Sarkar, who suffers from high blood pressure, lost consciousness.

When sub-inspector Nagen Mondal intervened, he was beaten up and had to be admitted to hospital with a serious head injury, police said. A larger force went to the hospital and arrested 14 activists, including three women.

   

 
 
THREE WOMEN HELD FOR TORTURE OF MINOR SERVANT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Three women residents of a CIT apartment complex, under jurisdiction of the New Alipore police station, were arrested on Monday afternoon for alleged physical and mental torture of an eight-year-old girl who used to work for them.

This is the second incident of maltreatment of a minor girl working in a New Alipore household in under three months.

Senior officers of the police station said they received a call from the market centre near the flats around 1 pm, saying that a huge and agitated crowd had gathered outside the complex, situated just behind Ahindra Mancha, in the Chetla area of south Calcutta.

On reaching the spot, the police saw a mob of about 400 people shouting and baying for the blood of the occupants of the flat where the girl, Susoma Sardar, worked.

They alleged that the girl had been badly beaten up, her ear cut off and that she had even been burnt with cigarette butts by her employers.

The police pacified the crowd, which comprised mainly inhabitants of a nearby slum where Susoma’s grandmother lives. On making inquiries, they found that the flat was owned by Mala Mukherjee, a widow with an infirmity in her leg. She shared the flat with her daughter, Sita, and her sister, Jaya Das. Susoma had been working for them for the past month and a half.

The police, on preliminary examination, could not find any burn injuries. “But there were several marks on her body. We took her to SSKM Hospital, where doctors examined her. They confirmed that the injuries were old and had not been caused today. She had bruise marks all over her body, suggesting that she had been beaten up on several occasions over the past few days,” the police station’s second officer-in-charge said.

One of Susoma’s ears was swathed in bandages. She had recently pierced her ears and the perforation was still raw when, apparently, it had been pulled by one or more of the three women. This had led to bleeding, and the charge by the crowd that her ear had been cut off.

Susoma has been taken by her grandmother to their home in Canning. She has no parents, the police said, and had been introduced to the Mukherjee household for employment by her grandmother. All three women were arrested on charges of causing grievous injury and wrongful confinement of the child. They were transferred to the central lockup at Lalbazar and will be produced before the magistrate at Alipore court on Tuesday.

In October last year, a nine-year-old girl was found locked up in a house in New Alipore by a woman and her two children while they had gone to Bangalore for the Puja holidays.

She was rescued by neighbours, who heard her crying from inside. The three were arrested on their return to Calcutta but later released on bail.

Rights activists have decried both incidents. “First of all, it is illegal to appoint a minor to work in any place. Over and above that, these children are being tortured physically and mentally for not carrying out their work in the manner their masters or mistresses want them to. This is gross injustice and proper punishment should be given to such people,” said a human rights crusader.

   

 
 
HOSPITAL FRACAS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
A sub-inspector of Jadavpur police station was severely injured and the superintendent of Bagha Jatin state general hospital was taken ill during a protest by Trinamul Congress and BJP supporters at the hospital on Monday afternoon. The activists were protesting the poor services and quality of food at the hospital.

The demonstrators gheraoed the office of superintendent G.C. Sarkar and forced their way in. Sarkar, who suffers from high blood pressure, lost consciousness.

When sub-inspector Nagen Mondal intervened, he was beaten up and had to be admitted to hospital with a serious head injury, police said. A larger force went to the hospital and arrested 14 activists, including three women.

   

 
 
FRAMES OF PASSION ON CALCUTTA CANVAS 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
After the failure of Gaja Gamini to attract either crowds or critical acclaim, M.F. Husain is now pinning his hopes on the city of his “inspiration”. The film, which has already opened in Delhi and Mumbai, will premiere at Metro on January 12, before moving to Chaplin.

“My paintings are always well received in Calcutta, especially by the young. I expect them to appreciate my film as well,” said Husain. “Forget the pundits... the response from young people here is not motivated or biased,” added the painter-turned-filmmaker.

Feet bare, body draped in black overcoat, the artiste dashed off a sketch of Gaja Gamini carrying a burden, elephant at her feet. “I don’t expect the film to run anywhere for more than four days,” he laughed, “Gaja Gamini not a film that everyone can appreciate”.

Husain is also counting on Calcutta for a warmer response to his graphic art than it had received in Delhi.

Limited edition lithographs and prints of his works will be available at the Academy of Fine Arts from January 13. “I launched the series in Delhi, but the response was not good. I look forward to Calcutta’s response being different,” said Husain, sipping a glass of soda.

The prints will be available, some for as little as Rs 5,000, at the Academy, which he has also chosen to launch his book, Genesis of Gaja Gamini. Another exhibition, of watercolours and photographs taken by Husain “of Madhuri at the Louvre”, will be inaugurated at Galerie 88 by Mrinal Sen on January 11.

The painter, who came to Calcutta “for the first time in 1936, as a cinema hoarding painter,” claims he wanted to have his film premiered in Calcutta.

“I have had all of my major exhibitions here. I spent a lot of time in the 70s and 80s here for my Mother Teresa series,” Husain reminisced. “Even if it is painting in a small dhaba in Ballygunge,” he smiled, “or walking down the streets, I take away so much”.

Husain, who has been “dreaming of making films for the last 15 years”, is “not about to leave the industry easily”. The box office, he says, is not an indicator of whether a film is a success. “Then you would have to call Hum Aapke Hain Kaun a masterpiece,” he exclaimed.

When asked whether he would be looking for new muse, Husain emphasised: “I may look for new actress. But even if I make a film 18 years from know, I would want Madhuri to be in it.”

Husain already has another script in hand. “I should be on the floor again by the middle of the year,” he estimated. And will it feature Madhuri in the lead? “I don’t know. It depends on her, and if she likes the script.”

From Calcutta, he’s headed south for Trivandrum, where Gaja Gamini is slated for release. Then, mid-February, it’s off to London, where his film will be screened alongside an exhibition of his works at the Tate Gallery.

   

 
 
KUMBH DRAWS SAGAR SADHUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
The Maha Kumbh Mela has hijacked the sadhus of the Ganga Sagar Mela this year. Compared to the usual conglomeration of nearly 50,000 sadhus in the city around this time of the year, hardly 5,000 have gathered at the make-shift Maidan tents put up by the NGOs and the state government.

The usual frenetic build-up to the annual Sagar Mela on Makar Sankranti is missing, thanks to the sparse gathering of pilgrims. The sadhus, who come from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and the Northeast, are conspicuous by their absence, most of them opting for the ‘rare’ Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, which happens once in 12 years.

“I’m too old and much though I would have liked to visit the Maha Kumbh Mela, I decided in favour of the Sagar Mela since the facilities are better here and we are well looked after,” said Swami Satyanand, who has come with his disciple from Uttar Pradesh, even as the rest of his clan has embarked for the Maha Kumbh Mela.

Among the six big tents erected by the government, only one has been taken up, while of the 29 private tents put up by NGOs, the occupancy is a pathetic nine.

“We had arranged to feed nearly 20,000 pilgrims, whereas less than a thousand turned up for lunch today. With so much food going waste, we stand to incur a huge expenditure,” lamented Amarnath Tewari, working secretary of Sultanpur Samaj, one of the NGOs traditionally engaged in looking after the Sagar pilgrims.

The state administration, too, has been taken aback by the sadhu exodus to Maha Kumbh Mela this season and a lot of staff engaged to look after the pilgrims in transit, are idling.

“We hardly have any work during the day, with so few pilgrims around, and the entire area looks bleak and forlorn this year,” said Arun Kumar Pal, employee of the engineering department, South 24-Parganas.

Pal’s colleague, Amal Chandra Dey, said: “Every moment, we are expecting a big batch of sadhus to arrive, but so far, they have remained elusive.”

The state administration has set up eight vaccination booths, one information centre and a 24-hour police camp at the make-shift camps on the Maidan.

Despite the unusually poor attendance, the tents will remain standing till January 17, when the pilgrims return from the Ganga Sagar Mela, which begins on January 13.

   

 
 
A SPECIAL RACE, AND WINNERS ALL 
 
 
BY ANANYA DASGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
“I’ll get the gold medal. That’s why I came first,” announced an excited Sanjukta Das Gupta, after her race. It didn’t really matter that the 12-year-old had actually come in third. For, at the Fun Games organised by Bodhayan on the St Xavier’s grounds on Sunday, Sanjukta, and all the other mentally-challenged kids, emerged winners.

Bodhayan, set up 12 years ago by some parents of these ‘special’ children, organises the inter-school sports every year. But this year is an exception. The reason — the state level Special Olympics to be held in February.

“We wouldn’t have had enough funds for two such big events. So, the decision to scrap the annual sports and hold Fun Games, with the parents involved as well,” explained one of the organisers.

But the participants showed no lack of eagerness. There might have been a sharp drop in the number of competitors, but they gave it their all. Unlike the rules of the special Olympics, the field at these sports with a difference were divided into three groups according to age — 8 to 11, 12 to 15 and the 16 and above.

There were several champions on the day but missing was an athlete who has brought glory to the country. Kunal Duggar, a step above most of his friends, has represented the country twice at the Special Olympics. But on Sunday, he was engaged elsewhere. Pinku Das, Tanusree Pal and Barnali Bose, all part of the Bodhayan family, have also done their bit on the international circuit.

“India won the silver in handball in the 1999 Olympics in North Carolina. In the finals, we lost to Brazil,” said coach Tamal Chatterjee, now the trainer at Bodhayan.

At the highest level, India is right up there with the top countries. The country’s ‘special’ representatives have given their utmost to win medals, but no recognition. Just as their achievements go unheeded, the efforts of Bodhayan and such organisations follow the same course. But they have never deterred from their objectives — the prime among them is to provide a better living for their unfortunate children.

   

 
 
SEB CUTBACK PLUNGES CITY INTO DARKNESS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
Large parts of Calcutta and its suburbs were plunged into darkness on Monday evening as the combined shortfall in the CESC and state electricity board-served areas shot up to over 175 mw.

Power cuts ranged from 50 minutes to an hour all over the city. The deficit in the CESC-supplied areas rose to 125 mw while the shortfall was over 50 mw in the SEB-served areas.

A CESC spokesman said the SEB restricted its supply to the CESC grid to 200 mw, which is about 100 mw less than normal.

The situation was compounded by a below-average supply from the DVC to the CESC system. The DVC supplied 23 mw to the CESC grid through the latter’s receiving station in Howrah, against the usual supply of 34 mw.

A power official said the SEB imposed restrictions on its supply to the CESC from January 3 as the private utility is not paying its dues. “The CESC should pay the immediate dues and furnish a liquidation plan for the Rs 960 crore it owes us,” an SEB official said.

   

 
 
FUR AND FAMILY FRIENDS 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, Jan. 8: 
He is as familiar with a bark or a yelp as he is with English or Afrikaans. For Percival Rodger Green, or ‘PRC’, has been a regular fixture on the international dog-show circuit for the past 36 years.

An engineer by profession, the chairman of Goldfield Kennel Club, the biggest in South Africa, has raised around 50 dogs and judged more than 10 times the number in championships round the world.

Green, a resident of Gauteng, the largest province in South Africa, was in town to judge Calcutta Canine Club’s 35th championship. “I have had dogs around me for as long as I can remember. I grew up with four fox terriers in the house. When I got married and moved out to a small apartment, I got my wife Beulah a red Pekingese. She turned out to be an excellent groomer. This encouraged me to add to the pack. One day, out of curiosity, I entered one of our pets in a local show, and he won. That’s how we hit the circuit — with Beulah grooming the dogs and I showing them,” recounted Green, gazing fondly at a Golden Retriever warming up for the next round on the Rabindra Sarobar greens.

The Greens then started criss-crossing the country during weekends, travelling up to 600 km through the night, to take part in dog shows. “By the time we had moved to a country house with five acres of land, our dogs numbered 27.” Their children, then aged nine, seven, and one, were only “too happy to have so many furred friends”.

Green’s reputation as a judge has taken him all over the world — from Australia (where “the competition is the toughest”) to Israel, from Zambia to Peru. A member of the Provincial Council of Kennel Union in South Africa, he toured Mumbai and Delhi in 1999. On his first visit to Calcutta, he looked at home, making six ferocious-looking boxers do the rounds at the Sarobar.

“The popularity of breeds varies from country to country. Calcutta seems to be fond of German Shepherds, Dobermans, Labradors and Cocker Spaniels. The exhibits at the show, especially of the first two categories, are as good as any I have judged anywhere,” said the 62-year-old engineer-cum-canine expert.

The Green dogs have won prizes galore, but PRC’s proudest moment was the day his first Keeshound Sirius was crowned champ in 1968, having picked up five challenge certificates.

At present, he has two Yorkshire Terriers and three Shih Tzus. And to keep them company, his wife has acquired six Persian cats. “But they are one big, happy family,” smiled Green, through auburn beard.

From Calcutta, he’s off to Hyderabad for yet another dog show. Then, he’s headed home, in time to catch one of his Shih Tzus deliver a litter in February, and make the ‘big, happy family’, bigger and happier.

   

 
 
SEARCH ON TO TRACE ABDUCTED RAIL STAFF 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Jan. 8: 
The nine railway employees abducted from North Tripura’s Dhalai district are still untraced despite intensive search operations being conducted by the Special Task Force of Tripura State Rifles since yesterday afternoon.

The railway personnel were kidnapped in two phases from Nalifapara under Ambasa police station and Sindhu Kumarpara under Manu police station.

Inspector general (Intelligence) Kishore Jha rushed to Ambasa headquarters immediately after receiving information about the attack to supervise the combing operation. Deputy general manager of Eastern Frontier Railway Amiyangshu Das also rushed to the site for inspection.

All the abducted persons are believed to have been taken across the border to Bangladesh. The police today detained four tribal youth for their alleged involvement in the abduction, which triggered panic among workers constructing tracks and bridges.

Railway sources here said three of the kidnapped persons — driver Venkatesh Rao, his assistant Tapan Mohanty and railway engineer Narayan Deori — were direct staff of the Railways. The remaining six — Prasenjit Dey, Ranjan Das, Chandrasekhar Mal, Saumitra Chowdhury, Biplab Das and Rameshwar Baidya — were employees of a railway contractor who had been allotted work order for construction of train bridges.

Police sources here said the railway personnel engaged in construction of bridges and tracks had not informed the police before proceeding to their places of work.

Sources said the vehicle which was sent to the rebel-infested Nalifapara area to fetch water for the railway staff, had gone without any security cover early in the morning. The National Liberation Front of Tripura militants found the driver and his assistant easy targets for abduction, they added.

In the second incident which took place in Sindhu Kumarpara under Manu police station, seven construction workers, including Deori, were also abducted while working at the site without any security cover.

Sources said normally they sought security cover while working at construction sites.

Refuting police claims that the workers had gone to their places of work without asking for security, sources said they had asked for security on several occasions but had not got it. They said they had intimated the government of the lack of security in the interior areas on many occasions, but adequate action was not taken.

State Trinamul convener Ratan Chakravorty said he had apprised the government of the situation in writing. Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee had also expressed concern over the insecurity faced by railway staff in the state, he added.

Official sources here expressed grave concern over the abduction of workers saying this would create a serious obstacle in the timely completion of the vital 120-km-long Kumarghat-Agartala railway line, linking the state with the rest of the country.

Tripura got it first taste of railway when a 15-km-long Churaibari-Dharmanage line was laid in 1964. It took another 26 years to lay the 64-km-long railway line upto Kumarghat in North Tripura. The rail line stretch was completed by 1990.

The United Front government, headed successively by H.D. Devegowda and I.K. Gujral, had sanctioned the 120-km-long Kumarghat-Agartala rail line at an estimated cost of Rs 825 crore. The line has to be laid upto Agartala through a large number of tunnels and across a number of bridges.

Militant depredation has always posed a threat to the completion of the work, but yesterday’s abduction has put paid to all hopes that the construction of the strategic railway line would be completed soon, sources admitted. Militancy has always posed a threat to the completion of railway construction work, but yesterday’s abduction has put paid to all hopes that the construction of the strategic railway line would be completed soon, sources admitted.

   
 

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