Parents to fight tot ‘torture’
Businessman held stealing bank loan documents
Trinamul rampage at hospital
Mayor blames govt for statues
City nerve centre restores right arm
Militant feud claims one in ‘peace zone’
Engineer shot dead in Manipur
Blast affects train services
Rebels snatch tribals’ phones

Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
For almost a week in December, all four-year-old Vineeta would do was get up early in the morning, pour over her books, listen quietly to instructions rapped out by her parents, and then head off for yet another admission test to kindergarten class. Back home, it was back to books, preparing for the next day’s test. On the 7th it was Loreto, Eliot Road. On the 11th, Calcutta Girls’ School, and on the 12th, Carmel Convent.

By the time the tests were over, little Vineeta had come down with fever, her mind and body exhausted with the strain. But there is more to come: two more tests at two schools await her this week...

While Gopal’s brother and sister had a blast during their Christmas holidays, the three-year-old boy sat at a table with his tutor, learning addition and subtraction, revising the alphabets and memorising names of wild animals and fruits. His parents, worried sick, had warned him that if he did not study hard now, he would never be admitted to any “good” nursery school.

Dismayed and frustrated at the “academic torture” little children have to undergo at the time of admission to kindergarten schools, a large number of parents have finally come together to push the schools to “see reason” and hammer out a uniform admission procedure.

Gathered under an NGO called SERVE — Students’ Empowerment, Rights and Vision through Education — the guardians have decided that as a first step, they will petition the different school boards, as well as the state education department, to work out a “more humane” approach to getting children admitted at the primary level.

“My daughter had a traumatic experience preparing for her admission tests as different schools had different academic requirements,” says Adil Siraji. “While some schools wanted the child to be good in arithmetic, others laid stress on general knowledge. Tell me, just how much is a four-year-old expected to know?”

It is precisely to battle such “injustice” that Father Brendan MacCarthaigh, chief executive officer of SERVE, took up the cause of the “tender ones”. “There are only about 100 to 300 vacancies in the good city schools in the KG section but nearly 2,000 applicants,” he observes. “This is precisely the reason for all the problems that parents and children face.”

Sister Cyril, principal of Loreto Sealdah, too, is opposed to “academic entrance tests” for kids. “I feel there is no justification for academic tests for four and five-year-old kids. I feel admissions till Class I should be held only by lottery,” she says. Since 1979, admission to Loreto Sealdah is by lottery. Taking the cue, the government introduced this system for admission to Class I in its schools in 1995. According to Sister Cyril, all seven Loreto branches in Calcutta have done away with academic entrance tests. The rest of the Loretos take in children on the basis of interviews alone.

A section of guardians, however, has decided to urge SERVE to draw up an “action plan” of what it would like the state education department and the school authorities to implement.

The proposals include:

Each school should accept only a limited number of applications so that the pressure on children competing for the seats is reduced.

Instead of grilling the kids, the stress should be on assessing and interviewing the parents to make sure that they are able to provide proper guidance.

Improve the standard of some of the lesser-known schools so that the pressure on the “good” schools is reduced.

Admission through lottery.

A school of a particular locality should accept applications from pupils of that locality, to reduce pressure on kids.

“We need to change the entire examination system if the pressure on parents and teachers is to be lessened in any way,” feels MacCarthaigh.

D.R.G. Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith School and an MLA, adds that part of the solution lies in having “some more good schools”. But she also blames the parents “to some extent”.

“There are many schools where the standard of education is as good as any of the ‘prestigious’ schools and the parents should realise this,” says Hart.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
A city businessman, A. Tibrewal, was detained on Sunday and his associate, Deepak Agarwal, arrested on Saturday evening on charges of defrauding a bank of several lakhs. Police said Agarwal was caught red-handed by bank officers while he was trying to remove a cover file which contained documents pertaining to a loan taken by his company, REI Agro Industries Limited.

Agarwal was taken to Shakespeare Sarani police station. Senior police officers interrogated him throughout Sunday. On the basis of his statement, police detained Tibrewal. Police said sleuths were still interrogating him and that he has not been arrested so far.

Tibrewal, who is the company chief, and Agarwal had submitted forged documents to get their loan sanctioned. Realising this could spell trouble for the company, Deepak Agarwal decided to remove the file from the bank’s locker. Agarwal told the police that he visited the bank regularly and had developed a good rapport with the staff. He used to keep a watch on the file cover which contained the loan documents.

On Saturday he decided to try his luck, and when everyone else in the bank was busy with their work, he quietly tried to slip out with the file. But an alert bank officer noticed that he was smuggling out the “confidential” bank document and caught him. Other bank officers surrounded him. The manager called in the police.

Agarwal is a resident of Adi Banstala Lane, in north Calcutta. The 24-year-old employee joined the company about a year earlier and is already close to the bosses. He was directed to handle company financial dealings with the bank and liaise with the officers.

Police directed officers to seek expert opinion on the racket to find out how much of money was involved.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
Trinamul Congress supporters ransacked Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI) on Saturday night to protest the “indifferent attitude” of the hospital staff and “an assault” on party councillor Rubi Dutta. Police rounded up 13 of them, including Dutta, early on Sunday. They were all released on bail later.

On Sunday morning, more than 200 Trinamul activists gheraoed Alipore police station to protest “police high-handedness”. They later blocked Belvedere Road for over an hour, disrupting traffic in the area.

Trouble started around 9.30 pm on Saturday when Dutta assaulted a nurse of CMRI for failing to respond to the councillor’s “repeated inquiries” about a patient from Behala, whom she met at the hospital when she had gone to visit her sister-in-law, Aparna Dutta. Hospital sources said the patient, Gopa Banerjee, was being treated for “psychological disorder”. According to A.K. Chatterjee, administrator-general of CMRI, Gopa had been admitted on January 20 with “a pain in the chest” but doctors diagnosed a case of “mental disorder”. This was disputed by Gopa’s husband, Mrinal Banerjee, and other family members.

Spotting the councillor at the hospital, Mrinal complained to her that Gopa was being “wrongly treated”. Some of Dutta’s associates, who were with her, alleged that the nurse refused to acknowledge her presence or respond to her queries. The councillor grabbed the nurse by the collar. Other hospital staff rushed to the nurses’s help. They outnumbered Dutta and her men as a free-for-all ensued.

The councillor then swung into action. She whipped out a cellphone for a distress call to party supporters in Chetla. A Trinamul battalion, armed with lathis and rods, arrived within minutes, pushed aside security guards and started smashing window panes, glass doors and furniture on the ground floor. The police were forced to lathicharge them.

The violence on the premises triggered panic among patients and their relatives. Nurses, apparently, stuck work, complaining of “lack of security” and resumed duties after assurances from the police and hospital authorities.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
A day after residents of Park Circus fought a pitched battle with the police, mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Sunday night accused the state government of installing the contentious statues at Rokeya Park.

Residents on Saturday laid siege to the park, protesting the Aswini Dutta Memorial Committee’s move to instal a statue of poet Mukunda Das beside that of freedom fighter Aswini Dutta.

Criticising PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, Mukherjee said the statue should not have been installed as the park was a playground for the local children.

“We have decided to allot a plot to the memorial committee near Ballygunge Park for installing the statue,” Mukherjee added.

Members of the memorial committee met on Sunday afternoon and decided not to remove the statue until they were allotted the promised plot.


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
Doctors in Chandigarh saved him, but couldn’t help him regain the use of his right arm. Doctors in Delhi failed to give him time. But doctors in Calcutta have given him the hope of leading a normal life. When 21-year-old Dharmendra Singh regained consciousness at the Post-Graduate Institute Hospital in Chandigarh after a 15-day coma, he was lucky to still be alive. He had fallen 25 feet from the first-floor roof during the shooting of a Punjabi serial for a private channel in early October and had badly injured his head and neck. The spotboy recovered from severe concussion with the help of medication. All his brain functions were normal. But he had no control over, or sensation in, his right arm. He could not move his shoulder, forearm, wrist, or fingers.

When Dharmendra regained consciousness a second time, over two months later, this time at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute, it was after a 12-hour operation. And he now has hopes of “total recovery”. Doctors at the Institute had performed a rare and complex micro-neural repair of the brachial plexus, a network of nerves emerging from the spine at the base of the neck, from which arise the nerves supplying the arm and hand. They used special microscopes to remove damaged nerves and replace them with the patient’s own living nerves taken from different parts of his body.

PGI Chandigarh, however, could not carry out this treatment as, according to Dharmendra , the neuro-surgeon looking after him was “going on leave”. His father took him to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, where he was not given a date till March for admission and treatment.

Dharmendra’s uncle, Birendra Singh, who lives in Calcutta, suggested he be brought to the city. He had heard that the neurology department at CMRI would be able to conduct the operation. “When he landed here, the patient did not have any CT scan or MRI reports with him,” said Dr B.K. Singhania, consultant neuro-surgeon who joined the hospital a year ago after training at the Louisiana Medical Centre in the US. Scans and imaging revealed that three of the five main nerves in the brachial plexus were dead and subsequent nerves were also damaged or dying. “Had two more months elapsed, we would not have been able to conduct the operation,” said Singhania. Consultant plastic surgeon Dr Anupam Golash had a major role to play in the surgery, conducted on January 2. “We identified the nature of damage and which motor nerves to replace. Then, matching vival (living) nerves were taken from the neck and side of the right chest. A few nerves were also taken from the leg for conducting nerve grafts that would bridge gaps in connecting the transferred nerves. After 12 hours, we were able to stitch him up,” the doctors explained.

A fortnight later, Dharmendra was able to move the fingers on his right hand, the message from his brain being conveyed through the newly-replaced living nerves. “It will take about a year for him to be fully normal,” said Dr Singhania.

Uncle Birendra was more than happy. “My faith in hospitals in Calcutta has been justified. My nephew could have gone to Apollo Hospital in Chennai or Hyderabad, or even to Jaslok in Mumbai. But I knew the doctors here could do the job.”

Dr Asha Padgaonkar, medical superintendent, CMRI, said the hospital can handle up to five such patients a month. “But the procedure could cost around Rs 1 lakh.”


Calcutta, Jan. 21: 
A calendar has cause to berate
All those people who procrastinate
A diary keeps track
For the later flashback
But both make a statement of fate

Calendars and diaries are making large statements for corporates, once again. With the Millennium mania having been overplayed last year, the themes for 2001, unfettered by the Y2K bug, are paying tribute to the old gods as well as the new deities. In essence, the epics are getting their due prominence, in parallel with pandering to the quiz-quaffing quidnuncs of today.

And I am not talking about the ‘bazaar’ calendars which are hung like so much colourful washing from street stalls, displaying a myriad mythological faces with large date-sheets clinging on at the bottom. The calendars and diaries we have picked out are the products of plentiful research, combined with creative, constructive thought.

The RPG Group has always promoted art in unusual ways, and one year I recall a portfolio of prints which was eminently frameable. This year, the epics have definitely come to the forefront. A selection from the Mahabharata series by Arup Das, an artist in his 70s, is rendered in a manner that is evocative, romantic and stylized in magnificent colours without obscuring theme or thought.

A blurb tells us how the “the epic provides him a means with which to synthesize the powerful vision with his quest for a language of storytelling that transcends the human, leading the viewer to envisage the apocalyptic.” It is a subtly written flyleaf introduction, and no captions exist for the paintings, which have self-explanatory epic scenarios.

Parallelly, but on a more down-to-earth level, we came across a very practical offering—a Lord Krishna desk diary from Gokul, a popular sweet and savoury shop, which now has a sister outlet selling imported fruit and dispensing flowers.

The story of Krishna is told in great detail in the beginning of the diary, followed by 32 pencil-sketch illustrations rendered on art paper of scenes from the Mahabharata. The usefulness comes in the form of city maps, world time zones, interest and discount tables, weights and measures, conversion tables. A page for each day ensures optimum usage and each month is greeted with a page planner.

From the same house of Gokul, we found obeisance to another modern-day God — through a Crorepati General Knowledge Diary. What does it contain? Over 1,000 questions with multiple-choice answers and plenty of other general knowledge information. Like the parliaments of different countries, the changed names of countries, India-specific information, national awards, firsts, portraits of great men.

A most useful anthology and a good foil to Soor’s diary, especially for me, personally, as I normally buy the latter. Quite unlike the psychology of paying for magazines to ensure that one reads them, the psyche of receiving diaries and calendars and new year novelties as gifts has this element of pampering and flattery involved. I may use just one set of everything, but should be gifted a few to make that choice and feel remembered, right?

For anyone interested in picking up individual copies, our enquiries found that the people who produced the Crorepati and Lord Krishna diaries make 22 varieties, with themes like ‘Vaastu’ and ‘Saarey Jahaan se Achha’, and the cost varies between Rs 80 to 110 for individual pieces.

There are of course, companies who make their very own, from the sporting thematic multi-colour productions from corporate houses like ITC (who, this year, decided to go with a Golf book—no dates, please). Their desk calendar, traditionally, bordering on the monotonous for years, with their miniature paintings, has received a perk-up with the back to nature theme. And even if the miniatures are there, they speak for the theme—a rishi’s ashram amid animals and trees, from Basholi or Rama and Sita at Chitrakoot, a Pahari miniature. Every page back carries an ecological message.

Miniatures are the message. As the other desk calendar from The British Council proved. A neat, compact effort, the calendar reproduces paintings by twin British Asian artists Amrit and Rabindra KD Kaur Singh, portraying family life through a miniature painting technique. In explanation, the twins discovered that “the romantic ideal of self-expression was itself in thrall to the dominant canon of western modernism and its post-modern successors.” So the negative reactions they encountered helped them to develop a celebratory mode of courtly miniatures with themes that are Indian, but in a western setting, and depicted with humour, fabulous detail and mystic even when the mundane is portrayed.

From a football match with its Liverpool supporters, to an Indo-Anglian Last Supper rendition “dedicated to Cha-cha Baldave, a Brave and Noble Soul”, the 44 by 62 cm creations are worthy of an exhibition in these parts, and not just for table top calendars.

I recall those days in Indian Aluminium when they held a monopoly on pocket-sized page-a-day diaries, which we would distribute selectively, but where the indents grew in huge numbers with its larger popular appeal as address book-diary-wallet all in one. Today, many companies send out such diaries, and one uses the diary that arrives well within Christmas Day. Thus, the Patton slim filofax, with its companion miniature diary, are the perfect carry-ons, with even a blank note-pad for good measure.

It’s those greeting cards that can come in two extremes—from the standard support-a-cause numbers to the more creative ones. An eight-page visual effort to spark off lateral thinking came in from Sampark Public Relations, the Oberoi Group’s eight-pager highlighted their new resorts. Our own celebrities, like Tanusree Shankar and Usha Uthup, weighed in with personalised cards and messages of peace and brotherhood. The Children in Pain centre developed a poignant card, illustrated with an appropriate Manjit Bawa painting. Masood Huq’s specially-tailored message came in the form of a card with a telling layout that had a booze bottle wrapped in a newspaper showing the end of Jyoti Basu’s reign, a clay bhaar with ice and a packet of peanuts. The message: Cheers to the Year of the Blue-blooded, Red Refulgent Bhadralok. Vivek Das’ celebratory tabletop was champagne and flowers in a 01 shape, and artists like Partha Bhattacharjee did cards with a print of his painting, Princess.

And a celebrated communications expert from Mumbai had a long 2001 message. He talked about the wonder that is India, where an economist earns a Nobel on why we are poor and how, united, we fight for separate states. Where the colossal brain drain is compensated by a lone import from Italy and where the world’s major software force has illiterate relatives.

Illiteracy can hardly be the problem for the calendar and diary creators, though, with their new knowledge-orientation and marketing skills getting better honed each year.


Dimapur, Jan. 21: 
A militant was killed and several civilians feared injured in a clash between the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN at Longhemdang village in Mokokchung district yesterday.

Mokokchung deputy commissioner Imkonglemba told The Telegraph over phone that only one casualty had been confirmed and the slain rebel belonged to the NSCN(K).

However, unconfirmed reports said there were several casualties, including civilians. One of the injured was admitted to the Jorhat Civil Hospital in Upper Assam in a serious condition.

Doctors attending on the person, identified as Champamba Ao, said he sustained three bullet injuries.

The area where the incident tool place, Mangolemba, was declared a “peace zone” on January 8 after the people of 28 villages resolved not to provide shelter to militants or take sides. The declaration was made at an official function.

Mangolemba was earlier a stronghold of the NSCN(K).

Officials declined to provide details about yesterday’s clash, but sources said a large group of armed NSCN(K) militants entered the village on Friday night, followed by another group of rebels from the Isak-Muivah faction.

The gunbattle began early on Saturday and continued for nearly two hours, the sources said.

Panicky villagers fled the area immediately after the clash began, but some were caught in the crossfire.

The clash was the first between the two Naga factions this year. Just a few days before the gunbattle, the Centre had announced that the NSCN(I-M) had agreed to modifications in the ceasefire agreement.

The rebel outfit agreed to the Centre’s proposal to make the ceasefire agreement applicable to the entire population of Nagaland instead of just militants and the security forces.

The NSCN(I-M) also promised to restrain its activists from carrying weapons and moving about in battle fatigues.

Making another “concession”, it agreed to submit a list of its camps to the security forces and inform the authorities about any plan to shift its activists from one “designated camp” to another.

In the event of the Centre extending the ceasefire to all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast, the same “concessions” will be applicable in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

In accordance with the modified ground rules, the security forces will not transgress on the NSCN (I-M)’s “designated territory” or set up new posts within two km of the outfit’s camps.

Advani visit

Union home minister L.K. Advani arrives here tomorrow amid allegations by the Ulfa that the primary aim of his two-day tour of the violence-wracked state is to “fan communal passion”.

The home minister’s visit is significant in view of the Centre’s professed willingness to hold “unconditional” talks with the Ulfa. He is expected to “publicly spell out” the government’s stand on the issue during his tour of the state. The Ulfa recently said it was willing to do away with two of its conditions for talks, provided New Delhi agreed to discuss its demand for “Assam’s independence”. The two conditions are that peace talks should be held in a “third country” and in the presence of a United Nations observer.

However, the Ulfa’s statement on Advani’s visit indicates that the outfit is yet to be convinced about the Centre’s “sincerity” vis-à-vis the offer to hold an unconditional dialogue.

The Ulfa’s allegation that the aim of Advani’s visit is to “fan communal passions” stems from the fact that the home minister is scheduled to tour Tinsukia district, where over 40 Hindi-speaking people have been killed since October 22.


Imphal, Jan. 21: 
Unidentified assailants shot dead a telecom engineer in the Manipur capital last night. The victim, 28-year-old M.R. Ambe, was from Uttar Pradesh.

Sources said the assailants barged into Ambe’s residence at Telephone Colony at 7 pm, dragged him out and opened fire from close range. Neighbours rushed the engineer to the J.N. Hospital at Porompat, but he was declared “brought dead”.

Ambe’s pregnant wife said neither she nor her neighbours could see the assailants’ faces as the entire Telephone Colony was plunged into darkness due to load-shedding by the electricity department.

“I could not make out how they looked. All I noticed was the assailants opening fire and my husband falling down with a thud,” she said.

The slain engineer’s wife said she did not know whether anyone had served an extortion notice on her husband, whom she had married only recently.

Ambe’s neighbours said they heard a bang at around 7.10 pm and rushed to his residence, only to find him lying in a pool of blood.

They took him to hospital immediately, but he died on the way. A police official said Ambe was hit on the head. “The assailants probably fired just one round,” he added.

The slain engineer’s body was today sent to his home town in Uttar Pradesh by an Indian Airlines flight. Post mortem on the body was earlier conducted at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences. The police are yet to ascertain whether the killing was the handiwork of any militant outfit.

It is also not known whether Ambe had received an extortion notice from any outfit.

“Ambe was a soft-spoken man and it is unlikely that he did something to antagonise any rebel outfit. I would have known had anyone served an extortion notice on him,” a resident of Telephone Colony said. The police have launched a manhunt for Ambe’s killers, but have been unable to make a breakthrough.

“The fact that no one saw what the assailants looked like is hampering the investigation. However, we are on the lookout for clues and hope to trace the assailants soon,” said a senior police official.

Though there is no indication of militants being involved in Ambe’s killing, the police have nor ruled out the possibility. Militants have harassed employees of the telecom department on several occasions over the past few years.

Union communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, touring Dimapur today, announced an ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of the slain engineer and a job to his widow.

This is the second incident of killing of Union government employees during the past one month in Manipur.

An executive engineer, an assistant accounts officer and son of a special contractor of National Project Construction Corporation Ltd, engaged at Singda multipurpose project in Imphal West district, were killed last month by unidentified gunmen.


Guwahati, Jan. 21: 
Train services between Guwahati and Tinsukia have been affected by an explosion caused by an improvised explosive device yesterday on a track between Diphu and Nailalung of Lumding division in Karbi Anglong district.

Northeast Frontier Railway officials said the explosion blew up nearly three metres of track. A a crater, 1.5 m in diameter and three feet deep, was formed as a result of the blast. “The incident occurred shortly after a goods train carrying potatoes for Tinsukia passed the section,” an NFR official said.

Two rebels killed: Troops killed two suspected National Democratic Front of Boroland militants in an encounter today in Nalbari district.The troops laid an ambush at north of Domini tea garden. Two militants opened fire on but were killed in retaliation.


Agartala, Jan. 21: 
National Liberation Front of Tripura militants have started snatching telephones installed in tribal households in the interior areas so that their movements cannot be reported to police. The tribals are also keeping silent for fear of reprisals.

Officers of the telecom department came to know of the incidents from some tribals and made inquiries. Sources in the telecom department said in the first week of December, a group of armed NLFT rebels raided tribal houses having telephone connections in the Madhavpur area under Jirania police station and looted 18 telephone sets. They also threatened the tribal families with dire consequences if they reported the incident to the police.

Scared of violent reprisals, the families kept quiet though officials of the telecom department brought the matter to the notice of the state government, but without any result. Sources in the telecom department said such incidents have been reported from other areas as well.

Sadar (North) and Sidhai police station areas are simmering with tension following reports that militants of both the All-Tripura Tiger Force and NLFT are moving about in the area over the past week to extort money and expand their area of hegemony. Recently, Tiger Force militants killed three tribal youth owing allegiance to the NLFT in the Daigyabari area.

A large group of armed NLFT insurgents has entered interior areas under Sidhai police station in pursuit of Tiger Force militants and a major clash between the two rival groups may occur soon.

Police sources admitted that there was movement of rival groups in the Sadar (North) and Sidhai police station areas but added that security was being beefed up to prevent any major conflict.

Fishermen abducted

Within a day of Tripura director-general of police B.L. Vohra claiming that all militants had been flushed out of the Gandacherra sub-division, National Liberation Front of Tripura militants abducted five Bengali fishermen from the Khetricherra area on the edge of the Dumbur lake in South Tripura.

Police sources said the five fishermen were abducted on their way back from the lake. Fishing activity in the lake has almost come to a halt because of the NLFT’s threats to abduct fishermen. In October last, the director-general of police had arranged for patrolling on motor boats on the lake following which fishing was gradually resumed.

Sources in the government said the latest abduction would hit the fishing community as well as revenue collection.

In a separate incident, Pintu Barua of the west Chhawmanu in Dhalai district was kidnapped by the NLFT yesterday. Sources said the abducted tribal youth had refused to pay “tax” to the outfit.

In yet another incident, the police along with jawans of the Tripura State Rifles were ambushed by a group of NLFT rebels in the jungles of Rangacherra area of South Tripura.

Incriminating articles including “tax” notices, the five sets of the outfit’s uniforms and ammunition though no casualty has been reported.

An NLFT rebel Krishna Debbarma was arrested and killed by the CRPF combing the Karamcherra area in Dhalai district yesterday. He was shot when he tried to flee from custody, sources said


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