Homeward bound to help
Jilted suitor hires hitmen to gun down young man
Staff hold highrise to ransom
I’ve opened the door for Calcutta’s girls
Conversion slur on Tripura Church
Salema bandh peaceful
Jamatya drive to counter Church
Rebels set free two hostages

Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
The 50,000-plus Gujarati community in the city, desperate to establish contact with family and friends in quake-hit home towns, is now rallying to the aid of the victims. While some simply hopped on to the ‘special’ train leaving Howrah station for Ahmedabad on Friday evening, others stood by, waiting to do their bit.

“I have tried at least a thousand times to contact my son in Rajkot over the phone”, said Dinesh Chandra Das of Amherst Street, waiting to board the train. “Then, I decided to just go there and search for him... It’s better than the agony of waiting beside the phone all day, hoping he’ll call.”

Ramesh Patel was luckier. His son, who lives in Patan, about 400 km from Bhuj, put through a “call early on Sunday morning... But he had barely uttered that he was all right before the connection snapped. I immediately decided to rush to Patan.”

Das, Patel and hundreds of others boarded the 12-coach ‘free’ train that pulled out of Platform 18 at 5 pm, with several people running to catch up. “Slowly!”, screamed the station manager into his wireless. “Let them all board the train,” he ordered the driver.

Official figures said 666 people boarded the train, expected to reach Ahmedabad after stopping at 16 stations, including all the ones in Gujarat.

A 45-year old woman sat alone, without warm clothes, luggage or money. “I just left my Jodhpur Park home without informing anyone, because I felt the people in Gujarat need me more than my family,” sobbed Kanika Bhattacharjee. “I will not regret it if I die serving the quake victims.”

Others were there with a clear plan of action. “I will go and find out what the victims actually need and how relief material can then be reached to them,” said Rajesh Kumar Kanoi of St Xavier’s Alumni Association.

Meanwhile, members of the Gujarati community in Calcutta convened an ‘emergency’ meeting on Sunday morning to chalk out their course of action.

Around 200 people gathered at the Bhawanipur Gujarati Education Society at 10 am.

The consensus, according to convener Dinesh Trivedi, was that the victims needed money. Within 10 minutes, Rs 16 lakh was collected. “We hope to raise around Rs 5 crore from the city,” said Mangaldas Sanghvi, president of the Society.

The money collected will be handed over to the Swaminarayan Temple Trust and Ramakrishna Mission, to be despatched and distributed in the quake-hit areas.

A five-member team will leave for Ahmedabad on Monday. On its return, another meeting will be convened, at which the next course of action would be decided.

“It’s a grave tragedy... a national calamity. I must mention that Calcuttans should approach the Ramakrishna Mission and the Swaminarayan Temple Trust for sending help to quake victims,” Governor Viren J. Shah said. “Though I am not in a position to visit my home state, I am keeping a close watch on the latest developments there.”

The Calcutta Gujarati Samaj, Gujarati Relief Society and Gujarati Club are all pitching in.

Besides, proceeds of a Falguni Pathak concert, scheduled for February 18 at Netaji Indoor Stadium, will also be sent to the quake victims. “We hope to raise Rs 20 lakh from the show,” said a spokesperson.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Deb Prasad Roy, 32, was gunned down in front of his house in the Thakurpukur area on Saturday night. He was taken to SSKM Hospital, where he died. According to preliminary investigations, a jilted suitor had hired two local hitmen to murder Roy, an employee of a private firm and an amateur astrologer.

Roy’s relatives and neighbours told the police that on Saturday, he had returned to his Vidyasagar Sarani residence in Thakurpukur at around 6 pm from his Sarat Bose Road office. He left the house soon after, telling sister Shibani that he was off “to see some clients’’. Roy, or ‘Debu’, was, after all, the popular neighbourhood astrologer.

At around 8.15 pm, the doorbell rang. His sister opened the door for Roy, but before he could enter the house, he was stopped by a young girl and two men. “Is this Debu’s house?” one of them asked. “As if you don’t know, you’ve come here so many times,” replied Roy.

His mother recalls Roy suddenly calling out: “What are you doing? What is that?”

Then, there was the sound of a gunshot. Father Hemanta Prasad Roy and sister Shibani rushed out to find Debu lying on the steps, bleeding from the chest. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died a little after midnight.

Additional superintendent of police Gyanwant Singh said the victim’s “relationships with a number of girls” were being probed. One of them, feel the police, jilted by Debu, had planned the strike.

“We feel the family is withholding some vital information from us... It seems strange that none of the family members caught a glimpse of the assailants,’’ said officer-in-charge of Thakurpukur police station, Kalyan Moitra.

Also, the police have recovered two bullets, one that took Debu’s life and another embedded in the wall of the Roy’s drawing room.

The police are trying to ascertain how the victim had managed to buy a motorcycle a few months ago when he was said to have been passing through a “financial crisis”.

Bejoygarh breakthrough

The police claim to have achieved “a major breakthrough” after arresting two suspects and recovering a pistol on Sunday, within 24 hours of the death of Biswajit Bhattacharya, at Bejoygarh. Deputy superintendent of police (town) Subhankar Chatterjee said the arrested men were identified as Goutam Mondal, alias Bubai, and Sandip Bhattacharya, alias Moni.

Police are now on the lookout for a realtor who had allegedly supplied the “sophisticated pistol” to Moni, which “suddenly went off” when he was showing it to Biswajit. Investigations revealed that Moni “maintains regular links” with Sheikh Vinod, the crimelord now in custody


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Septuagenarian Namita Roy or retired company executive Rama Nag never dreamt that some day, they would have to work as guards of their multi-storeyed building in Regent Park, operate pumps and keep the visitors’ register updated.

Residents of Regent Towers, at Netaji Nagar, which has 72 apartments, are being compelled to perform chores they had hired hands for, because the durwans and other staff have gone on a ceasework since January 8, demanding that their jobs be made permanent. The employees have approached the CPM’s labour arm, Citu.

The flats at Regent Towers are owned either individually or by corporates to house senior executives. The five employees — guards, pump operators and electricians — earn Rs 49 a day with fringe benefits. “Earlier, we had more staff, but had to fire some for irregular attendance,” said T.B. Dasgupta, secretary of Regent Towers Flat Owners’ and Occupiers’ Association.

“A notice was issued to them, mentioning the problems faced by flat-owners. The main gate of the complex is unmanned most of the time; services like water, electricity, etc., meant for residents, are used by outsiders and vendors have unlimited access to the building, posing a serious security threat,” said Dasgupta.

A.K. Biswas, president of the association, said: “The executive committee has spoken to them several times, but they refuse to cooperate, citing ‘insufficient salary’. They fail to understand that this complex is not a ‘profit-making organisation’ and here, most of the residents are widows, senior citizens and pensioners.”

Nag, formerly an executive with Metal Box, complained: “They use filthy language and seem to have little concern for the building’s security. As a result, we have to guard the main gate and the pump house night and day.”

On January 7, the residents of taking over the building’s functioning if the “errant staff” failed to follow the guidelines issued to them. “The defiant employees organised a meeting in front of the gate, with posters and Citu flags. They even refused to hand over the keys to the main gate and the pump house,” said Somnath Chakraborty, a resident.

Manik Debnath, an employee, said: “We are demanding permanent employment since we have been working here for more than two decades. Our pay is pathetic and we can hardly support our families. Initially, we didn’t approach any trade union, but as the association members refused to heed our demands, we had no alternative but to approach Citu”.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Celina Jaitly won’t be flying planes after all, but she’ll be taking a walk in the clouds just the same.

For, the 21-year-old beauty’s New Year wish has come true. The “first ever Miss India from Calcutta” would have given her defence exams had she not won the crown. But “on top of the world now,” there’s no looking back.

“I hope to be back for my homecoming soon,” gushed Celina. “I have opened the door, and it is up to girls in Calcutta to do something about it... The city has so many good girls who should come forward for pageants. I hope they feel I have done them proud.”

Sourav Ganguly, a judge at the pageant on Saturday, told Celina that he was “happy to see girls from Calcutta get so far”. But that didn’t stop the Prince of Calcutta from “grilling” her.

“He kept shooting questions at me during our pre-final interview with the jury,” she recalled, “and he insisted on speaking to me in Bengali. But I think it all paid off...”

Celina has walked the Calcutta ramp for the last three years. She won Calcutta’s most prestigious beauty pageant, Lakme Sananda Tilottama. But “nothing had prepared” Celina for this.

In a daze, she called Calcutta on Saturday night. “She was thrilled, but it hadn’t really sunk in,” according to Viraj Rai, one of Celina’s “closest friends”.

But then, Sunday morning at the Mumbai airport was the wake-up call.

One girl from Calcutta, returning from Ahmedabad, approached her. “You are Miss India now... please do something for the earthquake victims,” she pleaded.

“We have lost her for good,” sighed Ashis Banerjee, choreographer and co-partner of Rampegde, the agency Celina has been modelling for. “But we couldn’t be happier for her... We just hope she will come back and do a couple of shows with us,” he laughed.

Celina, he explained, was always considered “the prettiest girl” on the circuit. “And we think she has a good chance at the Universe crown as well... her only disadvantage is her height.”

But Ashis is most excited about the change it will bring for the city. “Girls from eastern India have never been considered on par with the rest. Thanks to Celina, all that will change,” he explains.

That’s what this year’s Tilottama feels as well. “We finally have someone to look up to, someone who can make us feel confident,” said Aishwarya Biswas. “We are no longer the underdogs,” she grinned, waiting for words of wisdom from a winner.

“When she comes back, she can pass on valuable tips to us,” enthused the 18-year-old, who has already made plans of entering the contest herself. “I met up with five of the other Tilottama contestants today and all anyone could talk about was Celina,” she added.

Nothing like having a champ at home.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
I managed to get hold of Pamela Anderson in her beach house at Malibu. Exhausted from trying everywhere from the Kumbh to Copacabana, it took many gasps and gurgles before I was able to convince her to sport a WILLS logo on her beachwear for at least one episode of Baywatch — viewed by more people than all the cricket matches of the world put together.

The problem was Sourav & Co. could display the little logo quite easily on their consumptive chests while Pamela’s mammalian scoops completely distorted it. I suggest WILLS SPORT as an alternative but even that was stretched to a point of misinterpretation.

All I knew was I had to get Pamela to agree because I needed a sportswoman of international repute who had bowled over millions of men and pelted imaginations for over-boundaries in five continents. She was a goodwill ambassador for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and at her side were stars like Paul McCartney and Tyra Banks, all fighting for animal welfare Q.E.D., a fait accompli, or so I thought.

It all began one sultry morning in December. I was on a mission to obtain an ‘ad’ for the souvenir being brought out by the All Lovers of Animals Association on their golden jubilee. As a young student, I remember selling their car stickers on Park Street and how fashionable it was for boxwallahs to sport it on their windshields.

Distress signals

A tiny place on Kyd Street is where one could take one’s pets to for treatment and care at reasonable prices. Doris Matthews was the founder of this benevolent society, and she had won over the hearts of all little children with white rats and guinea pigs and, through them, their corporate fathers and corpulent sponsorships.

But today, while the ALOA was staging a revival, Mr Marwah the president and Kalyan Bhadra the patron were hardly the toast of swingers on life’s ‘Classic’ courses who were spending upwards of 5,00,000 per cricket match to promote leisure habits and printing year planners with an image of a Tiger mauling, instead of a Jeev twittering in the back-Woods of India.

I took my first shot, from the bunker, at Hindustan Lever. To my astonishment, I discovered their bigwig was a golfer who had made secret payments of tens of thousands of rupees from his coffers to help Joginder Singh, a fantastic ex-Olympian, who had run circles around me on the hockey field in the ’60s, who was now suffering from acute kidney failure with absolutely no financial support.

However, hockey and gold did not hack together and an additive like ‘animal welfare’ to the benevolent cocktail seemed an implausible mix. It turned out to be a hole in one from a company who knows where to put its money and is a rock in the foundations of our economy.

Armed with one ad, I walked through Little Rustle to big Rustle and entered the portals of ITC. I was confident that this old stalwart of our community would scoff at being hit for 10,000 only. In the past, my friend Saurav (the only one who languished with poetry books in jail while his fellow FERA-indicted directors scurried into 5-star ICUs) had sanctioned lakhs when I appealed for army wives and a blind school. Based on time-tested empathies with Calcutta causes, this was going to be a cakewalk.

I went from building to building, charming all those who might be putting in a word, and when I finally walked into the office of the man who looked after such petty matters, my belly was swishing with innumerable coffees that I had swallowed politely for the sake of animals in distress. I was seated in front of a gentleman who offered me yet another, although I was beginning to eat into his lunchtime and mine. I discovered the executives had three caterers who delivered lunches to the office; the juniors rushed to patronise the one whose diet the directors preferred while the middle-execs scuttled back to their plush apartments in Fountain Court, on Little Russel, for a nibble of yesterday’s leftovers or salad.

The man who had taken over the helm of Publicity had replaced a wonderful woman I had dealt with in the past who, apparently, had voluntarily retired with the passage of time and passing of mantels. The gentleman in-charge regaled me with his knowledge of the English language and frowned upon its misuse today. As a sinner of repute, I cowered and humbly agreed. As I listened to his lexiconical drone of admonition and reform, I wondered who it was that had said ‘it requires no art to become stupid. The whole art lies in extracting wisdom from stupidity. Stupidity is the mother of the wise, but cleverness never’.

I came out of the meeting stupidly convinced that this multi-crore giant was about to scatter a few crumbs in the direction of mangy dogs that prowled around the garbage heaps outside his mansion. What is more, their chief was called ‘Yogi’ and who but a sympathiser of starvation in Jellystone would better understand the plight of abuse, apathy and neglect?

A month went by and I wore out fingers dialling numbers in Calcutta and Delhi, trying to keep track of, and in touch with, Boswells’ ghost. Finally, a scavenger crow that visits my father every morning looked up at me from the luchi my father had served and said “Cor!” Ted Hughes, Britain’s poet laureate, an expert on crows, had explained the sound. I am sure the languorous linguist in ITC, who had slept on my appeal for a month, would understand my philological consternation. I called him. I was told that he was out of town but that “the committee” had “rejected” the appeal. It couldn’t be true.

Ifs and butts

I called the big boss. He was at a board meeting. His pleasant secretary, who obviously was a relic from the same past that I inhabited, was surprised at the refusal. I knew she had the clout to change the decision. As her predecessors had had, in years gone by. She tried, everybody tried. We all failed. My last conversation was with a lady in the PR department who regretted that ITC were concentrating on “environmental issues only”, like “cigarettes”, I thought.

That’s when I called Pamela Anderson. She was a ‘Classic’ and a sportsperson by all accounts that ITC would acknowledge. When she agreed to wear their logo, just once, for the sake of the destitute and abandoned animals in West Bengal, I detected a Teresian tone in her motherly voice.

It was too late. Winter had set in, in Calcutta, and the great little bear was hibernating.


Agartala, Jan. 28: 
Allegations have been levelled against the Baptist Church in the state that it is forcibly trying to convert Hindu tribal students in schools run by it.

The Baptist Church authorities in Khumlung have allegedly made it incumbent upon Hindu tribal students in a school near the headquarters of the autonomous district council to attend regular prayer sessions in a nearby church. With this allegation, the growing religious conflict between the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the Hindu resistance groups over the issue of forced conversion drive by militants has taken a new turn. The NLFT is backed by the Church.

The guardian of a student of the residential school said on condition of anonymity that his son and other students of the school were being “virtually forced” to attend prayer sessions at the church in Khumlung. He said, “We tribals have our traditional religious faiths and practices akin to Hinduism in many ways and this is very unfair on the part of school authorities to force underaged children to attend prayer sessions at the church.” He further alleged, “Their basic purpose is probably to convert all students to Christianity.”

Sources at Khumlung, the headquarters of the autonomous district council, named ADC executive member (education) Sridam Debbarma as “one of the patrons” of the move. However, Sridam Debbarma, when contacted over telephone, described the allegation as “completely false and malicious,” asserting that he was a professional politician and not a religious preacher keen to convert or reconvert people. “India is a secular country and anyone can pursue or practise the religious faith of his choice and I have absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said. Debbarma added that he was already overburdened with his political and administrative work and there was absolutely no question of thinking of such peripheral issues.

But official sources from Khumlung alleged that the authorities of Khumlung’s “Tanki Bazar Baptist Church” are engaged in persuading poor tribal students belonging to the impoverished jhumia (shifting cultivator) families to visit the church every Sunday and attend prayer sessions. The Khumpui Academy High School had been set up by the ADC authorities, when a coalition of the Congress and the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity was in control of the district council, mainly to impart free education to poor tribal students in the English medium. It than 500 students, half of whom are converted Christians.

Besides, there were largescale financial irregularities in the school, sources alleged. The guardian of the students have brought the matter to the notice of the ADC authorities but no action has been taken so far.


Agartala, Jan. 28: 
The 12-hour bandh in Salema block under Dhalai district passed off peaceful. The bandh was called by the ruling CPM in protest against the killing of eight Bengali wood cutters on Friday by National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).

Since today was a Sunday, all government offices and most business establishments remained closed. However, vehicles kept off the roads except on the national highway.

Giving details of the massacre, police sources said nearly 11 wood cutters of Dulacherra village under Salema police station in the district ventured out into the remote Kamala Bagan area to gather wood and bamboo on Friday. While returning from the area, they were kidnapped by NLFT rebels and taken to a forest about 15 km away.

While three persons managed to escape, the rest were shot dead. Those killed were identified as Satish Debnath and Sonamoni, Rathindra, Satyendra, Arun, Kshirod, Nikhil and Adhir Nama Shudra. Apart from guns, the rebels also used sharp weapons to hack the victims. They did not even spare 75-year-old Sonamoni Nama Shudra.

Nearly 22 wood cutters have been killed by militants in the past five years. Three of them abducted in July last year are yet to be traced. “They may have been probably killed by now,” a source added.

Dalucherra village has a population of nearly 2,500 non-tribal Bengalis. Militant depredations have forced villagers to move to safer places though many have stayed back. Last Friday’s massacre was also aimed to trigger an exodus of the Bengalis, sources added.

Two other tribals were killed by the NLFT in North and West Tripura districts on Friday. Sources said rebels raided Purba Betcherra village under Fatikroy police station and abducted one Baidya Ram Reang. His bullet-riddled body was later recovered by the police from a forest near the village.

In a separate incident on the same day, one Krishna Debbarma was also killed by the rebels. The victim was kidnapped from Bairam Para village in the district. His body was recovered from Basudeb colony under Takar Jala police station under Bishalgarh sub-division.

Sources said the youth was killed as he had refused to be enlisted in the outfit as a collaborator. The NLFT recently launched a drive to recruit conduits as a large number of collaborators have been arrested in the past six months. Sources said the outfit was forcing tribals to work for it.

Sources said cadre were intimidating the youth into joining the party.


Agartala, Jan. 28: 
Matching the Protestant Church’s overzealous conversion drive, the hoda okra (head priest and community leader) of the devout Hindu Jamatya tribal community, Bikram Bahadur, has unveiled a new set of programmes as part of his ongoing crusade against forced conversion of Hindu tribals by NLFT militants.

Calling upon the Jamatya and other Hindu tribesmen not to bow down to the “fascist designs” of the NLFT militants and their patrons, Bikram Bahadur Jamatya and his deputy Haricharan Jamatya have urged all Hindu tribals to attend the dharma samsad slated to be held here in March. Apart from this, two revered Jamatya tribal leaders have already directed Hindu tribal followers to prepare themselves for organising the traditional garia puja in a befitting manner.

Making a statement on the stand taken by the Jamatya hoda (community council), organisation secretary Ramapada Jamatya said garia puja would be held this time with traditional gaiety and Governor K.M. Seth would be invited to inaugurate the weeklong festival. The statement said a meeting of the Jamatya hoda, held in Killa area under Udaipur subdivision and presided over by okras Bikram Bahadur Jamatya and Haricharan Jamatya, had decided to set up a headquarters and centre of pilgrimage of the Jamatya community at Pitra area under Udaipur subdivision. Besides, the publication of a monthly organ of the hoda, named Hodani Khorang (“Voice of the Society”), has also been mooted by the meeting held on January 20.

Apart from this, other decisions taken by the hoda include a special census of the Hindu Jamatya people to be conducted by members and office-bearers of the hoda and consultation with guardians and local leaders of Jamatya-inhabited areas for reopening schools and government offices. “This will be completed expeditiously,” the statement added. During the weeklong garia puja, all Hindu Jamatya tribesmen have been directed to put on traditional clothes as a mark of respect for their tradition and identity. Ramapada Jamatya said in his statement that according to the decisions of the hoda, all Jamatya and Hindu tribals will perform their traditional religious duties like offering puja to Lord Siva, Mata Tripureswari and Mother Ganga between March 17 and 22. Before that, Jamatyas will attend in strength the dharma samsad of the Hindu community slated to be held here on March 8. “The garia puja, biggest and most significant annual religious festival of tribal Hindus, will be celebrated in a grand manner this year at Pitra and Governor K.M. Seth will be invited to inaugurate the festival,” Ramapada Jamatya’s statement added.

CPM sources here refused to comment on the parallel streams of the religious movements and the possibility of a conflict over this.


Agartala, Jan. 28: 
Two abducted railway construction workers, who were abducted early this month, returned home safely yesterday but seven of their colleagues are still untraced.

Nine railwaymen had been successively abducted from Nalifa bari under Ambasa police station and Sindhu Kumar para under Manu police station.

Police sources said the driver of a railway truck, Venkatesh Rao, and his assistant Tapan Mohanty, who had been abducted at gunpoint from Nalifa bari while collecting water from a spring on January 7, were released safely by the National Liberation Front of Tripura.

The seven other construction workers, who were abducted from Sindhu Kumar para, are still in militant custody. Police sources here said efforts were being made to secure their release. Director-general of police Bhusan Lal Vohra had told newsmen on January 19 that all railway construction workers would return soon.

CM expresses grief: Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar today expressed his grief over the loss of life and property in the Gujarat earthquake, adds PTI.

“I have been saddened by the tragic loss of life and property in the earthquake which hit Gujarat’’ Sarkar said in a condolence message to his Gujarat counterpart.


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