Lessons, Montessori way
Torture blame drives in-law to slash wrist
Diabetics want sweet end to diet of deprivation
Poll guidelines for police
Chaos, coercion a thing of the past at Kalighat
Foreign hand in financial fade-out fears
Wheels in motion for kids in need
Scarred Nellie closes doors to saffron surge
Advani soothes minority nerves
AGP moves poll panel over death

Calcutta, April 29: 
An unexplained fear psychosis. A tendency to hide facts. Unnatural lapses in concentration... Have you noticed any of these in your six-year-old? It could well be a fallout of “unscientific pre-primary methods of education”, passing off as Montessori teaching in town.

To address the menace which mushrooming of city “Montessori houses”, numbering about 50, presents to parents and children alike, and to try and standardise teaching methods, Montessorians of Calcutta has formulated a set of guidelines and will conduct an inspection of schools from the first week of May.

“A lot of pre-primary schools claim to adopt the Montessori method of education when they don’t actually do so. Through this inspection, we hope to remind the Montessori houses of the city of their social responsibilities of giving the kids real Montessori education and also make parents better informed about what to expect of such a house,” says Nandini Choudhuri of Miranda Hall, and president of Montessorians of Calcutta, the “only nodal organisation of its kind” here.

What is the proper Montessori method? “It is a holistic approach to learning achieved through a structured environment, with the help of an aware adult who is passive and observant. The idea is to let the child develop according to his/her nature and pace, giving him/her the freedom of choice and, thus, helping build independence and self-esteem,” says Paramita Biswas, early education specialist and director, Indian Montessori Centre.

Biswas, who along with Tapati Gupta and Anima Dutta, will inspect the city Montessori houses, feels failure to adhere to this basic philosophy of the Montessori method can lead to a string of stress symptoms in children at a later stage.

“Fear and a lying syndrome apart, their learning abilities can be affected, conceptual clarity diminished and overall personality development stunted,” she explains.

Montessorians of Calcutta, which has revived the Montessori Association for Further Propagation of Montessori Movement (FPMM) of the Seventies, has drawn up the guidelines on the basis of those laid down by Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the global parent body, London Montessori Centre, and “from personal experience”.

“We don’t have the authority to enforce any of the guidelines we have prepared for the Montessori houses, but we can suggest changes, give them recognition through a certificate and take them into our fold as members, which will automatically lend them authenticity,” feels Choudhuri.

Gupta, who retired from Patha Bhavan’s Montessori division last year, and has been working with children since 1964, feels standards have taken a nose-dive, mainly due to an acute shortage of trained Montessori staff.

“All of us here at the Montessorians of Calcutta have an AMI diploma which was easier to obtain in those days because the course was available here. The AMI diploma course started in Calcutta in 1954 and again came back to the city in the Sixties. But after 1986, the course has not been available in India, leading to a huge shortfall of AMI-trained personnel,” says the veteran child educationist.

The association is critical of the “undue pressure” put on children by some of the Montessori houses, which “tantamounts to violence against the children”, feels association vice-president Vandana Kanoria, directress of Kislaya Montessori House of Children on Loudon Street.

To start with, Montessorians will inspect 20 of its member-schools. “The inspectors will land up at any of these houses unannounced and spend a good few hours with the directress, teachers and children to get a proper feel of their methods,” explains Kanoria. Non-member schools who wish to be inspected are also free to contact the association (at 521-0781 or 229-8308). According to reports submitted by the inspectors, a panel of experts at the association will provide “advisory support” and “recommendations”.

The association plans to prepare a checklist of Montessori houses in the city which should “act as a ready-reckoner for both parents and the primary schools”, says Kanoria. “Most parents and many of the schools are at a loss trying to figure out which Montessori houses are reliable and which are not,” she added.


Calcutta, April 29: 
Just 28 hours after south Calcutta housewife, Babita Agarwal, tried to take her life by consuming poison, Anup Agarwal attempted suicide by slashing his wrist in the nursing home where he went to visit his sister-in-law on Sunday morning. Now in the same ICCU where Babita is undergoing treatment, 20-year-old Anup had rushed to Calcutta from Surat on hearing of his sister-in-law’s condition.

According to eye-witnesses and the police, there was a heated exchange of words between Babita’s family and the Agarwals at the nursing home on Sunday. Police also said Babita’s father, M.R. Jain, and other relatives began to pressure Anup, accusing him and his brother of torturing Babita.

Officer-in-charge, Bhowanipore thana, Apurba Som Choudhury, said Babita had tried to kill herself by consuming poison at her Sarat Bose Road apartment on Friday evening. The 33-year-old was admitted to the intensive care unit in critical condition, where, according to doctors, her condition deteriorated even further on Sunday. “Babita’s family flew into a rage on seeing us at the nursing home. They held Anup and other relatives responsible for Babita’s condition,’’ explained Arun Jhunjhunwala, a relative of Anup Agarwal.

The allegations and counter-allegations continued for 10 minutes when, suddenly, Anup whipped out a blade and slashed his right wrist. He slumped on the ground, blood oozing out of his hand. The stunned family members immediately arranged to have him admitted to the nursing home. According to Krishnendu Mukherjee, the doctor treating Anup, his condition is stable.

S. R. Roy, officer-in-charge, Shakespeare Sarani police station, said Anil Agarwal and Babita have been married for over a decade. They have a 13-year-old boy, Vishal. Anil’s hosiery factory at Sodepur has apparently been shut for the past few months.

“Our initial investigations revealed that they were going through a financial crisis,’’ Roy said. Son Vishal told the police that his mother had “slipped into a shell” during the past few days. “My parents loved each other very much. Of late, my father has been very tense, and Mom was upset,’’ Vishal said.

But Babita’s father, M. R. Jain, would not accept this account. Som Choudhury said he had initially complained to police officers that Anil and his father had tortured Babita. But as Vishal did not agree with this view, police did not probe further at the time.

After Sunday’s dramatic turn of events, however, police questioned members of both families. Deputy commissioner of police, south, Ranjit Pachnanda, said he has asked his officers to investigate the case. “I have directed policemen to speak to Babita and Anup’s family members to get to the bottom of this,’’ he added.


Calcutta, April 29: 
Ajoy, 40, had no health problems. So, he felt had nothing to fear when he underwent a routine health check-up recently. Everything was normal, except his blood sugar level, which was way above normal. The doctor immediately slapped restrictions on his diet and warned him that diabetes could prove to be a “silent killer”. For Ajoy, who has a sweet tooth, “the fun has gone out of food... and life”.

A section of diabetics in the city has called for the introduction of sugar-free food items in the market that will substitute the ones that are “prohibited” for them. “They are available abroad, so why not in India?” was the chorus raised at a doctor-patient meet organised by the Sunny Park Diabetic Endocrine Centre, in south Calcutta, on Saturday.

“Why can’t we have the freedom to eat what we like, including sweets, cheese, jams, marmalades, cold drinks, even ice cream and chocolates?” demanded Dr Shib Shankar Sinha, a paediatrician who, because of his condition (he was detected with diabetes more than 10 years ago), was sitting among patients for the session.

Sinha not only voiced the feelings of the 70-odd members in the gathering but, also, the longings of millions of others in the country who have had to lead a “life of deprivation” after being detected with high blood-sugar levels.

“Those in a position to do so, import low-calorie or sugar-free food; I get special marmalade from Calcutta Club. But most diabetics in India are deprived of this freedom. And let me tell you, there’s a huge market out there,” added Sinha.

Dr Nilanjan Sengupta, endocrinologist, who was answering queries raised by the audience, agreed that the availability of such products would enable diabetics to lead “a better quality of life” and help break some of their shackles.

“The first option, however, is to exercise restraint. We are not saying that these food items are banned for patients. What we are saying is that their consumption should be moderated and linked to the total calorie intake during the day.”

The introduction of sugar-free food items will especially be a boon for the hundreds of children who suffer from juvenile diabetics. “Behaviour modification in children is difficult,” observed Sengupta.

The session focused mainly on diabetes management through education. Nutrition consultant Ranju Oberoi advised diabetics to reduce risk of complications arising from high sugar by regularly checking blood pressure, eyes and feet.

“The centre was set up in 1998 by Yashodhara Khaitan for the benefit of diabetics in the city. We now have 1,200 patients,” explained Mihir Roy, its administrator. Up to 10 per cent of the city’s population has a diabetes problem needing medical supervision and treatment.


Calcutta, April 29: 
The city police on Sunday brought out two booklets containing instructions for police personnel on election duty. The booklets are titled Instructions for police personnel on duty in connection with Election-2001 and Guide to relevant statutory provisions governing elections to state legislative assembly-2001.

According to one of the guidelines, Lalbazar headquarters directs the policemen on duty to allow only candidates into the polling booths and let them supervise the proceedings, irrespective of the persons being ministers or MLAs, said Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner of police, headquarters. Besides, the booklets also mention that election agents will not be allowed to set up booth offices within 100 yards of the polling centres and not more than five persons will be allowed there.

The booklets will reach policemen much before the elections. The force will not be required to contact senior officials from polling stations in case of minor incidents then, said Kanojia. The move was the first of its kind by the city police, he added.


Calcutta, April 29: 
Bullying pandas, harassed worshippers and chaotic queues have been the order of the day at the Kalighat temple for years. On Saturday, when Rajesh Agarwal, a businessman from Ballygunge Place, turned up at Kalighat with his family, he were in for a pleasant surprise. “Instead of the unruly mob, the pushing and the shoving, it’s all so organised at the temple now,” exclaimed Rajesh. A visit to the 500-year-old shrine isn’t an ordeal anymore. Even on Saturday, when the number of devotees queuing up crossed 30,000, the darshan proved hassle-free.

This miracle of sorts has been performed by the Shathi Brahmin Sangathan (SBS), which has been virtually policing the temple. Spearheading this reform process is SBS chairman Moloy Ghosh Dastidar, a local resident and former trade unionist.

These days, devotees entering the shrine are quietly escorted by the 800-odd pandas, under the watchful gaze of SBS volunteers. Formed a little over a year ago, the Sangathan “is trying its best to create a serene and religious atmosphere” in and around the temple, which is managed by the Kalighat Temple Committee (KTC).

“Earlier, if any untoward incident occurred within the temple, or if any devotee was ill-treated, the entire blame would fall on the pandas. The situation became alarming when painter Arpana Caur was heckled by some unscrupulous pandas,” says Ghosh Dastidar. “It was then that we decided to take some stern measures to prevent a repeat of such an incident and restore the image of the pandas.”

All pandas have been issued identity cards, which bear their name, photograph and a serial number. All pilgrims are requested to report to the office if they face any problem. Boards have been put up at various points in the temple area to guide devotees.

All this is working. The local police, for one, are happy with the temple’s changing image.

As Aloke Ghosh, an officer of Kalighat police station, put its: “The situation has improved dramatically. On Poila Boisakh, despite the fact that nearly two lakh devotees turned up, there was no sign of chaos.” The police, too, keep a close watch on the crowds these days.

Dilip Banerjee, a sevayat and member of the KTC, says: “We are all doing our best to improve the situation. The aim is to restore the serenity of this ancient shrine and revive the respect that devotees had for this temple. However, a lot still needs to be done.”

Among the things to do, is addressing the issue of “illegal stalls” mushrooming in the area. “There are over 1,000 stalls in and around the temple. Many of these are unlicensed and are going about their business despite repeated requests from temple authorities,” points out Banerjee.


Calcutta, April 29: 
The last of the Indian-Armenians in the city are in fear of losing their financial rights. The West Bengal government is in fear of losing a historical right. And it’s all to “a foreign hand”.

The 100-odd Indian-Armenians are up in arms against an alleged move by the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth to wrest control of the assets and property of their trusts in Calcutta from the custody of “the official trustee, the government of West Bengal”. The trustee has been the custodian of the estates, endowments and property of the Armenian Church at Calcutta and Chinsurah, “vide an 1889 Calcutta High Court order”, with all the title deeds in his name.

A case seeking dissolution of one such “public charitable” trust created by a prosperous Indian-Armenian for the benefit of the “poor Indian-Armenians in Calcutta” is pending in high court. The community fears that its “dissolution” will deprive them of their legitimate dues, cripple them financially and widen the racial divide between the “Indian-Armenians” and the “real Armenians” (those born in Armenia) within the community. According to Khaitan Consultancies, representing the petitioner, the “case, which was filed two months ago, is pending in a division bench of the high court.’’

Anglo-Indian Lok Sabha MP Dr Beatrix D’ Souza feels the move may also “place the reins of a Rs 500-crore resource pool, which has been in the custody of the West Bengal government since 1926, in the hands of a foreigner’’. In a detailed letter dated April 28, D’Souza has apprised Union law minister Arun Jaitley of the matter and sought the Union finance ministry’s intervention. “Since this money rightfully belongs to the Indian Armenians in the city, it must not be allowed to go out of the country,’’ says D’Souza.

The assets of the Church include a large number of donations in the form of shareholdings. One such legacy bequeathed by Sir Catchick Paul Chater, an Indian-Armenian millionaire from Calcutta, comprises nearly two million shares of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, valued at approximately £16.68 million. Chater left his fortune to the Church as a token of gratitude for funding his education at the La Matiniere Boy’s School here. The HSBC holdings yield an income of nearly £ 1 million every year in the form of dividends.

According to an Indian-Armenian social worker, Max Galstaun, efforts are on to transfer the titles of “these shares to the foreign head of the Armenian Church in Armenia and dissolve the present trust managing the fund”. A dividend cheque issued by the HSBC on December 31, 1999, was “addressed to the Official Trustee, West Bengal, Armenian Church, 2 Armenian Street, Calcutta,” while the one sent in December ’93 had been addressed ‘The Official Trustee, at the New Secretariat on Kiron Sanker Roy Street’. S.K. Chowdhury, official trustee, West Bengal, reacted sharply to this: “I was not consulted, but I will definitely oppose any such move. The state government cannot be stripped of its custody of the shares.’’ He has ordered a thorough probe into the matter.


Calcutta, April 29: 
Around the world on cycles — that’s exactly what Lutfor Rahman George’s travel plans are. It’s the 24-year-old Bangladeshi’s mission on wheels to spread awareness on child rights. George started his trip from Dhaka on April 5 and reached Calcutta, after travelling 500 km, on April 22.

Riding his favourite Japanese Speedent cycle, the freelance photo-journalist has drawn up plans to complete his trip across the globe in five years, in 20 phases. The next stops in India are Delhi and Bangalore. The itinerary for the first phase includes Saarc countries, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. To make the trip “meaningful”, he has already started networking with like-minded organisations in the respective countries.

“Atrocities against children in Third World countries like ours is a matter of great concern. Besides, their basic requirements of food and education are not met. Through my trip, I would like to campaign to ensure that child rights are respected and their welfare is protected,” says George, who has founded Children Bank in Bangladesh to take care of children in distress.

The Bank is an open aid fund which is set up to support those children who need special protection.

“Many of us want to help children, but we lack the resources. I have conceived Children Bank as a mass organisation, which would stimulate a global humanist movement for preserving child rights.”

Initially, it will limit its activities to sponsoring poor children and work in three phases — reporting, sponsoring and monitoring. Anyone can inform the organisation about a child in need. On receiving the information, Children Bank will sponsor the child. Then the reporter will become the monitor and prepare a regular progress report of the child. “The report will be useful in understanding child lifestyle and a few success stories will encourage others to come forward and inform us about children in distress,” observes George.

The student of social sciences in Dhaka College is happy with the response that Children Bank has got in Bangladesh. Right now, the organisation is sponsoring 12 children and has plans to increase the number as funds start coming in. During the world tour, besides raising funds and spreading awareness, George will carry out a feasibility study for expanding Children Bank beyond the borders of Bangladesh.

“I know the task is difficult, but I think proper effort can yield positive results,” smiles the young man.


Nellie, April 29: 
If Sirajjul Khan dreads something, it is the possibility of the AGP-BJP alliance winning the May 10 elections.

One of the few survivors of the carnage at Nellie in 1983, Sirajjul makes no bones about his dislike for the BJP. And now that the ruling AGP has aligned with the saffron party, he has absolutely no doubt that the minorities in the state are in for a hard time.

“One party has destroyed a mosque, while the other cannot be relied on. The AGP did not do anything for us during its five-year term in Dispur,” he says.

Sirajjul, a small-time contractor, says he cannot comprehend how the AGP and the BJP came together after lambasting each other over the years.

While Sirajjul is candid, the majority of Nellie’s minorities is reluctant to speak out against the AGP-BJP combine. But the signs of anxiety on their faces give them away.

Khurshid Islam, a pharmacist, puckers his eyebrows at the mere mention of the AGP-BJP alliance. But he stops short of voicing his opinion on the two parties’ promise to protect the interests of the minorities. “Better not talk about it,” he says. Other minority residents of this township react to questions on the AGP-BJP alliance in much the same manner.

Nellie is not an Assembly seat, just one of the blocks comprising Jagiroad constituency. However, it invariably influences the voting pattern of the minorities in the entire constituency. Bubul Das of the AGP won the seat in the last elections, defeating the Congress candidate. But Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s party is unlikely to have it easy this time round.

Alima Begum, a teacher at the Nellie Lower Primary School, says the Congress probably has an advantage over the other parties. But she hastens to add that the minorities do not have faith in it.

“The Congress seems to have the edge, but it does not mean that the minorities consider it their true friend,” she says.

Those directly affected by the 1983 massacre are the ones who harbour hatred for the political set-up as a whole. Samina Khatun, who lost two siblings in the carnage, does not consider any political party worthy of being elected to power.

“The less said about our politicians, the better. But I still feel exercising one’s franchise is important,” she says.

Minority leader Mohammed Khaleque feels people of his community will vote en masse for the Congress. “With the honeymoon between the minorities and the AGP long over, a large section of the minorities has already joined the Congress,” he says.

However, one cannot discount the possibility of the tribals in the area nullifying the Congress’ advantage.

Nazimul Hussain, another resident of Nellie, says not a single party can afford to be complacent in Jagiroad constituency. “Political equations changed in the wake of the AGP joining hands with the BJP. It is well-nigh impossible to predict the outcome of the elections,” he adds.

Jayanta Sangma, a college teacher, feels the Nellie massacre is no longer an electoral issue. “The people are actually angry with the AGP for failing to fulfil their aspirations. Though schools, colleges and roads have been built, there are still no jobs for the youth,” he says.


New Delhi, April 29: 
BJP’s star campaigner, Union home minister L.K. Advani, today flew into the state with all guns blazing, branding the Congress as “communal” and assuring the minority voters of protection under an AGP-BJP regime.

However, the BJP’s “gunpowder” was dampened by incessant rains as two of Advani’s four public rallies were virtually washed out. At Sualkuchi, the rally ground was virtually empty as impending rains drove the supporters inside, much to the dismay of the state BJP leaders and their new friends in the ruling Asom Gana Parishad.

The thick cloud cover reduced visibility to such an extent — it was only 2.30 pm then — that Advani’s chopper had to be guided to the landing strip with the help of flares. The Sonapur and Morigaon rallies had to be cancelled because of the inclement weather.

At Dhubri, where the BJP leader addressed the first rally of the day, thousands of people waited under a slight drizzle to hear the home minister launch a tirade against the Congress.

Advani said the “Muslim brethren of Assam need not fear about AGP and BJP coming together as both are secular parties.

“Under an AGP-BJP government, people of different caste, creed and religion will be able to live in peace and harmony,” Advani added.

Brandishing the same weapon that the Congress uses against the BJP, the home minister claimed that the Congress was responsible for communalising politics “and statistics will prove that the number of communal riots was much higher during Congress rule, whether in Delhi or in Dispur”.

He said the Congress always played the religious minority card to use the community to take advantage of their apprehensions. “But genuine Indian citizens should realise that none of them will be harassed or deported as made out by the Congress,” he said in obvious reference to the Congress’ contention that scrapping the IM(DT) act will harm the interest of the minorities.

With a smiling chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, listening attentively, Advani handed out a very good report card on the five-year tenure of the AGP-led government and Mahanta’s “able administration”.

He also expressed happiness over the pace of development. Taking the cue from Advani, Mahanta also launched a broadside against the Opposition Congress saying the party was responsible for the balkanisation of Assam.

“During its 45 years of rule since Independence, the Congress created seven states out of Assam and still continues to divide the people on religious lines.’’

Mahanta also projected the AGP as the “party of martyrs” as he cited instances of AGP workers and leaders falling prey to militants’ bullets.

He will also address two other rallies tomorrow.


Guwahati, April 29: 
With the death of another party worker in poll-related violence, the AGP today urged the Election Commission to take stringent measures for the smooth conduct of polls.

AGP activist Rajiv Chettry died of injuries sustained in yesterday’s grenade attack on the party’s makeshift election office last night in Dispur.

Another party worker was killed in Dhamdhama in Nalbari district. Altogether three AGP workers have been killed in Nalbari district. Party spokesperson Prabin Chandra Sharma said the AGP has informed the Election Commission about the attacks.

The party told the Election Commission that six AGP workers have been killed so far and “the election process has been marred to a great extent by the violence on the our workers”.

“The party told the commission that only AGP workers have been the targeted. There is enough indication of a conspiracy by some vested interest,” Sharma said, adding not a single Congress worker has been attacked so far.

“It is the duty of the Election Commission to ensure a free and fair election,” he said.

Sharma said the party workers in Barama, Dharmapur, Nalbari and Barpeta have been threatened, while workers in the Samata and Jagra areas have been attacked. “In many places, our workers have been told not to step out of their houses,” he added.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had also said party workers in Nalbari district have been warned not to participate in the election process.

He said the attacks have been engineered by a political party in collaboration with militant outfits. “The Congress did it in the 1998 elections by hobnobbing with militants,” he alleged.

Chettry’s body was taken in a procession by a large number of AGP workers to the party headquarters in Ambari. He was cremated at the Nabagraha cremation ground.


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