Party purdah on Lenin movie
Iran dress rehearsal for Kabul liberation
Christian widows to get share in husband property
Police Puja snub to Buddha
Dead frogs, feathers on tap
Doctors prescribe bypass for Somen
Bar council bar on foreign lawyers
Border hop to pray for peace
Kali pandal torched to protest murder
Airport brawl

Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
When the screening of a film about which Jyoti Basu expresses displeasure is pulled out, what does it signal?

That the party prevails, again.

Taurus, the film on the last days of Lenin, was withdrawn without notice today after Basu and another senior CPM leader, Biman Bose, said it should not have been shown at the ongoing Calcutta Film Festival. The annual festival is very much Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s baby.

For the chief minister, this would mean a second setback in quick succession after being forced to backtrack on the anti-crime Ordinance he had planned.

Not quite, say CPM leaders. Anil Biswas, CPM state secretary, said: “The party had no role.”

CPM’s mouthpiece, Ganashakti, however, ran a long report this morning quoting Basu and Bose, criticising the decision to screen the movie that shows Lenin in failing mind and body.

Bhattacharjee has seen Taurus. He refused to comment, saying “will tell you later”. But Biswas said: “The chief minister has seen the picture. What I gathered after speaking to him is that Lenin was not degraded in the film.”

The assertion of Bhattacharjee’s view conflicts with what Jyoti Basu and Biman Bose said. They described the depiction of Lenin in the film by leading Russian director Alexander Sokurov as a distortion of history.

Sushanta Ghosh, who was in the disappointed crowd at New Empire, where the movie was to be screened, said: “This incident shows how the CPM’s culture police operates here.”

Festival director Anshu Sur, however, blamed “technical reasons”. Only one print of Taurus with English subtitles was sent here, but had to be rushed to London where it is scheduled to be screened tomorrow afternoon, he said. Apparently, there is only one print with English subtitles.

The print was ferried to London yesterday as part of the luggage of Leonid Mozgovi, the actor who played Lenin, Sur added.

But the New Empire management gave a different version. The management said it had received a call from the festival directorate this morning to cancel the show and the print was taken away. Mother and Son, another of Sokurov’s films, was shown instead.

The leftwing cultural group, Bhasha O Chetana Samity, which has been campaigning against Taurus, distributed circulars later in the day saying “thanks to the chief minister for stopping the screening”.

However much party leaders tried to strip the incident of political overtones, the impression lingers — within and outside the CPM — that Bhattacharjee had been humbled on his own turf, culture.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Kabul emerged from the veil yesterday. Just over a fortnight ago, Shakti Dhara Saha got to see that the Afghan woman was desperate to be freed.

“I could see them throw their hijab off and walk around in jeans, bermudas and sleeveless shirts,” said Saha, one of the two Indians present at the World Muslim Women’s Games held in Tehran from October 24-31.

A group of 48 Afghan athletes took part in the games. Many of them had been on the road for several months, trekking through abandoned roads and mountains and evading puritan Taliban eyes to reach Tehran.

When they did, even Iran — with its strict Islamic rules — was a culture shock to the Afghan women, at least one of whom had to discontinue her studies, forget taking part in games, when the Taliban took over in 1996.

It was a shock they were pleased with and celebrated. They were delighted to be out in a society that allowed them “adequate freedom”.

“Inside the stadiums (where men were not allowed), I could see them throw their hijab off and walk around in jeans, bermudas and sleeveless shirts. They were jumping with joy and wolf-whistling (along) with their Iranian counterparts at the futsal (six-a-side soccer) matches. It surely was a revelation,” said Saha, an international volleyball referee who was there as observer.

She said the Afghan contingent had come to Tehran with the intention of making a political statement, rather than winning medals. Their objective: to present to the world the true picture of the hardships faced by women under Taliban rule.

The Afghan team was organised by the Women’s Movement of Afghanistan, a body backed by the Northern Alliance which took over Kabul two days ago triggering a celebration that saw the men shaving off their beards and women back out in public without veils.

“They (the Afghans) told me they would walk long distances through rough terrain before resting. Of course, these were not the best conditions for a sportsperson to be in before a tournament, but making an international statement was possibly too important.”

Most of the Afghan sportswomen were from Herat. “They said they had done some schooling and even attended colleges in Herat,” Saha said. But most of it was possibly before the Taliban assumed power.

Naji Afzali, for instance, had to drop put of Kabul University where she was studying medical science.

The Afghan contingent left the venue to return home, but possibly postponed their plans because of the war.

Saha said Faezeh Hashemi, the 39-year-old member of parliament from Tehran, made the Afghans’ participation possible. She is the main force behind the fight for women’s rights in Iran and has the support of Iran’s moderate President, Mohammad Khatami, in her campaign.

“Iranian women do wear the chaddar outside home, they cover their heads with scarves, they are not allowed into open sporting activities that need to expose skin and no manner of contact is allowed with men in public,” Saha said. Still, many of them are highly qualified as women’s education is encouraged in Iran. They also work. “This was something the Afghan women simply did not understand. From Afghanistan to Tehran was possibly more than from Chhapra in Bihar to New York,” she said.

Saha said that in Tehran, she had to cover every inch of her body so that no skin was visible. What about Bollywood movies? “That’s a no-no in Iran… there’s too much skin,” Saha said.

If the Afghan women athletes now return home, they’ll see posters of Bollywood stars are back on display.


New Delhi, Nov. 15: 
Christian women are finally going to get their share of their husband’s property.

The Cabinet today agreed to amend the Indian Succession Act to give a Christian widow her “distributive” share in the property of her deceased husband. More important, she will get her share even if there is a contract to the contrary.

“Christian leaders and associations have been urging us to bring this amendment. So have our 23 Christian MPs,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said after a Cabinet meeting.

The government has also decided to amend another provision in the Act, which will make immediate implementation of a will possible. “At present, a Christian widow has to wait for five years for the will to come into effect while in the other two religions — Hinduism and Islam — the will can be put into effect immediately,” Mahajan said.

Several months ago, the government had brought an amendment to the Christian Marriage Act to make the grounds of divorce equal for both Christian men and women. Women’s organisations had mounted pressure on the government to change the Act to bring about gender justice.

In another decision, the Cabinet decided to extend President’s rule in Manipur by six months, that is beyond December 1, 2001 till June 1, 2002. A resolution to this effect will be passed in both Houses of Parliament, the minister said.

Manipur was brought under President’s rule in June. “Reports from both the Governor and the government indicated that the ground situation in Manipur was still not conducive for holding elections,” Mahajan said.

The Cabinet discussed the Prime Minister’s three-nation visit and the just-concluded WTO meet in Doha. The Prime Minister will give a statement on his visit in both Houses of Parliament next Tuesday, a day after the winter session begins. The commerce minister will make a presentation the next day.

“We are ready for any discussion the Opposition wants,” the minister said.

The Cabinet also approved the introduction of the Jute Manufacturers Cess (Amendment) Bill 2001.

The Bill will amend the Jute Manufacturers Cess Act, 1983. The amendment will provide for a maximum cess of four per cent ad valorem on jute manufacturers. For the present, a two per cent ad valorem cess will be levied on jute manufacturers until further orders.

The present cess on jute manufacturers, collected under the 1983 Act, is levied at a fixed rate. The shift will increase the collection of cess substantially and would also provide elasticity of resources.

The cess levied and collected under the above Act is used for providing funds to the Jute Manufacturers’ Development Council.

Church plea

Church leaders today requested law minister Arun Jaitley to have another look at the proposed Foreign Contribution (Management and Control) Bill.

The leaders fear the draft Bill, in place of the existing Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, will curb welfare activities by pro-Christian NGOs. According to the Bill, any organisation can be barred from accepting foreign contributions.

The church leaders fear the government is succumbing to pressure from Sangh parivar hawks who feel the existing law is soft and the government needs to bring in a harsher legislation to keep tabs on foreign donations to certain organisations.

Asked why the church was worried over the proposed Bill, a church official said: “We do not know what exactly the draft Bill contains. Our fear is that it will affect all NGOs, with stringent rules hampering the good work done by some of the NGOs.”


Behrampore, Nov. 15: 
Defying chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ban on any worship inside police establishments, Kali Puja was performed at the sprawling Behrampore police lines as usual.

Sources said the Puja was held with the tacit support of district superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar, who is chairman of the steering committee which organises the Puja, and additional superintendent of police Shankar Singh, the vice-chairman of the committee.

Wednesday’s Puja took place in a Kali temple. There is a permanent idol which is worshipped every evening. In place of the idol, an earthen pot used in the Puja will be immersed today.

A constable, Jagabandhu Banerjee, is posted at the temple to perform the Puja. On other times, he goes around the police lines not in uniform, but in dhoti, chaddar and a namabali.

Two home guards and two National Volunteer Force personnel are deployed at the temple to assist in the Pujas and wash and clean the mandir. However, an official said the constable, home guards and the jawans have not been officially deployed for temple work.

The district police administration had come under the scanner when Shani Puja was performed at the Behrampore police station early this month.

Several hundred police employees queued up this morning for the prasad. The first plate of prasad was handed over to the superintendent of police.

“The temple in the police lines is quite old and nothing has been added to it. It is true that any religious activity is banned inside any police station. But how can I demolish this temple? If there is any temple and an idol, someone must offer Puja. If I take steps to stop the Puja it may hurt public sentiment,” said Rajesh Kumar.

The police superintendent added that he was not aware that he was the chairman of the temple committee. “If someone makes me chairman of any committee without my consent, what can I do?’’ he asked.

Temple priest Banerjee, however, put everything down to the orders of the sahibs (read Rajesh Kumar and Shankar Singh). Asked how he as police constable could get away doing no other job than that of priest, he said: “I am performing the Puja for the past two years and I will do what the sahibs tell me to do. I will do whatever they say.”

Police sources said that the cost of Wednesday’s Kali Puja was borne by the police employees with each of them donating Rs 20. The home guards and the jawans donated Rs 5 each.

Procession deaths

Four persons were killed and 10 injured when a lorry ploughed through a Kali Puja procession at Kharai Bazar under Pataspur police station last night.

The injured were admitted to Egra Primary Health Centre. But three persons, whose conditions are stated to be critical, have been shifted to the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.


Burdwan, Nov. 15: 
Panic has gripped residents of two wards in the Burdwan municipal area following supply of contaminated water for the past seven days.

Residents complained that the water was muddy, stank and contained, among other things, dead frogs and feathers.

Trinamul Congress councillor and Opposition leader in the municipality, Pranab Chatterjee, alleged that the municipality had not yet taken any initiative to improve the quality of water.

“What surprised me is that the municipality has not yet ordered an inquiry into the complaints lodged by me and the residents,” he said.

Frustrated with the municipal authorities’ indifferent attitude, many have started making their own water supply arrangements by sinking tubewells and bringing water from outside the affected wards, he alleged.

Municipality chairman Suren Mondal denied knowledge of any such complaints. But when he was shown a copy of the written complaint received by his office, he said he would look into the matter.

Achintya Roy, a resident of the affected area — Radhanagar South — said: “The water we have been receiving is muddy and it also has a bad smell. We have also found dead frogs and feathers of birds.”

His next-door neighbour, Paresh Dey, also made similar complaints. Said Dey: “Initially, I thought the municipality was cleaning the overhead tank. As a result, such strange things are flowing out of the tap with water. I became panicky after I checked up with the store house and found that no such cleaning operation had been taken up there.”

Municipality sources said the overhead tank had last been cleaned two years back.

The Opposition leader alleged that the net on the tank had been torn long back. As a result, birds often dropped their dead prey in the water, contaminating it. Pouring of bleaching power and chlorine in the water is not done routinely, he alleged.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
Former state Congress chief and MLA Somen Mitra, admitted to a south Calcutta nursing home after a heart attack early Tuesday morning, needs a bypass surgery, said cardiologist Sunil Sen and other doctors attending on him.

Former chief minister Jyoti Basu visited Mitra at the nursing home where anxious state Congress leaders and supporters continued to pour in.

Sen told reporters that it was all right if the bypass surgery was done within the next six weeks.

He said Mitra’s blood sugar, blood pressure, heartbeat and pulse rate were gradually returning to normal. “He (Mitra) actually had a mild heart attack but the functioning of his heart should improve before we can declare him completely out of danger,” he added.

“Somenbabu was admitted to the nursing home with pain in his chest and left arm. He was sweating profusely and was restless,” doctors said.

Mitra is still on a liquid diet. The doctors will review the situation after further observation.

Shortly after arriving around 5.30 pm, Basu, flanked by Congress leaders Atish Sinha and Pradip Bhattacharya, went straight to the intensive coronary care unit on the seventh floor of the nursing home. Basu carried with him a bouquet of red roses which he gave to Mitra wishing him a long life.

Mitra, smiled and folded his hands in a namashkar. “Don’t worry, Somen, you will get well in a day or two. How was your Kali Puja this time?” said Basu, referring to the Kali Puja on Amherst Street of which Mitra is one of the chief patrons.

Before leaving the nursing home after some 20 minutes, Basu cautioned Mitra about pushing himself at work and asked him to take care of his health.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
The state bar council has decided not to allow foreign lawyers or foreign law firms to argue cases in different courts in Bengal even though the Centre has begun implementing a trade agreement that allows foreign lawyers to fight cases in India.

Council chairman Saradindu Biswas said the Bar Council of India, in its Jodhpur conference last June, had decided that foreign lawyers and law firms would not be given permission to fight cases in the country. “We have to abide by the decision of the parent body,” Biswas said.

“The Central government should have discussed the issue with the advocates before signing such an agreement,” he added.

The chairman admitted that foreign law firms had started showing interest in the day-to-day affairs of the Indian judiciary. According to him, five or six such law firms have applied to the Bar Council of India seeking permission to fight their cases. But their appeals have been turned down.

However, he added that the state bar council has so far not received any such application from foreign firms and lawyers.

Council member Uttam Majumder said according to the Advocates’ Act of the country, it is impossible for foreign lawyers to take part in the hearing of cases. But the Union government is going ahead with its plan to amend certain rules of the Act to allow individual lawyers to come to our country, he added.

Advocate-general of Tripura and leader of the All India Lawyers Union Bikash Bhattacharya also apprehends such a move by the Union government. He said a nationwide movement had been chalked out to thwart the Centre’s move to amend the Advocates’ Act to allow foreign practitioners in India. He claimed that all the lawyers’ unions would participate in the proposed movement. “In Mumbai, many foreign lawyers are intervening in many company cases,” Bhattacharya said. “They are not taking part in the hearing in the courtrooms but assisting different solicitor firms by way of consultations and advice.” He alleged that the bar councils were also playing a dual role in the matter.


Malda, Nov. 15: 
Sanatan Barman of Naoga district in Bangladesh crossed over to Habibpur in Malda, on this side of the border, to offer prayers to goddess Kali last night. He was accompanied by Akhil Barman, Amar Roy and many others.

All of them were his neighbours. They hailed from Niamatpur village and had come with a single purpose – they wanted to offer a pair of pigeons and Rs 51 each to the Jagrato Kali (living goddess) of Kantuka Kali Temple.

“We would like to pray for an end to the torture on us by the Jamaat-e-Islami activists and other fundamentalist organisations in Bangladesh,” said Barman.

But they were different from the others crossing over to India. They left for their homes in Bangladesh – and to fears of further persecution – before sunrise today.

Head priest of the temple, Piyush Chatterjee, said there was nothing unusual in people from Bangladesh coming over to this village. “It happens every year during the festive season. What struck me was that they are scared this time and praying for an end to the torture on them.”

He said the number of people sneaking into Bengal was smaller than usual. “It is quite strange that no one came from Nitpur village. Hundreds of them come here on this day every year. I have heard they could not cross the border because the Border Security Force was extra alert this time. The devotees had to return even after coming close to the border,” Chatterjee said.

Sanatan Barman, who came from Niamatpur, alleged that the minorities were being persecuted by the BNP members and the Jamaat-e-Islami activists. “They are looting properties of the minorities and torturing women. They did not allow us to organise Durga Puja this year. We believe in the all-powerful Kali of Kantuka temple. We would have sacrificed goats if we could. But the money we had had been looted before we could cross the border,” Barman said.


Chinsurah, Nov. 15: 
An angry mob this morning set fire to a Kali pandal at Tribeni after a 35-year-old man was lynched last night by members of a local club following an altercation over sharing of money.

The mob also raided at least seven houses near the pandal and set them on fire. They later gheraoed the local police station alleging that Ashoke Bag had been killed in the presence of the police.

Police said members of a local club, Milan Samity, attacked Ashoke after a quarrel over the distribution of funds raised from Kali Puja subscriptions.

District superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said the trouble started after some of the Puja organisers went inside the club to drink. There was a heated exchange between the members after Ashoke reportedly demanded a bigger share.


Calcutta, Nov. 15: 
A drunk Central Industrial Security Force jawan tried to shoot a Central Reserve Police Force man and another armed guard from the state police at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport around 10.30 tonight. But he was overpowered before he could pull the trigger.

He was detained for interrogation, officials said, adding they had taken a serious note of the incident, coming as it did after the beefing up of security at the airport.

In February, a CRPF jawan shot dead a state police constable inside the airport terminal.


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