The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
A majority of homes without toilets, no connectivity to the main road, and sewage spilling onto the streets. In Budh Nagar village of Sambhal district in Uttar Pradesh, the problems are many.The village made headlines earlier this month when a local journalist was arrested, soon after asking a state minister questions about lack of development works.Sitting in her home, 80-year-old Shivdei says she doesn’t have hopes of using a toilet in her lifetime. Hers is one of the many homes in the village of roughly 1,000 people without a toilet.Local leaders say Budh Nagar is one of three villages governed by a single panchayat, and the largest one, Khandua, managed to corner a majority of funds for building toilets inside homes, so much so that some homes there have more than one.“It is even worse for people of my age, going to the fields day and night to relieve ourselves,” Shivdei said.Birpal Singh (45), another resident, said election promises have barely translated into palpable changes on the ground. “People we voted for have gone on to become MLAs, ministers, MPs, but we have remained where we were. Netas making claims about open defecation-free villages should visit this place,” he said, adding that all 10 members of his family use the fields to relieve themselves.“There are other problems too. You won’t be able to walk during the rainy season. There is no pucca road, no drainage system, the sewage flows where we walk, and there’s no concept of waste disposal,” Singh said.Questions on the lack of a public toilet, marriage hall and a proper road were also posed by the journalist, Sanjay Rana, to Gulab Devi, UP’s Minister of State (independent charge) for Secondary Education, when she visited the village on March 11 for an event. She is also the local MLA.After the event, local BJP leader Shubham Raghav, the BJYM district general secretary, filed a police complaint alleging that Rana interfered with government work and also assaulted him. Police arrested Rana under Section 151 of CrPC, intended to be used to prevent the commission of cognizable offences. He was let out on bail later.A journalist with Moradabad Ujala, Rana said he was in custody for 30 hours. “I do not know about the complainant; I never met that person. They handcuffed and paraded me in front of villagers as if I had committed any crime. You can see for yourself if I asked the minister anything wrong. We have voted for her, we have the right to hold her accountable,” he said.When The Sunday Express contacted Gulab Devi, she said a road had been sanctioned from her MLA funds and would be constructed soon.“There is a requirement of a drain in the village; that too will be constructed soon from the Zila Panchayat fund. There is also a need to make a boundary of the school in the village. I will see if this work can be done with MLA funds. It has come to my notice that there are few toilets in the village. A survey will be conducted regarding this and a toilet will be built for those who do not have one,” she said.Sanitation is a key crisis facing the village. There is just one safai karamchari for three villages, and while some internal roads have been built, they lack a proper drainage facility, because of which sewage overflows and accumulates near the primary school.“Last year, during the election, Gulab Devi promised a road to connect our village to the main road, but work has not started so far. Under such circumstances, are people really wrong for asking questions to its representative?” said Khempal Singh (60), a farmer who also works as a labourer to make ends meet. “There is no pond, no marriage hall. These aren’t big demands.”Another farmer, Charan Singh, 42, said many villagers are struggling to get a house under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana, or old-age and widow pensions they are entitled to. “When we ask officials, they just say ‘will let you know when the money arrives’. They do not tell us if the application has been accepted or not,” he said.Mahendra Singh, husband of the village pradhan Bhagwan Devi, said a drainage line is being constructed and will be completed soon. “We are continuously writing to authorities to sanction the funds, so these works can be done soon. Government land has been identified for the construction of a pond,” he said.
Days before Nepal put fugitive Amritpal Singh on its surveillance list, intelligence agencies have found that he was in Delhi. According to sources, a second-year Delhi University student purportedly provided shelter to him and his associate Papalpreet at her rented flat in East Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar.A senior officer from the Delhi Police has confirmed the same. Intelligence agencies, along with Punjab Police, are now questioning the woman.Amritpal has been on the run since March 18 when Punjab Police launched a crackdown on him and his outfit, Waris Punjab De.Intelligence agencies have also found CCTV footage from March 21, from Sai Chowk in Madhu Vihar, that purportedly shows Amritpal and his aide walking on the streets after leaving her house. In the footage, a man who is purportedly Amritpal is seen sporting a different look — his hair hanging loose, with no turban and his face covered with a mask. The man is wearing a jacket and glasses and is walking ahead of another man who is wearing a turban, glasses and mask.Sources told The Indian Express that the woman allegedly met Papalpreet during the farmers’ protest in Delhi and he had visited her house twice earlier. They said she is from an area near his village.“The woman told police during her questioning that on March 20, around 8.20 pm, the two men, in disguise, reached her house. She had never met Amritpal before, and Papalpreet requested her to provide them shelter for a night. She offered them food and they slept at her house,” a source said.Officers said they left after lunch on March 21. “Intelligence agencies got to know about this input, and they have verified the same after coordinating with the Delhi Police. Punjab police were also informed; they are questioning the woman before taking legal action against her,” a source said.Meanwhile, the Punjab government Tuesday informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that they were coordinating with several agencies and were close to catching Amritpal, the assertion coming after the pro-Khalistan preacher’s counsel claimed he was being held in illegal custody. The HC took up for hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Advocate Imaan Singh Khara, which claimed that Amritpal was in “illegal custody” of Punjab Police.Punjab Advocate General Vinod Ghai, however, told the court that Amritpal has not been arrested yet and they were coordinating with multiple agencies to nab him. Upon this, the bench of Justice NS Shekhawat asked Khara to file an affidavit to produce evidence that Amritpal was in police custody and pointed out that the state’s stand was that the preacher had not been arrested. If provided evidence, Justice Shekhawat said, the court would direct the relevant officials to conduct a raid and provide relief to the petitioner.The court, while fixing March 29 as the next date of hearing in the case, directed the Punjab government to file an affidavit, through the Inspector General of Police concerned.
The Mehsana district and sessions court on Wednesday acquitted Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani and nine others in a case related to a rally they held from Mehsana town in July 2017 without police permission. The court termed the prosecution’s case “baseless” after a magistrate court had sentenced the 10 accused to three months imprisonment and Rs 1,000 fine each for unlawful assembly.Among those acquitted is former NCP member and now AAP Gujarat spokesperson Reshma Patel.Additional District Judge C M Pawar pronounced the verdict endorsing the right to deliberate discuss and debate in a democracy. Two appeals were filed at the district and sessions court after the magisterial court’s verdict convicting Mevani and 9 others in May 2022. One appeal was filed by the state seeking enhancement of punishment and another appeal was filed by the 10 accused who were held guilty, challenging their conviction.The court of ADJ Pawar held that no harm was caused, no police were harmed and no Section 144 under CrPC was in force at the time of the said offence.On July 12, 2017, to mark one year of the infamous public flogging of some Dalits in Una that had led to a large-scale agitation in the state, Mevani and his associates had led an ‘Azadi Kooch’ from Mehsana to Dhanera of neighbouring Banaskantha district.One of Mevani’s associates, Kaushik Parmar, had sought permission for the rally under the banner of Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, an organisation founded by Mevani, from the Mehsana executive magistrate. Initially, the permission was granted but it was subsequently revoked by the authority. The rally was still carried out by the organisers.
Nearly a fortnight after a couple was found axed to death outside their residence in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr, the police on Tuesday detained their 15-year-old daughter who confessed to the double murder, officials said.The couple was found dead on March 15. The teenager told the police that she hated the atmosphere at home and “was fed up with the violent behaviour” of her parents towards her. She said that her mother would frequently beat her up and also had an illicit relationship with a man.“On questioning, the girl confessed to murdering her parents with an axe after lacing their food with a heavy dose of sleeping pills,” said Shlok Kumar, Bulandshahr SSP.The police have also arrested the youth who arranged the pills and the shop owner, who sold the pills, under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.“It was a difficult case to crack as there were no clues. While checking the mobile phone of a family member, we could find that the minor girl had a communication with a man in December asking him to arrange sleeping pills and he refused,” the officer said.The police said that two days prior to the double murder, she had arranged a pack of 20 sleeping pills. “The girl mixed five tablets in the tea she prepared for her mother and 10 tablets in the milk for her 50-year-old father. The couple used to sleep outside their house while the accused and her younger sister had their beds inside the house,” said the officer.The police said that on the fateful night, the teen girl scaled the roof of a neighbour with the help of a ladder and came to the front of her house where she killed her parents by repeatedly hitting the axe on their heads. They died on the spot and she went back to bed, they said.The girl was sent to the juvenile home in Bulandshahr, while the two men were sent to jail after being produced in a local court. “We have also recovered the axe used for the killings. The weapon was hidden in the heap of fodder in the house,” said the SSP.She told the police that her mother had illicit relations with a man who, according to her, would instigate her mother to beat her regularly so that she either goes out or leaves the house forever.She also told the police that her father’s brother had killed his wife and two daughters in 2021 by hitting them with an axe on their head which, she claimed “gave her the clue” as to how to get rid of her parents.
EVEN in West Bengal where political leaders have been jumping sides with rapid frequency to stay on the right side, this was an unusual development. Last week, a leader of the Trinamool Congress from North Bengal, Udayan Guha, came out against his own father Kamal Guha, saying that as a Forward Bloc leader and minister, the latter too “gave many jobs illegally”.Udayan, who joined the TMC before the 2016 Assembly elections, said: “He (his father) also committed corruption for the sake of the party.”The amount may not have been much, Udayan was quick to specify, but it was still corruption. “If you take Rs 5, it is not corruption, but if you take Rs 50,000 or Rs 5 lakh, that is corruption? It can’t be like that… My father also employed many people.”Trapped in a corner over mounting corruption allegations against her government, particularly over the job recruitment scam that hits the people where it hurts, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee appeared to pull this card out of her sleeve.And it’s not the only one. As the clock starts ticking for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata is employing several tactics, from targeted wooing of her Muslim support base to fighting the corruption taint to rolling out more schemes. In 2019, the BJP had stunned the TMC by winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state where it was not too long ago a nobody, and the TMC knows it can leave no chinks in its armour.The re-focus on the CPI(M) as the target of its attack is also calculated, as it plays down the significance of the BJP (which has lost many of its leaders to the TMC). Plus, the TMC is still reeling from losing its Muslim-dominated stronghold of Sagardighi in a recent bypoll to a Congress candidate, backed by the CPI(M).Over the weekend, in a little-noticed but worrying sign for the TMC, the Congress and CPI(M) swept all 19 seats in a closely fought battle for the Haldia docks management committee, in Purba Medinipur district. The TMC had won all but 1 seat last time, and had held control of the committee for 13 years.The corruption battleThe 2021 Assembly poll win had been a commendable achievement for the Mamata-led TMC, bringing it to power for the third time in the state against an ascendant and aggressive BJP. However, within a year, the blows started.It began with then Industry Minister and Mamata aide, Partha Chatterjee, being arrested by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) along with his confidante Arpita Mukherjee. The case struck headlines for successive days as more than Rs 50 crore in cash turned up at Mukherjee’s flats.Hardly had this furore died down that another top TMC leader, Anubrata Mondol, along with his bodyguard Saigal Hossain, was arrested in a cattle-smuggling case. Then came the school job scam, in which many officials of the school education department and TMC leaders were arrested.Against this backdrop came Udayan Guha’s charges against the Left regime that preceded the TMC’s – a surprising turn of direction given that it has been more than a decade since the Left Front lost power and the TMC has brought this up now.After naming his father as among those who gave out jobs as quid pro quo, Udayan shared documents which he claimed show how close relatives of CPI(M) leaders got employment in government sectors without proper recruitment examinations. He named the wife of CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, Mili, who was employed by a government college in 1987 and worked there for 34 years before retirement, and relatives of former CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh as among them.“A HORRIFIC example of deceiving the public!” tweeted Udayan.Chakraborty fired back telling Udayan to submit proof if he had any. “We are ready to face an investigation. If he does not have any proof, the TMC must apologise at an open forum.”The minority voteThe bypoll to Murshidabad’s Sagardighi seat – which had been held by the TMC since 2011 — was necessitated by the death of sitting TMC MLA Subrata Saha. Stunning the ruling party, the Congress’s Bayron Biswas won the bypoll, defeating the TMC’s Debasish Banerjee by 22,986 votes. Apart from the Left Front, Biswas was backed by the ISF, or Islamic Secular Front, a rising Muslim outfit that the TMC sees as a challenger for Muslim votes.In the postmortem done after the result, the TMC is said to have zeroed in on minority votes shifting to the Left-Congress, the corruption taint attached to it, and a decline in Mamata’s popularity as among the reasons.Sagardighi was also bad news coming so close to the panchayat polls, expected to be announced anytime soon in Bengal, given the fluid party loyalties at the grassroots level.While Mamata publicly asserted that “minorities are with us, like before”, a series of steps since indicate that this confidence is shaken.Firstly, the faces in the committee set up by the TMC to introspect on the defeat in Sagardighi. It included ministers Siddiqullah Chowdhury, Sabina Yasmin, Akhrujjaman and Jakir Hossain. Chowdhury was also given the responsibility of Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur districts, along with Yasmin.Chowdhury used to be a leader of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, an organisation with a strong base among Bengali-speaking Muslims of West Bengal.Alongside this, Firhad Hakim or Bobby Hakim, identified with the Urdu-speaking Muslim population of the state, saw his wings being clipped. Previously, it was Hakim who looked after the TMC organisation in Murshidabad, along with Howrah and Hoogly.The president of the TMC’s Bengal minority cell, MLA Haroa Haji Nurul, was replaced next, with another young Muslim leader, Mosaraf Hossain, the MLA of Itahar.On Monday, in yet another change, Md Ghulam Rabbani was removed from the state’s Minority Affairs Department, and moved to Horticulture. Mamata herself has taken charge of the Minority Affairs Department for now.Simultaneously, the Mamata government announced the creation of separate development boards for minorities and migrant labour. A senior Cabinet minister said, “Earlier, there was a finance corporation for minorities. Mamata Banerjee has now decided to create a Minority Development Board and a Migrant Labour Development Board.”The new schemes, financial situationAlthough the TMC government has been able to increase revenue collection in 2022-23, the state’s revenue deficit has increased to nearly Rs 7,000 crore. Simultaneously, according to the Budget proposals placed by Minister of State, Finance, Chandrima Bhattacharya in the Assembly Wednesday, the state’s outstanding debt will rise to about Rs 6.5 lakh crore by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal.The Mamata government has several popular welfare measures such as Lakshmi Bhandar, Kanyasree, Rupasree, Sabuj Sathi which require huge outflows. The Lakshmi Bhandar programme alone needs more than Rs 20,000 crore per year.Recently, state government employees held a strike – the first under the TMC tenure – demanding a hike in dearness allowance.Mamata has accused the Centre of not paying Rs 1 lakh crore as its dues, including for wages of MNREGA. On Tuesday, she said it had been a mistake on Bengal’s part to join the GST, given the outstanding money to the state. From Tuesday, she is sitting on dharna at Kolkata Esplanade for two days over the issue.A nervous partyA section of the TMC leaders admit they are not too sure if these measures will achieve their objective. A senior TMC leader said: “Everybody knows that the CPI(M) gave jobs to party workers when in power. Congress leader Ghani Khan Choudhury, our leader Mamata Banerjee, and Mukul Roy also gave jobs when they were Rail Ministers at the Centre… But they did not give jobs taking money from aspirants; that is corruption.”The leader fears that the TMC might face counter-questions such as, if it knew about these corruption allegations against the Left government, why had these not been investigated in the last 10 years. “And lastly, just because they were corrupt, does it mean we have the permission to be corrupt ourselves?”CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “This strategy will not work anymore, as the credibility of Mamata Banerjee is finished and she cannot fool the people further.”BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said, “The TMC is now trying to project the CPI(M) as the Opposition. But, the people already know who the Opposition is.”He added that even the TMC’s bid to regain Muslim confidence won’t work. “We are also reaching out to them, telling them that in Mamata Banerjee’s regime, most people belonging to minority groups have been killed, and the areas inhabited by them have remained undeveloped.”With the TMC projecting the BJP as an “outsider”, Bhattacharya insisted: “Our DNA and heritage are the same, and they (the Muslims) should march with us for the development of the whole Bengal.”
A poet friend of mine, Lalsangliani Ralte, writes: “Every word in the national anthem is a challenge to my tribal tongue/that is more used to a slightly altered version of the English alphabet/than it is to the Devanagari script…./So when you get confused about my identity/and where I am from, the God I worship/the way I dress, the way I look and behave, Remember that I am just as confused/for I am alleging my loyalty to a country through an anthem/that has to be explained to me/for me to understand what it means.”This is not just the voice of one Mizo girl but of many, a shared experience of tribal communities from the northeast region of India. I still remember singing the national anthem under the scorching heat of the morning sun in our school assembly. My pronunciation of every word was slightly different from my classmates, and I did not know what the words meant. But I knew I shared the same solemnity and pride that they sang the anthem with.Through the course of 75 years since its independence, India has achieved glorious milestones in many fields while trying to uphold values of democracy, liberty, national unity and integrity as expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution. We have come a long way. But can the same be said for tribal communities in the Northeast?Thousands of young people from the Northeast flock to mainland metro cities every year, seeking jobs and higher education. With packed suitcases, a head full of dreams, and sweaty palms — we are just thinking about how to fit in. It’s always a challenging, inspiring and intimidating journey. I know this because I have been one of those hopeful dreamers and I cannot count the number of times I have been asked for my passport, or to explain the location of Mizoram on India’s map. Since middle school, one of the first things we learnt about our country is the cultural diversity and the hundreds of ethnicities that contribute to the greatness of this nation. But the ground reality has always been different from the words in our textbooks. Since Independence, the experience of people from the Northeast has been marked by racial discrimination, rape and murder, instances of public humiliation, and social ostracism.Progress is slow but not entirely absent. With the growing encounter between the Northeast and the mainland, developments have been made in certain areas. For instance, I no longer get called “chinky” while strolling through the streets of big cities. It’s only on rare occasions that I have to explain that Mizoram is not a country but a state of India. I don’t have to explain that we don’t all eat dog meat or hunt heads. Last year, I attended a literary fest in Mumbai and I was thrilled when I met many literary artists who said, “Lovely place”, “I came for a visit some years ago” and “I’d love to come again” — when I told them where I am from. For many, these small steps of progress might not be as significant as technological innovations, industrial growth and infrastructural developments. But for victims of decades of racial profiling and discrimination, gestures of acknowledgement and social acceptance are achievements that India has accomplished through the years.The region has also progressed along with the country during this time. An area that was merely written about and studied, is now writing its own stories and reflections. But as old stereotypes slowly recede, new challenges are cropping up. In one of the literary festivals I attended last year, I was asked why I didn’t write myths and folktales because that was the expectation of writers from tribal communities. I replied saying that a writer from the Northeast can also choose not to write about myths and folktales.More than 50 years have passed since Mizoram demanded independence from India because the people felt neglected and abandoned. It was 57 years ago when Aizawl was ruthlessly bombed by the Indian government. But agreements were made, and the peace accord was signed. Today, we still proudly sing the national anthem and cheer with great pride when our brothers and sisters bear the Indian flag on international platforms. Acceptance and acknowledgement can do so much for national unity. Hopefully, one day we will accept that not every Indian has well-defined round eyes and we understand what it means to call India a land of diverse ethnicities — only to be amazed at just how far the word “diverse” can stretch.Lalhlanpuii is a writer from Mizoram and Assistant Professor, English at Mizoram Christian College. This article is part of an ongoing series, which began on August 15, by women who have made a mark, across sectors