– Words, sometimes, can be more baffling than illuminating. As people struggle over a particularly verbose verdict, legal experts tell Sonia Sarkar that brevity, simplicity and clarity are important parts of a judgment

Justice delayed, as the old saying goes, is justice denied. But what about justice misread? What happens when a verdict is worded in such a way that it is not easy to understand what is being said?

That wordy judgments can be difficult to understand was brought to the fore last month when a Supreme Court bench was giving its verdict on the issue of defamation.

“This batch of writ petitions preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution of India exposits cavil in its quintessential conceptuality and percipient discord between venerated and exalted right of freedom of speech and expression of an individual, exploring manifold and multilayered, limitless, unbounded and unfettered spectrums and the controls, restrictions and constrictions, under the assumed power of ‘reasonableness’ ingrained in the statutory provisions relating to criminal law to reviver (sic) and uphold one’s reputation,” Justice Dipak Misra said in a 268-page long judgment in the Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India case.

Faced with a convoluted sentence such as this, it is not surprising that there is growing demand for simply phrased judgments. “Brevity, simplicity and clarity are the essentials of a good judgment,” says (Retd) Justice Sunil Ambwani, former Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court. “Sometimes, judges emulate Shakespeare. But they don’t know that little Shakespeare is fatal to justice,” adds former Law Commission chairperson Upendra Baxi.

What constitutes a sound verdict? Reasoning, and the result of that, holds Baxi, who teaches law at the University of Warwick, UK. Verbosity is not a sign of a good judgment, he points out. “Judges should never use flowery language which becomes incomprehensible. One should not need a dictionary to understand a judgment.”

The importance of language lies not just in the fact that it should read or sound well. Legal experts stress that the essence of a verdict should not get lost in the language. A verdict becomes unclear if the wording is not sharp. And that can lead to justice being derailed.

The experts point out that judges should bear in mind that judgments are written for aggrieved parties, lawyers, appellate courts, law students and for society at large. That’s the primary reason why it should be written in an understandable language, they add.

The Supreme Court, too, is aware of the pitfalls of verbosity. It laid out guidelines on the writing of judgments in 2010. It said that “appropriate care” should be taken to not load a verdict with all legal knowledge on a subject as citing too many judgments could lead to confusion rather than clarity.

The movement against incomprehensible judgments has been gaining ground for a while now. The issue was taken up by former Supreme Court Justice R.V. Raveendran in an article titled “Rendering Judgments — Some Basics” in 2009, a collection of lectures that he delivered at the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal. The unwarranted use of legalese, hackneyed phrases and clichés should be avoided in a judgment, he writes.

Justice Ambwani, who wrote around 10,000 judgments in his career as a judge, seconds it. “Plain and simple language has always been appreciated in writing judgments,” he writes in a brochure on “Skills of Judgment Writing” by the Judicial Training and Research Institute, Lucknow. “The greatest of these is clarity. It is better to avoid invidious examples, unnecessary quotations, and lecture.”

There was a time when judges were known for their crisp language. Former Supreme Court Chief Justices M. Patanjali Sastri and P.N. Bhagwati were particularly admired for their language, Baxi says.

Inadequate knowledge of English is often held up as a sign of badly written judgments, but perhaps the issue goes beyond that. Not every judge is fluent in English, for they come from different states, and have different socio-economic backgrounds.

“I knew one judge who used to go through the editorials of newspapers and picked up words from there. He used those words in his order even if there was no need for them,” ex-Justice Ambwani says.

Last month, a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Abhay Mohan Sapre and Justice Ashok Bhushan objected to a high court judge passing an order in English which was erroneous on account of grammar, syntax, usage of words and punctuation, and sent the order back to the subordinate court and asked him to issue a fresh order.
But knowledge of English is not essentially a sign of a well-written judgment, and not all scholarly judges are lucid. Baxi believes that some verdicts of V.R. Krishna Iyer — known for scores of path-breaking judgments — were often difficult to understand.

“It is true that Justice Iyer has his authentic brand of self-expression which frequently violates canons of good English as well as good legalese,” Baxi is quoted as saying in the book Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, written by Shailaja Chander.

To ensure that judges write using simple words, the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal and 22 academies run by different states have started compulsory courses for judges with special emphasis on writing judgments.

“Very few judges have good command over language. They use flowery language because they think that’s how a good judgment is written,” Geeta Oberoi, acting head of the National Judicial Academy, says.

The Delhi Judicial Academy, which too conducts courses for judges, has been focusing since 2014 on writing judgments. “We invite English professors who tell judges how to construct sentences in simple words. They also tell them how to keep the essence of judgments intact. A judgment should not be verbose,” an officials says.

“Judgment should always be to the point. To enrich the judgment with language style may not be very desirable. If one gets lost in the language, one loses the grip over the main issue,” former Supreme Court judge V.D. Tulzapurkar said in the Manohar Nathurao Samarth vs Marotrao and Others case (1979).

In the brochure on judgment writing, retired Justice Ambwani stresses the need to adopt short words and avoid long sentences. Minimise jargon and technical terms and avoid double or triple negatives, he wrote. “No reader wants to wrestle with sentences,” he warned.

Justice Misra’s sentence was 73 words long. And, indeed, it called for some serious wrestling.


This story appeared in The Telegraph.


Culture minister Mahesh Sharma does some practised hop and skip around Sonia Sarkar’s questions
The minister meets each of his visitors, embraces some, laughs aloud now and then (often at his own jokes), narrates a story or two — and keeps an eye on me. I am waiting for Mahesh Sharma in his office in Delhi’s Transport Bhawan, and can hear the culture and tourism minister say — in a particularly loud voice — that he is soon going to get busy with the Prime Minister.

He has just declined an invitation to preside over a function. For that is the day when he has to be present with the Prime Minister at another event, he explains. “I’ll be there all day,” he tells the visitor, and then looks at me. “On that day, I have to focus on that event, and on nothing else. You know, he is such a perfectionist,” he says.

It is interesting to watch him from the sidelines. The member of Parliament from Gautam Budh Nagar, or Noida, in Uttar Pradesh is discussing an event with a group of men from the Gujjar community; it’s about laying the foundation stone of an archaeological institute in Greater Noida, which falls in his constituency.

“Don’t forget to add the Kashmir angle to this,” he tells his aides in Hindi while discussing the event.

Elections are round the corner in UP, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader is invoking nationalism. Kashmir and the Indian Army are subjects that the minister likes to hold forth on. He tells his visitors how Gujjars — Muslim shepherds of Kashmir — have helped the army by keeping an eye on infiltrators from Pakistan.

“Soniaji, aap jitne bhi badi editor ho jaayen, yeh general knowledge kahin nahi milega (however big a journalist you may become, you won’t get this bit of general knowledge anywhere),” he tells me.

“You know, Gujjars in Kashmir played a major role as informers for the army in our two wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1999 (Kargil),” he adds.

Clearly, for the BJP, it’s important to keep the nationalist flag flying — and the memory of Uri alive, the September 18 incident in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistani terrorists. In the run-up to the UP polls, the party
has placed huge billboards across various towns in the state, lauding the army’s surgical strikes which followed the Uri attack.

‘‘All national television channels were showing everything about the surgical strikes. These were not visible in UP alone. If people want to link them with the elections, let them,” he says.

His ministry is contemplating steps which may or may not be linked with the polls, depending on how you view them. Sharma announced a Ramayana museum project for Ayodhya. The town is also expected to be a part of the Ramayana circuit, one of three religious circuits to be promoted by his tourism ministry.

The BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP, Vinay Katiyar, who has been making disgruntled sounds of late, called the Ramayana project a pre-poll “lollipop”. Is that right, Mr Sharma?

“No, it’s purely tourism. We have been working on this for the past one year. We want to take tourism to new heights,” the 58-year-old minister maintains.

Sharma is an uncharacteristically reticent man, meeting journalists at any rate. He is chary of the media, which has often been critical of him. And that’s mainly because he courts controversy every time he opens his mouth. Not too long ago, he had addressed the visiting New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, as McCullum — the former skipper of the Kiwi cricket team.

Last year, he had the media zero in on him when he said that night outs for girls were not a part of Indian culture. Then again, he urged women foreign tourists not to wear short skirts if they wanted to stave off harassment.

Why does he make such comments, I ask him.

“That’s my subject, my ministry is like that,” he replies.

The hemline of skirts comes under the culture and tourism ministries?

“See, I clarified immediately [after the comment was made],” he adds. “Suppose you say that I abused you. Then someone asks me if I abused you, and I said, no, I did not. Then that chapter should be closed there.”

But he agrees to explain his stand once more. “I never said that girls should not do nights out. Whatever statement I made in the past, people made controversies out of them. I am not an expert in facing the media. I am a doctor by profession,” he says with a smile on his face.

Some would, however, say that Sharma suffers from a foot-in-mouth syndrome, I point out. “This could be somebody’s nature,” he admits.

It’s clear that Sharma is measuring his words. On some issues, he prefers not to comment. He will not react to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray’s demand that Karan Johar pay the army’s welfare fund Rs 5 crore as “penance” for signing up a Pakistani actor in his last film.

“Why should I comment on that,” Sharma asks. “If I say something, you will again say, I have a foot-in-mouth disease,” he says.

He won’t comment on self-styled cow vigilantes or gau rakshaks who have lynched Dalits for allegedly skinning dead cows. I prod him a little bit, and he responds. “No human being should be lynched — it’s to be condemned and stopped,” he says.

In that case, how is it that he paid homage to Ravin Sisodia, who was accused of lynching Mohammed Akhlaque in Dadri in 2015 for allegedly storing beef?

“You know, people have polluted minds,” Sharma says. “I am the member of Parliament from that area. Except me, nobody has the right to visit those places. And remember, he was an accused, not a convict. Also, there was a stress situation between locals and the police after his death. I went there to ease the tension.”

He points out that he also met Akhlaque’s family after he was killed. “I also got his injured son operated in my hospital,” he says, referring to Noida’s Kailash Hospital, which he owns. “I gave consent to his surgery at midnight. So as the MP, I did the right thing,” says Sharma, who had earlier called Akhlaque’s murder an accident.

As a minister, Sharma has often been in the eye of raging storms. It was reported in July that his ministry was grading writers and artistes in the country as “promising”, “outstanding” and “waiting”. His ministry is also pushing for the Rs 5-crore Kashi to Kashgar road project, proposed by the Archaeological Survey of India. This project seeks to retrace an ancient route that Buddhist missionaries took from Kashi to Kashgar in China’s Uyghur region.

Sharma has also come under periodic fire for replacing heads of government-run cultural institutes with people said to be handpicked by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He, however, insists that there is no concerted move to “saffronise” these institutes.

“Whenever a new Prime Minister comes, he has a vision on how these institutes should work. When I am entrusted with this responsibility by the PM, I ensure that all these organisations work for the cause for which they have been created. Their job is to showcase India’s rich heritage and culture for the country and the world,” he says.

And that didn’t happen earlier? “I won’t comment on how they worked earlier. But I don’t have a vision about throwing out the Left. All the institutes required some changes, so I made them,” he holds.

Sharma’s links with the RSS are known — and he is proud of them. “The RSS instilled the idea of ‘nation first’ in me.” He came in contact with the RSS just before he joined Delhi University’s University College of Medical Sciences.

Sharma says he always wanted to be a doctor. “When I was eight or nine, somebody in my village said that was a 25 paise coin inside a squirrel’s head. To know if that was true, I killed a squirrel,” he recounts.

“There were people who buried their children in the village. I, along with my friends, dug them out to study them. I
always had a medical bent of mind,” he says.

Sharma opens up — and he may well have put the foot back where it belongs with these gory details — only when he speaks about his childhood. But on matters of policy and governance, he has clearly decided that he is going to be circumspect when the media is around.

He says as much to a visitor who wants to discuss a proposal for a heritage reality show involving school children.
“I think, every child should know about the country’s rich heritage and culture. They should have a ‘country first’ feeling,” he tells her. “But when I say this, the media will write, dekho, bhagwakaran kar rahe hai (he is trying to saffronise them),” Sharma tells her, pointing to me.

It’s not easy being Mahesh Sharma. And it’s certainly not easy being a mediaperson with him.


1960s: Sharma spends his early years in Alwar, Rajasthan. While he is still in school, the family moves to Delhi and at 14, Sharma gets involved with the RSS. Joins ABVP eventually; completes the rest of his education
1983: Starts his career as a general physician in Noida. Later, establishes Kailash Healthcare Limited, a chain of hospitals in Uttar Pradesh
2009: Contests the 15th Lok Sabha elections on BJP ticket from Gautam Budh Nagar and loses. But in 2012, gets into the UP Assembly
2014: A week before Lok Sabha polls, the Congress candidate for Gautam Budh Nagar — Ramesh Chand Tomar — crosses over to the BJP. This tips the scales in Sharma’s favour. He wins and is inducted into the Union Cabinet
Given the portfolios of culture, tourism and civil aviation. Hogs headlines with his remarks about the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam — that he was a great man “despite being a Muslim” — and the need for a “cultural cleansing” of the country
2016: Announces bonanza of nine airports for UP. Manages to get the ministry to agree to build a second airport near Delhi, in Jewar. (Kailash Hospital in Jewar started functioning in 2015)
A day later, loses crown of junior civil aviation minister in Cabinet reshuffle. Bureaucrats describe him as a “big talker” always trying to hog the limelight


Sonia Sarkar travels to the benighted Bastar heartland and discovers a populace scalded by a rogue conflict between Maoists and proxy striking arms of the state. Her report

  • DEATH AIN’T NO WAY OF LIVING: Anita and Ramesh Mandavi at their home in Surnar village, Dantewada. Their brother, Kanki, was allegedly killed in a fake encounter in January this year; Pic: Sonia Sarkar

The two teenagers were inseparable. They danced together at village weddings, laughed together – and died together. They were near a stream, chatting the way they always did, when they were gunned down by a group of policemen.

“I saw the cops shooting them,” says 19-year-old Vanjam Hungla, another resident of Palamadgu village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district.

Sariyam Pojje and Vanjam Shanti fell to the ground. Hungla saw that. Pojje was still alive. “Then the cops shot her again,” Hungla says. “The bullet hit her stomach and her intestines popped out.” He could see a packet of tamarind chutney tied to her waist.

Hungla, detained by the police for 19 days after the killing, says he was asked to carry the bodies to the Polampally police station, 10 kilometres from where they were killed on January 30.

The police later said that the girls were Maoists: their names were added to the growing list of “Maoists killed in encounters” in Chhattisgarh.

The two teenagers, villagers say, were killed by constables of the ” arakshak police” or the District Reserve Guard (DRG). Most DRG members are surrendered Maoists. Some left the underground guerrilla group after being disillusioned by their ideology; some for a better life. Joining the DRG or the Gopniya Sainik (Secret Police) assures them of an income and perks.

“Some of them ate a roti and sat under a fan for the first time in their lives after joining the force,” says IG (Bastar range) S.R.P. Kalluri.

  • Divide and kill: File photograph of a District Reserve Guard team returning from an anti-Maoist operation

In the last two years, 123 former Maoists have joined the DRG. Villagers tell you that the DRG has the freedom to do what it wants. Homes are looted, villages burnt down, women raped and killed, men tortured and left to die. “They are not fighting Maoists, but the Adivasis (tribals),” says Somali Hemla, a 55-year-old Bijapur villager.

Hemla knows that well. Her 27-year-old son, Situ, was killed – allegedly by the DRG – in July.

“Situ was working in the fields when some 100 policemen dragged him to a nearby forest. He was nailed to a tree and shot,” Hemla recalls. “Later, we heard that the cops thought he was a Maoist commander who had the same name,” she says as she looks at a photograph of Situ, tears rolling down her gaunt cheeks.

Her youngest son, Paklu, 25, says he saw the men. “I recognised them. They were from our village.” He was picked up by the police and detained for over a month at the Gangaloor police station after Situ’s death.

His elder brother, Sukharam, 31, was charged with being a Maoist and has been in jail for 11 years. He was picked up by members of the proscribed civil militia group, Salwa Judum.

Salwa Judum is dead, but long live DRG. The former was disbanded in 2012, following orders from the Supreme Court. But the DRG has emerged from its ashes – and is seemingly serving the same purpose.

The 1,500-member DRG is the Chhattisgarh government’s way of dealing with Maoist-dominated Bastar. The force was set up in 2015, and emerged as a powerful body after its members were allowed to carry out search operations. The Central Reserve Police Force, too, has started recruiting tribals for a new force called the Bastariya Battalion.

Over the years, the Bastar police have hired villagers in different forms. Tribal members were encouraged to join as special police officers (SPOs), and then enroll in the Auxiliary Armed Forces. The joining rules – including educational and physical requirements – were tweaked to enable the government to recruit tribals. The SPO has since been disbanded.

The DRG, villagers believe, kills anyone thought to be linked to the Maoists. Villagers say that Pojje and Shanti used to attend meetings convened by Maoists, like many other villagers.

For many of the new DRG members, the job comes with the promise of protection. “I had no option but to join the force as police officials said I would get killed [by the Maoists or by the police itself] if I didn’t join them,” says a DRG constable. “It’s better to be here. At least, there is protection.”

There is also money. The government gives Maoists Rs 10,000 when they surrender. On being recruited as constables, they are paid Rs 20,000 a month. Some are sent for specialised arms training to the Counter Terrorism & Jungle Warfare College Kanker in Chhattisgarh, and a few to Mizoram’s Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School.

The police claim the new strategy is yielding results. Over 110 Maoists have been killed in anti-Maoists operations carried out by the DRG and the special task force (STF) so far this year – recording the highest number of deaths in the last 16 years.

“They know the terrain and topography well. They also know the Maoist hideouts,” Kalluri says.

This was the role that was given to the Salwa Judum, too. Set up in 2005, it is believed to have displaced over 1,50,000 people and killed 250 over seven years. Its demise led to the formation of new groups. The villagers allege that the names change, but the aim and execution remain the same.

In Jagdalpur, the district headquarters – where Kalluri’s close lieutenant, R.N. Dash, is the district superintendent of police – groups such as the Action Group for National Integration (AGNI), Police Friends, Police Natya Mandali and Jai Bastar Vikas Sangharsh Samiti have come up in recent times.

For the forces, the men’s knowledge of the terrain is all important. They can trek to the hilly and forested interiors with ease – something that the city police have difficulty doing.

Development has bypassed many of the villages, as has governance. The heads of most village panchayats live in the cities as they fear Maoist attacks. Villages such as Palamadgu and Koraiguda in Sukma are governed by a “Janatana Sarkar” – people’s government. Villagers say that the “Sarkar” repairs wells and distributes medicines. The two villages have freshly painted memorials for Maoists killed by the police.

Some villagers accuse the police of forcing them to join them. “They come for search operations and make us stand in a line. Then they ask, ‘Are you with us or with them’,” says Basuram Kuriam, a Dantewada villager. “I wish we could tell them that we are not with either.”

Sometimes, the villagers succeed in resisting the police. When constables from the Dhaudai police station asked young men of Narayanpur’s Sulenga to join them, the entire village opposed the move. “We asked them to first give us good roads, then to come to us for our boys. Now they don’t harass us anymore,” a villager says.

Mostly, however, villagers have little choice but to give in. And they allege that young men of their villages continue to be killed for no reason. That is what happened to Kanki Mandavi of Surnar village in Dantewada, they say. The 20-year-old deaf and mute man was picked up by the police from a market on January 26. A day later, he was killed with two Maoists, Bal Singh and Kosa, in an alleged encounter at the Turrempara-Lakhapal forest area.

“But Kanki had no links with the Maoists,” says his malaria-hit brother, Ramesh.

The world outside Bastar is taking note of these deaths. The Supreme Court in April slammed the state government for fake encounters. Top police officials also admit that there have been human rights violations. “In February, I wrote to the SPs to say that no police force is above the law,” says D.M. Awasthi, special director-general (Naxal Operation and Special Intelligence Bureau).

Some among the new recruits are troubled by the operations. “Perhaps I will join the Maoists again, if I get a chance,” says a surrendered Maoist, now in the DRG.

In Bastar, nothing changes.


The rise and fall of Salwa Judum

  • A civil militia started by the state government in 2005
  • Accused of raiding and burning down villages, torture, rape and murder
  • More than 250 people estimated to have been killed and 1,50,000 villagers displaced by the group over seven years
  • Was active in Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma districts
  • Top leaders — Mahendra Karma, Ajay Singh, Soyam Mukka, Chaitram Attami and Sukhdev Tati
  • In 2011, Supreme Court called it illegal and unconstitutional; asked the state to disband it
  • Disbanded in 2012


District Reserve Guard (DRG)

  • Operates under the superintendent of police of a district
  • Since 2015, surrendered Maoists have been encouraged to join the force because they know the terrain and Maoist hideouts
  • Some of them are trained in the Counter Terrorism & Jungle Warfare College Kanker, and a select few are sent to Mizoram’s Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School
  • Many members state that they joined the force for police protection

Other Vigilante groups aiding security forces

1. Action Group for National Integration (AGNI)
2. Police Friends
3. Tangia
4. Jai Bastar Vikas Sangharsh Samiti
5. Samajik Ekta Manch (recently disbanded)


  • Number of Maoists killed: 188
  • Number of surrendered Maoists: 1902
  • Number of surrendered Maoists who joined the DRG (2015-16): 53 
  • Number of surrendered Maoists who joined the Secret Police or Gopniya Sainik: 70
  • Number of Maoists camps raided by the police: 21

Police figures; from June 2014 to November 2016

List of alleged fake encounters in 2016

  • January 2016: 13 civilians killed in Pedda Jojod and Akwa in Bijapur, Palamadgu in Sukma, and Surnar in Dantewada
  • February 2016: Three civilians killed in Singaram, Itanapara and Chintagupa in Sukma
  • May 2016: Four civilians killed in Marjum in Dantewada and Kanaiguda in Sukma
  • June 2016: Madkam Hidme of Gompad in Sukma was picked up from her village, raped and killed by police. Chhattisgarh High Court later directed that the body be exhumed and a postmortem be conducted and videographed
  • July 2016: Teen undertrial killed in Chandometa in Bastar
  • September 2016: Two children killed in the Sanguel forests of Burgum

Figures and names given out by Maoist groups and villagers



Bastar police boss S.R.P. Kalluri reveals to Sonia Sarkar the symptoms of his troubled reputation

  • Illustration: Suman Choudhury

The mood changes palpably as the white car enters Jagdalpur Airport. Men in uniform straighten their spines; civilians are on their feet. An eerie silence descends on the helipad.

But the man who alights from the car looks surprisingly innocuous. Is this short and stout man, just about five feet tall, the one who is referred to as the terror of Bastar? I can’t believe it.

Neither can K. Sivarama Prasad Kalluri, the controversial inspector-general of police (IGP), Bastar Range, Chhattisgarh. “The people of Bastar love me,” says the 45-year-old officer in charge of the seven districts of Bastar, a Maoist hotbed.

Perhaps not all of them. Bastar villagers accuse Kalluri of unleashing men on them who torture, rape and terrorise them. They are behind fake encounters and forced surrenders, many villagers allege, Kalluri is fighting Adivasis, not the Maoists.

Not the villagers, Kalluri – a follower of Rajneesh, the late godman of Pune – counters. “It’s only people from Delhi such as Nandini Sundar who come to Bastar and spread negativity about me,” he says.

Kalluri brings in the Delhi University professor often into the conversation. Sundar and three others were booked by the Chhattisgarh police last week for the murder of a tribal, Shamnath Baghel, of Namapara in Soutenar village in Sukma district.

Baghel, a member of a local armed vigilante group called Tangia, had lodged a complaint in May against Sundar, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Archana Prasad, and political activists Vineet Tiwari and Sanjay Parate. According to Kalluri, Baghel had said that Sundar had threatened him, saying that if he didn’t stop his battle against the Maoists, they would kill him.

“Sundar will be investigated for this. We are going to make an issue out of this. But we are otherwise very busy,” Kalluri says when we meet in Jagdalpur on November 6.

But something doesn’t seem right. When Kalluri speaks about Sundar on Sunday, there has been no mention in the media about the murder charges against them. Yet, when the news breaks, it appears that the charges were filed on November 5, Saturday.

Baghel’s wife Vimala had delivered a baby boy on November 2. Baghel, who lived elsewhere with other Tangia members, visited her that day. He was killed two days later, at midnight, when he was sleeping at home, Kalluri says.

Four days later, Kalluri informs me over the phone that an FIR against Sundar and the others was lodged at the Tongpal police station on November 5, based on Vimala’s complaint. Vimala, however, later told a news channel that she had not named Sundar or the others in her complaint.

Further, it’s a distance of 14 kilometres or so from her house to the police station. Did she walk all the way right after giving birth to a baby, I ask him.

“How does that matter,” he retorts. “You’re insensitive, inhumane and uncivilised. You are not a court of law. Do you think I care for you? You are just a journalist like hundreds of others. You cannot interrogate me. From your question, I can make out that you are going to come up with a negative story. I care a damn for journalists like you, coming from outside and trying to play havoc with Bastar.”

He rants on for five minutes and 30 seconds. “Ask proper questions, be humane. Tribals are getting slaughtered because of remote control [actions] from JNU and DU. I will eliminate Maoism from Bastar, it’s my challenge. If you are sympathetic to the cause of tribals and democracy, I am willing to spend days and hours with you. If you want to write a negative story, don’t waste my time. Are these professors running terror camps in PoK or educating enlightened students? She threatens and the complainant gets killed, is this civilisation?”

He bangs the phone down.

Sundar, whose legal actions led to the ban on the government-led vigilante group, Salwa Judum, in 2011, is the Chhattisgarh police’s favourite bugbear. The 2010 Infosys Prize winner has often highlighted excesses committed by Kalluri’s forces. In May, she had filed a report about staged surrenders and mass arrests of tribals by the police. Her interventions also led the Central Bureau of Investigation to file a chargesheet against special police officers and Salwa Judum members for burning down 160 houses in Tadmetla in Dantewada district in 2011. Kalluri was then the senior superintendent of police (SSP) there.

Kalluri is a lot more effusive before I raise the issue of Vimala and infuriate him. I ask him if the chargesheet has come as a setback for him.

“I am working in full force, so where is the setback,” he asks. “Nandini Sundar and others will not be able to enter Bastar. People will stone them. They are on the run, and they are on the back foot. Strict legal action will be taken against anyone trying to tamper with our internal security. She has been inciting people to violence. They are inciting mutiny, a rebellion. They are all renegades,” he fumes.

The super cop has no time for people who talk about human rights violations. He himself has faced such allegations. In 2007, civil liberties groups in the state took up the case of Leda Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, who had accused Kalluri of killing her husband and then raping her inside the Shankargarh police station. Leda later withdrew her complaint before the Bilaspur high court, and the case was dismissed. There have been allegations against him relating to fake encounters and forced surrenders, too.

“So many commissions have been formed in these so-called fake cases (encounters) but, so far, all the allegations have been proved baseless,” he says.

Kalluri doesn’t care too much for “people from Delhi” who come to Chhattisgarh to talk or write about tribal issues. The phrase “you journalists from Delhi” figures often in his conversation. He tells his aides, “These journalists who come from Delhi think that Maoists are Robin Hood.”

The aides, including Jagdalpur superintendent of police, R.N. Dash, mill around him as we chat at the airport in the Bastar district headquarters (from where Kalluri is going to take a chopper). A 1994 batch IPS officer, Kalluri belongs to Andhra Pradesh, is a devotee of Lord Balaji, and sports an ash tilak prominently on his forehead. A constable brings him a glass of water. But Kalluri doesn’t want it. ” Hataao yahan se (remove it),” he shouts.

The civilians waiting for him are members of a civil vigilante group called the Action Group for National Integration (AGNI), created under his guidance. They are lawyers, teachers, doctors, trade unionists and Bharatiya Janata Party members. Some of them were with the disbanded group, Samajik Ekta Manch, which allegedly harassed activists and journalists in Jagdalpur.

“They are all nationalists who want to do something for the nation,” Kalluri stresses. “But there is a policeman in everyone.”

I find that I am not the only one taking down notes; an AGNI member is scribbling everything down furiously, too. He is a journalist, he says.

Kalluri uses the social media extensively to spread his messages. A day after we meet, he sends me on WhatsApp over 35 images, videos and newspaper clippings – some of which show him posing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Kalluri tells Modi will eradicate Maoists before the next election,” says the headline of one newspaper clipping.

He has the blessings of chief minister, Raman Singh, too. That’s the patent Kalluri style – staying close to power. (He was also known to be close, as Bilaspur SP, to Chhattisgarh’s first chief minister, Ajit Jogi.) These days he is seen as the current CM’s man. In 2009, he became the senior SP in Dantewada; in 2014, he was Bastar IG.

The cop measures his success in numbers. He talks about the appreciative letters he has received from the ministry of home affairs in Delhi. More than 110 Maoists have been killed so far this year – the highest number of casualties in 16 years. He has been encouraging surrendered rebels to join the District Reserve Guard (DRG), which has led to successful anti-Maoist operations.

“They (surrendered Maoists) are always after us, saying, ‘Sir, party nikaliye, operation jana hai (bring out a posse, we want to go on an operation),” Kalluri says.

What about allegations that DRG recruits have been killing innocent villagers in the operations? “The police fire only in self-defence,” he replies.

And then he elaborates, “It may appear that they are villagers but they are basically members of their frontal organisation, the People’s Liberation Army. When the man goes to a bazaar, he is a villager. But when the police run after him, he will pick up his bharmar (firearm) and fight.”

Human rights activists allege that Kalluri is pitting tribals against each other. “They are using villagers and we are equipping villagers to fight their own war,” he says. “We ask villagers, are you on this side or that?”

Kalluri insists that he has a humane face. Recently, he organised the wedding of former Maoists. “Sex is a biological instinct. So we tell them, if you want to join the mainstream, we will also see that you marry someone of your choice; we will pay for it. And we do it in a fabulous way,” he claims. “If someone’s marriage breaks, I am the first person to help them patch up. There is lot of love and hard work in it,” he says.

He is getting ready now to board the helicopter, accompanied by Dash and AGNI members. He is going to Burgum, 72 kilometres from Jagdalpur, to meet villagers. “We want to leave behind a legacy,” he tells me. “In two years, Bastar will become a heaven.”

I can already hear the harps playing.


2000: Kalluri, a 1994 batch IPS officer from Andhra Pradesh, opts for the Chhattisgarh cadre
He is posted as SP in northern Chhattisgarh. Is credited with decimating Maoist legions in Surguja district
Efficiency apart, he also comes to be known as a ruthless figure. In 2007, Leda Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, accuses him of killing her husband and then raping her when she tried to get legal help
2011: During his tenure as SSP Dantewada, three villages are burnt down allegedly on his orders. Uproar follows. Judicial enquiry is ordered and Kalluri is transferred
2013: He is conferred the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service despite criticism by civil rights activists
2014: The Chhattisgarh government appoints him IG of Bastar Range to battle Maoists. Kalluri’s hot-pursuit targets include social activists, academicians and journalists

It’s not just Kangana and Anushka; this story has gone from reel to real. Across Haryana, young women are breaking stereotypes and claiming their place in the world. On the eve of its birthday, Sonia Sarkar travelled across the state to get a feel of their feisty rebellion. Photographs by Rajesh Kumar and Prem Singh

  • MIRROR MIRROR: Students of Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya see the change in themselves and like it too

Veil over her face, Babli Moudgil kickstarts her scooter parked in a muddy by-lane of Bibipur village in Haryana’s Jind. The day’s work is done, and she is on her way back home.

Moudgil is a busy woman. She owns the sole Montessori school in her village and wants to open a tuition centre there. The once shy bahu is fast becoming an entrepreneur.

“I always wanted to do something on my own. This school has given me my identity,” Moudgil, 28, says. The school was once the family cowshed.

In Panipat, some 70 kilometres away, Renu Pawar, 23, is home from Mumbai, where she worked for six months with Bollywood fashion designer Anjali Jani. Her land-owning family, she recounts, wasn’t happy with her career option.

“There was opposition at home for two years. But I followed my heart,” she says.

A quiet revolution is unfolding in Haryana. Its women, at the wrong end of most things for the longest time, have determined to right them, and though they still lag behind and the battle will be long, they are breaking old moulds and crafting new roles for themselves.

It isn’t as if Haryanvi women haven’t made a name for themselves – take mountaineer Santosh Yadav, model Pamela Singh, actress Mallika Sherawat and politician Kumari Selja, to name just a few. But they came far and few between. Haryana – with a 2001 sex ratio of 861 to 1,000 men, way below the national average of 933 – was seen as the one of the worst states where a woman could be. Domestic violence was rampant, female foeticide a serious problem and honour killings rife.

But in January this year, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar told the media that in 2015, 12 districts had recorded a 900+ sex ratio. Sirsa – where the ratio was 882 in 2001 and 897 in 2011 – topped the list with 999 to 1,000 boys.

Journeys into the heart of Haryana underline the emergence of women in different ways. Single and married women – from families of landlords, farmers or landless labourers – are studying in colleges, riding scooters, walking the ramp, setting up businesses and choosing careers that they and their families would once have baulked at. In June this year, 47 female sarpanches and anganwadi workers vowed to say no to the ghunghat; they are meant to effect the pledge starting November.

The change didn’t happen overnight. One of the earliest measures that has today borne fruit is the reservation of seats for women in panchayats. The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993 had initially led to men ruling on behalf of women. But now, more and more women are in control over decisions such as roads, health centres and schools.

Successive state governments have done their bit, too. Over the years, 35 colleges and a university with hostel facilities exclusively for women have come up. The cost of land and property registration for women has been lowered, all-woman police stations have been opened and roads and highways developed, helping women travel with greater ease for education or work.

And the men, for long seen as die-hard patriarchs who did not want their daughters or wives to work outside their homes, are happy because there is money coming in.

“The role of women in Haryana has changed from that of a receiver to a provider,” says social scientist Prem Chowdhury, whose research work has focused on Haryana women.

Villagers point out that men now want their women to study. “Even fathers-in-law come to us and say that they want to invest a few lakhs of rupees in the education of their bahus. And they hope that their degrees will get them good jobs,” says Kavita Chakravarty, registrar of Sonipat’s Bhagat Phool Singh (BPS) Mahila Vishwavidyalaya.

Economic reasons, clearly, have prompted families to embrace change. As in many states, land holdings have decreased with the growth of families. But Haryana witnessed another development – the sale of land to developers because of its proximity to Delhi and the National Capital Region. Old timers point out that a great many people made money, but frittered it away over the years. And women stepped in to help families survive and picked up the reins.

“I tell my parents what is right and what is wrong. They listen to me,” says Jhajjar’s Poonam Rajput, an MPhil student at Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU).

Education, the young women stress, has elevated their social status. MDU’s Aruna Sangwan, who is doing her Masters in defence and strategic studies, points out that she was asked by their pradhan to hoist the Indian flag on Independence Day at a local school, because she was the most educated woman in the village. “That was truly the proudest moment of my life,” Sangwan, 24, says.

Haryana’s new generation of women believe that education gives them careers – and helps them leave stifling homes. “They would never get at home the kind of freedom they get on a campus. Education helps them step out,” says Sunit Mukherjee, MDU’s public relations officer.

Chowdhury points out that a 2011 UN survey shows that women in Haryana want property, education and jobs. That seems to be the mantra in BPS. Computer science student Roshni Saini talks about working abroad. “I have told my parents that my aim is not to get married but to go abroad and work,” she says.

The students narrate their own little stories of triumphs. BPS student Shweta Bura recalls how, at a recent wedding, a young man touched her arm and said, “Soft hai (it’s soft).” It’s also tight, she said, and slapped him. “After that, he didn’t dare to come near me,” Bura laughs.

Changes in law – and media focus on law breakers – may have made a difference to the way men perceive women. Nihal Singh, a former pradhan of Mundhal village, admits that there was a time when men hit their daughters-in-law if they were late carrying lunch to the fields. “Now we don’t even talk to them rudely because they might just complain to the police,” he says.

More and more women are approaching the police. The rise in reporting of domestic violence – up from 3,504 cases in 2008 to 7,393 in 2015 – is attributed to rising awareness. “Women now report cases of marital and domestic violence,” says Renu S. Phulia, women and child development director .

Bollywood is mirroring some of these changes. Kangana Ranaut’s bawdy-butch act in Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Anushka Sharma’s bellicose wrestler in Sultan portray the new Haryanvi woman – self-willed, unafraid. The forthcoming Aamir Khan release Dangalcaptures the real life story of a father in Haryana and his wrestler daughters.

But Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, who is from Rohtak, stresses that it’s not an easy path for women to take.

“I have asked so many parents to send their daughters for training. But they ask me how long it will take. I tell them that it took me 12 years to prove myself, that one cannot be a champion overnight. But they don’t understand that,” Malik says.

For every success story, there are numerous tales of women who can’t step out of their homes or who face censure. “I cannot wear jeans or use a mobile phone after 9pm because my brother objects,” says Sweety Bharadwaj, a graduate in German language .

In many rural areas, women still wear a ghunghat in front of men and elders. Old conventions – that they cannot sit on the edge of a cot if a man’s head rests on it – are followed in most homes. Women who go out to study or work have to first finish house work – including taking care of cattle.

Moudgil recalls that 10 years ago, when she told her mother-in-law that she wanted to study further, she’d replied: Who will then make cow dung cakes at home? “I told her, I’ll do that, and I will study.” Moudgil, who went on to complete a teachers’ training course and an MA in Hindi, today earns Rs 60,000 a month.

The entrance to her village – which grabbed the attention of the media with its “Selfie with daughter” contest last year – is called Lado Marg, lado being the local word for girl. But the village sarpanch, Deepika Sahu, cannot say a word in front of her mother-in-law.

Sahu looks silently at her four-year-old son, dressed in a T-shirt that says “Boys will be boys”, when asked about her plans for women in the village. He will do what has to be done, the mother-in-law says from the kitchen, referring to her husband, a former sarpanch.

The gender imbalance is most evident in the Muslim dominated areas of Mewat and Pataudi, where few women go for higher studies. In H.L.G. Government College in Tauru, Mewat, of the 103 women students, only four are Muslim.

But there are a few good news stories coming in from Mewat, too. Village Nimkheda elected India’s first all-woman panchayat in 2005. And the people of Dulawat speak highly of Ruby Khan, the first woman in the village to have studied in a college. She is now a nurse in a top hospital in Delhi.

Perhaps the time has come for Sahu’s small son to sport a slogan that says: Boys would rather be girls.

  • Haryana has 35 colleges and a university just for women. Students of Maharshi Dayanand University

  • Babli Moudgil of Bibipur, Jind, has turned a family cowshed into a Montessori school

  • Roshni Saini (front) is studying computer science. She wants to work abroad

  • Not all Haryanvi women continue to bear the traditional burden of the family

The 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy followed a gruelling schedule. Before dropping the papers at every doorstep in his Boston neighbourhood, he would sit under a street lamp and read them. So, years later, when Walter V. Robinson, that newspaper boy, joined the Boston Globe as an intern — and then worked his way up from a political reporter and metro editor to foreign correspondent reporting from 30 countries — he already knew what news was all about. Robinson won global fame in 2001-2002, when, as the head of the paper’s investigation team, Spotlight, he and his team exposed a rampant child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer for the expose, which became the theme for Tom McCarthy’s 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight.
At 70, Robinson, played by Michael Keaton in the film, isn’t done with investigative reporting. ‘Like you, I am still eager 

to be the first to find out what’s happening,’ Robinson told Sonia Sarkar on the sidelines of Uncovering Asia, a conference on investigative journalism in Kathmandu that both attended last month. Excerpts from their conversation:
Q. How accurately did the film capture the investigation done by your team?
A. There were fears that a Hollywood film would sensationalise the work we’d done. But it didn’t. The director’s team did extensive research. They spoke to us several times. We gave them papers supporting our investigation, which they too investigated. And then they made the film. Tom McCarthy is a wonderful filmmaker. Next time you plan to do any investigation, call me and I will put you in touch with him. He will do the investigation for you in two hours. (Laughs)
Q. Do you think the film will encourage victims of sexual abuse in other parts of the world to speak up?
A. Spotlight opened in the United States last November. In January, it had a staggering opening around the world. With each opening, our email inboxes were flooded with messages of victims from across the world — France, Italy, South Korea, Australia and India. They were victims of sexual abuse by heads of other religious institutions too, not just the Church.
Q. What message does the film have for journalists?
A. Spotlight speaks to us all, as journalists. And it speaks for us all. It is about what we all do — journalism that makes a difference. Spotlight is for editors to revisit their decisions, to start doing investigative 

reporting because we cannot do without it.
Q. How did your investigation start?
A. In July 2001, the Boston Globe editor, Martin Baron (portrayed by Liev Schreiber in the film), was pursuing a column on lawsuits pertaining to a priest who was allegedly involved in sexual abuse. When he learnt that the judge had sealed the court records to prevent the personal records of the priest from going public, he asked the paper’s Spotlight team to investigate. That was it: investigate one priest. We called everyone who knew anything about him and sexual harassment of children. And we realised that it was just the tip of a large iceberg. We got to know about sexual harassment by a dozen priests. That changed the course of the story. A dozen priests turned out to be 87 and then 135 and then 175… and finally, just in Boston, 249 priests.
Q. What was the impact of your investigation?
A. Our phones rang constantly. There were calls from victims. It forced Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up years of sexual abuse by paedophile priests, to resign as the archbishop of Boston in 2002. But we also got calls from conservative Catholics who were angry at the church. They thanked us as they were empowered by the truth that a powerful institution which survived on secrecy, deception and corruption had lost all that they had because of our report.
Q. Do you think many religious institutions worldwide are up to something that needs to be probed?
A. Yes, that’s likely. Any large rock that’s not been turned over and looked at is likely to have something underneath. We forget that religious institutions are run by ordinary mortals who make horrible decisions. The Church in America was the most iconic institution for everyone. And for too many years, reporters never asked them any tough question.
Q. Reporters in this age of digital and mobile journalism — where quantity overrides quality — do not get enough time to investigate stories…
A. I think editors need to pay attention to the fact that readers want investigative reporting. 

In many newspapers, reporters who want to do investigative reporting do it in their own time. That’s a shame.

A still from Spotlight

Q. Do you think the Internet and social media have made reporters lazy?
A. They are not lazy but they forget. Since they are flooded with so much information, they forget to pursue good stories. They forget to meet people face to face. People won’t tell reporters stories unless they look into their eyes and they feel that they can trust them. That’s one component of reporting that has suffered with the proliferation of the Internet and social media.
Q. Does serious investigative journalism have a future in the US?
A. In the US, we have a free press. Yet someday we may be free but we may not have the press. We may have freedom to do investigative reporting but we may not have reporters to do that. Often, editors think investigative reporting is a luxury. Newspapers are in perpetual financial trouble and therefore investigative reporting is not encouraged. It’s a fundamental mistake made by the newspapers because readers rank investigative reporting high in all surveys. Even if there is information about corruption, there is barely anybody probing it. That’s really a serious problem for our democracy right now.
Q. Some fear that if the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is elected President, freedom of the press will be compromised. What do you think?
A. He would like to do that. But he doesn’t know that we have a Constitution. He hasn’t read it. He doesn’t know that the Supreme Court has spoken a lot on libel to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press, so he cannot do a thing.
Q. What are your tips for investigative journalists?
A. Never take “NO” for an answer. If somebody says, they don’t want to tell you something, go ask their friends, their resources. Exhaust all possible resources. Basically don’t give up on any story. Never take NO from your editors either. But you have to be a little subversive with them. Also, reporters must pursue stories of national significance. Look for the big picture.
Q. After so many years, are you satisfied with your work as a journalist?
A. No, I am always trying to find out what others cannot. I always like to know what’s there behind official explanations. I am always chasing those stories that people do not want us to know. I am never satisfied with the official version.

Sonia Sarkar reports the struggle theatre artistes are having to wage to keep the stage clear of scissor-happy censors

If you love your theatre, this may come as a surprise to you. Theatre goers, says the censor board of Maharashtra, only want to see “good things” being staged.

“We are not going to issue certificates to plays which show problems faced by the people,” says Arun Nalawade, chairman of the Maharashtra Rangbhoomi Parinirikshan Mandal. “People want to watch only good things. Playwrights must understand that,” adds the head of the board that is currently vetting a dozen scripts on the recent incidents of assaults on Dalits by cow vigilantes.

Not surprisingly, cinema and theatre veteran Amol Palekar has moved court. Earlier this week, Palekar filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the pre-censorship of scripts, calling it a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Playwright Premanand Gajvee knows that well. Earlier this year, the board refused to pass his play Chhavani, calling it “unconstitutional”. The play questioned social inequality in the country against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement.

“They sat on my script for a year-and-a-half but never explained to me what was so ‘unconstitutional’ in the script,” says Gajvee, who finally got permission this month to stage the play.

There are examples galore in Maharashtra. The censor board demanded 10 cuts in Janardhan Jadhav’s Marathi play Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat, which depicted an imagined conversation among B.R. Ambedkar, M.K. Gandhi and a Dalit activist. Playwrights complain that the board asks for arbitrary cuts, sometimes issues an “A” certificate for plays with no adult content or just junks a script without citing reasons.

“We think a hundred times before writing a script because we know we will be harassed by the censor board if we don’t listen to their dos and don’ts. If we continue to do this for long, our artistic genius will die. It’s about time we fight for our rights legally,” says Gajvee. Palekar, he adds, had consulted him before moving court.

But theatre censorship is not restricted to Maharashtra. Gujarat, like Maharashtra, has a censor board for plays. Soon after the post-Godhra riots of 2002, theatre man Roysten Abel sought to stage The Spirit of Anne Frank, a story set in a train carrying passengers to Baroda. But the board asked for 90 cuts before it could be staged in Ahmedabad. The director defied the order and staged the play without the cuts.

Similar complaints are voiced by playwrights and directors in other states. In places such as Delhi, scripts are vetted by the police – and this system poses its own problems. “In 2005, when we were doing a play called Mr Jinnah (on Muhammad Ali Jinnah), breaking the myths about him, we were told by the police that we could not stage it because it glorified Jinnah,” director Arvind Gaur of Asmita Theatre says.

Directors hold that the censors get worried if a play goes against what is largely seen as a social norm. If in the 70s, Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder was banned because it revolved around a man who brought home castaway wives of other men, in 2016, Marathi playwright and director Bindumadhav Khire ran into trouble because his plays Fredy and Purushottam dealt with gender issues.

“The board objected to three lines and two cuss words which I used in Purushottam, about a same-sex couple. For Fredy, a black comedy about masculinity in Bollywood, the board suggested 14 cuts,” Khire points out.

Dancer-director Mallika Sarabhai believes that often there is no logic to the censors’ demands. She was asked to delete the word “shit” in a play on manual scavengers, titled Unsuni.

“How can you tell the story of a manual scavenger without using this word,” Sarabhai asks.

Of course, censorship is not new to theatre. Way back in 1876, Dinabandhu Mitra’s play Neel Darpan, about the revolt of indigo farmers in Bengal, was described by the British as “scurrilous”, leading to the enactment of a law.

The conflict between administrations and dramatists carried on over the years. Theatre icon Utpal Dutt was arrested by the Congress government in Bengal because it feared that his 1965 play Kallol – on the 1946 naval uprising – would spark anti-Congress protests. Dutt “cleverly used the historical context to mask his political intent,” writes Arnab Banerji of the University of Georgia in a paper titled Rehearsals for a revolution: The Political Theater of Utpal Dutt.

Bengal’s theatre also witnessed censorship during the Left Front regime. Hooligans backed by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) often disrupted shows of plays that took on the government. Liberal voices have been gagged in the Trinamul Congress’s Bengal, too.

“The Trinamul went a step ahead and created its own theatre group, Natya Sajan (now disbanded), which controlled the theatre scene. No invitations were sent to theatre artistes who didn’t subscribe to the party’s ideology to perform in festivals. These artistes would also never get an auditorium for their plays,” theatre group Swapnasandhani’s director Koushik Sen says.

Political plays have often borne the brunt of an administration’s ire. Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghasiram Kotwal was banned in 1972 because the play looked at the rise of the Shiv Sena. In 2009, when Gajvee produced Gandhi-Ambedkar, where he sought to present the differences between the two leaders on caste, the censor board suggested 60 cuts.
Artistes often have to deal with religious and cultural groups, too. In 2003, some Hindutva groups objected to Habib Tanvir’s Jamadarin urf Ponga Pandit which dealt with issues such as the caste system and superstition.


But, clearly, what makes theatre relevant is that directors and writers refuse to buckle under pressure. “I will soon present a play called Gandhi @ The saffron brigade will create problems but nothing can stop me,” says Gaur.
The show, as they say, must go on.

Link of the story published in The Telegraph, September 25, 2016 (

Returning to Bangladesh is like going away to find myself home


DHAKA IS a bit like Calcutta – noisy, chaotic. I connect the Bangladesh capital with traffic jams and those cage-like green auto-rickshaws that give new meaning to claustrophobia. But this time, as I leave the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport behind, on my way to Banani in the north of Dhaka, I cut through an eerie silence.

The city is a ghost town. The autos are missing, and there are no crippling gridlocks. A festival is around the corner, but there is little sign of the joyousness that comes with Eid.

Dhaka is observing a two-day national mourning to pay homage to those killed in a terror attack in an upmarket cafeteria. I land there three days after the attack that killed 20 people, most of them foreigners, in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone, Gulshan.

Chaos on the roads is a sign of normal life in Dhaka; calm indicates that not all is well. When I visited Dhaka for the first time in 2011, all was well: the city was loud and messy. I was on my way there from Jessore – and was surprised to see towering buildings, flyovers and glitzy malls in the capital. Jessore, on the other hand, was the archetypal sleepy town.

Jessore is an hour’s drive from Benapole, the Bangladesh border town which is commonly used as a crossover between Dhaka and Calcutta. I was there to chase a story on child carriers who illegally ferried sugar, urea, bicycles, cough syrups and even country-made pistols to Bangladesh from India.

Unlike Dhaka, there was no “rush hour” in Jessore. There were no newly-paved footpaths or highrises either. There was a time when Jessore had the biggest cinema hall of Bangladesh. But Monihar had been overtaken by multiplexes elsewhere. Jessore, however, now boasts of a technology park, multi-cuisine restaurants and malls.

It is also a treasure trove of heritage. The Jessore Institute Public Library, established in 1851, is Bangladesh’s oldest and largest library, with a huge collection of books, manuscripts, journals and newspapers. And you can’t go to Jessore and not see the massive sculpture called Bijoy, at the Michael Madhusudan Memorial College campus, dedicated to the martyrs of the Bangladesh War of Liberation of 1971.

Going to Jessore was like going home – albeit a home I had never visited. Jessore is the place my ancestors came from. For years, I held up the flag of “Opaar Bangla” and participated in various Bangal vs Ghoti debates, where I left no stone unturned to make the former look superior in every respect (knowledge, food, hospitality and much more) to the latter. So when I reached Jessore, it was like a dream come true – I was in the place that I belonged to. Like a true Bangal, I told myself, ” Aah, amago dash.”

My paternal grandfather, Adhir Kumar Sarkar, a timber merchant, lived in a sprawling two-storey house with long white columns, overlooking a thakur dalan (where the deity was kept for daily worship), in the erstwhile Khashial village in Jessore. Several acres of rice fields surrounded the house, we were told. Middle-aged Nakuruddin Mia used to look after the fields when grandfather shifted his base partially to Calcutta in the late 30s. Even though he visited Khashial at regular intervals, the visits during the Durga Puja were special for the family: gatherings, lunch, new clothes, entertainment, celebrations.

My efforts to locate Khashial were in vain. The village doesn’t exist anymore, I was told. But I traced my roots partially to the ancestral house of the Bengali poet and father of the Bengali sonnet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. At his house-turned-museum in Sagordari, I came across a signboard of the Jessore and Khulna Co-operative Bank, which had an office in the complex. My grandfather was a member of the board. I felt like an achiever to have partially traced the past.

The spiral staircases of the house took me to the room on the first floor, whose walls were plastered with photographs of Dutt, his poems and even some of his answer scripts. At the entrance of his house was his epitaph, a verse of his own. A few days before his death on June 29, 1873, Dutt gave the verse to Debaki, who, some historians say, was romantically interested in him. It read:

“…On the bosom of the earth,

Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep

Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas.”

These words rang in my ears for days.

As I touch the soil of Bangladesh once again this June, I wonder how life would have been if my grandfather had chosen to stay back, like many other Bengali Hindu families. But the thought doesn’t stay with me for long as I quickly recall the words of a Hindu friend from Dhaka: ” Din kaal bhalo na, bujhla. Amra khub bhoye thaktesi” – these are not good times, we live in fear.

Indeed, attacks on Hindus – bloggers, priests and activists – by Islamic radicals are rampant in Bangladesh these days. The social fabric of Bangladesh is changing. Young men from elite families are joining terror outfits. The other sign of radicalisation is the use of veils by women. Hijab or burqa is not mandatory in Bangladesh, yet more and more women are wearing one these days. An old timer of Dhaka tells me, “Even some years ago, if a woman from the relatively conservative part of old Dhaka stepped out of her house in a burqa, the local urchins would tease her with the words ‘Burqe wali bua, tere burqe mein chuha’ (There is a mouse in your burqa, aunt).”

But I decide that for my grandfather’s sake, I will always celebrate Bangladesh. I leave for India after a special Eid meal at my friend’s place. The taste of the shorshe ilish – mustard hilsa – and maachch chorchori – a mix of various kinds of fish – stays with me long after I return home.

    • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
    • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
    • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...