By Sonia Sarkar

Maneesh Kasera was a smoker for 28 years. Two years ago, he made the first attempt to quit smoking. He tried nicotine gums — a kind of chewing gum that delivers nicotine to the body — for a day or two but nothing could wean him away from cigarettes. Finally, he tried e-cigarettes.

Nicotine is the stimulant drug in regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. E-cigarettes, which are also called e-cigs, vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), run on vape juice or e-liquids, which are a mix of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavour compounds and nicotine. Says Kasera, “Here, you just make clouds of vapour; there is no smoke. When I tried these e-cigarettes, I didn’t feel the burn as I used to while smoking cigarettes. I got hooked to them.”

Like Kasera, many Indians are vaping — the term for using e-cigarettes. But the recent advisory from the Indian government to ban e-cigarettes has thrown vapers or e-cigarette smokers into a tizzy.

The international lobby of vapers is also worried. And why not? After all, India is the third largest tobacco producer and the second largest consumer of tobacco worldwide. With 12 crore smokers in India, the vaping industry does have a promising future here. While the global e-cigarette industry is worth $10 billion, according to data and analytics company, Global Data, India’s e-cigarette market is poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 34 per cent from Rs 4.1 billion in 2017 to Rs 7.4 billion in 2019.

Recently, a group of doctors and lawyers from the West came to India to understand the growth possibilities of the vaping industry, the new advisory notwithstanding. They also sought meetings with medical practitioners, public health policy advocates, e-cigarette dealers and media to popularise the idea that e-cigarette is a safer alternative as this is only a method of “harm reduction” for nicotine addicts.

Vapers say that post the big switch, a lot of health issues usually brought on by smoking — such as the morning cough, breathing problems, sleep disorders and loss of appetite — disappear.

They blame the anti e-cigarette advisory on the strong tobacco lobby, calling it the handiwork of prominent politicians from Andhra Pradesh — one of the top tobacco-producing states — who represent tobacco farmers. This lobby, it seems, has stalled many reforms and policies at a nascent stage.

In 2014, a government committee had recommended plain packaging of cigarettes, which aims to remove association of brands and in the process, discourages brand advertising; it invited feedback from people on it but nothing happened. And now the government is up in arms against e-cigarettes. It alleges that schoolchildren are getting hooked to e-cigarettes to look “cool”, but thereafter it becomes an addiction. In the United States, vaping has graduated from being a trend to a social phenomenon among school and college students, the government argues.

Delhi-based Abhimanyoo Khatri says, “It isn’t an addiction. I’ve restricted myself to no nicotine liquids. I can comfortably live without vaping for 10 days, this after vaping for three years.”

But doctors involved in tobacco control programmes in India feel the nicotine content in e-cigarettes is equally or more harmful. According to S.K. Arora, the tobacco control officer of the Delhi government, the average nicotine content of a cigarette is around 5-7 milligram, while in e-liquids, the nicotine content is between 32 and 59 mg per millilitre, depending on the brand. “How can one advocate a product like this?” he asks.

Arora clarifies that he is no advocate of tobacco smoking but is comparing the two products in order to give an idea of the extent of harm each can cause.

The vaping lobby argues that in cigarettes, it is combustion and not the nicotine that causes harm. Canada-based public health policy lawyer David Sweanor, who has been working for 35 years in anti-smoking campaigns, says, “Over 20,000 people die every day worldwide from smoking cigarettes. We know what’s causing the disease in the case of cigarettes but it’s not present in vaping. The nicotine is not the problem, the drug delivery system is. And now we have technology wherein nicotine can be delivered without smoke. In a country like India, where there are so many tobacco users, there is an enormous potential for risk reduction by substituting cigarettes with less hazardous products,” he says.

The Royal College of Physicians in the UK, in its 2016 report titled “Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction”, concludes: “Experience to date suggests that, as predicted in principle in the 2007 report, the availability of e-cigarettes has been beneficial to UK public health.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has a counter-argument. It says e-cigarettes produce aerosol by heating a liquid that contains nicotine along with flavourings and other chemicals. It argues that acute nicotine exposure can be toxic to non-smokers. Nicotine from the aerosol or the liquid can remain on all surfaces for weeks and months, and may react with ambient nitrous acid to produce potent carcinogens — leading to inhalation or ingestion of and dermal exposure to carcinogens.

Vapers in India have been talking about the need for consumer awareness about e-liquids. There are over 100 small and medium e-liquid dealers in India who sell high-end imported devices and consumables from China, Malaysia, the US. Vape juice varieties such as Naked, Vape Dinner Lady and Nasty are available online for Rs 400 to Rs 1,500 for a 60/100ml bottle depending on flavour and brand. Certain desi vape juices are available at Rs 40 for 10ml.

A vape juice dealer, who did not want to be identified, tells The Telegraph that Indian suppliers are not equipped to meet the growing domestic demand. “When I started the business two years ago, we used to get an order or two. Now it has increased to at least six a day. The annual turnover is close to Rs 90 lakh.” 

Spotting the growing demand, domestic tobacco players such as ITC Ltd and GPI Ltd have also jumped into the fray.

Bangalore-based Imran Saleem, who produces the e-liquid in his lab in Hyderabad, has an annual turnover of over Rs 1.3 crore. Some of the popular flavours are tobacco, strawberry, mango, mint and cheesecake.

Calcutta-based Kasera, who is also an e-cigarette dealer, complains that one cannot advertise these products openly because there is a fear of being harassed by government agencies. The Delhi government withheld permission to the Vape Expo India 2017.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2017, since 2010, there has been a comparative reduction of 33 per cent in tobacco consumption among 15 to 24-year-olds and a 54 per cent reduction among 15 to 17-year olds. Doctors, however, are far from convinced.

Says Arora, “Even after such a long-driven anti-tobacco control programme in India, we couldn’t achieve the desired results because of tobacco industry interference backed by influential people at various levels. We don’t want a market for e-cigarettes now.”

There are others who believe the anti-tobacco lobbyists, including NGOs and state agencies, who receive funds from places such as the US-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, are only creating a myth around e-cigarettes for vested interests.

Vapers, in the meantime, want regulated sales of ENDS to ensure that quality products are sold in India. Says Kasera, “No quality control is bad as the market for genuine e-liquid sellers is being affected. Low-quality products are now available even in a paan shop.” He adds, “It is important to regulate in terms of quality, nicotine content, expiry dates, etc. Complete ban is not the solution.”

The Telegraph, November 10, 2018


Villages lie under the shadow of violence unleashed not only by Maoists but also by the state forces 

By Sonia Sarkar

  • Published 8.11.18, 7:39 AMBastar goes to polls this autumn, untouched by chief minister Raman Singh's promises.

Autumn is the most fascinating time of the year in Bastar. The earthy smell in the soft morning breeze instils a sense of belonging to the forest. The sound of the soft crunch of dry sal leaves beneath the shoes breaks the silence in the woods and entices one to walk a few more miles into the dense jungle. The sunlight piercing through the tall teak trees gives a ray of hope, as if promising a brighter day ahead.

Even as Bastar goes to polls this autumn, the chief minister, Raman Singh, is busy making new promises. At election rallies, in a self-aggrandizing tone, he roars,“Vikas kiya hai, Vikas karenge (I have done developmental work, I will continue to do so).” He claims that development will bring people closer to the mainstream, especially in the Maoist-dominated districts of Dantewada, Kanker, Bastar, Bijapur, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Sukma.

Development is, of course, visible in his state. Highways have been constructed. Fancy bus stops that flaunt stainless steel seats have been built on the highways with gigantic photographs of Narendra Modi and Raman Singh on display. Townships have been coming up. Private steel and thermal power plants have been allotted tribal land to set up production units. Electricity poles are standing tall in most parts of the state. But how much of this development has touched the lives of the populace of the benighted Bastar heartland scalded by a rogue conflict between Maoists and the State? This is the big question.

Raman Singh claims that development will bring people closer to the mainstream, especially in the Maoist-dominated districts.

Raman Singh claims that development will bring people closer to the mainstream, especially in the Maoist-dominated districts. The Telegraph file picture

You will find the answer only when you travel into the interiors of villages, crossing undulating jungles and trekking on the kutcha roads. The words, ‘development’ and ‘welfare’, have no meaning for these people living on the margins. For example, the government has started ‘Dial 108’ for emergency ambulance service but the people of Palnar in Bijapur still have to walk over 10 kilometres to reach the nearest government hospital in Gangaloor for medical aid. Primary schools in most villages are lying vacant after getting embroiled in the State versus Maoist violence. Some of them have been reopened in dilapidated buildings but the teachers — they come from other parts of state — do not understand Halbi or Gondi, the languages spoken by the local students. Panchayat heads are missing from most villages; they live in nearby towns fearing Maoist attacks. Villagers of Handawada in Abujmarh walk through broken roads covering 45 kilometres for two days to reach the weekly market in Orchha.

Even though the state’s development initiatives have not reached these villages, its brutal forces have. In these Maoist-dominated areas, homes are looted, villages burnt down, women raped and killed and men tortured, not just by the Maoists but also by the State forces suspecting tribals to be loyal towards the rebels. Instances of security forces dragging men out of their hamlets and crucifying them to trees before shooting them are apparently not rare. Jails in Jagdalpur and Kanker are overcrowded with tribal people, slapped with false charges of aiding the Maoists. The government has also formed civil society groups such as Tangiya and Jai Bastar Vikas Sangharsh Samiti in order to pit tribals against one another. Villagers who had left rebel ranks long ago to live a ‘normal’ life are randomly caught and allegedly forced to surrender as ‘Maoists’ by the police to claim ‘success in anti-Maoist operations’. In many cases, while conducting search operations, the police make the men stand in line and ask, ‘Are you with us or with them [Maoists]?’ The tribal people wonder if the government is fighting the Maoists or the indigenous people of the state.

In the last phase of his 15-year rule, Singh claims he has largely focused on the “growth” of the youth comprising 65 per cent of the electorate in the state. He has opened livelihood colleges and made skill development an enforceable entitlement for youths under the Chhattisgarh Right of Youth to Skill Development Act, 2013. But his idea of youth development is perhaps also intended to bring them into the government fold. Young tribals are recruited into local police by coercion so that the security forces get easy access into their villages for anti-Maoist operations as they know the terrain and topography well.

Polling day is fast approaching and this time, once again, the rebels don’t want the villagers to have the indelible ink mark on their fingers. Security forces, however, are using drones to keep the troublemakers at bay and bring in more villagers to the polling booth. But the villagers, caught in the crossfire between the State and the Maoists, are still trying to fathom whether the previous elections have brought change to their lives.

Rohingya diaspora throws refugees a lifeline

Activists rally around their persecuted community in Bangladesh, work on repatriation, permanent solution

By Sonia Sarkar

The Telegraph

  • Published 3.11.18, 10:59 PM

Ambia Perveen was only five years old when she left Myanmar. She belongs to a family of Rohingyas, Muslim natives of Buddhist-majority Myanmar. The 38-year-old tells The Telegraph over email, “I was labelled a ‘kalar’ [a Myanmarese racial slur used for immigrants] even by my teachers.” 

“Kalar” is a term equivalent to nigger, says Ro Nay San Lwin, who was born in the Buthidaung township of Rakhine and raised in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Lwin is a Rohingya too and lived in Myanmar till 2001. He is 40. His experience is not very different from Perveen’s. “We were subjected to humiliation. Even the neighbourhoods and streets were not safe for us,” he says.

Ambia Perveen was only five years old when she left Myanmar

Ambia Perveen was only five years old when she left Myanmar Image: The Telegraph 

Perveen is based in Schleswig in Germany. Likewise Lwin, though he does not reveal his location for security reasons. Both have been lucky to get a new lease of life after escaping discrimination and atrocity in the country of their birth. And now, by way of payback, they are trying to help over 10 lakh displaced Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh.

Lwin, who is a full-time activist, has been campaigning for the Protected Return to Protected Homeland plan — an initiative floated by Rohingya activists across the globe. Perveen, a paediatrician and child psychiatrist, has been urging the European Council for “a clear and unequivocal response” on the atrocities on Rohingyas by recognising it officially as genocide. She also wants the European Union (EU) to bring in a trade embargo and temporarily freeze all EU projects in Myanmar until the Aung San Suu Kyi government accepts Rohingyas as citizens.

“We have been knocking at the door of the United Nations (UN) and the western world. Even the UN Security Council has an abundance of evidence [to prove] that the Myanmar government has been persecuting Rohingyas,” says Perveen, who is vice-chairperson of the European Rohingya Council, an organisation established in Denmark in 2012.

London-based Tun Khin, who was born and brought up in the Rohingya-dominated Arakan state, and has witnessed atrocities, set up the Burmese Rohingya Organisation in the United Kingdom along with others way back in 2005. Its goal: to tell the world about the human rights violations in Myanmar. He has since briefed the US Congress, the Swedish Parliament, the European Commission and the UN Human Rights Council about the misery of his community. “Our focus is to find a permanent solution… instead of just talking about repatriation,” says Khin, who was forced to leave Myanmar in 1997.

Tun Khin with Rohingya leaders at a refugee camp in Bangladesh

Tun Khin with Rohingya leaders at a refugee camp in Bangladesh Image: The Telegraph

Human rights violations against Rohingyas began in the mid-1970s. They suffered crackdowns, rape, torture, arson and murder by Myanmar security forces. In 1982, lakhs were rendered stateless when a nationality law excluded them from the list of communities considered “indigenous”. This move restricted their access to education and health services. They lost their right to vote and practice their religion freely. Subsequently, many fled to Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia.

Perveen argues that there is historical evidence aplenty that Rohingyas are ancient inhabitants of Arakan. Their existence can be traced back to 700-800 AD. She is trying to hold up that history before the rest of the world.

History says many Arab ships were wrecked near Ramree island in the Rakhine state — the early name for the Arakan province in western Myanmar — during the rule of Mahataing Sanda (788-810 AD). The crew and traders were Muslims and they were sent to Arakan, where they settled down eventually. As per The British-Burma Gazetteers of 1879, many dargahs were found along the Arakan coast. There was other evidence to show that the Muslims of Arakan were mostly descendants of slaves captured by Arakanese kings. Muslim prisoners and slaves from Bengal and north India were also brought to Arakan to serve as mercenaries in the Arakanese Army.

The term “Rohingya” can be found in a 1779 research carried out by Francis Buchanan, a British medical doctor, researcher and traveller.

Till the early 1970s, some Rohingyas held important posts in the Myanmar legislature. Lwin’s great-grandfather was a member of the Constituent Assembly and Khin’s grandfather was parliamentary secretary. According to Perveen, there used to be radio programmes in the Rohingya language till the mid-1960s.

Perveen’s family used to live in Yangon, where her father worked in a government-owned factory. She recalls, “Once we went to visit my grandmother in the Arakan state, the government never allowed us to go back to Yangon. They did not allow my father to continue his job. We were forced to leave the country. We went to Bangladesh first and then Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and then Germany.” Lwin’s parents worked in the education department. “There were no promotions for Rohingyas in government jobs. Sometimes, teachers boycotted the children. We were strangers in our own land,” says Lwin. Rohingya activists claim that over 3.5 lakh Rohingyas are still living in camps in the Arakan state.

As life became difficult in Myanmar, Lwin’s father shifted to Saudi Arabia in 1993. In 2001, Lwin started working in Saudi Arabia. In 2007, his Myanmarese citizenship was scrapped. In 2011, he got political asylum in Germany. Today, he is a co-ordinator of the international group, Free Rohingya Coalition.

Lwin visited the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh earlier this year. He says, “We are trying to facilitate formal education for the children; they must not languish in camps forever.” Perveen and her two sisters, Anita and Yasmin, both doctors, are all set to visit the Rohingya camps soon.

Over 10 lakh Rohingyas, driven out of the land of their birth by the Myanmar Army between 2012 and 2017, are living in camps in Bangladesh. Facing international pressure, Myanmar signed a repatriation pact with Bangladesh, but the process that was supposed to begin in January is yet to take off.

In April, one Rohingya family was taken back by the Myanmar Army but there were allegations that the family worked as spies for the armed forces in the refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Now, Rohingyas are being offered national verification cards — meant for foreigners.

When Myanmar social welfare minister Win Myat Aye visited the Rohingyas at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, their leaders there handed him a 13-point charter of demands. This included, among other things, abolition of the National Verification Card, citizenship and closure of all camps for internally displaced people at Arakan and Sittwe.

Saudi Arabia-based computer network engineer Soe Thu Moe, who runs the site along with Arakan-based blogger, Aung Aung, has extended family in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar. These days he is using his website to publish news stories related to the Rohingyas. “The idea is to make Myanmar a multi-cultural country. We don’t want persecution of people based on race and religion,” says Moe, who left Sittwe town in 2002.

It seems, despite being thousands of miles away from Myanmar, Rohingyas abroad continue to live in fear. Lwin says he does not like to use his Muslim name for fear of being mistaken for a Bengali from Bangladesh. He has been facing threats from Burmese Buddhists.

But nothing can stop the diaspora from working for their displaced people. “Our people must stand on their feet, that’s the goal,” says Lwin. Perveen agrees. “We want to empower our youth so that the next generation is not lost in transition camps.”


The moment I land in Gorakphur and step out of the one-shed airport, I am reminded of an essay, supposedly penned by an IAS aspirant from Bihar. The topic is the cow. The essay, in problematic English, read somewhat like this: “He is the cow. The cow is a successful animal. Also he is four footed. And because he is female, he give milks, but will do so when he is got child. He is sacred to Hindus and useful to man. But he has got four legs together. Two are forward and two are afterwards. His whole body can be utilised for use…”

Gorakhpur is swarming with cows. On the roads, lone cows stand brooding. There are also small clusters, seemingly immersed in confabulation. I must admit, at times I felt intimidated by their broad faces, wide mouths and big noses. Even if they disappeared from a particular junction, it did not take me long to understand that they would reappear soon enough.

I desperately want to share a laugh with a local on this matter, but I am scared as this would mean I am ridiculing cows. I may just get lynched, who knows? After all, I am in the land of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who also has the distinction of being five-time MP from Gorakhpur, and he has expressed his love for cows time and again. 

He has espoused the importance of gau raksha, or cow protection, on several platforms. He has never criticised the self-styled cow vigilantes who have allegedly killed Muslims and Dalits for skinning cows or storing and eating beef. Instead, he has encouraged them to do more than raise slogans.

Someone I interviewed says what has been on my mind, “Please don’t say anything about cows. This is Gorakhpur, they can even kill you…” Gorakhpur is like a cow sanctuary, where human beings are in real danger. The rickshaw pullers, bikers, pedestrians, everyone pulls along with extreme caution through the narrow roads negotiating past the holy cows.

Not long ago, a special ambulance service was launched by the state government for injured cows. But a senior official at the local Baba Raghav Das Medical College tells me that most of the trauma patients at the hospital are those who injure themselves after bumping into a straying bovine or those who have been hit by a speeding vehicle while trying to save one.

Not just that, cows often enter hospital wards, saunter into the Emergency. “But you can’t complain,” says the official haplessly as he stares at the notepad, one with the image of a smiling Adityanath on it.

While taking a rickshaw ride from Basantpur to Golghar, I ask the rickshaw puller, “There are so many cows here, people in this city must be worshipping them?” He retorts, “Who will worship them, Madam!” He adds as he pedals away, “Itna pareshaan kar diya hain inhone. Inke liye traffic jam ho jata hai. Lekin inka aap kuchh nahin kar sakte hain… They have made our life hell. These cows create terrible traffic jams but one cannot say anything or do anything about them.”

Next day, the taxi driver takes me to Adityanath’s Gorakhnath math, but entry is restricted for some reason. Instead, I find myself being regaled by the locals with stories of the math.

They tell me how this math is the epicentre of the Hindutva brigade and how its former head, Digvijay Nath, was arrested for inciting Hindus to kill Mahatma Gandhi barely three days before his assassination. It’s an open secret that the math always calls the political shots in Gorakhpur. Apparently, BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla lost the Lok Sabha by-elections after Aditynath vacated the seat because Shukla was not the mathadheesh’s choice. A shopkeeper tells me that while the math promotes the Hindu versus Muslim agenda, most of the caretakers in the gaushalas of the math are Muslims.

Once again, the discussion revolves around cows. The taxi driver also knows something about the cows of the math. Adityanath’s favourite cow is one Nandini, who used to live along with 500 others in the gaushala here but has now been taken to Lucknow, he says.

Adityanath had earlier promised to move all the stray cows of Gorakhpur to Lucknow but nothing has happened. Didn’t he propose to build shelters for cows across districts, I ask. “Wait and see, what all he builds and when,” he says, this time with not a little annoyance. He adds, “The CM has also promised to build flyovers and expressways, you know…”

It is not difficult to read his mind. Gorakhpuris don’t want those flyovers and expressways to be crowded with cows.

Add these lesser known festivals to the annual calendar

  • Published 21.10.18, 1:58 AM
  • Updated 21.10.18, 3:13 AM
  • 5 mins read
The Nagas of Manipur celebrate Lui-Ngai-NiFile Image

Sarhul, Baha and Sohrai

In spring, when the sal trees get new leaves, the Oraon tribe of Jharkhand celebrates Sarhul. Sal flowers are brought to the saran sthal or sacred place where the pahan or priest offers prayers to the gods and distributes the flowers. It is believed that the flowers represent the brotherhood among villagers and the earth becomes fertile after this festival. Around this time, the Santhals — who constitute the largest tribal community in Jharkhand — celebrate Baha, the festival of flowers. Besides sal, mahua flowers are used in the rituals. The Santhals and Oraons of Bihar, Odisha, Bengal and Chhattisgarh also celebrate colourful Sohrai. Come October, they coat the outer walls of their houses with a layer of white mud and while it is still wet, they draw flowers, fruits, leaves and other motifs inspired by their habitat.

Santhals of Jharkhand celebrating Baha, the festival of flowers
Santhals of Jharkhand celebrating Baha, the festival of flowersFile Image

Judi Sital and Sama-Chakeva

The Maithils of Bihar celebrate the arrival of summer and their new year on April 14. They call the occasion Judi Sital. On this day, they eat badi-bhaat (made of gram flour) prepared the day before and donate earthen pitchers containing water to Maithil Brahmins. The other festival of the Maithils is Sama-Chakeva, which is usually celebrated when winter commences and birds migrate from the Himalayas to the plains. Maithil women make idols of a pair of birds named Sama and Chakeva and decorate them in the traditional way. The day-long celebration ends with a vidaai or goodbye to these birds and an earnest prayer that they return the following year.

Vautha Mela

The Pushkar Mela of Rajasthan is well known but have you heard of Gujarat’s Vautha Mela? Hundreds of camels and thousands of donkeys are adorned with ornaments and paint and brought to this fair to be sold. The mela or fair that happens around November every year is considered more important than Diwali celebrations as it takes place at the confluence of seven holy rivers — Vatrak, Meshwo, Hathmati, Shedhi, Majum, Khari and Sabarmati. Diyas are set afloat in the water in the evening. A popular snack associated with this festival is the khichu, which is made of rice, cumin seeds, green chillies and soda bi-carb.


This 800-year-old dance festival is typical to north Malabar. People of Karivellur, Kurumathur, Nileshwar, Ezhom and Cherukunnu in Kerala celebrate it every year between December and April. The most intriguing and interesting bit about this festival is the reversal of caste positions it necessitates. The performers belong to lower castes. They paint their faces yellow and red, dress up in flamboyant costumes and headgear. This is perhaps the only time of the year when the upper castes fall at their feet and worship them as gods. In his book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, William Dalrymple writes about Dalit Hari Das, who slips into a deity-like avatar once a year — taking a break from his day job in a jail.

Theyyam necessitates the reversal of caste positions

Theyyam necessitates the reversal of caste positionsAFP/Getty


This festival is named after a fruit and is celebrated by the Bhatra and Halba tribes of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Much like Odisha’s Rath Yatra — it also takes place in July — there are three chariots carrying the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra and a procession of devotees follow them. Villagers make pistols out of bamboo and use bullets made of the goncha fruit to attack each other playfully. Young men play the tupki or a long pipe-like instrument to woo the women.


It is celebrated in Nagaland and the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. The festival that marks the sowing season is celebrated on February 15 every year. Traditional dances are performed, local dishes are prepared and a fire is lit to bless the seeds to be sown.


Lui-Ngai-NiFile picture

Sammakka Saralamma Jatara

This is a tribal festival-cum-fair of Telangana and the second largest such in India after the Kumbh Mela. It commemorates the valour of a mother and daughter, Sammakka and Saralamma. Tribal lore has it that some time in the 13th century, tribal leaders went hunting in the forest and found a newborn playing amidst tigers. This was Sammakka. She was adopted by the head of the tribe and brought up to be chief after him. She later became the saviour of the tribals of the region and is considered a goddess by them. The festival is held once in two years, in either January end or beginning February. All the festive rituals are conducted by priests of the Koya tribe.


This festival derives its name from the Hindi word “hariyali”, meaning greenery, and is one of the most prominent performing arts festivals of the Durg district of Chhattisgarh. At the core of all performances lies a veneration of all that is crucial to the farmer — his cattle, his ploughing equipment and so on.


It is a folk dance festival performed to celebrate the advent of spring by Thigalas, a community of gardeners and lake settlers in Bangalore, Mysore and Madikeri areas of Karnataka. It is seen as a tribute to Draupadi, the Pandava queen. Legend has it that at some point, Draupadi took the form of goddess Shakti and created soldiers called the “veerkumaras” to deal with a demon named Tripurasura. When it was time for Draupadi to go to heaven, the veerkumaras wanted her to stay back. She couldn’t keep their request but promised to visit her devotees on the first full moon day of the lunar new year. Her visit marks the nine-day festival in which the priest, dressed as a woman, covered in flowers, carries the Karaga (the three-feet tall water pot symbolising Draupadi) on his head and walks to the homes of the veerkumaras so that they can worship the Karaga. The dancers perform various acrobatic feats — while following the procession — to the accompaniment of musical instruments like the thavinadaswarammuniudukka and pamba. At the end of the festival, the Karaga returns to the temple.

In other words, all time is festival time in this country of ours.


Although Dree is the festival of the Apatani tribe, it has gained popularity amongst other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. The two-day festival celebrated in April is meant to ensure a good harvest. People offer prayers to four gods — Tamu, Harniang, Metii and Danyi. Traditional dances are performed and cucumber, which is considered a symbol of a good harvest, is distributed among all. Women brew wine and people savour various delicacies along with volumes of rice beer.

Dree, the festival of the Apatani tribe, has become popular with other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh

Dree, the festival of the Apatani tribe, has become popular with other tribes in Arunachal PradeshFile picture

Lai Haraoba, Chavang Kut and Bwisagu

In March, when north India celebrates Holi, the Meiteis of Manipur celebrate their own version called Lai Haraoba. During this five-day festival, they worship local deities Sanamahi, Nongpok Ningthou, Leimarel, Pakhangba and 364 umang lais or jungle deities. Both men and women dance and enact the Khamba-Thoibi, a popular Manipuri folktale. The festival ends with performances such as Ougri Hangen or the song about controlling the mind; Khencho, which is about the concept of the third birth; and Hijan Hirao, the song sung during the felling of trees to craft two big boats — one for the male deity, the other for the female. Sports such as indigenous polo and wrestling mark the conclusion of the festival.

In the hills, the Kukis, Chins and Mizos celebrate the colourful Chavang Kut. Dressed in colourfully woven half-sleeve jackets and sarongs, the cultural troupes of the Kuki tribe gather at the picturesque Peace Ground at Tuibong in Churachandpur, Manipur. The traditional Kuki symbol of the skull dominates the festival — celebrated in the latter half of October — after the villagers complete their back-breaking toil in the fields.

The Bodos of Assam celebrate Bwisagu, a festival of Shiva or Baithou, in April, around the same time as the rest of Assam celebrates Bihu. One of the major attractions of the festival is the Bagarumba dance. Women dress up in the traditional dokhana or draped skirt and the jwmgra or shawl. With outstretched arms and the shawl around their shoulders, they look like colourful birds fluttering wings. The men play instruments such as the serja (it resembles a violin), tifung (something like a flute), tharkha (a piece of split bamboo) and khum (a long drum).

During Bwisagu, Bodo women wear their shawl around their shoulders and spread their arms

During Bwisagu, Bodo women wear their shawl around their shoulders and spread their armsFile picture

In my journalism career of 15 years, I have come across many men who know how to play the power game. Now at 37, I can identify them readily. You will find many in this profession, I am sorry to say. But I am just listing some early signals to spot a predator in your newsroom or outside when you out to report. This list, based on my experiences and observations (not in that order but), might help young journalists in future.

Here are early signals:

In office — Immediate Supervisor/ Senior Colleague

  1. While shaking hands, either he presses it too hard or squeezes your palm or just rubs it lightly with fingers
  2. Stands in front of your desk, and stares at you without any official work
  3. Stands in front of your desk, holding a book in hand, only to pretend he is reading it.
  4. Comes to your desk, shows you photographs of naked tribals, pretending to help you in your story on tribals!
  5. In a meeting when everyone sits in a circle – he hangs his jacket/coat right behind you and intentionally keeps his pen and diary inside the pocket of the jacket. In the middle of the meeting, he gets up and comes behind you to get the pen and diary.
  6. He indirectly asks you- where you live, who you live with etc during office lunches.
  7. Picks up anecdotes from earlier conversations during lunch and refers to it later, out of context. You will understand that he remembers every word you utter in office. He wants to give you an impression that he is fond of you. Trust me he is not half serious about you. You don’t fall into the trap, he must have done this to many women before you and would continue to do it even later. These are tried and tested methods. They are serial offenders.

How to spot a predator (especially an interviewee) outside?

  1. You approach someone for interview, the person suddenly extends his arm around your shoulder to know more about the interview.
  2. You are in a hurry to get a quote from someone, he (taller men do it often) leans forward and brings his face near your breasts to pretend he can’t hear you properly.
  3. You have gone to interview him at home. He makes you sit on a chair whose height is lower than the one he is sitting on. He keeps coming back and forth towards you, and his eyes are fixed on your breasts.

How to spot a predator outside office (generally an established journalist)

  1. You approach a senior journalist (at least 10 years your senior) known to have covered a certain region/beat for decades for help. He would go out of his way to not only help you with the story but also tries to help you with logistics. He keeps texting you to know more about your movement.
  2. It could be possible after the end of the trip, he would invite you for dinner and coffee to know more. Only a woman would understand how much of this is professional gesture and how much is pure personal interest.
  3. He starts suggesting you to read books with rich sexual content/man-woman sexual relationship. Even if you are attracted to him, and feel elated that an intellectually rich and professionally established man is attracted to you, take a pause. Remember, these men find any woman attractive because their aim is something else, we know what!
  4. If he is a married man, one of the most common ways of breaking the ice is to tell you, he is unhappily married. It is a “dead” marriage, they are together only for the child. For years, he didn’t have sex with his wife. DO NOT try to be his “best friend,” and please don’t tell him, you “understand.” He doesn’t need your friendship. He wants something else.
  5. He uses sexual innuendos in conversations to see how you respond. He cracks jokes with sexual content. If you don’t respond or keep a neutral face, he would say, “You are such a bacchha (kid),” only to provoke you to play with words just the way he is doing! The problem is, in the process, he also plays with your emotions! Remember!
  6. You tell him, you are okay to have him as a friend but you think he is hinting at something more you are uncomfortable with, he will play the victim card! He will say, you misunderstood him and he would also remind you how he helped you with your story earlier only to make you feel guilty.  He will withdraw himself for a while. But he will come back to you with vague things, especially work-related. If you again go back to him, he will resume the game. This is power play.
  7. He will continue to throw advances till he gets you under his fold. But kindly do not think he is serious with you! He will move on to the next woman once he is over and done with you!

Spot them, catch them, confront them if they make you feel uncomfortable!

Geriatric care is a very sensitive issue and it is being given to people with various degrees of limitations in the later stage of their life. People may need assistance in brushing their teeth or eating or bathing or walking. Some need help to remind them about day to day things or a little assistance in framing small sentences and prounouncing words correctly. But just because they need this sort of care or assistance, they are not “invalid” or “abnormal.”

Trust me, people who need the care also try their best to do things on their own. But they have limitations. A lot of times, they do break their own limitations though.

They remember the finest of things from the pages of history which any “normal” person may not have ever heard of. They can walk miles with the help of their stick on days they feel energetic and happy. They will give a smile and tell you, “What big deal, I can do it,” when you are worried if it is okay to send them for a surgery at this age. They would give the best insight about life when you are on the verge of giving up at work or in personal life.

Those who have not offered geriatic care would not understand it. If you ever get a chance to live close to people who are aging, you must feel blessed forever.

All of us would reach at a point when we need help from someone. Extend your helping hand to someone today so that you get to hold onto someone else’s hand in future.