Neelam Katara’s mission to get justice for her murdered son has nearly been accomplished. In these years, she has changed completely as a person, she tells Sonia Sarkar

Nitish Katara looks at the world with a half smile from his portrait up on the wall. His mother beams. And she has good reason to. After all, Neelam Katara has just won an almost 14-year-long battle for justice for her son, having single-handedly ensured a conviction for his murderers.

“I couldn’t sleep the first night after the Supreme Court judgment,” Katara, 63, says. “I have lived for this day for all these years.”

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Vikas and Vishal Yadav and Sukhdev Pehalwan, a contract killer. In February, the Delhi High Court sentenced the Yadav cousins to jail for 30 years and Pehalwan for 25 years. The apex court is yet to examine the quantum of sentence – and Katara wants death for them.

“I want the convicts to get the death sentence,” she says. “But if the court thinks that is not possible, they should be sentenced to life without remission. I want all three of them to be behind bars forever.”

The judgment, Katara says, should be seen as a landmark verdict on honour killings. Vikas disapproved of his sister Bharti’s relationship with her classmate, Nitish. The Yadavs had money and muscle power – their father, D.P. Yadav, has high political connections, was a member of Parliament and had been charged with crime.

Katara is confident that the court will not disappoint her. She looks calm and composed – and has never been seen in public as a grieving mother. “If I had engaged in self pity, I wouldn’t have come this far,” she says.

She did not break down even when she had to identify the charred body of her 24-year-old son, who had been battered to death with a hammer and then set on fire. “I thought I would collapse when I saw the body. But I gathered myself,” Katara says.

“I could identify him by looking at his small hands and legs, which were unusual when compared to his tall and broad body. His face was charred. It was so different from when I saw him last, when he dressed up and left for a wedding,” she recalls.

That was the evening of February 16, 2002. Bharti’s childhood friend was getting married in Ghaziabad. Nitish attended it – and was taken for a drive from the venue by Vikas and Vishal.

When he did not return home till midnight, Katara started worrying. “I called him around 1am. First, nobody answered the phone and then somebody picked it up and disconnected it,” she recalls.

Around 3am, Nitish’s friend Bharat reached their house. He was at the wedding, and couldn’t locate Nitish. Katara called Bharti up – and heard that she was looking for him, too. “She said that I should call her father because he would know about Nitish’s whereabouts,” she says.

Katara lodged an FIR naming Bharti, Vikas and Vishal. The search continued for another day. On the fourth day, the police called her to verify whether a charred body found in Khurja in Uttar Pradesh was that of her son. The postmortem report said that he had died around 2:45am on February 17.

D.P. Yadav reacted with anger. He told the media that he didn’t know who Nitish was, and maintained that his son had been named in the FIR because of a conspiracy to jeopardise his political career.

“I couldn’t take it. So I decided to leak out mails that Bharti had sent to my younger son, Nitin, soon after Nitish went missing. In the mail, she wrote that her father was only concerned about the elections, saving his son and his own political career.”

Three days after Nitish’s body was found, Vikas and Vishal Yadav got arrested from Dabra in Madhya Pradesh. Four years later, in November 2006, Bharti deposed before the court, denying that she had been in a relationship with Nitish.

“I was disappointed,” Katara says. “I thought Nitish should have chosen someone better.”

Nitish met Bharti while he was studying for an MBA at a private business school in Ghaziabad. They dated for almost three years. Three months before Nitish’s death, he told his mother that he wanted to marry her.

“I didn’t know much about her family. All I knew was that D.P. Yadav was a politician and Vikas Yadav had been named in the Jessica Lal murder case. I was not keen on the match,” she says.

She met Bharti briefly on a few occasions. She often received the bouquets and cards that Bharti would send for Nitish. Three days before his death, on Valentine’s Day, Bharti had sent him cards with their photographs.

Bharti used to visit Nitish at their government residence on Chelmsford Road in central Delhi, a railway colony where Katara still lives. “She would park her car here and then the two would go out in our car. But I never had a chance to have any longish conversations with her,” Katara says.

Within 18 months of Nitish’s murder, his father, who worked for the Indian Railways, died. He had for long been suffering from a neurological disease and the condition deteriorated after his son’s death. He lost his speech in the last few days and was communicating with family members with a few scrawled messages. “Once, he scribbled: ‘Chimpu (Nitish’s pet name) committed a mistake. He shouldn’t have gone with Vikas in the car’,” she remembers.

Neelam, a Kashmiri who grew up in Lucknow, fell in love with her friend’s brother, Nishit, while studying in Loreto Convent. Though both were Brahmins, the two sets of parents were not in favour of the match because they were from different communities.

“But we were determined to get married. I was ready to elope but my husband wanted the consent of both the families. And finally, we did get their consent,” Katara says.

His death shattered her. “I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. “But then I remembered that when my husband was diagnosed with the disease, Nitish had told me that he would be very ashamed of me if I ever become weak. His words gave me the strength to stand up and fight back.”

Nitish went to Modern School, Barakhamba Road in central Delhi, and then studied economics at Delhi’s Sri Venkateswara College before joining the business school. He also worked for a private insurance company, whose office was on Barakhamba Road.

“I used to tell him, you will spend all your life in this area. To this, he used to reply, ‘ Jab jaoonga yahan se, tab aisa jaoonga, aap dekhengi’ (You will be surprised to see the way I leave this place),” she says.

Katara is happy talking about her son. Apart from photography and Sufi music, Nitish loved wildlife. “He used to drive his favourite blue Gypsy to the Corbett national park every year,” she says. He went to Corbett with Bharti and her mother, sister and brother-in-law too. The last holiday that the Kataras had together was at the Kanha national park in July 2001.

After Nitish’s death, there has been no scope for a holiday. Her life has revolved around courts and lawyers’ offices. When the courts are on vacation she visits Nitin, who works at the Interpol at Lyon in France. “I couldn’t leave Delhi when the courts were open. I had to follow my case very closely,” she says.

Dressed in a blue chiffon sari, Katara is a picture of elegance. The pearl ear tops and bracelet complement her sophisticated look. She wears an aquamarine stone on a left finger to keep a check on her blood pressure. She doesn’t believe in astrology, she says, but recalls visiting an astrologer with Nitish when her husband’s health was deteriorating.

“The astrologer had advised us not to discuss Nitish’s wedding plans before March 2002. She also told us to protect Nitish from the ‘evil eye’ on Saturdays. He was killed on a Saturday. He may have been alive if I had taken the astrologer seriously,” she says.

But she doesn’t hold regrets anymore. Her mission to get justice for her son has nearly been accomplished. But, Katara says, she has changed completely as a person in these years. From a passionate teacher and a loving mother, Katara has become a fighter – a symbol of a common man’s successful fight against the powerful.

But now that Neelam Katara’s battle has been won, what lies ahead for her? “Now that it has come, there is a feeling of sudden emptiness,” she replies.

The retired deputy commissioner (academics) at the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan says that she now wants go back to her original loves – theatre and ghazals.

And occasionally, she wishes her husband and elder son were there with her. “I miss being what I was,” she says.

Just what was the government thinking of when it banned porn websites? Why, hordes of Indians are making their own sex videos at home. Some are circulating them too, say V. Kumara Swamy, Sonia Sarkar and Sharmistha Ghosal

The ping indicated there was a message waiting for her on her cell phone. Delhi-based Rekha Kapoor picked up the phone and saw that a friend had sent her a video. She played it, and found, much to her surprise, that it showed the friend having sex in a car on a highway.

“She was so thrilled about this that she shared the video with me and some other close friends,” Kapoor says. “I was taken aback to see how she unhesitatingly shared her personal video.”

Across India, people are recording – and occasionally sharing – their sex acts. Some do it for fun, some as an act of bravado and some to spice up their sex lives. Most stack their home videos for their own viewing, some share them with friends and a few even put them on pornographic sites.

So just what is the government thinking of when it announces a ban on porn websites? The ban, as cyber experts have pointed out, can be contravened in various ways. To top it, how does it expect to control Indians – young, not-so young and old – who are busy filming their own acts of porn?

Take Vidhi, a college student from Virar in Mumbai. “We are a good-looking couple and so we shoot sex so that we can look at the videos when we grow old,” she reasons. Vidhi and her lover use apps that allow them to select the background music for the video. “We shot the act with the song Pehla Nasha playing in the background. It was so romantic.”

It wasn’t all that romantic for the five 13-year-old students – three boys and two girls – who were hauled over the coals by their parents. The five close friends spent time in one another’s houses, usually locked in a room. One day, one of the mothers barged in to find them engaged in group sex – and filming it.

“They were doing this for a long time and had even sold some of the videos to someone in the US,” says clinical psychologist Aruna Broota, who is counselling the two girls.

It’s not just the young who like to film their acts. Sexologist Prakash Kothari says he has come across men in the 80-90 age group who do so. Earlier, his affluent clients did this with Polaroid cameras; now all they need is a cell phone.

“One gets aroused by watching one’s own nude clip,” Kothari explains. “Couples enjoy seeing their most intimate moments. They recall those moments to fan their desire.”

That’s certainly true for Ravi and his wife. He often shops for sex toys in Calcutta, which, he says, add zest to the videos that they shoot while having sex.

“We are just bored of regular sex. Filming our lovemaking sessions wearing those sexy things gives us both a high, and we absolutely love it,” says the father of two.

Ravi realises that with two children, he has to be careful that their videos are kept well guarded. He makes it a point to put them in a safe docket on his iPad, with locked classified copies on his iMac. The videos are for their pleasure, and they don’t upload them on the Internet or even share them with friends.

Not everybody, though, thinks on these lines. In times when the most mundane of acts – from eating a three-egg omelette to getting a new hair cut – are recorded on social sites, can sexual acts be far behind?

Some people don’t just not mind their videos going public; they actually enjoy the fact that strangers watch them. Take, for instance, the Raos, a Vijayawada couple, who have almost attained mini stardom with their videos.

“Soon after we were married, we started engaging in live video porn chats with couples from around the world just to arouse ourselves. These even involved demonstrating sexual postures to each other. One such session with us was recorded, edited and posted on a porn site by somebody,” says Rajeshwar Rao, 34, a real estate agent.

By the time the couple discovered this, the video had garnered more than three lakh views. They, however, found they weren’t angry, but excited that others found the video worth watching. “So we decided to make a small video and post it on the porn site. It again became a hit,” Rao adds.

In the past one year, they have posted some 15 videos – with durations ranging from four to 25 minutes – shot with a video camera. Some of the videos have Telugu and Tamil music in the background.

His neighbours, he says, have never mentioned the videos. “Maybe they have never watched them. But I am not ashamed of this, as I am doing it for fun and not money,” Rao says.

Lily, a Mumbai-based businesswoman, too likes to upload her sex videos on public sites. The clips, shot in her one-bedroom apartment, are a hit on several porn websites. One can hear background sounds of vegetable sellers, autorickshaw horns and other roadside noises in her videos even as she carries on with what she calls “social service”. Lily says: “I don’t earn a naya paisa from this. It is pure fun.”

According to, an Internet information company that tracks traffic to websites, sites such as,,, where tens of Indian videos are uploaded every day, are among the most popular sites in the country, getting more hits than some of the more sought after e-commerce sites. None of the sites responded to queries from The Telegraph .

Counsellors say that they have been coming across more and more such cases of ordinary Indians filming sex. “These days, teenagers love to shoot their private lives – when they are swimming, or kissing their partners, or even when they try out a new set of lingerie. Recording the sexual act is only an extension of this. It is natural for them, not an aberration,” school counsellor Geetanjali Kumar holds.

Adds Sanjay Chugh, senior consultant psychiatrist, “Telling the world that you’re pushing personal and social boundaries, breaking rules, coming out of the close-minded attitude towards sex perhaps could be another reason, although it seems distorted in its manifestation.”

The trend doesn’t surprise Shanti Dynamite, a UK-based porn star of Indian descent who will soon make her debut in Bollywood. Self-shooting of sexual acts by couples is an international phenomenon and India is no exception, she stresses.

“I have come across many Indian couples uploading their home movies on the Internet and I think that if the individual doesn’t mind being seen by many people, it shouldn’t concern anyone,” Dynamite says. Indian men and women, she argues, are comfortable showing themselves having sex – “it is only the government that acts a bit prudish”.

Filming one’s own sex life is a form of exhibitionism, argues andrologist Sudhakar Krishnamurti. “Both men and women have a tendency to exhibit themselves. Video recording of one’s sex life is a manifestation of that – and the availability of technology had made it easier for them to do so,” he says.

For many young Indians, it can also be a sign of defiance. Teenagers, after all, are growing up in conflicting times – where society is still conservative, but they are surrounded by images of sexual activity in films, music videos and the Internet.

“Taking ‘sexy’ images of themselves offers them a false sense of liberty, bypassing the repression imposed upon them in the real world,” points out Debarati Halder, a lawyer and counsellor based at Tirunelvelli, Tamil Nadu. “They feel relatively uninhibited in cyberspace and tend to experiment with their looks and sexuality, but are unable to determine where to draw the line.”

Indeed, there are downsides to this. One, the habit can become addictive, warns Kothari. And such clips can also reach the public domain, without the permission or knowledge of someone who has recorded the sex act. Several videos clandestinely shot in bedrooms, college classrooms and even on honeymoons have found their way to websites – without consent.

Revenge porn – when one of the partners uploads a sex video to humiliate an ex – is a worrying trend, too. “When you’re in love you trust your partner. You don’t expect him to use these pictures to humiliate you when things fall apart,” says Halder, who is often approached by victims – mostly women – of this new genre of cybercrime.

Cybercrime, of course, has to be tackled. But is banning porn the way out? Dynamite doesn’t think so. She urges the Indian government to take a leaf out of the UK rule book which underwent a change last year.

The UK, she points out, banned acts of violence during sex and their filming and display. Non-consensual sex videos, chaining of limbs during sex, abusive language and some “life threatening” acts were all banned.

Sex is beautiful, Dynamite exults. “Without sex none of us would exist. People as a whole should have a right to be able to do what they want to do as long as no one is being hurt or tortured or forced into things they don’t want to be in,” she says.

Did we just hear the Indian government screech?

( Some names have been changed to protect identities)

Fear stalks Bangladesh. It’s not just bloggers who are being threatened. Rock band members, Baul singers, photographers, sculptors and painters have all been repeatedly attacked by radical extremists, says Sonia Sarkar

These days, blogger Supriti Dhar takes a circuitous route – changing three rickshaws – to her office in Dhaka, barely five kilometres from her home. She doesn’t talk to strangers. She doesn’t reveal her whereabouts to her friends, either. Dhar, who once fearlessly returned home even at midnight, now rarely steps out after 8pm.

“I cannot trust anyone anymore. I feel as if everyone is keeping an eye on me,” says Dhar, who runs a pro-woman and anti-extremist blog called

Dhar, 47, received a spate of threats from extremist groups in June. “I was threatened for five days in a row. The threatening calls came from 52 different numbers. I was abused on Facebook and told that I would be their next target,” she says.

Last week, blogger Niladri Chattopadhyay or Niloy Neel was hacked to death. “Niloy too had received threats around the same time,” she says. His death was the fourth killing of a blogger in Bangladesh in six months, allegedly by the Ansarullah Bangla Team, a regional chapter of al Qaeda.

  • Blogger Avijit Roy, who was killed in February

Blogger Ananya Azad is on the hit list, too – with fresh threats issued this week by a radical group, Ittehad-Ul-Mujahideen. Azad, who is a fierce critic of extremists, has often been threatened. In June, he decided to leave Bangladesh and go to Germany on a fellowship.

“When I was in Bangladesh, the one thing I had on my mind was this: maybe today is my last day,” says Azad, whose father, the liberal writer Humayun Azad, was killed by extremists in 2004. “If you want to live in Bangladesh just shut your mouth, break your pen and throw your brain into the dustbin,” Azad adds.

The space for liberal thinking in Bangladesh is shrinking. It’s not just bloggers who are being threatened. Rock band members, Baul singers, photographers, sculptors and painters have all been repeatedly attacked by radical extremists who object to their secular positions.

Most of these threats are sent online, on social networking sites, Facebook or Twitter, or through text messages and calls over the phone. The identities are mostly false, which is why they cannot be traced.

“We live in constant fear of who’s next,” Maqsoodul Haque, popularly known as Mac, the lead vocalist of the band Maqsood O’ Dhaka, says. His songs (such as Parwardigar on war crimes) have been critical of both the government and extremist groups. “They don’t want any free speech in the country,” Haque says.

The attacks have come in the wake of a burgeoning movement in recent months against war crimes in Bangladesh, which centred on a campaign seeking the death sentence for a war criminal, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Qauder Mollah.

The movement called Shahbagh, a public centre where the protestors used to gather, gave birth to a forum called Ganojagoron Mancha, which has been a fierce critic of attacks on freedom of speech and expression. Avijit Roy, killed in February this year, was a part of the movement, protesting against growing radicalism in the country and championing atheism and human rights, including homosexuality.

  • If you want to live in Bangladesh just shut your mouth, break your pen and throw your brain into the dustbin
    Ananya Azad 

The radicals are training their guns on anybody who questions their religious beliefs. The Bauls, whose music celebrates plurality, have been at the receiving end of their wrath. “They want us to stop singing,” Baul exponent Abdel Mannan says. “In the past few years, extremists have harassed many Baul singers. They would shave off heads and beat them up,” adds Mannan, whose popular song, Orey Maulana, Masjid ghore Allah thaake na…‘ (Maulana, Allah is not confined to the mosque), has often irked the fundamentalists.

Liberal intellectuals fear that it is not just extremists who are after them but the government, too. In 2013, the government formed a nine-member committee to track bloggers and Facebook users who made derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet., the largest blogging platform in Bangladesh, was asked to take down “anti-Islamic” posts from their website. Four bloggers were also charged with Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act for hurting religious sentiments.

“In 2009, the Awami League government closed our gallery and office after we displayed works on Tibetans and later the police asked us to take down the show,” says photographer and curator Shahidul Alam, who runs a photography school, Pathshala South Asian Institute of Photography, and a multimedia organisation, Drik Picture Library, in Dhaka. “In 2010, riot police were sent to close down Drik after we had an exhibition on extra-judicial killings,” Alam adds.

In 2007, a satirical magazine, Alpin, was forced to close after it published a cartoon extremists found offensive. In 2008, statues of five local folk singers, created by artist Mrinal Haque, in front of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, were removed after Islamist leaders threatened to damage them.

But the recent murders of bloggers have added to the terror. “Earlier, these attacks were random and nobody took them seriously. But now we are scared,” says sculptor Vaskor Rasha. “These threats can translate into murder any time.”

The problem, the intellectuals add, is that the threats are leading to self-censorship. “We have been urging people to come to Shahbagh and protest after the killings of the bloggers. But unfortunately we could not assemble more than 100 people,” says Nasiruddin Yousuff, the director of a film on war criminals called Guerrilla.

Historians say that a nation born out of cultural resistance is facing the biggest threat to its cultural and secular ethos. Ironically, three out of four bloggers killed this year were Hindus. “The recent incidents clearly have set a question mark on our secularism. It is shameful. Things have never been this bad before,” Muntassir Mamoon, professor of history, Dhaka University, says.

Little has been done to contain the violence, many complain. This week, the inspector-general of police, A.K.M Shahidul Hoque, asked free thinkers and writers not to “cross the line”. The Bangladesh home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, warned that action would be taken against those writing anything that would “hurt” religious sentiments.

“Aren’t people staying in Bangladesh? Not everyone is getting killed. We are only asking some people, who lampoon religion in the name of liberalism, to be a bit restrained,” Kamal says.

Not that the government’s attitude has helped ease the tension. The radicals have their own complaints. “If the government had punished the bloggers for writing such blasphemous pieces, nobody would have killed them,” Maulana Zaffarullah Khan, joint secretary of the group Hefajote Islam says.

Dhar, the daughter of a 1971 Liberation War martyr, feels that the only solution is to leave the country. “I had never thought that one day I would be so desperate as to want to leave my country,” she says.

Many liberals fear that Bangladesh – which fought a war for independence from Pakistan in 1971 – is treading backwards, going back to the bloody days when nationalist intellectuals were killed.

“Are we going back to where we started,” asks an agitated Dhar. Imran Sarker, head of Bangladesh Bloggers Association, adds: “This is not the Bangladesh that our fathers fought for.”

(Published in The Telegraph. April 16, 2015)

Gurdaspur on the Indo-Pakistan border hit the headlines after terrorists attacked a police station. Once the crucible of the Khalistani movement, militancy of a different kind seems to be rearing its head again, says Sonia Sarkar

Terror strike: Police personnel at the Dina­nagar police station during the recent militant attack

The senior Gurdaspur resident recalls the song that children sang when the train came in from Narowal. ” Gaddi aayi, gaddi aayi shuka maar di,” they chanted, “gaddi aayi, gaddi aayi, Narowal di” (the train’s come, whistling, the train from Narowal is in.

The train’s gone, as has the railway line that connected Gurdaspur with Narowal. And there is no song to be sung when Narowal, now in Pakistan, is mentioned these days.

“Before Partition, Narowal was a business centre for traders dealing in garments, cotton and iron,” says historian Raj Kumar Sharma, former principal of Government College, Gurdaspur, as he recalls the children’s ditty.

But earlier this week, Narowal sprung up again when the Punjab police said the three terrorists who attacked Gurdaspur’s Dinanagar police station and killed seven people on Monday – and were killed by security forces – came in from Narowal.
People gather in large groups in market areas in Gurdaspur, crowding around a newspaper and discussing the attack. Passers-by stand curiously outside the Dinanagar police station. After years of peace, suddenly there is talk of militancy again.

Gurdaspur has had its share of terror – it was a hub for terrorists when Sikh militants waged a war for Khalistan. There is talk once again of a possible revival of the Khalistani movement.

But the former Khalistan Commando Force chief, Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, who is from Guraspur’s Dhariwal village, dismisses such speculation.

“It’s sad that an attack by terrorists from the other side of the border is linked with the Khalistani movement. We have no Pakistani connections anymore,” says Zaffarwal, who has now floated a political party, the United Akali Dal.
Gurdaspur, where Muslims were in a majority before Partition, was to have been included in Pakistan. But Cyril Radcliffe, the chairman of the border commissions, made a last minute change, giving away the Muslim-dominated Shakargarh to Pakistan and keeping Gurdaspur in India.

“If Jammu and Kashmir had to be connected with the rest of India, Pathankot (then in Gurdaspur, now a separate district) had to be in India,” Sharma says.

Gurdaspur’s strategic location, senior officers hold, is a possible reason the militants chose Dinanagar. “The geographical location of Gurdaspur makes it sensitive. It shares a border with Pakistan and is next to Jammu, which has seen a high infiltration of terrorists,” a senior police official in the Gurdaspur city police station states.
Investigating officers believe that Jammu may have been the target, but the militants chose Gurdaspur because of the high security in Jammu and Kashmir in view of the ongoing Amarnath Yatra.

The terrorists, they believe, swam across the river Ravi from Pakistan to India. They arrived at Tash Pattan, 17 kilometres from the Dinanagar police station. Tash Pattan in Gurdaspur is on the eastern bank of river Ujh, while Jalala in Narowal is on its western bank, separated by some 300 metres. Here no fencing demarcates the two nations.

The rivers, security officers say, are often the route that militants take. For while the railway line may have gone, the rivers continue to link India with Pakistan. The Ravi flows through Chamba in Himachal Pradesh to Madhopur and Kathlore in Gurdaspur, then to Katarpur in Narowal, and back again into India through Lashian in Pathankot.

The Ujh, which flows in from Jasrota in Jammu, forms the boundary between Pathankot in Punjab and Shakargarh in Narowal.

“The course of these two rivers enables the entry of infiltrators. When there is high current in the river, someone from Pakistan can easily swim into Gurdaspur,” a police official says.

The river is not the only route. I went to several border posts such as Simbal Sakoh and Dhinda but was not stopped anywhere by security officials. The posts are crowded, and the Dera Baba Nanak checkpost is particularly so, as locals with binoculars gather there to have a look at Gurdwara Katarpur Sahib in Narowal, about three kilometres from the border.
But the terror attack has resurrected old worries about links with Pakistan. Take Daniel Masih, a 50-year-old Gurdaspuri.

He says he was sent to Pakistan by the Research and Analysis Wing in 1992. He was caught, spent four years in Pakistan’s jails, and after being released in 1997, took the Samjhauta Express to India.

But, he adds, when he landed at Attari, he was arrested by the police on charges of planting a bomb. He spent two months in a jail before he was allowed to return home to Dadwan village.

“The police falsely implicated me. I live with the fear that they may do this to me again,” says Masih, now a rickshawpuller. “Any news of terror with Pakistani links worries me.”

Gurdaspur has gone through many upheavals. Even after the Khalistani movement was crushed in the 1990s, the region, where people are mostly farmers, saw little development.

“Now very few have land holdings. People mostly work as daily wagers on agricultural land,” Sharma says. “The only iron smelting industry in Batala too is dying. There is no major investment in the district.”

Unemployment is of grave concern. The government states that over 30,555 people are unemployed, but most contend that the figure is substantially higher than that. Joblessness among the educated is high, with the literacy rate at 69 per cent.

“We have degrees but no jobs. We sit idle all day,” complains Dhariwal villager Bikram Singh, 22.
The government, however, stresses that it has several employment programmes. “We have started many self-employment schemes such as pig rearing, bee keeping and animal husbandry. People have to take the initiative to be a part of these schemes,” district collector Abhinav Trikha holds.

Drug abuse – a problem across Punjab – is another worrying issue. The police say that drugs are smuggled to other parts of Punjab from Gurdaspur. In March this year, security forces seized 18kg of heroin worth Rs 90 crore from two Pakistani smugglers near the Dera Baba Nanak post.

“Like infiltrators, drugs too come through the Ravi. Packets of heroin stuffed in five feet long hollow plastic pipes sail into the river from Narowal. Smugglers on this side receive them,” a senior police official says.
Gurdaspur, clearly, carries a burden. And few can forget that Indira Gandhi’s assassin Satwant Singh belonged to Gurdaspur.

The Dinanagar attack has opened up old wounds, his family members say, alleging that they were subjected to police torture after Gandhi was killed. Satwant’s elder brother, Gurnam Singh, 60, says the family was glued to the television all day as the battle between the security forces and the terrorists at the police station raged.

“We didn’t go to farm. We didn’t milk our cows. Our women didn’t even cook that day till the operation was over,” he says.
“Gurdaspur has seen the worst. But we don’t want any disturbance now,” he adds. “We want peace.”

A new book tells the untold stories behind Bollywood music, with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs. The authors tell Sonia Sarkar that they tried not to pick the most obvious songs
he boat rocks gently on the rippling waters of the Ganges. Rajesh Khanna, with a glass in hand, looks at Sharmila Tagore as a silhouette of the Howrah Bridge looms behind them. Chingari koi bhadkey, he sings, as the notes play with the waves.
For most viewers, the song from the 1978 film Amar Prem has been a symbol of the Calcutta landmark – the iconic Howrah Bridge. The director of the film, Shakti Samanta, wanted a boat song for his film – and the bridge as the backdrop.
“[But] the song was shot in a boat rocking on a meadow in Natraj Studios, Bombay, and later montaged with the Calcutta skyline against the Howrah Bridge as the backdrop,” says a new book that traces the history of songs.
The book Gaata Rahe Mera Dil by two music lovers – Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal – tells the untold stories of Bollywood music with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs.
“We have tried to capture the history of each song,” Bangalore-based engineer Balaji Vittal says. “But we didn’t want to make it a technical discourse.”
For Hindi film and music lovers, the two gathered the stories that played behind the songs. For instance, few would have known that director Dev Anand had initially approached S.D. Burman to compose the music for his 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
The authors write that the film – with hippies smoking pot – was too “trippy” for Burman senior, and the film’s music was finally composed by his son, R.D. Burman.
Dev Anand’s first draft of the film had Jasbir (Zeenat Aman) falling in love with Prashant (Dev Anand), not knowing that he was her brother. “It was only after SD’s insistence that this was dropped. According to Dev Anand, Pancham [R.D. Burman] created the tunes in two weeks flat.”
Song sung blue – and not so blue

A new book tells the untold stories behind Bollywood music, with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs. The authors tell Sonia Sarkar that they tried not to pick the most obvious songs

NOTE FOR NOTE: (Clockwise from above) Stills from iconic Bollywood songs Yeh kahan aa gaye hum (Silsila); Chingari koi bhadkey (Amar Prem); and Dum maaro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) 

The boat rocks gently on the rippling waters of the Ganges. Rajesh Khanna, with a glass in hand, looks at Sharmila Tagore as a silhouette of the Howrah Bridge looms behind them. Chingari koi bhadkey, he sings, as the notes play with the waves.
For most viewers, the song from the 1978 film Amar Prem has been a symbol of the Calcutta landmark – the iconic Howrah Bridge. The director of the film, Shakti Samanta, wanted a boat song for his film – and the bridge as the backdrop.
“[But] the song was shot in a boat rocking on a meadow in Natraj Studios, Bombay, and later montaged with the Calcutta skyline against the Howrah Bridge as the backdrop,” says a new book that traces the history of songs.
The book Gaata Rahe Mera Dil by two music lovers – Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal – tells the untold stories of Bollywood music with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs.
“We have tried to capture the history of each song,” Bangalore-based engineer Balaji Vittal says. “But we didn’t want to make it a technical discourse.”
For Hindi film and music lovers, the two gathered the stories that played behind the songs. For instance, few would have known that director Dev Anand had initially approached S.D. Burman to compose the music for his 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
The authors write that the film – with hippies smoking pot – was too “trippy” for Burman senior, and the film’s music was finally composed by his son, R.D. Burman.
Dev Anand’s first draft of the film had Jasbir (Zeenat Aman) falling in love with Prashant (Dev Anand), not knowing that he was her brother. “It was only after SD’s insistence that this was dropped. According to Dev Anand, Pancham [R.D. Burman] created the tunes in two weeks flat.”

Burman senior knew then that it was time for his son to take over his mantle. “SD used to take morning walks in Juhu where people upon recognising him, would say, ‘Look, that’s S.D. Burman’. One day, just after the release of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, he told RD, ‘Today people recognised me, not as S.D. Burman, but as R.D. Burman’s father.’ That’s how the Navketan baton was passed on from father to son.”
The book is a part of the “50-series” of the publisher, HarperCollins. When Bhattacharjee and Vittal were approached, they were writing their first book, The Man, The Music about R.D. Burman. The subject interested them, and soon they were on board.
The two began work in 2009. The toughest job of all, they say, was in shortlisting 50 songs. They first listed 100 songs, which they brought down to 75, then to 60 and finally to 50. “But we knew that the list should be representative of various genres, songs, composers, filmmakers and even decades. At the same time, the song should have lived on for at least 20 years in the memory of the people,” Calcutta-based Anirudha Bhattacharjee, who works with an IT company, says.
This book, which opens with a chapter about the contribution of K.L. Saigal to Hindi film music, covers a wide spectrum of Hindi music – from Chale pawan ki chal from the film Doctor (1941) to Aye ajnabee tu bhi kabhi awaaz de kahin se from Dil Se (1998).
The authors consciously tried not to pick up the most “obvious” songs. So instead of going with Awaara hoon – Raj Kapoor’s hit song from Awaara (1951), they choose Tere bina aag yeh chandni and Ghar aya mera pardesi from the film.
Some of the songs – like Chingaari – were selected because of their spectacular picturisation. Some others were picked because of the genre they represent, such as Jaidev’s Allah tero naam. The soulful Lata Mangeshkar song surprisingly never made it to the top of the charts when the film Hum Dono was released in 1961.
“But we kept it on our list because it is a bhajan, a different category of music,” Vittal says. “Also, we have tried to explain how Lata Mangeshkar steps in to join the chorus and steps out effortlessly and subtly in the song.”
Four songs of the Seventies’ superstar Rajesh Khanna figure in the book. But the authors list just one of Amitabh Bachchan’s many songs that became mega hits – Yeh kahan aa gaye hum (from Silsila, 1981).
“Rajesh Khanna dominated Bollywood from 1969 to 1973. All his movies had amazing music but music was never the USP of Bachchan’s movies,” Vittal says.
Through their list of 50, the authors trace the remarkable journey of Hindi film music, marked by changes in voice qualities, in the choice of instruments, in the style of singing and in recording techniques over the years.
The arrival of the disco era is celebrated with Pakistani singer Nazia Hassan’s foot-tapping hit Aap jaisa koi (Qurbani, 1980). The authors recall in the book how composer Biddu auditioned the London-based singer and recorded the song in a London studio.
The song became such a hit that 40,000 people gathered at the Mumbai airport one day. “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was arriving in the city. But the crowd had actually come to receive a 16-year-old whose flight had landed around the same time,” the book states.
Those who believe that S.D. Burman was unfairly overlooked by Filmfare Awards may be touched by a little nugget that the authors share about the composer. His song Poochhon na kaise maine rain bitaayi, sung by Manna Dey for Meri Surat Teri Aankhen (1963), was one of Burman’s favourite compositions.
“During the announcement of the Filmfare Award nominations for 1963, SD was hospitalised after an eye operation. When Manna went to meet him at the hospital and conveyed to him the news that the song had not been nominated, tears rolled down SD’s cheeks from under his eye patch.”
Lyricists have their stories to tell too. There is a real-life tale behind Indivar’s Kasme Vaade pyaar wafaa from the film Upkar (1967). According to Anandji of the Kalyanji-Anandji composer duo, a young banker employed with Barclays Bank in Tanzania had fallen in love with a girl in India. He gave her a 25-paise coin as a token of promise that he would return to marry her.
“I was on a tour to Africa and the young man asked me to convey to her his intent. When he returned to India, we received the girl’s wedding card. Indivar and I were in a car, wondering how to break the news to our friend, how much it would hurt him when he would hear the news of the girl’s marriage. I had fractured my leg and was in a slightly philosophical mood, probably because of the injury. Suddenly, I said, ‘ Yeh kasme vaade pyaar wafaa, sab baatein hain…’ Indivar said the lines could make a mukhra. We reached my house and created the entire mukhra.”
Vittal and Bhattacharjee’s ode to music is a treasure trove of memories. “It is for Bollywood lovers who have been intrigued by Bollywood’s music for generations,” Vittal stresses.

The verses of the Quran follow me from every corner of the house as I walk up to Adnan Sami’s living room in his sprawling duplex apartment at Lokhandwala in Mumbai. “This is the background music of the house,” the composer-cum-singer says. “I like to greet anyone who comes to my house with a lot of positivity and peace. Also, I want the house to be blessed with the verses of God.”

Sami, 45, needs the blessings. His Bollywood debut – the song Bhar do jholi which he sang for Salman Khan’s new release Bajrangi Bhaijaan – has kicked up a storm. Reports say that the music label EMI Pakistan, which holds the rights to the song sung by the Sabri Brothers of Pakistan, has sent a legal notice to Sami, Khan and the music company, T-Series, for using the song in the film.

But Sami denies having received a legal notice. “Music director Pritam along with the filmmakers have made it clear that this qawwali has been inspired by and recreated from an old folk qawwali,” he says.

The controversy, he adds, is uncalled for. “Pakistanis want to create problems because I am involved in it. They just look for bahanaas (excuses) to irk me.”

Indeed, sections of Pakistanis have often created problems for Sami. In 2013, he was attacked when he recorded an azaan (Call to Prayer).

“Many raised objections saying that only the muezzins of mosques were authorised to sing it. I told them, if I can sing much better than the muezzins, I will do it,” an agitated Sami says.

The controversies hurt him because his father, Arshad Sami Khan, was from Pakistan, while his mother, Naureen, was from Jammu. Khan served as a diplomat in 14 countries and was close to former Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“As a kid, I used to play with Pinky (Benazir Bhutto),” he says. In his living room, there is a framed photograph of Benazir with a signed message.

Sami’s father, who was the aide-de-comp (A.D.C.) to three Presidents, wrote a book titled, “Three Presidents and an Aide – Life, Power and Politics,” which was published in India and was released by former Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral in 2008.

“Pakistan was too scared to publish it,” Sami says.

Since his father was posted in different countries, Sami was studying in a boarding school in Rugby in United Kingdom. Then he studied Journalism & Political Science from the University of London and later completed LLB degree from the prestigious Kings College in London.

Sami’s father introduced him to jazz and Hindustani classical music. He introduced him to ‘Raag Durga’ and ‘Raag Darbaari’ too. Sami was introduced to various music instruments at an early age of five and he began to learn the santoor from Pandit Shivkumar Sharma while he used to visit India during his school vacations and adapted it to the piano. He is the first musician to play Indian classical music on the keyboard. He also got the title of the fastest man on the keyboard.

Sami’s younger brother, Junaid Sami Khan, is a businessman in Houston in the US but Sami was always inclined to music. His family’s wide circle of friends brought him in touch with musicians from Bollywood. While he was living in London, he met music director R.D. Burman and singer Asha Bhonsle, who were visiting the city for a concert.

He recalls that he was playing the keyboard at a friend’s house, where Burman and Bhonsle were present, and surprised the musician. “He couldn’t believe that I was playing the keyboard. So I played for him again,” Sami says. “You’ll be a composer one day,” Bhonsle told him.

And that happened. His first formal album titled, “The One &Only,” was an Indian classical album on the piano accompanied by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain was released in 1989 and his first vocal solo album “Raag Time” was released in 1991.

It was such a coincidence that Bhonsle sang for Pakistani movie, Sargam, for which he composed music in 1991. But then the film censor board of Pakistan did not allow the release of the film because an Indian singer did the playback. So the songs were re-recorded with a Pakistani singer, Hadiqa Kiyani. But he teamed up with Bhonsle a decade later and released a collection of love songs in an album titled, ‘Kabhi to Nazar Milao’ in India.

But it was during the shooting of ‘Sargam’, where Sami was also the lead actor, he met his first wife, Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiyar, who was paired with him. But ironically, his Pakistani connections have never worked. So this marriage didn’t work either.

“Within two years, we fell apart,” says Sami, who feels that his failed relationships helped him to compose superhit romantic numbers such as “Bheegi Bheegi raaton mein” and “Tera chehara jab nazar aayein.”

He was not allowed to meet their son, Azaan, for 10 years. But now they are in touch, and Azaan is even following in the footsteps of his father, having composed a song for the 2010 release Bumm Bumm Bole.

Sami stresses that he has the capacity to face pain. “I believe in the philosophy of turning the other cheek,” he says, pointing to his right cheek – once remarkably chubby, now even more remarkably chiselled.
I take the liberty to tell him that I liked him more in his earlier avatar. He laughs.

But Sami has gone through many failed relationships. In 2001, he married an Arab, Sabah Galadari but this marriage too ended in a divorce, a year-and-a-half later. He remarried her in 2008, only to divorce her for the second time in 2009. But a case of domestic violence was lodged against him by her.

She also claimed this 5.3 crore house, where we are sitting now, was being gifted to her by him and filed a legal suit. But ironically, the house has now been confiscated by the Enforcement Directorate on the ground that Sami cannot buy a house because he is a Pakistani. “I have put an appeal before the ED. Till the final verdict is out, I am allowed to stay here,” he says.

Sami was a Pakistani passport holder, but surrendered his passport in May. He had twice applied for Indian citizenship and been rejected. He has now applied for it again. “I have been staying in India for so many years. It’s my home now,” Sami, born on the Indian Independence Day, August 15 in 1969, says.

Sami talks incessantly. Some of his answers are 15 minute-long. I often interrupt him and nudge him to answer the next question.

As we talk, Sami, dressed in a black T’shirt with the image of Beethoven imprinted on it and a pair of blue jeans, gets up to get his pack of cigarettes. I notice, a collage of photographs with Amitabh Bachchan, Pandit Jasraj, Zakir Hussain adorn the walls of his living room. Besides the platinum records of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the handwritten manuscript of Rudwig Von Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, framed posters of the epic ‘Ben-Hur,’ romantic drama, ‘Casablanca’ and the science fiction, ‘Matrix’ along with the miniature celluloid reels of the films are also part of his classy collection.

He comes back with a pack of Marlboro and lights up one cigarette. He wears a platinum bracelet embedded with semi precious jewels including his birthstone, Peridot. A Rolex watch adorns his slim wrist.

“I have many Rolex watches but this is precious. This was a gift from my father,” he says while keeping the cigarette in between his fingers.

The fact that he lost 167 kilos over four-and-a-half years is known to anybody who has followed Sami. But he holds that he was not an obese child. “I was very active. I used to play rugby, polo, tennis and cricket in school. It was only in the 1990s, when I used to live just opposite Harrods in London, that I started putting on weight. I used to have my breakfast there every day,” says Sami, who now weighs 75 kilos.

His father nudged him towards losing weight. Once, in a London hotel room in 2007, after a doctor had warned him that his organs would pack up, his father voiced his worries. “I don’t want to face the pain of having to bury you,” his father said.

That was the turning point. Sami went to a nutritionist in Houston, where his father lived, and followed a strict diet. “I was on a high protein diet: no bread, no rice, no sugar, no alcohol. I could eat a horse, as long as it was barbequed or steamed,” he laughs.

After the weight loss, he met his current wife Roya Faryabi, who was a telecommunications engineer in Germany. “She was visiting Mumbai on a project. We met through common friends and clicked,” he says as Roya walks in to say hello.

It’s time to wrap up the conversation. Before I leave, he shows me a piano, one of the five he owns, in his bedroom. “Sometimes, I make music in my sleep. So I get up, put on my headphone and compose it on the piano,” he says. There’s music in every room, and, clearly, through day and night.

( A shorter version of the story is published in The Telegraph, July 19, 2015. The link:
FullSizeRender (7)

As more and more skeletons tumble out of the Vyapam scam closet, Sonia Sarkar turns the spotlight on people — mostly young men — who appear for examinations on behalf of others

SEAT DREAMS: A class at the coaching institute CatalyseR in Indore
Three years after Ashish Tripathi cleared a medical school entrance examination, he was still poring over question papers. Not for his own exams, but for others seeking to join medical colleges. Till last year, he’d taken the entrance exams four times on behalf of would-be doctors in examinations conducted by the Bihar Combined Entrance Competitive Examination Board.

“I earned around Rs 80,000 per exam,” confesses Tripathi, a student of King George’s Medical University, Lucknow. “Now I am too busy with my own classes to do this anymore,” he says.

That impersonators crack examinations for a fee is nothing new. But as more and more skeletons tumble out of the Rs 2,000-crore Vyapam scam closet, the spotlight once again is on these people – mostly young men – who are in the racket for a quick buck.

Reports suggest that over 300 impersonators appeared for entrance tests conducted over a decade by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board or the Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal. Some 25 to 40 people linked with the scam have died in this period, some mysteriously. In this one week, there were four deaths.

Vyapam conducts entrance tests for a master’s in computer applications, pharmacy, nursing, animal husbandry and other courses. In 2013, after the scam hogged the headlines, it stopped conducting pre-medical and pre-engineering tests.

The police say that impersonators have been used in several other recruitment tests such as the Food Inspector Selection Test, Milk Federation Test, Subedar-Sub Inspector and Platoon Commander Selection Test and Police Constable Recruitment Test. Outsiders sat on behalf of aspirants for the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection exams and the State Bank of India Probationary Officers’ exam too.

Impersonators can be found across the country. Over 1,000 people were arrested in Bihar this year, and 150 last year, for appearing on behalf of candidates in the Bihar Police constable recruitment examination. In 2008, more than 18,000 constables were questioned after complaints of impersonation in UP Police recruitment tests conducted during 2004-06. In 2012 and 2013, 22 and 60 management graduates respectively of Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies were accused of clearing their entrance exams with the help of impersonators.

Police sources say that the modus operandi is fairly simple. The ring involves officials on examination boards, middlemen, students or others who are recruited by agents, and candidates “desperate” for a seat or a job. The recruited men are mostly in 22-28 years age group. A candidate never meets the impersonator.

“Everything is handled by the middlemen, right from identifying an aspirant to hiring the impersonator,” says Anand Rai, medical officer in the regional health and family welfare training centre in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Rai was among the people who exposed the Vyapam scam.

Some of the impersonators are people who have already cleared a tough test. “They know their subject very well, so it is easy for them to solve a paper,” a senior teacher at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College at Indore says.

Tripathi, for instance, cleared the medical test in the third attempt. “After three attempts, I became quite a pro at answering questions,” he says.

Some people who have not cleared an examination are recruited to sit for tests that are of lower levels. “An aspirant for the IAS, for instance, can pass a constable recruitment exam with ease. Just as someone preparing for the pre-medical test can clear the entrance exam for a pharmacy course,” a senior Delhi police official says.

Impersonators don’t appear for entrance tests in their own states, but in tests conducted elsewhere – so as to minimise the chances of being recognised. A large number of impersonators who appeared in exams conducted by Vyapam were from Kanpur and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and Kota in Rajasthan, cities which have a large concentration of medical and engineering students.

In the Vyapam scam, insiders say that 15 exam toppers from a Kanpur medical college took the tests on behalf of others.

“This is a chain system. Some senior students have done it in the past and earned good money. So they influenced their juniors too,” a teacher says.

At the helm of affairs, however, are officials on the boards conducting the competitive examinations. “These top officials work with the middlemen,” Rai says.

Sanjeev, one such aspirant, was approached by an agent. He wanted to become a doctor, but had not cleared the entrance examinations. “I got calls from unknown people who promised me a seat in a medical college in Indore if I paid Rs 15 lakh. I refused. If the sum was not this high, perhaps I could have convinced my father to pay up,” he says.

Many of the pretenders and the aspirants are picked up from coaching institutes. The middlemen collect names and phone numbers of the aspirants and then call them. Sometimes, even the top managers of coaching institutes are involved, insiders say.

“There is a huge proliferation of coaching institutes in Indore. Coaching institutes want to show high success rates to attract more students. It iseasier to do this through the racketeers who work in tandem with the examination board,” says Mohit Yadav, CEO of the Krishna group of institutes – a coaching centre in Indore.

The middlemen zero in on the children of doctors, engineers and police officials. One, they have the money. And two, says Rai, “It is most likely that a doctor would want his or her child to become a doctor. It’s the same for engineers and police officials.”

The racketeers usually have access to candidates’ application forms. The candidate’s picture is replaced by that of the impersonator. The candidate is asked to keep his or her signature simple, so that the impersonator can copy it easily. After the test papers are submitted, officials on the examination board replace the photograph, putting the original back.

“Preparations start at least six months before the examinations. Spotting the aspirant and an impersonator, who is willing to take the risk, is a tedious job,” says a teacher at a coaching institute, who had been asked by one of the middlemen of Vyapam to introduce him to candidates “desperate” for a seat.

According to the insiders, for a seat for the SC/ST category, candidates have to shell out around Rs 7 lakh while the rate for a seat in the general category is around Rs 15 lakh. This money is paid to the racketeers, who then give the board officials their share, and Rs 20,000-30,000 to the agents. The official sitting at the examination board, whose job is to change roll numbers, and photographs, gets Rs 1 lakh.

Around Rs 2 lakh is paid to the impersonator, who gets half the sum before the exam, and the rest after the results are out, and if the candidate gets his seat. “There are occasions when the impersonator doesn’t receive the promised sum. But he cannot complain to anybody because he himself will get exposed,” Tripathi says.

As some cases started surfacing in 2009, measures were taken by MP’s examination board. In 2010, it started using biometric technology: thumb impressions and photographs of all those appearing for the exams had to be matched with those after the results were announced. “But fresh cases of impersonation came to light up to 2013,” an Indore police official says.

The heat is on, but Tripathi has had his share of excitement. He is now focused on his exams. And, no, he has no idea how those studying medicine in Bihar – thanks to him – are faring.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities)

Telegraph, July 12, 2015


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