Archive for November 2017

Meat of the matter

– To keep fatigue and forgetfulness away, include enough Vitamin B12 in your diet. Sonia Sarkar tells you why

Do you feel tired even after eight solid hours of sleep? It’s not just because of the long hours you are putting in at work, it could be the sign of a deficiency too. If you also feel depressed without a reason, have a tingling sensation in your hands or feet and have noticed a recent tendency to forget things, you may be lacking in Vitamin B12.

Also known as cobalamin, Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins and its role in cellular metabolism is closely intertwined with that of folate, another B vitamin.

“Over 50 per cent of Indians have B12 deficiency,” says Sadanand S. Naik, head of the department of clinical biochemistry at Pune’s KEM Hospital.

It can affect anyone and at any age. “The figure is higher among vegetarians, pregnant women (as its requirement goes up during pregnancy) and the elderly (as they do not take adequate nutrition),” says Seema Gulati, head of the nutrition research group at the National Diabetes Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation (NDOC), a Delhi-based NGO.

In all age groups, Vitamin B12 should be in the range of 200 pg/ml to 900 pg/ml of blood, where one pg or picogram is one trillionth of a gram. The early signals of a deficiency are anaemia, lethargy, joint pain, loss of memory and laziness. So if you are being plagued by more than one of these symptoms, see your doctor and get yourself tested.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is becoming a growing health concern across the world. An article published this year in the journal Nature Reviews – co-authored by Dr Ralph Green of the US, and a group of 14 international experts – states, “Deficiency of B12 is emerging as a public health concern in many low-income countries. A World Health Organization consultation identified infants, preschool children and pregnant and lactating women as the most vulnerable groups.”

The lack of Vitamin B12 for a sufficiently long period of time can lead to sensory and motor disturbances, ataxia leading to lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements, and cognitive decline leading to dementia and psychiatric disorders. “Advanced Vitamin B12 deficiency could also lead to delirium and paranoia,” says Bangalore-based biological scientist Sujata Kelkar Shetty.

Low B12 levels could even spark off coronary artery disease, suggests a 2009 report of the US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information. It states that the incidence of coronary artery disease is increasing at an alarming rate, especially in developing countries such as India. “This may be due to deficiency of vitamin B12, a micronutrient, sourced only from animal products,” it adds.

There also seems to be a connection between lack of Vitamin B12 and the health of the thyroid gland. “Vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism are inter-related among young females,” says KEM’s Naik. “This is partly due to vegetarianism, a sedentary lifestyle and not enough exposure to sunlight.”

Incidentally, sunlight helps us make Vitamin D. So there is always a possibility that you may be deficient in both vitamins B12 and D3. “Prolonged D and B12 deficiency leads to impaired bone mineralisation, anaemia and neuro-cognitive disorders. Notable D and B12 deficiency prevails in epidemic proportions all over the Indian subcontinent,” reveals Naik.

Unlike Vitamin D, our body cannot make Vitamin B12. “So we have to get it from animal-based foods (dairy or meat) or from supplements [for vegetarians]. And we should do that on a regular basis, because our body cannot store vitamin B12 for a long time,” Gulati says. Since this vitamin is water soluble, any excess amount flows out of the body.

Ensuring you take in enough Vitamin B12 is sometimes not enough, especially if your stomach lining has been compromised as that impairs its absorption of the vitamin. This can happen in certain gastric ailments as well as in certain autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s. Consuming too much alcohol can also increase your risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency as it may lead to severe depletion of bodily stores of the vitamin. Chronic alcoholism also damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, which impairs absorption.

If you are found to have very low levels of B12 then the immediate relief is injectables. After taking a shot every day for five days, you will then be prescribed pills. There are, however, exceptions. “In pernicious anaemia, Vitamin B12 deficiency is persistent, and long-term injectable B12 is warranted,” says Gulati.

Why wait for a shot when a mouthful of deliciousness can give you the same results?

Sources of Vitamin B12


  • Milk and milk products (yogurt,buttermilk, cheese)
  • Fortified cereals
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Shitake mushrooms


  • Eggs  n Meat  n  Fish
  • Shellfish


– Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan tells Sonia Sarkar that the BJP-Sangh establishment poses a threat to Constitution and country
Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan is not known to mince his words. Today is no exception. “The biggest issue in the country today is the communal fascist agenda of the government,” he says.

We are in his cramped office in Lutyens’ Delhi, on the third floor of the New Lawyers’ Chambers, looking onto the facade of the Supreme Court across the street. Bhushan, who is known for his untiring judicial jousting, has just wrapped up a discussion with some activists from Chhattisgarh. It’s a case of a mining company ignoring the rights of forest dwellers in the northern parts of the state.

A question about the current goings-on in the country – mob lynchings, the killing (or silencing) of journalists and rationalists – has triggered this outpour. He continues, “It is a criminal gang that is running this country today… They are openly doing things that are serious offences under the Indian Penal Code, such as abusing and threatening people with violence and rape on social media. They want to intimidate people who are questioning them.” All the while his expression is of utmost calm, his voice soft, his tone even. If there is anything at all that betrays the intensity of his outrage, it would be his eyes. He narrows them while he speaks.

Bhushan himself has had a taste of intimidation, often backed by the powers. A few months ago, when he tweeted that Lord Krishna was a “legendary eve-teaser” – he was actually cheekily critiquing UP chief minister Adityanath’s decision to employ anti-Romeo squads to ensure safety of women in the state – he faced an avalanche of criticism. His exact comment, “Romeo loved just one lady, while Krishna was a legendary eve-teaser. Would Adityanath have the guts to call his vigilantes Anti-Krishna squads?”

Bhushan was called “anti-Hindu” and “anti-national”. Protesters belonging to the Hindu group, Sudarshan Vahini, defaced his Noida house with ink. An FIR was lodged at Lucknow’s Hazratganj police station against him for hurting religious sentiments. Eventually, he apologised.

“That was also an instance of the fascist atmosphere that has been created,” says Bhushan. “You cannot say anything even mildly critical about gods or those considered gods. Many people are saying [Narendra] Modi is our God, and if you say anything against him, I will kill you.”

He insists all such threats are supported by the central government, which in his view does not subscribe to the constitutional values of secularism and the fundamental right to freedom of speech. “If they [the BJP] get two-thirds majority in 2019, then they might remove secularism and socialism from the Constitution,” he warns.

Two years ago, on Republic Day, the BJP government had issued an advertisement that quoted the Preamble of the Constitution thus: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic…” The words “socialist” and “secular” had been omitted. That led to a bit of a furore. Later, the information and broadcasting ministry tweeted saying it was done deliberately to “honour” the founding fathers of the Constitution. The words “socialist” and “secular” had been added to the original Preamble in 1976.

Bhushan says all these instances of fascism are orchestrated by the larger saffron family or the Sangh Parivar. He alleges that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the BJP, has been enabled a grip on cultural and research institutions of the country and is now making inroads into the judiciary. Without naming anyone he adds, “They have appointed as judges in high courts and the Supreme Court those who were earlier members of the RSS.”

Does that mean the judiciary is going to kowtow to the state? It is already doing so, says Bhushan. He cites the Birla-Sahara case, wherein the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by him to probe two business houses in a pay-off scandal. It had been alleged that politicians belonging to Congress and BJP had been bribed by the Aditya Birla Group and the Sahara Group. “It was an utterly absurd judgement where it refused to investigate the case, thus going against all past laws laid down by the same Supreme Court,” says Bhushan, who runs a Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

Bhushan is the insider outsider. He has always been critical of the judiciary like his father, former law minister and Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan. Bhushan Senior had once moved an application in the apex court, accusing eight former chief justices of India of “corruption”. Prashant Bhushan has filed many public interest litigations (PILs) against India’s top industrialists. Last year, he took on Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited over 4G spectrum allocation. This year, he filed a lawsuit against the Adani group and other mining companies for allegedly inflating coal and equipment prices to siphon money from India.

In 2016, a Supreme Court bench questioned the credentials and authenticity of the PILs Bhushan has been filing at regular intervals. Not that it deterred him in any way.

Currently, Bhushan is taking special interest in the case involving BJP president Amit Shah’s son Jay, whose business has reportedly recorded a 16,000-fold increase in turnover in a year’s time. Amit Shah has filed a Rs 100-crore defamation suit against the journalist who wrote the exposé and the news portal – The Wire – that published it. “This defamation suit is a way to intimidate the media and those questioning the dubious transactions,” says Bhushan.

Threats, intimidation and attacks on freedom of speech are some of the things that define this government, he says. Others would be job losses, price rise and farmers’ suicides.

Why then is there no public outcry? How does the BJP keep winning election after election? Bhushan seems to think the ruling party’s denouement has begun. “They have been inept in managing the economy, have made huge blunders – demonetisation and implementation of GST. They are rapidly losing support.” He cites the recent students’ union elections in Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University; in both places the BJP-affiliated students’ outfit, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, was defeated. “The youth are disenchanted with the BJP.”

The other indicator, according to him, is social media. “Ten per cent of the country’s population is on social media – even if you say that it’s the upper crust of the society, it is quite clear that public opinion has shifted quite substantially.”

And the alternative to the BJP would be? Pause. Bhushan agrees there is a problem, but soon turns to praising Rahul Gandhi. “He is more energetic now. He is travelling around. If he is able to put together a team of newer younger leaders, then Congress will hopefully revive…”

But he would say that; after all, his family and the Congress go back a long way. A little bit of steel creeps into his voice. Bhushan says, “My family parted with the Congress in 1969, when the party split. But if I had to choose between the Congress and the BJP, Congress is a lesser evil.”

Talking of alternatives, we cannot help but ask him about his own Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stint. He, along with Yogendra Yadav, had helped found the party and ran it till they were suspended by AAP boss and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for alleged anti-party activities.

Bhushan admits electoral politics is not his cup of tea, but not before he has had a go at Kejriwal. “He is undemocratic; doesn’t have principles, no interest in understanding the issues of the country and he is willing to use unethical means to achieve his ends.”

This year, Bhushan, along with Yadav, co-launched a political party – Swaraj India. “Here, you remain true to your principles and take up issues that are entirely in public interest.”

But can power politics and public interest ever go hand in hand? Perhaps he is right to say politics is not quite his cup of tea.


1977: Bhushan joins IIT Madras, but quits after one semester
Completes his law degree from Allahabad University. In between, goes away to Princeton in the US for a brief while
1983: Starts practicing as a lawyer in the Supreme Court. Known to fight for civil liberties, human rights and environment issues, and expose corruption in high places
1990: Writes a book on the Bofors scandal — BoforsThe Selling of a Nation
Among his most talked about cases are 2G scam, Radia tapes, Coalgate and iron ore mining scams. Has argued 300-plus PILs to date
Known to be against the death penalty and use of violence against Naxals; wants AFSPA revoked in Kashmir
Threw his lot behind the India Against Corruption movement launched in 2010. Was among founders of the Aam Aadmi Party
Following his expulsion from AAP in 2015, co-founded Swaraj Abhiyan with Yogendra Yadav


– Historian Upinder Singh talks to Sonia Sarkar about her new book, an engaging exploration of our consistently violent past
Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Professor of History at Delhi University, and daughter of the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh, Upinder Singh is just out with her new book, Political Violence in Ancient India (Harvard University Press). The book examines the representation of kingship and political violence in epics, religious texts and treatises between 600 BCE and 600 CE. But it rings with relevance to our present. Over green tea and kaju barfi at her campus home in North Delhi, Singh chats about her father whom she doesn’t see “leaping headlong into hectic political activity” in future; her next possible writing project — about the religious and cultural connect between India, Sri Lanka and the rest of Southeast Asia; but mostly about her new book, its revelations about India’s violent past and the need to read history for what it is, instead of trying to appropriate it. Excerpts:

The essential question that comes to mind upon reading Political Violence in Ancient Indiais: have we been living in a bubble all this while? Are Indians, actually, inherently non-violent in nature?

Many Indians have a perception of their early history as being exceptionally non-violent. I was aware of the violent details, the wars between different kingdoms and the oligarchies, the class and caste conflicts, but I had not made note of it as a historian. Then one day, I saw The Nitisara by Kamandaka, written between 500 and 700 CE, lying on my shelf. It was about political violence. One thing led to another, I looked at Ashoka’s inscriptions, I read Kalidas, all these texts said a lot about this issue. Violence was so pervasive in ancient India that it was not possible for me to tackle violence in general. So I decided to focus on the political domain.

The book has a contemporary relevance, coinciding as it does with the ongoing instances of political violence across the country.

When I was writing the book, I was not consciously thinking of the present, but now that it is out, I am much more aware about the contemporary relevance of this issue. People have become aware and worried about it and that makes them interested in finding out what was happening hundreds of years ago.

QThe chapter, The Wilderness, goes into the very harsh punishments prescribed in ancient India for those violating royal herds. It notes that anyone who killed or stole cattle from the king’s herd, or incited someone else to do so, was put to death. Were there no juridical methods to deal with crimes then?

That bit is from the Arthashastra, wherein Kautilya is describing an ideal state and how justice should be delivered. This included capital punishment, especially for crimes that involved the property of the king. We don’t know to what extent such justice was administered. Kautilya talks about a judicial apparatus when it comes to deciding civil and criminal crimes. But he also sees the king as someone who holds the power in the administration of justice. It is important to remember that these texts – Arthashastra, Manusmriti – are theoretical works; actual practice must have varied.

QRamayan and Mahabharat are war-centric. What do they tell us about our past? Was any of it real?

Many people want to know if these things actually happened. Whether Ram and Sita, the Pandavs and the Kauravs existed, if the wars at all happened and when. It’s impossible to prove if they happened or they didn’t. But there is some historical basis to these epics. There were some characters and events and then over time, these literary epics came to be woven around them. But you cannot read them literally; there is poetic imagination at work. It’s not really important to try to fix the exact date when the events may have taken place. Even if they have no historical basis, that does not take away the great cultural importance they have.

Q The book talks about how Ram’s story became part of BJP’s Hindutva agenda and communal polarisation tactics. Does this epic cast a shadow on contemporary Indian politics?

Of course, it does. There is a continuing close relationship between the past and the present. But many of our current political platforms are based on the distorted presentation of the past. The popular discourse continues to be impacted by the political propaganda and dubious historical interpretations. We need to distinguish between what politicians are saying about Indian history and what Indian history is all about.

So you are saying there are deliberate attempts to distort Indian history?

Yes. History has always been political. But the past few years, there has been an alarming rise in distortion and manipulation of history – whether it is an attempt to rewrite history texts at the school level or police university syllabi.

Q You have observed that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru helped create the myth of a non-violent ancient India while building an Independence movement on the principle of non-violence. Was this required?

There were several factors that led to the creation of this impression that non-violence is somehow deeply rooted in the Indian psyche. Both Gandhi and Nehru had an understanding of the diversity of Indian history. Gandhi was aware of the element of violence in texts such as the Mahabharat, but he considered the Bhagwad Gita a work about non-violence. Nehru spoke about how Indian history is marked by a great degree of social harmony. By choosing the Lion Capital that originally graced the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath as the official emblem of independent India, both connected modern India with Ashoka and Buddhism. So at the time of national movement, it is not surprising Gandhi and Nehru were trying to emphasise values they thought were important for Indians of their own time and for future. I think, there is an emphasis on non-violence – what they were trying to do was to create a source of inspiration rather than a deliberate falsifying of India’s past.

Q And this idea of non-violence, as you see it, is now being consciously and systematically challenged by a new politically inspired aggressive idea of Indian-ness, which is more in line with (Vinay Damodar) Savarkar’s thought?

If you look at Savarkar’s Six Glorious Epochs Of Indian History, you’ll see he has no admiration for Ashoka. There is no emphasis on non-violence as a positive value in the entire discourse. He seems to think non-violence is a weakness in the face of foreign aggression. I am connecting all this with present-day Hindutva. There is aggressive Hindutva, an attempt to build an idea of aggressive Indian-ness. I don’t see this as an answer; it is part of the problem.

Q Why is it important to admire or even know of King Ashoka?

Ashoka is an important historical figure to engage with in the atmosphere of potential communal violence that we live in. He was a Buddhist ruler living in a multi-religious empire. He laid emphasis on religious dialogue and how people of different religions should respect each other, which is relevant in our times.

Q You write that war is an important metaphor in Buddhism and Jainism. How do we connect this with the violence that Buddhist monks have unleashed in Myanmar and Sri Lanka?

If you look at the early history of Buddhism, there is an extreme emphasis on non-violence. No religion remains true to its original principles. When Buddhism becomes associated with the state, there is violence. Also, Buddhist texts talk about persecution of monks, but religious conflict was not rampant in the period I am talking about because no religion had succeeded in capturing the state.

There is an impression that Islam, which expands on the basis of proselytisation, is the harbinger of violence in India. What is your analysis?

My book illustrates a great deal of political violence in ancient times, even before Islam came in. It’s not that violence made its appearance in India with the Turkish invasion.

Q And now BJP leaders are saying the Taj Mahal was built by “traitors”.

All these controversies are based on chauvinistic ideas and Hindu-Muslim polarisation. For a historian, this increasing appropriation of his-tory and using history to fuel one’s own political agenda is distressing. A lot of these controversies are about those who want to propagate the Hindutva way of Indian history. Historians have to find ways of effectively challenging these views.


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– He was once referred to as ‘rajarshi’, or the wise one. Today, four years into his term as chief minister of the island nation’s Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran has alienated nearly all with his fickle ways. Sonia Sarkar reports.


Four years ago, when Canagasabapathy Visuvalingam Wigneswaran took the plunge into Sri Lankan politics, he was, in his own words, a “reluctant politician”. Today, everyone else – his own party and the alliance it is part of – has turned reluctant about him and his brand of politics. “Nobody really knows what is going on in his head,” says a senior Tamil nationalist politician of Sri Lanka, who does not want to be identified.

In July 2013, Wigneswaran, a former judge of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court, was named the chief ministerial candidate by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the political alliance that represents the Sri Lankan Tamil minority – for the upcoming election to the Northern Provincial Council.

The north had been the stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE, Vellupillai Pirabhakaran’s feared armed formation that once fought for a separate Tamil state, arguing that the community had been discriminated against under successive majority Buddhist Sinhalese parties. The civil war ended in 2009, but not before it had ravaged the Northern Province in every possible way.

The 2013 elections were the first in the region since the end of the 26-year-long civil war. That year, Wigneswaran contested from Jaffna, won, and became the first Tamil chief minister of the Northern Province.

Considered a moderate in his pre-politics avatar, Wigneswaran started to change his spots at the time of campaigning itself. One of the first giveaways of the hardliner stirrings within him surfaced when he hailed the deceased Prabhakaran and likened him to Keppetipola, a Sinhalese rebel at the time of the British rule.

Four years down the line, Wigneswaran’s transformation is complete. Tamil politicians claim he is a complete hardliner. It’s an open secret that the TNA boss, R. Sampanthan, who handpicked Wigneswaran to contest the 2013 polls, isn’t happy with him.

In 2015, when Wigneswaran floated a group called Tamil People’s Council (TPC) including a section of leaders from the TNA, the extremist Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), the academia and civil society members, it was perceived as Wigneswaran’s first open challenge to Sampanthan’s leadership.

Then again, during the 2015 parliamentary elections, Wigneswaran supported the more extremist TNPF. After Maithripala Sirisena took over as Sri Lanka’s President, representatives of the country’s main Tamil party, the TNA, attended the Independence Day function in Colombo, signalling a potentially new era of cooperation between the Sinhalese and Tamil political leadership, but Wigneswaran was against it.

And now, many say, Wigneswaran wants to succeed Sampanthan as TNA chief, upon the latter’s retirement, though the buzz is Sampanthan and others want to hand over the mantle to the younger and more dynamic M.A. Sumanthiran.

Recently, some TNA leaders openly revolted against Wigneswaran when he asked two of his ministers – P. Sathyalingam and B. Deniswaran – to go on leave on charges of corruption without any substantial evidence against them. Twenty-one of the 30 TNA councillors of the Northern Provincial Council demanded his resignation. Even Wigneswaran’s own party, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), is upset with him. Party chief Mavai Senathirajah is open about it. He says, “Only two ministers were found guilty of corruption related to irregular transfer of teachers and renovation of agricultural wells. But Wigneswaran asked Deniswaran and Sathyalingam to go on leave even before the inquiry was over. This was absolute high-handedness,” ITAK president Senathirajah tells The Telegraph over phone from Jaffna.

Another accusation levelled at Wigneswaran is that he is whimsical. “There is no consistency in his statements. He will say something today and then retract his own statement tomorrow. He is not a mature politician,” Senathirajah adds. In 2014, he had insisted that the word “genocide” be dropped when the National Provincial Council passed a resolution calling for an international probe into human rights violations in the Northern Province. But a year later, he himself moved the “Genocide Resolution” accusing successive Sri Lankan governments of committing genocide against Tamils.

Senathirajah says, “He has fallen prey to the ‘hidden’,” but won’t elaborate on the “hidden”. Political experts, however, say it a reference to the backroom boys – Tamil hardliners of civil society, ultra-nationalist leaders and radical academics of Jaffna – advising him at every step.

In a 2016 TPC rally, Wigneswaran spoke against the erection of Buddhist statues in the Northern Province. A staunch Hindu, he is mostly aggressive at public meetings. He is also anti-Centre and never forgets to point out how the Centre never bothered to rehabilitate LTTE cadres and war widows. The pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora, that pumps in a lot of money for developmental work in Jaffna, love to hear this, a Jaffna-based political expert adds.

The Telegraph‘s efforts to contact Wigneswaran via texts, email and phone, did not elicit a response. But Veerasingham Anandasangaree, leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front or TULF, who is openly pro-Wigneswaran and anti-Sampanthan, says, “Wigneswaran has a lot of local support. It’s only a section of TNA leaders who consider him radical.”

Some say, it’s a well-thought political strategy. “A section of Tamils used to see Wigneswaran as the Colombo man. He was born in the capital Colombo and schooled in Kurunegala and Anuradhapura before entering the elite Royal College, where children of Sri Lanka’s ruling class enrol. He wanted to be more accepted by common Tamils, by speaking against the Centre,” says an ITAK official.

India too is not exactly ecstatic about Wigneswaran’s radical views. Top officials at the Indian High Commission in Colombo have apparently urged him to stop all radical posturing that could jeopardise the Lankan government’s bid to find an amicable solution to the long-standing Tamil question. India would rather he focused on the welfare of Tamils instead.

Senathirajah, however, alleges that Wigneswaran, who projects himself as the messiah of Tamils, has done very little for them on the ground. Unemployment, widespread indebtedness, deteriorating social and educational institutions, and rising social violence, remain the concern of the Tamil people. “He is not even allowing industries to come to the Northern Province,” Senathirajah adds.

The Indian Chambers had organised the Jaffna Trade Exhibition in May this year. Many Indian entrepreneurs attended it, but Wigneswaran stayed away.

Even when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Jaffna in 2015, Wigneswaran’s focus was not development. Instead, he requested Modi to release four rape convicts, followers of Swami Premananda, whom he held in high regard. Premananda himself was convicted of multiple rapes and murders in 1997.

“He should have asked for more houses and rehabilitation packages for Tamils from the Indian PM. Or he should have raised the issue of fishermen, where our men suffer because of the south Indian fishing trawlers. Instead, he asked for something which has nothing to do with his chief ministership,” says Douglas Devananda, leader of Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and member of the Sri Lankan Parliament.

Every time fingers are pointed at his poor administration, Wigneswaran blames Colombo for not giving enough powers to the Northern Provincial Council. But according to Devananda, he returned 80 per cent of the funds allocated by Colombo for the development of the Northern Province.

His detractors say that he has done nothing for the sectors he is in charge of as the CM. “Sectors such as health, education, agriculture, fisheries and industries are in his hands. What work has he done?” asks Senathirajah.

Wigneswaran better have the answers before the provincial council elections next year.


The major bone of contention between the Northern Province and the central government is the 13th Amendment, a product of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord

It establishes provincial councils. Also prescribes devolution of powers related to land, police, health, education, finances, tax collection, housing and construction to the provincial councils

The reality, to date, is different. For instance, the central government continues to formulate policy with regard to land use. All major financial powers and imposition or abolition of tax lie also with the Centre. And so does law and order, and national security

Wigneswaran wants devolution of powers in all sectors.

Link :

– Enough of romancing the chinars, the Dal Lake, the snowcapped peaks. Kashmiris are turning to film-making to tell the story of the Valley as they know it.  Sonia Sarkar talks to some of them
DIFFERENT TAKE: On the sets of Half Widow; (below) a still from Partav

Ovais, pursuing a degree in Psychology from Kashmir University, says, “I thought of the film when I was frustrated at being confined… It was the only way I could have expressed my anguish.”

While Memoirs is Ovais’s first film, Dilnawaz Muntazir, a dentist based in Srinagar, is a couple of films old. Kashmir’s first digital feature film, Akh Daleel Looluch (A Story of Love), was released in 2006, but the digital film that got everyone’s attention was Dilnawaz’s Partavor Influence (2013). It bagged the Award of Excellence at the Canada International Film festival that year. Currently, Dilnawaz, who runs his own production company, is working on Ek Pal Zindagi Ka, a film about children orphaned by the ongoing conflict.


Electrical engineer-turned-filmmaker Danish Renzu says, “Being a Kashmiri, I feel an obligation to tell stories from my world and the place I grew up in. There are so many untold stories and they need attention and platform.” Danish, who has directed the 2017 film, Half Widow, is speaking for himself, but what he says is true of Ovais and Dilnawaz and a lot of young Kashmiris today.

“I have deliberately avoided showing the clichés associated with Kashmir, such as gorgeous landscapes and snowcapped mountains,” says Hussein Khan, whose 2017 film Kashmir Daily tells the story of drug abuse and unemployment.

They must be driven by some compulsion for all of these people are going out of their way to find the time and make the effort to craft this emergent narrative. Danish quit his job with a firm in the US and returned home to Kashmir two years ago. Since then he has made one film – Half Widow; two others are in the making.

Half Widow, as is evident from the title, revolves around a woman who has lost her husband in the web of unrest that has had Kashmir in its stranglehold for decades. One night, in the middle of dinner, he was picked up by some armed men, never to be traced again. Minus her husband and minus any intimation about whether he is dead or alive, the woman finds herself living the unenviable life of a person who is not quite wife, not quite widow. Estimates say there are over 20,000 such half widows in Kashmir. “I believe it’s a very important story and must reach audiences worldwide,” says Danish, whose forthcoming film projects are Pashmina, the tale of the common people of Kashmir caught in the crossfire between militants and the state, and Winters of Kashmir, which is about a young woman who chooses to fight for her right to be educated.

Kashmir had its own film industry till the late 1980s. The first Kashmiri film, Mainz Raat or Mehendi Raat, from 1964 was a typical formula film, girl-meet-boy and the inevitable. But director Jagi Rampaul was given the President’s medal for bringing before the rest of India a slice of Kashmiri life.

It was not a thriving industry by any stretch, but some films of note did come out of it. There were nine cinema halls in Srinagar alone and old-timers recall long queues in front of the ticketing counters of Palladium in Lal Chowk; many of those would have been for Hindi movies. But in the late 1980s, when militancy picked up, many terrorist organisations started a campaign against all forms of entertainment in the Valley. They called such activity “un-Islamic” and forcibly shut down cinema halls.

The feature film, Inqalaab, was made in 1989, but it was never released. Ten years later, the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah encouraged screening of films in Kashmir. The theatres, Broadway, Neelam and Regal, were reopened amidst tight security. But Regal was shut down again after militants aimed a grenade at it, killing one civilian and injuring 12 others. In 2005, following an encounter, Neelam too was shut down.

The current trend is therefore no less than a renaissance.

Shot in Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and even English, filmmakers try to involve as much local talent as is possible, but it’s not been easy. Says Hussein, “Traditionally, filmmaking was never encouraged in the Valley. It was mostly theatre and television where a large number of local artistes – scriptwriters, directors and actors – showcased their talent.”

The other hurdle is finance. Hussein took three years to complete his film. “My family makes sacrifices to ensure I pursue my dream. My children have stopped taking the school bus, they take the local bus to save Rs 3,000 per month,” says Hussein, whose Kashmir Dailywas screened for 7,000 viewers at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar this March. There was no big bang commercial release as there are no cinema halls in Kashmir.

Among the other problems are poor shooting infrastructure and lack of post-production facilities. Some, like Muntazir, have opened their own studios to help the filmmakers.

Of late, many Kashmiri actors – Rufy Khan from Yuvvraaj and Dhara 302; Zaira Wasim from Dangal, Mir Sarwar from Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Jolly LLB 2 – have been making waves in Bollywood. Will their success help the cause of filmmakers and films from the Valley? Perhaps. Mir is trying to collaborate with Bollywood for the upcoming Bed No. 17, a film on the healthcare scam that he will be directing. “It will be the first such collaboration,” he says.

In the meantime, those who cannot manage enough investment for feature films are making documentaries that are comparatively low-budget. Bilal A. Jan’s documentary, The Ocean of Tears (2012), raises the issue of alleged mass rape at Kunan and Poshpora in 1991. The film was funded by the home ministry, but was stopped from being screened at Kashmir University in 2014. Ovais’s Memoirs was released on YouTube.

A song from Danish’s Half Widow comes to mind. The track, in Hindi, goes: Kuchh baaqi hai… The singer is insistent, repeating the words again and again. Against the background of what is happening, the plaintive cry seems representative, emanating from the heart of Kashmir’s youth, who seem to have made it their mission to tell the world their full story.

In closed communities, social boycott is akin to living death. Activists and citizens in different states are rallying for the passage of laws that could change this primeval practice. Sonia Sarkar reports

  • LEGALLY BLIND: A khap panchayat in progress in Hissar, Haryana. Khaps are notorious for their regressive diktats; Pic: Getty images

Umesh Rudrap was boycotted by members of the Telugu Modelvar Parit community, which he belongs to, for marrying a Buddhist woman. That was in 1991. Umesh, who is from Pune and drives a taxi for a living, had to wait for almost three decades before he could give a fitting rebuttal.

This year in July, armed with the newly introduced law against social boycott – the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act – Umesh lodged cases against 17 committee members of the Telugu Modelvar Parit Samaj. The 2016 Act, which got presidential assent this July, forbids social boycott in the name of caste, community, religion, rituals or customs.

The Samaj, which is really a caste panchayat, had for all these years barred Umesh from participating in any social function organised by the community and had even issued a diktat forbidding community members from interacting with him.

“He was treated like a criminal,” says Kutpelli Chandra Ram, secretary of the Public Concern for Governance Trust, a Pune-based organisation that is helping Umesh and 24 others fight for their rights. If proven guilty, the accused will face a three-year jail term and could also be fined Rs 1 lakh.

Social boycott is a tool used by “influential” members within communities to punish anyone who does not conform to their rules. It is a rampant practice, not just in Maharashtra but also in states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Assam, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

In Chhattisgarh, social activists say, at least 250 such cases have been listed with the Caste Annihilation Movement, a Delhi-based people’s group, over the last three years. The reasons could be anything from marrying outside one’s caste or community, as in Umesh’s case, to not following the diktats of community elders or for raising one’s voice against orthodox beliefs.

Tejram Sahu is an electrician from Beltukri, a village in east Chhattisgarh. In 2010, when his uncle died, he did not shave his head. He also refused to invite the community for the mrityu bhoj or funeral meal. Consequently, Tejram’s entire family was boycotted. Even the local barbers and grocers were told to withhold their services. Says Tejram, “We had approached the state human rights commission, but the officials didn’t do anything.”

In another instance, a woman from Magarlod village of Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district committed suicide after her family was socially boycotted for her illness.

Sanjeev Khudshah, national convener of the Caste Annihilation Movement, which fights against caste discrimination in Chhattisgarh too, says, “They [the boycotted] are not allowed to use hand pumps or ponds in villages, they cannot procure rations from local grocery shops, their children cannot go to school, and sometimes, a hefty fine is imposed and when they fail to pay, more punishment awaits them…”

The Chhattisgarh government is in the process of drafting a law to deal with these social evils, but nothing has been finalised so far.

Activists associated with the campaign against social boycott have been garnering support for a similar law in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where khap panchayats reign supreme and are known to give orders to rape and kill for not following norms laid down by the community. In 2010, a khap leader of Karoda village in Haryana was awarded life sentence for killing a young couple, Manoj and Babli. The panchayat had opposed their marriage in 2007 because they belonged to the same ” gotra” or clan and therefore the match was considered incestuous and non-permissible.

But rules vary depending on geography and community. In Uttar Pradesh, there have been many cases where khap panchayats have socially boycotted families whose children married into different communities. In 2015, two Dalit women from Baghpat approached the Supreme Court alleging that the khap panchayat had ordered that they be raped and paraded naked in their villages because their brother reportedly eloped with a woman from a higher Jat caste.

In states such as Odisha, Jharkhand and Assam, social boycott assumes another terrible shape in the form of witch-hunting. “Villagers label a woman a witch, blame her for natural calamities, even health hazards, and throw her out of the village or stone her to death. Her family members, especially her children, are targeted too,” says Bhubaneswar-based advocate Sashiprava Bindhani, who co-drafted the Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, passed in 2013.

Assam, which has witnessed more than 400 cases of witch-hunting in the last five years, enacted the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act in 2015. Both Acts provide for more effective measures to prevent and protect persons from witch-hunts, but witness protection is something both states are still grappling with.

The Maharashtra Act, too, has no provision for witness protection. Neither does it deal with issues related to compensation and rehabilitation of victims. Activists feel even the quantum of punishment is not enough of a deterrent. “We had proposed a jail term of up to seven years and a minimum fine of Rs 5 lakh. On many occasions, caste panchayats impose a fine of Rs 2-3 lakh on victims of social boycott,” says Nashik-based Krishna Chandgude, state secretary of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti. In fact, it was the Samiti that spearheaded the campaign to declare social boycott a crime.

There is not much awareness about the law among police officials either, says Krishna. When Umesh and others wanted to lodge a complaint, allegedly, there were efforts by police to discourage them from filing it. Instead, police asked them to prove that they had been ostracised.

In Chhattisgarh, activists have been trying shake things up, strong opposition notwithstanding. Yuvraj Sinha, president of the Raipur chapter of Jaiswal Samaj, an OBC community, says, “A law to deal with social boycott will end the age-old traditions. Nobody will follow the rules, nobody will marry within the community or follow the customs of the community related to births and deaths. The younger generation will lose respect for the elders of the community if criminal cases are filed so easily.”

The argument over what is tradition and what’s effete about it goes on.

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