Cover Story en Sat Mar 07 16:18:16 IST 2020 age-of-heroes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was the summer of 2020. Covid-19 had locked the world into tight rings, both within nations and internationally. In the UAE, many Indians were stranded, having lost jobs and with no means of returning home. When India launched its biggest ever repatriation mission, Vande Bharat, there was a scurry to book a seat home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ananya Srivastava, a 13-year-old living in Dubai, had a grand sum of 3,000 dirhams in her savings box, money she had been collecting for over three years by denying herself many little treats. She was saving to get herself a dog for her 13th birthday. Then, she heard her father in discussion with his colleagues about booking a special charter for northeast India, to send home retrenched workers. When Ananya learnt that there were people who did not have money to get back home, she was shaken. A little later, she went to her parents with her savings. “Will this take them home?” she asked. Ananya's contribution sponsored the return of two men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much before Sonu Sood became the patron saint of the stranded, young Ananya was that little angel who understood their pain. Tiny though her contribution might have been, it was that vital drop in the pool of heroism that is helping the country tide over the havoc of the pandemic. “I only wish I could have done more,” she says. Give until it hurts, Mother Teresa used to say. Ananya is honest enough to admit that it saddened her not to get her dog. They tried adopting one, but the paperwork was so cumbersome that the attempt failed. Ananya stoically began saving again, till January 2021 when a friend's dog had a litter. Her parents felt she had earned it and brought home a tiny Maltese, whom she named Pebbles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the last one year, the pandemic-induced lockdown has thrown up one challenge after another. Each of these challenges raised a battalion of heroes—men, women and children, who came out with succour and solution to every situation. As the world looks at India's performance during the last year, there is wonder in how a country with a huge population and a basic-at-best health infrastructure not just dealt with the virus so well—with a per capita death toll much below that of the advanced nations—but was also able to reach out to the less privileged across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was because the country began preparing for the pandemic much before it hit our shores. As Shekhar Mande, director general of Centre for Industrial and Scientific Research, says, India was well aware of how poorly equipped it was, and got into a war mode to prepare armour and ammunition for the battle ahead. In fact, much as we doff our caps to the Covid-19 warriors, or frontline workers—health and conservancy staff, transporters and supply chain managers—who ensured that people could stay at home, we salute those who armed and armoured these warriors, too, while themselves remaining in the shadows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is one of the countries where the mask protocol has been good. Nanotechnologist <a href="/content/week/magazine/theweek/cover/2021/03/18/swasa-a-homespun-mask-with-a-nano-touch.html">Sandip Patil</a>, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, was among the first to provide an India-designed mask that not just created a barrier and kept out pollutants, but was also pathogen resistant. He had developed this mask, sold under the brand name Swasa, a few years earlier, when India began battling winter smog. His enterprise was modest. But when the pandemic unfurled, Patil went back to the incubation centre at his alma mater and ramped up production, tirelessly supplying hospitals and government agencies across states. The masks were much cheaper than imported varieties (in any case, imports had stopped). Patil was pleasantly surprised to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi donning these masks. In the early months, he was the largest maker of N95-class masks in India. By July, other manufacturers also entered the market. India is now providing masks to other countries in its aid hampers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the mask is the first line of defence, the ventilator is the last resort. The story of how India became a ventilator-maker reads like a race-against-time thriller. On March 16, the prime minister's office announced the Covid-19 innovation challenge and Amitabha Bandopadhyay, who heads the bioincubator at IIT Kanpur, reached out to his various groups. One was a duo, Nikhil Kurele and Harshit Rathore, both 27, who had a startup unit in Pune, manufacturing robots to clean solar panels. “I asked them if they would make a ventilator,” says Bandopadhyay. They had never seen a ventilator in their lives, and knew next to nothing about medical technology. “Yet, we researched, staying up all night. And in 48 hours, we came up with our first design,” says Rathore. “We saw our first ventilator only after we had designed one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Knowing they were onto something big, Bandopadhyay contacted alumnus Srikant Sastri, and together, they formed a task force of 20. “We had two Padma awardees on board, five CEOs, medical technology experts.... Every day at noon, we got together for an online conference, then went ahead with our responsibilities—raising funds, getting clearances, and looking at manufacturing and marketing issues, while the inventors tinkered away,” says Sastri. They raised Rs4.6 crore from donations for the project. At one point, Kurele and Rathore needed some electronic equipment from Singapore. The task force contacted the Indian high commission there and was able to get the components delivered in a special flight at a time when both countries were in lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was an exciting time. The inventors improvised, using a fish tank pump for one of their initial models. Even that was difficult to obtain and they sent a message to their housing society for it. Within 90 days flat, the team had its completely indigenous ventilator ready for ICU use. It was priced at less than half the cost of an imported ventilator. They have sold over 500 units and even exported to Bhutan and Nepal. “There is a big demand from hospitals in smaller towns, who want life saving equipment, but at affordable prices,” say the innovators. Bandopadhyay and Sastri have written a book, The Ventilator Project, detailing this adventurous initiative. It was published recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there were those who focused on the victims of the pandemic. Not every victim was one who tested positive. There were also those who were displaced and jobless. Sameer Dhar, 47, proprietor of Nowhere Terrace, a pub-cum-co-working space in Gurugram, kept his kitchen running even when restaurants began shutting down in early March. He had to feed his 64 employees. Soon, maintenance staff from nearby units also came seeking a meal. On March 28, when the unemployed migrant force began walking homewards, Dhar shivered as he recalled his flight from Srinagar during the exodus of the early 1990s. His connection with them was instant, and he began providing them with meals. “I was preparing 3,000 meals a day when the municipal commissioner contacted me and asked if I could scale up,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By April, they were making over 33,000 meals a day. “We set up a gas line on the terrace, forced a utensil shopkeeper to open up and sell his biggest vessels to us,” he says. And as with all good things, the word spread, and donations came in. Someone gave Rs21, another Rs5,000. Someone left a quintal of rice, someone supplied vegetables. “I was only captain of the ship,” says Dhar. “There were so many people who chipped in. We worked from day to day, never knowing where tomorrow's supplies would come from, somehow, they did.” The city municipal corporation helped with delivering the food. Nearly a year later, Dhar's kitchen is still feeding the needy. There is still a huge number of hungry people out there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Online education may be the new normal for today's students, however, with poor internet access, as well as the financial burden of the pandemic, UNESCO has put the number of children who will drop out of education worldwide at 2.4 crore. In India alone, estimates say that the number of children out of school will double, with a majority of them never being able to return. Kanishka and Himanshu Arya are among the few primary schoolers who are valiantly struggling with their online classes, conducted via WhatsApp. These municipal school children began floundering by the autumn of last year, with their parents unable to teach them properly, and teleclasses having limitations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, students from Delhi's Jesus and Mary College contacted their parents and offered individual, remedial classes. These didis, themselves undergrad students, conduct hour-long tuitions for the underprivileged students, free of charge. Mary Michelle, president of the college's education programme, says: “We used to teach underprivileged students of nearby areas in the past, but the lockdown halted that exercise. When the new term began, we thought of going online, and got contacts of needy students. We are teaching children from primary till the age of 16. Some children don't have data, so we do their classes through regular calls. Sometimes our volunteers themselves top up data for their students.” These teachers are themselves scattered across the country now, since hostels have not opened. The programme, however, is running well, the individual attention being vital to the young learners. Across the country, several such interventions are helping stem the dropout rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And just because the country has opened up and people are returning to work and campuses, it does not mean we do not need heroes. The pandemic is still on and the country is in constant need for newer interventions for emerging situations. One such solution has been developed by the innovation team of Indian Institute of Science and Education Research, Bhopal. Called the Crowd and Mask Monitoring System, this low-cost artificial intelligence device replicates manual policing. A high resolution camera can scan the corridors or rooms, and if it detects that social distancing norms and mask protocols are not being maintained, it triggers the announcement system to blare out a pre-recorded warning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, whoever said every hero has to be a swashbuckling knight in shining armour?</p> Fri Mar 19 15:24:13 IST 2021 we-should-not-speculate-on-herd-immunity-focus-on-prevention-icmr-chief <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>There was a decline in the number of active cases in India after October. Among other factors, this drop was attributed to innate immunity and a young demographic. How does the government assess the cause of the decline?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We followed a government and science-driven approach. Strong leadership that communicated well with the masses, chief ministers of various states who led from the front and appeared on TV to emphasise mask usage, hand hygiene and social distancing. We maintained a 5T strategy—testing, tracking, tracing, treatment and technology.</p> <p>We tested aggressively and similar effort was put into [ensuring supply] of oxygen, personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks by the health, science and technology, and textiles ministries.</p> <p>We took the pandemic seriously from day one. The practical and systematic lockdown, when cases were just in the hundreds, helped. But other “mysterious” factors for the lower number of active cases and deaths possibly includes higher innate immunity, the hygiene hypothesis, the BCG hypothesis—all still [theories]. But I would consider our dramatic, pre-emptive, proactive, innovative and calibrative efforts as the reason behind the decline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You spoke about testing, which was a serious challenge for India in the beginning of the pandemic. How has that been tackled?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January, we had one laboratory for testing—the National Institute of Virology. By May, we had scaled up the number of labs, including those in the private sector, to perform one lakh tests. By August to September, this number was a million.</p> <p>We scaled up depending on the availability of labs, manpower, consumables and kits. We have also been innovative in trying to scale up testing modalities by using the “Trunat” molecular test by March-April; we got the Rapid Antigen Test in June, mobile testing labs were also set up. We also had a gazette notification that stated that all medical colleges (550 of them) were to set-up a lab. This has worked well for us as a nation, where these labs have now become a national asset. They will help us in diagnosing other diseases such as TB in the future, if we are (touch wood!) away from COVID-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do results from various serosurveys, including the recent one by ICMR that has shown 21 per cent seropositivity, suggest about our pandemic control response?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The surveys suggest that we have been able to restrict the pandemic to larger cities. Serosurveys have consistently told us this—urban slums saw the highest seroprevalence, urban areas about half of that, and rural areas even lower than that. Having said that, there will be discrepancies and issues, especially when looked at retrospectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Given that the pandemic struck us later than others, what were the main lessons that we learnt from them?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the big things that we learnt early on was the point about herd immunity. India never talked about it. Many nations tried that, and fell flat on their face, including Sweden, parts of America, and the UK. What they did was allow the virus to find its own herd immunity.</p> <p>Instead, we focused on preventive measures, testing and other strategies. We also figured that an early lockdown was essential to sensitise our population about key preventive measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But the debate about herd immunity does crop up each time a serosurvey indicates an over 50 per cent seropositivity rate, particularly in cities such as Delhi where the latest seropostivity is reported to be 56 per cent</b>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think we should just not speculate on herd immunity at all, focus on preventive measures and try to improve our vaccine uptake. The seroconversion that we will get from the vaccine is far more protective than any other measures.</p> <p>Serosurveys are very useful when the pandemic starts, peaks, and they help us pan out public health measures that are to be used in a particular region. But they lose their value once vaccinations start, since the seroconversion that vaccinations cause alters the seroprevalence figures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think your target for vaccination is realistic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By July-August, we aim to give the two doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 30 crore people. I am optimistic. India is the vaccine capital of the world. We make the best vaccines; we supply 60 per cent of the vaccines to the developed world for various diseases. India's universal immunisation programme has been running for 60 years now, and so that experience will definitely help us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Several countries such as the UK, those in the EU, and the US, are facing supply issues.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, it doesn't seem that we would be encountering these issues. Currently we have two vaccines, and there are more on the horizon. We should be able to tackle our supply issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There's growing concern about various mutant strains, particularly, the South African and Brazilian strain. Is that a cause of worry in India, too?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mutant strains are definitely a cause of worry. Which is why despite our low numbers, we have to be cautiously optimistic, so that there's no second peak. We need to continue to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour, avoid mass gatherings. This [must continue] even after vaccination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There's some confusion about the certain contraindications relating to the two vaccines. Could you clarify?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The major contraindication is a history of severe allergies or anaphylaxis that has required hospitalisation in the past, the use of adrenaline, and pregnancy.</p> <p>Even pregnancy is becoming a relative contraindication now with the WHO saying it probably it can be given. But our advisory at the moment is not to give it to pregnant women.</p> <p>There have been suggestions of testing the vaccine [for pregnancy] in animal studies. However, some data will be generated from studies across the world, from women who get vaccinated but who did not know that they were pregnant [at the time of vaccination]. We will definitely have some data on that in the near future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The ICMR conducted the largest trial on plasma therapy in the world. However, the use of therapy continued despite the trial results that showed no benefit in mortality.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PLACID trial was the largest in the world which was published in the BMJ with two editorials saying how democratisation of research has happened in India. The use of plasma was studied in moderate-to-severe cases and was not found to be useful to prevent mortality. However, the use in mild disease was not studied, and so people did continue to use that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Deaths following vaccination are also being reported since the drive began. How are they being assessed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two kinds of adverse effects—adverse effects and serious effects like hospitalisation and deaths. Adverse effects are simple ones that you can get with any injection—tingling, mild fever, cough, body ache and muscle pains. Serious effects including hospitalisations; these are less than one per cent [of cases]. The numbers of both kinds of adverse effects are equivalent to international standards.</p> <p>We have seen a few deaths, with a handful occurring one to four days after vaccination. With these, we collect the data, forensics and analysis are done, sent to the ethics committee and then to the drugs controller. Forensics and pathological tests can establish a connection—if there's a connection. But causality has not been established. None of the deaths are linked to vaccines.</p> <p>Vaccines very, very, very rarely cause deaths. They are made to prevent disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As we prepare to move to the next stage, do you think vaccination should be free for all?</b>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am a strong supporter of public health. I firmly believe we have to nurture and spend on public health, that's how we will able to contain more such pandemics. We need to maintain our expenditure on climate change, preserving our ecology and ecosystem, and our biodiversity, so that we are able to prevent pandemics.</p> <p>As for vaccines in particular, in most parts of the world it is being provided by the state at the moment. What will happen in the future, we don't know—how the pandemic [will evolve] or how the mutant strains will behave. The government has clearly made a tremendous choice of allocating Rs 35,000 crore for vaccines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As far as healthcare is concerned, the pandemic has been a huge wake-up call, especially for countries such as India where resources are constrained. What are your thoughts on that?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think the most important thing we have learnt is that we have always underestimated our potential, as a country, as ICMR. With this pandemic, we have realised our potential is tremendous. We have to come out of our silos, and work together, within scientists, within labs, institutions, organizations, and ministries. If we are able to do that, sky is the limit.</p> <p>Even with limited resources a lot can be delivered. In this pandemic, we were able to deliver when our healthcare infrastructure was limited, we built oxygen generation plants and set up laboratories in medical colleges. The resources are there—it is about how we channelise or utilise them.</p> <p>We can always do much better. We still have several problems, the communicable diseases that we have to eliminate have become the national agenda—TB, leprosy, malaria. We also have to control non-communicable diseases that are raging in a huge way—diabetes, hypertension, the cancers, strokes, heart attacks, since they contribute to 60 per cent of the daily adjusted life years lost in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Given our numbers, could we have done more drug/therapy trials for COVID-19 in India, along the lines of the plasma trial?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were part of the WHO's solidarity trial for Remdesivir, Interferon, lopinavir/ritonavir. Ten per cent of patients in the world from the WHO solidarity trial were from India, from the ICMR system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was your COVID experience like?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was very frightening, initially. But I must commend the healthcare workers, hats off to them since they have worked tirelessly, 24x7. I think it's something which the other fields in this country should realise—the kind of dedication and work that was put in by the healthcare workers, particularly at the AIIMS trauma centre where I was admitted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is the effort to study long COVID in India progressing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>ICMR has a national registry, with 41 sites and several mentor institutions including AIIMS and the health ministry. Admitted COVID-19 patients are being studied across several aspects, from COVID risk factors to the duration of the disease, its treatment, how they recovered and the follow-up they received. We established it slightly late, in August, though, since we were dealing with other things by then. But the registry is running well, and there will be some data in the future.</p> Fri Mar 19 15:16:15 IST 2021 tested-to-the-limit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In April 2020, barely a week after the lockdown was announced, Mumbai's civic-run BYL Nair Charitable Hospital became the city's first tertiary care centre; it had 800 isolation beds and a 50-bed intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients. Within weeks, both its buildings were converted into dedicated Covid-19 facilities with 1,500 beds. But, the hospital's resident doctors had begun attending to Covid-19 patients in early March. They were first sent as screening teams at the international airport and thereafter to treat the first few Covid-19 patients admitted in the nearby Kasturba Hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As cases soared, there were reports of residents expressing their reservations about turning a tertiary medical college into a dedicated Covid-19 hospital. Yet, the call of duty consumed them and served as an opportunity for self-training. “Many of us were excited,” says Dr Satish Tandale, a third year resident (pathology). “We were a mixed lot, with juniors and seniors; irrespective of specialty, we all did it (attend to Covid-19 cases). We had no idea how our lives were to change; in terms of dealing with an unprecedented volume of patients and surviving it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tandale, who is also the president of Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors, says the “harrowing experience” of nine months inside Covid-19 wards will remain etched in his memory forever. “There were so many moments of extreme exhaustion during each eight hour, non-stop shift,” he says. “Every day was frustrating because the numbers just kept growing. Initially, the problem was sourcing the PPE kits and N-95 masks. But once we had them, the problem was how to dispose of them.” Tandale, who hails from Beed, did not see his parents for 10 months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 100 residents at the hospital contracted the virus while on duty. “Initially, we had the 'seven-day duty, seven-day quarantine' schedule, but, the quarantine was eventually reduced to one day,” says Tandale. The hospital, which, at the time, was the biggest Covid-19 facility, was facing a severe shortage of staff, even as all Covid and non-Covid hospitals were referring their patients to Nair hospital. Now, there are only two to three wards dedicated to Covid-19 cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The most important lesson I learned was how doctor-patient relations underwent a drastic change,” says Tandale. “Even though we saw many families roughing up residents across various hospitals, personally I experienced patients' faith in us and the hope that we will bring light into their lives. Also, at Nair, the residents, who were at the centre of it all, came together to prove that government hospitals, too, can emerge victorious during testing times.”</p> Fri Mar 19 15:04:45 IST 2021 veteran-battle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Leaders who tested positive</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has had a difficult time since he took over the reins of the state in July 2019. A bribery case against his family members, growing dissent within the BJP and demands for reservations by various communities, among other issues, have all tested the seasoned politician. But, the biggest crisis was surely the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it struck, the chief minister was already battling floods. But, the veteran was unfazed and tackled this new foe head on. “We had stringent enforcement of lockdown, containment and quarantine norms,” he said. “We evolved strategies for aggressive contact tracing and testing, identified the hotspots, trained and streamlined the frontline workers, adopted latest treatment protocols to reduce mortality and tame the deadly virus. Most importantly, we made Covid-19 testing and treatment free.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state also leveraged its technological prowess for effective contact tracing, surveillance, containment and contingency plans. This included mobile applications like Corona Watch, which gave Karnataka an early edge. The app alerted people to the movement of Covid positive people in a particular vicinity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It looked like Yediyurappa had everything under control. But, then news broke that the 78-year-old had tested positive for the virus. There were concerns that his age would lead to complications. Luckily, he was asymptomatic. However, he was hospitalised on doctors’ advice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yediyurappa started working from his hospital bed, clearing files, holding virtual review meetings and consulting expert committees. After 10 days, he tested negative and was back home, but quarantined himself. To add to the worries, heavy rains devastated parts of the state while Yediyurappa was in isolation. He monitored relief work and was in constant touch with the chief secretary and the local administration via phone and through video conferences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yediyurappa has had a daily exercise routine for decades. Amid Covid-19, too, he got in one hour of morning and evening walks. He also started drinking herbal remedies to increase immunity. He attributes his good health to his diet—millets and vegetables, along with fresh milk from cows that he rears. The chief minister says that the time spent with calves also helps relieve stress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says he would have loved to spend more time with his grandchildren. But that was not possible because of the pandemic and his hectic schedule. During his hospital stay, when he was not working, he was reading. He says he read Yayati (Kannada translation of V.S. Khandekar's novel) and Veera Sanyasi (biography of Swami Vivekananda by Swami Purushottamananda). He confides that he also watched re-runs of the Mahabharat on Doordarshan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once he completed his 'exile' and returned to the chief minister's office, he took all precautions to ensure that he would not have to be hospitalised again. The RT-PCR test was made mandatory for all visitors, including ministers, bureaucrats and government officials. His staff was tested every five days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yediyurappa's calm response had a lot to do with how well Karnataka tackled the pandemic. The state's model of Covid-19 response earned praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the World Health Organization, while the virtual training of 2.5 lakh frontline and health care professionals was appreciated by President Ramnath Kovind.</p> Fri Mar 19 15:03:25 IST 2021 people-first-approach <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I knew I would become Covid-19 positive one day or the other, as I was in the thick of things. I opened the state-level Covid control room in the chief minister's secretariat itself so that I could personally supervise operations round-the-clock. Of course, I was worried, but, as the head of the government, I cannot shirk my duties. So, when I tested positive, I took precautions to avoid any contact, even with family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though I felt a little weak after recovering from Covid-19, I went straight back to work. It was a challenging situation. But I have to think of my people first and I had little time for my own problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[Now,] we have been able to successfully carry out the vaccination drive. The state had already begun preparations for it under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, long before the vaccines were approved.</p> <p><b>Singh is chief minister, Manipur.</b></p> <p><b>As told to Rabi Banerjee</b></p> Thu Mar 18 20:14:55 IST 2021 i-was-happy-to-see-the-dedication-of-doctors-and-nurses <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>All the MLAs had to get tested before the assembly session on September 14, 2020. I tested negative two days before the session. However, on the eve of the session, I developed Covid-like symptoms. I got tested again, and this time, the result was positive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At that time, my major concern was for my son, who will be taking his 12th Board exams this year. I was worried his studies would get affected. I was concerned about the safety of all those working with me. Also, I was worried about the impact on my work. However, technology came to my aid, and even after I tested positive, work did not stop. I continued to hold meetings through video-conferencing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being in isolation had its positives. I read books that I was planning to read and watched movies. From the perspective of a policy maker, I was happy to get a first-hand experience of the home isolation system working well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around the tenth day after I tested positive, I had to be hospitalised because my fever had shot up. I was admitted to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospital, and when they ran tests on me, it turned out I was suffering from dengue as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I spent more than 28 hours in the ICU. I saw people screaming and crying in panic. There was the constant beep of machines. But as an administrator, I drew satisfaction from seeing the doctors and the nurses working day and night. I saw them helping patients interact with their families via video calls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There may have been some criticism about me being shifted to a private hospital. However, these are occasions when decisions are taken for you by your family, by the people who love you. When it turned out that I had dengue as well and the fever was not subsiding, the family panicked. I did not have any problems at the hospital. I do not think my condition would have deteriorated had I stayed on there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had to double as health minister briefly, which was a challenge. The investment we made in the health sector in our previous term helped us during the pandemic. We had enhanced the capacity of hospitals. When Covid-19 hit us, we were prepared to deal with it. Bed enhancement had already begun, so some new hospitals got ready during the pandemic and helped us ramp up capacity to meet the rush of patients. The infrastructure that we had in the form of mohalla clinics came to our help when we had to set up testing centres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest takeaway from the year gone by is that investing in health should be a priority for us. In the kind of world we are living in, a virus can easily travel from one part of the globe to another and start a pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sisodia is deputy chief minister, Delhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As told to Soni Mishra</b></p> Fri Mar 19 15:00:40 IST 2021 we-indians-realised-our-capabilities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The pandemic year was a time when Indian institutions and laboratories came to the fore, coming up with indigenous solutions, whether it was for developing testing kits or personal protective equipment, understanding the novel virus or creating surveillance mechanisms. The Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research is the country's research and development knowledge base and the umbrella body for 38 national laboratories. Its director general, Shekhar Mande, tells us how India's scientists helped manage the pandemic. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ India's scientific community seemed well-prepared to tackle the pandemic.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes, our strategy was ready in February, when we held a national meeting in Goa, anticipating that the situation was turning grim. We knew our weak areas, where we were poorly equipped. We formulated our strategy for the pandemic on five pillars—surveillance, diagnostics, new interventions (drugs and vaccines), equipment for hospitals and supply chains. We were clear on two aspects—that any new technology will require industrial support and that raw materials should be available in India. In fact, one of the first things we developed was Arogyapath, a supplier-buyer interface.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q: You also built hospitals?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A: Yes, the Roorkee-based Central Building Research Institute designed rapidly deployable hospitals which can be set up within five days. We set up one in Ghaziabad and six in Himachal Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you elaborate on surveillance?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ So far, our labs have sequenced 5,000 virus genomes, which have helped our understanding, and also contributed to a global understanding. We did regular serosurveys, and in this 10,500 of our staffers contributed their blood samples, too. We conducted sewage samplings in 10 cities, and air samplings, too. This surveillance helped us understand how the virus is transmitted and we were able to map its spread. The serosurvey of August-September showed high prevalence in big cities, a few months later, we noticed higher numbers in smaller cities. The serosurvey also gave us the good news that many patients in India were asymptomatic. Genomic studies showed us how the UK mutant strain had travelled to Telangana. Interventions are possible only when we first generate data.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What new interventions did CSIR labs offer?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology and Tata CRISPR jointly developed the low-cost diagnostic kit, Feluda. Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, developed a low-cost process for manufacturing the antiviral Favipiravir, approved for emergency use for Covid-19, which we are marketing through Cipla. We developed Sepsivac along with Cadila Pharmaceuticals for treatment; it is in Phase-3 trials. National Aerospace Laboratories developed the non-invasive ventilator, SwasthVayu; we recently provided the Delhi government with 1,200 such machines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why, in your opinion, did India not suffer as badly during the pandemic as the western nations? Our per capita cases and death rate are comparably low</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There were many reasons, from our preparedness to our innate immunity. The first case of Covid-19 was reported in India on January 30 and the country went into preparation mode immediately. The lockdown weeks gave us time to ramp up arrangements and get a better understanding of the disease. So, when cases began rising, we were ready with diagnostic kits, hospitals and medication. The mask discipline and other protocols have been well followed by Indians, that has also helped. India is a young country demographically and this is an infection where the older generation is more vulnerable. Also, since Indians have been exposed to a host of infections, our immune systems are perhaps better than those of the more developed nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your learnings from the pandemic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Although it caused much distress, the pandemic has also been a time of opportunity, especially for the scientific community. During extraordinary circumstances, the real human grit and potential comes to the fore. For us Indians, we have realised our capabilities. In the history of India, this time will also be remembered as a coming together of potential and capability, and realising we can be atmanirbhar.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:58:56 IST 2021 for-the-people <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The elections to the Bihar legislative assembly were scheduled for October-November 2020. But, schools were shut after the pandemic struck, and more than 80 per cent of our booth level officers were school teachers. Getting them to the field was a mammoth task. Also, more than 90 per cent of our polling stations are schools. Since they had been closed for a long time, facilities such as toilets and drinking water needed a fresh look.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 30 lakh migrants returned to Bihar. We identified three lakh people who were yet to be enrolled, and we finished enrolling 2.4 lakh of them before the elections were announced. The number of female voters as compared with male voters was 894 as on February 7, 2020, when the electoral roll was published. By the time the election process began, it had reached 904, quite close to the state average of 918. Even the elector to population ratio rose from 0.49 to 0.51. Altogether, we enrolled 18 lakh new voters in five months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You cannot hold elections sitting in offices and homes. It involves mass contact. So it was a big challenge to maintain social distancing and ensure that Covid-19 protocols were followed. We identified grounds where a safe distance of six feet could be maintained between two people and chose only those buildings which had proper ventilation. The lists of these buildings and grounds were published in all the major newspapers of Bihar and also posted on our website to enable political parties or candidates to book them online for their campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important challenge was postal ballot. It was first tried on a pilot basis in Jharkhand and then implemented in Delhi. But when scaled up in Bihar, which is the most densely populated state in the country, implementing it was difficult. It was made even more complicated because of Covid-19. The facility was available to voters who were over 80, had a disability or were either Covid-positive or Covid-suspect. It was not easy for our polling parties to go to the homes of people to first check if such voters existed, give them the forms and then collect them. We had to instil confidence and courage both among the voters as well as our own staff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was also the issue of verifying if the person eligible for postal ballot existed or not. Even if one [fake] postal ballot was cast, it would have vitiated the entire electoral process. I used to get nightmares about it. I would tell my officers down the line, time and again, that if there was one mistake, heads would roll. I told my returning officers that there had to be double checking, and we could not rely solely on booth-level officers. In every district, the health department had appointed nodal officers and block-level medical officers, who identified the patients and shared their names with the returning officer. It was the duty of the medical officer in-charge to get the postal ballot form filled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had to procure a mammoth quantity of items such as hand sanitisers, gloves, masks, face shields and room sanitisers. Then, all those items had to be safely disposed of. The Election Commission had strictly said that the disposal of the items had to be in accordance with the health department protocol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Originally, we had 72,725 polling stations. In order to reduce the number of maximum voters per booth, the number of polling stations was increased by 45 per cent to 1,06,515. This resulted in the number of polling staff and security personnel also going up. Around 1.8 lakh security personnel were deployed. The number of counting centres also went up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the number of polling stations had gone up, the number of rounds of counting, which used to be 25, went up to 37. And add to that the postal ballots. That is the reason why counting just went on and on. Most of us did not take a single holiday and there were no weekends for us. We had a number of WhatsApp groups on which we coordinated. Also, there were a number of webinars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Officers, our office staff and polling personnel got infected with Covid-19. At the same time, we had to deal with the issue of a large number of people deployed on election duty reporting sick. For example, in Patna, 3,800 people who were on election duty called in sick, saying they had Covid-19 symptoms. We had to make sure it was not an excuse to avoid field duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many expected the polling percentage to be just about 40 per cent. When it surpassed 57 per cent, it left everybody stunned. It was higher than the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the 2015 Bihar assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have shared our experiences with the four states and one Union territory that go to polls this year. I have participated in video conferences with all five [chief] election officers. I went to Tamil Nadu and Puducherry along with the Election Commission team and shared my experiences, especially the use of technology. We have shared with the other states the Covid-19 guidelines we followed and our Covid-19 guide for voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The credit for the successful elections in Bihar goes to the entire election machinery. It was an experience we will not forget for a long time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Srinivasa is chief electoral officer, Bihar.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>As told to Soni Mishra.</b></p> Fri Mar 19 14:57:27 IST 2021 saviours-in-the-sky <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was frightening not to see a soul in Wuhan. That was the first thought Air India Captain Kamal Mohan had when he landed his Boeing 747 there on January 31, 2020. As many as 68 Air India crew members, who were part of two special flights, evacuated 647 Indians from Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic; Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave them a letter of appreciation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air India repatriated more than 24 lakh people, till the end of February. It has been operating flights under the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ and ‘Air Transport Bubbles’ since May 7, 2020. The Vande Bharat Mission recently concluded its ninth phase and has covered 24 countries, including Australia, the US and Japan. The highest number of repatriated Indians are from Kerala (9.62 lakh), followed by Delhi (8.35 lakh) and Maharashtra (3.80 lakh).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recalling their first Vande Bharat flight in June, an Air India crew member said that it was an eerie experience as the once-crowded airports were nearly empty. Besides, there was also the fear of carrying back the virus. Another cabin crew member said that the risk of exposure to the virus was more as she and her colleagues had to interact with other crews, ground staff, hotel staff and passengers. They had to work in high-pressure cabins with hazmat suits for 13 to 15 hours, that too without food or water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghna Nanda, chief cabin crew, Air India, said that every time she came back from a flight, the thought that she might have contracted the virus played heavily on her mind. “My small kids would be yearning to hug me and it was so difficult to stay away from them within the same house till the result of the second test came negative," said Nanda. "It was traumatic to be so close yet so far."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a recent reply in the Lok Sabha, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that 1,995 Air India personnel, including the Vande Bharat crew, had tested positive for Covid-19 till February 1. Of these, 583 were hospitalised, but there were no fatalities among the flight crew. However, 19 ground staff died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air India also delivered medicine and other supplies to China and other places. “Those days were really terrible for my family; they would panic whenever I had to fly to China,” said a pilot who flew more than a dozen cargo flights during the pandemic. “But we did it, and I feel proud to be part of the mission.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the obvious dangers, some of these heroes also had to face stigma from neighbours. “The family members of the crew also had to suffer humiliation because of the lack of awareness," said Nanda. Eventually, senior Air India officials had to talk to government officials at the topmost level to ensure that [such] issues were resolved.”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:45:53 IST 2021 the-name-is-khan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2013, Sajad Khan bought a machine to make bags for retailers and distributors. Khan, who also ran a travel agency, wanted to supplement his income. However, the machine remained in storage, owing to lack of space to set it up. A year later, when Kashmir was hit by the worst floods in its history, Khan cancelled the plan to make bags and started Houseful, a retail store at Qamarwari in Srinagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The business clicked. Khan got married and focused on growing his business. But, when Covid-19 hit Kashmir, he decided that he needed to do something to help and started making PPE kits with the old machine. He distributed them for free, primarily to doctors and health workers. One day, when he went to give the kits to the relatives of a woman who had died of Covid-19, he found that they were reluctant to bury her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I realised this was a big problem,” he said. “At that moment, I decided to volunteer to help bury Covid-19 victims.” He spread the word through health workers and also put up a post on his Facebook page titled Athiwaas (handshake) saying that he was available for the burial of Covid-19 victims. Within no time, he started getting calls for help. “Initially, I used to wait at the graveyards alone for the ambulances and health workers to bring the bodies, but later a few of my friends joined the effort,’’ he said. “The ambulances would bring the body to the graveyard and then we would lower the coffin into the grave.” There were cases when he wrapped the bodies at the homes of the dead and took them for burial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said it saddened him that those who died of Covid-19 did not get a proper burial. “We struggled to find a maulvi (cleric) to lead the prayers,’’ he said. “They were afraid that they would not be allowed to return to their localities if their neighbours got to know they had led the funeral of a Covid-19 victim.” He added that the gravediggers would flee the moment the body arrived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once, it struck him that, as per Islamic traditions, the body should be placed in the grave on its right side, facing the qiblah (Mecca). “After that, I ensured compliance with the rule,” he said. “I felt sad that the burials were [not] happening as prescribed in Islam because of the unprecedented situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He recalled an incident when a man said that a deceased man should not be buried in that locality as he was not a resident of the area. Khan told him that the man's neighbours claimed that he was, and requested him to not obstruct the burial. But, the protestor did not budge and others soon joined him. There was a huge altercation, but Khan stood his ground and lowered the body into the grave. “When they told me to remove the body from the grave, I told them to do it themselves,’’ he said. “No one dared to go close to the grave for fear of contracting the virus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan's family got to know about his volunteering only when a local newspaper reported it. He said that was because only his mother was at home with him during the lockdown; the old lady was perhaps not keeping track of his activities as closely as his wife would have. “Before the Covid-19 lockdown, my wife took my two children to Delhi to make them feel better post the Article 370-related lockdown in Kashmir,” he said. “So, they were stuck in Delhi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that once the son of a rich man offered him money after Khan buried his father. “I told him I do it for Allah's sake, not for money,” he said. When the lad insisted on paying him, Khan responded by pointing to his own expensive sedan. “I don’t brag, but I felt compelled [to show him the car] at that point,” he said. The young man cried and said he wanted to bury his father himself, but his brothers did not cooperate. Kashmiris living in other states and abroad contacted him and offered money for the cause. “Since I had seen how people were suffering because of the loss of business, I gave them the names and addresses of the people they should help,’’ he said. “At least 25 families were adopted by people from outside Kashmir and that gives me immense joy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time the situation had stabilised, Khan said he had helped bury more than 170 bodies. “I continued to provide free PPE kits, sanitisers and masks from the little profit I made from my department store,’’ he said. “My store was among the ones which were allowed to stay open.” He added that he was surprised to see Houseful on the list of stores allowed to operate. “That is Allah’s mercy and reward for me,’’ he said with a smile.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:43:55 IST 2021 humble-hero <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In May, Tejesh Sonawane, a police constable in Mumbai, was informed about a pregnant woman in need of urgent help. She was standing outside Mumbai's famous Backbay Depot, desperately trying to get to the nearby Cama Hospital. But, the lockdown was in full force and she was unable to find a cab. Sonawane, who was on duty at the nearby Cuffe Parade police station, borrowed a Maruti Omni from a friend and rushed her to the hospital. Over the next three to four months, he did more than 40 such trips in two 'Omni-ambulances', ferrying patients across the city to nearby hospitals for free.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It really came from the heart,” Sonawane told THE WEEK over the phone. “I could not bear to see vulnerable people being helpless in the face of a lockdown. All I needed was a car and I was overwhelmed when so many of my friends offered to lend me one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbai Police shared his story on Twitter in a video which showed his journey as the “Omni-Present Covid Warrior”. “Health care workers come in all get-ups. Some wear aprons; while others, khaki—just like PC Tejesh Sonawane from Cuffe Parade PStn,” read the tweet, alongside the hashtag #AamhiDutyVarAahot (#WeAreOnDuty).</p> <p>Sonawane said he has never felt so proud of himself and his fraternity in his 13 years of service as he did during the lockdown when the entire force “went out of its way” to help citizens. “I ferried pregnant women, Covid-19 patients and whoever wanted a vehicle to access emergency medical services,” he said. “I would do this after duty, but, at times, even during duty hours thanks to the support of my colleagues and seniors. Then DCP Sangram Singh Nishandar and senior police inspector [Rajkumar] Dongre supported with PPE kits and sanitisers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonawane would drive, help the patient into the van and thereafter onto a stretcher, all by himself. To transform the van into an ambulance, he partitioned it into Covid and non-Covid sections and refurbished it as it had not been in use for well over a year. But, all this was done at no cost. “Nobody charged me for anything as it was for a noble cause,” he said. “After the first van broke down, we got another one readied for ferrying patients. Both times, I got all services for free.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the fear of contracting the virus was always at the back of his mind. He sent both his daughters, aged six and eight, to his ancestral village in Nandurbar district. “I actually asked my wife to leave as well, but she wouldn't,” he said, laughing. Fortunately, he did not test positive for the virus. Sonawane is enjoying the attention he is receiving from his colleagues, including the DCP who rewarded him with Rs5,000. But he is not new to fame and recognition.</p> <p>In 2016, he was awarded the Jeevan Raksha Padak for climbing the water pipe of a six-storeyed building to stop a middle-aged man from attempting suicide. Sonawane continues to look forward to opportunities to serve the people.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:41:05 IST 2021 being-human <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Almost a year after the lockdown, New Hope Medical Centre on Chennai's Poonamallee High Road is seeing patients with orthopaedic and neuro issues walking in with fresh hope. When I asked for Dr Pradeep Kumar, the nurse at the patient care centre pointed to a cabin on the ground floor. As I walked in, the orthopaedic surgeon was speaking to an attender: “I will see. Tell him he will recover soon.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar, 36, is a man of few words, but those are filled with empathy. This was evident after the death of his colleague Dr Simon Hercules. “I do not want to recall those days,” he said, getting emotional. “As a doctor, death is nothing new to me. The very beginning in the MBBS course will be with dead bodies. But I have never known this fear of death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hercules, 55, a neurosurgeon, was the chairman and managing director of New Hope hospital. He got infected with Covid-19 after performing a surgery on a patient from abroad. Though he had fever and cough, he did not realise he was infected. Soon, he was admitted to a private hospital in Chennai with severe breathlessness. None of his relatives or acquaintances could visit him in the intensive care unit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We never thought that Dr Simon would leave us,” said Kumar. He met Hercules on joining the hospital a decade ago. “Simon was a gentleman,” he said. “He never got emotional or spoke harshly to the staff.” Kumar added that he was always strict and wanted everything to be perfect before he started surgery. “Simon was always with me when I did a spine surgery,” he said. “Sometimes, I got angry if the staff missed out on anything in the theatre. But, he was still calm. There were days when he would apologise if the surgery gets delayed or postponed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hercules died in April. At that time, neither the state nor the Central government had laid out protocols for burial of Covid-19 victims. Just two days before Hercules's death, people on the outskirts of Chennai had protested the burial of a doctor who had died of Covid-19. “I never thought people would do the same to Dr Simon,” said Kumar. “Society has moved away from basic human ethics and lost respect for [individuals].” Kumar had gone to the hospital on hearing about Hercules's death, but could not see the body owing to Covid-19 protocols. Kumar, like others, assumed that everything would be fine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, when hospital staff took Hercules's body to the Velangadu cemetery near the upscale neighbourhood of Anna Nagar, they were met by a mob of over 300—both men and women. They had gathered after hearing the sound of an earth mover digging a grave. Kumar said the crowd argued with “ambulance driver Dhamu and then with the policemen who arrived at the scene”. Soon, the situation escalated and the mob began pelting stones at the ambulance. Dhamu was hit and began to bleed, he and his helper drove back to the private hospital where Hercules had died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New Hope was on the route. It was late in the evening that Kumar spotted the ambulance near the traffic signal close to New Hope. The Poonamallee road was deserted except for a few policemen at the signal. Dhamu had stopped to answer the policemen's queries about the state of the ambulance and his bleeding. He was also starting to get giddy from the loss of blood. When he tried to park the ambulance there to get first aid, the policemen did not allow it. Kumar was outraged on learning about what happened and also with how the policemen were treating Dhamu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He asked Dhamu to get first aid and also said that his helper could leave; in the heat of the moment he forgot that he did not have the authority to do so as they were employees of another hospital. “I was very upset that we could not give Dr Simon even a dignified burial,” he said. He got PPE kits and helpers from New Hope and drove the damaged ambulance back to the cemetery. Despite the late hour, the mob was still around, though not as furious as it was earlier in the day. Moreover, the New Hope team was determined to give their beloved boss a proper send off. They got past the mob to the half-dug grave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I drove the ambulance, I dug the grave myself, I put mud on his body because we had no shovels,” said Kumar, shuddering as he recalled the night. He returned home filled with the fear of death for the first time in his life. The next morning, he was still in shock. “I was worried,” he said. “Why do people lack compassion?” Recently, a radio station contacted Kumar and said it wanted to give him an award, celebrating him as a hero. He turned down the honour. Said Kumar: “I am not a hero for just being compassionate and helpful.”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:40:06 IST 2021 our-goal-is-to-provide-a-freshly-cooked-meal-to-10-lakh-people-daily <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Zomato Feeding India (ZFI) is the food delivery platform's non-profit arm which is working towards “achieving zero hunger” in India. Chaitanya Mathur joined Zomato in 2018, after 14 years of experience in fields ranging from financial analysis to event management and being a restaurateur. He took over as head of ZFI in 2020. Mathur, who has an economics degree from the University of Warwick, the UK, was in for a busy first year in his new role. Mathur spoke to THE WEEK about ZFI's participation in the Feed the Daily Wager initiative, and future plans. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why was this initiative unique and how did it benefit daily wage earners?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It impacted the lives of daily wagers who had [lost] their only source of income, leaving them with no means to earn themselves a meal during the early days of lockdown. Feed the Daily Wager saw 500 plus ZFI volunteers (Hunger Heroes), 99,883 individuals, 66 companies, 426 NGOs and 50 Zomato team members come together in a collaborative effort to ensure that millions of our fellow countrymen do not sleep on an empty stomach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What kind of traction did this initiative get during the lockdown?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Over the course of four months and across 181 cities, we served a total of 78 million (7.8 crore) meals. With drives from Jammu and Kashmir to Port Blair, ZFI was able to raise [about] Rs32.6 crore and distributed 7.49 lakh [ration] kits, utilising 100 per cent of the donations to purchase food grains and essentials. We also received generous in-kind support in the form of ration kits and transport services from our partners. We are glad to have been able to virtually gather the entire country to provide support to a community worst hit by the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are ZFI's future plans?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We continue to work for different communities and solve hunger at the national level. We are currently running campaigns for children (Feed Every Child) and stray animals (Food For Paws) who do not have access to proper nutrition. We have also started serving freshly cooked meals to those people in need with the help of our NGO partners, under the #IamFeedingIndia campaign. Our goal is to make at least one free, freshly cooked meal available to 10 lakh individuals daily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Could you describe an example of how ZFI helped those in need?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We found a colony in New Delhi that consists of 2,800 families of magicians, puppeteers, acrobats, jugglers, singers and others who were left with no jobs to make ends meet. We decided to deploy our resources and were able to provide ration kits that could last them for two weeks, within 24 hours. For us, being able to feed someone in need and seeing a smile on their faces [is reward for] our efforts. Anyone who wants to join us on this mission can reach out to us through our website or write to us at</p> Fri Mar 19 14:38:29 IST 2021 superhumans-in-the-streets <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sarojanamma, 50, had been hit multiple times by speeding bikers in the past. “Those riders escaped. What can I do?” she asks. “If the injury is minor, I just continue my work.” One such accident left her with a serious and permanent injury to her back. Still, she ensures that her duties are discharged. For more than two decades, Sarojanamma has been a sanitation worker of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. She sweeps the road and clears trash in the Erragadda area in western Hyderabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic made her work tougher. Sometime in late 2020, she tested positive for Covid-19. After spending almost a week in a government-run Covid-19 hospital in Hyderabad, she was back on her feet. “When I got discharged, I told my supervisor I can start work immediately, but he insisted that I should take rest,” she says. “I was weak, but I felt the need to work during this period.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sarojanamma, in a way, epitomises the spirit of the sanitation workers of the city. The city employs around 25,000 sanitation workers—a mix of permanent and contract workers. When Covid-19 cases spiked in Hyderabad city, the workers rose to the occasion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A chat with P. Kanakaraju gives a glimpse into the pressures of working in the sanitation department during a pandemic. Kanakaraju is a sanitary field assistant who supervises the work of around 120 sweepers and garbage collectors in the Kukatpally area, which is close to the city's IT zone. The initial days of lockdown were stressful and challenging for him. “In the first week of lockdown, 20 per cent of my staff did not turn up,” he says. “I learnt that many of them feared contracting the virus. I had to talk to them and motivate them to come to work. Some of them could not travel because of restrictions. We had to arrange transportation for them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanakaraju's usual eight-hour shift often stretched to 15 hours. “On some days, I had to personally collect garbage from containment zones because of lack of manpower,” he says. “My family became anxious as I was constantly taking up different outdoor tasks. So, I sent them away to my relative's house to protect them.” Ask Kanakaraju what kept him going during the tough time, he is quick to answer that it was his “service [mentality] to the society”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many sanitation workers had to perform multiple roles during the pandemic, from identifying the Covid-19 suspects to conducting health surveys. They also ensured that patients with mild symptoms obeyed home-quarantine norms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For A. Dhanalakshmi, 35, a sanitation worker from central Hyderabad, wearing gloves and a mask was tough as it made her breathless and uncomfortable. But she continued in her duties on the front lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“On usual days, my job is to sweep an assigned part of the road and clear the garbage,” she says. “During the lockdown, I was sent to containment zones. The patients and their family members would ask me to get fruits or vegetables for them and I would do it. On many occasions, I went hungry for the most part of the day as I would have left home early without eating. I have three kids, and I was scared for my family. But looking at senior officers on the field I asked myself, ‘If we do not come out on the streets and work then who will?’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not to forget, working quietly to keep the indoors of hospitals and offices clean were thousands of sanitation workers employed in the government and private sector. In hospitals, the workers had to overcome their own set of problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the first few months after the pandemic broke out in Telangana, Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad was the only designated Covid-19 hospital in the state. What followed was an unexpected level of stigma against the staff of the hospital. “I live in a village on the outskirts of Hyderabad and travel 60km every day,” said S. Suguna, an attender at Gandhi Hospital. “The villagers barred me from entering the village. I had no option but to return and live in a corner of the hospital campus. I did not even see my husband and three daughters for more than two months. Even the patients' relatives were scared to go near the patients, but we did. I went through a lot of hardships then.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A sanitation staff in the hospital, who did not wish to be named, said that some of her colleagues were drinking too much alcohol as they felt ostracised and were separated from their family for weeks together. “Majority of the sanitation workers were ready to go and clean the Covid-19 wards, where even some of the doctors were hesitant to go,” she says.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:36:56 IST 2021 against-all-odds <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rachna Mewada's house is but a few steps from the bylane running through Hirapur village in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh. The 24-year-old, however, is aware that even a few steps can tire out anganwadi worker Ramkalan Mewada, who is on her daily rounds of the village. By the time Ramkalan, 36, arrives at her doorstep, beads of sweat dot her face despite the pleasant February weather. Rachna, who is four months pregnant, greets her with a glass of water, and puts out a charpai for her to sit on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramkalan sits down, resting her pair of crutches on the wooden cot, and takes a few sips of water. Then begin her inquiries: Was Rachna having enough greens in her diet? Was she taking the iron tablets on time? Was she taking enough rest? Does she remember that her next vaccination is due on Tuesday? Was she giving the supplementary food—supplied as take-home ration by the anganwadi—to her son Hardik, who will soon be three years old?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To each of these queries, Rachna nods in the affirmative. But her eyes remain on Ramkalan, observing the steadying of her breath. She takes the empty tumbler from Ramkalan, and then asks the anganwadi worker a few questions of her own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caring is a collective affair in Hirapur—home to 1,670 villagers including 140 children and 130 adolescents. And that is what got this village, located 90km from Bhopal, safely through the pandemic. Despite 80 migrant workers returning to the village at the height of Covid-19 in May-June 2020, no positive case was reported. Neighbouring Kajikhedi, however, reported at least a dozen cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The admiration is mutual, too. Villagers are highly appreciative of Ramkalan's dedication and diligence despite being physically challenged. Struck by polio at six, she relies on crutches to walk. But she refused to let her disability deter her; she continued making her rounds amid the pandemic, come rain or shine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“ Apart from ensuring that we got the supplementary nutritious food for my two children at home, Ramkalan didi constantly counselled us about the precautions to be taken for Covid-19,” says Lalita Malwi. “Also, she ensured that the migrant workers who returned followed the quarantine norms.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sitabai Malwi initially found it difficult to follow the safety norms. “But constant reminders by Ramkalan made us take her advice very seriously,” she says. Vinita Mewada, 17, says that Ramkalan also showed them how to make cotton cloth pads, as sanitary pads became unavailable during lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramkalan, however, credits the villagers for strictly following the Covid-19 guidelines. Keeping the village safe, she adds, would have been an uphill task if not for the help provided by her associate frontline workers like anganwadi helper Reena Chouria, accredited social health activist Mamta Perwal and auxiliary nurse midwife Rajkumar Sunhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My seniors like Anita Chouhan madam, superviser of the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), child development project officer Sandeep Ruhal sir and even higher officials have always been very supportive,” says Ramkalan. “They do not expect me to attend all the meetings or engage in work that involves too much movement. But during this difficult time, their support was even more intense.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chouhan says that Ramkalan is so devoted to her work that it hardly matters whether she can always be present at meetings or not. “We know that she will fulfill her duties and do more,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramkalan's biggest support comes from her family. Her two brothers and teenaged nephew ensure that she walks as little as possible during her rounds; they ferry her around on a motorbike. Every time she returns home from her rounds, her 70-year-old father Bakhshilal keeps a bucket of water ready for her and helps her wash her hands and feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As I was regularly in the field, I was very worried, particularly about my parents (her father has a lung ailment and mother suffers from Parkinson’s disease) and my nine-year-old nephew,” says Ramkalan. “But my family boosted my confidence to go on.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her own worries though did not stop Ramkalan from allaying fears of others. Manju Mewada, 29, caught a cold during the pandemic. She had cough, too, and that got her worried. “But didi not only boosted my morale, but also helped me get medicines,” says the mother of three. “She suggested home remedies for my symptoms. Constant counselling put my fears to rest.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar stories of dedication abound in Madhya Pradesh, which has 97,315 anganwadi centres. Workers and helpers went out of their way during the pandemic to ensure that the nutrition and health needs of children and pregnant women and lactating mothers were being met. To laud them, the DWCD recently documented efforts of about 20 anganwadi workers through a series of experience-sharing webinars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DWCD commissioner Swati Meena Naik says that like Ramkalan, all workers showed courage to rise up to the occasion and don the role of Covid-19 heroes. “Their efforts also reflect the indomitable spirit of womanhood to never back out and work incessantly to ensure security of the family and the community,” she tells THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Ramkalan says, “Bhagya aur karma saath ho toh koi bhi taala jaldi khulta hain (any lock can open easily if destiny and hard work go together).”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:34:45 IST 2021 home-help <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One of the most brutal manifestations of the psychological stress of lockdown was the worldwide rise in domestic violence. In India, the National Commission for Women launched a WhatsApp number to report such cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While men who had never been trained to be gender-sensitive or imbibed it from their surroundings directed their frustration at the women in the family, even those who fared better in ‘normal’ times found it hard to keep themselves in check.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Without work, diversions or friends, but with uncertainty on every front, it was like being in a pressure cooker,” said Shri Ram Yadav of Gurera village in Sitapur district. Yadav is among the 2,500 men in 19 districts of Uttar Pradesh who have been part of the ‘Ek Saath’ (Together) campaign. Run since 2017 by Sahayog, an organisation that works to promote gender equality and maternal health, the campaign engages men and boys as partners to challenge social norms stacked against women. This is achieved through gender-sensitive, community change-makers called Samanta Sathis (gender champions or literally equality partners), who are willing to change their behaviour and inspire others to do the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yadav said that while men, not used to staying at home all day, started to find fault with all that the women at home would do, migrants who returned home behaved in ways unacceptable to the locals. “A little too much salt in the food, a bucket of water not filled quickly enough­—all became reasons to abuse women,” he said. “Young men who had never spent so much time in their villages made a pastime of commenting on girls, ogling, whistling and generally being a nuisance.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latter sometimes took a vicious turn. Yadav cites the example of a young girl who was sexually assaulted by a returnee migrant when she went to relieve herself in the fields behind the quarantine centre. The police was of little help—it suggested that since the man could not be jailed owing to Covid-19 restrictions, some compromise be hammered out between the parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Samanta Sathis found themselves challenged like never before. In the initial days of their work, they had been mocked, threatened and accused of trying to corrupt girls and women, but during the lockdown they found their interventions were even more unwelcome. “There was only so much that could be done over the phone,” said Yadav. “When we tried to organise meetings of two or three houses in a neighbourhood, we were reported to the police for breaking lockdown norms.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harsh Chaudhary, a 20-year-old Samanta Sathi from Gurera, said that they received almost double the number of complaints every day compared to before the lockdown. “One man would fight with his wife then walk out of home, leaving her and the children scared,” he said. “Another would thrash his wife and daughter as there was no alcohol available. Even men who occasionally helped with household chores stopped doing so. It was a hundred times more challenging to make them understand that this was unacceptable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Samanta Sathis, however, did not stop trying. Yadav said that marriages that were a few years old came under heightened stress during the lockdown and multiple dowry demands were made. “We pursued cases—from the local thana to the district magistrate—throughout the lockdown,” he said. “Despite that persistence, cases under the correct sections were lodged only when the lockdown eased.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Yadav added, it is in unusual circumstances that our true selves are revealed. “The pandemic has taught us that we are still far from being a gender-sensitive or equal society,” he said. “That is the only good that came out of it—that we learnt how difficult the road ahead is.”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:33:12 IST 2021 mind-care <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In February last year, Dr Prerna Sharma, a clinical psychologist from a tertiary medical college in Delhi, got a notice from the health ministry informing her that she was to be posted at a quarantine camp at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) facility, nearly 30km from where she stayed. She was skeptical about what her role was to be. After all, what could be the need for a clinical psychologist in a quarantine camp?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the centre, she was met by gun-toting soldiers wearing masks and introduced to the team of doctors from AIIMS and ITBP forces, and virologists and scientists from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). In a distant building cordoned off by tents and guarded by soldiers stayed 406 Wuhan returnees. Curious and a little scared, she dropped all her reservations and gave herself up wholly to the task of alleviating the anxiety of these people. Wearing a PPE kit, she went to each floor of the facility and spoke to as many people as she could. Most people were experiencing the anxiety of staying in an unfamiliar place, unpreparedness, apprehensions about the virus, sudden displacement from work or studies and being away from family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the end of two weeks, she had gained a lifetime of experience. But it was not easy. “It was so hard to separate my personal life from the stories I was hearing,” she says. “I was out for more than 300 days, and when I came back home, I did not have the luxury of isolating myself. I had my family, including my five-year-old son, to take care of. No one prepares you for this kind of thing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to an online survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society in April last year, more than two-fifths of the 1,685 participants experienced mental health problems (primarily anxiety or depression) because of the pandemic. The number of mental health professionals available to take care of these problems is sadly few—India has 0.75 psychiatrists per lakh individuals. Yet, many of these mental health professionals have been working round the clock to make up for the shortage during this trying time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In March last year, we created a WhatsApp group to reach out to health care professionals and put up posters for tele-counselling services for the people,” says Nithya H.M., assistant professor of clinical psychology at the Government Medical College, Chengalpet, who is also part of the Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists. “We started with work in Tamil Nadu and later it became pan India.” They also liaised with the Institute of Mental Health and the Madras Medical College, which provided them with a list of Covid positive patients each morning. Their team of volunteers would then make around 20 calls each a day to these patients and their families. Details of patients, including pre-morbid conditions, were documented in a Google form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has been a taxing period for her. She relocated from Chennai to Chengalpet in March so that she could avoid the commute from home to the hospital. “Initially, I slept only for four to five hours a day, thinking about strategies to deal with the potential mental health issues and to promote positive mental health among both health care professionals and the public at large,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it is not just individual mental health workers who have upped their game. Certain mental health startups, too, have risen to the occasion. Trijog, for example, founded by a mother-daughter duo in 2014, is providing discounted sessions to deal with the increased case load during the pandemic. Wysa, an AI chat bot created to help address mental health problems, was chosen by ORCHA, a health app evaluator, as the best platform for Covid-related stress and anxiety. ePsyclinic, started by Gurgaon-based Shipra Dawar in 2015, was the exclusive partner for several state governments including the Haryana and Rajasthan governments, to take care of people’s mental health needs during the pandemic. “We provided pro bono counselling to 2.7 lakh people, which included ASHA workers, migrant labourers, senior citizens, blue collar workers like Zomato and Swiggy delivery executives, and women facing domestic abuse,” says Dawar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Varghese Punnoose, professor and head of department of psychiatry, Government Medical College, Kottayam, Kerala, says: “When the second Covid patient in India—a medical student from Wuhan—was admitted in my hospital last January, I had no idea that psychiatrists would have any role to play in the treatment,” he says. “So I did not even attend the training programme on how to wear PPE. But the next day, I had to get into the Covid isolation room wearing PPE because one of the patients refused to undergo tests; he was angry and in denial. That was an eye-opener.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says some of the challenges they faced included dealing with alcohol withdrawal symptoms among those in Covid wards, stigma against those suspected to have Covid, managing patients who required close supervision and physical proximity, and handling the epidemic of student suicides during the lockdown and the burnout experienced by health care workers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These challenges may only be set to grow, he says. According to The New York Times, the hidden fourth wave of the pandemic is going to be the mental health crisis. Are we prepared for a possible deluge of mental health problems? Dr L. Sam S. Manickam, a professor of clinical psychology, does not think so. “After the 9/11 attacks, 5,000 volunteers were given training in psychological first aid to deal with the mental health fall-out of the attacks,” he says. “In India, after a natural calamity, the National Disaster Management Authority deals with the physical dimension. But the psycho-social aspect is sadly neglected.”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:30:57 IST 2021 hub-and-spokes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nine years ago, when Sridhar Vembu’s multinational software firm, Zoho Corporation, purchased four acres of land in Mathalamparai—a remote village near Tenkasi in south Tamil Nadu—to branch out its operations, there were not many supporters for that idea. But Vembu had a vision of “transnational localism”, by which his engineers across the globe work from rural areas, closer to their hometowns, to deliver globally-competitive products. In 2018, the Chennai-headquartered company started another ‘feeder office’ in Renigunta village close to Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. In March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck and IT companies struggled hard to establish work from home (WFH) norms, the industry realised the power of Vembu’s village vision that promotes remote working, and working from or close to hometowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While even industry majors found it difficult to streamline and move into WFH norms, the 8,000-plus employees of Zoho took just four days for this transition. It was at the beginning of March that Vembu announced a “remote-work” culture in the company. “The only thing was that we had to structure it,” says Vembu over a ‘Zoho meeting call’ from his Tenkasi home. “There were disturbances in terms of network, which we corrected in just a few days.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The company was able to come up with a remote-working tool kit in a short period after Vembu’s announcement. This tool kit named Zoho Remotely has 11 cloud-based apps to enable working from home. “I will not say that we were prepared for the pandemic,” says Vembu. “But we were prepared for a recession. We thought the industry as such might face a set-back globally because of a recession.” Vembu was conferred with the Padma Shri award this year. He has also been made a member of National Security Advisory Board, led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Founded in 1996 as AdventNet, and renamed as Zoho (after its online office suite) in 2009, the company provides several web-based business tools and IT solutions. The Zoho software suite consists of around 45 applications that help in operations like customer engagement, accounting, project management, social media marketing and email campaigns. In 2019, the company generated a total revenue of Rs3,410 crore. Some of its product like Zoho Desk was built entirely in its rural feeder office in Mathalamparai. “You need not have to be necessarily in a metro to run or work for a software company,” says Vembu. “My idea of moving to the village was to give the employee peace of mind and also boost the local economy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike many other software companies, Zoho has not cut down on the jobs or brought in pay cuts during this pandemic period. They have a clear plan for the post-Covid phase, too. “Instead of waiting for [things to] return to normal, we have started redefining it [the work culture] for Zoho,” says Rajendran Dandapani, director of engineering, Zoho Corporation. "[We will have] no monolithic [centralised and large] offices, instead, a hub-and-spoke model [with] 15 to 20 offices, [each with] maximum 100 employees, scattered around the countryside.”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:29:07 IST 2021 doctors-fightback <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Venugopala M., 59, from HSR Layout, Bengaluru, tested positive for Covid-19 in September. He was discharged on January 30—131 days in the hospital, including 64 days in the intensive care unit. Dr Rajesh Mohan Shetty, consultant (critical care medicine), Manipal Hospitals, Whitefield, said that Venugopala's lungs were 100 per cent affected; 64 per cent or more is considered severe disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make matters worse, he had a history of hypertension and developed severe Covid-pneumonia. “The patient’s oxygen level was low, and so, other body parts also started getting affected,” said Shetty. “He had low blood pressure and started experiencing drowsiness.” The respiratory problems took a toll on his kidneys and liver, too. “His chances of survival seemed bleak,” said Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As his condition deteriorated, he was placed on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation—using a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung into the bloodstream). “ECMO gives oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide,” said Shetty. “Once the lung recovers, we stop ECMO and the body takes over.” A case report published in the European Heart Journal claimed that a patient who was on ECMO for 49 days is the “longest ECMO Covid survivor in the world”. Venugopala was on ECMO for 56 days. “We’ve submitted the data to ELSO (Extracorporeal Life Support Organization),’’ says Shetty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, the medical team did it without a tracheostomy (inserting a tube into the windpipe through an incision in the neck), which is usually done in such severe cases. “We took the patient off the ventilator within a few days of initiating ECMO; it was able to manage the lung function,” said Shetty. Getting off the ventilator meant that Venugopala did not have to be sedated any more. He could eat and drink on his own and even talk to his family. “He didn’t have problems associated with long-term ventilation,” said Shetty. “That reduced the complication levels as well. There was no deterioration. His other body functions were normal. We were just waiting for his lungs to get better.” On the 40th day, his lungs showed signs of improvement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopala’s family remained hopeful and optimistic during the difficult time. They arranged money for the treatment by selling property. “We didn’t lose hope because we knew dad is strong-willed,” said his son Manoj V. Reddy, 30, who works as delivery lead at Acuity Knowledge Partners in Bengaluru. “We trusted the doctors and they kept us updated. When we were not allowed to meet dad, the doctors spoke to him and kept us posted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shetty said the family's confidence in the doctors was key. “Even we did not know whether he would definitely improve and survive,” he said. “However, thanks to the family's faith in us, we tried as hard as possible, replacing what-ifs with even-ifs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopala, a BEML employee, got his daughter Ruchika married on March 3, a mere 31 days after he was discharged. It seems like he certainly made up for lost time.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:27:35 IST 2021 hope-resurrected <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Yogish, a driver from Tumakuru in Karnataka, was among the many patients in need of organ transplants who were driven to despair by Covid-19. The 25-year-old, who uses only one name, was suffering from end-stage renal failure and had several health complications, including breathlessness and weakness. He underwent dialysis and waited for eight months for a transplant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His turn finally came in February 2020. But, Covid-19 meant that elective surgeries were being postponed even before the lockdown. In July, he contracted the virus and the surgery was deferred for another two months as the risk of reactivation of the virus was high during that period. Yogish finally got the transplant, from his father, in October.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patients in need of organ transplants sufferd a double blow because of the pandemic, says Dr Sonal Asthana, lead consultant, HPB (hepato-pancreato-biliary) and liver transplant surgery, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru. “Being immunocompromised, patients with end-stage organ failure found themselves to be at an increased risk of Covid-19 and avoided hospital visits as far as possible,” he said. “Also, they could not access transplantation facilities because of fewer donations and most ICU resources being directed to Covid-19 care.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Shailesh Raina, director, urology and robotics, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, said the patients themselves were afraid when the pandemic was at its peak as they would have to go on immunosuppressants after the transplant, leading to a higher chance of getting Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The health care crisis prompted the Liver Transplantation Society of India and the Indian Society of Organ Transplantation, supported by the National Organ Tissue and Transplant Organisation, to issue guidelines about how to care for a patient in need of a transplant. And over the last two months, there has been signs of revival. “There has been a spurt in organ donation and transplant activities have returned to near-normal levels,” said Asthana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite Covid-19 wreaking havoc with India's transplantation machinery, there were also heartwarming stories that gave hope to all. Like that of Lithika. The seven-year-old had acute-on-chronic liver failure. Her father Channa Nayaka, 40, a security guard, was ready to donate part of his own liver (the organ can regenrate itself), but the family could not afford the surgery. The team at Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru, stepped up and arranged the money through crowdfunding and the surgery was succesfully performed in October.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, paediatric transplants seemed to continue despite the dip in overall transplants. Between March and November, when transplants were worst affected by the pandemic, paediatric transplats increased from 10 per cent of the total to 15 per cent. Children, yet again, provided a ray of hope amid the darkness.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:24:27 IST 2021 silver-linings <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>March saw Nagpur go under lockdown owing to the surge in Covid-19 cases; so did Parbhani district. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray warned that strict lockdown measures would be initiated in other regions, too, to contain the spread. The Union government has already dispatched a team to assist the state administration. The current rise in daily cases is reminiscent of the state’s situation in October, when 10,000 plus cases used to be reported every day. Mumbai has been reporting more than 1,000 cases daily. But city doctors say that it is not all bleak. The spike, they say, is limited to certain areas in the city and that the cases are milder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dr Anita Mathew, </b><br> internal medicine specialist, Fortis Hospital</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The numbers have definitely gone up. However, we have not seen a spike across all wards in Mumbai. There are certain wards where the numbers are really high. For instance, in Mulund, where I practise, we have a huge number of cases and there has been a constant increase. We expect this to continue well into the next couple of days or weeks. It may go down over a period of time. And the dip will only happen if people become more responsible. Vaccination has also brought in complacency. And with numbers going down in between—when the city reported about 300 cases a day—people assumed that the pandemic was over. One interesting aspect is that the high case numbers are being reported from apartments, and not necessarily from slums. I work with a municipal hospital as well and we are not seeing overwhelming numbers there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dr Alpa Dalal,</b></p> <p>consultant chest physician, Jupiter Hospital</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city is undergoing vaccinations on an unprecedented scale. But the complaints of reactions post vaccination are much hyped. They are essentially mild in nature—pain at the jab site, mild fever, joint pain, dizziness and headache. These are all expected. But those who are frail, have very poor cardio-respiratory functions and are allergic to the ingredients used in the vaccine can develop serious reactions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, we are seeing that the cases in Mumbai are milder. Most people are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and the need for hospitalisation and ventilators is much less. We are seeing only 20-25 per cent of the ventilator cases we saw during last year’s peak.</p> Thu Mar 18 21:05:42 IST 2021 lessons-in-humanity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hundreds of students of professor Manish Jha from remote and backward areas of the country did not join his online classes when Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai started them in July 2020. Jha and his colleagues encouraged those who missed classes to attend Zoom meetings from wherever possible. He found out that many of them did not have stable internet connections and had to find areas near their homes that had good reception. The professors later learnt that many students did not even have laptops or smartphones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Students were hesitant to inform us that they did not have gadgets to attend classes,” said Jha. “We also found that many of them did not have money for internet recharge on their phones. We then prepared a Google sheet and pooled in money. We provided laptops and smartphones to our students.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to this, about 50 TISS students were stuck in the campus hostel. They could not go home as they had not anticipated an immediate lockdown. They were however provided for by their professors and the faculty. “None of the students who were left behind tested positive in the campus. As soon as the first phase of unlocking started, they went back home,” said Jha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are two examples of the efforts taken by those at TISS Mumbai to help their students. The faculty members helped the students when they needed them most. There are many such situations that brought out Covid heroes in the field of education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take the case of 33-year-old Avneesh Chhabra, a Gurugram-based saffron trader, who is passionate about technology and social causes. He wanted to help children who were stuck in their houses. “When the lockdown started, underprivileged children were under tremendous stress,” said Chhabra. “They were stuck in their small homes and were not used to being with their parents all day. They witnessed domestic violence and high alcohol consumption.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, in May 2020 Chhabra launched a free online platform called PassionGuru, which offers passion-based classes for children. “Through this platform, I wanted them to be more imaginative and future-ready via vocational education,” he said. “Such children rarely get a chance to pursue what they love doing. We wanted to get them access to passion mentors. Today, we are training more than 2,000 children in different art forms.” PassionGuru is Chhabra's self-funded venture and he works with different NGOs that tend to scores of underprivileged students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The classes are for children in the 8-16 age group, and a completion certificate is also provided to them. The platform has chosen art forms such as kathak, taekwondo, singing, yoga, sign language and sketching. The platform even ran a campaign to raise funds to provide smartphones for children who did not have them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pradyut Voleti is another entrepreneur who wanted to help children de-stress. He heads Dribble Academy in Delhi, which gives free basketball training to children in villages and slums. However, the pandemic brought unique challenges. Children who were used to playing on courts in their localities were socially isolated and could not practise. Those from low-income families had almost no access to the internet to continue their training online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Noida, we worked with our corporate partners such as the HCL Foundation and provided our students with a basketball each as well as internet recharges,” said Voleti. “We even provided dry ration which motivated the children to attend online classes and helped them support their families during the crisis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dribble Academy also invited famous volunteers to conduct sessions, like American coach Nate Cox who conducted dribbling sessions, and former IPS officer Shantanu Mukherjee, who spoke to the children on International Tigers Day. Once the lockdown was eased, Dribble Academy set up basketball hoops on trees and in nearby villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some educationists also came up with interesting innovations to stop the spread of Covid-19 within their campuses. Professors Debasis Chakravarty and Aditya Bandyopadhyay from IIT Kharagpur developed an artificial intelligence (AI) image processing-based alert system for public places to ensure physical distance. This product has been installed at the IIT Kharagpur campus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The idea came to my mind when I saw the measures announced by medical practitioners globally,” said Chakravarty. “The basic principle of social distancing also emerged as a direct consequence of my research area of obtaining the localisation status from an image-based concept, which we apply for the autonomous ground vehicles (AGV) research group. The development of this system involved the students from the AGV research group.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The future plan of this institute is to get this setup more user-specific and situation-specific. The development team is optimistic that this setup would be useful in the future as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Universities such as Lovely Professional University (LPU) came forward with an initiative in June 2020 to offer free education to the wards of frontline workers who were infected with Covid-19 while serving the nation. The university had announced a 100 per cent tuition fee waiver for the children of these victims—whether survivors or deceased—as a token of gratitude. The university also announced scholarships worth 020 crore to support the workers involved in the country's fight with the pandemic including medical professionals, policemen, media persons, railway and airline employees, bank employees and others.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:22:04 IST 2021 pause-play <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recovering from his multiple coronary stent procedures at his home in Behala, Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly must be a happy man as he catches the cricket action on the telly. The BCCI president and his office bearers had taken their time to finally allow cricket to resume in India after the nationwide lockdown was lifted last year. Even as other sports restarted training, cricket remained at a standstill. The BCCI agreed to organise the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League in November, hosted by the United Arab Emirates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much before the pre-season training for the IPL formally began, most cricketers were training at their homes. Navdeep Saini was one of them. The 28-year-old fast bowler from Karnal, Haryana, plays domestic cricket for Delhi and is with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. He has had an eventful six months. He went from training at his family farm during the lockdown to entering the IPL bio-bubble in October, before moving to another bubble in Australia, where he made his Test debut, though he was originally drafted as a net bowler.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When the lockdown started, we all went home,” Saini told THE WEEK. “We knew we would have to resume training after some time and be prepared for it. I consulted my friends and got my gym equipment over to our farmhouse. I would run and keep myself busy. The focus was on ensuring that it would not take much time for me to get back into action.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the BCCI, hosting IPL 2020 was crucial. But despite the national lockdown ending, the Covid scenario at key venues was not conducive. “Of course, we were very worried before going ahead with the IPL,” said BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal. “If we did not conduct the IPL, it would have greatly impacted the balance sheet of the BCCI. The revenue earned from it is pumped back into domestic cricket. Some international sports, like tennis and football, resumed competitions but had hiccups in terms of cases and bio-bubble breaches. But we thought we should go ahead and put the best protocols in place. We executed it well. The way we conducted IPL could be an example for other sports, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BCCI pulled out all the stops to ensure Covid protocols were strictly followed by all—officials, players, broadcasters, staff. It roped inÅRestrata, a British technology firm, to provide a safety management platform to manage movement between IPL venues, training grounds and team hotels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the absence of spectators, the players were just happy to get back to work. “When we had to go to the IPL, it was a bit difficult to start playing immediately, and it took time to build my workload,” remarked Saini. But he lauds the BCCI for choosing to resume cricket with the shortest format.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The quarantine period before the IPL was a bit difficult as one could not venture out of the room,” said Saini. “But at least we knew when it ended we would be going to the ground. There was a sense of excitement of getting to play again. That you were getting to meet fellow teammates again was incentive enough.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rules included no after-match parties and restricted access to players and families. But each franchise arranged for a ‘Team Room’ in the hotels, which had various activities. Saini said this informal space was important to break the monotony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike many of Saini’s domestic cricket colleagues who returned home after the IPL, his bio-bubble life would continue in Australia. The BCCI had sent the entire T20, ODI and Test squads plus support staff and back-up players all together. Australia's stricter Covid protocols were not easy, but this brought the team together and the focus remained firmly on the cricket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The joy of getting to don the India cap was bigger than the frustration of the restrictions for Saini and the young guns who came good on the tour. “You are playing for the country, and there is the excitement of international cricket,” he said. “It was such a big series. So, we were not bothered about the restrictions or the bio-bubble.” After the series Saini returned home to meet his family after six months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhumal said the Australia tour was no doubt very taxing for the players and support staff. “But we are so proud of them,” he said. “They never let these things impact their performance. The restrictions for the Australians were different, while [our] players were there without family and could not venture out, while the rest of the city was open.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tour was a win-win situation for both, hosts and visitors. While Cricket Australia was happy with the revenues and all-time high television ratings, the BCCI and Indian cricket fans were over the moon with the result.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was also the satisfaction of seeing live cricket back on TV. “There was so much gloom in 2020 that the IPL brought much cheer to fans,” said Dhumal. “It was the only real entertainment. There were no movies released and nothing else was happening except on the OTT space.” He adds that IPL 2020 had a 15 to 20 per cent increase in viewership over the 2019 season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having overcome the hurdle of organising international cricket at home by hosting England, the BCCI is now preparing for the next IPL edition this summer and to host the bilateral series that are pending. And yes, it has also kicked off the curtailed domestic fixtures, though the Ranji Trophy will not be played for the first time since its inception. The only big challenge left is to ensure the women’s teams get enough game time. The BCCI has made some effort to restart women’s cricket like the ongoing series against South Africa but a lot more needs to be done.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:20:46 IST 2021 personal-touch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Early studies about Covid-19 said that deaths were preceded by a rapid deterioration in the condition of patients. Therefore, the patients had to be monitored constantly. But, during a health crisis that is easier said than done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At Era's Lucknow Medical College and Hospital, the founder and his family stepped in to help their team. Mohsin Ali Khan, his wife, Saiyada, and their son Zaw volunteered to monitor the condition of patients themselves. They had technology to aid them—in 2019, Era had developed a dashboard to monitor all admitted patients from a central control room. The family put up a display of it in their living room and maintained a 24-hour vigil, taking turns to watch the screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Generally, hospitalised patients have family or friends with them,” said Zaw, 29, additional director (administration, research and development). “Covid-19 patients around the world were deprived of that personal care. We were attempting to fill that gap to some extent.” He said that alerting staff to any issue, such as oxygen saturation of a patient dropping, was important because it was not possible for the doctors in an ICU to constantly comprehend the condition of all patients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zaw, a bioinformatics engineer with a master's in business strategy, had been guiding his team in novel research on personalised nutrition. This proved useful in improving recovery rates. “We listed anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrosis, anti-thrombotic and anti-mucus-hypersecretion food like ginger and cinnamon,” he said. The team at Era identified a compound in green tea as a promising inhibitor of SAR-CoV-2’s spike protein. (Zaw warns that post-vaccination, green tea may inhibit the working of the vaccine, too.) “For children and the elderly, we baked snacks with the items in the check-list,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the hospital, only 0.2 per cent of patients “admitted in a timely manner” died (as on February 20). The recovery rate at the L3 (critical care) hospital was 94.2 per cent, the “highest in Uttar Pradesh”. Zaw said that ELMC&amp;H was ready to share its diet plan and the underlying science, and help interested parties to setup remote monitoring control rooms. “They can contact us at,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohsin, 56, said that he was glad the environment of research at the hospital helped save lives. “We hope to continue this,” he said. “In addition to new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we are studying cancer, neurodegenerative conditions and chronic non-communicable diseases, with promising results. By sharing knowledge with institutes around the world, we hope to enhance India’s position as a world leader in science, technology and education.”</p> Fri Mar 19 14:17:05 IST 2021 swasa-a-homespun-mask-with-a-nano-touch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At the bhoomi pujan ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on August 5, 2020, the most high-profile event of the year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who otherwise used homemade face coverings, donned a N95 mask. The mask, called ‘Swasa’, was born of the research by Sandip Patil, a PhD scholar of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Work on these electro spun nanofibre masks had started in 2017-18 when Patil, now 39, was researching nanofibre technology for anti-viral and anti-bacterial face masks.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It took us a year to develop the technology,” says Patil. “Our nanofibres are in the order of 50 nanometers and thus have superior filtration properties.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil simplifies the process by drawing the analogy of a sieve. “The smaller the pores of a sieve, the finer will be the particles that it will allow to go through it.” Each SARS-CoV-2 virion (entire virus particle) is approximately 50–200 nanometres in diameter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The masks developed by E-Spin Nanotech Private Limited, an enterprise founded by Patil in 2010, countered the deficiencies of existing masks. In addition to better filtration, these masks have greater breathability and safety. In late 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, Patil and his team had been making what he labels “mini iterations” to the product. These included snugger side corner fitting, comfortable ear fittings and closer nose fittings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the technology was born in Kanpur, production was undertaken by a third party in Ahmedabad. This came as a boon as these were essentially the only N95 masks being produced in the state.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“From 5,000 masks a day, we went to producing 40,000. From one shift, we went to three. My immediate concern was to supply to the hospitals and health care workers in Gujarat as no one was producing at our scale. The relevant departments of the Uttar Pradesh government facilitated easy supply to the state,” says Patil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Throughout we remained unwavering on the price point- never retailing beyond Rs 70-80 per mask depending on the geography where we were selling.” These masks were later, after receiving the necessary permission from the government, exported to the United States, Canada, Singapore and the Middle East.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The technology, which has been developed in collaboration with the chemistry and chemical engineering departments of IIT, Kanpur, has also received funding from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. The setting up of E-Spin Nanotech Private Limited was funded by the Small Industries Development Bank of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil is happy over the part he and his team played in this crucial time. “We did the best we could. We were in the service of the nation. If you were to label us COVID heroes, I would say, yes, we were… in our own small way,” he says.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:14:46 IST 2021 here-are-the-silent-heroes-who-cremate-covid-19-victims <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Naveen Kumar is used to experiencing chaos at nights. A few years back, a typical night meant getting home from a happening watering hole and hitting the sack around 2am. Loud music, drunk party-goers, flashy clothes and brawls were part of his daily life. Owning a high-end music system costing lakhs of rupees, Kumar not only rented his equipment but also doubled up as sound engineer and DJ at hundreds of parties and events in Hyderabad and its outskirts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the 32-year-old experiences chaos of a different kind at nights, like an incident that happened a few months back. “I was lying in bed when I felt something. The Aathma (spirit) of a dead person started pushing me. Later, I felt like someone was on top of me and scratching me. What happened that night was unforgettable,” said Naveen Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naveen does not believe that it was a hallucination and is confident that he encountered paranormal activity. However, this did not deter him from what he was doing: Lift bodies of COVID-19 victims and oversee their cremation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to government figures, has claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people in Telangana, has brought together people from diverse backgrounds to discharge emergency duties.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Never in his life did Naveen imagine that he will work in a crematorium or a hospital. “I suffered a great financial loss and I was desperate for a job. Through an acquaintance, I got to know that there was a requirement for lifting and transporting COVID-19 bodies. I had no choice but to convince my family and take it up as I badly needed money,” he confesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with the job, came a heavy workload and long working hours, which took a toll. Naveen now lives in a room in the state-run hospital that is exclusively meant for COVID-19 patients, the Gandhi Hospital. According to him, there have been more than a half-dozen times when he fainted due to fatigue as he was on standby or working for 24 hours at a stretch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naveen is part of a private agency, which has been assigned the task of safe disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims from government hospitals. The supervisor of the agency is K. Vijay Kumar, who also had no prior experience in handling dead bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I studied BCom computers and worked for a corporate company,” said Vijay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Initially, Vijay worked as a data entry operator but later on got involved with ground-level work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My family was very much against my decision, and my friends kept away from me. But I had made up my mind. There was risk involved, but I also felt the need to do service,” Vijay said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Vijay’s own words, the first few months were very challenging as there was a lot of stigma attached to COVID-19. He narrated an experience that shook him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This was in the initial weeks of the pandemic. We took a dead body in a van to a crematorium on the city outskirts. A mob assembled there and objected to our entry. When we insisted on going ahead with cremation, they started pelting stones and attacked us. We were scared for our lives and somehow got out of the area with minor injuries,” Vijay recollected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another major problem faced by Vijay and his team was the process of disposing the bodies through various religious rituals. He said that he had a tough time getting permissions and convincing religious heads and managers of graveyards and crematoriums to allow them to go ahead with their work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the pandemic peaked, the dead bodies burned continuously at the only designated crematorium in Erragadda, in the west part of Hyderabad. “As the bodies kept coming in, there was a shortage of manpower. There were occasions when I had to lift the bodies and also sleep in an ambulance. To ease the queue of bodies, we had to use diesel to speed up the process. At the same time, we had to control the relatives of the deceased as they would break down or try to go near the bodies,” Vijay reveals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Vijay, his work of the last few months is the “biggest achievement of his life”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Money can be earned anytime, but I am happy that I could help in these crucial times. I have helped so many people that I have earned enough goodwill for this lifetime,” says Vijay, turning emotional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A silent but significant contributor during the pandemic has been Rafiq, a daily-wage worker who is also well-versed with the procedure of efficiently cremating bodies. It is learnt that when many workers of crematoriums refused to do their regular duty due to the fear of contracting the virus, it was Rafiq who came forward and helped cremate bodies of dozens of Hindus affected by COVID-19 virus in the crematorium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there are IT employees who helped in respectfully peforming the final rites of those who passed away in private hospitals. Like Sai Teza, Bellam Srinivas and their friends who started an ambulance service, ‘Serve the Needy’ through which bodies of more than 150 COVID-19 victims were cremated or buried.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to them, “A few from the US and other countries who had families here requested us to perform the last rites. We did it and also made them part of it virtually by showing the proceedings through video calls,” said Sai Teza. Their service was provided free of cost. The youngsters also witnessed some harsh realities of life as some of the families were indifferent to their dead ones and refused to give an honourable sendoff. There were also memorable moments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A poor family did not have money to cremate their loved ones. We took up that responsibility. The family members were full of gratitude and cried thanking us. Their response gave us immense satisfaction,’ said Bellam Srinivas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first official COVID-19 death in Telangana occurred on March 28, 2020. Almost a year later, the pandemic has brought in a lot of changes to Hyderabad and its people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I might have earned some money in this job, but bigger than that is what I learnt in these 11 months. I have seen so many bodies of the rich and the well-educated being dumped in a corner with no one to attend to it. For me, what now matters is to lead an honest and a pure life till the time I am alive,” said Naveen Kumar.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:12:59 IST 2021 how-this-covid-19-vaccine-trial-volunteer-took-up-the-challenge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For Nirbhay Shankar Kapoor, who works as a social media manager with a Delhi-based digital marketing agency, the urge to be a COVID-19 vaccine trial volunteer came from within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the 28-year-old soon found himself in a dilemma. He knew that his family would not approve of him joining the clinical trials and that convincing them would be no easy task. “I told them almost on the last day—like just a day before I had to go for the trials, that I have opted for it. My family was sceptical, especially my mother and elder brother were very worried. My father and sister-in-law were in a 50-50 situation,” recalls Kapoor. He reasoned with them saying there is a critical shortage of volunteers for the COVID-19 vaccine trials. “If we don’t take part in clinical trials, how will the vaccine be developed?” he asked. His persuasion techniques worked and Kapoor became a volunteer for Bharat Biotech’s phase 3 trials of Covaxin. “I took my first shot on January 4, followed by the booster dose on February 1,” says Kapoor, who still wears mask and gloves to avoid being a carrier. The process was less cumbersome than he anticipated. "They did some general inquiry to know my medical history and any medication I take. Then, I had a blood test to check if I already have antibodies or not, followed by an RT-PCR test,” he adds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Were there side-effects to the vaccine? "Not really. They had given me a long list of reactions though. But thankfully, I just had a bearable headache or rather a heavy head situation on the day I got my shot and very mild congestion in throat for two to three days. As per doctor's advice, I took an anti-allergic for congestion and I was fine. Nothing serious at least in my case,” says Kapoor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Volunteering, in a worst-case scenario, could mean you are exposing yourself to a vaccine that is not safe and Kapoor sometimes worries about its potential side-effects. Brushing aside his fears, he says, “I have faith in science and God. Things will be fine for all.’’What advice would he give to people wanting to take part in COVID-19 vaccine trials? "Before signing up to volunteer, you should know what you are heading for. Consult your family doctor and seek his opinion. When you go to the vaccine centre, talk to the team over there and clear your doubts. If you are still not completely sure, I would suggest you step back from the trial,” says Kapoor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Volunteering is meant for people who are mentally strong, he says. "They have a better chance to recover from illnesses more quickly. Stress weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to getting sick.’'</p> Fri Mar 19 14:11:25 IST 2021 from-surviving-covid-19-to-coming-second-in-marathon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dr Anuradha H.K. sensed something amiss while making breakfast for her daugher Ela. She had picked up a bowl which had coffee decoction in it, but she couldn’t smell the coffee.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anuradha, a consultant neurologist at Aster CMI, Bengaluru, had taken up a running challenge at that point in time. She was supposed to run daily for 100 days. She managed to stick to the commitment for 87 days, running an average of 80km per week. On the 88th day, she felt dizzy while running. Then it struck her that two days ago a friend told her that her voice had changed. It had completely slipped her mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 42-year-old soon tested positive for COVID-19. She managed to remain hopeful and optimistic during the first two days of the illness. “I would walk 3km inside the hospital at a slow pace,” she says. But on the third day, her oxygen saturation levels dropped and she could barely walk. “I got a CT scan and was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was mild to moderate. I did not require oxygen but I had to get some injections,” says Anuradha.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What bothered her the most was the state of her lungs. In healthy people, the lungs expand, the moment oxygen goes inside. It is then passed into the blood vessels and carried around the body. “My lungs felt like rubber. They just wouldn’t expand,” she recalls. An avid runner, Anuradha has taken part in more than 50 marathons in the last three years. Still, she wasn’t even able to do the exercises she was prescribed to improve her lung function. “It was quite depressing. I didn’t know when I would get back to normal living and I was really concerned about my family, especially Ela, who is just eight years old. I had severe panic attack and anxiety. While in hospital, I used to talk to Ela over video calls. Every time I would worry whether I would get to talk to her once again. COVID-19 was so unpredictable at that point in time. Nobody could predict who would survive.”&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anuradha recovered quickly though. Thirteen days after the diagnosis, she went back to taking care of her patients. “I could run my OPDs. However, my heart rate would go haywire while walking. For runners, the resting heart rate is usually less than 60. My heart rate was normal when I rested but it would shoot up quickly when I walked. So, I was advised not to do heavy or moderate exercises for two months,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a month, she started walking. She would slowly walk, keeping a check on her heart rate. She missed running and her mind would flash back to her running days in Lucknow. “I started running while in Lucknow. I would finish my rounds by 4pm, go to the ground and run for about half an hour to 45 minutes before returning to the hospital.” In 2017, she did her first 5k. Later, one of her doctor friends registered her for a 10k in Cubbon Park. That was her first registered run. There was no looking back after that. “I took part in the Auroville Marathon (42k) in February 2018. That was an amazing event. I made lot of friends, and joined a running group,’’ says Anuradha.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two months later, she got back into running. “On day 1, I was a bit nervous. I didn’t go far from the house. Slowly, in about 2-3 weeks, I picked up my pace. I concentrated on breathing and did yoga and pranayama to improve my lung capacity. One and a half months later, I was doing better than how I was doing during pre-COVID times,’’ she recalls.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nonetheless, running a marathon after COVID-19 was no cakewalk. “For one, my husband was not very keen on me returning to running, barely eight weeks after recovering from COVID-19. He’s a cardiologist and I had a tough time convincing him. I ran on a treadmill in front of him and also got my echocardiogram (ECHO) and treadmill (TMT) tests done. Finally, he gave me a go-ahead though not completely convinced.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anuradha made a strong comeback at a stadium run conducted by NEB at Jayaprakash Narayan Stadium in Bengaluru. “I took part in a category wherein participants must have completed a stadium run covering a distance of 60km in 12 hours, without taking breaks for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.” Her strategy was to cover maximum distance in the first half. “The second half tends to be more difficult. Your endurance comes down, your muscles start aching and your mind wants to give up. So, it’s better to cover more distance in the first half.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anuradha finished second at the marathon. Did she feel like giving up at any point in time? “Not really. I had no injuries either,’’ she said with a smile.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That said, she felt like quitting in the middle of the Malnadu ultra a few years ago. “I took part in it twice. Both the times, I struggled because of the tough terrain and weather conditions.” However, she managed to complete both times.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time around, she had to face a different set of challenges. “If you don’t run for a couple of weeks, your endurance and lung capacity go down. It’s like you are going backwards,” she says. However, with grit and resilience, she overcame the hurdles along the way.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Far from resting on her laurels, Anuradha gets up at 4.30am and kickstarts her day with a run. She prefers to cook her own meal. You should know what you eat, she reasons. She finishes her household chores by 9.30am and then heads to work. After coming back home, she spends quality time with Ela. Before going to bed, she likes to read a bit or listen to Carnatic music.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The marathon runner is at peace now.</p> Fri Mar 19 14:09:43 IST 2021 left-and-write <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Past the Parsi hostel for women in Worli, through a narrow opening almost down a rabbit hole, lies the once-slum colony of Mayanagar. The birthplace of the Dalit Panthers in the 1970s has now been gentrified; there are apartments with lifts. A bright yellow crane at the entrance, however, indicates that work is still in progress.</p> <p>After spending a decade in several prisons, Kobad Ghandy<b>—</b>painted as the poster boy of the ultra-left movement in India<b>—</b>has returned to where it all began for him. Free now, he plods carefully with his walker. “Arthritis and sciatica are both jail products,” he says.</p> <p>Old timers who recognise him stop to take pictures with an unmasked Ghandy. “I take things to build my immunity, then I do not worry that much,” he says.</p> <p>Ghandy chats easily, reminiscing about the 1970s, when he walked in armed with a mat and printed material to awaken the people of Mayanagar into political consciousness. “I remember the first time I met him,” says Arul Francis<b>—</b>one of the young men Ghandy inspired—as he sits down with a milky cup of coffee. This is the first time the two are meeting in decades. Back then, Francis was among the many unemployed youth fired up by the ideas of B.R. Ambedkar, Karl Marx and Jyotirao Phule. “I still remember what was printed on the paper he brought when I first met him:</p> <p>‘Bombay is the most densely populated city with 60 per cent slums. Why?’ We had no consciousness about social issues till then,” says Francis.</p> <p>Despite his years in the field—even “declassing” to live in a dalit slum in Nagpur—Ghandy’s accent stubbornly remains. It is a constant reminder of privilege and the world he left behind. But it is not a barrier, and the camaraderie is real. “We would talk about everything in our lives,” says Rajesh Bhalerao, a dalit activist who was 17 when the Panthers came to be. An unemployed Bhalerao had received his lessons in political consciousness with Ghandy. “We were fighting for the fundamental rights that the Constitution guaranteed us,” he says. “We were raising issues of unemployment through the tools that democracy provided us, like protests. But there was also a blowback.”</p> <p>In May 1972, having spent three months in a British jail for organising an anti-racism meeting (he had gone there to study chartered accountancy), Ghandy had returned to India, only to stumble upon Mayanagar. It was close to his parents’ flat in Worli, though it could have easily been another world. It is here, with its primitive drainage and lack of water, that Ghandy encountered caste.<br> The Dalit Panthers’ vibrant cultural revolt against rigid Hinduism, borrowing from the Black Panthers of America, was forcing questions of equality. Idealism, Marxism and communism offered the heady possibility of change.</p> <p>“There used to be a car showroom across the road,” says Francis. “He asked us whether we would be able to buy a car even if we had the money or would we have to be content to just watch it from outside. It was our first lesson in class.”</p> <p>It was a powerful lesson, one that changed Francis’s life. It also played a part in transforming the slum into its current state. “They stood on their own feet and managed to get the slum redeveloped,” Ghandy says with pride. “Across the road, the other side, the slum still remains. That is because they were not organised.”</p> <p>There were many who drifted into the <i>basti </i>(colony)<b>—</b>a favourite place for college students to earn their social work stripes<b>—</b>but Ghandy was a regular. Mayanagar changed him. It became a lifelong commitment. He realised that his work there could become a lifelong commitment. A few years later, he took a further radical step; he and his wife, Anuradha, moved into the dalit <i>basti</i> in Indora, Nagpur. “It was not a sacrifice,” he says in his first in-depth interview after being released from jail in late 2019.</p> <p>Ghandy’s prison days began in 2009, when he was arrested in Delhi and booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. “It is dehumanising, especially Tihar, where I spent the maximum time,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It is meant to break you. [Break] people like us, and people without money, resources or connections. And if you are somewhat sensitive, it is difficult to maintain your sanity.”</p> <p>Then home minister P. Chidambaram had launched Operation Green Hunt, an all-out offensive against the “red corridor”, which stretched from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka and Kerala. “Left-wing extremism (Naxalism) is the most violent movement in the country,” he had told top police officers in 2011.<br> This is the movement the police claimed Ghandy was an active part of.</p> <p>“Kobad Ghandy was a central committee member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). He was in charge of the international affairs wing of the banned outfit,” says K. Durga Prasad, who once headed Andhra Pradesh’s anti-Naxal force, the Greyhounds. He says that though he has no information on whether Ghandy actually participated in any Maoist operations against security forces directly, that in itself is no proof of his innocence. “He was extending logistical support to Maoists, arranging funds, organising meetings and was fully involved as a CC member,” he asserts.</p> <p>In 2016, a Delhi court, and subsequently four other courts, found Ghandy innocent of any terror link. “The police had really no evidence,” says Ghandy’s lawyer Rebecca John. “We demolished the case, witness by witness, relying on inconsistencies and contradictions. It was one of the earlier cases under UAPA, but once the Delhi court ruled there was no evidence to connect him to a banned organisation, he was able to get relief in almost all his pending cases on similar charges across the country.”</p> <p>Out now, Ghandy stays with his sister and has spent his time writing. He learnt to type in jail. His first book <i>Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir</i>, published by Roli Books, hits stores later this month.</p> <p>Born to Nargis and Adi Ghandy, who were from “the typical Parsi/corporate background”, Ghandy’s commitment to the communist cause seemed highly peculiar. He had studied at the elite Doon School, with Sanjay Gandhi as his classmate, and hardly seemed the kind for revolution. “He was a shy, withdrawn fellow,” says Gautam Vohra, his classmate in Doon School. “One would have never imagined that he would get so involved with any issue, especially communism. He never paraded his views, he never made a big display. But you could see he had commitment.”</p> <p>Ghandy is gentle, almost professorial, and charmingly idealistic even now. His conviction in communism apart, he has found support from friends and family, though they do not share his vision.</p> <p>His life changed when he met Anuradha Shanbag, to whom the book is dedicated. There was love, marriage and shared ideology. Involved with the Progressive Youth Movement, which was inspired by the Naxal movement, Anu was a firebrand intellectual committed to the cause.</p> <p>Her parents shared the same ideology. “There was very little choice if you came from my family,” says her brother Sunil Shanbag, who expressed his ideology in theatre. “I was in Rishi Valley [School], when I got a letter from her talking about why the nationalisation of banks was right. Anu was then only 14.” Over the years, Anuradha got more radicalised. “I remember she went to a camp of Bangladesh refugees in Madhya Pradesh, and she came back changed,” he says. There were intense discussions with her father over politics, even though they were both leftists, and Anuradha chose a different life. “Kobad came here often, and we soon realised that there was a relationship,” says Sunil.</p> <p>They married in 1977, when the Emergency was lifted. They were both involved in the civil liberties movement at the time and founded the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights in Maharashtra. A few years after the wedding, the couple moved to Indora and got actively involved with organisational activities. They deliberately kept away from family to avoid attachment. Anuradha cycled 15km daily to reach the college where she taught. They led a frugal existence. “It must have been difficult for my sister. It must have come at a personal cost,” says Sunil. “She was an avid letter writer, too, and while clearing my mother’s stuff after she died, I found her letters from her period in Indora. She must have realised that her parents were anxious.”</p> <p>Except for a few short visits early on, they kept away from relatives. There are no photographs of the couple with their families after marriage. When her father died, Anu could not go home. It was just one of the extreme steps that the two took to keep focus.</p> <p>They also decided to not have children. “In those days, in Andhra Pradesh,” writes Ghandy, “it was a norm that if a young married couple were both active revolutionaries, the male member would have a vasectomy to avoid children, which required additional attention and [would] distract from one’s activities. Anu and I, having decided to dedicate our time to the poor, followed this norm after marriage.”</p> <p>In 1999, the couple returned to Mumbai; Anu had been asked to leave Nagpur University (where she taught) for her political activities. She had become a mass leader, and “her work with trade unions and women was increasingly coming under the scanner of the cops,” writes Ghandy.<br> She then went to Bastar for two years to work with the tribal women. On one of her trips to the forest, she contracted falciparum malaria, which led to an untimely death. “It was the worst day of my life,” says Ghandy.<br> The famous picture of Anuradha, smiling with thick, black frames, is from the morning of the wedding. “I had taken it with my camera,” says Sunil. “It was only after her death in 2008 that we found a few more that some friends had from an earlier period.”</p> <p>The two most seen pictures of Ghandy<b>—</b>laughing on his wedding day and dazed on the day he was arrested<b>—</b>serve as a before and after poster. The years in between the two events have been captured in the new book. “Kobad’s story has fascinated me since I first heard about him,” says Priya Kapoor, editorial director at Roli Books. “We corresponded while he was in prison and I expressed interest in publishing his book whenever he was ready. Few live a life true to their convictions, especially when it leads to tremendous hardships. I hope his story is read widely; it deserves to be.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 11 10:37:11 IST 2021 i-consider-myself-a-radical-seeking-to-change-society <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a balmy afternoon in Mumbai. Shivaji Park, lime green in the early evening light, lies largely deserted. The iconic statue of Shivaji on his horse looms large as Kobad Ghandy—branded a “big fish”by the government—sits on a bench discussing failed communist revolutions, radical change and surviving jail. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>In some ways, the life you chose was a break from everything you knew.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>It was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Was it a determined effort?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>There was a lot of idealism in those days among the youth. There was a lot of change taking place throughout the world. It is a fact that we broke away. It was a bit difficult. But, on the other hand, I was living a simple life in London, too (before turning to activism). It is not that my parents were that type of rich. My father was employed with Glaxo and had a comfortable salary. Earlier, [I studied at] Doon School, then it was London. There was a lot of churning in that period.</p> <p>I got a lot of support from my parents, so I could do this. I could stay with them in the house at that time. Then, we (him and wife) moved to Nagpur. It is not that we were on the streets. My wife (Anuradha) also had a lecturer’s job. It was tough because we lived in a slum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You talk of idealism. You could have worked for development without moving into a slum.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>When one was unwell, those things did fleet across [one’s mind]. But we were clear on the question of declassing ourselves. Unless you integrate with the people, you cannot really lead them [towards] radical change. We felt that it would have been a little hypocritical [for us to be] living in an ivory tower.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Did it ever feel like a sacrifice?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>We did not feel it was a sacrifice. We felt it was a necessity. Something that was natural.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You were an introvert growing up. Was there a stirring back then, were you aware of differences?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I was an introvert and was not socially aware. The London experience was not only [about] one incident (he saw white youngsters pushing around an Indian man). It was a certain observation of racism. As soon as I went out there, I saw how it affected other people. Subtly in myself, too. Before that, I did not have any inkling of communism or socialism or society or India’s freedom struggle. I also suppose, [being] out there on my own gave me an element of freedom. You remember the late 1960s and 1970s, there were vibrant movements around the world. Once I started looking around, there was a lot to see. There was the Vietnam War, there was a cultural revolution in China that sought to counter the negative values that come with power. Naxalbari [uprising] had just happened. Its literature was available there (London), too. Whatever knowledge you wanted, you got; there were no restrictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You have been defined as a Maoist leader. You have been called a Naxal. How do you define yourself?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I consider myself a radical seeking to change society. I take [on] many issues, like [the welfare of] dalits. I follow [B.R.] Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and also Mao [Zedong] and [Vladimir] Lenin and others. Basically, though, I use the Marxist approach to understand and change society. The media has made up the Maoist angle. I have been acquitted on the Maoist charge in four states.</p> <p>I do believe that the capitalist economy gives no answer to the people, while the socialist economies have actually pulled millions out of poverty in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. Basically, the world and India need a socialist economy, though the form can change. I am basically an economist, and as a Marxist, I see social factors from the [point of] economic necessities. I feel a change in the economy is essential for real progress in our country, and that can only [happen] through radical political action. Whether it is electoral or not, that depends on the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>What do you mean by radical change?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I mean a non-capitalist form of economy. Basically, a socialist economy. Now socialist is such a vague term; from [US senator] Bernie Sanders to [UK MP] Jeremy Corbyn, [they] all claim to be socialists. But that type of socialist basically maintains the capitalist system [albeit with] more expenditure allocated to health and education, while maintaining the handful of top corporates that control the bulk of the wealth. While it is more positive in the existing scenario, it is not a long-term solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You talk about being a revolutionary. How is being a radical different?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Basically, it is the same thing. It is [to bring about] a change in the economy. How it is done, depends on the situation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>How so?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>The methods of activism, the electoral system, so many other things. It depends on the conditions that exist. Two major revolutions took place during the world wars, when the ruling classes were at war with each other. Even the Paris Commune, the first socialist revolution, occurred during the Franco-Prussian war.</p> <p>In peace time, different methods need to be adopted. But I have never seen in any left literature that radical change in those countries was linked with war. It is only now while I was doing my research that I conceptualised that point. So, radical or revolutionary, whatever one calls it, must change the economic system, which will then also be reflected in social and political changes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Are you saying that change needs violence?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>One has to consider the forms [of change] that need to be adopted in a non-war situation. I am clearer on the type of socioeconomic system India and the world need; it should be far more humane than what exists today. Violence exists in society. History is rife with violence. Today, too, millions are killed in wars and because of sickness and man-made poverty.&nbsp;Everything is violent. I think that is a non-issue. They keep trying to put that question in our mouths when the existing system is itself so violent. First, they should answer whether they want to rule peacefully or not. Will the rulers allow peaceful, democratic change to take place?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You have talked about democracy not resulting in change on the ground.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I have never said that. You are putting words into my mouth. Venezuela, Greece and other such places were examples of democratic change, but the US does [its best] to destabilise such governments. The US has its armed forces in 150 countries. Why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Can democracy bring about social change?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I think if a country is truly democratic, it can. As even if I stand for socialism and I am elected, there should be no coup. If I say that divesting of the wealth of an Ambani, Adani and a handful of big business houses should be allowed, as that alone would clear the path to a more humane society, what is wrong? In the present context, state wealth that belongs to the people is being divested to big corporates.</p> <p>But it should be truly democratic in the sense of the term; that is, in the interest of the majority of our people, and [for] protecting our environment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You have talked about the failure of communism. Why do you think the red revolution, as it was, failed? Do you think it failed?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>When I came to communism in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, half the world was communist. We felt it was a matter of time before revolution would take place worldwide. [But] I now see no communist movement. People’s condition is ten times worse than it was in the 1970s. Today, there is no hope before the people. None of the communist societies has been able to stabilise. Even China is communist only in name. There are billionaires [there]. But as far as the economy goes, they have been able to give their people better living conditions and their economy is matching that of the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>It is draconian?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Well, yes. Not that many of the so-called democracies are any less draconian. I feel that there have to be three aspects incorporated into any project of social change, if it is to be long-lasting and more humane. I have tried to emphasise these in my book. I feel that in any movement, for anyone trying for radical change, the leadership and people should have a value system; I have outlined the value system in my book and other articles. [They should be] like my wife—honest, straightforward and not greedy for power. In the left circles, it is more about power than money. In other systems, it is both money and power that corrupt.</p> <p>The second point: The target of the movement should be happiness. It [would] reflect in your organisational work and relationships with everyone, especially the people and close activists. Quite naturally, the basic necessities of life would be the starting point for anyone to be happy.</p> <p>The third aspect—there should be democracy and freedom among the people, which is often not there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Within the communist party also?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>In our circles also. I have given the example in my book of the structure, democratic centralism etc, which is in name democratic but in practice centralism. These three aspects have to be inbuilt in the movement. Especially in India, where the caste system gives a person superiority by [nature of] birth. We cannot do away with money and power, but we have to try to control their negative effects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>In the book, you say we have to introspect why people chose the market rather than real freedom. Do you believe that is the real issue?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I feel that is the real question. I want to develop it further by studying psychology and how to bring about internal change within people and activists. Now, Marxists have become a bit mechanical in understanding change, internally. One reads Marxism, Mao etc, and takes it for granted that this will automatically result in changes in our emotions and values. Psychology tells us that our sub-conscious mind, which determines our emotions, is built in our early childhood. More particularly, in the first seven years of our lives. It does not automatically change with a change in our ideology.</p> <p>So, things like caste and patriarchy, for example, are so deeply embedded in our psychology that even if you become a Marxist, it may still reside within us. Unless the conscious mind makes an effort to eradicate it. I have seen that they subtly exist in our consciousness, though it may not be overt. It also reflects in all other value systems because we live in a bourgeoisie sort of atmosphere, where [there is] selfishness and [people] push others down and promote themselves. We tend to do it even in the communist movement, in the Marxist circles that we are in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You have talked about the caste system. You say communism does not take into account caste.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Not communism, but Indian communists. They have tended to interpret it mechanically. Marxism is not a religious text, but a philosophy that has to be creatively interpreted for the country it is being practised in. Because of this dogmatic approach, I feel that they have been resistant to taking up the caste issue.</p> <p>One can understand this in the Hindi belt, which has not seen any social reform movement. But even in a place like Maharashtra, which has had the Bhakti movement and also those of [Jyotirao] Phule and Ambedkar, they say ‘what caste?’In Bihar, for example, where both the CPI and the MCC (Maoist Communist Centre) had a strong base at one time, the CPI was mostly [present] among the Bhumihars (landowners), while the more radical MCC was [present] among the poorest, what they called Harijans. They seem to have taken up this issue (caste), but say it is all a class struggle… this is an example of mechanical interpretation. Maybe because of the caste biases in the leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Are you still associated with the movement?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I am an observer and also a social activist. I seek to work among the poor, mostly dalits, but try and observe all progressive movements. Whether communists, dalits, the ecology, [I] take the positive and critique the negative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>There seems to be a certain disillusionment. Was this something you battled throughout?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I would not say it is disillusionment. At times, I may have been irritated and dissatisfied. But on reflection, I see it all as a part of my experience.</p> <p>I do not critique people or organisations or parties. I see it philosophically, as to what needs to be rectified. It has been a rich life and I tried my best to remove people’s suffering. These are all experiences.</p> <p>Change can be only a socialist change, associated with a socialist model, to get justice for the maximum. Through this book I seek to bring out what [aspects] have to be incorporated in any model of change. Without this half century of experience, it would not have been possible to conceptualise this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You talk about the communists’ failure to recognise caste. Did you reflect on this while in jail?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>When we were outside, though I felt that something was wrong, we really did not have time to reflect. Also, to reflect in a positive, creative way, you have to have peace of mind. Even in jail they would not allow that. I was fortunate in the first three years. But after that, they started shifting [me] from one jail to another every two or three months. I could do no thinking, let alone writing. It was just a struggle to live and to fight the authorities. Tihar is quite inhuman. One got the impression that one would never get out. In that tension, you cannot reflect properly. After a while, I really took an effort to do that. I used to keep my body together—I started doing yoga and exercising. I started some writing. I was fortunate to get someone like Sumit Chakravarti (editor of Mainstream) to take all those articles. If you just think something and just write it and no one reads it, then that does not give you satisfaction. You do not get that same confidence.</p> <p>Then, in the coming years, the 2G people came, [former BJP adviser] Sudheendra Kulkarni came; I could converse with them. [Kashmiri separatist] Azfal Guru was there. He was sort of an intellectual. You could get some new ideas—Rumi, Iqbal and all. All that was a vibrant kind of atmosphere to sit and reflect in. There were no other leftists in the jail. There were only Islamists and Khalistanis, who I was quite put off with as they were exceedingly rigid and narrow.</p> <p>I was also fortunate to get literature from the Tihar library. I was not allowed to go there, but there was a young boy [outside] the high-risk ward, whom I do not know how I became friendly with; he would bring me the literature books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>There is a certain romantic image of revolution, of a Naxal. What does it mean to be a revolutionary? What is everyday existence like?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Everyday existence does not sound very romantic. It is hard living among the people and the poor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>What does it mean to go underground?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I was in Nagpur for most of the time till 1999, 2000. Then, Anu went to Bastar and came back. So, most of our lives, we were quite open. It is a misconception that we went underground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You went to Bastar.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Everyone said that we worked in a village. We never worked in a village. Anu was there for two years for experience. Everyone knows we were living in a dalit <i>basti</i> in Indora, Nagpur. It is the image that has been created by the media. It was no doubt a hard life, especially for us, who came from a somewhat privileged background. You have to push yourself. I think Anu adjusted more easily.</p> <p>People say ‘Do you regret it? You have not got the fruits’. I do not agree as the fruits are to be seen in the very life itself and in the service to the masses. Otherwise, I would have been in a corporate job and made money. I do not think that would have satisfied me. What was the alternative? She would have been a good academic [and] some creative activity [would have been] possible. But I had no such abilities or possibilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>What did that life entail?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>It means frugal living. Travelling in ordinary buses, second or third class trains, [bearing] the heat in Nagpur, living in a small, congested <i>basti</i>. [There were also] no phones in those days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You have been described as a lover of good food.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I like good food. I like Parsi food. Actually, we never indulged. Only when we went to her house, or my father’s place when he was still alive. He died in 1996. Sometimes we would make good food. Otherwise, it was dal, rice/roti and <i>subzi</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>An article quoted you as saying that you need to ‘wring the neck of the chicken’. Otherwise, what would you do when the revolution came? Comment.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>That was all romantic stuff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Did you wring the neck then?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>No, I do not even like seeing anyone cutting a chicken. I do not think I could do that. But I do like eating it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You write that your sister helped you but she was not a communist. They might have been supportive, but may not have agreed with you.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I think they understand. My sister has allowed me to stay with her. Our parents were supportive, politically and ideologically. But she has her own views and life. Yet, she is supportive. Many people have been. I noticed when I came out, a large section of the Parsi community has been supporting me. But none of them are politically oriented. It is only that they respect that I have given up a good life and worked for the people. I notice that even the decent police people and senior officers I met had the same view. No one in Delhi, but in other places I noticed that. They may not agree with it, but they respect that, in this day and age, someone can give up all the [comforts] of life and work for the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>There is understanding, but not acceptance.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>[There] may not be acceptance for the ideology, but [there is] certainly acceptance of the work among the poor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>I wanted to talk to you about Anu. She is the reason you wrote the book. When did you meet her? What was she like?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Not the only reason. I wanted to put down my experiences so that future generations can be more effective in this sort of work. That is the purpose really. From Anu, I drew the aspect of the value system.</p> <p>I met her as soon as I came back from London. In 1972, she was a student leader at Elphinstone College. [Over time] she became more and more radicalised. Top theatre artistes, [Vijay] Tendulkar types, used to be close to us and supported us. It was a different era. Worldwide, there were radical movements... some armed, some unarmed. We all felt things would change fast.</p> <p>She had a lot of good human qualities. The problem is that, in left circles, these are not given much importance. [Neither] in ordinary society. Your abilities are. You might be a terrible person, but if you are able to get results, you would get promoted. She had those qualities, too, but also an excellent value system. It came naturally to her. Of course, the main reason she was given leadership was her organisational and intellectual capacity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>When she died, you say it was the worst day of your life.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>She had come back from Jharkhand. She had a <i>mahila</i> [women’s] class there. I had told her not to go. She had systemic sclerosis. Her fingers were immobile. She had arthritis anyway. Her mother had it. It was hereditary.</p> <p>Her sense of responsibility was so great that she went. I was in Delhi when she came back. She was unwell. She did a test, which was negative. I have had bad experiences with these labs. We took her to a hospital, but it was too late. We had hardly reached the hospital that she went into a coma. It really shocked me because she was relatively alright before that. That was another thing about her. She never showed that she was unwell. She never came out of the coma. That was really the worst. I thought we would just go to the hospital and come back. They put her on a ventilator, apparently. It went on through the day and the night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You were not there?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I was at the hospital, [but] they did not allow interaction. I would not have liked to have been there. I stayed away too. Anu’s mother died recently. I think that was the first time I came close to a dead body. I cannot deal with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Grief hits you in different ways. Do you think you were ever the same after that?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I do not think it has been the same after that. I am also thinking that, with her health condition, she could not have stayed without being arrested. Maybe things would have been very bad for her at an older age. [It is] better [to] look at things positively, so you do not feel so bad. With systemic sclerosis, it is very bad. She would have been a wreck probably. Her fingers were already bad. She was not able to grip anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>What is the future? Do you think the government has managed to stamp out the red revolution?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>The government has not managed to do it. [The movement] has declined, though. The red revolution has not advanced. Many people, [including] high-level officers, came to me when I was in jail. I said that in some areas like Bastar, they (Maoists) are doing good work. In Jharkhand, I found out while I was in jail, they are like the mafia. I told them (officers) that they should hold talks. Let there be peace. Let there be some sort of understanding that they can carry on their developmental work if it is positive.</p> <p>You are not defeating them; it is a dead end. You can have agreements with the Nagas, who want a separate country, but you are not willing to have peace with someone who just has a different model of development. You want your mining to take over the whole ecology and destroy everything. They want the villagers, forests and ecology to develop. That is Gandhian, in fact. So, why do you not have discussions?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Have you ever wanted to go back?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Where? To this work? No, no. At this age, I am not in a physical or mental condition for grassroots work. I would rather, with whatever life I have left, write down my experiences so that future generations can be more fruitful in this work for change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>You write about Communist Party of India general secretary D. Raja inquiring about your health when you were in jail. I feel that there was a rift between you and the party. This is my impression. Is that accurate?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I do not know. I have always had my own thinking. And I have been cut off for so many years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>Were you a member of the Communist Party of India?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>I was not. Raja helped in his personal capacity. There are so many Marxist formations. They all work in their own ways.</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>So you gave up your membership? When was this?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Most of the left parties are not banned. Some are, and mere membership [to them] invites a life sentence. In all my cases, I was accused of being a member of a banned party, [but] I was acquitted in case after case in four states. However, the media kept reporting contrary to what the courts decided. The trouble is that most of the media seems to report the government/police viewpoint and does not seem to have faith in the courts. Besides, the party which I was accused of being a member of was put on the banned list just three months prior to my arrest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>So the next chapter of your life will be about writing.</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Yes, on the economy, too. I feel the world’s economy is headed for a frightful situation. A sort of 1930s Great Depression-like scenario. This book did not require much study. I have lost that reading habit. That sharp reading. I do read and make notes, but it is slow. If I do it at that pace, I will not be able to produce anything before my death. I have to improve and learn to use new technologies to facilitate this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b><i>| </i><b>What are your days like after your release?</b></p> <p><b>A</b><i>| </i>Covid came and we were locked down six months after [my] release. After the release, I really had no place to go. I have been fortunate that my sister has kept me. I live with her and my brother-in-law. In the first three or four months, I had to go to court every month; I had to attend to a case in Jharkhand. I also had to spend a lot of time getting my Aadhaar and numerous other documents. I had been cut off from society for so long that I did not know how to go about these things.... I had to get a licence and get back to legal documentation. When I was just beginning to think of writing this book, Covid happened.&nbsp;</p> Thu Mar 11 10:28:55 IST 2021 ten-years-seven-jails-five-states <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>17 September 2009. A day I shall never forget. It was four in the afternoon when I was standing at a bus stop below Bhikaji Cama Place in Delhi. I had gone to the bustling business district with a friend to purchase computer material. I was waiting at the bus stop for a few minutes when a SUV pulled up and about half a dozen toughs pounced on me, pushing me to the ground as I struggled to free myself. They seized everything on me, dragged me into their car and sped away.</p> <p>Little did I know that this marked the beginning of a ten year-long journey, as an undertrial, through seven jails in five states across the country. I was sixty-two years old and had come to Delhi from Mumbai for urgent medical attention, for a serious prostrate/urinary problem, as well as orthopaedic and hypertension issues. The abduction was in fact an arrest. The charge? That I was a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), with the media widely propagating that I was supposedly one of its top leaders…. What then is this ‘dangerous’ party, of which merely being a member invites a life sentence, and even bail is not possible?... Inside the car they were speaking Telugu amongst themselves, while one questioned me in broken Hindi…. The word ‘airport’, though, kept cropping up. The Andhra Pradesh Intelligence Bureau (IB) were known to fly people in helicopters to jungles in their state and bump them off, and report that they’d been ‘killed in encounter’. I assumed this was the end. But, at three in the morning, we reached a ‘safe house’ with high walls where I was finally allowed a few hours of sleep. The next morning, intelligence people from a number of states had gathered at the safe house but the main questioning was by the men from Andhra Pradesh. They claimed I was a politburo member of the CPI (Maoist) and wanted details of other members of the Central Committee and Politburo of the party—details which they seemed to already have; certainly more than what I knew. When they could not elicit any additional details from me, they used threats, but did no direct physical harm, probably given my age, and the fact that I was already ill and had just come from a hospital check-up. They were particularly keen on getting to the place I was staying in Delhi, in the working-class locality of Badarpur, where my friend Rajender Kumar (and later co-accused) had a rented accommodation, to get my computer and any other written ‘incriminating’material.</p> <p>They tried all the standard techniques, stopping short of using physical force, to extract information from me; they’d raise the same questions again and again, quote others as having confessed, issue various threats and enticements of not putting cases, and so on. As the entire procedure was illegal (IB does not have the powers to arrest, I later learnt), they would not openly go to the room where I had been staying in Delhi though they tried to reach the room by other means.</p> <p>By 20 September it appeared that news was leaked to the press that I had ‘disappeared’. I gathered this because in the morning there was a great flurry to urgently produce me before the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. On the way to the Special Cell office I was instructed to not mention that I had been picked up three days ago, and instead say it had just been a few hours. That afternoon, I was deposited at the first floor of the Special Cell office. There was a bit of black comedy to the whole situation, as this was the first time a ‘Naxalite’had been brought to their office. Having been used to Islamic terrorists, they knew little about what we creatures were.</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;<b> &nbsp; *************</b></p> <p><b>When I met Anu (Anuradha Shanbag)</b> she was a student leader at Elphinstone College, and active in the Alternative University. The first time I saw her in class I saw an extremely bubbly and articulate student, raising questions, making points and being exceedingly communicative. I was very attracted to her naturalness, her spontaneity and liveliness…. At the time we met, Anu was in a relationship with a fellow student, a sportsperson who was not politically inclined and the relation ended sometime after her activities grew.</p> <p>Injustice would trigger anger in her, she could get very annoyed, but it would not linger and she would move on. She never stood on ego or prestige nor did she hold grudges. And this was not an effort, it came naturally to her. My temperament and qualities were almost totally antithetical to hers. Soon after we met, she began working with me in Mayanagar and elsewhere in the city. In the early days, most of our time together meant meetings, lengthy study classes, or sitting at my Worli Sea Face flat making posters, with little time off. We would go out late at night to put up posters, and together with others sit at the Worli home to make the handwritten posters. At most, we’d see some plays together, many by her brother and Satyadev Dubey, mostly at the Chabbildas and Prithvi theatres. It was during the Emergency, when most activity came to a halt, that our love really blossomed and we got to meet more often and spend some time together.</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<b>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;*************</b><br> </p> <p><b>Indora (in Nagpur) </b>was such a dreaded place that middle-class people were scared to go to that area after dark due to the impression that it was a nest of crime and were shocked to find we were living there. Such impressions are easily created in impoverished Dalit and Muslim localities because of inbuilt biases and a certain amount of petty theft due to extreme poverty that gets magnified.</p> <p>A typical day in Nagpur would start with Anu cycling/ busing to university, over 15 kilometre away, leaving early in the morning after having breakfast. I would do some of the cleaning up of the rooms and then meet the Dalit members of the community in our basti.</p> <p>Working amongst Dalits we hoped to arouse them not to accept their existing status that their religion sanctified. We encouraged them to stand up for their rights and study both Ambedkar and Marx. Ambedkar would give deeper insight into the caste issue, while Marxism would keep them away from identity politics and help them unite with other oppressed, even from other castes. The two ideologies would show them the path as to whom to target and whom to ally with—i.e. target Brahminism (the ideology) and those who propounded it and not all upper castes; on the contrary one needed to educate those from the other castes (like the OBCs and even upper castes) to drop their casteist feelings. We would encourage inter-caste love marriages to help facilitate this unity…. One had to counter identity politics amongst Dalits which the Dalit political leaders promoted for their vote-banks.</p> <p>Many of the youth of Indora were attracted to our views and joined our organizations of student/youth, especially the cultural organization, Aavhan. Jyoti, the daughter of Khushal Chinchkhede (the postal employee whose first floor we rented), and her friend who stayed across the road, Jyotsna, were active in our organization.</p> <p>In Nagpur, we used to travel all over the city on cycles in the notorious Vidarbha heat. Earlier our residence was reasonably near the university where Anu taught. Indora was virtually at the other end of the town. Her schedule was so hectic that only strict discipline, her high level of commitment to any task she took up, and her inexhaustible stamina enabled her to do justice to both her students and to her social activities…. Anuradha led by example, living the life she wanted the&nbsp;basti boys to lead.</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; <b>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; *************</b></p> <p><b>Soon after leaving her </b>university job (Nagpur University), Anu went to Bastar and spent two years gaining much experience of life there and women’s issues amongst tribals…. Together with the other mahila (female) comrades, Anu helped to develop the women’s organization KAMS (Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Samgathan) in the area. KAMS is said to be the biggest women’s organization in the country with about 90,000 members and is, what Arundhati Roy calls, ‘probably one of India’s best kept secrets’….</p> <p>Anu used to say those two years were the richest in her life…. [But] it was a tough two years, as life there is not easy, particularly for a 46-year-old with arthritis and yet to be diagnosed, systemic sclerosis.</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;<b>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; ************</b></p> <p><b>When I entered </b>the ward for the first time, it was past 7 p.m., so all the inmates were already locked up in their respective cells. As I was being taken to Block A, I was greeted by a warm smile from none other than Afzal Guru who, standing at the gate of his cell, said he was expecting I would be brought to this ward in Tihar after reading about my case splashed all over the newspapers.</p> <p>He immediately offered any help as I was taken away by the guards to Cell No. 4, which already housed three inmates, including Delhi’s top don, the dreaded Kishan Pehalwan. They offered bedding and shared their dinner which they had not yet consumed. Of course, I was so shaken by the events that hunger and sleep both seemed distant. My first night in jail, with four of us cramped in a cell, was difficult to pass. The others in the cell were mostly criminals and we had nothing much to communicate with each other. Although each cell is meant to hold a single inmate, due to overcrowding, three inmates are often housed in a cell together—either one or three are allowed, never two.... Besides Afzal, there were many interesting persons like the Khalistanis, another don, and some Islamists….</p> <p>Next morning, I was shifted to the last cell in the block of eight cells where my two fellow inmates were two Khalistanis (actually one was a smuggler of guns and drugs from across the border with Khalistani leanings). Even before being shifted to this cell, as soon as the gates opened, Afzal was there inviting me for tea in his cell; a routine that continued for over three years, till his hanging in February 2013. He had a knack of converting basically hot water into an excellent cup of tea. He had a half-litre white thermos flask (which I asked for as a memento after his hanging, but nothing was given) in which he filled the hot ‘tea’that came from the jail kitchen, to which he added milk powder and a few tea bags purchased from the canteen. We would have it with the two slices of bread (made in the jail bakery) provided by the jail…. As this was my first experience in an Indian jail, he was reassuring, helpful and mildly sympathetic to the cause of the oppressed people in India, unlike the Islamists, who saw no difference between the communist or other parties.</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; <b>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; ************</b></p> <p><b>Afzal, </b>though had strong faith in Islam—he did his namaz five times a day, observed a strict Ramzan, had a strong belief in the afterlife (Jannat), opposed idol worship and dargahs, had a mistrust of Shias—was not a fundamentalist. He was a Sufi and had done a detailed study of the six volumes of Rumi in Urdu. He showed a keen interest in socialism and would often quote Iqbal who he said once wrote: communism + God = Islam....</p> <p>Afzal was well read, having studied people like Noam Chomsky and other anti-imperialists. He was the only person in jail fluent in English so we would talk in English or Hindi (he could speak but not read the latter)…. Afzal’s extensively detailed diary has not seen the light of day; probably burnt by now. In fact, none of his belongings were given to us, though we asked for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Excerpted with permission from Roli Books.</b></p> <p><b>Fractured freedom: a prison memoir By Kobad Ghandy<br> </b></p> <p><b>Published by Roli books</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs595; pages 316</b></p> Thu Mar 11 10:38:35 IST 2021 swing-state-scrum <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Among voters in India, the ones in Kerala are perhaps the hardest to please.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 1980, when politics in the state became bipolar with the emergence of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), they have not allowed a ruling coalition to return to power. For 40 years, governments have been voted out like clockwork.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even those governments that had earned the goodwill of the people—like the ones formed by E.K. Nayanar in 1987 and V.S. Achuthanandan in 2006—could not come back to power,” said Prof Sajad Ibrahim of Kerala University in Thiruvananthapuram. “Kerala voters are easily the most critical-minded and demanding ones.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for this voter penchant to switch allegiances, the LDF government appears to be on a strong wicket this time. “We are confident because we have delivered on our promises and done much more,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told THE WEEK. “The people trust us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But will this trust translate to votes? “The performance of the current government may be good on some counts,” said advocate and political observer K. Jayashankar. “But, if you look at Kerala’s election history, good governance has never fetched anyone votes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then, the LDF has already bucked a historical pattern. Last December, it became the first ruling coalition in 30 years to sweep the local body polls. “The government certainly has an edge over the opposition after the local body polls, and that is a rare thing for a ruling coalition,” said J. Prabhash, former head of the department of political science in Kerala University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three factors helped the LDF win the local body polls by a big margin: welfare measures during the pandemic, smart electoral engineering, and the induction of the Kerala Congress (M), a former UDF constituent, into the LDF. The KC(M), which is dominant in central and southern Kerala, helped the LDF split the Christian votes that have traditionally gone to the UDF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF beat daunting odds to claim victory. Weeks before the election, the Enforcement Directorate had arrested the chief minister’s former principal secretary, M. Shivashankar, in connection with a controversial gold-smuggling case. The opposition had been going hammer and tongs against the government, accusing the chief minister and his office of malfeasance. Adding insult to injury, the son of CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau in connection with a case of drug-peddling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spate of controversies in the run-up to the elections had seemingly undone the government’s much-celebrated efforts to control the pandemic. But the results proved otherwise: the LDF won more seats and civic bodies than the UDF and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance combined. “We swept the election when the party was being hounded from all sides over the gold-smuggling controversy,” said Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac. “The people of Kerala rejected all these baseless allegations with the contempt they deserved. It shows the faith the people have in this government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Observers say the local body polls have had a dramatic effect. “It not only gave the LDF a decisive edge, but also exhausted the arrows in the opposition’s kitty,” said political observer George Podippara. “With allegations falling flat and Shivashankar having got bail, the credibility of those who raised the furore is at stake.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has now pegged its campaign to the development projects it has initiated in the past five years. The visible growth in infrastructure and marked improvements in public health and education systems are factors that could help the LDF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pinarayi Vijayan’s leadership, too, stand the coalition in good stead. “The people felt they had a strong leader to look up to in times of crisis—be it the 2018 floods or the Covid-19 outbreak,” said D. Dhanuraj, chairperson of the think-tank Centre for Public Policy Research. “We are now living in a world where people tend to prefer strong leaders. And that psychology will work in favour of Vijayan as it did in the case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi nationally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, unlike in the past, when faction feuds had threatened the LDF’s unity, the CPI(M) and its allies have rallied behind the chief minister this time. “Had the LDF lost the local body polls, Vijayan’s supremacy would have been questioned, both within the CPI(M) and the LDF,” said political observer Joseph C. Mathew. “But with the sweep, he has once again established his complete authority over the party and the government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The poll results came a shock to the opposition, which had pinned its hopes on the bad press the government had received. “The results were totally unexpected,” said Mathew Kuzhalnadan, general secretary of the Congress’s state unit. “The Congress and the UDF were complacent after the landslide victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state [in which the UDF won 19 of 20 seats]. The local body results really shook us out of that. When we look back now, that was a blessing in disguise.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The results so stung the UDF that it swiftly changed course. Measures were taken to address a crucial factor that had resulted in the rout: the loss of Christian votes. The community had been a pillar of the UDF since the state’s first assembly polls in 1957. But a slew of factors—the exit of KC(M), the Indian Union Muslim League’s outsized influence in the UDF, and increasing anti-IUML sentiments among Christians—had resulted in an erosion of votes.</p> <p>“We have done everything possible to clear the Christian community’s misunderstandings about certain IUML positions. All issues have been sorted out,” said K.P.A. Majeed, the IUML’s general secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s decision to bring back former chief minister Oommen Chandy to a lead role in party affairs is part of the course correction. “Bringing back Chandy was a smart move,” said Mathew. “The moment he returned as the lead, the political discourse changed. He put the LDF on the back foot by raising the Sabarimala issue. Only a master politician can do that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2019 elections, the CPI(M) had to pay a heavy price for its perceived eagerness to facilitate entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple. It had lost in all but one Lok Sabha seat. Through Chandy, the Congress has managed to reignite an issue that the CPI(M) would rather sweep under the carpet. “The CPI(M) will not be able to run away from consequences,” Chandy told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has also cleverly brought to the forefront Rahul Gandhi, whose decision to contest from Wayanad in 2019 had helped the party sweep the Lok Sabha polls. “Rahul is our trump card,” said C.P. John, leader of the Communist Marxist Party, a Congress ally. “Given the admiration of Malayalis for the Gandhi family, the presence of Rahul, Priyanka and Sonia Gandhi could do wonders for the Congress and the UDF.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul has been campaigning aggressively in Kerala, which is the most promising state for the Congress among those going to the polls in the next few weeks. He recently took part in the concluding leg of the ‘Aishwarya Kerala Yatra’, a statewide rally led by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. The Congress is in alliance with left parties in Bengal, but that has not stopped Rahul from vehemently attacking the LDF government in Kerala. His public appearances have been attracting huge crowds. “He will lead us to victory,” said state Congress president Mullapally Ramachandran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that political equations have changed in the past one month is also giving hope to the UDF. “The agitation by Public Service Commission rank holders demanding appointments has dented the government’s image,” said Chandy. “Similarly, the EMCC controversy [related to the awarding of a deep-sea fishing contract to the US firm EMCC International] has affected it very badly in the coastal belt, where the left had made a huge upsurge in the local body elections. So the upper hand it had after the poll results is no longer there, though it still has a slight edge.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to C.P. John, the UDF did well all through February. “By raising an array of issues, we could strip the government of the smugness it had after its poll victory,” he said. The success of Aishwarya Kerala Yatra, according to him, proved it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The yatra created a buzz among Congress workers who were in shock after the local body polls,” said Dhanuraj. He said things would get tougher for the LDF if Rahul leads the UDF campaign from the front. “Though the LDF has an edge now, the elections are not going to be a cakewalk,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF leadership is only too aware of this. Even though pre-poll surveys have predicted victory for it, the LDF is leaving no stone unturned in its campaign. “We had an upper hand in the 2019 election, too, initially,” said a CPI(M) state committee member. “But everything changed with the entry of Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha candidate from Kerala. The Congress, knowing very well that it will not survive yet another loss, will do anything to win this election. It may even make Rahul the chief minister candidate.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked whether he was being serious, the leader replied: “You would have laughed at me if I had told you two years ago that Rahul Gandhi would contest Lok Sabha elections from Kerala. Desperation makes people do desperate things.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some CPI(M) leaders, however, think that voters in Kerala are “too sophisticated” to fall for the optics created by the Congress. “Eating in a poor man’s house and hugging old women are tricks we see in films of the 1980s and the 1990s,” said M.B. Rajesh, former MP. “It is sad to see the Congress putting on such shows to defeat a government that has caught the imagination of the people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some leaders in the UDF fear Rahul’s constant presence in the state would drive away BJP sympathisers who usually vote for the Congress because of their anti-Communist sentiments. “His presence may also antagonise the BJP further,” said a senior UDF leader. “But we don’t have any other option but to bite that bullet. The BJP’s position will be critical to both the UDF and the LDF.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had won a seat and received around 15 per cent of votes in the previous assembly polls. This time, the party’s national leadership is so keen to improve the tally that it has been directly involved in campaigning and decision-making. To attract middle-class voters, the party has been inducting ‘neutral’ faces—like ‘Metro Man’ E. Sreedharan and former director-general of police Jacob Thomas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is focusing on 42 assembly seats where it had won more than 20 per cent votes in the local body polls. “There will be strong, three-cornered fights in all 140 assembly seats,” said BJP president K. Surendran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But observers say the best the BJP can hope for is a position where it can determine who forms the government. Earlier, its strategy was focused on eroding the support base of the CPI(M) and the CPI, which usually receive the lion’s share of Hindu votes in the state. But its high-voltage campaign against the left parties has largely been a failure, as is evident from the LDF victory in the local body elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, the BJP is now banking on the UDF losing the polls. Party leaders reportedly believe that, in the long term, facilitating the disintegration of the seemingly wobbly Congress-led coalition would be far easier than eroding the strength of the cadre-based left parties. “Our aim is 2026; we are strategising accordingly,” said a senior RSS leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress is aware of the BJP’s plan, and it has been cunningly leveraging the threat to win over minority votes, especially Muslims. And, it seems to be working. “The Muslim community is aware that the Congress will not survive another five years without power,” said writer M.N. Karassery. “It will be bad for the IUML, too. So there is a general feeling in the community that the survival of the Congress is very important for protecting the secular fabric of society.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Controlling the election narrative, therefore, has become crucial for the fronts. “If it manages to attract swing voters and keep the focus of the election on development and welfare politics, then the LDF would win this election,” said Dhanuraj. “But if the UDF succeeds in changing the election narrative and consolidating anti-communist votes as always, then history would repeat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Swing votes would be key to victory. According to psephologists, at least 5 per cent of voters in Kerala are unaligned or apolitical. “The verdict of an election is mostly determined by these swing voters who switch preferences every five years,” said Ibrahim. “And they take a decision mostly in the last few days before the elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF’s goal would be to avoid being at the receiving end of this switch-hit. “The LDF has an edge now,” said Ibrahim. “But switching their preferences every five years is in the DNA of the voters here. And they have been doing it for the past 40 years. If Vijayan is able to change that DNA, it will be a turning point in the state’s history.”</p> Fri Mar 05 12:48:39 IST 2021 we-have-been-accountable <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>From floods to Covid-19, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s leadership during crises was evident. He also established himself as a hard taskmaster. There was direct involvement of the chief minister’s office in all aspects of governance and hence both merits and demerits will be attributed to Vijayan. He spoke to THE WEEK about being confident about a second term and about allegations and controversies. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The LDF seems confident of a second term, something which has not happened in Kerala’s recent history. What gives you this confidence?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are confident because we have delivered on our promises and much more. Even amid severe and repeated challenges like floods or Covid-19, development and welfare did not take a hit. We ensured that no one went to bed hungry in Kerala, even in remote and tribal areas. All the basic requirements of the people were taken care of and we have been accountable. Naturally, the people stood with us [during the local body polls] and they trust us. They know that education, health, welfare, development, jobs, secularism and sustainability are sure with the LDF at the helm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Congress has brought the Sabarimala issue back into political discourse. In the 2019 general elections, the LDF paid the price for its perceived overzealousness in implementing the apex court’s order. Do you fear it will come back to haunt you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The matter is under the consideration of the Supreme Court. Anyway, I do not think that it is an issue at the moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The main allegation against all the previous LDF governments has been that it is a rule by the party for the party. The same allegation has been raised against your government, too. Your thoughts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ No one in their right mind can make such an allegation. Take a look at all the 140 assembly constituencies and assess whether development and welfare initiatives were taken up on the basis of political or partisan considerations. We evolved a holistic approach covering all sections, irrespective of their faith and politics. Welfare measures and development have reached every nook and corner of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your government shined during crises. But, certain errors of judgment by you have landed the government in controversies like the gold scam and the ongoing Public Service Commission rank holders’ agitation for government jobs. How do you explain such lapses?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ None of these allegations have substance. We have seen the opposition backtracking on its own allegations. As far as the PSC is concerned, this government has made record appointments and created the most number of posts ever. Controversies are the results of political manoeuvrings, not any erroneous judgment on the part of the government. That the people of Kerala could see through all these baseless allegations and reject them was proven when the LDF got a landslide victory in the local self government elections. The assembly elections will prove that once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a strong perception that the chief minister’s office is “all powerful” and that while this may have improved coordination, it has also led to centralisation of power. How would you respond?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ During the last five years, the local self-government institutions were strengthened more than ever before. They are playing a lead role in disaster management, waste management, food security, community kitchens, public health and public education. I am sure you have seen how local plan fund expenditures have been hovering above 90 per cent in successive years under our tenure. Even in managing Covid-19, decentralised efforts were made. When they are the drivers of our development and welfare measures, how does the question of centralisation arise? Had the system not been decentralised, the fight against crises would not have been successful. You said there was better coordination. That coordination is there in every realm of administration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your government’s strong “pro-development” agenda has been criticised as “right-wing deviations”. How would you respond?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The LDF government has been presenting alternatives to existing models. To us, it is the people and their issues that matter. Solutions have to be found within the limits of our laws and the contours of the Constitution. We also have to think outside the box to come up with innovative solutions. KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board) is one such innovation. People think that we have been able to make the impossible, possible, to a certain extent. It is about staying true to the aspirations of the people, while not letting go of our core values like democracy, secularism, federalism and sustainability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Rahul Gandhi played a crucial role in the devastation of the LDF in the 2019 elections. Are you worried about him now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People come and go, but politics remains. Elections are fought on the basis of issues and not on individuals. The people of Kerala are well aware of all that.</p> Fri Mar 05 12:44:17 IST 2021 looking-for-a-lifeline <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An interesting political churning is happening in Kerala, courtesy Rahul Gandhi. After the Wayanad MP’s recent Kerala visit—during which he participated in a tractor rally with farmers in his constituency and went swimming in the sea with fishermen off the coast of Kollam—the CPI(M) and the BJP have started doing the same things with similar intensity. Both have launched an all-out attack on Rahul. Party workers circulated memes making fun of Rahul’s “theatrics”, and the CPI(M) mouthpiece, Deshabhimani, has dedicated huge space to carry stories criticising him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP leaders, including party chief J.P. Nadda, accused Rahul of disrespecting North Indians and trying to “divide and rule”. The left leaders, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPI(M)’s acting state secretary A. Vijayaraghavan, attacked Rahul for seeking refuge in Kerala instead of fighting the BJP in the north. They alleged that Rahul was helping the BJP by attacking the left front in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is nothing new in the BJP’s criticism of Rahul, but the CPI(M) attacking him is a new turn in Kerala politics. This vehement criticism of Rahul assumes significance because the CPI(M) has always been soft towards him—even after his candidature in Wayanad, which decimated the left in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And, this turn gives one some clues on the direction in which the state’s electoral politics is heading.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The LDF, which senses a possibility of returning to power, knows it all too well that Rahul could scuttle its dream. “The Gandhi surname does have a connect in Kerala from the times of Indira Gandhi and this affection exists cutting across all communities,” said writer Paul Zachariah. Senior journalist and human rights activist B.R.P. Bhaskar said that Rahul is the trump card that will help the Congress defeat the LDF. “All the good governance of the LDF and the social engineering that it did in the last four years will not stand a chance if Rahul can create a wave as he did in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, the Congress, too, knows it well. The party has ensured the presence of both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi in the assembly election like never before. “Rahul Gandhi will lead us in the elections,” said Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullappally Ramachandran. “He will certainly ensure the victory of the United Democratic Front,” UDF constituents also have made similar demands to him. “We have conveyed to him that it is not an easy fight for the UDF this time, and that he must spend maximum time in Kerala,” said K.P.A. Majeed, state general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another development is the complete surrender of the state leadership of the Congress to Rahul. “The state leadership has realised that it cannot win the election without Rahul playing an active role,” said senior journalist Jacob George. “So, the same leaders who had publicly told him not to meddle in Kerala matters, and had even refused to cede seats to Rahul nominees, are now desperately after him to take the lead.” George added that Rahul will be more assertive this time when it comes to choice of candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is a section that thinks that photo-ops of VIPs fetching votes is a thing of the past. “People getting awed seeing Rahul Gandhi eating in a poor man’s house or hugging a fisherman is gone—at least in Kerala,” said D. Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observer George Podippara said that the humiliating defeat in the recent local self government polls has come as a blessing in disguise for the Congress-led UDF. According to him, the party has done some serious introspection and has identified the areas where it went wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary reason for the UDF rout in the LSG election had been the loss of Christian votes, a solid vote bank of the Congress ever since the state was formed. The ouster of the Kerala Congress (M) from the UDF, the tussle between Orthodox and Jacobite factions and the ever-widening rift between Christians and Muslims also contributed to their loss. The perception that the IUML has an upper hand in the UDF alienated the Christian voters. The IUML’s aggressive posturing on the issue of Hagia Sofia church in Turkey, and the reservation introduced by the LDF government for the forward-caste poor also did a lot of damage to the UDF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress seems to have understood the precarious situation it has landed in following the shift of Christian votes. Bringing former chief minister Oommen Chandy back to the forefront of the party affairs was done to offset this. Political Observer Joseph C. Mathew said that Chandy’s entry has changed the fortunes of the Congress party. He feels that projecting Chandy as chief minister candidate will improve the chances of the Congress.</p> <p>Another factor that may inadvertently work in favour of the Congress is the general perception that Congress will wither away if it does not come to power this time. “A huge section in the Kerala society, especially the Muslims, does not want to see the Congress getting eliminated,” said Dhanuraj. “So, there is a strong possibility for a 2019-like consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the UDF.” The Congress party’s condition in other states—from Punjab local-body polls to the party’s decision not to contest the Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat to the fall of the Congress government in Puducherry—will also resonate in the election narratives in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers agree that the Congress has recovered from the defeat it faced in the local body elections. Aishwarya Kerala Yatra led by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, according to them, has received a warm welcome statewide. Podippara said that the Congress party has realised that winning the assembly elections is a matter of survival for them. “It is a do-or-die situation for the party,” he said.</p> Fri Mar 05 12:43:03 IST 2021 this-is-the-most-corrupt-inefficient-government-kerala-has-seen <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress-led United Democratic Front is facing one of the toughest electoral battles ever in Kerala. After the resounding defeat in the recent civic body polls, the Congress high command roped in former chief minister Oommen Chandy, 77, to head the party’s poll panel for the state. He spoke to The WEEK about his comeback and his hopes for the party. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your expectations for this election?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The UDF will win this election. There is strong anti-incumbency against this government as it has failed the people on all fronts. There is corruption in all departments. The chief minister and the ministers [don’t think about] the common man. They came to power raising huge allegations against me and other ministers. They maligned me personally. But they could not prove even a single case against UDF ministers. The voters of Kerala are watching all this and I am sure that they will give a befitting reply to the LDF. It is the most corrupt and inefficient government Kerala has ever seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But the LDF swept the recent local self-government elections.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The LSG elections are a totally different ball game. Most voters vote for someone they personally know. But assembly elections are an out and out political battle. So there is no comparison. Also, many rebels contested against official UDF candidates in the LSG elections. But that will not be there now and we will fight the election together. Also, state politics has changed a lot in the last one month in favour of the UDF. The history of our elections, where voters have chosen both the fronts alternately, will also work in our favour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You were not visible in Kerala politics since the UDF lost power. But now you have been brought back. Does it mean the Congress needs you to win this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I had to stay away from Kerala because I was given charge of the Congress in Andhra [Pradesh]. But it doesn’t mean I was not active in state politics. I was very much here. Now I have been given the charge because it is a crucial election for the party and we must win it together. Other than that there is no political meaning to my appointment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ At a time when the LDF is being led by a tall leader like Pinarayi Vijayan, would it not be better for the UDF to project a chief ministerial candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We believe in collective leadership and the priority right now is to win the election at all costs. The chief minister will be decided by the high command after the elections. There will be no issue over that once we win the election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you likely to be considered to become chief minister?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As a disciplined party worker I will obey whatever the high command says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you compare your style of governance with that of Pinarayi’s?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I will not comment on his style, but I can tell you about mine. I believe in consensus and democracy. Autocracy is not my style and I take into consideration the opinion of everyone involved. I had told my officers that they have every right to correct me if I am wrong. They were reluctant initially. But I told them that they are there to help me make the correct decisions. And if someone points out errors in my actions, I would make corrections without any ego. I am always open to criticism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about the allegation that Congress leaders are “buyable”. Even Rahul Gandhi made a statement to that effect. How will you counter that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJP is playing dirty politics. They are killing democracy using money and muscle power. No other government has stooped to this level. All values of democracy are being killed. But it is not that Congress leaders alone are joining the BJP. The CPI(M) cadre has shifted their loyalty en masse to the BJP. Even in Kerala, a local committee office was converted into a BJP office overnight. The BJP is trying to finish off opponents and this does not augur well for democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see the BJP as a threat in the coming elections? What will be the Congress’s strategy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The people of Kerala will reject the BJP completely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress [candidate] list will be unlike any previous one. There will be a strong presence of women and the youth. Winnability will be the only criteria for choosing a candidate.</p> Fri Mar 05 12:41:38 IST 2021 surprise-package <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Pralhad Joshi, Union minister for parliamentary affairs, was in Kerala recently to chalk out the BJP’s election strategy. “We need surprising results,” he told NDA allies in a closed-door meeting. He reiterated the same while addressing the media. “Wait for more surprises,” he said. The saffron party would need a truckload of surprises to make a mark in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Its state unit was formed in 1981, and Kerala has flummoxed the BJP ever since. Two factors have been responsible for this— Muslims and Christians forming a significant percentage of the population, and the fact that the Hindus were mostly communists. Its only major achievement so far has been getting one of its founding members, O. Rajagopal, 91, into the assembly in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The state’s intrinsic inclusive nature is against the BJP,” said writer Paul Zachariah. “If the BJP wants to grow in Kerala, it needs to make some smart moves tailored to Kerala.” The party seems to have realised this. Unlike previous elections, the central leadership has got involved directly this time and is in touch with community leaders and other stakeholders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Party president J.P. Nadda visited Kerala in early February. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath flagged off the BJP’s Vijaya Yatra from Kasaragod on February 21 and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed the rally at Ernakulam district on February 28. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to drop in and Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to attend the conclusion of the rally in Thiruvananthapuram on March 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A non-Malayali RSS leader, who requested anonymity, is the liaison with certain minority groups. He told THE WEEK that Kerala is not seen as an insurmountable terrain, despite “certain demographic peculiarities”. He added: “The party has a strong organisational network and has won the admiration of the youth and the aspirational middle class. What we need are prominent faces who can translate these factors into votes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Metro Man’ E. Sreedharan and former director general of police Jacob Thomas, who has the image of being an anti-corruption crusader, have already joined the BJP. If party insiders are to be believed, more prominent personalities are being lined up. But, how effective will they be? “These personalities do have a positive image in Kerala and will certainly give more legitimacy to the BJP,” said J. Prabhash, former head of political science department, Kerala University. He added that while such names may help in the long run, it is doubtful how much their presence would benefit the party this time. D. Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, said: “Election is a different ball game. These VIPs, who have no direct connection with people, will not be able to do much for the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also trying to identify which opposition party to target. Nadda told The WEEK that both Congress and the CPI(M) are equally bad for Kerala and that the BJP would fight them equally. But, in an electoral conflict, it is sound to identify the main enemy, and the BJP knows it all too well. In West Bengal, it used the Trinamool Congress against the left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP, being an ideological party, knows that an ideological party is its biggest enemy,” said political critic A. Jayashankar. “So, it will try to finish off the CPI(M) first.” He added that if the BJP was to decimate the CPI(M), its primarily Hindu followers may shift sides. But, there is also another strong view. “The BJP tried all possible tricks to malign the left government using agencies like the ED and the Customs,” said political commentator Jacob George. “But the local body election result proved that the people of Kerala did not believe any of these allegations. So the BJP seems to have come to a conclusion that the Congress is the easier target.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has been eyeing the Christian population in the state for quite some time. “The BJP needs at least the partial support of one minority community,” said Dhanuraj. “And it knows that the Christians in Kerala are more likely to join hands with it [than Muslims].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the high number of RSS shakhas in Kerala (one of the highest in the country) the BJP had never been a talking point in the state till it came to power at the Centre in 2014. Its vote share rose from 10.45 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to 15.64 per cent (NDA) in 2019. In the 2016 assembly elections, the NDA got 14.64 per cent of the votes and the BJP came second in seven constituencies. State BJP president K. Surendran lost by just 89 votes and that, too, because of a tacit understanding between the Congress and the CPI(M). It is in power in two municipalities and finished second in Thiruvananthapuram corporation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhanuraj said that the BJP was not likely to add to its lone assembly seat. “But given the fact that the winning margin in most seats in Kerala is low, the votes it captures will have the capacity to determine the winner.” Surendran insisted that there would be a three-way fight in all 140 seats. “Our [candidate] list will have a long list of very prominent persons—both young and old,” he told THE WEEK. “We are contesting to win this election. If not, you call me on counting day.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An RSS insider, however, said that this election was not the real target. He said: “This is just a trial run before we capture power in 2026.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that happens, it would be a real surprise.</p> Fri Mar 05 12:39:09 IST 2021 we-will-ensure-that-anti-cpi-m-votes-come-to-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ The BJP has long been trying to make deep inroads into Kerala. How hopeful are you this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The people are fed up with both the fronts, and realised that they are two sides of the same coin. It is evident that they want change. They have welcomed us to their space, and this welcome will translate into votes this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is stopping the BJP from becoming a strong electoral force?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There are multiple reasons. We could not project a winning proposition, for one. Also, many of our candidates did not have mass appeal beyond party lines. Thirdly, the minorities—both Muslims and Christians—voted en bloc against us. All these factors will see a positive change this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I cannot reveal the strategies, obviously. But you may have already noticed that the party has become more acceptable to prominent personalities in the state. When revered persons like [technocrat] E. Sreedharan and [former IPS officer] Jacob Thomas join the party, it shows the acceptability that the BJP is gaining. Many more prominent personalities will be joining the party soon. We will win many neutral votes this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you address the other issues?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Till recently, minorities had been voting for the UDF en bloc. That trend is changing, at least in the case of Christians. They are no longer the solid vote bank of the Congress. They are divided among three fronts now. This is a crucial factor that is going to influence the elections. The warmth between the BJP and the Christians has certainly increased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You sound very optimistic.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am being realistic. There are 42 assembly constituencies where the BJP had won more than 30,000 votes in the previous elections. If we can add a few thousands to that number, we would change the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Which is your major opponent—the UDF or the LDF?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We fight both with equal intensity. If you take the assembly constituencies where we came second, you can see that both fronts have won those seats. If we have to wrest them, we have to fight both the fronts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ But elections are like war. In a war, you need to know your major enemy.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You can’t single one out when both the fronts have joined hands to defeat us. I will tell you one thing—this time, the UDF will not be able to take advantage of the anti-CPI(M) votes canvassed by us. We will make sure that those votes come to us.</p> Fri Mar 05 12:35:22 IST 2021 weathering-the-storm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Twelve men walked into an underground tunnel at Tapovan in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on the morning of February 7. Three hours later, pandemonium broke loose when they heard the whoosh of rushing waters. Soon, the tunnel entrance was flooded and they were trapped around 350 metres from the entrance. Hanging on to iron rods on the tunnel walls or clinging to the top of an excavator, the men watched as the water level climbed. As hours passed, they started shivering in the cold and hummed songs to keep their spirits up—romantic ones, classics, and, as hope began dulling, tragic ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seven hours later they were rescued by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) after one of them found network in his phone. Others were not as lucky. At least 62 people lost their lives in the Uttarakhand flash floods, believed by many to have been caused by a landslide. Many scientists agree that climate change played a significant role in the floods. “High mountain rocks are often heavily fractured,” says senior climatologist Kailash Pandey. “These fractures are filled with ice, which glues the rock mass. Global warming is causing this ice to deteriorate, which is weakening the rock mass leading to these big slope collapses.” According to him, in the last 60 years, Uttarakhand has witnessed an increase of 0.6 degree Celsius.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just in Uttarakhand. Everywhere, the planet is rebelling. Just last year there were bushfires in Australia, locust swarms in east Africa, windstorms Ciara and Alex in Europe, Cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal, floods in China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and Japan, the Siberian heat-wave in Russia, and typhoons Goni and Vamco in the Philippines. According to a 2015 report by the Asian Development Bank, in four decades the frequency of natural disasters recorded in the Emergency Events Database has increased three-fold, from 1,300 events in 1975-1984, to 3,900 in 2005-2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps not in catastrophic proportions, but each of us has experienced climate change in some form or the other. To bring home its impact, THE WEEK prepared seven experiential stories exploring climate issues, not from a scientific or an activist point of view, but through the lives of ordinary people like you and me. A young mother writes about the idyllic Delhi she grew up in and the one ravaged by pollution and extreme weather conditions in which her children are being raised. A businessman writes about his beloved Puducherry falling victim to frequent cyclones and coastal erosion. A space researcher writes about witnessing the melting glaciers of Ladakh during a research trip to compare weather conditions there with those on Mars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My 35-year-old son is mentally ill and bed-ridden, and one of my daughters is partially lame,” a man who lost his home in the Kerala floods of 2018 told me. “We carried our son, holding him high above the water, to the neighbour’s home. Our daughter was taken in a chair. The next day, water got into the neighbour’s home also. Then, an ambulance came and took us to the house of the neighbour’s relative. We did not pack or prepare in any way. We got out of our home with nothing but the clothes on our back. I wore a baniyan and a lungi. I did not even have slippers—they had floated away in the water.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>N.H. Ravindranath, retired professor, Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), says that the biggest recorded evidence of global warming in India is related to changes in rainfall patterns. Extreme events like floods in regions like coastal Karnataka and Kerala and droughts in those like Vidarbha and Marathwada have multiplied. “In my travels around India, one thing farmers tell me is that the rainfall pattern has become unpredictable,” he says. “You get rain in south India around Christmas, which is bad since it is harvest time. You get rain in April, when the summer crop is ready. This means that farmers do not know what crops to sow when.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, India is ill-prepared for climate disasters. “On paper, every district is supposed to have disaster management plans, but in reality there are no such plans,” he says. “Also, relief after a drought or flood comes very late and very little of it reaches the farmer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the vast majority, climate change is something that has been happening over millennia. Perhaps another two or three millennia later, the world might come to an end, but we will be long gone by then. But this is a myth. More damage has been done to the planet in the last three decades than in all the centuries that came before, writes David Wallace-Wells in his book, The Uninhabitable Earth. “The story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime—the planet brought from seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or bar mitzvah and a funeral,” he writes. According to him, if things continue like this, the planet would have heated up by more than four degrees Celsius by 2100, rendering large parts of Africa, Australia, South America and Asia uninhabitable.</p> <p>If we are not careful, we might just give the green light to Project Extinction.</p> Thu Feb 25 15:29:36 IST 2021 sea-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mobile phone fully charged. Water filled in the overhead tank. Ripe coconuts plucked to avoid them crashing onto the terracotta Mangalore tiles on the roof. Candles and matchsticks on standby. Cyclone Management 101 had been meticulously rolled out at our home by the beach in Puducherry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was November 25, 2020, and the very severe cyclonic storm Nivar was to make landfall late at night, just 30km north of us, with windspeeds reaching up to 145 kmph. In a year that caught the whole world unaware, this sort of preparedness against the natural world lent an immense sense of achievement. Wait up, Covid-19; bring it on, Nivar!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have lived and grown up by the beach—or more precisely what was once a beach, but is now a seawall of granite rocks—in this sleepy, former French colony where life only gets as busy as it can between the morning filter kaapi, the afternoon siesta and the lazy, evening game of boule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so long ago, Puducherry had a fabulous sand beach all along Goubert Avenue. However, an ill-planned fishing harbour just south of the city blocked the natural movement of sand that nourished the beach, leading to its erosion and eventual disappearance in just a couple of decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it is on cyclonic nights like these, when one can clearly hear the ominous, rhythmic crashing of waves despite all the doors and windows of the house being shut, that I miss the beach even more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is much more to a beach than being just a spot of recreation. It acts as an effective physical barrier against extreme weather events, which, although normal in the Bay of Bengal at this time of year, are becoming abnormally more frequent and severe as a consequence of the warming climate. A hotter climate leads to warmer oceans, and this in turn affects ocean currents in a way that leads to higher chances of cyclones forming in the tropics. And now, without a beach, us Puducherrians are without our frontline warrior, our first responder against such storms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember being taken to the beach from kindergarten, building castles and moats in the soft beach sand that was at least 30 metres wide. Later, as we grew up, Sunday mornings consisted of playing tennis by the beachfront courts, followed by a refreshing swim in the sea and walking back home—across the street from the beach—dripping wet, the sea salt still on our lips, the sand still clinging to our hair and feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not just Puducherry, but coastal communities worldwide are at the frontier of climate change, and while we may not be as vulnerable as those in the Sundarbans, Venice or the Maldives, there is no doubt that rising sea levels, warming oceans and more frequent and extreme weather events will affect us too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, they already are affecting us. Within a week of Nivar slamming into the Puducherry coast, the severe Cyclone Burevi made landfall to the south of us and brought torrential rains. Two back-to-back cyclonic events of this scale, within a week of each other, are definitely not the usual fare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his recent Netflix documentaries, Our Planet and Life On Our Planet, a 93-year-old David Attenborough talks of the catastrophic effects of unbridled human activity and climate change on our planet, something he has witnessed first-hand in just one lifetime. I may be just a third of the nonagenarian’s age, but it does make me sound pretty old when I say that in my brief lifetime, I have seen the beach disappear from my town, leaving it that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are in that unenviable position in Puducherry where years of local mismanagement and a now aggravating global phenomena will combine to affect us in ways that we cannot even imagine. Saltwater intrusion in our groundwater; damaged standing crops; loss of property, life and livelihoods for the fishing communities; depleting fish stocks and shortened fishing seasons….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The morning after Nivar hit Puducherry, my wife and I biked around town, curious to assess the damage. The streets were littered with leaves, several uprooted trees and broken communication lines, but thankfully the damage to life and property was minimal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We stopped by the seaside KBS Kofi Barr; the old uncle gave us a smile of recognition and served our filter coffee in our usual steel tumbler and bowl—not the ceramic cups used for tourists. No sugar. A flourish of extra coffee liqueur over the steaming milk. A subdued sun was already out and so were the people, picking up their lives from where they had been briefly paused, unaware as yet that another storm was already in the making and coming our way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Arpit Kothari is a businessman from Puducherry.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>11%</b></i></p> <p><b><i>According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the number of cyclones in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal has increased by 11 per cent in the last decade. Scientists say that high sea surface temperatures are making the cyclones more powerful and rising sea levels are increasing their reach.</i></b></p> Thu Feb 25 15:28:42 IST 2021 bad-air-days <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In these times, grabbing the now ubiquitous mask before stepping out may not seem amiss to many. As I got my kids ready to go out, I realised that this is nothing new for most Dilliwallas. When the pandemic broke, we must have been the only few with a handy N95 lying around the house, and our kids among the few used to wearing one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I grew up mostly in Delhi as my father, an IAS officer, was posted with the Central government. School and college years were also spent in Delhi. In 2005, I left to study law at Columbia University in New York, which is where I met my husband. When we decided to move back to Delhi in 2009, we pictured the idyllic city of our childhood. Make no mistake, it was never a small or picturesque town, but Delhi’s great expanse and greenery made it a wonderful place to grow up in. People visiting from out of town would often remark on the well-planned roads and roundabouts, vestiges of our colonial past. Walking in Delhi, weather notwithstanding, meant doing it under the great canopy of trees planted decades ago. Each roundabout with its well-manicured lawns and rudimentary fountains was a joy to behold. The big parks and interspersed ruins of monuments kept it from being just a conglomeration of humanity. Delhi was still a city of extreme weather, but the greenery shielded us from the angry sun in the summers, and all Dilliwallas had a designated park to bask in during the cold winters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a child, as soon as the weather improved, we would pack homemade yummies, bundle into our old Premier Padmini and set off for some park. Nehru Park or Lodhi Gardens were our favourites. My parents would spend the afternoons lolling about in the sun, while we kids ran amok on the green mounds of the park or played hide-and-seek amidst the ruins of the monuments. There was enough space for all visitors. Everyone found their favourite spots and planted themselves there for the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, my kids, Rayhan, 10, and Sameer, eight, are growing up in a very different Delhi, with face masks and pollution readings a part of their everyday life. Imagine telling a five-year-old that he needs to wear an N95 mask the whole time he is in school, or else it would be tantamount to smoking seven cigarettes a day. In October-November, just as the weather is turning nice, all outdoor activities at school get suspended because the PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) levels hover near ‘hazardous’. Most cities go into red alert when the air quality hits ‘bad’. In Delhi, a bad air day is a good day. Winter months, depending on our crop-burning neighbours, can oscillate between ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’, and each Diwali, we hit another record high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The result of our exploding populace has meant a rapid depletion of our green spaces. Old houses being replaced with apartment complexes means that Delhi’s green vistas have mostly become concrete jungles. Traffic snarls are as commonplace as bedbugs in a cheap motel. Despite the gazillion flyovers which have sprouted all over Delhi, and the not-so-newly minted Metro, the roads are crammed with cars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wanting to give our kids a taste of our childhood, my husband and I planned a picnic to Lodhi Gardens some time ago. Planning meant checking the pollution level so that we could skip the masks, followed by the mandatory check on Google Maps to avoid traffic jams. Upon arriving at the park, it looked like the whole of Delhi had descended there, and after three rounds, we finally found a parking spot. Armed with our picnic mat, we jostled for space on the green, where our elbows would not be in the face of our neighbours. It felt like Delhi had been taken over by army ants eating their way through everything, and leaving only the waste behind in their wake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delhi of my childhood seems to be disappearing before my eyes, and unfortunately we are responsible for it. The throngs of people that have descended on it to find a better life have consumed the city whole. The green expanses, the wide open roads and clean air are slowly being replaced by urban blocks, choc-a-bloc traffic and the toxic haze. It is time to stop and take stock of where we have reached, before it is too late for our children to enjoy the simple joys we took for granted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Sarah Paul Mukherjee is a lawyer and artist.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>17.8%</b></i></p> <p><b><i>Air pollution killed around 1.7 million people in India in 2019, accounting for 17.8 per cent of all deaths in the country that year, according to a paper published by a collaboration of Indian institutions including the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research).</i></b></p> Fri Feb 26 09:51:09 IST 2021 parched-earth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was my father-in-law who settled in Beni ka Purwa village. I came here as a 12-year-old bride. I got no schooling but, since my childhood, I have worked in the fields. So farming has been my life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, everyone says there is no water in the village because the gods are angry. But when I came here, the rains would come like clockwork. There would be so much rainwater that people’s homes would be flooded. Some kuccha houses would also collapse. People would take shelter in the local temple. I would have to drag myself through the slush to get to the fields. There would be water as far as the eye could see. The rains would come down so hard that even the bunds around the fields would be swept away. I remember once, in 1995, one kilometre of the railway track (which passes through the village) was swept away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the last 10 years, there has been an unending stretch of drought. Crop production is falling. Earlier, we could just strew the seeds on the fields and they would grow in abundance. Now, no matter how much fertiliser you use the crops just do not grow as much. And whatever grows has no taste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July, when the rains came, there would be no need to irrigate the fields. Four months of rain left enough moisture in the ground for the crops that grew in September and October. The rice was planted at just one foot in the soil, wheat at two-and-a-half feet, and on the boundaries of the fields we would grow arhar (yellow pigeon peas) and chana (split chickpeas).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When my son-in-law introduced the idea of using fertilisers to me, I was aghast. “How can you not trust the powers of the land? Has it not always fed us?” I asked. But he insisted we try just one kilogram of it. Now, you use sacks of fertilisers and the crops still do not grow as well. When there were enough rains, the wheat was juicy. Now, it is shrunken. It has no nutrition. We grow almost no masoor (red lentils) now, as the soil does not support it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a portion of our fields where we do not use fertilisers. That is where we sow the crop for ourselves. I do not like the taste of what grows now. The grains I grew up eating—kodwa (similar to rice), kakun (wheat-like with longer ears) and sama (a coarser form of millet)—no longer grow. My grandchildren do not even know the taste of it all. They say it was the food of the poor. But we did not fall sick eating that food. For the last 15 years I have not eaten wheat, because it does not taste like the wheat I used to eat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When our water came from the rains, the wells and the ponds, our pulses would cook so quickly and turn out so soft. Now, everyone uses a pressure cooker. Modern people might say the use of fertiliser is vikas (development), but it is vinaash (destruction). Fertilisers carry diseases and these go into your body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not know why the rains stopped. But we have disrespected the earth. When tube-wells came, we started to pump water from 50 metres. We gave nothing back. Because water was available so easily, we stopped storing it. We lost our wells and ponds. When we respected the earth and water, we kept our wells clean and looked after our ponds. Going to collect water, wash clothes and bathe was an opportunity to meet, talk and laugh. It was almost like a mela (fair). New brides were first taken to these water sources before being brought home. Now you turn on a tap to get water. And what if the tap fails? You could once dig anywhere in this village and find water. Now I hear that borewells are failing all the time. (Because of the depleted groundwater, they have to be sunk deeper).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farming was sacred to us. We would worship the plough and the oxen. We would light diyas before the seeds and break a coconut. And then start the sowing. It was almost an act of prayer. The ploughs would mix up the soil very well. Now, tractors are used and the soil is not churned as well. We would give the oxen rotis smeared with ghee (clarified butter). Now, youngsters would rather not be farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had 15 buffaloes and 12 cows. There was a separate farmhand just to look after them. But when the rains stopped you could not find enough fodder to feed the cattle. So people have fewer livestock now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I walk to my fields every day. And I sit by the side of the empty well and think of those days gone by. We changed everything. We thought we knew better than the earth. You need to forge a relationship of respect and submission with nature. If you do not do that, why should nature give you anything in return?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Muliya Kushwaha died on December 10, 2020, after she slipped and fell in the courtyard of her home. She was 89 years old.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>As told to Puja Awasthi</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>600 million</b></i></p> <p><b><i>Global warming causes an increased evaporation of water from the soil and an earlier snow melt, resulting in more severe droughts. Research by NASA states that, “humans have been influencing global patterns of drought for nearly a century”. According to a 2018 government report, 600 million people in India face “high to extreme water stress”.</i></b></p> Thu Feb 25 15:14:52 IST 2021 turtles-in-trouble <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The night was dark, but the air was full of excitement. I was on my first turtle walk 23 years ago. The scouts walked in front, looking for tracks by torchlight. We were told that if the scouts flashed the light once, it was to indicate a nest, and if they flashed it multiple times, it meant a turtle was nesting. We were brimming with anticipation, our eyes fixed on the ground, when, suddenly, our team leader pointed to what seemed like a turtle in the water. “You guys are super lucky,” he told us. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dead turtle; it was snagged in a fishing net. It took five more turtle walks before I found my first nest, but I was hooked for life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Olive Ridley turtles nest on our beaches at night each year, between January and April. During this season, we go on turtle walks searching for their eggs, which we relocate to a safe place, to guard them from poachers, littering, weeds and other threats. When the turtle hatchlings emerge 45 days later, we release them safely into the sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the early years of my walking, there were many dark stretches, which we used to refer to as ideal stretches, for the turtles to nest. This was because they had broad swathes of sand with no other encroachments or disturbances. Initially, I was quite troubled by the fact that we humans were interfering in a process that was millions of years old, trying to “help” the turtles by removing and re-locating the eggs to a safer place. I remember convincing the senior members to leave the nests which were laid in these ideal stretches as they were, without removing the eggs. In 2000, we left intact around 15 of the 83 nests that we found.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were also hoping that with the spread of education and awareness, we could eventually make the beaches safe for the turtles to nest without having to relocate any of the nests. However, this dream fast disappeared with continued development on the beaches—new buildings, resorts, temples, and powerful mast lights and street lights. Soon, the ideal stretches disappeared altogether.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the one hand, the turtle walks were getting more popular with more people attending them and our pool of volunteers were at an all-time high. This meant we could do more efficient monitoring of the beaches. On the other hand, the lives of turtles were not improving. In 2005 we got a shock. While we had a relatively good season, the summer came early and was the harshest one we had experienced at the time. We lost the last three rows of 30 nests, without a single hatchling emerging from them. It was a huge blow and we were greatly disheartened. That brought about another intervention. We covered the hatchery with jute in March to protect the nests from overheating. This continues till date and it has become quite widely practised across many regions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another strange development happened one night in March 2008. During a public walk, we were all watching a turtle digging her nest hole. But the process seemed to go on much longer than usual. She kept on digging, and after a long time, left without completing her nest. By itself, this is not such an unusual occurrence. But when we examined the holes, we found them to be dry, without any moist sand. We figured that the extreme temperature had dried the sand and this resulted in her being unable to complete the nesting process. That was indeed new behaviour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One can see clearly that sand temperatures are rising everywhere. The average temperature of beach sand is much higher than the pivotal temperature of around 29 degrees favoured by Olive Ridley turtles. The sex of the turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature in the nest. If it is higher than the pivotal temperature, the hatchlings emerge as females and if lower, then as males. Now, with increasing sand temperatures, only female hatchlings are probably emerging. If this continues, it will result in the collapse of turtle populations and the species as a whole.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though we work with sea turtle conservation, our work is restricted to the little that we can do from the shore. These are our observations from the beaches of Chennai. We do not know about the kind of changes the turtles are experiencing in the ocean. Have the ocean currents they depend on altered? What other aspects of life have changed? We do not know. The sea turtles are very precious to me, and in a way, my happiness is tied to their survival. Sink or swim, we do it together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Arun is coordinator, Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network, Chennai.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>30-50%</b></i></p> <p><b><i>The Olive Ridley turtles are recognised as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red list. It has recorded a decline of between 30 and 50 per cent in their global population.</i></b></p> Fri Feb 26 09:58:58 IST 2021 an-unwelcome-thaw <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was 3am as my cab pulled into the Mumbai airport. I was travelling to Leh on a one-week assignment in preparation for our science team’s expedition to the region in July 2021. My team of space researchers has been testing and developing technologies for space exploration, testing them in Ladakh’s unique cold, high altitude regions that mimic conditions on early Mars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 8am, as we flew over the inner Himalayas, the flight cabin was filled with excited chatter, feverish camera clicks and gasps, as the snowy peaks and crystal blue lakes of Himachal Pradesh revealed themselves. Ironically, what seemed surreal and majestic to the others made me tremble in despair. I noticed how several large glacial stream beds were completely dry and ice-free. Freshwater lakes had receded in size. If climate change was a horror play, I was watching it playing out on stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Right before landing, the plane soars over the Leh valley. The conventionally barren, cold and dry region is now thrown off balance by the rapid urbanisation. The consequence of this misbalance is yet to be fully understood, but the changes in local microclimate, flowering, harvest seasons and appearance of pests have befuddled local farmers. Several agricultural fields have turned barren due to unavailability of irrigation water from glacial streams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dependence of farmers on commercial insecticides has also gone up, leading to the introduction of toxic materials in soil, water and plant crops, something that was unheard of a generation back. But what is most striking is the rapid increase in the number of resorts, many of which are now operational throughout the year. Ladakhis who have, for generations, been dependent on glacial water for their livelihood, are now digging bore-wells, tapping into a limited ground water resource to sustain the growing number of tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plane lands roughly in Ladakh. When the doors open, the cabin air escapes out, and it feels almost like landing on another planet. This is because Ladakh is 3.5km above sea level, where the air is only 70 per cent as dense as it is in Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My work took me from Leh to Tso Kar, a high-altitude wet basin, about a four-hour-drive towards Manali. This is where Amity University, where I work, is collaborating with partner organisations to establish a research and education camp next year to support Mars exploration and climate change studies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we drove through Saboo, a village 7km from Leh, the epicentre of the flash floods of 2010, we could still see several half-buried houses. Efforts are on to reinforce the stream banks and bridges. On the way up via Taglang La, a high pass 5.7km above sea level, I observed dried-up glacial stream beds with the top completely ice-free. Very little snow and rainfall was received this past year. However, there were cases of short but strong bursts of rain in several regions. We arrived at Tso Kar (Tso means ‘lake’ in Tibetan). This was an important salt mining site where travelling traders would collect and sell salt. But the drop in precipitation and increasing temperatures have led to the lake shrinking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tso Kar, being a white salt deposit with green meadows, does not have the same crystal clear turquoise blue waters of Pangong Tso or Tso Moriri. Therefore, it attracts fewer tourists. But for nature lovers, climate scientists and now, a few space researchers, the site is a natural observatory. Though differing in our scientific objectives, we share a common responsibility to monitor the changing environment and traverse it sustainably. We are planning to install weather monitoring stations to record temperature, relative humidity, and wind speeds around the lake. More frequent trips are scheduled to monitor the changing soil, water, and ice chemistry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opinions and observations about the changing climate in Ladakh varied with the region and age of the people with whom I interacted. Ali, our driver in his late 20s, spoke at length about the increasing number of Ladakhis leaving agriculture for jobs in travel and hospitality. “Our focus is mostly on human-centric problems and less on our environment. One has to really stop and think to see what really is happening to our ecology, vegetation and weather,” he said. “I have memories of a lot more snow in our villages and the fresh water streams have definitely changed flow paths, but they are still flowing, which is a good thing, right? There seem to be many more irrigation plants, so it seems that the government is working on it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over a welcome cup of hot tea at one of our stops, we met Taji, a grinning old man who had lived in Tso Kar all his life. He spoke in feverishly fast Hindi about how the high plains had seemed half a century ago. “The plains looked quite the same, but it was a lot colder,” he said. “We would get more rains and the lakes were less salty. We would see a lot more migratory birds. I suppose you have tasted the salty water here? We consider our lakes holy and do not step into them. My ancestors would help large salt trading groups who would pass through the region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Dr Siddharth Pandey is head, Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology, Amity University, Mumbai.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>85%</b></i></p> <p><b><i>Over the last few decades, warmer temperatures in South Asia have led to an unusually high rate of melting and evaporation. The Himalayas have an uneven terrain because of which the effects of climate change are localised, but severely amplified. A recent study indicated that 85 per cent of the Himalayan glaciers will melt completely in the next 80 years.</i></b></p> Thu Feb 25 15:07:45 IST 2021 a-wake-up-call <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When I got a job in Bengaluru as a photojournalist, the only thing I was hoping for was to never get transferred to another city. I was game to spend months on assignments, and brave extreme terrains and inclement weather conditions anywhere on earth. But, when it came to hibernation, I always preferred the ‘air-conditioned city’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been living in my home in RT Nagar, Bengaluru, for two decades now. It used to be a sanctuary of peace. In the mornings, as the sunlight slanted across my bed, I would be woken up by the trilling of red-vented bulbuls. The morning breeze was cool and refreshing, and I never felt the need for fans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I recall how the city even encouraged my quirky fashion sense—I wore leather jackets in summer, and roamed around in shorts and just a T-shirt and shemagh scarf in winter, something unimaginable in any other big city in India, except maybe Pune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengaluru had already been in rapid urbanisation mode years before I moved here. Old-timers often reminisced about the streets shaded by canopies of trees, clean rivers and lakes, and calm neighbourhoods. Award-winning Kannada filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni, 72, recalls how Champak flowers were sold in the flower markets daily. But most of the Champak trees have been felled to make way for development projects and buildings. The Bengaluru of yore used to be a ‘lazy’ city, free of pollution, heat waves, freezing winters, floods and the suffocating sultry air that leaves one exhausted these days. Over the past two decades, especially after the IT boom, Bengaluru has become a ‘busy’ city. Infrastructure and traffic have grown exponentially, and green spaces have reduced. If you are new to the city, you must learn how to get acclimatised to the perennial dust and noise from construction sites, and the toxic fumes from rampant garbage burning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have felled the trees near my home to make space for new buildings. The birds have all gone, and now I wake up to notification alerts from my Twitter feed. Today, I am completely dependent on fans and on artificial lighting, even during the day. I have started to feel like I am living in a sophisticated grave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengaluru is also known as the ‘city of lakes’, but 25 lakes are only in name now, having become victims of unplanned development and encroachment. Public utility spaces are either built on lake beds or catchment areas. The City Bus terminal is built on the bed of the Dharmambudhi lake and the Kanteerava indoor stadium, on that of the Sampangi lake. The constant infusion of pollutants have turned surviving lakes into toxic tanks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I usually went an hour early to scheduled assignments and spent that time by the lakes in the area. Watching migratory birds and breathing clean air before a shoot was always refreshing. The bonus was getting fresh farm greens and vegetables grown near the lakes. I remember bringing home tomatoes grown next to Bellandur lake 17 years ago. Now apartments have replaced these agricultural fields, and the Bellandur lake is known globally for its infamous toxic froth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is disheartening to see these beautiful lakes getting destroyed. And it is not just lakes. River Vrishabhavathi, which originates in Bengaluru, has turned into a sewage canal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spending some time in the city’s green lungs, such as Cubbon Park or the IISc campus, reminds one of the pressing need to create and preserve such spaces. They are the only locations where one can breathe free in relatively cooler surroundings. During the lockdown, I got to spend a lot of time on the empty streets of Bengaluru. They were among my best days in the city. It was like spending a month in good old Bangalore. The roads were empty and serene, the weather seemed pleasant and I was surrounded by a carpet of colourful flowers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Economically we might have suffered, but environmentally, the lockdown offered an illuminating view of what the city was like earlier. And what I hope it can still be.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>10%</b></i></p> <p><b><i>According to a recent study by the CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, only 21 out of the 210 lakes in Bengaluru city, or 10 per cent, have excellent water quality. Eleven of them are in the Yelahanka Zone.</i></b></p> Thu Feb 25 15:04:06 IST 2021 small-town-girl <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Muvattupuzha, where I live, is situated at the confluence of three rivers—the Thodupuzhayar, the Kaliyar and the Kothayar. They join to form the 121km-long Muvattupuzhayar, which flows by my home on its way to the Arabian Sea. It is a nondescript, dusty town, without many parks, restaurants or cafes. Still, its people are simple and without hypocrisy, the kind who will barge into your home without an invitation if they hear you are sick, and are not hesitant to ask you what your salary is or why you are not married yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you want to get a taste of my town, go to the walkway by the river in the mornings. You will find clusters of morning walkers, mostly men, in lungis and gym shoes, discussing everything from money to marriage and Modi. Then there are the college couples leaning by the rails, with the women in designer rip-offs and men wearing superstar Mohanlal-style bling bracelets. In their flashy neon outfits, the young cyclists look like they just stepped off the pages of National Geographic, and the hobby fishers are probably the only ones who find you less interesting than salmon. The morning tableau would not be complete without our lecherous Lotharios, those men who discharge their duty of gawking at passing women with great professionalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my childhood, the river was the prime attraction for my cousins to come to my home during summer vacations. We would swim to its far end and let the current carry us back. We would chase each other on the sand strip between the two banks. Once, we spent an entire evening collecting twigs to make a raft, which sank without a trace. Another time, we played the classic trick on my cousin where we dared him to strip and cross the river, and when he came back, we hid his clothes. On one end of the river, we could see the hospital that my grandfather built in 1956, now run by my parents. On the other was the junction where the three rivers met. A five-rupee ferry ride would take us to the banks of the other rivers, where we would play pranks on random strangers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The town, when I was young, consisted of the Muvattupuzha Club, where a game of amateur badminton would be followed by a glass of chilled lemonade and an omelette by the counter top of the run-down clubhouse. A rickety TV mounted high on the wall perpetually played re-runs of cricket matches. Every New Year, the club would be lit up and there would be fireworks. The lime juice at the club house was only rivalled by the one at the Indian Coffee House in the heart of town, a dingy place with the blue paint peeling off the walls. Then there was Latha theatre. Matinee and second shows were so crowded that, unless you got a balcony seat, you would have to piece together the film’s plot from the dialogues, because the screen would be blocked by those sitting in front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muvattupuzha has always been my centre of gravity. In whatever direction my life pivots, it always returns to ground zero. In many ways, I am an extension of my hometown. That is why during the floods of 2018, when my town got drowned, so did the certainties of life. We woke up one morning to incessant rain, and to my surprise, the water had risen to the basement of our home. We could see the television set, several pairs of footwear and other random items floating on water. News channels and circulating WhatsApp videos informed us about people stranded in many parts of the town, about provisions worth lakhs of rupees being destroyed, about landslides occurring at numerous places and about homes in neighbouring areas getting completely flooded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ten staff members at our hospital got stranded on the top floor of the building. The ground floor was inundated, with the water level steadily rising. My father called several helpline numbers and many government officials, including the district collector, to evacuate them. But since the hospital was situated by the river, the current was too strong for the boats to risk going there. Thankfully, the staff jumped across the wall to a nearby temple, where they were provided with food and shelter for the next two days, until Navy boats came to rescue them. We lost lakhs of rupees worth of equipment, including the X-ray and Ultrasound machines and the ECG treadmill, but we escaped relatively unscathed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Until recently, climate change had been a very distant phenomenon for me. I usually skipped items on climate conferences and ecosystem loss in the newspaper. But the floods changed that. Because ‘resilience plans’ and ‘green infrastructure’ might seem remote and far removed from me, but the anguish of those who had lost their loved ones in the floods was real. The helplessness of those staying in relief camps, having lost their home and their belongings, was real.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After what seemed like an eternity, the water receded, leaving only a moist fear in its wake. My town shuddered back to life. Today, modernity is slowly seeping in. We recently got our first mall, replete with a gaming zone, a multiplex and a Fabindia that has been ‘coming soon’ for months, but not getting here. A former Mrs India runner-up started a gym and a health café, kick-starting the fitness fad in my town. Our men donned their lungis and their gym shoes once more, and our college Romeos started once again romancing their lady loves. When the lechers went back to business, you knew things had returned to normal. We once again became fellow sojourners in this apocalyptic tale whose end remains unwritten.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>483</b></i></p> <p><b><i>In August 2018, Kerala witnessed the worst floods since 1924. Over 483 people died, and more than a million were displaced. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), rains are projected to become more extreme in certain parts of Asia and other tropical areas.</i></b></p> Thu Feb 25 15:02:10 IST 2021 d-company-looks-for-a-new-ceo <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shaikh Dawood Hasan turned 65 on December 26 last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is the patriarch of a large, prosperous family in Karachi, but there was no celebration or even a family gathering on his birthday. His house—D-13, Block 4 at Clifton, an affluent seaside neighbourhood in the city—is guarded by plainclothesmen. But the house has been quiet for some time; its residents are away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five feet and six inches tall and of medium build, he appears clean-shaven in his passport photograph, quite remote from his grisly persona. Before he came to Pakistan as a fugitive and changed his name in the 1990s, he was better known as Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar. For nearly three decades, Hasan aka Dawood has been ‘eluding’ intelligence and security agencies across the world, despite the United States having declared a $25-million bounty on his head for his role in the 1993 Bombay blasts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Dawood has long been India’s most wanted man, he travels around the globe under aliases without being caught at immigration points. The D Company, which he started in the 1980s, was a smuggling, murder and extortion syndicate. Today, it is a corporate empire with multiple verticals looked after by separate managers. It is spread across Asia, Africa, Europe and even North America, with distinct wings that run guns, plant bombs, print fake currencies, buy and sell real estate, run factories, smuggle drugs and kill people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian agencies have discovered that Dawood is not in the pink of health. He has blood pressure-related problems, and there were rumours that he had contracted Covid-19. Sensing that the times are changing, Dawood is apparently keen to pass on his shady empire to capable hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big question is: who will succeed him?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dawood would know that the succession (or a division of the empire, if needed) has to happen while he is firmly in charge. For criminal empires like his tend to end up in bullets and blood, much like in the underworld movies he once produced clandestinely. Also, the Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been helping him run his businesses, wants a smooth succession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this was not the only reason that Dawood chose to have a low-key birthday in Europe, away from his family. Dossiers with Indian intelligence agencies, which THE WEEK has seen, reveal that Dawood and his family are permanent residents in Pakistan with computerised national identification cards (CNIC) issued by the interior ministry. These are similar to India’s Aadhaar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dossiers indicate that he is currently in Europe; Pakistani sources say he is in the UK. But every country denies his presence on its soil. “Pakistan had asked him to leave the country for some time because of pressure from the Financial Action Task Force,” a top Indian government official told THE WEEK. “We know he is somewhere in Europe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last August, Pakistan finally admitted that Dawood had been living on its soil. It released a list of 88 banned terror groups and their leaders who were under severe financial sanctions imposed by it. It included Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, and Dawood. The document had Dawood’s address as ‘White House, near Saudi Mosque, Clifton, Karachi’, and listed several properties he owned, including “House number 37, 30th Street, Defence Housing Authority, Karachi” and a “palatial bungalow in the hilly area of Noorabad in Karachi”. Pakistani officials later said these addresses were part of the UN’s sanctions list and that no such person existed in their own records.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having become a grandfather, Dawood has reportedly taken a back seat in family and business matters, apparently to make way for a successor. The second generation of the Kaskar family has grown in size, age and experience. Dawood’s immediate family includes his wife, Mahjabeen Shaikh alias Zubeena Zareen, 55; son Moeen Nawaz, 32; and daughters Mahrukh, 34; Mehreen, 33; and Mazia Sheikh, 22. Then there are Moeen’s wife, Sania; Mahrukh’s husband, Junaid Miandad; and Mehreen’s husband, Aurangzeb Mehmood. Mazia, the youngest daughter, is unmarried. All of Dawood’s children have permanent addresses in Karachi, with business interests and properties spread across Islamabad, Dubai and London.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there are Dawood’s siblings. Of the original 12—seven brothers and five sisters—only six are alive. One of the brothers, Anis Kaskar, is living in Karachi and another brother, Mustaquim Kaskar, in Dubai. Yet another one, Iqbal Kaskar, has been in Thane jail since his arrest in an extortion case in 2017. Sisters Zaitun, Mumtaz and Farzana are in Dubai, Karachi and Mumbai, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Dawood has been on the run for decades, he continues to maintain links with his relatives in Mumbai (see story on page 40). Mahjabeen, his wife, calls their relatives regularly to keep abreast of developments and exchange greetings on Eid and other festive occasions. She has ensured that her children meet and interact with their cousins regularly—often in Dubai. “It was the dream of Dawood’s mother that the family stays together,” said a distant cousin. “Mahjabeen has carried it forward by teaching her children to mix with the family despite all the constraints.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from blood relatives, there are Dawood’s two main aides, Chhota Shakeel and Fahim Machmach, who run businesses across the globe. “They are the Indian and international faces of the D Company, which now functions like a corporate entity with several verticals,” said Milind Bharambe, joint commissioner of police (crime) in Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, who will inherit Dawood’s empire? Or, if it is going to be broken up, who will get what?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian officers say three front-runners are: Dawood’s son Moeen Nawaz, son-in-law Junaid Miandad and the trusted second-in-command Chhota Shakeel. Dawood would like Moeen to inherit his mantle, but many in the D Company consider him to be “soft”. “Moeen is a hafiz (someone who knows the Quran by heart),” said a relative of Dawood. “He dedicates a lot of time to religious studies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Junaid, on the other hand, is known to have a sharp business acumen, and many expect him to succeed Dawood. Dawood’s brothers Anis and Mustaquim are also eyeing the throne. Mustaquim is in charge of the export-import business and runs the drug racket in Dubai. Anis is in charge of the gutka (tobacco) business and paper factories; he oversees the printing and distribution of fake Indian currency notes. In 2015, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control registered a case against Anis and his paper mill in Sindh under the US Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act for printing fake Indian rupee notes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With five names in the running—Moeen, Junaid, Shakeel, Anis and Mustaquim—the endgame is near. It could be a break-up of the empire or a bloody succession war. Anticipating this, many of Dawood’s lieutenants have started aligning themselves with their preferred candidates, or are trying to gain full control of their branches and drift away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moeen has for long been Dawood’s first choice. The ISI also has had its eyes on him after he quit regular studies to become a hafiz. The ISI has always been wary of Dawood’s business acumen, even though it had used it to its advantage. Realising that his business interests would supersede his loyalty to Pakistan, the ISI has been grooming his son into a hardcore Pakistani asset.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the early 2000s, Dawood and his close associates have been making investments around the world—some beyond the reach of the ISI. He has been parking funds in the west, particularly in real estate in the UK, where his daughter-in-law lives. Moeen regularly visits his wife in London, where he also has business interests. But since he is not known to be as sharp as his father, rivals can rise up and claim the throne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moeen’s chief competitor is Junaid, 38, who is smart, well educated, shrewd and ruthless. Junaid is the son of former cricketer Javed Miandad, and he maintains that his family only has personal ties with Dawood. But there are rumours that his marriage is under stress, because of which his relationship with Moeen has reportedly soured. Dawood’s family, however, has denied such rumours; sources say Junaid is in Dawood’s good books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But many D Company leaders, including Dawood’s brothers, view Junaid as an outsider. Also, Javed Miandad knows that India wants to break the backbone of the D Company. So the Miandad family may not like the possibility of Junaid succeeding Dawood—at least until the sticking points are ironed out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though they are ageing, Anis and Mustaquim view themselves as rightful claimants to the throne. They have been with Dawood through thick and thin, and feel that the family business should not be divided among outsiders. Dawood, however, reportedly has more confidence in Chhota Shakeel than his brothers, and that makes Indian intelligence agencies uneasy. For Shakeel, who stays in a mansion close to Dawood’s home in Karachi, is hand in glove with the ISI and focuses on India-related operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most people in the D Company expect Shakeel to take over the reins. He has been Dawood’s trusted general and conscience keeper for decades, and knows the nitty-gritty of running the empire. Dawood also knows that the ISI would like Shakeel to succeed him. With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan imminent, the ISI’s arms in the country are likely to be activated again. Having the trusted Shakeel at the helm of the D Company would serve Pakistan’s geopolitical interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much will depend on whom the lieutenants that run the empire’s various verticals will back. They include Javed Dawood Patel, alias Javed Chikna, an accused in the Bombay blasts case who lives in Karachi and runs drug operations in Mozambique and South Africa; Shafi Memon, who is based in Mauritius; Sameer Hanif, who runs several US-based operations and is reportedly close to Shakeel; Hazi Samat, a Pakistani national who heads businesses in Tanzania; and Madat Saburli Chatur, a Kenyan national of Indian origin who is in charge of operations in Kenya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The D Company has invested in real estate in Dubai and London. The Dubai investments are looked after by Yasir Iqbal, Raees Farooqui, Anil Kothari and Faisal Jafrani. The hawala operations are controlled by Anis Lamboo, who is reportedly in the UAE. The betting business and other investments in the US are looked after by Javed Chhotani, a Pakistani national who was the link between Dawood and Indian bookies when the spot-fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League broke in 2013.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another stakeholder who may have a say in the D Company’s future is Altaf Khanani, who runs a money laundering organisation called Khanani MLO from Pakistan. In November 2015, the US designated Khanani MLO as a transnational criminal organisation that moved funds for the Taliban and had links to terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed. It also launders money for Chinese, Colombian and Mexican cartels, and has been accused of facilitating illicit money transfers between entities in Pakistan, the UAE, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. Details of Khanani MLO’s operations were revealed after Dawood’s lieutenant Jabir Motiwala was arrested in London in August 2018, for importing prohibited drugs to the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar arrests in the past few years have thrown further light on the D Company. The biggest of them was of Sohael Shaikh, son of Dawood’s deceased brother Noora Kaskar, in Barcelona in June 2014. The US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Spanish police arrested Shaikh for allegedly importing, exporting and distributing narcotics; providing resources to terrorists; and conspiring to transport missile systems allegedly to protect drug-trafficking syndicates. Shaikh was also accused of having links to Russian gangsters and the Colombian guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). He was extradited to the US and was sentenced by a federal court in 2018. India, too, is seeking to interrogate him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US has designated Dawood as a “global terrorist” who runs guns for Al Qaeda and the Taliban; his aides Shakeel and Ibrahim “Tiger” Memon have been designated as “foreign narcotics kingpins”. But with the US keen to exit Afghanistan, a resurgent Taliban is expected to lift the D Company’s prospects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Security agencies in India worry that the situation would embolden Dawood to strike in India again. The police in Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have received inputs that the D Company is re-activating its contacts in India. “We cannot put a figure to the number of people linked to Dawood or the D Company in the country,” said a Delhi Police officer. “But the support base is very much there. They also use assets of LeT and other Pakistan-supported terror outfits when required.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the D Company works with such finesse that it often leaves few footprints. On February 7 this year, the CBI closed a case of attempted murder that had been filed against Chhota Rajan. A former Dawood associate, Rajan had been on the run for more than 20 years; in 2015, he was extradited from Bali to India. He had fallen out with Dawood, and had even tried to kill him in 1998. Rajan, whose life is under threat, is now lodged in Tihar Jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just Dawood’s foes in jail who fear him; the officers who have investigated his wrongdoings also live with haunting memories. Suresh Walishetty, who was investigating officer in the 1993 Bombay blasts case, recalled how he walked a tightrope while establishing contact with the underworld in the heyday of the D Company’s smuggling operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“One day, when I was investigating cases against the [Bombay] underworld, my seniors asked me to establish contact with [the gangsters],” he said. “I knew that the Mumbai Police would not be able to save me if I got caught in the crossfire between them and various police agencies. I did not proceed until I got an assurance from the commissioner of police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Walishetty said he gradually established contact with the gangsters. “One day, news broke of the murder of a prominent figure and the Bangalore Police came to Mumbai. They found my numbers and addresses during investigation and started looking for me. My cover would have been blown.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As luck would have it, since Walishetty knew Kannada, his seniors asked him to help the Bangalore Police in the case. “I was saved from further investigation only because my seniors were aware of my role,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The D Company, said Walishetty, had been using sea routes to smuggle in gold and silver. But now, the nature of Dawood’s businesses has changed. With the help of ISI officers, Dawood, Shakeel and Javed Chikna have been pumping in fake currency notes to India through Nepal and Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The D Company also controls a significant share of the global illicit drug market. Drugs from the Makran coast of Pakistan are split into two pathways—to the Maldives and Sri Lanka to the southeast, and to Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania to the southwest. From the East African coast, the drugs are transported to South Africa and the west. The D Company has also established strongholds in many countries—especially in South Africa, where the presence of Pakistani immigrants has made operations smooth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politicians in India have long faced threats from the D Company, especially from Shakeel. In November 2015, shooters allegedly sent by Shakeel’s aide Abid Dawood Patel tried to kill two local leaders of the BJP in Gujarat. Shakeel was also allegedly involved in the bid to murder Pakistani-Canadian writer Tarek Fatah in June 2017. Another close associate of Shakeel—Farooq Gani alias Hazrat—helped an Indian national, Faisal Hasamali Mirza, to travel to Karachi via Dubai without requisite documentation. Mirza, who allegedly underwent training in making explosives, was later arrested in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A big question: would Dawood ever be brought back to India to stand trial?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP had claimed in 2014 that it would nab Dawood from Pakistan if it was voted to power. But Pakistan continued to deny that Dawood was on its soil. “I wonder what stops India from seeking justice from the International Court of Justice to [obtain access to] Dawood Ibrahim, like it had done in the case of former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav,” said Bashir Wali, former director of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Walishetty, however, believes that it would serve little purpose to bring in Dawood now. Proving cases against him, too, may be an uphill task, with “all the police officers who probed the cases having retired”. “I don’t think Dawood holds any significance today,” said Walishetty. “He will be a burden on the system if he is brought back. Moreover, no political party has the will to bring him back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A.B. Pote, former deputy commissioner of police (detection) in Mumbai, said Dawood still had a wide network of lawyers and prominent people capable of getting him acquittals. “[Dawood and his associates] are masters of the game. They know how to exploit lacunae in the law,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior intelligence officers said it was better to track and break Dawood’s empire than hunt him down. He may die in a few years, said an officer, but the empire could flourish under a successor or group of successors. “We need to cooperate with friendly powers to break its back,” said a senior Intelligence Bureau officer. “That is the only way to secure India.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Feb 19 16:58:39 IST 2021 the-d-company-has-metamorphosed-into-white-collar-businesses <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Does Dawood Ibrahim still hold sway in Mumbai? Can you elaborate on his latest operations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 1980s, Dawood Ibrahim left India and started a gang in Dubai. Later, most of his gang in Mumbai got killed or cases under the 1999 Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) were registered against them. In 1993, when the Mumbai blasts happened, Dawood took refuge in Pakistan and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) supported him. After Dawood moved to Pakistan, his close aides Chhota Shakeel, Anis Ibrahim Kaskar and Mustaquim Ali Kaskar started operating on his behalf in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the 1993 blasts, Shakeel threatened real-estate businessmen in Mumbai. By the late 1990s, he had a grip on Bollywood. Dawood and his associates also threatened businessmen in Gujarat, [especially] Surat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the two main associates of Dawood are Shakeel and Fahim Machmach. They are the Indian and international faces of the D Company. Other active associates are Dawood’s brother Anis, who is in charge of the gutka business and paper factories and is involved in printing large amounts of fake Indian currency notes in Pakistan. Mustaquim is learnt to be handling the import-export business and the drug racket from Dubai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also have information that Javed Chikna, an accused in the 1993 blasts, is in Karachi. He handles drug deals on behalf of Dawood in South Africa. Another aide, Jabir Motiwala, is in the custody of the London Police in a narcotics case. The US is trying to extradite him from the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are inter-gang rivalries still prevalent in Mumbai?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past 15 years, Mumbai has not witnessed [such] shootings. The last shooting related to the D Company was in 2001, when Anis’s gang attacked a builder, Manish Dholakia. Dholakia’s bodyguard was shot dead. Four of Anis’s associates have been arrested in the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activities of organised criminal gangs have been either controlled or nullified in Mumbai. The Mumbai Police have cracked down on them under the stringent MCOCA. Those who were running organised crime syndicates have been either arrested or extradited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mumbai Police nabbed Dawood’s nephew Rizwan Kaskar, the son of Iqbal Kaskar, in 2019. In December 2020, [Dawood’s aide] Abdul Majeed Kutty was arrested from Jharkhand in a case related to explosives sent by Dawood to carry out blasts in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Some gangsters based abroad are continuing anti-national activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Any complaints from Bollywood stars about threats from Dawood?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have no complaints from Bollywood stars on threats from Dawood or the D company. In December 2019, gangster Prasad Pujari had issued a threat against a Shiv Sena leader and there was a firing incident allegedly by the gangsters linked to Pujari who is outside the country. However, no formal complaint of D company members threatening anyone in the Bollywood fraternity has come to the notice of Mumbai Police.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there is information on Dawood and his core team outsourcing their activities and getting into white collar business to leave no trace of evidence of their criminal or anti-national activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How many cases have been registered against Dawood, and what is the status of the investigations?</b></p> <p>There are around 30 cases pending against Dawood, and around 80 cases against Shakeel and Machmach. Dawood has been convicted and sentenced in only one case so far. Cases are pending because he is hiding abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How big is Dawood’s empire today?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dawood’s business interests today stretch from Africa and Europe to Asia. The D Company has multiple verticals such as narcotics, real estate, fake currency and firearms. Dawood’s associates like Javed Chikna run international syndicates with the help of the ISI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dawood has passports issued under different names. Some have expired; some have not. The D Company continues to be a potent threat, as it has metamorphosed into white-collar businesses. It has links with Pakistan-based terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.</p> Fri Feb 19 16:23:04 IST 2021 withered-roots <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE MAN WHO</b> runs one of the world's largest crime empires is the son of a policeman. Ibrahim Kaskar, Dawood's father, was a head constable in Mumbai Police's criminal investigation department. He died in 1987 and his wife, Amina, died in 1999. Friends remember Ibrahim as a hardworking man. “He used to return home late and chat with us, smoking a cigarette,” said Kanchi Abdul Rahman Thakur, alias Appa Chachu, one of Ibrahim's oldest friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur, now in his late 70s, has seen Mumbai's underbelly in the 1980s; he interacted with dons Karim Lala and Haji Mastan in their heyday. He said Ibrahim had no vices. “He did not talk about his son's activities,” said Thakur. “Dawood could not look his father in the eye after he got into crime. Parents cannot be blamed for the actions of their children after they grow up.” Law enforcement agencies questioned him several times to learn more about the don and his family. He said he was assured protection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of Dawood's nephews live in Mumbai and run small businesses. Most of them have not been linked to crime. “I was in school when Dawood left the country,” one of them told THE WEEK. “There used to be police raids in our house all the time; they would question our parents. But, our mother used to tell us not to get affected or influenced by how people treat us. We should do no wrong. We were not allowed to pick fights or bully anyone in school. Today, the police knows where we live and what we do. We are not indulging in criminal activities and they don't harass us. I am glad to say that, with time, we are being treated fairly by the Mumbai Police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police are maintaining a constant watch on the deserted houses of Ibrahim and Haseena Parkar, Dawood's deceased sister who was accused of running extortion syndicates in his name, and also on the house of Dawood's jailed brother, Iqbal. “Dawood and D Company have become polished over the years,” said A.B. Pote, former deputy commissioner of police (detection), Mumbai crime branch. The syndicate has learned to conceal big operations better, he said, “and not to indulge in petty crimes or shoot anyone who opposes them”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pote, who probed the murder of T-Series founder Gulshan Kumar by D Company, said that Dawood never made phone calls directly. “That is why we still don't have his voice sample, making it extremely difficult to know if any voice detected or recorded is his,” he said. “We need water-tight cases against his latest activities. Human sources need to be developed [in the underworld].”&nbsp;</p> Sat Feb 20 22:14:01 IST 2021 our-inability-to-nab-dawood-reflects-poorly-on-our-capabilities <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is perhaps the most inappropriate time to talk about corruption in Indian cricket. Only last month, our team made history by beating the Aussies decisively in their own backyard, even though it was deprived of key players on account of injuries and the regular skipper was on paternity leave. This is a time for euphoria and elation; not for whining and griping about something as dissonant as corruption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the menace of corruption in Indian cricket is an elephant in the room that we may ignore only at our own peril. What makes it more worrisome is that the corruption is orchestrated not by lone wolves, but by a well-organised criminal group, at the top of which sits Dawood Ibrahim. The Delhi Police investigation into the spot-fixing scandal in the 2013 Indian Premier League proved his involvement. We caught the don on tape speaking to his aides who ran an intricate web of bookies, punters, go-betweens and players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was commissioner of police in Delhi at that time. I disclosed to journalists the direct involvement of the D Company in the scam. A few days after the big news broke, I received a call from an unknown number on my cellphone. The caller said, rather politely, “Kya saheb, mahiney bharmein retire hone jaa rahe ho. Ab to peecha chhod do [You are about to retire soon. Why don’t you let this go?]” Before I could react, the man hung up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The voice of Dawood was unmistakable; I had thrice spoken to him, over long periods, in June 1994, when I was heading the CBI’s special task force inquiring into the 1993 blasts in Mumbai. One of his closest aides, who was in our custody, had connected me to Dawood, the prime accused in the case. We had the hope that he would give himself up and face the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our efforts, however, failed. One of my seniors, whom I had kept in the loop, inexplicably asked me to stop talking to Dawood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The call from Dawood 19 years later was perhaps a veiled threat, reminding me that I would soon be leading the life of a commoner, stripped of security. It was time I stopped naming and shaming him. Be that as it may, Dawood continues to elude the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Betting in cricket is a multi-billion dollar industry that cannot run without organised crime getting involved. It is the mafia that fixes the odds before a game, controls the bookies, enforces timely payments and settlement of accounts, and maintains discipline and order down the chain of operatives. The mafia owns the betting and fixing rackets. Therefore, the threat from the D Company to the integrity of cricket and other sports is here to stay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For quite some time now, no terror incident in India has been attributed to Dawood, either directly or indirectly. During my nine years in the CBI, and even while I served in the Delhi Police, I have had the chance to extensively interrogate many of his close associates, some of whom had grown up with him in Dongri’s Temkar Mohalla in Mumbai. I can claim to have a fairly good idea of his psyche and the way his mind works. My sense is that Dawood would rather stick to criminal activities that fetch him big money—like betting—than get embroiled in terror activities. I would go out on a limb and say that the threat to India’s internal security from Dawood is rather minimal—unless, of course, the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan coerces him to digress from this policy. Nevertheless, his interest in maintaining links to organised criminal activities in India would continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What should really worry us is our inability to get him—dead or alive. It reflects rather poorly on the capabilities of our security agencies. That he continues to cock a snook at us is an affront to the image of a resurgent India that is capable of taking a battle to the enemy’s gate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Kumar was Delhi Police commissioner, CBI additional director and head of the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit.</b></p> Fri Feb 19 16:04:10 IST 2021 back-to-the-battlefield <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the morning of February 8, as she set out from a luxury resort outside Bengaluru, V.K. Sasikala—the expelled general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)—made it clear that she was determined to challenge the party leadership for her claim to the legacy of her late friend, former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Sasikala started her journey to Chennai in Jayalalithaa's favourite Toyota Land Cruiser flying the AIADMK flag, despite strident objections and legal challenges raised by the party's senior leadership. Clad in a green sari—said to be a Jayalalithaa favourite—and a shawl in AIADMK colours draped around her neck, the 66-year-old Sasikala looked calm, despite the enormity of the situation.</p> <p>A large number of vehicles joined her motorcade as she rolled out of the resort where she had isolated herself for more than a week after being discharged from Victoria hospital in Bengaluru. She had tested positive for Covid-19 a few days before she was released from the Parappana Agrahara jail in Bengaluru, where she was serving a four-year sentence in a corruption case. The huge crowds, life-size cutouts, posters, banners and garlands welcoming Sasikala seem to have sent out a strong message to her rivals. As she crossed the border and entered Tamil Nadu, she was asked by the police, acting on a complaint by the AIADMK leadership, to remove the party flag from her SUV. Sasikala did not remove the flag, but continued the journey in the vehicle of an AIADMK office-bearer from Krishnagiri district.</p> <p>Her journey from Bengaluru to Chennai, which normally takes around seven hours, took twice the time as enthusiastic supporters lined up in more than 60 locations to give her a rousing welcome. The motorcade reached Chennai only next morning. Upon reaching Chennai, Sasikala went straight to the Ramapuram Garden residence of AIADMK founder and former chief minister M.G. Ramachandran. The Tamil Nadu government, in anticipation of Sasikala's return, had closed down the newly-opened Jayalalithaa mausoleum on Marina beach and her Veda Nilayam residence which was recently converted into a memorial.</p> <p>At the MGR residence, party workers welcomed Sasikala with a song written for Jayalalithaa. “<i>Thanga tharagaye varuga varuga varuga</i> (Welcome, golden lady),” they sang, accompanied by high-decibel drum beats. After offering prayers in MGR's puja room, Sasikala paid her tributes to MGR's wife, former chief minister Janaki Ramachandran, at her grave. She left at around 5:30am after garlanding MGR's statue, even as young supporters shouted slogans hailing her as “<i>thyaga thalaivi Chinnamma</i>” (the leader who sacrificed everything). “She is our Amma’s heir. She is the only person who can save the AIADMK,” said Mahendran Perumal, an AIADMK worker who had waited for more than eight hours for a glimpse of Sasikala. “We have lost hope in OPS (Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam) and EPS (Palaniswami).”</p> <p>As she got into her car to leave for a relative's house where she is likely to stay for the next few days, Sasikala looked stubborn, but tired. Perhaps the Covid-19 infection and the 24-hour journey with so many stops and speeches would have worn her out. Or else she could be feeling the weight of the enormous challenge she has posed to the AIADMK leadership.</p> <p>Sasikala said she would talk about her future plans later. Responding to the government's decision to close down Jayalalithaa's beachside memorial, she said, “they are scared”. Sasikala announced that she would return to active politics. But even as she posed a challenge to the AIADMK leadership, she did not rule out a compromise and asked party workers to join hands to defeat their common rival—in an apparent reference to the M.K. Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. “The party has faced several struggles and has risen like a phoenix in the past,” said Sasikala. “My intention is that everyone must work in unity and not let the common enemy capture the throne.”</p> <p>Sasikala is no political novice. But she is yet to prove her popularity in elections and also needs to address the divisions within her own extended family first. Yet, she was Jayalalithaa's close confidante for more than three decades. Addressed affectionately as Chinnamma (mother's younger sister) by AIADMK workers, she has been a key player in Tamil Nadu politics. Sasikala belongs to the Kallar sub-sect of the Thevar community, which has always been a reliable vote bank for the AIADMK, and can expect the community's support as Palaniswami belongs to the Gounder community. If the rift continues, Sasikala could dent the AIADMK's prospects in at least 25 constituencies in the six southern districts where the Thevars hold sway. Most MLAs and party functionaries from these districts could ditch Palaniswami as they are upset about the growing prominence of ministers and MLAs from western Tamil Nadu, where the Gounders are dominant. The bureaucracy, too, is increasingly dominated by officers from the region. Till 2016, Thevars had enjoyed an upper hand in the state secretariat and in the party.</p> <p>Sasikala’s return has indeed rattled the AIADMK leadership. Senior leaders have objected to her using the party flag and have filed two complaints before the director general of police. “She does not have any right to use our party flag,” said Law Minister C.V. Shanmugam. But Shanmugam and two other ministers, D. Jayakumar and P. Thangamani, who came to speak to the media about the issue, had a tough time answering questions. When it was pointed out that Jayalalithaa was the first accused in the corruption case in which Sasikala had gone to jail, the ministers failed to respond. “It is not good to talk about those who are dead,” said AIADMK presidium chairman E. Madhusudhanan, in an attempt to save the situation.</p> <p>Following Sasikala's return, the AIADMK headquarters on Chennai's Avvai Shanmugam Salai looks like a fortress, with hundreds of policemen guarding the building. It had witnessed a tense meeting on February 6, when senior leaders including Palaniswami and Panneerselvam held discussions on the upcoming elections. A source told THE WEEK that the meeting turned stormy after Panneerselvam objected to repeated entreaties by speakers on ensuring unity in the party, in an apparent reference to maintaining a joint front against Sasikala. “What do you all mean by unity?” asked Panneerselvam, before leaving the meeting midway. His actions are viewed with suspicion by the Palaniswami faction, as there are rumours that he might visit Sasikala and ask her to take over the party. Adding to the speculation are his newspaper advertisements, depicting him as <i>muthalvan</i> (chief minister) and comparing him with Prince Bharat who ruled Ayodhya as Ram's regent and handed back the throne when the elder brother returned from exile. “There is no history of anyone giving back the throne,” said one of the advertisements.</p> <p>The Palaniswami government, however, is putting up a brave front. Palaniswami warned Sasikala supporters of tough action on February 9, although he did not name her specifically. “Those who follow Dhinakaran will meet the same fate of the 18 MLAs who deserted us midway,” he said, referring to the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs in 2017 for supporting Sasikala's nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who heads the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, the party he launched after his expulsion from the AIADMK. Palaniswami sees Dhinakaran as the brain behind Sasikala's triumphant road show.</p> <p>The Palaniswami government recently ordered the confiscation of properties in the name of Sasikala's relatives J. Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran, who were co-convicts along with Sasikala in the corruption case. The Tamil Nadu vigilance and anti-corruption bureau had begun attaching 68 properties cited in the case soon after the Supreme Court verdict in the case in 2017. “They are rattled and these knee-jerk reactions are caused by that,” said Dhinakaran.</p> <p>In the past few days, thousands of posters and banners welcoming Sasikala have been put up by AIADMK cadres and office-bearers in various districts across Tamil Nadu. In response, the party expelled at least 10 office-bearers. On February 8, at least a dozen functionaries who offered their cars to Sasikala for her Chennai trip were also expelled.</p> <p>If the fight with Sasikala continues, the AIADMK could face major legal challenges. According to a Facebook post by Jayalalithaa’s former secretary Poongundran, all AIADMK assets are owned by three trusts, and after Jayalalithaa's death, Dhinakaran was made a member of the trust that owns party offices across Tamil Nadu. If it is true, the AIADMK will find it difficult to keep Dhinakaran and Sasikala out of its leadership. Already Sasikala is engaged in a legal fight against her expulsion from the party, and her removal from the post of general secretary.</p> <p>“Our Chinnamma was the general secretary of the party when she left for jail in February 2017,” said Dhinakaran.“She will soon reclaim the AIADMK.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Feb 11 17:27:27 IST 2021