The Subcontinental Menu

A panchayat in Rajasthan’s Bundi ostracised a girl after for stepping on a titihari egg. Meanwhile, the prison department in Kerala is thinking of launching an upcoming prison museum. Read all this and much more in The Subcontinental Menu.


Devilled Egg

The titihari is a bird that lays its eggs in the ground. It’s also sacred, at least in the hamlet of Haripura in Rajasthan’s Bundi district. Recently, when children were queuing at a school there for a glass of milk, a five-year-old girl stepped on a titihari egg, and all manner of devilry ensued. The girl’s father claims the caste panchayat demanded the repayment of a loan and a bottle of liquor in exchange for absolving the girl of her ‘sin’. As he couldn’t pay, the panchayat allegedly ost­ra­cised the girl from their caste and ordered her not to enter her house for 10 days; her parents say they have been forced to sleep outside with her. When the authorities learnt of this, they arrested 10 men from the village—but these men claim they didn’t order any ostracism and only prescribed simple rituals.


Literally A Bear

Not a dog this time. The sloth bear makes its In & Around debut. Two such animals had been pressed into service as dancing bears—illegal in India since 1972—near the India-Nepal border till Dec­ember 2017, when Indian non-profit Wildlife SOS received a tip-off and moved to rescue them. But the traffickers smuggled the animals into ­Nepal, where the practice is legal. But the two men and two bears were detained by Nepalese authorities; the bears were taken to Kathmandu Zoo. One did not survive long, but Wildlife SOS and Nepal’s Jane Goodall Institute worked together to clear bur­eaucratic hurdles and repatriate the surviving animal, 19-year-old Rangila. He is now on a 1,000-km odyssey to the Agra Bear Rescue Centre, home to about 200 rescued sloth bears.


Cleanly Godliness

Blissful hygienic offering to God, or BHOG for short. It’s a somewhat tortured acronym, but this initiative of the Union health ministry seems to be making progress. The Shi­romani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has decided to send the langaris (cooks) of the Golden Temple to a workshop being conduc­ted by the ministry in the last week of July for training on complying with the hygiene norms of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The SGPC will be imp­­lemen­ting these norms in the Gol­­den Temple and other gurdwaras under its control, with the committee’s Delhi branch having done so in at least 10 of the capital’s gurdwaras. The cooks will now prepare their ‘bhog’ with their heads covered, wearing aprons and gloves. Even those who serve food will be wearing gloves, for added bliss.


Unearthly Powers

Indra guards his throne jealously as thunder harries Bhubaneswar’s helpless shrines. Odisha has seen many casualties caused by lightning strikes in recent months—and the state capital’s historic temples stand unguarded. A report says there are 11 temples in the city under the purview of Odisha State Archaeology, 23 under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI); none has a functioning lightning arrestor earthing system in place. Only Lingaraj temple has the necessary wiring, but even this is at present disconnected from the main earthing on the ground due to ongoing work on the floor for over a year, with servitors complaining that the shrine is prone to lightning strikes. However, the ASI has plans to revamp the system and install advanced mac­hinery to protect the temple.


Eat, Dress, Mope Like A Jailbird

It’s a strange but increasingly popular, and monet­isable, concept: people paying for a one-day stay in jail, with authentic uniforms and food for a full convict exp­erience. Telangana did this with the colonial-­era Sangareddy jail two years ago, and now Kerala’s prison department is thinking of launching such a programme as part of an upcoming prison museum on the premises of Viyyur central jail in Thrissur district. Jail DGP R. Sreelekha says the museum would feature ant­­ique prison-rel­ated objects and records collected from various parts of Kerala. Other highlights will include a library, cafeteria and a light-and-sound show.


In Pakistan, A Wretched Ass Assault

Non-figurative asses, at least, are suffering in Pakistani politics. When Imran Khan called supporters of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif ‘donkeys’, members of the former’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) took it literally. Two donkeys have been viciously mauled by PTI activists. They painted the name of a party, presumably Sharif’s PML(N), on one and nea­­rly beat it to death. An animal rescue group says the creature “was beaten to a pulp, ... kicked all over...a car rammed into him.” As for the other, “His skull is visible, maggots have eaten all the flesh within it. His left eye is gouged out....”


Hanging Out For A Hero

Remember last week’s morbid postcard from Sri Lanka? The nation, which has not carried out an execution since 1976, has now ‘revived’ (per­­haps not the best word in this context) it for drug traffickers. But death by judicial fiat requires a dealer—the government is headhunting for a state hangman.  It is apparently being advertised through normal channels, and a 71-year-old woman has reportedly applied, saying it would allow her to do good for society. Sri Lanka had never formally abolished capital punishment, and there are over 400 convicts on death row.  In 2014, an attempt to reinstate it resulted in a hangman being recruited—but he resigned in shock, after seeing the gallows.


A Bangladeshi Pie

The space for dissenters is fast shrinking in Bangladesh. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held by January next year and perhaps this is a reason why pol­iticians are getting more visible and vocal than before.

But having already marginalised political opponents and det­ractors in the media, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is now going after critics of the quota system she had put in place. The existing quota system has 56 per cent of government posts reserved under different categories. These range from children of freedom fighters (30 per cent), women (10 per cent), backward districts (10 per cent), ethnic minorities (five per cent) and people with disabilities (one per cent). This leaves the rest to get in through the remaining 44 per cent solely on the basis of merit.

Since April this year, students on campuses in Dhaka and Chi­­ttagong began sit-in demonstrations and resorted to other forms of agitations against the quota system. On occ­­asion, they clashed with the pol­ice. The violence around quota over the past months had led to the death of over 25 people, with the PM having to issue a stern warning that any excesses will not be tolerated. In recent months, Has­ina and her sup­­po­rters have been using different methods to silence protesters.

As part of this move, an assi­stant professor of Chittagong University, Maidul Islam, has now been sued and forced to leave the campus. Islam had been actively critical of the government’s quota policy. Members of Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party, has sought legal action against Islam for his Facebook post that allegedly made derogatory remarks against Hasina.

The professor denies involvement in any such post against the PM. But her supporters have continued to pursue Islam’s ouster from the university campus and have been insisting on pursuing legal action against him.

Islam has now sought police protection to return to the campus and resume teaching.

According to a report in the Daily Star, a group of teachers and employees under the banner ‘Bangabandhu Parishad’ demonstrated on campus, demanding punishment to the teacher.

The Chhatra League has been strongly resisting demonstration against the quota system in university campuses. In the past, this had also led to clashes between League members and students and teachers who were trenchant critics of the quota system.


Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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