July 26, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

From 'forest forensics' in MP to catch sandalwood and teak smugglers to why Chinese supremacists don’t want monasteries to teach Tibetan to young Tibetans during their school holidays, read this and much more in The Subcontinental Menu.

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Manjul
The Subcontinental Menu

Bolly Hindi

For puritans of Hindi, Bollywood has murdered the heartland’s tongue many times over in its potboilers. Huh! When did pop weasels carry culture on their backs? What about those arthouse acts and was it not tinsel town that makes Hindi thrive in places where it is as good as Greek? So, can Bollywood teach Hindi to our lawmakers in Parliament whose native tongue does a reverse sweep when the language confronts it? Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu thinks so. He wants Hindi movies—starting with Mother India, the 1957 epic screened at the G.M.C. Balayogi auditorium in Parliament—to promote the language among ‘non-Hindi speaking’ lawmakers and staff. That reminds us of a line from the film: “Bina murga bane vidya nahi aati.” Ah, the dreaded corporal punishment murga of the schooldays—squat, loop arms behind knees, hold ears firmly!

Money-Back Votes

Cash-for-vote has its trickle-down effect. No matter how much we frown upon it, this is a copper-bottomed guarantee. But then, what if the voters disrespect their share of the quid pro quo? Go get a refund. Uppu Prabhakar, 55, husband of Hymavathi, did precisely that after he paid each voter—Rs 800, a bottle of alcohol and a plastic jug—in his village to vote his wife in the gram panchayat elections at Jajireddygudem village in Telangana’s Suryapet district this January. Mrs got only 24 of the ward’s 269 votes. A miffed Prabhakar made at least 110 voters swear by the holy mantra biyyam—a raw rice and turmeric mix—if they voted for his wife. If not, he demanded his cash returned. No folk will invoke the curse of the mantra biyyam. Many paid back. Our advice: vote wisely this Lok Sabha polls.

The Kite Run

For all the kite-flying stories taking off from Pakistan, this one is straining to be airborne. The Pakistan Muslim League government had banned kites from the skies on Basant Panchami, the day Pakistani minorities in the other Punjab, like the rest of northern India, mark the arrival of spring by flying the rhombus toy at a string’s end. The alibi was that the pastime was causing deaths: careless kite-flyers falling off rooftops. The country now has a new government with Imran Khan as its captain, and his administration is proving more sporting. The prohibition is gone and people are encouraged to fill the skies again with colourful kites. Why? Because the tourists love it; and mullahs don’t complain when moolah jingles in.

Forest Forensics

Poirot and Holmes scanning a crime scene for fingerprints is so last century. What we have today is DNA—the building blocks of organic matters that even the most elusive criminal is made of. A strand of hair, a fragment of skin, or a tiny pinch of body fluid left behind is enough to trace it back to the person it belonged to. No wonder, this piece of genetic forensics is what foresters of Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh are relying on to catch sandalwood and teak smugglers. They call it ‘wood mapping’—gathering samples from trees smugglers bark up for the high-value skin and then matching them with the DNA of repeat offenders. The technique, a first in India, is a baby step but a giant leap in forest conservation.

Star-Stuck Cabinet

The stars are aligning to bring something special for you, more than a month after the chief priest of Yadadri temple certified an ‘auspicious’ day and you took oath as chief minister for a second term. You will be able to accomplish pending tasks (such as expanding your cabinet). The next five days from February 5 when ‘Magha masam’ begins will be favourable, the Telugu calendar says. Also February 10, the day goddess Saraswati is worshipped. February 6 can be an option too since six is your lucky number. Expect to get appreciated for your hard work.

Un-Tibetising Tibet

Language, they say, is the torso supporting conjoined twins Expression-Impression. That explains why Chinese supremacists don’t want monasteries to teach Tibetan to young Tibetans during their school holidays. They fear Tibetan monks can use the Tibetan language to ‘impress’ Tibetan young minds to ‘express’ their unfreedom. The informal classes go against the pushy policy to sinicise the land and people. Hence, these are banned in Nangchen; and monks caught imparting such education risk being blacklisted. They could lose their identity as ‘religious professionals’.

Turtle Unturned

Darwin discovered evolution studying turtles, among other species, in Galapagos. And the last-known specimen, Lonesome George, is long dead. Similar sad stories of extinction are rampant around the world but kindly intervention is holding out hope. A case in point is the revered temple turtles of Ass-am—a black softshell, one of the rarest of the 28 species found in India. Hunted for their meat, they are said to be extinct in the wild without the protection of the temple pond where they have been thriving for generations as Vishnu’s kurma avatar. Their progeny will now populate the wetlands again; 35 hatchlings were recently released in Pobitora sanctuary.

Hercules, The Rapist Killer

Reports on rape and hapless victims are routine in newspapers around the world, but rarely does a serial killer of alleged rapists makes the headlines. It has happened in Bangladesh. Bodies of three young men were recently found in capital Dhaka and districts around it. The men had handwritten notes around their necks in which they allegedly confessed to their crime. Kind of reminds us of the popular 1970s Hollywood series Death Wish.

The elusive vigilante killer has now become a sensation in Bangladesh. According to local media, the unidentified punisher—nicknamed Hercules—has been targeting and killing people suspected of committing rape. Over the past two weeks, police have recovered three corpses with similar death notes from the Jhalakathi and Dhaka districts, the Daily Star reported. Police are investigating the murders, but have remained clueless so far about Hercules—a lone wolf, or a group.

The killings are linked to rising cases of rape. A madarsa student in Pirojpur district’s Bhandaria area reported that two men gang-raped her on January 14 on her way to her grandparents’ house. The Daily Star said her father registered a case on January 17 against two suspects—Rakib and Sajal.

After a spate of rapes, an unidentified vigilante assailant is shooting dead the accused and leaving a warning note around their necks.

On January 24, the body of Sajal with bullet wounds was discovered in Kathalia sub-district of Jhalakathi. Then on February 1, police recovered the body of Rakib, a 20-year-old law student, from the Rajapur sub-district of Jhalakathi. He was shot in the head early in the morning, police said. The body was sent for an autopsy. A note in Bengali—undersigned Hercules­­­—hanging around his neck read: “I am Rakib. I am the rapist of a madarsa girl...of Bhandaria. This is the consequence of a rapist. Be wary rapists.” A similar note was found on Sajal’s body too.

In another case on January 7, an 18-year-old garment factory worker was found dead in her home in Ashulia, on the outskirts of Dhaka, hours after she had filed a rape complaint against a suspect named Ripon and three more men. On January 17, Ripon’s body was found near Ashulia.

Opinion is divided over the street justice. Human rights group Ain-o-Salish has raised concern and its executive director, Sheepa Hafiza, said such extra-judicial action is unacceptable. Others view the vigilantism as the result of a “weak and apathetic judiciary”. Hercules is riveting the Bangladeshis, whichever side of the ethical debate they may be on.

Illustrations by Manjul; Text by Alka Gupta

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