August 03, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

A school that looks like a Railway Station; a 73 year old who studies in class 5. Read all the juicy gossip here...

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The Subcontinental Menu
The Subcontinental Menu

First-Class Ride

School is, almost literally, the train to success in Rajasthan. The Government Senior Secondary School, Railway Station, in Alwar, has a very fitting name. A recent makeover has resulted in classrooms painted to look like passenger compartments, an ‘engine’ to house the principal and a ‘platform’ for a veranda.  The cool kids like to hang out of the classrooms, waiting for latecomers to board before the train departs.  Incidentally, although the school gets its name from its original location near the station (it shifted to a new site a few years ago), the inspiration for the theme came from an engineer of Alwar district’s Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan, who saw a school in Kerala painted to look like a railway coach a couple of months ago. Clearly, the work proceeded very quickly after that—full steam ahead, you might say!

Speak No Evil

Pakistani politician Imran Khan is perhaps better known as an ex-cricketer and an ex-husband. He has divorced two wives— Jemima Goldsmith, who lasted a remarkable nine years, and Reham Khan, who didn’t even make it through a whole year—and has just married his third, Bushra Maneka, this year.  But it seems that his political party, Tehreek-i-Insaaf, doesn’t see this as an obstacle to campaigning against the use of the word ‘talaq’ (divorce) on TV. They recently moved a resolution in the Punjab Assembly, arguing that the word was having a negative impact on society, and that “in the Holy Qur’an, Allah does not like the act of talaq”.


Castle Barkrent

Absentee landlords grow fat off the rent paid by those who till the soil. No, this isn’t the 18th century Ireland depicted in Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent.  For one thing, the landlords are dogs of the four-legged variety. Farmers in Gujarat’s Panchot village started the tradition roughly 80 years ago by don­ating some hard-to-maintain land to a village trust. The trust annually auctions off the right to till each piece of land for a year, and all income from this is in the name of the village’s 70-odd stray dogs. The villagers go to great lengths to feed the dogs—in 2015, the trust constructed a special building where food is prepared for them, and volunteers distribute the food daily.  Recently, the construction of the Mehsana bypass made land prices shoot up—so the dogs ‘own’ about Rs 83 crore worth of land.

Senior School

Lalringthara is the star of the fifth standard class at a school in the village of New Hruaikawn in Mizoram. The headmaster was quoted as saying, “He is an inspiration and a challenge to students and teachers alike.” Why? Because he is a sprightly 73 years old. He had to leave school after the second standard as his father had died years before and his mother needed his help in the fields, and he now works as a chowkidar at the church. But he never lost his passion for learning, and is an avid reader in the Mizo language. And now he has decided to go back to school “to learn some English so that I can write an application in English and understand the English news on television”. It is understood that he will soon receive his uniform and textbooks.

Sweetly Rang The Bells For Peace

Ukhrul in Manipur has been wracked by violence for decades, with the killing of 20 soldiers by militants in 1982 sparking off a cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation. But the town, and through it the state itself, is finding a way to leave the past behind and bring about a change of image—through chocolate! When a pair of chocolatiers launched a unique brand (‘Hill Wild’) in Nove­mber with pumpkin seeds and local nuts, they created an instant sensation. Their products proved popular with delegates at the Northeast Development Summit in Imphal. The location poses challenges—chocolate must be brought in all the way from Pune, and transporting finished goods is difficult, but cho­­­­­c­olatiers plan to diversify into sausages.

Surgery, Then Back To The station

A police constable in Maharashtra has rec­e­ived clearance to undergo female-to-male sex reassignment surgery. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria following tests at various hospitals, and CM Devendra Fadnavis had intervened to allow her to keep his job, as it was the ‘rarest of rare’ case.

However, senior officers then denied the constable leave for the surgery, citing ‘operational exigencies’, and it took another appeal to the CM to get it cleared.  A month’s leave, starting later this month, has reportedly been granted for the procedure.

A Karateka’s Loss Of Face

What would Simon Cowell make of it, one wonders? Sri Lanka’s Got Talent, one of many loc­­alised spinoffs, has made the news with a mishap. A contestant had dec­ided to show off his karate skills. He got off to a good start, sitting on a plank balanced on two blocks atop a bench in an extreme split posture while assistants swung wooden boards at his arms—the boards were smashed on contact. But he then tried to show that karate requires the use of your head as well. Grabbing a board with both hands, he swung it at his own face.  The board survived, while he fell back off the bench. The judges praised his commitment (though they can be seen cringing) and sent him on to the next round.

Revolution’s Children

Authorities in Dhaka are busy trying to identify and take action against the mischief makers who have been spreading ‘fake news’ to foment the student unrest that has taken place on various campuses since April 9.

The students are protesting against the government’s plans to introduce a reservation of 56 per cent of jobs in the civil service for descendants of  ‘Mukti Bahini’­ ­members (the resistance movement during the country’s freedom struggle) and those from the minority community.

Since April 9, more than 100 people have been injured in the protests, and students have clashed several times with ­police in various towns and cities.

Fake news of a protestor’s death has further agitated the students and, over the past few days, more than 100 people—mostly students—have been injured, the residence of the Dhaka University vice-chancellor has been attacked and several clashes between students and policemen have been reported in various towns and cities.

The government is trying to track down those responsible. The Independent, an English daily, quoted home minister Asaduzza­man Khan as saying, “We are trying to identify the perpetrators who were agitating the demonstrators by spreading fake news of a protester’s death in police firing on Facebook.” He added that a case would be filed against them under the Digital Security Act.

Interestingly, the students protesting against reservation of jobs for descendants of freedom fighters have also taken umbrage at being called “razakars” by a senior Awami League minister. ‘Razakar’ was a term used for a paramilitary force that collaborated with the Pakistan Army during Bangladesh’s war for independence.

Asserting that they were children, not of razakars, but of “Banga Bandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”, the country’s founding father, the students have demanded that the minister tender an apology for her comments.

The protest, the biggest that PM Sheikh Hasina has faced in recent years, could be unsettling in an election year. She’s indicated that elections will be held at the end of the year.

Her main opposition, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) boycotted the 2014 parliamentary elections, giving her ­Awami League a free run to win most of the seats. This year, the BNP may not make the same mistake.

These protests reflect a growing disquiet among certain sections of society that could pose a serious challenge for the PM unless resolved quickly and amicably.

Her refusal to dilute the quota provisions and the additional move to take action against student leaders for spreading ‘fake news’ can only complicate matters further.

Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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