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Karma Debbarma and the hotel

Agartala, Feb. 7: Karma Debbarma, 73, does not really look his age.

A vivacious man enthusiastically catering to the food requirements of his few customers, Karma earns his livelihood by selling indigenous food from his non-descript Fani and Tani Hotel at the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council headquarters at Khumlung.

“I have my wife and three sons – the eldest one, Bijay, is an MA (history), the middle one, Ajay, is a graduate and the youngest one, Sujay, is Madhyamik plucked. What I earn from this 25-year-old hotel help us have three square meals a day,” said Karma.

But beneath his quiet yet vibrant nature lies a nostalgic anguish as the indigenous food he serves in his hotel, which is slowly but steadily being discarded by his tribal brethren for more modern, spicy and oily food consumed by non-tribal people.

Tripura’s tribal or indigenous society, believed by political scientists and sociologists to have already graduated to a nationality, is on the crossroads. High-level Westernisation, heralded by the Church, Evangelisation and growing influence of modernity have been alienating the indigenous people fast from their roots. This is reflected in changing food habits.

Karma prepares only indigenous dishes sought after by locals, often even by non-tribal customers or occasional tourists. He perceives a creeping change in the preferences of his customers. Much like anything else communitarian tribal life and culture, including food habits, centred on what was available from the pristine nature. “Dry fish is our staple. The most common and popular dish godhak, which is prepared with a variety of vegetables boiled together with dry fish and then crushed with onion pieces and dried green chilly. It tastes delicious,” said Karma.

Godhak still retains its popularity even among non-indigenous people but what is unpopular now is a delicacy called bangoi which is a lump of sticky binny rice packed in a special bangoi leaf boiled on vapour and then consumed with pork and dried green chillies. Since it lasts a few days, it was a favourite lunch item for jhum (shifting cultivation) farmers. Similarly, chakhoi is a preparation of boiled vegetables with soda and eaten with pork in thick gravy. Another popular item is berma prepared with a melange of boiled rice, dry fish and vegetables together. Almost similar is awandru , a boiled preparation of rice, dry fish and wheat flour in thick gravy made hot by green chillies.

Variety is added by laitang, prepared with the inner part of a banana tree, dry fish and garlic, pasted together after boiling. A similar preparation is mufir which is a very hot preparation because of burnt green chillies added to it. For flavour and taste, batima and wakereng are famous as these are boiled preparations of rich pork, green chilly and special forest leaves. Muchhi is a spicy flavoured forest tree-leaf, which is mashed after boiling in water. Dry fish is added to this with green chillies. But another indigenous dish, popular with the non-indigenous people also, is sutumi merisedeng, which has raw tamarind paste, dry fish cooked with diced garlic and onion.

“All these things are pristinely pure and drawn from nature, with no spicesor oil and are good for health also. But the present generation take interest in other non-indigenous foods,” said Karma. His “Fani and Tani’ and two other non-descript hotels proudly keep the flag of indigenous food aflutter. A nostalgic Karma also recalls the days of yore when he used to accompany his parents to do jhum cultivation for rice, vegetables and all other culinary necessaries.

 
By Sekhar Datta

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Participants in the parade in Guwahati. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Feb. 7: The city witnessed the seven colours of the rainbow come together today as members of the LGBTQIA community and gay rights supporters came together to hold the third edition of the Guwahati Queer Pride Parade.

Around 200 people marched in the parade, which was organised by Xukia, a group that deals with LGBTQIA issues.

The event saw a colourful mix of people from the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) community along with activists and gay rights supporters, who were mostly students.

The parade started from Dighalipukhuri Park and went around the neighbourhood of Cotton College in Panbazar before returning to its starting point.

Shivalal Gautam, a member of Xukia, said the parade was part of their struggle to gain respect for who they are. “Every year this parade is held to let the world know who we are and demand the respect and recognition we deserve. It is a symbol of our struggle against the draconian Section 377 and our quest to find our place in this world,” he said.

People sang, danced and waved miniature rainbow-coloured flags, which have to come to symbolise gay rights around the world, as they marched in the parade. Some wore colourful masks and held signs demanding equality of sexual rights among all humans. A fashion show was also held.

Most of the marchers felt the parade was a demonstration against Section 377 of the IPC, a colonial-era provision criminalising consensual sexual acts of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults in private. The participants said hope had been kindled in their hearts in wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to refer a batch of curative petitions against Section 377 to a five-judge Constitution bench for a possible back-to-roots, in-depth hearing.

“Our struggle has been against the 150-year-old Section 377 that has denied us our sexual rights. We have had to suffer a lot of discrimination and bias because of this. Now, because of recent developments, we see a glimmer of hope that finally justice will be done and we shall bid adieu to this law this year itself,” said Bidhan Baruah, a law student.

In the first edition of the Guwahati Queer Pride Parade in 2014, just a few dozen people participated. Over the past couple of years, it has garnered the support of people from various walks of life and today’s turnout reflected the increasing acceptability LGBTQIA issues are gaining in society.

“Over the years, the support for our endeavour has increased and there also has been a marked improvement in people’s attitude towards us,” said Debika Chakravarty, a participant. “But there is still a lot of work to be done. Discrimination still exists against the LGBTQIA people in various walks of life and there has to be channelling of proper information regarding the matter towards people.”

Xukia means “being different” in Assamese and the group has been running the Guwahati chapter of the Queer Pride Parade. It organises the annual event with the help of a few NGOs and other like-minded organisations.

 
By Joydeep Hazarika

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Jayantimala Chakrabarty felicitates cancer survivors in Guwahati on Sunday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati; Feb. 7: Cancer survivors believe courage to fight the disease, family support, awareness, early detection and diagnosis can ensure survival.

The survivors who shared their experiences on how, over the years, they braved the disease, gathered today at a programme organised by Guwahati-based Rodali, a centre for cancer awareness and counselling, at NEDFi House in Ganeshguri. The event was organised on the occasion of World Cancer Day, which falls on February 4.

“For 22 years I have been a cancer patient. Braving the disease for this long time I have learnt that we should make our immune system good. And this can be done only when we are mentally strong,” said Minoti Borthakur.

“You should eat properly. Take care so that you sleep well and never let depression conquer you. I have been associated with B. Barooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) in Guwahati. I always remain happy in front of the patients,” said Borthakur.

Over 15 cancer survivors were felicitated by Rodali, which was set up 12 years ago by Jayantimala Chakrabarty, also a cancer patient. Chakrabarty was detected with breast cancer 12 years ago and had undergone treatment in Mumbai.

“Early detection is very important for cancer patients. But for it, we need awareness, which is not satisfactory in Assam. Realising this we have set up Rodali to spread awareness and provide counselling. So far, we have held around 80 awareness camps across the state,” said Chakrabarty.

“If detected, you should not hide the disease,” said Anjali Barua, another survivor. “When my cancer was detected, I informed my friends and family members about it. I still remember how around 100 of my friends came to my house when I gave them the news. I was not scared. I got cured because of early detection,” she said.

BBCI today said tobacco-related cancer constitute 50 per cent of all cancers in men and 25 per cent of all cancers in women. “Considering this, our institute has decided to form a network to spread educative information at regular intervals through individual social networking sites,” said A.C. Kataki, director of the institute.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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Imphal, Feb. 7: The cyber crime squad of Manipur police, spurred by a persistent social media, launched a search and rescued a minor girl, from a house in Thoubal on Friday evening. A video clip of the girl being tortured by a woman had gone viral on the social media.

The police have also widened the hunt for the woman in the clip. The child has been handed over to Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Imphal East.

In a statement R.K. Tutusana, public relations officer of Manipur police, said they, aided by the cyber crime unit of Imphal West police, rescued the child on Friday and handed over her to the officials of the CWC.

The PRO said the police launched an investigation after a video clip showing a middle-aged woman severely torturing a small girl surfaced on social networking sites and a subsequent report from the CWC.

The clip, apparently uploaded in January, shows a woman torturing a minor by splashing water on her face, hitting her on the head and using both hands to squeeze the girl’s throat.

The video evoked strong condemnations and demanded befitting punishment for the woman featured in the clip.

Some of those who had seen the video on social media had even announced cash rewards for information on the woman.

Former minister Bijoy Koijam and Congress MLA N. Biren Singh were among those who announced cash rewards.

The police said the woman, identified as Toijam Ongbi Memcha Devi, 55, was absconding.

According to the police,the episode recorded in the video clip took place at the house rented by Memcha Devi, at Thangapat Mapal Konung Leikai in Imphal East.

Memcha Devi had adopted the girl four years ago, when the girl was only two, as she did not have any daughter, the police said.

“During this period the child was subjected to severe cruelty by Memcha, which left scar marks on her forehead, lips, and head and even bite marks on her belly,” the police said.

The girl underwent medical examination yesterday.

A relative of Memcha helped her find the girl, who belonged to a very poor family.

A senior police officer said search for the woman was continuing.

Sources said the cash rewards announced by the individuals would be used in the child’s treatment and counselling.

The CWC and police expressed gratitude to all those who helped them rescue the child.

 
By Khelen Thokchom

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Ghulam Nabi Azad addresses a rally in Silchar on Sunday. Picture by Nilotpal Bhattacharjee

Silchar, Feb. 7: Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad today accused the BJP of trying to create conflict among the people in the name of religion.

Addressing a gathering of party workers here at Indira Bhawan, Azad took a dig at the Narendra Modi government, alleging that the BJP government was interested only in polarising the country and not in development.

“They (BJP) are trying to create conflict among the people on religious lines. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister by making ‘false’ promises to the people. But people have now become frustrated with the present government and if the elections are held now, I am sure the BJP would be wiped out,” said Azad, who arrived here on a daylong visit.

Reacting to the allegations of the BJP that the Congress does not allow Parliament to function, the Opposition leader said, “It was the BJP-led Centre that has utterly failed in running Parliament. But, in order to hide their inabilities, they are now accusing us of not letting Parliament function.”?

“I have been in politics for several decades. I saw many Prime Ministers. But this is the first time I am witnessing such a massive decline in the popularity graph of a Prime Minister within such a small span of time.”?

Azad said Modi had prowess only in giving “emotional lectures”. “He (Modi) is not at all interested in development. Modi, who had promised to wipe out corruption, today is maintaining silence on BJP leaders involved in anomalies and irregularities.”

The Congress leader today brought into focus the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh and slammed the BJP government for maintaining “intriguing silence” over the issue. “Around 48 witnesses were killed after the Vyapam scam came to light. But the BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government is completely mum. There were allegations of corruption against BJP-ruled governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.”?

Azad today praised Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi for his efforts in bringing peace to the state. “After the Congress came to power in Assam, peace returned. Gogoi has played a crucial role in bringing peace and development, hand in hand, to the state. I am confident that the Congress would form the government in Assam again,” he added.

Assam PCC president Anjan Dutta today said the people had not forgotten the activities of former AASU president and a former AGP leader Sarbananda Sonowal, who was declared the chief ministerial candidate for the BJP in the Assembly polls.

“Sonowal played an instrumental role in abolishing The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, which provided safeguards to the people who came to Assam from Bangladesh because of civil disturbances. Sonowal and the BJP are now trying to divide Assam into different parts,” he alleged.

 
By Nilotpal Bhattacharjee

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Kohima, Feb. 7: Around 20 houses and three cars belonging to people from the Yimchunger community were burned in Kiphire town allegedly by members of the Sangtam community this evening, a day after a young couple were gunned down at Yei bridge in Shamator sub-division by unidentified men while returning from the girl’s parents’ home.

Almost the entire Yimchunger population of Kiphire has fled the town and curfew has been imposed.

The young couple, whose names have not been revealed by the administration, were travelling in a Maruti Gypsy from Shamator town to Kiphire when gunmen ambushed their car and killed them yesterday. Sources said the couple were ambushed at Yei bridge, under Shamator sub-division, in Tuensang district.

The husband hailed from the Sangtam community and was a teacher while the wife was from the Tikhir community and a nurse. Their bodies were taken to Kiphire civil hospital for post-mortem. After the incident, a large police contingent was deployed in the area.

The situation in Shamator had been tense for the past few months because of clashes between the Yimchunger and Kiphire communities. Animosity has been brewing between these two communities for years as the Yimchungers consider the Tikhirs as part and parcel of their community and not a separate tribe. Several people have been killed in clashes between these communities in the past.

Both the communities have been fighting for control of Shamator town. The Tikhir Students’ Union (TSU) opposed the Yimchungru Students’ Union’s golden jubilee celebration at Shamator town last month. The TSU said since time immemorial Shamator was Tikhir land.

The union said at the time of establishment of Shamator town in 1954, no disputes existed between the two communities. “But Yimchungers, trying to bring Shamator town under their control, have created havoc and bloodshed between the two tribes a number of times,” a TSU member said.

 
By A Staff Reporter

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Feb. 7: Assam has a new “angry young man in the virtual world. Or call it angry chief minister, if you will.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, has on many occasions, been seen shaking a leg to Bihu tunes, playing a merry drum during festivals, performing an indigenous dance or teeing off during golf tournaments.

Screenshots of Tarun Gogoi and Himanta Biswa Sarma

in the video

Now, a video circulating on WhatsApp and other social media shows Gogoi in yet another role – that of a jeans-and-tee clad muscleman taking on adversaries in a scene from Singham, a Bollywood action thriller, thrashing his political opponents.

In the scene from the video, the faces of the chief minister and his political rivals, mainly from the BJP, have been superimposed upon characters in the movie, which originally features Ajay Devgn as a police officer who takes on criminals single-handedly.

However, one wonders if BJP leaders Himanta Biswa Sarma and Bijoya Chakravarty who are featured as the ones getting the worst in the fight, are as amused.

In the beginning, KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi is shown cowering on the ground as “Sarma” attacks him, and the hero Gogoi proceeds to play saviour.

He goes on to beat up characters with the faces of Pijush Hazarika, Bolin Chetia, Pallab Lochan Das and Jayanta Malla Baruah superimposed upon them. Senior leader Bijoya Chakravarty is shown cowering as the helpless damsel in the background.

The video has been circulating mainly on WhatsApp and has caused some mirth among the people.

In the real world, Jayanta Malla Baruah cannot stop laughing. “I have received the clip on WhatsApp, but am yet to see it,” he said.

When pointed out that the clip showed him being beaten to pulp by Gogoi, he burst out laughing. “I must see it then… I am sure I will enjoy it,” he said.

Baruah and Hazarika left the Congress recently and joined the BJP soon after Himanta joined the BJP after leading a failed rebellion against Gogoi.

Hazarika said he had seen the video and enjoyed it too.

“The people will laugh because Tarun Gogoi has been projected as an angry young man. The video is an outburst of Tarun Gogoi’s frustration,” Hazarika said.

Another Assamese professional based in Delhi confessed that the video didn’t fit his perception of Gogoi. “Why lionise Gogoi, who is always smiling?” he wondered.

An Assamese student based in Mumbai laughingly suggested that the video should be shown to Ajay Devgn and asking him if he would be interested to play the part of Gogoi in a movie.

Moreover, this isn’t the first time Gogoi has been associated with the Bollywood character.

A quick search of YouTube turns up a collage of Gogoi’s pictures with the soundtrack of Singham as the background score, put up by a fan.

It is not known who made the video.

 
By Our bureau

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Guwahati, Feb. 7: The tiger population of the Northeast is genetically different from the rest of the country, an official tiger report has revealed for the first time.

A Royal Bengal Tiger at Kaziranga. File picture

The revelation was made in the detailed report of Status of the Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India brought out by Wildlife Institute of India and National Tiger Conservation Authority that for the first time has dealt with genetic structure of tigers in the country to ensure effective conservation efforts.

There are mainly two large population clusters of tigers in the country – the northeastern population and population of the rest of the country.

“The tiger population in the Northeast represents a unique cluster when compared to those from the rest of the country. An interesting step would be to investigate the admixture of genetic material between these and the Indo-Chinese tigers ( Panthera tigris corbetti) found in the border areas of the northeastern states,” the report said.

Senior professor at the Wildlife Institute of India and one of the authors of the report, Yadvendradev Jhala, said: “Tigers from the Northeast India are distinctly different in their genetic composition. This is likely as the Northeast tiger population probably forms a zone where there has been historic gene flow from Myanmar.”

“This is the route tigers took to enter India and this process has been continuous, resulting in mixing of genes of tigers from Southeast Asia and India. It creates a different and distinct composition of gene frequencies in the region,” he added.

Wildlife biologist with NGO Aaranyak, Firoz Ahmed, said: “The tigers of the Northeast have more chances to share its genes with the Southeast Asian tigers of Myanmar, Thailand and South China because of its habitat connectivity in the trans-boundary areas. Therefore, the Indo-Chinese sub-species and the tiger population of the Northeast India are likely to be very similar. Further genetic study may reveal this.”

“The tiger population of the Northeast is significant for conservation as they may work as a stepping stone to exchange genes between the Royal Bengal tiger and Indo-Chinese tiger. This will help gene pool preservation within the tiger species,” he added.

The report said the Northeast, Dibang and Namdapha formed one population cluster, while Manas, Kaziranga, Nameri and Buxa formed a second cluster.

Quantifying gene flow in tiger populations was also crucial to the understanding of how ancestry, dispersal and isolation operate in maintaining metapopulations, the report said. A metapopulation consists of a group of separated populations of the same species which interact at some level. The authorities also carried out non-invasive genetic sampling where tiger populations could not be assessed by camera trap because of logistic constraints like extremely low density. Scats collected in each landscape, across the country.

Under non-invasive genetic sampling , 12 tigers were found in Namdapha, Dibang and Dampa reserves in the Northeast, respectively.

Overall, in the northeastern hills and Brahmaputra landscape, Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong-Pakke-Nameri-Orang is the largest source (163 tigers) and should be managed as a single metapopulation. Enhanced protection in the region will help build prey and subsequently tiger population in the long-term, the report suggested.

Manas-Buxa, along with areas of Bhutan landscape, had potential to sustain higher number of tigers and were currently below their carrying capacity. Dibang and Namdapha show good promise for tiger and biodiversity conservation but needed more conservation investment, the report added.

 
By Roopak Goswami

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An exam centre. File picture

Guwahati, Feb. 7: The Board of Secondary Education, Assam, (Seba) will impose a ban on students and invigilators carrying cellphones or any other electronic device inside the matric examination halls to prevent cheating. Over four lakh students will sit for the Class X final examinations across Assam from February 18.

“Examinees will be barred from carrying cellphones to the examination venues. If any teacher or invigilator carries one, he or she has to switch off the device and deposit it with the head of the institution before the start of the exam. If any examinee is found using cellphones during the test, he or she will be liable to face immediate expulsion,” Seba chairman Dhandev Mahanta told The Telegraph today.

Mahanta said the ban on cellphones and other electronic gadgets was part of Seba’s comprehensive plan to conduct the matric examinations in a free and fair manner.

He said the board had found that cellphones had been misused for cheating in the recent years.

“By putting cellphones on silent mode, examinees used to receive text messages from outside, with the answers. As examinees now do not have to write long answers, the text messages have proved to be a very suitable tool for them to cheat,” he said.

Mahanta said invigilators would not be allowed to carry their cellphones in exam halls following complaints that some of them had been encouraging or abetting cheating.

Seba had received complaints that a few unscrupulous invigilators, during the exams, contacted teachers over their cellphones and leaked the questions immediately after the papers were distributed among the examinees. These invigilators allegedly passed on answers to the students.

Mahanta said other invigilators allegedly used cellphones during the test for personal conversation, creating disturbance in the exam halls. The ban will also help create a peaceful atmosphere in the exam halls, he added.

Other electronic gadgets such as calculators will also not be allowed inside the exam halls.

Officers-in-charge or head of the institutions selected as exam centres will be responsible for enforcing the ban.

Mahanta said Seba would also conduct public meetings near different examination centres on February 16 or 17 seeking the people’s cooperation to prevent cheating.

Parents, guardians and prominent personalities will attend the meetings.

“There will a zero-tolerance policy towards cheating and indiscipline during the matric exams. Seba will disqualify all examination centres (where cheating is detected) from holding the test in 2017 without even giving an opportunity to the centres’ heads to explain,” Mahanta said.

He added that the board would start sending the admit cards to different examination centres from tomorrow.

Seba has verified track records of headmasters of several schools before entrusting them with the responsibility of managing matric examination centres in their respective schools this year.

The exercise was carried out following complaints that some headmasters or principals allowed their school’s matric candidates to resort to unfair practices.

The board normally appoints headmasters or principals as the centres-in-charge of their own schools during the matric examination every year.

 
By DAULAT RAHMAN

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Guwahati, Feb. 7: The first shipment of paraffin wax exported by Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) is scheduled to reach its destination in Nepal tomorrow.

A truck carries the wax to Kathmandu. Picture by NRL

The wax was shipped on Friday, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated NRL’s new wax plant to the nation.

A senior NRL official said 15 metric tonnes of wax should reach Kathmandu by tomorrow if there are no road blockades. “The total contract was of 60 metric tonnes and it is a good start for us,” the official said.

The company says their wax plant is designed to produce superior-quality paraffin and semi-microcrystalline wax and is a worthy manifestation of the Make in India campaign of the Centre.

The official said the order has been placed by a trader in Nepal, who used to import wax from China and Iran.

The North East Hydrocarbon Vision Document 2030, which will be released by petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Tuesday here, has stated in its draft report that the region can be developed as a wax hub by promoting the candle manufacturing industry in the region. Currently, NRL is the largest wax producing unit in the country.

Proximity with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan will ensure a ready market for export for the candles made in the small-scale industries in the Northeast, the document states.

Currently, a major part of the country’s annual demand for paraffin wax, along with the entire demand for microcrystalline wax, is being met through imports. NRL’s wax plant will minimise the supply deficit in the domestic market substantially, thus reducing imports. Indian Oil Corporation’s (IOC) Digboi refinery and Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd, a group company of IOC, also produce paraffin wax in India.

NRL had signed an agreement with Nepal-based Birat Petroleum Private Limited (BPPL) in 2014 at Kathmandu for sale of motor spirit and high-speed diesel (HSD) but, according to sources, the supply has still not started owing to various reasons.

The refinery’s product range includes LPG, naphtha, motor spirit, aviation turbine fuel, superior kerosene, high-speed diesel, raw petroleum coke, calcined petroleum coke and sulphur.

Most of these products are sold in markets outside the region.

The company is also trying to lay a 135km product pipeline from its terminal at Siliguri to Parbatipur in Bangladesh to facilitate sustained export of motor spirit and high-speed diesel.

 
By ROOPAK GOSWAMI