The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 28-03-2023 | 11:45 am
A bank account with over Rs 1 lakh that was ‘mistakenly’ linked to his Aadhaar number two years ago has cost Jeetrai Samant his freedom.The 42-year-old beedi worker, from Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, has been arrested by the state police for allegedly withdrawing the money that belonged to a woman, whose bank account was linked to his Aadhaar number erroneously.Samant came to know of the money two years ago, as Covid cast its shadow across the nation, through a Common Service Centre. The centres serve as access points for delivery of essential public services, welfare schemes, etc in rural and remote areas of the country. According to sources familiar with the probe, the CSC also had a bank representative to help withdraw money that a beneficiary might have in his or her account.But the law caught up with Samant last September, when the manager of Jharkhand Rajya Gramin Bank received a complaint from an account holder named Shrimati Laguri regarding money disappearing from her account. The manager wrote to the authorities and, on discovering the error that had taken place, asked Samant to return the money. Since he was unable to do so, an FIR was lodged against him in October under IPC section 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) in the district’s Muffasil police station.Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Shekhar told The Indian Express: “Samant was arrested on March 24. There was a mistake and his Aadhaar got linked to someone else’s account, but he did not return the amount. He allegedly paid a bribe at the CSC point so no one else would get to know. (When police issued a notice about the issue) he wrote a letter to us saying he believed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent him money.”Bank manager Manish Kumar told The Indian Express: “Earlier, Bank of India used to sponsor the Gramin Bank, and now SBI does it. So the entire data was merged with SBI in April 2019, and it was during this process that Samant’s Aadhaar number got accidentally linked with someone else’s bank account. The woman did not complain earlier, else we could have stopped it.” He said it was “difficult” to pin blame on a single bank official.A UIDAI official, requesting anonymity, said: “This is clearly the bank’s mistake. The UIDAI has no role in it.”From October to March, Samant received three notices to appear before the police under CrPC section 41 A, under which police can arrest a person without a warrant in case he fails to appear before the court or the police since he is an accused.The Indian Express had spoken to Samant in December, before his arrest. At the time, he claimed: “During the first lockdown, everyone in the village was checking the amount in their Aadhaar-linked account numbers as it was announced that people would receive something. I put my thumb on the reading machine and it showed a balance as Rs 1,12,000. I rushed to the Gramin Bank, but could not find any money having been credited there. When I asked them about it, they told me the government would have sent the amount.”Police have claimed he withdrew Rs 2 lakh.Samant, a father of six children, said he kept withdrawing the money during the lockdown since he was in financial distress and believed it had come from the government.In response to one of the police notices, Samant had written to Superintendent of Police, Chaibasa, Ashutosh Shekhar in December. He claimed: “During the lockdown, there was a talk in the village that the Modi government is giving money in the account. My Aadhaar-based account showed Rs 1 lakh. The bank manager said I could withdraw the money. Now a case has been registered against me. I am not at fault. Without my knowledge, my Aadhaar was linked to someone else’s bank account. For the last two years, the bank did not even inform me.”Sub-inspector Ratu Oraon of Pandrasali observation point told The Indian Express: “After receiving the first notice, Samant did come to the police station, but he did not commit to returning the amount. Obviously there was a mistake when his Aadhaar got linked with Shrimati Laguri’s account number, but it was his moral responsibility not to withdraw the amount.”Asked why the arrest was not made earlier, Oraon said: “This was not an urgent case.”He added that Samant’s account originally had only Rs 650, but he kept withdrawing amounts ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 5,000. “Even during withdrawals, the name of the account holder must have appeared, but he chose to ignore that.”
At Pune’s prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), students from the 2020 batch went on a hunger strike on March 15. They were protesting against the institute’s directions to one of their batchmates: repeat the semester “on account of failure to meet attendance and credit completion requirements”.Twelve days later, on May 26, the hunger strike was called off after five students were hospitalised. However, 42 others continue to boycott classes in protest. The batchmate repeating the semester as a supernumerary student with the next batch, they said, would mean that he would not be allowed to participate in any major group assignments. Since each student in a group has a fixed role to play in the practical exercises, he will have nothing to show for when he graduates, they added. An Academic Council meeting on the students’ demand — to allow him to continue with the current batch — is scheduled for Tuesday.The protest is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues plaguing FTII. In 2015, the students went on a 139-day strike against the appointment of TV actor Gajendra Chauhan as its chairperson. The protest attracted national attention, causing the government much embarrassment. At that time, there were five batches (2008 to 2013) of the film wing on campus instead of three. FTII had received flak then due to students overstaying on campus: some batches have taken as long as seven years to finish their three-year diploma. The administration had blamed the lockdown for the overcrowding.FTII Registrar Sayyid Rabeehashmi told The Indian Express, “The single reason for parallel batches on campus at present is the lockdown. FTII, along with Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, took the decision to have parallel batches on campus instead of announcing zero years in the larger interest of aspiring storytellers.”However, the students alleged that lack of resources — studios, equipment and teaching staff — were to blame for the presence of parallel batches on campus.Trouble with revised syllabusIn June 2016, FTII implemented its revised syllabus and introduced the choice-based credit system (CBCS) system. The institute had earlier revised the syllabus in 2000. However, the 2000 revision led to delays in completion of courses on time. Following demands to fix these delays, the syllabus was revised once again and the changes were implemented in 2016.The administration had claimed that the latest revised syllabus would help students finish their courses on time and prevent a backlog of parallel batches on campus, which was putting extra pressure on its resources. The CBCS, it felt, would provide students greater freedom of choice, while allowing the administration to stick to the stipulated course durations of three years (two years for screenplay and screen acting diplomas).Nearly six years later, the administration is still grappling with the same problem. There are four batches of film wings on campus. A fifth one, the 2017 batch, is technically yet to finish the course since the results have not been announced, apart from two TV course batches. The admission process for another batch, 2022, is almost complete. The film wing admits 11 students each in seven courses, namely direction and screenplay writing, cinematography, editing, sound recording and sound design, art direction and production design, screen acting, and screen writing. The television wing has four one-year courses, namely direction, electronic cinematography, video editing and sound recording, and television engineering, each admitting 11 students annually.However, students from the batches of 2016 and 2017 have alleged the syllabus revision plan was implemented in a hurry in 2016.“We felt the revised syllabus wasn’t well thought out. For the 2016 batch, the administration kept making changes to the syllabus on the go. Exercises were dropped arbitrarily…. They also dropped the faculty feedback exercise, as envisaged in the original syllabus, after getting spooked due to the poor ratings that some of them were getting. This had led to protests from 2016 and 2017 batches,” said a student from the latter batch.Following protests and adverse feedback from department heads, FTII formed a committee to review the syllabus in December 2019. The outcome of this committee remains unknown. However, the Registrar said the revised syllabus had been working well. “The 2016 batch completed the course on time, but the 2017 batch completed the course in March 2023 due to the lockdown,” he said.Many vacancies, few studiosFaculty vacancies are another big issue affecting FTII. In almost all seven departments of the film wing and four departments of the TV wing, 60 to 80 per cent permanent positions — including heads of four film wings — have been lying vacant.To make up for these shortages, the institute has been increasingly relying on contractual faculty. However, delays in dispersing of salaries — at times till the last week of the month — have caused unhappiness among the contractual staff, some of whom are hired for short durations like two-three months.A few months ago, FTII finally commenced the process to fill these vacancies: dean (television), five vacancies for professors (HoDs), eight associate professors, six assistant professors and 81 vacancies in Classes B and C posts.“The recruitment process is on currently,” said the Registrar.Students have also pointed to the lack of infrastructure at FTII. The institute has just two production studios. This means that only two projects can be done at a time though there are five batches on campus at present. Since 2010, the administration has been talking about constructing two new studios on its land, off Paud Road, but the plans are yet to materialise.A student from the 2017 batch, which finished its final exercise just recently and is waiting for the results, said the lack of resources was primarily responsible for the delays affecting his and the subsequent batches.“Insufficient studios, lack of planning by the administration, understaffed departments and issues related to the syllabus have all caused this backlog. The administration may blame the lockdown but that isn’t the primary reason. The backlog will continue until these issues are resolved,” said the student.However, Rabeehashmi dismissed the allegation. “The statement that the lack of resources is a reason for the backlog is false and baseless. As such, the facilities at the institute are for three batches of film wing and one batch of TV wing. Therefore, the institute has already provisioned for addressing additional requirements to meet the academic exigencies,” the Registrar said, adding that the construction of the proposed studios will commence soon.Interim director, no chairpersonWhile protests by students have returned to FTII, it stick does not have a full-time director. Since the last director, Bhupendra Kainthola, was transferred after a six-year tenure — which included multiple extensions — in December 2021, he hasn’t been replaced yet. Professor Sandip Shahare has been filling in for the director since then.The institute’s governing council, its highest decision-making body, also remains headless. The tenure of director Shekhar Kapur, who was appointed chairperson of the governing council in September 2020, ended on March 3, but the government is yet to reconstitute the FTII Society.“The current protest at the institute is because of a decision taken by the Academic Council. In absence of the FTII Society, the AC has representatives from the administration and ex-officio members, apart from two student representatives. There are no FTII alumni or other members representing creative fields. That’s making the issue difficult to deal with,” said a former office-bearer of FTIISA.
The house of the Tomars is a ghostly ruin. Ransacked and stripped bare since the entire family left for Ahmedabad a decade ago, cobwebs snake up the walls of the two-room haveli and wild growth fill the courtyard. On the walls of one of the rooms on the top floor is a scribble, possibly a portent of the coming storm: “Ranjit ki maut nishchit hai (Ranjit’s death is assured).”A rooftop shooting in 2013 in this haveli in Lepa, a village in Madhya Pradesh’s Morena district, would set in motion a chain of events that ended in six members of the Tomar family being shot dead on Friday, allegedly by their neighbours who were avenging the killings of two of their own a decade ago, police said.Those killed on Friday have been identified as Gajender Singh Tomar, the 60-year-old patriarch of the family, his sons Satyaprakash and Sanju, and daughters-in-law Keshkumari, Babli and Madhu Kumari. Nine of the Tomars, including Gajender’s son Virender, were injured in the attack.Nine people — all members of their neighbour Dhir Singh’s family — have been named in the case. While two of them, Dhir Singh and his relative Rajo Devi, are under arrest, the others are absconding.According to the Morena police, a dispute over dumping agricultural waste at a ground meant for a school had led to Gajender’s son Virender and a distant relative Ranjit allegedly gunning down two men from Dhir Singh’s family.Sources said that as the dispute escalated that day, the Tomars had fired from their rooftop at the two from Dhir Singh’s family who stood below — a decade later, it would be the exact spot, in front of the haveli, where six of the Tomar family would be killed on Friday.According to the FIR, the Tomars, including several children, had boarded a tempo with their belongings and reached Lepa village at 9.30 am. Waiting for them were the accused persons — Dhir Singh, his sons Monu and Ramu carrying wooden sticks; Bhupendra and Ajit, armed with Mouser rifles; Rajjo Devi holding a fistful of cartridges; Sonu and Shamu holding country made pistols; and Surajbhan with an axe.Lepa village is part of Chambal division, a region once infamous for its guns and dacoits. With a population of about 1,700, it’s barely 3 km from Bhidausa village, home to Paan Singh Tomar, the national-champion-turned-dacoit whose life was captured in an award-winning Bollywood film.“My father, grandfather and uncles know how to fire a weapon just like everyone else in my village. We did not come with weapons, we just wanted to return home. If we had rifles, things would be different,” says Ranjana, 17, Gajender’s granddaughter. On Friday, as the attackers dispatched bullets from their Mouser rifles, killing Ranjana’s mother Keshkumari as she tried to shield her husband, the 17-year-old had pulled out her phone to record the attack. Ranjana’s mobile phone is now part of the police’s evidence.Sitting outside the haveli, surrounded by grieving women, Ranjana says the 2013 incident would change their lives forever.Fearful of the consequences, around 20 members of Gajender’s family had fled to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, where he and the other male members worked odd jobs, including as security guards, while the women worked as thread cutters in small garment units. None of the children in the family, including Ranjana and her cousins, ever went to school.However, the 2013 case caught up with Ranjana’s father Virender, who worked as a rickshaw puller in Ahmedabad, and he was arrested in 2021.“After my father’s arrest, my mother and I worked overtime in factories earning Rs 5,000 a month. But then we lost our jobs during the lockdown and things got desperate… That’s when Dhir Singh’s family reached out to us for a compromise,” says Ranjana.Her grandmother, Gajender’s wife Kusuma, 57, said that it was at Morena’s Ambah court, where some of her family members had to appear for the 2013 murder trial, that Dhir Singh’s family allegedly struck a deal: they would turn hostile in exchange for Rs 5 lakh and a home.“My husband kept turning down their offer. But after the lockdown, it became difficult to earn any money. We have 11 women in the family and had to marry the girls off. Going back home seemed to be the only way out,” she says.Ranjana’s cousin Shivani Tomar, 15, lost both her parents in Friday’s attack.“I was four years old when my family left for Gujarat. My father lost his right leg in a train accident and my mother ran the household. She used to earn Rs 250 every day cutting thread. The pandemic made it extremely difficult for us. My grandparents and parents wanted to get me and my cousins married. They said we need to come back home for that. But I wish we hadn’t,” she says.Following Friday’s killings, multiple teams of the Madhya Pradesh Police have been scouring the state to arrest the seven absconding accused.ASP (Morena) Raisingh Narwariya told The Indian Express that the investigation has found that none of the nine accused owned a gun license. “We need to recover the weapon of offence, the accused did not have a gun license. There are around 27,000 weapons registered in Morena. Usually, two to four incidents of firing take place in a month over property disputes. But in my two-year tenure, this is the first time such a murder has taken place,” he said.
In his flowing blue bana (a blue attire), a kirpan (sword) tucked into the broad belt (kamar kassa) and a boar-tooth necklace around his neck, the 31-year-old would seem more at home in a chauni (cantonment) than his swish Mohali office.A high-powered executive with a popular OTT app that promotes regional content, he said he wanted to remain unnamed as he believes his attire comes with “great responsibility”. Recalling what influenced him to become a Nihang, he said, “While studying in the United Kingdom (around 10 years ago), I saw British Sikh boys wearing banas and carrying kirpans. I was struck by how deeply the British Sikh community was attached to its culture and roots. I felt embarrassed about not embracing my own culture and decided to start wearing a bana,” he said.A warrior sect known to be aggressive in its defence of faith, Nihangs are prescribed a disciplined way of life (rehat), resulting in many of them leading traditional, austere lives. Yet, like the 31-year-old executive, a growing number of them are finding their own ways to express themselves — on social media and in their professional lives — while staying true to their faith.Sahildeep Singh, a second-year music student at Punjabi University, Patiala, said he decided to become a Nihang during the Covid-19 lockdown. “During the lockdown, the police would not allow people to step out of their homes. But I would go to Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) every day by sidestepping all the barriers. It was at Darbar Sahib that I met some Nihangs. They inspired me to become one of them,” said the 20-year-old.Moving around in his traditional attire, Sahildeep breaks many stereotypes on the Punjabi University campus. “Initially, some students were taken aback when they saw me, but now few give me a second look. Anyway, no one has ever objected to my traditional attire on campus,” he said, adding that he is not attached to one jathebandi (body) and likes to visit different centres to learn from all.Over the past few years, Nihangs have often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. In October 2021, a group of Nihangs claimed responsibility for the murder of a 35-year-old man at the Singhu border during the farmers’ protest. The man had allegedly disrespected the Sikh holy book. In April 2020, Nihangs had attacked a Punjab Police party in Patiala and chopped off the hand of an assistant sub-inspector when stopped for a curfew pass in the midst of the lockdown.These incidents, says author Jagdeep Singh Faridkot, often end up stereotyping the community. “It is a stereotype that Nihangs only fight. There have been Nihang scholars in every stream. They are singers, writers, poets and even teachers. But the world mostly sees them as soldiers stuck in the past. Nihangs are unaffected by modernity but our minds have become incapable of understanding something that is not ‘so-called modern,” says Faridkot, a 40-year-old whose novel on Nihangs, Hane Hane Patshahi, has made him one of the bestselling Punjabi authors.Arvinder Singh, also called Nikka Singh, is pursuing his master’s degree in philosophy from Punjabi University, Patiala. Besides studying, he has also penned a book on Nihang poems and is reprinting old literature.“Arvinder Singh is the name given to me by my parents. Nikka Singh is the name given to me by the Dal Panth (a Nihang community),” the 25-year-old shared. He added that he was inspired to become a Nihang during the 2012 Hola Mohalla, a three-day festival started by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, in the 17th century.“It dawned on me that a bana is not just a robe but a blessing by Guru Gobind Singh,” he said, talking of the moment he decided to turn to spirituality and the Nihang way of life.He added, “Many people think that Nihangs and universities have nothing in common. The truth is that Nihangs have played the role of teachers as well. Balwant Gargi (a famous Punjabi writer) wrote in his biography that a Nihang used to come to his village to teach children and that he received his first Gurmukhi lesson while the Nihang sat astride his horse.”Tejbeer Singh was pursuing a diploma in civil engineering from a college in Fatehgarh Sahib when he came in contact with Udna Dal, a Nihang jathebandi.“I can’t say for sure what attracted me to become a Nihang, but I have been with the Udna Dal for about eight years now. There is no specific reason why I became a Nihang. All I know is that a Nihang can have no motive other than serving Akal (the Timeless Being),” said the 24-year-old.Calling it seva (service), Tejbeer said he works in the stable at Udna Dal. Active on Facebook earlier, he has gone offline now. He said it was because he understood that being a Nihang meant freedom from material possessions.“My relatives are surprised to know that I take care of horses despite having a diploma in civil engineering. Little do they know that a stableman was appointed as a Nawab in the 18th century (Nawab Kapur Singh, a prominent military chieftain of the Sikh Confederacy). Every Nihang is considered equal and the Guru can shower his kirpa (blessings) on anyone,” he added.Jatinder Singh Bazidpur is a Nihang who works at a Nawanshahr-based private firm that specializes in immigration consultancy services. The 26-year-old said his company was founded by a highly qualified Nihang who had received job offers from numerous universities but had turned them down. Stating that priority for Nihangs was the Dal Panth, Bazidpur said he knows many Nihangs who prioritize their faith even as they work in offices or run their own businesses.Bazidpur, who became a Nihang seven years ago, said it is common for Nihangs to avoid publicity and maintain a distance from the outside world. However, he added, social media has touched their lives too.Several Facebook and Instagram pages run by admirers or acquaintances of Nihang jathebandia have started gaining popularity. Instagram handles like ‘Nihanglife’ and Facebook pages like ‘Budhadalfouj’, which have 66,500 and 47,000 followers respectively, show the life of Nihangs to bust myths about their stereotypical image.Kuljit Kaur Khalsa, a 28-year-old resident of Ludhiana, manages a Facebook page named ‘Ladlian Faujan (Guru’s Beloved Army)’. Her page, which has nearly 68,000 followers, contains posts on Nihangs grooming their horses, preparing langar (community meals), meeting followers, their language, etc. Khalsa, whose family is a devotee of Baba Joginder Singh, is a kavishri, a singer of Punjabi folk music and ballads about valour. She said social media pages like hers help people understand and appreciate Nihangs better.
When he was 18, like many young men in the state, Diganta Das left his home in Assam to look for work in Bangalore. Despite more than a decade of work in South India, the pandemic brought him back home with no money in his wallet. But what he did have was the knowledge of how to make a good Malabar parotta.Now, with a six-month-old parotta manufacturing unit, 32-year-old Das is selling packaged parottas – a once unfamiliar food item – every day to residents of Upper Assam.“I’m the first businessman in my family,” said Das, a resident of Biswanath Chariali. His father was a farmer and, after completing school, he travelled to Bangalore in 2009 to supplement his family’s income.Over the years, he did many jobs in many cities: room service at hotels; security work in Mumbai; painting machines at a construction company; coconut husking; and, most crucially, various stints at parotta-making and packaging units.In early 2020, his friend Suriya Thapa from Tinsukia in Assam, who he had met in Bangalore and had also worked in parotta manufacturing units, decided to take the skills he had picked up to start his own such unit.Das joined him in marketing. They identified Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh as a market with less competition and Thapa set up shop. But it was just a month before the pandemic and the national lockdown struck.Along with the crash in business, Das had another worry: his wife back home was due to give birth soon. The baby was born while he was in Andhra Pradesh.“The day the lockdown lifted, I rushed home. When I finally met my baby, she was a month old and I barely had Rs 10 in my wallet. That is when my mind began working on how I should set up something here,” he said.Two years ago, he met Faizul Hoque, who too had set up a parotta-making unit in his home in Udalguri in Assam, and began selling his product in the market around his hometown.It was six months ago that he decided to take the plunge and start a unit of his own in Biswanath Chariali.His old friend Suriya Thapa, whose business in Vijayawada continues, lent him a hand. “I helped him out with his investments. It’s not a formal business partnership, more like helping a friend out,” he said.“When I first entered this market, the parotta was not really a product that was known. But there are some shops in my town that accepted me and liked my product and began carrying it in their stores,” said Das.With a staff of 18, Das says he earns enough to meet his business expenses. The next step, he hopes, is profits.
Director Anubhav Sinha reflected on the noise around his latest film, Bheed, and said that he is not going to avert his eyes from the reality. Bheed underperformed at the box office, after several days of sustained controversy around its subject matter. The film is set in the earliest stages of the first Covid-induced lockdown in 2020. In an interview with Galatta Plus, Anubhav said that he is currently in an ‘angry and disheartened’ mood, but he isn’t ‘scared’. Asked how he deals with depressive phases, he said, “I stand up and look them in the eyes… I am just staring back.”The trouble for Bheed, starring Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar among others, began after the release of the first trailer, which opened with a snippet of PM Narendra Modi’s speech announcing the lockdown, which was ultimately removed from the film, in addition to several swear words and shots from a sex scene. He acknowledged that he ran into ‘some complications’ with the trailer, but said that any inferences being made about the films being a criticism of the government, and those in charge of making decisions, is ‘an overprotective view of I don’t know who’.Anubhav compared the censorship process with that of his other films. He said, “In Mulk, I had a 90-minute discussion with the examining committee. Normally, it takes five minutes. In Article 15, the examining committee had to refer it to the revising committee, because they did not have a consensus. Things happened. Thappad was the cleanest one, in terms of process. Even Anek was fine. This one came out, it was written about, and it was about a big man that people like to write about.”He continued, “The Cinematograph Act itself… Most acts are open to interpretation. Sometimes, it depends on who’s interpreting that law… In Thappad, I got away with the F-word with a U/A certificate. This time, I didn’t. I had to change it to ‘damn’. I’m happy to change some. I use a lot of cuss words in day-to-day life, but I’m not an advocate of it… But two F-words that got deleted I wasn’t terribly happy about. It wasn’t the cuss words really, but a couple of small little things that shouldn’t have had a bearing on anybody, but did. If you see the film, it’s not about the timing of the lockdown, it’s not about anything. And you end up seeing the administration in a good light; the hero is a cop. But sometimes, it’s tougher than the rest.”Bheed also stars Pankaj Kapur, Ashutosh Rana and Kritika Kamra. The film is currently playing in theatres.