A slice of Naga in Chennai

Sneha Kanchan

Chennai, March 4: Thursday afternoons can be lazy for restaurants with the mid-week lull hitting them. But not for Ramayon Keishing’s North East Kitchen. The restaurant, a blink-and-miss restaurant tucked in a nondescript lane in Egmore, is abuzz with activity. With customers flocking in, the kitchen hustles to dish out the next plate of authentic north eastern flavours.

North East Kitchen in Egmore is one of the few restaurants in the city that has authentic north eastern dishes on its menu. Picture Credits: Sneha Kanchan

“I didn’t want to complicate the name. The name reflects why I started the restaurant 4 years ago,” said 50-year-old Keishing, a Manipuri Naga. Having embraced Chennai as his home for 25 years, he said he wanted to bring down a piece of his home for Chennaiites to taste. The restaurant specializes in north eastern cuisine, with specific emphasis on dishes from Manipur and Nagaland. It also serves Japanese and Korean dishes.  

Keishing came to Chennai with a post graduate degree in commerce from the Delhi University and a will to study for the civil services exam. After dropping that plan, he worked at an NGO for about 7 years and later at Hyundai before wanting to start something of his own. The Korean and Japanese connect goes back to his 10-year stint with Hyundai as the gathering department’s general manager in the outskirts of Chennai. “My colleagues would make me try dishes from their countries and I really loved them. I knew the flavours but I didn’t know how to cook those dishes. That’s when Youtube and Google helped me,” he said. From ramen to sushi to dishes accompanied with radish and cabbage kimchi, the menu boasts an interesting miscellany of Japanese and Korean dishes today.

Hailing from Sorathen, an obscure village in Manipur just a few kilometers from the Myanmar border, he wanted the dishes from that area and the traditional values attached to them to be the heroes of his menu. For instance, the menu has a traditional Naga dish called Sarao- a preparation using the neck portion of the cow or pork which is served at meetings when significant deals are being brokered and signed between two tribes or villages.

Another dish that he’s planning to include in the menu was Yala Ain, which again, has a strong traditional Naga connect. Different parts of meat, he said, were saved for different family members. The belly, beef or pork, which is one of the best parts, is reserved for the sister. “Mainly because she gets married and leaves the house. Whenever she is in the house, the best part is reserved for her. I want to include preparations like that in the menu,” said Keishing.

The prices of the dishes are slightly on the higher end with a bowl of Korean vegetable Ramyun noodles costing Rs. 330. Keishing has an explanation for that. “A lot of ingredients that go into these recipes are imported from Korea and Japan as they aren’t readily available. The sausages, fish oil, sesame oil, wasabi, some types of noodles like Ramyun are all imported,” he said.

North East Kitchen has built itself a solid fan base. Most of his customers have been his promoters, he said.   

Nilo, a history post-graduate student from Loyola College who has been in Chennai since the past two years, mentioned how he came to the joint whenever he missed home food.  He, who’ll be going back home in April, said the restaurant was a good find in Chennai. “There is Naga Reju in Choolaimedu that serves cheap food and bigger quantities but there are certain dishes that this place cooks better than that one,” said Nilo.

 Washi, a native of Nagaland who is currently studying in Chennai, quipped about the high price. “The food is authentic which is why we keep coming back. The beef fried rice and the beef with bamboo shoot is very close to what we get at home,” she said.

Keishing runs the place as a family business with his family chipping in in whatever ways they can. His sister, a school teacher in the same area, helps him with the orders after her work hours. His wife helps with the cooking sometimes. He has also brought down five more people from his village to help him out, some of whom study at nearby colleges and help him part-time. 

He laments the ignorance of some people tagging natives from the north east as ‘Chinese’ or ‘Korean.’ An ardent south Indian food enthusiast who loves eating idli and sambhar at Saravana Bhanvan and Krishan Bhavan, Keishing hopes that someday that his food joint will bridge the gap someday. 60% of his customer base, he said, were locals. “My main aim is get our food to mainland India and capture the heart of Chennai,” he added.

What we had

Vegetable Rumyun Noodles and Pork Fried Rice. The side dishes – groundnuts fried with sugar, Banana stem (ironba), radish kimchi, spinach, green squash with beans (chow chow), sprouts salad and clear vegetable soup (kung soi)

Gurudakshina: A pricey bestowal?

Vidushi Sagar

Chennai, March 8: Her eyes skim over the ten pairs of feet. They dance in sacred synchronization. The Ghungroos chime in a fast paced rhythm, to the steady beat of the Taadam (wooden stick) that Radhika Shurajit hits on the ground. A Bharatanatyam guru, she talks about the unfair modern practices around Gurudakshina.

Gurudakshina is a practice that dates back to the Gurukula system, in which the Guru would be voluntary given a ‘Dakshina’ or fees cum offering for the teaching and guiding they did. Today, this ritual still exists in the classical performing arts, which have now been commercialized.

Increasing amounts of people are becoming interested in learning classical art forms. However, the demand of expensive presents from students becomes a hindrance to many learners from the lower and middle stratas of society.

In Bharatanatyam, Gurudakshina comes to light whenever an Arangetram is performed. An Arangetram is a ‘coming-out’ performance, which marks the start of a professional career for a dancer. It is often an extravagant affair, costing the student anywhere between 3 to 5 lakh in current times.

Radhika Shurajit, a Bharatanatyam guru with over 30 years of experience, says that Gurudakshina is a way of maintaining some of the rituals around the artform. It is voluntary and depends on what the shishya (student) wants to give to her Guru. “However, it definitely creates pressure,” she adds.

Radhika is the first and senior most disciple of the Dhananjayans, a revered dancing duo consisting of Vannadil Pudiyaveettil and Shanta Dhananjaya. She has also been taught by Padma BhushanKalanidhi Narayan. Her wide, kohl-lined eyes twinkle as she recalls her own experience with her Gurus.

“I was blessed to have met the Dhananjayans. I belonged to a middle income group family and my gurus exempted me from any fees or Gurudakshina,” she says.                                                                                                                                 

But, she has had many students who came to learn from her after facing problems with their previous Gurus.

“I have a student, Deeptika* whose Guru refused to attend her Arangetram minutes before it was to start, until a diamond bracelet was gifted to him,” she says.

“Another student of mine, Lakshmi*, has a Guru who demands gold from her every year under the guise of Gurudakshina. Even at own her wedding, he demanded jewellery from her. I remember it being very problematic for her at that time as she was already under financial stress,” she states.

Shukti Yadav is a student who came to Chennai from Delhi for six months to practice for her Arangetram. She has had a similar experience with Gurudakshina.

She refused to name her guru but says that those six months were financially very difficult for her family.

“My guru never missed an opportunity to demand things from me. He demanded jewellery, clothes and hefty amounts of cash, before the Arangetram. He did so not just for himself, but for his wife as well,” she recalls.

Apart from that, her guru had also been in charge of arranging her arangetram. According to her, every day he’d come up with new costs and never let her family look into the details despite the fact that they were paying the money, she adds.

 “He’d get offended whenever we touched the topic,” she says.

 Radhika confirms Shukti’s experience with many she has seen firsthand.

According to her, Gurus are set into arrangements with the musicians and organizers. They ask for a higher amount of money from the student than what is actually being paid for the program.

“Whenever one of my students perform an Arangetram, I arrange everything but I also make sure they know where their money is being spent, while also keeping them in touch with everyone involved,” she says.

Shanmuga Sundaram is a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer. He is a disciple of Smt. K. J. Sarasa, and whose school he now runs after her demise. He talks about having many colleagues who have faced similar problems.

“Some of these Gurus forget that Gurudakshina is essentially a voluntary practice. They never miss an opportunity to rope in money through a pure practice meant to form a bond between the shishya and guru,” he says.

He, however, feels lucky to have been on the other side of the spectrum for his teacher turned out to be too generous. “She would not take money from poorer students, and even arranged arangetrams for them,” he recollects.

According to Ms. Shutje, despite people who shame the practice by such measures, there are people who uphold it.
“True artists are a dying breed, but they are not dead yet,” she smiles.

Rainwater Harvesting system still a long way to go

Sravani Nellore

Chennai, Mar 7: Only about 50% of the buildings in the city have rain water harvesting systems in the city, says Sekhar Raghavan, director of Rain Centre, an organisation that is working on alternatives for storing water.

Abhishek Karanam, an IT employee staying in Nungambakkam, was one of many residents who didn’t receive water for two days last month. “We were supplied bore water initially, but it was too salty to use for anything. Later, we purchased water from private water tankers,” he said. When asked about the rainwater harvesting system, he was clueless.

According to the Tamil Nadu Combined Development and Building Rules that was released last month during the Budget, every building has to set up a RHW system. The rule was made keeping in view the impending water crisis in the city.

But, this is not the first time such a rule has come out. Sekhar says, “As per 2002 law, RHWs were mandatory in every building in the State. By 2004, almost every household in Chennai had a sump to collect the water. But the structures, that resembled bore wells, were poorly designed. Its intake was low, and it overflowed and clogged often. Seeing this, the people switched to borewells. The bore wells are dug deep into the ground, where, rainwater that would have seeped in through cracks, is drawn. The water is usually very salty and is not recommended by us.”

Photo Credit: DTNEXT

As the older RHW systems didn’t last longer than three years, Sekhar’s team filed an audit to the government, recommending an improvised structure, called recharge wells. The State government has asked the citizens to incorporate the changes suggested by Sekhar’s report.

Rajasekharan, an official at the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board, said that there is a lack of knowledge about the benefits of the RWHs. He says, “Chennai doesn’t have many options to fall back on. The water table(the height of groundwater) in many areas is dipping day by day. All the water that the city gets, comes from the rains. It is sensible that we store the rainwater to escape the crisis, but the people here hesitate to install it. Every owner spends lakhs on having a parking slot and a garden, but installing a RHW is considered a waste.”

 “In coastal areas like Chennai, if the rainwater is not collected, the water goes directly into the sea and gets wasted. We cannot afford to waste water in this way. It is the responsibility of the government to check on the implementation of the law. When it was not done in 15 years, what can be expected now?, he asked.

Water Crisis shows gap between rich and poor

Sonam Choki

Chennai,  March 7: People queuing up for hours before a water tanker and a tap are common in slums whereas a hotels using a lot of water for their swimming pools, laundry, and guest room is seen in Chennai.

According to a report in Times of India, states that three-star hotels use 199 litres and four-star hotels use 292 litres of water on each guest night.

On the other hand it is difficult for slum dwellers to get drinking water once in three days. The Urur Olcott fishing slum at Besant Nagar is one of the slums with poor water supply. They get drinking water from the corporation three or four times a week which is very less for them. As they are facing inadequate water supply, they have to buy water which costs around Rs. 35 per jerry cane.

Raja Kannu one of the slum dwellers said “We earn very less and on top of that half of the earning goes for water which makes our living more difficult”.

“If there is money, there is water. No money means no water” said Pallani Swami, a slum dweller at Saidapet.

The water shortage also adds to the problem of sanitation, where people have to defecate in open area. The toilets inside the community are poorly maintained with no suitable water supply inside toilets. Whenever, they visit toilets they have to carry water along. The Corporation has failed to provide a functional sewage connection because of this sewage from homes collects on the beaches which adversely affect the groundwater.

S. Jaswinder a slum dweller at Saidapet said “The past four days, we didn’t have water and when we did get it is very little.” The water lorry comes on alternate days or after two days. We are able to fill only few buckets of water.

Sometimes we literally have to fight to fill a few buckets of water, he added.

Poor slum dwellers of Saidapet cannot have their own water pumps but they have built a community tank, which they use for their water needs whenever they face a crisis. However, the maintenance and cleaning of the tank is poor.

We don’t get clean water and boiling water everyday consumes wood or gas, or we have to pay extra electricity bills. A lot of people avoid the critical step of cleansing the water and put their families at serious health risks, said Kannu at Besant Nagar.

While hotels, industries and well-off families use a lot of water for leisure purpose for poor people, it’s difficult to get drinking water. The water crisis is most common among the poor at present but if the water is not used properly the situation may become worst.

Swimming pool at Residential area, Thiruvanmiyur| Sonam Choki

According to a report in Indian Express “The city records a 55 per cent deficit in rainfall last monsoon season, reservoirs are running dangerously low and ground water resources are under immense strain. Studies indicate that ground water levels across the city have reduced further by an average of 1-1.5 metres below the ground level since July.

Similarly, the report in Times of India states that the water levels in Thiruvanmiyur have dipped to 6.22 metres.

IT wing in parties gearing up for the Lok Sabha elections

Vivanesh Parthiban

Chennai, March 8: With over 300 million users on Facebook, Twitter and other social media in India, IT wing or the social media wing in all parties play an important role in the election arena today. Social media is now like a war ground for many parties approaching the Lok Sabha elections 2019 after social media had a huge impact on the Lok Sabha election in 2014.

The three main function of an IT wing in a party are:

1. Making registration forms accessible for all the people in the region they are allocated

2. Combining the Voter ID and party ID so that they can reach the real voter base that votes for a party

3. Social media propaganda for a party and publishing all events that take place daily in the party.

“BJP is the first party to make use of the cyber space to attract a huge vote bank” says CPI (M) spokesperson Sindhan.” IT wing as a term looks more aggressive than a social media wing of a party because only some parties in Tamil Nadu recruit people for these operations”, he said. “# Go Back Modi and other tags against BJP shows all the parties have now an equal presence in cyber space”, he added.

NTK (Naam Tamilar party) social media wing head Packiarajan said,” we don’t recruit people for our social media wing rather younger party member out of interest maintain the party website. He said,” we are not paid for this work and we work in different sectors for livelihood, even some Diaspora members from different parts of the world in the party help us to maintain the websites 24*7.” He also added that” There is a competition between the IT wing of every party that who is covering a huge section of the social media”.” For every constituency we have around five persons who look after the Facebook handle of our party in the area”, he said. The constant problem which they face is spreading of fake news on behalf of the party by other unofficial twitter and Facebook handle.

Senior IT wing member Sathya in the MNM Kamal Hassan party said,” every month around 30,000 members register to our party via social media and application based registration”. He said,” we are the first to introduce a Whistle blower app in Tamil Nadu called ’Maiam whistle’ where people can give complaints about  the civic issue or the corruption issues. He added that we have an app called Maiam Connect which connect party members booth from every booth. With a pride he said,” our party leader Kamal Hassan is the person who is the most active political leader on twitter and he has huge intellectual following.

Aspire Swaminathan who worked as a IT Wing head in the AIADMK in 2016 legislature election said,” we have now software that uses artificial intelligence and data analytics that can gauge voters pulse , this moves the election fight to the virtual space but every party has to equip them with the necessary technology to compete in this race.”

Radha Krishnan, Journalist in Frontline said,” the online polls and data analytics are new tools when BJP used it in 2014 but now every party has a organized social media cell to counter other parties”. He also added that party winning votes in an online poll nowadays only shows the strength of their IT wings. He gave an example where in an online poll held by him in twitter MNM came next to DMK shows there is a huge difference between the result in real world and the virtual. This also confirms bots being used by different parties IT cell in these online polls.

One-fourth of the electorate is less than 30 years old and about 45 per cent of the electorate is less than 40 years old. The trend of these youngsters attending public meetings of political parties has totally declined. Their entire decision-making process is based on what they are seeing and listening in social media so IT wing in parties has a huge role in coming elections. The recent hacking of BJP national website shows how the parties are waging a war in cyber space ahead of election. The tragic thing is election commission doesn’t have a effective rule to monitor these social media wing of parties.

Are co-working spaces the future for the urban employee?

Anushka Deepak

Upcoming co-working spaces in Chennai | Credits: The Hacker Street

CHENNAI, March 8: With the start-up culture booming in urban India, the culture of co-working spaces is growing. The country’s modern workforce is challenging the archaic and impersonal office setup.

Getting into a space, searching for your workplace and bumping into strangers asking each other addresses is an experience no professional setup can offer. A gym where you can share your pumping fitness passion with the people you see every day but don’t know on a personal level and cafe to just relax and share your ideas and thoughts to enhance your knowledge is all that a co-working space enables you to get, all under one roof.

Rising above the cramped cubicles, today’s professionals are getting inclined towards flexibility and fluidity in the workplace.Small-medium co-working space providers understand the need for mergers with larger companies to enhance their services as compared to the increasing demand.

When small businesses realise that the bigger game changers are about to compete with them, they prefer a merged office space for expansion. Earlier, when the food tech industry realised that Uber cab service is coming up with their own online food delivery service, Food Panda decided to collaborate with Ola cabs and create a bigger market for themselves.

In Chennai, every company has an established setup if they’re standing in the market for long enough, but nowadays even the bigger ones are shifting into co-working spaces to join hands with the smaller firms doing well for themselves. With these space providers trying to grow their market, more IT company areas will be their main target areas.

Workafella: a co-working space provider at Perungudi | Credits: Workafella

‘Workafella’ is one such co-working space provider in Chennai that has 9,000 seats in three cities so far. “Chennai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru are the hub of start-ups as of now. Our co-working company has become a leading co-working space provider in the South, and hosts workplaces envisioned for great ideas and inspired collaborations,” said Founder and Managing Director GurbinderRattha.

The provider opened its first branch at TTK Road in 2016. Looking at its success, a second branch sprang up in the bustling IT area on Old Mahabalipuram Road, Perungudi. To find a niche, Gurbinder claims Workafella was the first to offer a 24/7 office space with no hidden costs.

Inspiring productivity

An ideal workspace should not be warm and cozy like home, but should be functional and efficient so as to create a working environment. This doesn’t mean that it should be a place where there will be no relaxation for oneself. “Customizing your workspace according to your taste and mood can be done without altering the entire theme. Combine comfort and seriousness to build a productive workspace, where your creative juices can flourish and that is exactly what we aim on doing,” said Rattha. “And there are many takers. Within two months of launch in Hyderabad, the space was filled to capacity, and the company had to set up other two other co-working spaces.”

Gurbinder explains that nuanced spaces were created for each city, keeping in mind the local culture, food habits, and social norms. An example of a region-specific requirement is a terrace space for musicians and DJs to perform in the Bengaluru co-working spots. The spaces that Workafella doesn’t own are taken over on long-term leases and completely transformed to appeal to that particular city’s young professionals.

Future of Work

It is expected that investments of $400 million per year for the next five years will be poured in the co-working space.

At the inaugural day of the eighth TechSparks on 22nd September 2017, Director WeWork India Karan Virwani said in his talk on ‘Future of the Workspace’ that it is this factor that they are banking on for the success of co-working spaces in the world. “Contrary to what people think that with the advent of robots and AI human interactions will become rare, we believe that the future of the workspace is bright,” he said.

Karan Virwani’s WeWork India changing the work space game | Credits: WeWork India

Just like owning a car is no more important, traditional workspaces are also on a way out. As per the data provided by CRE MATRIX, leasing of co-working spaces in 2017 had gone up at an excellent pace, and the trend is bound to continue.

Expert researchers are of the opinion, that co-working culture could be a positive step in the future, which has less to do with the number of labour hours and more to do with hospitality and productivity.


Tanya Khandelwal

Chennai, March 7: There is an urgent need to look at the state of women’s safety across India, especially in its metro cities, ahead of International Women’s Day. Simply marking a date and turning a blind eye to the rising incidence of crimes against women would only anchor the problem deeper in society.

According to data on the rate of crimes against women across cities released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2016, Chennai ranks 18th on a list of 19 cities, which gives it the tag of a relatively safe city as compared to other Indian cities. Being an IT hub, the city also has a female migrant population who move here for work or education, making them vulnerable outsiders.

However, there has been a spurt in the cases of crimes like rape, stalking and harassment over time with more and more number of cases being reported.Cases of marital discord ending in murders and instances of acid attacks also get reported.


Recently, a 60-year-old woman, a resident of Satyamoorthy Nagar here, was raped by three teenagers who broke into her house in the early hours of the day, threatening her against disclosing the incident to anyone.

Another case that received a lot of coverage and instilled fear among people was the murder of a city-based actress whose husband murdered her. Police found her chopped body parts in a dump yard in Perungudi.

Cases of young girls being drugged and raped, hacking of women by harassers in full public view and similar incidents has surfaced.


Sanjana Karaya (23), a flight attendant at Indigo, who hails from Bombay but moved to Chennai for her job, said, “There are instances when walking on the streets is unnerving because of stares and verbal harassment. Men here especially think that North Indian girls are ‘easy’, something that is just stupid.” She added that despite a relatively safe workspace, she has felt uneasy going around the city without her local friends due to the constant moral policing pertaining to her westernised way of dressing.

Similarly, Aarushi Vohra (23), a student at Madras School of Economics here, said that she comes from Delhi where the issue of women’s safety is extremely precarious; however the cultural difference makes it difficult for her to live in Chennai due to a more conservative social environment. “We can’t go out at night alone without being judged or followed, and that is made worse by the language barrier that exists,” she said.

“Since I’m an army kid, I’ve had to move around a lot and I think Chennai is by far the safest of the metro cities I’ve lived in, Delhi being the worst. Yes, the society is more conservative here, but I’ve had very few problems on the personal safety front in this city,” said Sneha Vakkala(24), a resident of R.A. Puram.

Most women agreed that Chennai is safer than many other cities, but the fact that they talked about their own sense of safety in relative rather than absolute terms points to the deeply entrenched problem, where complete always remains at arm’s length for women.


Unveiling the Invisible: Chennai Photo Biennale vies for a feminist discourse in photography

The exhibition at Govt. Arts College brings to the forefront the process of reclaiming women’s spaces, bodies and role in the society.

Srinjoy Dey

Chennai, March 1: An almost life-sized photograph of a woman gazes at the passers-by. The lines beneath her eyes suggest exhaustion, the curves of her pressed lips are an indication of an imminent trauma inflicted outburst. She is holding a passport-size picture of a man in his early thirties – her dead husband.

Rajitha holding a photo of her husband P.Ramesh, a tenant  farmer in Bhupalpalli Village, Telengana – who committed suicide in 2016 due to an outstanding loan of Rs. 2,30,000.

The portrait of the widow is one among the 20 picture series by Gurgaon-based writer and photographer Vijay Jodha. The Chennai Photo Biennale exhibition feature in the Govt. Arts College called ‘The First Witness’ captures the process and the consequences of bear witnessing a farmer suicide. The image scale “subverts visual culture in India where large hoardings are a monopoly of the famous and powerful,” says the artist’s note, “the project seeks to contribute towards ensuring that eventually no farmer is left without means or dignity. In that sense, this project is driven by hope rather than despair.”

The Chennai Photo Biennale has the potential to emerge as a landmark photography event in India, with a footfall of over a lakh visitors in its first edition in 2016. Stellar names like P.Sainath, Nalini Malani, Gauri Gill, Atul Bhalla, Anna Fox, National Institute of Design (NID), National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology were associated with this year’s edition from February 22 to March 24.

The work of P.Sainath, who emphasizes on recognizing rural women’s contribution to the economy, was also presented. The project, titled ‘Visible Work, Invisible Woman,’ journaled the stories of rural women who are largely neglected in the public discourse.

P. Sainath’s work is a collection of photographs shot in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The series questioned the existence of rural welfare schemes for women and the societal challenges that mar them. He critically examines, for example, the all-women panchayat in Madhya Pradesh whose powers are limited due to the deeply-rooted social stigma. He also chronicles the journey of women manual scavengers, herders, wood-cutters, gatherers, seed-sowers and land-tillers. He also highlights the condition tribal and Dalit women as the victims of the worst kind of oppression and the administrative failure to acknowledge the issue.

The Mumbai based Aishwarya Arumbakkam, explored the misconceptions and taboos attached to gender through a popular female Cambodian folklore character – Ahp, . In her retelling of the myth, she changes the narrative by portraying the story through Ahp – whose isolation and public perception is symbolic of a larger culture of misrepresentation.

A more direct subversion of gender role was portrayed in Indu Antony’s ‘Manifest’ where the 13 queer subjects were unbound from their archaic positions in the society. The Bangalore-based artist’s work encapsulated the discourse of gender performativity. “Queer or straight, women perform their femaleness both within and against societal gender rules that dictates what women should be. In a patriarchal society we work harder to establish our womanhood against norms that trap us in limited boxes of “feminine” self expression,” she says in her note.

Shah’s work is an exercise in introspection of the past, and how far along the society has come, and the path forward.

Tejal Shah’s ‘Hysteria’, on the other hand, explored the classical art trope of the ‘mad woman in the attic’ – symbolizing the Victorian perceptions of the woman as an emotional being, incapable of rational thought. Present in classics such as Jane Eyre, the trope is popularly used by feminist critics to highlight the multi-layered oppression that subliminally indoctrinated within the individual. The series show the male dominance manifest in discourses such as psychology and literature before the waves of feminisim that has brought about a much needed change and crafted space for women to enter and widen the structure of knowledge.

“I am happy to see a wide variety of representation of women in the event. It is crucial for our voices to be heard for the society to move towards inclusivity. One must understand the importance of counter-discourse as a driving force,” says Akshaya Mohan, a former research fellow at Christ University, Bengaluru. With at least 18 independent women artists and a few collectives with women members participating, the Biennale has already become a space for discussing gender and questioning the existing gender norms.

Concern in IIT Madras over consequences of improper waste management

Vidushi Sagar and Sneha Kanchan

Chennai, Feb 28: The deer appear strange amongst the ashen coloured buildings of Indian Institution of Technology Madras. Ears shot up and eyes wide, their hooves nimbly tread over the grass scattered with construction debris. This is an everyday sight at India’s premier engineering institute constructed within an ecologically sensitive zone, or in other words, a forest.

In November 2017, the National Green Tribunal had given IIT Madras a week’s time to clear all the solid waste dumped on campus. This order came in after Antony Rubin, a Chennai-based animal activist filed an application with the NGT. It raised the issue of improper waste management and its consequences upon the flora and fauna of the region, also consisting of spotted deer and black buck.

The application filed involved five respondents — the State of Tamil Nadu, IIT Madras, Greater Chennai Corporation, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. What followed was an inspection by the TNPCB which brought out the loopholes in the institution’s solid waste management system, including the non-function of the campus’ biogas plant. Plastic waste was also found dumped near the Krishna and Velachery hostel gates by the TNPCB officials. 

In February 2019, construction debris can still be seen around the campus; parts of glass, rods, and cemented stuff strewn on the grass. Open bags of cement were discarded near the Chemistry Lab. Styrofoam cups and small plastic bottles could also be occasionally sited adjacent to roads.

Construction debris found littered outside hostels near Sangam Ground Road within the campus.                                                                                            Photo credits: Vidushi Sagar

In early 2017, Rubin had alleged sub-par waste management during the institute’s fests Saarang and Shaastra, as also mentioned in several news articles. Reports and pictures of toxic chemical waste dumped near their bio-technology laboratory had also surfaced since then. According to a 2016 Times of India report, two deer died within 10 days due to plastic ingestion, as confirmed by forest officials. An News18 report also mentioned a source from the Forest and Wildlife Department who revealed that a 2kg. football shaped plastic had been removed from the stomach of a spotted deer.

An RTI filed by Rubin in March 2017 exposed 220 deer and eight black buck deaths between 2013 and 2016. Another one in September 2018 revealed that from 2017 to September 2018, 111 spotted deer and five blackbucks had died. A bunch of post mortem reports stated multiple puncture wounds with haemorrhage as the cause of deaths.

Open cement bags outside the Chemistry Lab near the Administration Block. Photo credits: Vidushi Sagar                                                                                                                                    

The issue of a dog-deer conflict within the campus has also been contentious. IIT Madras officials blame the deaths on the stray dogs in and around the campus. The infamy around dogs is also shared by students. Vipin V., a PhD scholar said, “Once I saw a dog attack a deer. My friends have also seen similar incidents.”

Rubin had a different story to tell. “It is unfair to blame just the dogs. They are scavengers. When the deer ingest waste, it slows them down making them more susceptible to attacks. Increased construction also blocks their escape paths. Plus, they are such sensitive creatures that they with the slightest of shocks,” said Rubin. He added that the puncture wound indicated in the autopsy reports could also be inflicted by dogs post the deer’s deaths.

According to V. Seenivasan, the Senior Horticultural Officer of IIT Madras, the solid waste management on campus is well managed. “We have a self-help group on campus, which is responsible for picking and collecting trash. The food wastes from the eateries and messes are collected. They are fed into the biogas plant and then sent to vermicomposting unit. The remaining waste is sent to a piggery unit in Kattupakkam,” he said.

“Both organic and inorganic wastes are collected from all hostel zones, academic and residential areas and are segregated. The inorganic waste are recycled and non recyclable waste is sent to the city dumping yard in Perungudi,” he added.

Speaking about the presence of plastic waste on campus Mr. Seenivasan looked outwards. “The people from the settlements that have come up along the boundary walls in, for instance, the Kanagam area throw trash into the campus. We take care of most of the waste within our boundary but this dumping gets left out sometimes,” he said.

Littering done by people visiting from outside is also something that happens according to him, since the campus has two schools, temples and a bank.

“The biogas plant was not working only for two to three months because of a blockage in the plant. We’ve taken care of that and fit a concrete grate to sieve the waste that goes in,” he said. He added that even plastic waste was accidentally fed into the plant without proper segregation.

The 2017 NGT order also held IIT Madras to polluter penalties in case of injury or death caused to the animals in case of improper waste management. This was done taking into consideration the endangered status of blackbuck under the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Despite IIT Madras’ assurances on the matter, activists like Antony Rubin are not convinced. He raises concerns about the institute not being held accountable with the southern bench of the NGT now almost defunct.

Rubin has filed multiple RTIs pertaining to a whole host of issues like illegal constructions, festivals and the vehicular traffic among other things plaguing the campus. He is anxious about the lax attitude of the administration regarding the care of such extremely sensitive creatures. “Because the deer die just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers in a quick motion. 

Scooters and cycles ride on two separate paths

Chennai, Feb 28: Despite Vogo’s newest introduction of e-scooters at some Chennai Metro stations, bicycles continue to be rented with no constraint on the number of their users. Chennai Metro has been providing free bicycles on rent to its commuters for the past two years. The only catch is that people renting the cycle must deposit a Rs. 3000 security deposit and an ID proof while renting the cycle. Once it is returned to the Metro station, the entire amount is refunded to the commuter. The bicycles were introduced to encourage cycling as well as an eco-friendly mode of transport.

A private company called Vogo Automotive Pvt. Ltd. has started providing e-scooters at certain Metro stations in Chennai. The charges of the scooters are Rs 4 per km travelled. Vogo is provides similar services in Hyderabad and Bangalore as well. The scooters are also fitted with a GPS tracking system to avoid theft.

There are commuters using both these services but neither affects the other. Sundarajan (35) who is the station controller at Anna Nagar Tower Metro station stated that his station has been and continues to be visited by a minimum of five people daily for renting the bicycles. “On weekdays working people rent the cycles, on weekends they are joined by students as well as elderly people”, he said.

On the other hand, there are some Metro stations that still await the arrival of the e-scooters. Naveen (28) is the parking operator at the Alandur Metro station. “Some company personnel came and saw the space where they will keep their scooters but they never came. I called and asked them but they keep saying that they will come in a few days”, he said.    

Vijay (32), the station controller at Guindy Metro station stated that around 10-15 people used to rent the bicycle and they still continue to do so even after the introduction of the e-scooters. Nevertheless this does not mean that the e-scooters are starved for attention. They are also being used frequently ever since their introduction. Shambu Maheswari (37) manages the e-scooters at the Anna Nagar Tower Metro station. He says that so far, there are at least 4-6 people renting the scooters on a daily basis. In other places, the numbers are even higher. Mohan (34) is one of the new recruits at Vogo who is in charge of the e-scooters at the Guindy Metro station. He says that everyday at least 15-20 people rent a scooter from this station.

While the scooters have received a positive response, their usage appears to have no effect on cycle users. Although the bonus for the cycles is that they are rented by the type of people eager to cycle on a regular basis.