An evening of differently abled stars

Babli Ramachandran enacting the role of a court dancer in one of the performances. |SWAPNAJIT KUNDU


Chennai, Feb 28: A casual glance at the audience showed moist eyes, choked voices, and a busy applause. Narada Gana Sabha staged a theatrical performance by a group of disabled members of Ramana Sunritya Aalaya(RASA), an organization that focuses on the holistic development of each individual through experiences of music, dance, drama, story telling, arts and crafts. This structured methodology is called Theatre for Holistic Development (THD), and was developed by Rasa’s Founder-Director, Dr. Ambika Kameshwar. To celebrate the 30th year of their foundation, RASA staged a two hour long performance, called ‘Arulin Mozhi- The Voice of Grace’, performed entirely by the disabled participants.

Rekha Ramachandran, co-director and founder of Down Syndrome Federation of India said, “It is an honour to cross this journey along with RASA for 30 years. Initially, the press was not interested in our works. But now slowly but surely we are gaining recognition. This is a family which has faced a lot of storm, and now it is time to showcase the talent of these people.”

The performance was divided into four acts. The first act narrated the story of a hunter, who chases a bear and injures it eventually. The bear takes shelter in the hermit of a sage, where the hunter goes and demands his prey to be handed over to him. The hunter pleads that killing the bear is the only way he can provide food for his family, leaving the sage is a confusion. Eventually the sage chooses to spare the bear’s life. The second act was that of Ramayana, where sage Viswamitra takes young Ram and Laxman along with him on a journey.  The third act dealt with the Jallianwala Bagh incident and the stories of Narasimha completed the last act. The four acts, though telling different stories harped on a common objective.- the main crux of Arulin Mozhi, which says that there will be a point in life when everyone have to choose one of the two options available, and that one should listen to his or her inner voice while taking that decision.

The performances were spontaneous, competent and free flowing. Babli Ramachandran who was born with down syndrome ended the show with a spectacular dance performance. It gave a stage for the disabled people to showcase their talent and send a message to the society. Kanriappam, father of one of the performers named Selva Kumar, said, “It is an immensely proud moment for me to see my son performing on stage. Even today, whenever he goes out, people look at him in a different way. It hurts me to see my son being treated like that. He and others like him are very much normal like us. I hope this theatre gives him a scope to make others understand his value and potential.”

Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, the brain behind RASA and Arulin Mozhi hails the success as a result of a collective effort. “Everyone involved has given their blood and soul for this. All this has happened because of the love and support we receive and by God’s grace. We hope to continue this beautiful journey, with more shows like this.”

To commemorate their 30th anniversary, RASA unveiled their new logo named Ekatva.

SHGs help unemployed women restart their lives

Women’s Mela 2019 aims at empowering underprivileged women. 

By Ashna Butani

Mother Teresa Women’s Complex brims with activity, as 55 women set up stalls with meticulously handcrafted items. The Women’s Mela is organised by the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women, with an aim to employ those who could not sustain their livelihoods.

Sketches and paintings adorn the tables and walls while fresh fruits and vegetables sit on the tables beside. Kurtis, dresses and saris in myriad colours and prints entice the customers.

R. Kamalammal, a creative spirit, makes and sells jute art, coffee powder art and colourful art in glass and mirror.

The mela is held every year after the Pongal festival. It began on 4th February and continued till 15th February. However, this is the first time that the Corporation is pushing forward the Urban Livelihood Mission, which primarily focuses on helping the urban poor.

Vasanti, from Namakkal, proudly displays a range of herbal products. The self-help group (SHG) consisting of 23 women, work with Dr. Sidha to make herbal oils, medicines, juices and other products. Vasanti’s son studies in a government college. “12 years ago, I was only a housewife. But the SHG really helped me. Now I work all year round to make herbal products for the company Yogam herbs,” she says.

This exhibition is held every year during Summer and Winter. It also held during the festive Diwali and Pongal seasons. “Our main motto is poverty alleviation,” says B Senthil Kumar, executive of State Supply and Marketing Society. The Corporation also invites rural farmers to set up organic markets in the same complex on the first weekend of every month.

Even though many urban women are displaying their products for the first time, there have been women from other villages who have been working on their craft for years. “Across the state, there are approximately a crore women who belong to SHGs”, says Kumar. Training and financial assistance is given to the SHGs. “We help in linking them with banks for credit facilities,” he adds.

The products are of two types – traditional products such as handloom saris, terra cotta items and food products and demand based products such as crafts, earrings and bags. For demand based products, the Corporation imparts training to the women, whereas, skills in traditional products are passed down from one generation to another.

The more experienced women teach the newcomers the nitty-grittys of the craft. Lily from Chennai derives pleasure from making and selling earrings, bracelets and chains. She is a member of SHG that created their own brand, “Humming Box.”

The group was started by Nancy Kalaiarasan, a housewife whose family was relocated to Perumbakkam from Thideer Nagar. She and 14 others formed the jewellery making self-help group, who receive training and aid from the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. Some of the women are housewives and some, widows. They meet twice a week to make jewellery and borrow ideas from magazines and the internet to keep up with trends.

Exhibitions are organised at the district level, state level and the national level. “We are all going to Delhi for an exhibition next month,” says Vasanti, eager to travel outside Tamil Nadu for the first time.

Vasanti is eager to sell her organic products outside Tamil Nadu.

A film that lit up a village

Dreamer of Breswana is a short film showcased in the Chennai International Film Festival 2019. It is about how the students of Haji Public School, Kashmir overcame their greatest hardship.

By Ashna Butani

The children of Haji Public School, Breswana, a remote village in Jammu and Kashmir, have dreams that are accompanied with their own set of problems. The short film, Dreamers of Breswana directed by Praveen Pillay takes us to the dreamy lands of Breswana and into the lives of the children there. It is a story of how a village triumphs over its problems, with community efforts and crowdfunding.

Shrouded in mist, the Haji Public School is perched on a hill, 7500 ft above sea level. “I want to become a doctor because there are no doctors in my village, no one to help the poor people,” says young, starry-eyed Priya Sharma. The film begins with a sequence of students narrating their dreams.

This is followed by their greatest problem; the lack of electricity. The children’s enthusiastic embrace of learning is coupled with the lack of teaching methods that show them the outside world. The need for electricity is highlighted in the film through interactions with the school principal, teachers and local residents. The children are at risk of diseases and infections from the local firewood that aids them while studying.

Saura Mandala, a non-governmental organization (NGO) steps in to rid the village of this problem. The process of installing solar panels is shown through the short film. The film ends on a positive note, with the children eager to learn. They say that the use of presentations on laptops help them understand the world better. They are no longer cut off from the rest of the world.

There are two parts to the film, says the Director, Praveen Pillay. “The first part was shot to raise awareness about the issue and help the NGO Saura Mandala receive funding.” After the first part was showcased, the project received crowdfunding. The second part is a 9-minute long success story, a ray of hope for the village, and a source of inspiration to other such communities.  

Before shooting the film, Praveen taught at the school along with his wife, Madhuri. “The students showed us a lot of potential while we were teaching. One of the children, Rohit Sharma, had only started learning English three months earlier, he was quick to learn.” The students’ answers were so candid that it moved the team.

The shooting spanned 8 days. “My filmmaking career began in Breswana itself with Breswana’s Prateek,” says Praveen who has been working closely with the NGO Saura Mandala. The organisation was founded by Nagakarthik, who left his IT job to fulfil a greater purpose.

The organisation and the filmmaking team have indeed fulfilled their purpose. “I like this school, it is like my home,” said Humeera Banoo. Selected students will soon get the chance to venture out of Jammu and Kashmir, with the help of crowdfunding that raised Rs. 2,75,000. The trip will help students learn about places outside, while also encouraging other students to study hard and make it to the top of their class.

Universal Emotions at the 6th International Short Film Festival

Anand JC

Chennai, Feb 22: At the 6th Chennai International Short Film yesterday, Qube Cinema founder and film director Jayendra Panchapakesan, said that the filmmakers often lose their way in trying to capture the essence of the rationality in their films.

Talking to many young filmmakers present about how to draw in the audience into the movies, Jayendra said that the filmmakers need to tap-in on some universal emotions. “For example, when shooting a school sequence, we can show how the school kids walk to school but as soon as the bell rings they fly out of the school. It’s the same everywhere, so capture those emotions.”

“Non-sync kills the reality of film. I see a sequence without sync between the sound and the video and I look away,” Jayendra said when one film enthusiast asked what is the biggest problem in cinema nowadays.

Jayendra was present for the celebrity interaction session on the sixth day of the festival. Among the films screened was ‘The Rehabilitation’, a 12-min short film based on a middle-class family of four in a city in Tamil Nadu.

Director Navaraj S shows the family in a house engaged in their routines engrossed in gizmos. Suddenly there is a power cut and the family assembles for snacks when the father starts explaining about a ritual in his village that his grandfather had told him about. The other members listen closely but as soon as the power comes back, family goes about their routine activities, while the story remains in the dark. While the story line was fine, the sequence where the light comes back is too abrupt and fails to convey the point in a cohesive manner.

Itwaar is a 15-min film about a middle-aged man in a city plagued by health and family issues. Director Rahul Srivastava portrays how a single turn in an event can change the perspective, mood and the frame of mind of a person in to something really different. The film is shot really well and keeps the audience captivated till the end.

The Light of Life is a Bangladeshi movie about a poor handloom weaver hell bent on providing education to the other less fortunate people of Bangladesh. Akbar Ali, owner of Projonmo Night School is of the opinion that it is illiteracy which is responsible for the current state of Bangladesh.

Some other worth-watching films which were screened are Thatha’s Secret in Tamil (Indian), Good Day (Russian), Talk to me Precious in Tamil (Indian), Dreamers of Breswana in English and Hindi(Indian) and The Exchange (Turkish).

Haryana’s folk artists and performers dissatisfied with Government

By: Ashmita Mukherjee

Chennai, February 22: At a folk festival in DakshinaChitra museum, artists and performers expressed their discontent with the government for not effectively aiding them to earn a livelihood and gain access to education.

DakshinaChitra is a living-history museum located 25 kilometres to the south of Chennai. The Navyug Haryana Art and Culture Centre organized the Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group to perform at the museum for a nine-day festival which commenced on February 16. The festival also includes an exhibition of wood craftsmanship of Mahavir Prashad Bondwal and his son, Chander Kant Bondwal from Bahadurgarh, Haryana.

Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group performers from Haryana

Every February, DakshinaChitra museum hosts a national festival for over a week informed Sahana Rao, program officer.

“Last year the focus was on the culture of Goa and next year we plan to bring in artists from Nagaland. The museum is a project of Madras Craft Foundation, a non-profit organization. We get funds to pay every artist a daily fee of Rs.800.”

On the contrary, Rahul Bagdi the head of the folk music and dance group said,

“All our expenses are paid for by the Ministry of Culture which includes food, travel, daily allowance and accommodation cost.” Bagdi informed that the Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group was created by him six years ago, “to save folk music and culture. We wish government did better to conserve Haryana’s folk culture. The Ministry of Culture spends more money for classical musicians and dancers by booking them flight tickets and paying them a better daily allowance. We are made to travel in train by sleeper class and our allowance is much lower.”

Mahavir Prashad Bondwal, a wood carving artist who was honoured by the government with one national award in 2004 followed by an award by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the same year said that he used to work on ivory carving until the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 1991 banned the trade of ivory. Since then he has been working on carvings made of sandal wood, kadam wood and ebony wood with his family. He said,

Award winning wood carving artists, Mahavir Prashad Bondwal and his son, Chander Kant Bondwal from Haryana

“But with the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are forced to pay 12 percent Goods and Service (GST) Tax on import of wood. The taxation is based on sale and it does not take into consideration the money we spend on labour and the hours of work.”

Sandeep Singh, 24 a folk dancer who has been performing since the age of 16, finds himself unhappy with the lack of investment by the government on impoverished youth in Haryana. He said,

“I had been fortunate enough to complete my graduation (Government College of Education in Bhiwani, Haryana) but the others have not been so lucky. Several young men from poor families join the folk troupe because they lack technical skills and have no education. They learn folk dance or song to earn a livelihood. The older generation of singers cannot get other jobs because they are not able-bodied for manual work and lack education for any work that requires any qualification.”

Rahul Bagdi added,

“The Lok Kalakar Union sent an application to the government of Haryana with a list of demands asking for better artists’ pay, access to education through scholarships and introduction of folk music and dance in the academic curriculum of government schools and colleges. We observed a peaceful protest this year as we danced and sang through the streets of Haryana.”

Environment friendly bacteria to scourge oil pollutants

by Aadithyan J P

Workers separating thin film of oil from water |Scroll

Chennai, Feb 22: The remaining sludge from the Kamarajar oil spill back in 2017, as a result of two oil tankers colliding, which released about 250 metric tonnes and severely damaged the Chennai coastline, is yet to be fully cleaned.

The KPL(Kamarajar Port Ltd.) have given the contract to the IOCL (Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.) to remove the slick and they are using the process of bio remediation to bring back the pollution to permissible limits.

 Bio remediation a chemical process that is used to treat water soil and other subsurface materials by introducing external organisms that are bio engineered for the targeted degradation of pollutants. The benefit of this process is that it uses no chemicals and thus after the whole process is completed it does not pollute the environment.

Before the intervention of the IOCL, the levels of pollution as per test results were 8 percent, and after their process of bio remediation it was lowered to levels between 1 and 0.5 percent. This process involves introducing a special kind of bacteria that has been formulated in labs.

According to S K Puri, Chief General Manager of Bio energy at Faridabad, who was on site to oversee all operations, “these microbes are used to clean up the spilt oil. They are released into the sludge and eats it up as it is their food. And after this process is over, they are rendered inert and die off without any sustenance. They are frozen in cubes and transported to the site and are allowed to be dissolved into the oil.”

 These organisms require ambient conditions to thrive and multiply, so the temperature cannot be neither too hot nor too cold. The ideal time to release them would be after the monsoon showers as the rain would dilute them. It is important that they are released in optimal conditions as they would breed faster and increase the rate at which the cleanup occurs, he added.

So far, we have cleaned about 184 metric tonnes and we had given the report, to the TN government who were very pleased. The whole process took about six months as we had released the microbes directly onto the affected areas in the open environment. We plan to treat the remaining slick in a closed vessel, in a process called confined bio remediation, where we can monitor and control the conditions, and since this is much more efficient it will only take about a month or so to clean up, said the GM.

Water and soil samples will be taken to gauge the levels of pollution of heavy metal and oil contamination and will be tested against the IS 10500 [Indian standard for drinking water quality].

Regressive rules hamper female students

Akshara Srivastava and Bharat Sharma

CHENNAI, Feb 22: Colleges in Chennai have been infamous for enforcing regressive rules pertaining to dressing and intermingling between male and female students. Justified in the name of maintaining discipline, these rules are mostly patriarchal and oppressive in nature.

The crackdown is usually on female students because of an enforced dress code which forces them to cover up. Calling it the “proper” way to dress, colleges have a plethora of instructions laid down for girls, which range from wearing only suits to covering their pelvic areas. They’re also disallowed from wearing short sleeved or sleeveless tops complemented by a full-fledged ban on skirts and shorts.
Such rules are not specific to co-ed institutions but are also laid down in women’s colleges. “We were never really given a real reason for it, except that during cultural activities boys also visited and hence the cover-up,” says a student from MOP Vaishnav College on the condition of anonymity.

Major engineering colleges, like the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) have stricter rules that and no redressal mechanisms.
Apart from a strict curfew and its stringent enforcement, the college has also specified the time limit of a handshake between a male and female student.
“We are not allowed to physically embrace each other in any way except for a handshake, which too is supposed to last not more than five seconds,” said a student on condition of anonymity.
Apart from laying down such a peculiar rule, VIT also has an official disciplinary committee, which comprises ‘Red-Tags.’ These Red-Tags are guards with a red ID card who ensure that no sort of physical interaction occurs between students. “They often stand behind bushes as if hiding there, or you’ll feel their eyes on you from afar. It’s all extremely creepy at times and makes some of us uncomfortable but we can’t raise our voices or complain to the management,” said another student on the condition of anonymity. VIT has disallowed its students from forming a union.

The staff in the disciplinary committee seems unfazed by such draconian policies. “Our work is to enforce the rules,” said one.
A teacher at another premier engineering college in the city remarked, “I don’t see anything wrong with the rules. They are made keeping in mind our culture and are necessary to ensure that vulgarity is not displayed openly, especially by students coming from cities like Delhi and Mumbai.” The teacher requested anonymity.  

Destigmatisation: Mentally ill patients to receive formal documentation

by Akshara Srivastava, Bharat Sharma

Chennai, Feb 22: The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Kilpauk is slowly inducting its patients into the Voters List before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. With assistance from Disability Rights Alliance (DRA), they have enrolled more than 129 people as of now, including 62 men and 67 women.

Most government schemes and services can only be availed with a valid proof of identity. In lieu of this, the Institute intends to extend access to formal documentation to people with mental illnesses. This will include getting them Aadhar cards.

This is the Institute’s first initiative that involves patient participation. “This is the most progressive step we’ve ever taken… our society has never fully accepted mentally ill people as our own”, said Poorna Chandrika, Director of the institute.

Most of their patients were destitute or abandoned by their families. Owing to this, there are no documents proving their citizenship.

After screening their 900 patients, they figured out that 150-160 of them are mentally equipped to make a rational decision while casting their vote. According to D. Sumethi, Head of Voters Department and Social Welfare Officer at IMH, the voter patients are those who have been in recovery for a long time and continue to show signs of improvement.

“Only the improved patients will vote this time… We have many patients who have shown significant improvement over years. We’re starting with them”, she said.

129 patients have been registered with the Election Commission as of now. | The Hindu

Equipping patients with the right to vote is not enough. Awareness about politics is intrinsic to exercising one’s right responsibly. “We’re teaching them our political scenario and the history of Indian politics to help them choose their leaders wisely”, said D. Sumethi. 

Out of the 129 people who have been enrolled until now, six are patients with a history of crime. According to her, their improvement warrants inclusion in the list.

Besides this, all patients have access to television and regularly watch the news. “Someone will read the newspaper to them in the recreational hall so they can understand clearly”, added D. Sumethi.

Within the ambit of Representation of People Act, a person with an ‘unsound mind’ can be disqualified from registering and voting.

The Institute, with help from DRA intends to multiply the number of enrolled patients by three times next year.

The institute is curating a list of people below 60 who will be slowly registered over the next year. | Bharat Sharma

Providing a family like environment remains IHM’s priority. “We have always and continue to treat them as normal people who need extra care and medical attention”, said P. Chandrika. Asserting that voting is every citizen’s birth right she said that “this is why we’re doing this for them”.

Teen empowers girls through self defence

By Aindrisha Mitra

Pritivi Chhabria, 19, who is a black belt winner in Karate is using his skills in martial arts to help girls fight for themselves.  Along with his Karate trainer, he founded “Empower”- a non-profit organization which trains about 200 girls in government schools in Chennai free of cost.

A student of The International School, Bangalore, Pritivi and his trainer R. Kannan approached the Education Department with a proposal to conduct self-defence training in girls’ schools. Their idea was welcomed by the Education Board which granted them permission to train in three government higher secondary schools in the area. Currently, they train in the Chennai Girls Higher Secondary School in Nungambakkam and Saidapet.

Pritivi who began taking Karate classes at an early age of nine was struck by the appalling number of rape cases reported every year. His urge to volunteer against the rampant gender abuse is why he came up with “Empower”which aims at making girls self-sufficient in defence training.  

“Around 106 rapes happen every day in India with about 47% against minors. In 90% of cases, perpetrators get away because they are not counter-attacked on the spot of the incident,” said Pritivi who is hopeful that the defence training will help instill courage in girls to retaliate.

Girls from Classes VI to VIII participate in these Karate classes. Most of them belong from underprivileged backgrounds and hence, the free of cost classes allow them to sign up for something beneficial apart from the regular curriculum in schools.

Kannan who takes classes when  Pritivi is absent, thinks that this training programme will help enhance cognitive abilities as much as physical fitness. Trained in both Karate and Kalaripayattu, Kanan does this as a full time job as he also teaches in private schools like Cambridge Matriculation High School in Royapettah and conducts classes, privately.

The duo has been allocated the last one hour by the schools, i.e. from 2:30-3:30 for this activity. However, the struggle is to emphasize the importance of self defence programmes over  extra-curriculars, which are viewed as more essential, especially in today’s world.

Kajal Chhabria, Pritivi’s mother who supported him from the very beginning said that this programme aims to reach the grassroot levels of society and guide the girls in a manner so that they can empower themselves, without anybody’s help.

“Being a woman myself, I feel the need for girls to be absolutely independent and fight their own battles, with efficiency and expertise,” says Kajal who is a proud mom tracking  Pritivi’s achievement as a young entrepreneur.

“Practising Martial Arts can be a great way to discipline oneself and channelize his/her energy into something productive, which is why I thought it imperative for girls to take it up from a young age itself,” says Pritivi who has several accolades to his name.

Pritivi who is also an aspiring software developer has built his Empower website armed with facts and links to related accounts. He etches out his goals clearly and is presently trying to get other sponsors on board to expand this project, so that it reaches more to the masses.

Pritivi with his teacher Kannan. Source:

To Be or Not to Be – AIADMK supporters dwindle between the alliance and their loyalty

-Aishwaryaa. R

“My vote is for the AIADMK till the end, no matter who runs it!” said Pushpavalli, the Assistant Head of the Women’s Organisation of the AIADMK party until late 1980s.

With the alliance of BJP (Bharathiya Janata Party)and PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) with the AIADMK party, the people of Saidapet and Kotturpuram, one of the main areas for the party expressed mixed opinions about voting.

Pushpavalli, showing her tattoo of the AIADMK’s two leaves on her right hand, said that the governance is not as efficient or strong after the former Chief Minister and AIADMK Head, Amma i.e J.Jayalalitha’s demise. She lives in Kavangarai, a thin strip of settlements across the Adyar river canal in Saidapet.

“She was the last dynamic leader. She never let any national party come in the way of Dravidian principles. Now it’s all dependant on other parties to uphold their stand in the [Legislative] Assembly,” she said. Yet Pushpavalli remains loyal only to the AIADMK. “It’s for M.G.R and Amma. Not for anybody else,” she said.

N. Sathya Moorthy, a senior political analyst said “In most elections over the past 25 years, PMK has registered a decisive five per cent vote-share. However PMK’s presence is confined mostly to only the northern and parts of the Western districts, where it could be around a higher 8 per cent in those parts. In the 2016 assembly poll, the victorious AIADMK’s vote-share was just one per cent more than that of the DMK combine, divided 41-40 per cent across the state. That makes every additional vote important for both Dravidian majors now.”

M.Kumar, an auto driver in Royapettah says “Things are about to change in a big way. Everyday there is a news saying there is some compensation for the farmers, the fishermen, the elderly and the disabled. But none of these were to be heard in the past two years. The Budget release listed many funds allocated for the economically weaker section, but none is either properly comprehendible or approachable. The corporation elections are held. Their budget is also not released. Now we have a national party and a casteist party as a part of the alliance. At least the DMK shows clear principles. I have decided to change sides this time, just to drive on better roads.”

Sathya Moorthy said that AIADMK cannot expect a clear victory with the PMK’s Vanniyar community support since it also depends on the consolidation of anti-BJP minority votes in favour of the rival alliance, possible ‘backlash’ of ‘soft Hindutva’ and Dhinakaran’s ability to split AIADMK votes, among others.

Although the major parties of Tamil Nadu have always been the AIADMK and the DMK, this election also sees new factors such as T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s AMMK (Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam) and Captain Vijaykanth’s DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam).

Vasanthi, a flower seller in Teynampet says “I do not understand why [AI]ADMK would join with BJP and PMK? Its better I vote for TTV [Dhinakaran] or Captain [Vijaykanth] this time. I know both of them are not the best suited candidates. But at least they are not BJP.”

AIADMK’s alliance, even it has gained a few extra hands in areas like Nagarcoil, Kanniyakumari and Madurai, it still has disappointed a few supporters of its own party. Yet, the loyalty of many others seem to keep their position stable.