Deadline over, extended. Means they are alive

By Uma Sudhir

The deadline set by the Maoists was over yesterday evening at 7 pm. Families of the four policemen (abducted by the Maoists) in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur, waited every moment all through Tuesday, for some good news.

Meanwhile, there is silence in the Chhattisgarh government. Except the political noise. And that’s because the chief minister and home minister of the state are busy with campaigning for a byelection. Off the record, the official machinery says if the Maoists had to kill them, they would have done so by now. If they haven’t, it means they are safe.

The Maoists have now reportedly given the government another 24 hours to accept their demands.

(video of my story aired on NDTV 24×7)


Today’s Savitris

By Uma Sudhir
The television studio was booming with the cry of the inconsolable baby but the mother knew she should rather pay attention to the live discussion than the immediate cause of the baby’s grief. After all Rajkumari Bhosle had travelled all the way from her home in Chhattisgarh to Hyderabad just to make this appeal. It was almost like the last hope for her to save her husband’s life.

Seven policemen were reportedly abducted by Maoists in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh on 19th September. Families of four of them had come seeking the mediation of civil liberties advocate K G Kannabiran and revolutionary writer and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao. Hoping and praying their loved one would not meet the same fate as the three other men in uniform, whose bodies were found on a tractor on 20th September.

To me, this motley group of women, with small children in tow, some on the hip, some hanging around in the vicinity of the familiar security of their mother’s legs and saree, looked like modern day Savitris. If the mythological Savitri had fought a battle of wits with God of Death, Yama, following him through unknown, hostile terrain to save her husband Satyavan from the jaws of death, these women were certainly doing something similar.

Manjubala, wife of Subash Patre, says they have already knocked the doors of the police and government in Bijapur and Raipur. They got nothing more than verbal assurances, simply saying, let’s hope for the best. That is why a woman who had rarely stepped out of her village travelled all the way to Hyderabad along with her two small children, to meet the men, who have been seen as pro-Maoist voices and whose word the naxals could heed.

The women were desperate to convey that they don’t in any way, represent the establishment. That they themselves are poor and belong to the most marginalised section of society and that the men had joined the police force because there were few other livelihood options. Not because they opposed Maoists or their ideology. And that they would not stay in the police force, if their lives were spared.

Rajkumari said she spoke to her husband Narender Bhosle last on the morning of the 19th. A class XII passout, he had joined the police force four years ago.

“Give him back to us, we will never send him anywhere. Never to the police force. We will do some farming, work as labour and feed our children. Please, please let him come back home.” the wife and the mother took turns to plead.

Tears were streaming down Manjubala’s cheeks as she shared her personal story and her very public tragedy.

“We will work as labourers and earn food so our two small children don’t go hungry. I won’t let him go to the police force ever again. If only my naxal brothers can please listen to me.”

The same sentiment is echoed by each of the others. That they appeal to the naxal brothers to show mercy, to understand that they are like their sisters. That they are grateful to the media and the Maoists for listening to their appeal to spare their husbands.

Seeing what helplessness was reducing them to, I felt a deep sadness. About how desperate a family is pushed to become, to feel so fearful about losing a husband, a son, a father, that they have to behave and `acknowledge’ the power of another human being to give and take life. As though anyone other than the Almighty should ever have that power to say “you shall live’ or `you shall die’. To be reduced to nothing more than pawns in a game of chess.

As a stream of emotions was clouding my thougts, Manjubala who had been standing carrying her one-year-old daughter Gracy on her hip, fainted right behind where I was standing. The trauma of the last few days had clearly taken its toll. As she regained consciousness, her first thoughts were `where was the baby she was carrying’ and immediately afterwards, she was on her way again, to try and rescue her husband.

“Have a drink or something to eat, Manju,” people around her were saying. But she wouldn’t listen. She must do what she can to save her little world, for herself and her two small children, before it is too late. Everthing else can wait.

When I met Varavara Rao, he was quite categorical, that this does not follow the “rules of natural law”. While he thought the demands for withdrawal of Operation Greenhunt, release of political prisoners were genuine, bargaining for them, putting at stake the lives of one ASI and three jawans was not right. Strategies to exert pressure are part of Maoist tactic, killing the enemy, say in self-defence, is acceptable but a hostage cannot be killed. Nor should they be used to bargain with the state machinery to meet demands.  So he appealed for `unconditional release’ of the policemen.

“Do you think my appeal through your channel will reach them? May be we should do it through the radio as well. The Maoists carry their radiosets on the move.” Varavara Rao wondered aloud.

“Sir, I am sure they must be monitoring the televison channels as well. Unless of course it is too late.”

The 48-hour deadline set by the Maoists ends on 28th evening. It is already afternoon and all the news channels are blaring full volume of what would happen on the Ayodhya verdict.

In the heart of India, in Chhattisgarh, there is silence.

(Please post your comment to tell us what you thought of this blog. You can also subscribe to the blogsite to receive regular updates)

Stadia belong to India

By T S Sudhir
The peak mosquito season has been around in Delhi for atleast two months now, the Commonwealth Games village went to the dogs, cows have always loved Delhi’s roads and now the snakes have made an appearance as well. When the Ayodhya verdict is out, the sadhus from Ayodhya and Varanasi, I guess will complete the Westerner’s stereotype picture of India.
The elephants will mock us after the Games, whose sports-related official budget is 11500 crore rupees, are over. I mean, the white elephants that have been constructed in the country’s capital. And if you want a sneak preview of how these world-class stadia will lie unused and remain mere architectural marvels after 14th October, look south. To Hyderabad.
The Charminar city hosted the 2002 National Games and 2003 Afro-Asian Games, for which modern stadia were constructed at a cost of 150 crore rupees (peanuts compared to the costs incurred in Delhi, and yet substantial for a poor country like ours). Of that, facilities to host seven disciplines, namely hockey, badminton, football, athletics, swimming, volleyball and basketball were constructed at the state-of-the-art Gachibowli sports complex for 78 crore rupees.
On paper, fantastic for a city that lays claim to the title of the sports capital of India. Reality is however, far removed from it.
Documents available with me reveal that between May 2004 and June 2009, that is exactly five years or say a little over 1800 days, the facilities were used for just 297 days. Which means just once a week.
Take for example, the hockey stadium at Gachibowli (see picture) built at a cost of 21 crores. It has two astroturf, which have a life of 12 years. Seven years have lapsed with no activity at the stadium, even as budding hockey talent in Hyderabad practises on gravel at the Gymkhana ground.
This even as Mukesh Kumar, triple Olympian and the best hockey player the state has produced, keeps offering to coach players. But no sorry, the astroturf is out of bounds even for Mukesh.
Since 2003, the government’s sports department has spent 12.5 lakh rupees every month to maintain the empty Gachibowli complex. That translates to 1.5 crore rupees per annum.
It is truly ironic that the stadia that are built with our money are out of bounds for our own athletes. Andhra Pradesh runs eleven academies in eleven different district of the state. Needless to say, all of them operate in abysmal conditions, and the facilities are nowhere near what the Gachibowli complex can offer. Over 1.5 crore rupees is spent every year on running these academies to train 390 sportspersons. Cost-to-state to train each sportsperson for a year : 38513 rupees. Of this, diet charges are a pathetic 80 rupees per day.
Last year, one of the seniormost officers of the state’s sports ministry pushed for shifting all the academies to Gachibowli so that the athletes could access better facilities and the complex could be put to better use. It would have also saved the government money that is spent on running the inept academies and having all sportspersons under one roof would have helped streamline training.
The proposal was ignored. And in all probability, will remain so. For, closing the academies will hurt too many vested interests. And when the next big event is to be organised at Gachibowli, the life of the equipment available now would have lapsed, which means a window of opportunity to buy brand new stuff. Tenders, quotations, purchases. That includes the two astroturf at the hockey stadium. Wow, how exciting, and in more ways than one.
The massive sports infrastructure that has come up in Delhi is also likely to meet the same as in Hyderabad. And on a larger scale, given the budgets are bigger.
The battle against the powers-that-be isn’t over. After the CWG, we need to reclaim these stadia for our sportspersons. We have had enough of the unsporting netas and babus running sport in India, who wouldn’t bat an eyelid before renting out the stadia for film and political tamashas for paltry sums of money.
The motto of the CWG 2010 is `come out and play’. India needs to get into action on 15th October, 2010.

All in a day’s work !

By T S Sudhir

Here is the tale of a superfast judge who handed out a judgement every few minutes this Friday. He settled 260 cases, all in a day’s work. Even convicted 13 accused and imposed a fine of 73000 rupees.

If law minister Veerappa Moily is looking for inspiration for putting the judiciary on fast track, he just needs to look to this court in Venkatagiri town in Nellore district. Judge Yesuratnam has come as a welcome relief not only to petitioners, but as the policeman in the story points out, even to the accused and witnesses.

(video of story aired on NDTV 24×7)

Rajini, Mahesh or NTR?

By T S Sudhir

India’s costliest film, Robot releases on 1st October. Will it also be one of India’s biggest hits, given that it has superstar Rajinikanth in the lead in a double role. The Telugu film industry is circumspect, atleast as far as the Telugu dubbed version of Robot goes, pitted as the film is against Mahesh Babu’s Khaleja and junior NTR’s Brindavanam. Both films have budgets exceeding 40 crore rupees and release a week after Robot.

Rajini, Mahesh or NTR?

(video of my story aired on NDTV 24×7)