Friday, April 23, 2010

Dowry invades N-E culture

Clutching her stomach with one hand and holding on to the railing of her verandah with another, Bidisha Sharma tried to ward off her husband’s second kick.Two years of romance evaporated when Bidisha’s father failed to pay Satish’s demand for a “gift” of Rs 10 lakh to boost his business.The word “dowry” was never mentioned during their wedding — Satish’s was an “educated” family after all — but the undelivered “little gift” brought a torrent of torture on Bidisha.Guwahati, April 22: Long tagged as a North Indian malaise, dowry is aggressively invading the Northeast, throwing up alarming figures of death and violence.Statistics hardly reveal the real story of torture perpetrated behind closed doors, but the numbers are shocking enough.In Assam for instance, 143 cases of dowry harassment and 3,807 cases of domestic violence have been registered between April 1, 2009 and January 31, 2010.There have been four “dowry-related” incidents, including two deaths and one alleged attempt to murder, within a week in the state.A 26-year-old housewife was found dead at her Ulubari residence in Guwahati after alleged dowry torture on April 17. The following day, another housewife was allegedly murdered by her husband for dowry at Noonmati in the city.Yet another woman, allegedly set on fire by her husband at Fatasil Ambari on April 19, is now battling for life at a private nursing home.What worries social observers is that dowry is emerging as a trend in the Northeast, which had long been shut to such monetary transactions in marriage.“Bride burning and atrocities on women were maladies that had afflicted other parts of the country, parti- cularly northern India. Unfortunately, this menace has gradually penetrated into Assamese society as well. Earlier, Assam was untou-ched by dowry but today it has reared its ugly head here too,” said Sumitra Hazarika, general secretary of the Nirjatan Birodhi Oikya Mancha.Fifty-odd dowry-related cases have been registered at the all-woman police station since January in Guwahati alone.Pomy Baruah of Avas Foundation, an NGO, said the cases are only the tip of the iceberg.“These figures account for only those cases that are reported. There are many dowry-related cases that do not get reported because the victims fear social backlash,’’ she said.Despite instances like Bidisha’s, the joint secretary of the National Commission for Women, S.S. Pujari, however, said the panel has not received any official complaints of dowry deaths from the region.Prodded about the Northeast’s traditional respect for women, Monalisa Chankija, editor of Nagaland Page, and winner of the Chameli Devi Jain award for journalism, dismisses it as “nonsense and a lot of public posturing”.There was a time when it was a shame for a Naga man to even accept a handkerchief from the wife’s family, she said.“All that the new wife would bring is her loom which showed how industrious she was. All that has now changed; the kind of presents that one sees people giving their daughters is amazing.”Domestic violence is also rampant in rural Nagaland.Dowry itself is a relatively new phenomenon in India, beginning sometime in the 20th century, says Prof Samita Sen, director, School of Women Studies, Jadavpur University. Till the end of the 19th century, there was a reverse tradition of “bride price”, she said.This shift has been caused by modernisation and subsequent globalisation when domestic economy was washed away by commercial economy where women’s work — household chores — became devalued.Since no price could be allotted to women’s work, she ceased to be a prize, says Sen.Agrees Paramita Chakraborty, joint director of the same department. Dowry, she says, is linked to the concept of women’s worth in society or lack of it and her access to property. Hence, the concept rapidly expanded from northern India to include societies and cultures to which dowry was alien.An officer in the Women’s Grievance Cell of Calcutta police said on an average they receive two to three dowry related complaints against women every month.She, however, said 48 police stations in the city also receive such complaints regularly.“They forward us the serious compliants while they investigate the other ones,” she said.Bihar, which is notorious for its dowry tales, has 50-60 cases registered every year.But police claim that “misuse” of the Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code as a “big reason” for throwing up “inflated figure” of dowry-related deaths and torture in Bihar.Prabhat Kumar Dwivedi, a Patna high court lawyer, said dowry demand was a social malaise and social initiatives should be taken to end it.With inputs from Soma Banerjee in Calcutta and Nalin Verma in Patna

Muivah bid to break ice with rivals

Kohima, April 22: Hints of the ice breaking between rival NSCN factions have surfaced with NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah expressing a desire to meet former comrade-in-arms-turned-bitter-foe S.S. Khaplang.NSCN (K) kilonser (minister) Y. Wangtin Naga said he had conveyed Muivah’s message and “best regards” to chairman Khaplang and commander-in-chief Khole, who had reciprocated by conveying their regards to Muivah and NSCN (I-M) chairman Isak Chishi Swu. However, no date for the meeting has been fixed.Wangtin met Muivah at Camp Hebron, the NSCN (I-M) council headquarters located 35km from Dimapur, on April 10. “I felt most privileged to meet Uncle Th. Muivah and was happy to convey his message to chairman S.S. Khaplang and Gen. Khole,” he said.Wangtin told this correspondent today that the meeting would not mean that Khaplang and Khole join the NSCN (I-M) but that the leaders meet and reconcile during their lifetime to make the “Nagas one family”.Since the NSCN split in April 30, 1988, Muivah and Swu have never met their old comrades, Khaplang and Khole. In 1997, the American Baptist Church, USA, convened a meeting for Muivah, Swu and Khaplang in Atlanta but the two NSCN (I-M) leaders did not attend it. Last year, Swu spoke to Khaplang at least twice over phone.Wangtin said the two groups could not continue fighting. “We should show our sincerity towards reconciliation and unification of all Naga groups”. This unification, he added, could come about only when individual factions stop negotiating with the government of India. “Stop the political dialogue for the unification,” he urged the rival group.The NSCN (I-M) had entered into a ceasefire with the government in 1997, following which it began dialogues for a solution to the Naga problem. It has already held over 50 rounds of talks.Wangtin said collective opinion was essential to hammer out a solution to the Naga problem and no group should ignore others towards this end. The peace talks between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) did not carry the voice of all sections of the Naga people and, therefore, could not be called Naga talks. “The talks should include all Naga people. We can’t be part of the NSCN (I-M) talks,” he said.Wangtin, who is considered to be a moderate leader, strongly objected to some people in the Khaplang faction harbouring bad blood towards Muivah.He said with all sections of the Nagas working towards reconciliation and unification, hatred and criticism should be stopped forthwith. He urged all to handle the situation with utmost restraint.Kughalu Mulatonu, envoy of the collective leadership of the NSCN (K), has been demanding that Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga who hails from Ukhrul district in Manipur, should leave Nagaland and go to that state. According to him, Muivah’s problem lies in Manipur and should not be messed up with the Naga issue.He said his group would never be part of the NSCN (I-M) talks. “The government of India must clearly understand that the NSCN (Khaplang) will have separate talks with them,” he added.Wangtin said Naga leaders should not expect others to bow down before them. “Everyone must have equal responsibility in ushering in peace,” he said.He urged the Naga factions not to return to the “fratricidal madness” of two years ago. “He who opposes reconciliation among Nagas is anti-Naga,” he said.

Trial starts for China’s once-richest man

BEIJING - Huang Guangyu, once China’s richest man, has stood trial at the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court facing charges of bribery, share price fixing and money laundering.Guangyu, former chairman of Gome Electrical Appliances Holdings, was detained in November 2008 for suspected stock market manipulation.The procuratorate have charged Guangyu with illegal foreign exchange trading via Hong Kong in 2007 and insider trading of Shenzhen-listed Zhongguancun stocks, and also accused him of offering bribes of 4.56 million yuan to a number of officials, the China Daily reports.According to a previously released indictment, Guangyu channeled 800 million yuan to Hong Kong in 2007, where the money was exchanged by individuals rather than legitimate exchangers into 822 million Hong Kong dollars.Legal experts said that if all the charges are proven, the 41-year-old businessman could be behind bars for 10 to 15 years.Co-defendants in the case include his wife Lisa Du Juan, at least one business partner and unnamed others.Guangyu is the highest profile, private business person ever charged in China, a man once dubbed as “the Sam Walton of China,” after Walmart’s founder.He started in the home appliance business at the age of 17 and ranked top on Hurun’s China Rich List from 2005 to 2008. In 2008, his assets reached 43 billion yuan. (ANI)

Census weapon for battle in NE

The edgy Northeast has a new reason to fight about — the exercise to update the national population register or census.If territorial diktats are preventing villagers in disputed areas along inter-state borders from cooperating with enumerators, linguistic decrees have threatened to create a divide between the Assamese and Bengalis, the two largest communities in Assam.Over the past fortnight, enumerators in Assam have had to beat a retreat from certain areas bordering Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland.Enumerators were reportedly chased away from villages in Narayanpur area of Lakhimpur district bordering Arunachal Pradesh. “We are inquiring into why villagers refused to answer census questions,” said Lakhimpur Deputy Commissioner Jayant Narlekar.Residents of three villages located in the Boko circle of Assam’s Kamrup district but claimed by Meghalaya also refused to cooperate. “We are told the villagers refused to give information until enumerators from Meghalaya arrived,” said Joint Director of Census (Assam) Dilip Kumar Dey.Trouble in the area cropped up after the Assam Police helped officials register a few families. Subsequently, a village headman named Hyndro Samakha warned of strict action against “any Khasi found to have enrolled with Assam”.Similar incidents were also reported from areas of Assam’s Golaghat district bordering Nagaland. Allegedly under pressure from Naga militants, villagers insisted on being enumerated by officials from Nagaland.“We are not aware of census-related trouble in the border areas. Besides, we are yet to undertake the exercise of enumeration,” Director of Census (Nagaland) Hekhali Zhimomi told HT from Dimapur.Census officials attributed the incidents of local level political leaders taking advantage of villagers’ ignorance about the census exercise. “The enumeration form and questions therein make it clear this is merely a headcount without mention of language, religion or territory. Such data won’t be recorded until February next year,” a senior official said.Besides, demography is a touchy issue in Assam. The fear of indigenous Assamese – they are a minority with barely 30 per cent – being overrun, particularly by Bengali-speaking migrants from Bangladesh, had led to communal clashes and anti-foreigner agitations in the past.