Nadia connection for UK award winner

Nadia connection for UK award winner

Sanju Pal, 37, a management consultant in London with roots in Nadia’s Dhubulia, has been conferred with the “Points of Light” award by the British Government as recognition of her charity that seeks to improve education both in the UK and rural India.

Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson conferred the award that recognises outstanding individuals who have been making a change in their community and inspiring others.

Sanju is the 1,306th winner of the award that has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA.

Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded so far in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light, UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with the award to recognise volunteering for social work.

In a personal letter to Sanju, the British Prime Minister has written: “I know you do this with no thought of praise or reward, but allow me to offer my own recognition of how you are improving education for students in the UK and in India.”

Speaking to The Telegraph over phone from London, Sanju said: “I felt very happy to be awarded by the Prime Minister. It was very unexpected but highly inspiring.”

Sanju through her charity RISE (Rural India School Enterprise) had started a unique literacy programme in 2012 titled “Yearn to learn”. The programme is a supplementary intervening coaching in schools in Nadia that aims to improve literacy rates among children, reduce dropouts, increase school retention and raise the aspiration to learn among the children and their parents.

Daughter of Sunil Kumar Pal, a chartered electrical engineer, Sanju was born and brought up in London. She had done her MSc after obtaining first-class honours degree in mathematics. At the age of 23, she became a teacher after obtaining ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS), a mandatory degree for teachers in London and joined the Mulberry School for Girls in London.

“I was born and raised in London but my parents, who came to the UK in 1967, encouraged me to visit and learn about the challenges of rural India. When I became a teacher in London, I decided to help students in India and at the same time empower my students in London through social entrepreneurship,” Sanju said.

While working as a teacher, Sanju had developed a participatory programme called ‘Enterprise Challenge’ to develop a sense of responsibility among students in the UK through extra-curricular activities. Her endeavour earned the prestigious ‘Tech first Learmonth school project award’.

After this, she founded RISE in 2009 and which has so far supported over 1,000 students through “Reach Out And Rise” (ROAR) Challenge in the UK and through ‘Yearn to Learn’ in India.

Her inspiration to work in India happened during her visit to her ancestral village Shondanga in Dhubulia during a 2012 vacation.

“During a visit to our ancestral home, I tried to find out how many children of class five in my area could not identify Bengali alphabets. I asked them to read a story from their books or from a Bengali newspaper. But, many of them failed. I was shocked to realise that they could not even identify the Bengali alphabets,” Sanju said.

“I found that these students attended schools only for mid-day meal. I also interacted with their parents who were hardly aware of the progress of their child in school. Later, I conducted a survey that revealed at least 46 per cent of the children of 10 years were at least 3 years behind their expected reading level. This led me to plan a programme for the children who are at the risk of dropping out,” she added.

To help children overcome their shortcomings, Sanju launched “Yearn to Learn” as a pilot project during August 2012 in three schools in Krishnagar. It started as a supplementary coaching twice during the weekend at the end of their regular classes. The three schools extended support by identifying students for the project.

“It is not an alternative to the regular teaching imparted in the school, rather supplementary support to the children. Our goals are to improve literacy, reduce dropout and to raise aspirations of children and their parents”, Sanju added.

A teacher in Krishnagar said: “In primary schools, teachers cannot take individual care that creates the problems among children. Sanju’s programme helped to overcome problems”.

On the other hand Sanju’s ROAR Challenge is a programme of workshops that inspires the UK students to set up their own social enterprise to support students under “Yearn to Learn” in India, by establishing an intercultural partnership that strengthens their role as global citizens.

Sanju used to make time in the evenings and weekends to oversee RISE’s operations in the UK and India.

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Eviction blow to bright boy

Eviction blow to bright boy

The Visva-Bharati student evicted from his hostel for video-recording the vice-chanacellor’s Republic Day speech is grappling with two questions: what did he do wrong and how would he continue his education?

The Bankura boy, son of a farm labourer, had scored 91 per cent overall in higher secondary and 94 per cent in history.

He had enrolled in the history undergraduate course in Visva-Bharati to follow his dream of pursuing higher education and becoming a college teacher.

“I don’t know how I shall continue with my studies here. Since I’m from a Scheduled Caste, my hostel accommodation was free. I cannot rent rooms at Santiniketan for anything less than Rs 2,500 a month, which we cannot afford,” the boy told this newspaper. The Telegraph is not naming the student for fear of harming his future.

The boy comes from a family of five, and his father is the sole breadwinner. Both his parents are school dropouts. While his elder sister discontinued her studies after higher secondary, his younger brother is in school now.

His father finds it difficult to make ends meet with his modest income.

Besides what he makes as a farm labourer, he has leased out a three-cottah plot.

The Rs 2,500-odd he makes selling the milk from his cow, he gives to his son for his monthly food expenses in Santiniketan.

“Already, enough damage has been done to the boy. My humble plea is that no more khoti (harm) is caused to him,” said his father, fighting back tears.

“He is a very bright boy with noble dreams….

We have been trying to help him realise those dreams with great difficulty and many sacrifices. I sincerely request the authorities to let him be,” he added. “They should reconsider his case.”

Visva-Bharati authorities, however, played down the possibility of an immediate rethink. “As of now, we are not considering a rethink on the matter,” said Anirban Sircar, the university’s officiating public relations officer.

In the one-minute clip that shows a part of his speech, vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty is seen making observations on the Constitution against the backdrop of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The evicted student said: “I don’t know what I did wrong. The VC himself, while talking that day, said his speeches were often recorded. I took out my phone and started recording. I was not hiding. He saw me, but never objected to being recorded…. I don’t understand why I’m being victimised over something that he said in public.”

Varsity sources insisted that the CCTV footage had “established” that the boy was recording the video “secretly”, from between two other boys.

“No police case has been lodged yet. But there is a scope for charges (being invoked) under the IT Act. The video he recorded is being used to defame the VC in various platforms,” a source said.

However, police sources in Santiniketan said there was “no apparent scope” for invoking the act.

“This video does not appear to have been doctored. The alleged defamation is not being done by the boy in question. How is this connected to the IT Act in his case?” a police officer asked.

The boy said he was apprehensive of what awaited him on the campus and would pay a visit to test the waters on Monday. “I’m scared,” he said.

Several fellow students and a teachers’ association have decided to throw their weight behind the boy.

Some students have already started raising funds to ensure the boy does not have to discontinue his education.

“We will stand by him. We will give him whatever support he needs. His career will not be nipped in the bud like this,” said Shehnaz Khatun, a student of Japanese.

The Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association said it would, if necessary, take full responsibility for the boy’s education. “He need not fear or worry,” said association president Sudipta Bhattacharyya.

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BJP MP at Aishe home for pro-CAA campaign

BJP MP at Aishe home for pro-CAA campaign

Bankura BJP MP Subhas Sarkar, accompanied by party workers, visited the home of Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Aishe Ghosh during a “pro-CAA door-to-door campaign” on Tuesday afternoon.

Sarkar spoke to Aishe’s mother Sharmistha, before handing her campaign pamphlets. “BJP workers handed me some pro-CAA pamphlets, but there was not much discussion between us,” Sharmistha said.

Sources said Aishe’s father Debasish, a Damodar Valley Corporation employee, was not at home then.

Aishe had been beaten by alleged RSS-affiliated ABVP activists on the JNU campus earlier this month.

Asked whether Subhas had inquired about Aishe, Sharmistha said: “Yes, he (Subhas) wanted to know how my daughter is and I told him she is recovering. Nothing more than that.”

The BJP MP later told reporters that Aishe’s frequent appearance on TC indicated she was fit. “Her TV interviews clearly show she is fit and fine,” he said, before commenting that he was unsure about the actual number of stitches on Aishe’s forehead.

Reacting to the MP’s comments: Sharmistha said: “They (BJP) run the government at the Centre and can easily get reports regarding my daughter’s injuries. Moreover, why didn’t he ask me if he had any doubts.”

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Report nails repair agency for collapse

Report nails repair agency for collapse

A report of the three-member committee, which was formed to inquire into the collapse of a portion of the Burdwan railway station on January 5 night, has blamed the agency involved in the repair of the 166-year-old structure for the accident.

“The three-member committee has finalised its report and submitted it at the divisional (Howrah) office. In their report, the committee fixed responsibility (for the accident) on the agency engaged in the repair job,” Nikhil Kumar Chakraborty, the chief public relations officer of Eastern Railway, said.

“The committee has given two suggestions in its report. It has asked us to conduct a health audit of the station building and to replace portions of the building that have either lost or will soon lose its codal life,” Chakraborty said.

In railway parlance, codal life is defined as the “useful life of assets” or the maximum period of time that an asset is expected to be used.

Chakraborty, however, did not specify whether any action would be taken against the agency.

The portion of the station building had collapsed on January 5 night, killing a person and injuring another.

Several officials and engineers alleged the ongoing renovation of the old station building had been initiated without a health audit of the structure. They said that “proper precautions” had not been taken before starting the repairs.

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Arrest over NH12 work

Arrest over NH12 work

One person was arrested on Thursday night for allegedly instigating people to prevent the Nadia administration from widening NH12 between Krishnanagar and Jagulia starting in October last year.

Syed Ahmed, president of the Jana Jagarani Manch based in North 24-Parganas’s Amghata, was arrested following a prolonged interrogation after he had been detained on Thursday afternoon.

Police sources said the accused had been stopped on NH12 near Ranaghat while driving towards Dignagar with his aides. The sources added the accused had been trying to prevent officials from clearing encroachers on the government-acquired land there.

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Varsity rider for Basanta on Holi

Varsity rider for Basanta on Holi

Visva-Bharati authorities held a meeting on Friday evening and decided to hold its annual Basanta Utsav on the day of Holi only if the state government took the responsibility of managing crowd, traffic and law and order.

Sources said the shift from its earlier decision not to hold the festival on Holi came following pressure from the government.

Varsity officials said the decision was taken after education minister Partha Chatterjee had called up vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty requesting him not to disassociate Basanta Utsav from Holi.

After the meeting, Visva-Bharati has set up a six-member committee headed by Sushovan Banerjee, the president’s nominee in the university’s executive council, who will hold talks with Chatterjee next month.

The officiating registrar, Asha Mukherjee, has sent a letter to Chatterjee informing the minister about Visva-Bharati’s proposal.

“We have decided to hold the festival on the same day only if the state government takes responsibilities of law and order, crowd management and makes other necessary administrative arrangements,” said the varsity’s officiating public relations officer Anirban Sircar.

Officials said the varsity had decided not to hold Basanta Utsav on Holi following its adverse experiences last year. The varsity had decided to hold the programme between Holi and the preceding full moon.

The officials said managing lakhs of people who converge in Santiniketan on the occasion of Basanta Utsav had become a tough job for the university.

“Last year, all roads leading to the ground got blocked, leading to traffic snarls, suffocation and unwanted harassment. There were also complaints of molestation,” a varsity official said.

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IIT help sought on sweet packaging

IIT help sought on sweet packaging

The Mamata Banerjee government has sought IIT Kharagpur’s technical support for proper preservation and packaging of Mihidana and Sitabhog so that the popular sweets from Burdwan can be exported to domestic as well as international markets.

Sitabhog and Mihidana are two popular Bengali desserts made in Burdwan. Sitabhog is made of flour and cottage cheese vermicelli. Mihidana is made from powdered basmati rice and mixed with gram flour and saffron.

Sources said the initiative followed an instruction from the chief minister who felt the sweets could have markets beyond Bengal as they enjoy the geographical indication tag.

The sources said the food technology department of IIT Kharagpur had already submitted a draft proposal and the estimated cost for providing the technical know-how to the East Burdwan district administration.

“We have got the report and we are looking into it on how to implementing the proposals,” East Burdwan district magistrate Vijay Bharti said.

He said the sweets needed proper preservation and packaging to maintain quality before selling them beyond Bengal.

An expert team headed by IIT Kharagpur professor H.M. Mishra had visited Burdwan three months ago and met representatives of the sweet manufacturers’ body.

The sources said the primary experiment at laboratory to preserve the sweets for three months was done successfully. Now, the plan is to train the sweet manufacturers in preservation and packaging. “Negotiation is on with IIT Kharagpur on cost involvement,” said a district administrative official.

The representatives of the Burdwan Sitabhog Mihidana Traders’ Welfare Association approached chief minister Mamata Banerjee in October last year to help them in packaging and preservation, following which the district administration got in touch with the food technology department of IIT Kharagpur.

Pramod Kumar Singh, secretary of the association, said individual customers did carry the sweets beyond Bengal, even abroad, though the sellers couldn’t guarantee freshness of the products.

The association participated in three international food fairs in Mumbai and Delhi since Sitabhog and Mihidana got GI tag in 2017.

“The demand for Sitabhog and Mihidana increased after attending the food fairs. Many export agencies approached us for the marketing of the sweets abroad but we couldn’t proceed because of absence of the know-how to preserve and package the sweets,” said Singh.

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Complaint against VC on varsity attack

Complaint against VC on varsity attack

A group of Visva-Bharati students on Friday lodged a police complaint accusing vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty of plotting an attack on students at the varsity on January 15 night.

Along with the complaint, a video clip that contains a purported conversation between the VC and a student was also submitted to the police.

“In the video, it is clear that the VC is asking to bring goons from outside to give us ‘medicine’. The video was taken on January 7 and the VC was asking one of the student leaders, Achintya Bagdi, to come around 3.30pm, the time of Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta’s lecture on the CAA on our campus,” said Falguni Pan, one of the complainants.

The Santiniketan campus of the varsity had been on the boil since Chakrabarty invited Dasgupta for a lecture on the CAA on January 8. Students had laid siege to the venue of the lecture, confining Dasgupta, Chakraborty and others to the conference room for hours.

Seven days after the protest, some outsiders attacked students at one of the hostels and later at hospital. Those who were attacked had led the protest on the day of Dasgupta’s lecture. Following the assault, police arrested three students, including Bagdi.

“We have lodged the complaint and submitted the video. It is clear from the video that the VC is involved in a conspiracy to attack students of his university,” Somnath Sow, an SFI leader and a complainant, said.

The authorities in Visva-Bharati, however, claimed the voice in the video did not match with that of the VC.

“After watching the video, we are sure it is fake and some images and audios have been doctored to malign the VC and the institution. All the students are same for the VC and the allegations are baseless,” said Anirban Sircar, the officiating public relations officer.

Shyam Singh, the Birbhum police chief, said: “We have received a video clip along with a complaint from the students. We have already started verifying different clips collected from different sources.”

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Live streaming of last rites

Live streaming of last rites

Those who stay away from the town and miss out on the last rites after the death of their near and dear ones will be able see the rituals online.

During the inauguration of an electric crematorium on the banks of the Churni river on Monday, Ranaghat municipality chairman Parthasarathi Chatterjee said live-streaming of last rites would be provided free of charge through the civic body’s website from later this week.

One has to apply online to avail oneself of the facility.

The municipal authorities have claimed Ranaghat is the first civic body in Bengal to offer such a service.

Ashima Sarkar, a homemaker, said: “The facility will be of great help for those who fail to turn up for the final rites of their near and dear ones.”

Chatterjee said: “We conceived the plan as we often find many relatives and family members unable to be present during the last rites of their kin because of logistical reasons. For a son or daughter staying abroad, it is often difficult to turn up for the funeral at a short notice. We just tried to cover this gap and provide them with the opportunity to pay their tributes as well.”

“Once an application is properly made, the service will be instantly activated and the user will get live video feed,” a municipal officer said.

The officer said only two persons would be able to see the live-streaming at the moment. To access the facility, one will have to upload the death certificate of the person, he said. The service will be available till the body is put into the furnace.

Chatterjee told journalists that the service would be free of cost.

“The family of the deceased will have to pay Rs 1,000 as burning ghat fee,” he added.

The new ghat has been built at a cost of Rs 1.67 crore under the state government’s Baitarani project.

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First start-up hub opens in Meghalaya

First start-up hub opens in Meghalaya

Meghalaya got its first PRIME (Promotion of Innovative and Market-Driven Enterprises) start-up hub here on Tuesday where 100 entrepreneurs will receive incubation support and mentoring for one year.

The day also witnessed the Meghalaya Entrepreneurship and Start-up Summit 2020, which was inaugurated by chief minister Conrad K. Sangma in the presence of Niti Aayog chief executive officer Amitabh Kant.

The PRIME start-up hub in Shillong is located at the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex.

The 100 entrepreneurs were chosen from Chief Minister’s Entrepreneurship-Champion Challenge that was launched in August last year to identify and encourage potential entrepreneurs from across the state. Inaugurating the summit, Conrad said the programmes of the government are to ensure that the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem of the state is improved for all young, bright entrepreneurs who do not have the wherewithal but possess great ideas and innovations. “The government has started many programmes to push entrepreneurship in the state by recognising and motivating them and by creating strategies to ensure the different levels of entrepreneurs like innovators, nano entrepreneurs and livelihood entrepreneurs are identified and guided as they move forward.”

Besides agriculture and tourism, he said the northeastern states have music which is one of the sectors where entrepreneurs can work on. “Meghalaya and (other states in) the Northeast have a great talent in music and music incubator centres can create value out of music. Fashion is another area,” he said.

The chief minister announced that from the next financial year, there will be a monthly award for musicians and sportspersons.

In his address, Kant said India is going through the biggest socio-economic transition with a high population of youth. He, therefore, said it was a rare opportunity for disruptions (of status quo), innovations and drive start-ups and have young people find solutions to the many challenges the country is facing.

“Some innovations across the world are not relevant to India and we need to find solutions to our own problems and our challenges are to provide the right technology to farmers, reuse water, and convert waste into energy providing huge opportunities across sectors and therefore we are seeing a unique ecosystem developing in India,” he said.

Kant said Niti Aayog would like to partner with the Meghalaya government in setting up tinkering labs in schools across the state, to make Meghalaya as the centre of organic farming and a centre for value-added tourism.

He also said Niti Aayog would support Meghalaya with 10 more incubation centres and organise a summit where entrepreneurs of the state will interact with some of the best start-ups of India.

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