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Anti-CAA posters at Saraswati Puja mandaps

Anti-CAA posters at Saraswati Puja mandaps

All colleges under Dibrugarh University in Upper Assam on Wednesday decorated the Saraswati Puja pandals with anti-CAA banners and slogans to create awareness among people.

“As per the instructions of the central committee of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), we have decorated the Saraswati Puja mandap with anti-CAA themes and all the colleges under Dibrugarh University have done this. We intend to create awareness among people, both young and old, in towns or villages, that CAA is not good for us and so we are not going to accept it,” Pallab Jyoti Moran, president of Doomdooma College Students Union, told The Telegraph.

“We won’t stay like second-class citizens under illegal Bangladeshis. Don’t treat us like second-class citizens. We are against illegal immigrants, Hindus or Muslims. We have taken their burden till 1971. We want the bill scrapped. Please save the Northeast, save Assam to save India. We want to tell Modi we will not accept, we will not tolerate CAA. We will continue with our peaceful protest till the law is scrapped,” he added.

“This India is not of a particular party or leader. This India is of Indians. Assam belongs to each and every indigenous person. No government can impose whatever they want. We are against CAA and will remain against CAA,” Madhu Bala Chetry, a student, said.

Assam witnessed major protests after the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on December 9 last year. Five persons died in alleged police firing in the anti-CAA protests.

The law will accord citizenship to six persecuted communities from three neighbouring Islamic countries who had entered the country before December 31, 2014, even without valid documents. In Assam, the people are worried that CAA will help lakhs of Bangladeshi Hindus settle in the state, posing a threat to the language and culture of the state.

“The CAA violates the provisions of the Assam Accord and is anti-Assam and unconstitutional,” said Sriram Tanti, a student.

According to the Accord, the cut-off date for detection and deportation of illegal migrants is March 24, 1971.

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Preamble is changeable: VC

Preamble is changeable: VC

Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty courted yet another controversy on Sunday when he criticised those opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by reading the Constitution’s Preamble, which he said had been drafted with the support of a few and had become the Vedas for the protesters.

“Today, those who are opposing the CAA are reading the Preamble. But this Constitution was drafted by ‘minority’ votes. (Only) 293 people met at the Constituent Assembly and drafted the Constitution. If you read papers of that time, (you will find) many people opposed it. Now that has became the Vedas for us. Preamble has become the Vedas. But if we do not like (the Preamble),

we, who are voters and form Parliament, will change it. But the process to change does not mean a wave (of protest), hurling abuses,” Chakraborty said.

He made the observation while addressing students on Republic Day at the Vidya-Bhavana Senior Boys’ hostel. While addressing the students on Sunday morning, the VC spoke mostly on the Preamble to the Constitution. His speech has been met with criticism from students, teachers, constitutional experts and academics.

On the night of January 15 night, a group of students had carried out an attack the a few inmates of the Vidya-Bhavana Senior Boys’ hostel.

Several students and teachers found in Chakraborty’s speech resonance of a similar comment made by BJP leader and former Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde in 2017. Hedge had said: “We (the ruling BJP) are here to change the Constitution.”

Hedge’s comment had received widespread criticism.

Hostel inmates said that on Sunday morning the warden had knocked on their doors and asked them to join him in an open area downstairs.

“The VC referred to the attack on the students who lived in the hostel and said he condemned such things. But suddenly, he started talking about the CAA and Constitution…. We were surprised listening to the VC’s speech,” said a student of the hostel who was present during Chakraborty’s speech.

Sugata Bose, a professor of history at Harvard University, said: “The Preamble is the most beautiful part of the Constitution. The Preamble may be called the Vedas because it encapsulates the spirit of our democracy. I can’t understand what he (the VC) meant by ‘minority’. If he refers religious minority, that is not right as there were very few Muslim members. The Constitution was passed with majority votes.”

Advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya said: “It is Hindutva propaganda and they (BJP) are posting such people like the VC to promote their agenda.”

Responding to the criticism, the varsity’s public relation officer Anirban Sircar said: “To destroy the tradition of Visva-Bharati, a doctored video, which has a distorted version of the VC’s Republic Day speech, is being circulated to create confusion among the people about the university’s philosophy. We strongly protest against this…”

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‘No-disturb zone’ at varsity

‘No-disturb zone’ at varsity

Visva-Bharati authorities on Monday notified its central administrative building and its adjoining areas as ‘no-disturb zone’, the move coming an hour before the students were to start a protest march from there.

“The undersigned is directed to notify for information of all concerned that henceforth, the central administrative building including the area of central library and academic and research section are declared as ‘no disturb zone’ of the university.. Hence, any kind of procession/demonstration/ get together surrounding these areas is strictly prohibited,” the notification issued by officiating registrar Asha Mukherjee reads.

The students condemned the notification as they think that vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty and his officials are trying to stop them from carrying out peaceful protests against campus violence and other issues. The area has also been brought under the coverage of CCTV cameras.

“The notification about ‘no-disturb zone’ came an hour before our protest rally against the attack on students in hostel and later at the hospital. Our rally was about to start from in front of the central office that has been made a no-disturb zone,” said Shahanaj Khatun, a student of the Japanese department.

The students called the march to condemn the VC’s “action” on Monday around 5pm. After the notification, the march was put off and the students demonstrated in front of Upasana Griha, the prayer hall.

The varsity officials said CCTV cameras had been installed to beef up security and other central universities and institutions have similar no-disturb zones. “CCTV cameras were installed as part of better security. No-disturb zones are there at various central universities and institutions. Visva-Bharati did not have its administrative block marked no-disturb zone. Now we have done it,” said Anirban Sircar, the officiating public relations officer.

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Bengal government declares extra holiday on January 29

Bengal government declares extra holiday on January 29

The Bengal government has declared a holiday on January 29 on account of Saraswati Puja, in addition to January 30 and 31, after it realised that the festival would be celebrated on Wednesday, too.

“The State Government had declared holidays on January 30 and January 31 in connection with Saraswati Puja under this Department Notification No. 5962-F(P2) & 5964-F(P2) both dated 01.11.2019. Now, it has come to notice that Saraswati Puja will also be celebrated on January 29 (Wednesday). In view of this, the State Government has decided to declare holiday on January 29, 2020,” reads a notification issued by the state finance department on Monday.

Sources in the government said when the list of holidays was being prepared initially, officials were informed that Saraswati Puja would be celebrated on January 30. But as all schools in the state were preparing to organise Saraswati Puja on January 29 following Bengali “Panjika”, the government was forced to declare an additional holiday on Wednesday.

The additional holiday has given an opportunity to nearly 8 lakh employees of the state government and the staff of state aided institutions to enjoy a long weekend as the holidays announced earlier on Thursday (January 30) and Friday (January 31) were not withdrawn.

A section of the officials, however, asked why the state government did not withdraw the holidays announced earlier after it was realised that Saraswati Puja would be celebrated a day ahead.

“The state government had given two holidays on account of Saraswati Puja earlier. If the holidays are being advanced by one day, the state should have withdrawn the holiday declared on January 31,” said a bureaucrat.

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China alarmed as virus toll reaches 56

China alarmed as virus toll reaches 56

The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday, with nearly 2,000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.

A handful of cases have been reported outside China, including in Thailand, Australia, the US and France, with health authorities around the world racing to prevent a pandemic.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

China’s National Health Commission minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, and the virus is infectious during incubation, which was not the case with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

SARS was a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.

“According to recent clinical information, the virus’s ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma told a packed media briefing on the second day of the Lunar New Year holiday, adding that knowledge of the virus was limited.

Containment efforts, which have thus far included transportation and travel curbs and the cancellation of big events, will be intensified, Ma said.

The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

Hong Kong has six confirmed cases.

President Xi Jinping said during a politburo meeting on Saturday that China was facing a “grave situation”.

On Sunday, China announced a nationwide ban on the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms. Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.

Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.

The US state department said it would relocate personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the US and offer a limited number of seats to private US citizens on a January 28 flight to San Francisco.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Sunday the government was working with Chinese authorities to arrange a charter flight for any Japanese nationals who wish to return from Wuhan.

The World Health Organisation this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can continue to contain the epidemic.

On Sunday, China confirmed 1,975 cases of patients infected with the new coronavirus as of January 25, while the death toll from the virus has risen to 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown, with transport links all but severed except for emergency vehicles.

Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.

Beijing is also postponing the reopening of the city’s schools and universities after the Lunar New Year holiday, state radio reported. Hong Kong had already delayed the reopening of schools to February 17.

Health officials in Orange County, California, reported that a third case of the new coronavirus had been registered in the US, in a traveller from Wuhan, who was in isolation and in good condition.

On Saturday, Canada declared a first “presumptive” confirmed case in a resident who had returned from Wuhan. Australia confirmed its first four cases.

China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the deadly SARS virus eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticised for their handling of the current outbreak.

“People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients number given by authorities,” said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.

“I go out with a mask twice a day to walk the dog — that’s the only outdoor activity,” she told Reuters by a text message.

The outbreak has overshadowed the start of the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad to be with families, with public events cancelled and many tourist sites shut.

Overall passenger travel declined by nearly 29 per cent on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, from a year earlier, with air passengers down nearly 42 per cent, a transportation ministry official said.

Many cinemas across China are also closed with major film premieres postponed, slashing revenues.

Cruise operators, including Royal Caribbean Cruises, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and Astro Ocean Cruises, said they cancelled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before February 2.

Hong Kong Disneyland and the city’s Ocean Park were closed on Sunday.

Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the Lunar New Year holidays, has already closed.

Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings.

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Virus spread accelerating, says Xi

Virus spread accelerating, says Xi

President Xi Jinping said China was facing a “grave situation” as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped to 41, overshadowing celebrations of the Lunar New Year that began on Saturday.

With more than 1,400 people infected worldwide, most of them in China, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted links to mainland China.

Australia confirmed its first four cases on Saturday, Malaysia confirmed three and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.

The US is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicentre of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until February 17.

Xi held a politburo meeting on Saturday on measures to fight the “accelerating” outbreak, state television reported.

The death toll in China has risen to 41, authorities reported on Saturday, from 26 a day earlier. As of 6pm local time (1000 GMT), 1,372 people in China had been infected with the virus — traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.

The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the US.

In Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, officials appealed for masks and protective suits.

“We are steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention … But right now we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” Hu Yinghai, deputy director-general of the civil affairs department, told a news briefing.

Vehicles carrying emergency supplies and medical staff for Wuhan would be exempted from tolls and given traffic priority, China’s transportation ministry said on Saturday.

Wuhan said it would ban non-essential vehicles from its downtown starting Sunday, further paralysing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lockdown since Thursday, with nearly all flights cancelled and checkpoints blocking the main roads leading out of town.

Authorities have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province, which has a population of 59 million.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

Australia confirmed its first four cases in two different cities on Saturday, and the country’s chief health official said he expected more cases as Australia is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

State-run China Global Television Network reported on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus.

It was not immediately clear if his death was already counted in the official toll of 41, of which 39 were in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located.

US coffee chain Starbucks said it was closing all its outlets in Hubei province for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.

Workers in white protective suits checked temperatures of passengers entering the subway at Beijing’s central railway station on Saturday, while some train services in the eastern Yangtze river Delta region were suspended, the local railway operator said.

State-owned CCTV, citing an announcement from China’s tourism industry, said the country would halt all group tours, both at home and abroad, from January 27.

There are fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the Lunar New Year holiday, although many have cancelled their plans.

Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, though some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings. The WHO this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency.

A report by infectious disease specialists at Imperial College, London, on Saturday said that despite this, the epidemic “represents a clear and ongoing global health threat” adding: “It is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain the continuing epidemic within China.”

While China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after the cover-up of the 2002/2003 SARS spread, officials in Wuhan have be criticised for their handling of the current outbreak.

A senior journalist at a Hubei newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party called on Friday for a “immediate” change of leadership in Wuhan on the Twitter-like Weibo. The post was later removed. Reuters

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Rice mills in dock over non-delivery

Rice mills in dock over non-delivery

Bengal food minister Jyotipriyo Mallick has asked officials to take steps against three mills in Jalpaiguri district for allegedly not delivering rice to the state government on time.

Mallick, who held a review meeting at the district collectorate here on Saturday, said the government had provided paddy to the three mills for extraction of rice. “After buying paddy from farmers, we sent the same to rice mills which in turn provide rice to us. We had provided around 3,500 metric tons of paddy to three mills in the 2017-2018 fiscal. But so far, they have not provided the rice to us. The licence of one of the mills — that is in Maynaguri block — will be cancelled immediately and it would be closed. Steps would be taken against two other mills,” said Mallick.

The other two mills are in Dashdarga, 10km from here.

The minister also said the government had decided not to keep managers of tea estates as ration dealers any longer.

“We have decided to change the practice because in case there is suspension of work in a garden, labourers and their families would not get food grains. We are engaging self-help groups for distribution of rations in tea gardens,” he said.

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Forensic scan on ‘VC’ video

Forensic scan on ‘VC’ video

police are likely to send the video clip that contains a purported conversation between Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty and a student for forensic examination to verify the tape’s authenticity.

Five students had on Friday lodged a complaint with Santiniketan police, along with the purported video clip, accusing the VC of plotting an attack on students at a varsity hostel and later at the hospital on January 15 night.

“We are inquiring to find out the source of the video. It will then be sent to a forensic science laboratory for experts to verify whether the video clip was dubbed or doctored,” said a senior police officer.

District police chief Shyam Singh said: “A case had already been registered in connection with the January 15 attack on students. We will take all necessary steps regarding the video and the complaint.”

Police sources said the students had submitted a raw file of the video of 18 minutes and seven seconds as “enough” proof of the attack being carried out at the direction of the VC.

“The complaint by the students and the video is serious in nature. They have accused the VC and we seek an explanation from Chakrabarty as the allegation is that he had directed the attack on the students. We are worried about the future of this esteemed institution,” said Sudipta Bhattacharyya, president of Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association.

Sudripta Tagore, a descendent of Tagore family and principal of a school in Santiniketan, said: “If the video clip is genuine, I am dumbfounded. People representing an institution does not matter, ultimately the reputation of the organisation is at stake.”

Sources said the video had been recorded during a candlelight march by varsity employees on January 7 to protest “false” complaints against the VC and other senior officials.

The students said VC Chakrabarty was found directing a student to get the “bike battalion” around 3.30pm on January 8 when Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta was scheduled to hold a lecture on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

After the attack on the students at the varsity hostel and later at the hospital, a section of students had claimed that the goons had the support of Chakrabarty and the university authorities.

Anirban Sircar, the officiating public relations officer, however, claimed the video had been doctored to malign the VC and Visva-Bharati. “The voice in the video does not match that of the VC. After our VC came, he started the purification of the varsity. Those with vested interest were affected by the VC’s actions and they are trying to malign him and Visva-Bharati.”

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A Shaheen Bagh in Behrampore

A Shaheen Bagh in Behrampore

people of all age groups from different parts of Murshidabad district have converged here to replicate protests going on in New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, Calcutta’s Park Circus and Lucknow’s Ghanta Ghar against the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

A move initiated by an anti-NRC forum in the district headquarters town on Wednesday turned the area outside the Behrampore district magistrate’s office into a Shaheen Bagh beyond bigger cities.

What began as a trickle on Wednesday has “snowballed” into a Delhi-like protest by Friday with several hundred people, mainly women, coming to the venue throughout the day.

“I came here because I saw a friend streaming on Facebook Live. What is happening in Delhi has inspired me, so I rushed here immediately,” said 20-year-old college student Rituparna Ray from Behrampore town.

Ray, who joined the sit-in on Thursday and has been staying for most part of the day, added: “I am totally against religion-based discrimination, so I had to make my voice heard.”

Sources said since it had begun on Wednesday, 150-200 protesters have been present at any time of the day at the tarpaulin-covered protest venue. “We began with a meeting to protest against the Centre’s citizenship thrust, but a group of people wanted to start a Shaheen Bagh-like sit-in that has grown big as news about it spread like wildfire,” said Abrah Hossain, 52, the convenor of Behrampore’s Anti-NRC Sanhati.

“New faces, especially women, are rushing in here every day to say ‘We are with you’,” he added.

Among the protesters seen at the venue — which, like Delhi, is witness to impassioned speeches or fervent singing at any given time of day — were 75-year-old Sutiya Bewa and 22-year-old Jeba Nasrin from Behrampore.

“I am here for people like Jeba, who have their whole lives ahead of them,” said Sutiya. “I want her life to be one of freedom, and not one of persecution or imprisonment.”

Amjura Khatun, 32, a mother from Gorabajar in the district, was seen at the venue on Friday and Saturday afternoons with her three-month-old baby. “I am also here to ensure the safety of her future,” said Khatun.

“Every little drop makes up the ocean,” said Sutiya before asserting, “the force of all our efforts combined will sweep away the BJP.”

Attendees at Behrampore’s sit-in struck a clear parallel with the protests in Calcutta’s Park Circus and New Market areas, where hundreds of women — including several from the Muslim community — camped overnight with their husbands and children.

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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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