Monday, November 11, 2013

Did the story end?

Happenings, Nov '13 (update 1)
Sayan Bhattacharya reports on a book reading session of Arjun Shekhar’s second novel End of Story? at the Seagull Bookstore, Kolkata

Kolkata, October 27, 2013: We hear a girl say, “I am part of a lost generation and I refuse to believe that I can change the world . . .” She goes on to paint a dystopian world where work is more important than family, where money is happiness. On a black screen, these lines scroll down to the girl’s voice. She continues, “My generation is apathetic and lethargic / It is foolish to presume that / There is hope.” A few seconds of silence and she signs off saying, “All of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it.” And then something startling happens. We hear a complete turnaround. “There is hope / It is foolish to presume that / My generation is apathetic and lethargic.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Yours emotionally

Vartanama, Nov '13
By Pawan Dhall

October 10 was World Mental Health Day, and also the first of the five big days of this year’s Durga Puja festival, the biggest in Bengal and celebrated with verve in other parts of India as well. Quite a happy coincidence, for what emotional well-being is to mental health, Durga Puja is to the social health of Bengal. A sense of sharing, feasting, colour and warmth presides in a part of India that is constantly battling an image of social, educational, health and economic gloom.

Doctor Brain's laboratory

Insight, Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Nov '13
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta


The human body is aptly called a biochemical laboratory. Each time we discover the hidden codes that run the laboratory, we are left surprised at its precision and complexity. While speaking of the human ‘mind’, there is an age-long tug-of-war between biological and behavioural theorists (see The Mind-Body Riddle, September 2013 issue of Varta). It was identified long ago that our mind is a reflection of our brain’s activity, and the mind cannot exist free from the body. It is as simple and perhaps as silly as two computer lovers fighting about the superiority of hardware and software over each other. Both fail to see that both are right about their theory, and both are wrong in ignoring the other. But the tug-of-war seems to entertain us till date.

Celebrate, connect and grow

Happenings, Nov '13
Priyanka Bhaduri reports on an event to mark the World Mental Health Day in Kolkata

Kolkata, October 10, 2013: The Centre for Counselling Services and Studies in Self Development (CCSSS), Jadavpur University organized a daylong event to observe the World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2013 at the Subarna Jayanti Building in the university campus. The welcome address for the event, the central theme for which was ‘celebrate, connect and grow’, was given by Prof. Souvik Bhattacharya, Vice Chancellor, Jadavpur University.

Journey of a braveheart

People, Nov '13
By Amrita Sarkar

“Amita, tumhara ek photo dena, main ghar mein rakhungi” (Amita, please give me a photograph of yours, I will keep it at home). This was Mangu’s only wish, and she asked me for this every time she met me. But I would meet her mostly during work trips to Bhadrak, her hometown located in Odisha state of eastern India. Thanks to a packed schedule and work commitments, somehow I could never fulfill her wish.

Missives of loneliness

From the Archives, Nov '13
Zaid Al Baset delves into the Counsel Club archives again. These series of articles intend to create an archive of the queer movement in Bengal and India – not a chronological narrative of the movement, rather anecdotal histories capturing the little voices that are often lost in general historical accounts – voices from thousands of letters received by Counsel Club, one of India’s earliest queer support groups (1993 to 2002), and from the group’s house journal Naya Pravartak.

The 9th issue of Naya Pravartak published in August 1997, Counsel Club’s house journal, featured an article titled Seasons of Loneliness by one of the youngest members of the group. Beginning on a generic note on how loneliness is a common affliction, he asks “Is it related to one’s sexuality?” This young man, who loves writing, talking, watching TV and cooking, had a much older friend. He committed suicide when he was 46 years old, leaving behind a terse note: “Ultimate escape from loneliness”.

A state of no progress

Poetry, Nov '13
By Shompa Datta

You must take this city bus to school to be on time
But a crowd of riders bulge out at the doors
So, you push and push till it swallows you and your fears
            No personal space here!

Over pot-holes and narrow corners
Everyone rides together, companions
In sweat and smell and bodies tiered
            No comfortable journey here!

But, your schoolgirl dreams shatter –
A hand creeps up and down your thigh
The heavy-breathing body rubs rhythmically undeterred
            No compunction here!

So, you carry a pin to warn away molesting hands
Who blame the buses and the swaying crowds
For men will be men in close quarters, it appears
            No safe space here!

After generations of unschooled instinct excused
Gang-rapes on buses become repeated breaking news
Live women are easy game, this society holds,
Though in parras or hoods goddesses are revered
            No, no progress here!

Shompa Datta writes to give voice to issues and experiences that influence her at home and abroad. Her poems have been published in LimeStone Dust Poetry, Desilicious and Scripts. As a Kolkata lover, she hopes that the city will regain its place as a trailblazer Indian city; as a US resident, she hopes for civil rights for all, irrespective of gender, class, race and sexual orientation.
She earns a living as an Associate Professor of English at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and lives in the same city with her partner.

Star quest - 2nd encounter

Clickhappy! Star Quest, Nov '13
By Pawan Dhall

In the last issue of Varta, we started the Star Quest column, a series of photo-stories of individuals who may not be public figures like politicians, artistes, social activists or media persons, but have in their own way contributed to social equality and empowerment around gender, sexuality and related issues.

Their contribution may be in an intimate arena – among friends and neighbours, their local community, a village or slum school, their own work place and so on. It may not have attracted any media attention, yet the importance of their efforts cannot be underscored enough. Varta is happy to bring to light such hidden ‘stars’ and focus on endeavours that generate hope for a better present and future.

Varta welcomes its readers to contribute to Star Quest by sending information about individuals living anywhere in India who can be portrayed in the column. Please send a brief description of the individual and their work in about 100 words to, and also include 3 to 5 high quality photographs of the individual depicting their day-to-day life.

Please note that no individual will be portrayed in this column through text or photographs till the Varta team has interacted with them and obtained their informed consent. Therefore it is vital that readers also obtain the consent of the individuals concerned before sending information about them to Varta.

Photograph provided by
Debgopal Mondal
Star of the month: Debgopal Mondal, 25, from Uchpur village near Sainthia in Birbhum district of West Bengal, lives in Kolkata in a paying guest accommodation and is a budding filmmaker. A graduate in Bengali, Debgopal recollects that he wanted to become a filmmaker right since he was in the eighth standard in school. After college, since admission into any of the renowned filmmaking institutes was beyond his means, Debgopal plucked up courage to do the rounds of Tollywood studios in Kolkata. In 2007, he met filmmaker Dipankar Bhattacharya, who taught him the theory and other basics of filmmaking. Debgopal started as an observer and since then has assisted Dipankar Bhattacharya in the direction of several films of different genres.

In a phone interview, Dipankar Bhattcharya says, “Debgopal is a sincere and talented young fellow and works hard. He is a good learner, and I am happy to say that at times even I benefit from some very useful suggestions given by him.”

Debgopal’s current passion is making a film on the Bhadu festival, which is mostly celebrated in the Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum and Purulia districts of West Bengal. According to folklore, the festival has its origins in the story of Bhadravati, a princess who lived sometime in 19th century Bengal. She gets separated from her lover because of the evil designs of a jealous king. Her search for her lover proves fruitless and she commits suicide.

Photo credit:

Bhadravati or Bhadu Devi’s devotees make an image of her and sing and dance before it throughout the month of Bhadra in the Bengali calendar (which translates to mid August to mid September). On the last day, they gather on a river bank and immerse the image in the water. Songs, mainly on fulfillment of wishes for a happy marriage or birth of children, form the main attraction of the festival in which both professional groups and amateurs take part. Celebrations include fairs and cultural programmes.

According to Debgopal, the festival is largely observed by women, including unmarried ones (Bhadravati too was unmarried), and has also been adopted by male-to-female transgender people or trans women in Birbhum. Many of them dress and act as Bhadu Devi. His film also is focussed on three trans women from different generations who perform the goddess’ role and explores the question – will their desire to become women ever be fulfilled?

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Widows are not meant to be associated with Bhadu festival. But the activist in Debgopal wants to show this barrier broken in the film, and he plans to include a widow as a character in the film. Debgopal’s non-conformism extends also to his personal self. He says he too is a woman inside, but he is happy with his physical self and so doesn’t stick to any particular label like transgender. Yet he has the utmost respect for people who adopt such an identity.

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Debgopal is out about his gender orientation at work, including at NGO Prantakatha where he is part of their filmmaking campaign against gender-based violence. He is not sure what will happen if he comes out to his family, though he expects them to be considerate. Quite ironically filmmaker-actor Rituparno Ghosh’s demise seems to have made an impact on his folks as well – they are quite sad at his untimely departure.

The more immediate challenge for Debgopal is to find adequate finance for his film on Bhadu festival. He doesn’t want to compromise on quality and plans to cast actors from the Bengali film and television industry. If the film works out as he aspires, then Debgopal plans to take up more ambitious projects in future, including a feature film on pheriwallahs (vendors with handcarts who sell an assortment of utility items). Like the festival of Bhadu is losing out to modern-day forms of entertainment, the community of pheriwallahs is also fading in the onslaught of contemporary trade and marketing.

The underdog clearly is Debgopal’s focus. “People should treat all human beings equally,” he asserts as we wind up our conversation.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

FIR basics

Advice - Rights and Laws, Nov '13
By Kaushik Gupta

Reader queries

When and how to file an FIR?
Anonymous, Kolkata

A First Information Report or an FIR can be lodged in case of a cognizable offence. In the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, there is the description of two kinds of offences: cognizable and non-cognizable. It is usually the more serious offences that are cognizable and in which the police can arrest an accused without a court issued warrant. You can check the list at

An FIR can be oral or written. If it is oral, then the police must write it down, read it out to you and make you sign it. If it is written, the police can still jot down the contents of it in their FIR book and should give you an acknowledgment of receipt of the same. The police, under Section 154(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, are duty bound to supply a free copy of the formal FIR to the maker.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
When you are writing the FIR, make sure you give the specific details of ‘who, when, where and how’. That is, who committed the offence, when it was committed (date and time), where it was committed (the specific location), and how it was committed. Without these specifications the FIR will be vague and devoid of material particulars. If the details are not known, you must state why they are not known.

What to do if the police don’t take a complaint or act on it?
Anonymous, Diamond Harbour

If the police refuse to take your complaint and/or register an FIR, you can straightaway go to the nearest post office and send a copy of the written complaint with your signature in original by way of registered post with acknowledgement due card, more commonly known as AD Card. The complaint should be addressed to the Officer in Charge of the concerned police station. Mark a copy to the concerned Deputy Commissioner of Police, if within Kolkata, or to the Superintendent of Police, if in a particular district of Bengal.

If the police still do not act, then you have the right to approach a lawyer through whom you can file a complaint under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 before the concerned magistrate, who will pass a judicial order directing the Officer in Charge of the police station in question to draw up an FIR and initiate an inquiry.

If, after registration of the FIR, the police do not act, you can again approach the concerned magistrate and pray for a direction upon the Officer in Charge to submit a report regarding the status of investigation. You can, alternatively, file a case under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 where you will have to produce the witnesses and lead evidence, if you have the details with you.

Kaushik Gupta is a lawyer by profession, a photographer by passion, and happy to answer your queries on legal matters around gender and sexuality. Write in your queries to, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.