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Child Abuse
The victim, who has sustained major injuries on his neck and back, told the police that he was beaten up by the shelter home authorities.
  • Tuesday, July 17, 2018 - 18:16
Image for representation only

In a shocking incident, an 8-year old boy was brutally beaten up by the staff of a Central government-run shelter home in Chalad, located in Kerala’s Kannur.

On Sunday, Immanuel, the victim, and his mother, Sundari, filed a complaint against Dreams Shelter Home in Chalad for assaulting and beating the child up. Dreams Shelter Home is established and run under the supervision of the Central government's Human Resource Development Ministry.

The incident occurred a week ago and a complaint was filed at the Kannur Town police station on June 16.

According to reports, Immanuel, a Class 3 student in the government UP school, was beaten up using cane and wires by the staff of the shelter home where he was staying. The brutal assault inflicted several major wounds on the boy's back and neck, and, as a result, he had to be hospitalised for days together.

"We have been hearing several cases of assault from this particular shelter home run by the Centre. The home caters to children from nomadic families and others who have been orphaned. The building lacks adequate security and complaints about the caretaker of the home beating up the boys have been received earlier as well. A similar case of assault was recorded by the Kannur police, from Dreams shelter home, in June," said Kannur town SI Sreejith Koderi.

The police also stated that Immanuel referred to a member of the staff who went by the name of Sujith in his complaint.

"We have registered a case against the school and have begun probing the incident," he added.

According to reports, the victim and his older brother were living in the shelter home and attending school. Their parents, who belong to a community of nomads and sold old wares for a living, could not afford to raise them at home as the facilities were inadequate in their rented house. 

The victim and his brother were hospitalised following the incident. They have also been removed from the shelter home and have been brought back to their house in Kuttikad, Kuthuparamba. The duo has also reportedly discontinued school following the trauma of the incident. 

According the SI, the boy and his mother first approached the Kuthuparamba police and the case was later transferred to Kannur police. 

Death
The 2000 sq foot library with over 2 lakh books is slated to be opened in the next 30 days in his hometown, Vattavada.
  • Monday, July 16, 2018 - 19:02

To commemorate Abhimanyu - the slain SFI activist, who was studying in Maharaja's college - a library is being set up in his hometown in Vattavada, Idukki, in his name. The library is slated to be named 'Abhimanyu Maharaja's Library' and as soon as the decision was announced, calls started pouring in, promising books for the library.

"We initially planned a small library. However, considering the sheer number of books that have been promised, we have decided to use up one half of our  community hall to set up a much bigger library. We are positive of opening the new library within the next 30 days," R Nandakumar, Secretary of Vattavada Panchayat told TNM.

According to, Vattavada Panchayat president P Ramraj, over 2 lakh books have been promised to Abhimanyu Maharaja's Library. The library will function on a 2000 sq foot space on the third floor of the Panchayat office.

"Abhimanyu was a boy who relentlessly engaged with our panchayat activities, by working for people's welfare and helping with planning different activities. He would even help those who come to the Panchayat office by drafting petitions for them. He had planned to go out, study and make it big. It saddens us to hear about his death and we decided to name the library after him," Nandakumar said.

On July 8, Abhimanyu a 19-year-old student and SFI (student wing of CPI(M)) activist from Maharaja's College in Ernakulam was stabbed in the heart and killed by Campus Front members (the student wing of PFI), due to a clash between the two groups.

The clash was over painting on the campus walls to welcome the new batch of students. Following Abhimanyu's death, the state has cracked down on Popular Front of India workers in the state. Police have nabbed 8 PFI workers including Anoop, Nizar, Bilal and Riyaz. Another accused - Adhil, a Campus Front member too - was nabbed on Sunday.

The police had also questioned two SDPI workers - Riyas and Niyas - who were earlier acquitted in the Professor TJ Joseph hand-chopping case.

Meanwhile, help has been pouring in for Abhimanyu's family in the form of financial aid. The owners of two private bus in the Nedumkandam-Erattupetta route in the state have donated an entire collection to his family too.

Crime
Abhimanyu, an SFI leader and student of the Maharaja's college was killed on Sunday inside the campus in Ernakulam by member of SDPI, PFI and Campus Front of India.
  • Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 19:09

In a massive crackdown, Kerala police have detained several workers of the SDPI - the political wing of the radical outfit Popular Front of India or PFI for questioning them on their role in the Abhimanyu murder case. Abhimanyu, an SFI leader and student of the Maharaja's college was killed on Sunday inside the campus in Ernakulam by member of SDPI, PFI and Campus Front of India.

According to reports, 600 odd members of the SDPI have been detained by police and questioned about their role in the incident and the possibility of it being an organised crime by the outfit.

"We have detained several workers for questioning as we have found out that they were problem makers. They are in police custody for interrogation on their role in the Abhimanyu murder case. We cannot give a confirmation on the exact count now," K Lallji, Ernakulam Assistant Commissioner who is part of the investigating squad told TNM.

Two SDPI workers - Riyas and Niyas from Madrasaparambil house in Nettoor, Maradu Municipality in Ernakulam have also been detained for questioning, according to Ernakulam police. 

The duo were earlier arrested, tried and acquitted for lack of evidence in the controversial case in which professor TJ Joseph's hand was hacked, according to sources. The case that shook the state in 2010 involved members of the Popular Front of India. These activists were convicted for chopping the hand of the professor at Newman College Thodupuzha, Idukki for setting a question paper that insulted Prophet Muhammad. The professor was coming back from Sunday mass at a church in Muvattupuzha on July 4, 2010 when he was attacked in public. 

Out of those accused, 18 were acquitted by the NIA court for lack of evidence. This includes the duo now being questioned in the Abhimanyu case. 

 
 
 
Wildlife
If the proposal is approved, experts will be roped in to discuss how to control the crocodile population in the islands.
  • Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 15:30
Image for representation only

Following a surge in the human-crocodile conflict in the Andamans, the island administration has sent a proposal to the central government requesting that crocodiles be delisted from Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

The request has been raised in order for the Andaman authorities to control the growing salt water crocodile population in the island and the resultant rise in man-croc conflicts.

“Over the past 15 years we have seen 16 casualties, including tourists who come to visit the island. Apart from this, 12 other incidents of attacks with major and minor injuries were recorded,” Naveen Kumar, Additional Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), tells TNM.

Delisting crocs

For animals listed in the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, undertaking any of kind of control of their population or capturing for captivity or transportation is a cumbersome process.

“Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Act does not include only species that are endangered. In fact, when the wildlife act was being written back in the early 1970s, the schedules were made depending on the trade value of the animal rather than their conservation status. This is why a common reptile – the Indian Python – is listed under Schedule 1 as they are highly valued for their skin,” says Ajay Karthik, assistant curator of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.

Crocodiles, too, were listed under Schedule 1 as they were valued for their skin and flesh, and not because they were going extinct. This branded the animal as a highly valued species, and any activity involving the animal would require permits and sanctions from multiple authorities, making it a tedious process.

“It involves a lot of paperwork, which would hinder the smooth process of transporting or capturing crocodiles. This is why delisting them is an option in order to carry out population control,” Ajay adds.

As of the 2015-16 census, the Andamans is home to 300 odd salt water crocodiles, or salties, the only species out of the three types of crocodiles in the country found in the islands, a number that is growing rapidly, according to Naveen Kumar.

“We have sent a proposal to the Central government to delist crocodiles about 3 months ago. The proposal is awaiting consideration. If it is approved, then we will rope in experts from the Wildlife Institute of India and private organisations such as the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust to draw up a plan,” Naveen adds.

Regarding population control, Nikhil Whitaker, curator of the Madras Croc Bank Trust who had attended a meeting regarding the same in the Andamans, said that plans were being made to carry out the control in the most sensitive manner.

“The Wildlife Act has remained unchanged since the 1970s. And even if the Central government agrees to make an amendment in the act to delist crocodiles, the amendment would be limited to the specific island. We had a meeting to discuss the population control of crocodiles in the island. One of the options is to teach people to cohabitate with crocodiles in order to reduce conflict. The other option is to capture crocodiles from the wild and keep them in captivity to reduce their breeding,” Nikhil says.

Law
The fake photo showed Pinarayi Vijayan having a meal on a police station desk, as other senior police officers looked on.
  • Tuesday, July 10, 2018 - 19:12
Image courtesy: Manorama Online

Kerala police on Monday arrested 3 people for allegedly circulating a fake photograph of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan having a feast at a newly inaugurated police station in the CM's hometown, Pinarayi.

The three accused, identified as VN Muhammad and K Maneesh from Mattanur and Sajith Kumar from Ancharakandy, have been arrested and an online defamation case has been registered. Police indicate more people could be arrested in the coming days. The fake photograph showed the CM sitting at a desk in the police station, having a feast on a plantain leaf as senior police officials look on.

The actual photo, however, taken during the inauguration of the new police station, showed the CM checking the general diary of the station, which was inaugurated on June 30.

Senior officers consisting of DGP Loknath Behera, inspector general of police Balram Kumar Upadhyay, ADGP Anil Kant, district police chief G Shiv Vikram and the station SI AV Dineshan were also present while the CM checked the general diary.

"The morphed photo which showed the CM eating rice on the desk was doing the rounds on WhatsApp. We arrested 3 people who forwarded the message to various groups. Underneath the photo was a message that claimed that senior police officers were enviously watching the CM relishing his food while they were on duty. The photo is clearly tampered with and we had to take action against whoever did this," Station Inspector AV Dineshan told TNM.

The incident comes a month after a Malayali NRI was arrested for issuing a death threat to the Chief Minister via a Facebook live video which went viral.

Krishnakumar Nair, who hails from Kothamangalam, lost his job in Abu Dhabi following several complaints against his live video. On arriving in Delhi from the Gulf, he was arrested by the police and has since been remanded.

 

Guinness Records
Krishna Sai broke the earlier record-holder Krishnam Raju’s score of 2,174 cubes in 24 hours in the one-handed solving category.
  • Tuesday, July 10, 2018 - 13:39

Ask 20-year-old Krishna Sai how he mastered the Rubik’s cube and he brushes if off like it’s no big deal. The Chennai-based cuber broke a world record in June by solving 2,474 cubes using one hand in 24 hours, beating a record set by Hyderabad-based Krishnam Raju Gadiraju back in 2014.

Krishna now patiently waits for Guinness World Records to recognise his feat. Talking to TNM, he recounts the intense do-or-die 24 hours that was to define his place in history and all else that led up to it.

The making of the cuber

“I was in Class 8 when I picked up the Rubik’s cube. A few of my friends were very good at it and I learnt how to solve it from one of them. After this, there was a lull where I never solved the cube. Then in 2014, I got back to and this time it was for real,” Krishna recalls.

Soon enough, Krishna says that he got obsessed with solving cubes and attempted to de-scramble colours as quickly as possible. At this point, he averaged at 30-40 seconds per puzzle, a humble start compared to the record 10 seconds per cube he touched this year.

“I watched YouTube tutorials by some of the biggest speedcubing legends like Michal Pleskowicz and Antoine Cantin. It wasn’t about allocating a few hours for practice, I used to play with the cube all the time actually,” he says.

Soon Krishna started registering for competitions and mingling with the cubing community in the state. However, little did he know that his cubing style was soon set for a revolutionary change – thanks to his discovery of one-handed cube solving.

At one of the competitions he participated, he witnessed a player solving the cube with one hand, a method that he soon decided to adopt.

“Solving with a single hand was a completely different ball game. It was thrilling. You don’t get to use a secondary hand to aid you in solving problems. All the algorithms have to be solved with a single hand,” he says.

Soon enough he picked up cubing with one hand and figured out that the left hand worked best for him.

“I figured that the viewing angle was better when I solved with my left hand. I had a good view of where the colours lay and I could solve the puzzle easily,” he explains.

He even brought down his average to 25-30 seconds from his previous best of 40 seconds with constant practice.

Game, Set, Go

When Krishna finally decided to apply for the Guinness World Records, he knew how to go about it. Krishna says that he had exactly 3 months to prepare.

The earlier record-holder Krishnam Raju had solved 2,174 cubes in a 24-hour span. When Krishna applied for the challenge, he knew he could cross the 2,100 mark in 22.5 hours, leaving him with 2.5 hours to set a new score.

“In competitions I was averaging at 15 seconds and once when I was solving at home, I hit a 10 second average – that has been my best record yet. When I knew this, I was positive that I could break it,” he says.

However, breaking the record was not all that he had set his mind on. Krishna wanted to stretch the score as much as possible to make it last at least a year without being beaten.

“There are so many cubers in India itself with immense potential. I wanted to not just break the record but also solve as many cubes as possible to make a record that would be difficult to break,” he adds. 

To achieve this, Krishna had a plan.

“It was more about maintaining a consistent average than speed for me. I didn’t want the average to drop,” Krishna says.

Although he only solved cubes for a maximum of 10 hours a day, he decided to take fewer breaks and solve as many cubes as possible in the first 4 hours. A good head start, he felt, would give him an advantage and a boost of confidence for the hours to follow.

“On the day of the challenge, I only took 2-5 minute breaks for the first few hours. I ended up solving 600 odd cubes in 4 and a half hours,” he recounts.

The Big day

Krishna says that in the lead up to the big day, one main challenge he faced was the lack of a partner who could scramble cubes professionally for him to solve.

“The cubes have to be scrambled professionally. And they have to be scrambled with at least 40 moves if done by an amateur,” Krishna explains.

However, on June 23, the day of the challenge, Krishna was equipped with all things necessary for the smooth execution of the new record. 

In Phoenix Market City, where he performed the record, two professional delegates stood on either side of his table to judge his moves and scramble cubes. Over 2,600 puzzles from the World Cube Association randomised scramble generator – which ensures each cube is scrambled uniquely – were used to hand out newly scrambled cubes as he finished each puzzle.

A video camera recorded the entire 24 hours of the challenge, which Krishna will now send to Guinness World Records for approval.

“Until the last 2.5 hours before which I broke the record, I only took hot pack breaks to relax my fingers and restroom breaks. I was averaging at 140 cubes per hour during this time,” he says.

On cubing life and busting myths

Contrary to popular belief, Krishna says that people who solve the Rubik’s cube fast aren’t naturally good at math.

“It is only those who naturally figure out the solution who might be good at it,” he says.

For those who master the art of solving it, Krishna says, the cube is a big lesson in patience and focus.

“As cubers solve the same puzzle over and over again, they eventually master the art of solving and also pick up pace with each cube. And this is what happens more than having a brain for math,” Krishna adds.

Focus too is a key component, both before and while solving the cube.

“I didn’t really move from my place till I hit the record. Once I did, it was time to celebrate and I went to get a pizza,” he laughs.

Krishna says that he is happy to have set a new world record. However, he does not plan on doing it again until a platform is provided and cubers in the country are supported by brands and companies.

“There is zero support from corporates or the government. I had to shell out money to do the Guinness World Records event this time. I would totally do it again if I were given a platform in the future and the costs are taken care. India has immense cubing talent. It is time somebody recognised it,” he says.

Watch Krishna Sai solve the Rubik's cube here 

Mollywood
Responding to pointed questions about what the WCC has done for sexual harassment victims, the collective vowed to ensure that the industry soon has an ICC as per law.
  • Sunday, July 08, 2018 - 17:49

The Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) has issued a strong statement, a day after a Malayalam serial actor accused her director of mental and sexual harassment. Alluding to questions that were being asked to the collective about their role in tackling sexual harassment, WCC vowed to ensure that the industry soon has an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as per Indian law. At the same time, they asked why these questions were not being put to other – more powerful groups.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, WCC said, “Today in Kerala, if any woman reports the difficulties faced by her in the film industry, immediately a question is asked: What has the WCC done about it? This has become a norm. But we view this as a sort of acceptance of the organisation - WCC - by the people.”

“However, we cannot accept such questions to WCC as innocent, or curious, when you haven’t asked the same question to the police, that is getting paid to enforce the law, or to the administration, or to the huge organisations in the film industry that have survived over the years by taking lakhs of rupees as membership fees,” they said.

Alleging that vested interests are behind such attacks on WCC, the statement said that the people asking the questions were also those who stood with the accused in the actor assault case.

The collective however also said that such questions have increased their sense of responsibility. “We will not be able to progress even one step further without constituting the ICC. We also will not take even a step back until it has been set up,” the statement said.

This post came after a prominent female television actor accused the director of a serial she was acting in, of misbehaving with her and sending her inappropriate messages.

Nisha Sarangh, the actor who plays ‘Neelu’ in the TV serial Uppum Mulagum, made the allegation in an interview with Reporter TV on Saturday. She said that the director of the serial, R Unnikrishnan was taking revenge for her ignoring his advances and for having complained against him to the channel’s head Sreekantan Nair, adding that she was unceremoniously removed from the show because of this.

Flowers TV, which airs the serial, has issued a statement denying the allegations of terminating the actor from the show.

The full statement of the WCC is reproduced below:

Yesterday, an actor's revelation about the difficulties faced in her profession has risen as yet another example of the patriarchal trend in the movie/serial industry (Mollywood). Today in Kerala, if any woman reports the difficulties faced by her in the film industry, immediately a question is asked: What has the WCC done about it? This has become a norm. But we view this as a sort of acceptance of the organisation - WCC - by the people.

There should never be a situation where a woman falls into trouble or becomes a victim of sexual harassment here. We stand here to ensure just that. We are taking the effort to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee in the field of cinema – by viewing the field as just another industry – to handle the grievances of women. The ICC is mandated by the law in all workplaces, to handle issues related to women.

The fact that there is no provision for an ICC in this 90-year-old movie industry in itself is unfair.

However, we cannot accept such questions to WCC as innocent, or curious, when you haven’t asked the same question to the police, that is getting paid to enforce the law, or to the administration, or to the huge organisations in the film industry that have survived over the years by taking lakhs of rupees as membership fees.

There are vested interests behind this. Those who are questioning us the most are the people who stood with the man accused in the actor assault case, and the fight against it.

However, we cannot help that this questioning is increasing our sense of responsibility.

It is only as a result of our fight that, for the first time in the history of Malayalam cinema, the government has set up the Hema Commission to monitor the cinema industry. We hope that they have started their work.

We will not be able to progress even one step further without constituting the ICC. We also will not take even a step back until it has been set up.

The ICC is a place to resolve the grievances of not just the actor who was assaulted or the actor who came forward with her complaint yesterday, but for each and every such person’s complaints.

We are also supporting this actor (who accused a serial director of harassment.) Our agitation is for each and every person who has been unfairly attacked. And it is for the birth of a safe workplace where there are no attacks.

The police have the responsibility of taking suo motu cognisance of this incident, where this sister has revealed the difficulties she is facing in her workplace, file a case and investigate it. Each representative of the people has the responsibility to question the justice system, which despite running on the taxpayer's money, is not doing its job right. The associations that represent the artist also has this responsibility. We have this responsibility. For each woman who has been attacked, we will be there to support them.

 

Environment
Even the food made conformed to the organic theme of the wedding, and a vast array of herbal teas, organic gravies and homemade traditional sweets were served.
  • Friday, July 06, 2018 - 19:14

Terracotta handicrafts and vessels, bamboo trinkets, organic grains, herbs and pulses up for sale. Children running around playing with natural stick and wheel toys made using Palmyra palm leaves. An array of fresh and dried herbs displayed along with lemon and betel leaves on a table to welcome guests. Green flex boards made of cotton and paper welcoming guests and announcing the wedding set to take place.Logeswaran and Geetanjali Ritika’s wedding on Thursday in Tirupur came with a twist – it was 100% green, right from the decorations to the plates used and the gifts given to guests.

"Everything was naturally produced, including plates which were made of maize, and glasses made of copper, instead of paper and plastic cups," explains Ravi, Geetanjali's father.

Ravi is a key volunteer of Vanathukul Tirupur, a three-year old organisation that works to increase the green cover of Tirupur district. Since its inception, Vanathukul Tirupur has planted over 5 lakh trees across the district, he says.With the help of this organisation, Ravi was able to turn his daughter's wedding in a completely green affair.

"We – the members of Vanathukul Tirupur – conceived the idea and the smooth execution too is thanks to them,' Ravi tells TNM.

To those who wonder how nature friendly the wedding actually was, Ravi says that everything right from the water that was used organically procured.

"We harvested rainwater to serve drinking water to guests and for the food prepared for the wedding. Over 10 varieties of vegetables – from carrots and onions to chillies – were used to make the wedding feast, all of which was cultivated organically in the houses of Vanathukul Tirupur members itself," he adds.

The idea behind this, he explains, was to revive the traditional way of celebrating and hosting weddings, with material available from nature. His colleague, Kumar Duraiswamy, the project director of Vanathukul Tirupur, to endorses this and explains this further.

Kumar says that even the food that was prepared conformed to the organic theme of the wedding and a vast array of herbal teas, organic gravies and homemade traditional sweets were served.

"We ditched ice-creams and beedis (paan), and instead served herbal tea for dessert. The wedding menu included maize potato bonda, mini banana blossom vadai for starters and idly, horse gram sambhar rice, tomato sambhar and other preparations for mains. The dessert spread had palm sugar dry ginger milk, herbal tea, mint lemon juice, wild banana, betel nut and slaked lime," Duraisamy adds.

Other sweets such as gram flour Mysore Pak, foxtail millet coconut barfi and green gram jaggery laddoo were also available for guests to relish. The hosts invited 12 shopkeepers to display their organic wares from which the guests could purchase what they wished.

"We wanted to set up a network for these shopkeepers and help them sell their products. On the other hand, people were sensitised about using organic products over plastic and artificially produced stuff," Ravi adds. And this created a huge impact among the people, who thronged to the wedding hall to witness the festivities.

"We invited 3500 guests, but the wedding attracted such a huge buzz that 2500 uninvited guests ended up coming to see what was going on here," he says.

Coming from a farming background, Ravi says that there was nothing unusual about his daughter’s wedding, contrary to popular perception these days.

"Back in the day, maybe even 30-40 years ago, weddings used to be hosted with naturally available products. It is only now that paper and plastics are being used indiscriminately for celebrating any function," he says.

Ravi's daughter – the bride – and her groom, Logeshwaran, are both engaged in Tirupur's thriving garment business. The duo too actively support the organic and natural ways of living and, therefore, wanted to set an example with their wedding.

To top it all off, the groom was gifted a cow and a calf instead of the usual luxury car or bike, which is the norm in most weddings nowadays.

"It was all traditional. Usually, the girl is sent with a cow and calf. Now, the cattle have been replaced with posh cars. We decided to go back to how it was done before," Ravi smiles.

(With inputs from Manasa Rao) 

Sports
Sangeetha, who lives on a pavement in George Town, has represented India in both Russia and Scotland now.
  • Wednesday, July 04, 2018 - 19:14

The wiry 18-year-old waits for me patiently at the end of her street. She spins a yellow and black football in her hand, her face splitting into a wide smile as she dribbles the ball expertly.

This is Sangeetha, a former child labourer from Chennai's Pillayar Kovil Street in George Town, who shot into the limelight recently.  

Just two months ago, in May, Sangeetha hit the headlines for leading India’s team in the Street Child World Cup, an international football tournament held in Russia. The tournament organised by the NGO Street Child United sees talented children from the streets of 5 different continents fight it out for a cup, once every 4 years.

Sangeetha with members of Team India at the Street Football World Cup 2018 in Russia 

Sangeetha captained the Indian team in the third edition of the World Cup, which saw the participation of children from 24 other countries.

But before her chance encounter with football changed her life, Sangeetha had to work as a child labourer.

"I dropped out of school in the 9th standard, when I was 13 years old, to help my family. My dad suffered from alcohol addiction and left us long ago. My mum and sister were working to support the family. But we weren't able to make ends meet. So I joined a steel vessel manufacturing firm across the street, where we had to melt old vessels, make new ones from the alloy and polish them. The job came with a high risk of Tuberculosis," she says.

For Sangeetha and her family, the corner of the narrow lane that joins the Pillayar Kovil Street is home. Rain or shine, the family sits near the junction box here and does everything from drying clothes to eating in this little nook. Plastic sheets cover the few belongings the family owns, as bricks and broken stools lie in front of the tin shed.

The stint at the steel manufacturer's didn't last too long. As soon as Karunalaya, a prominent NGO in Chennai fighting for the rights of children, heard about the 13-year-old, it pulled her out of work and put her back in school.

"The NGO requested my school to take me back, even though I was not interested in going. They used to tutor me after school so I could catch up with my classmates. One day, I saw a bunch of boys playing football and I immediately wanted to join them. I told the NGO that I wanted to learn the game; they said they’d teach me only if I studied,” laughs Sangeetha. “And that was how I first encountered the game.”

Football and education

It took Sangeetha’s coach just a few months to understand that she was a natural talent.

In her very first tournament, the 'Slum Soccer Gamesa' organised in Besant Nagar, she brought laurels to her team. At that time, she represented Karunalaya’s girls team. The team won the tournament and Sangeetha brought home the Best Player award.

From here, there was no looking back.

In 2016, she was the only player from Tamil Nadu to be selected as part of the squad representing India in the Homeless World Cup held in Glasgow, Scotland.

"They told us only a few months before the tournament and I was besides myself with joy. It was the first time I went outside Chennai, my first time in a flight and my first ever trip abroad," smiles Sangeetha.

Following this, she was selected to represent India in the 2018 Street Child World Cup in Moscow, this time as captain - an achievement that made her the pride of her street.

"We won against Mexico and I scored one goal in our game. We gave it all we got," she says.

Sangeetha's strength is her level of fitness, says her mentor and street co-ordinator Vasanth, who works for Karunalya.

"She was noticed as she played very well. And mainly because of her stamina. It is very hard to play 90 minutes of football without getting absolutely drained. Besides her stamina, Sangeetha is uninhibited on the field and plays with complete passion," Vasanth tells TNM.

Four years have passed since she first dabbled in football. Today, she is pursuing her B.Sc in Physical Education in Queen Mary’s College. And till date, she travels to the Karunalaya campus every day to train for her matches.

Life on the streets

On the dark, narrow lane connecting Pillayar Kovil to the parallel street, Sangeetha kicks around the yellow ball in the fading evening light. She expertly dribbles the ball, showing other children on the street how to tackle.

The ball bounces off garbage cans into puddles of dirt as 5-year-old Sugunan and 15-year-old Monisha pass the ball between each other.

Sangeetha’s grandmother sits on a concrete slab nearby. The tin shed next to her teems with people catching up on their daily serial on the TV set inside. Lines of clothes hung to dry run from the shed to the open street and a boy squats in front of the water pipe nearby, washing off soap from his body.

The kids here are all fans of football, but when asked if they are following the World Cup they shake their heads.

"We have only one TV for so many families. Besides, the World Cup is aired on Sony Ten 2 channel and we don't get that channel here. So I only get to watch the highlights everyday when I go for training," Sangeetha says.

Living on the streets came with several challenges, especially for a girl trying to pursue her sporting ambitions.

Lending support to her child’s dreams was not easy, says Sangeetha’s mother, Selvi. She had to work as a domestic help in the hotels on Wall Tax Road, where she washed vessels and cleaned the premises in order to ensure all three of her children got food.

At first, Selvi couldn’t understand Sangeetha’s new-found passion for the game.

"When she started playing, she had to wear shorts and pants. I was against the idea and was even criticised by many for allowing her to do so. But then I realised that is what she liked doing and, when she started winning medals, I supported her and others soon realised how well she was doing. Now, we are all super proud of her," Selvi tells TNM.

Battling ogling men, judgemental neighbours and predators on the street is something the children here, especially girls, experience on a daily basis.

"It is hard to focus on your game when that happens. Many times, men on the road have given me money and asked for dirty favours. Everyday we fight such problems as we sleep on the pavements. We use the public toilet here and it is so scary to change our clothes without people taking a peek through the windows," she says.

Breaking hurdles

As Sangeetha started getting selected for international tournaments, other challenges in the form of documents and ID proofs came her way.

"I didn't have a birth certificate or an address proof to show. We only had a Voter's ID. So it was difficult to get a passport as they said that I need to show them a permanent address to get one. We don't have a permanent address. This street is my address. This is when Karunalaya director's intervened and helped me get my passport and visa for Scotland," Sangeetha says.

Future in football

This year, Sangeetha will be eligible to play for the state football team.

"She has been training for the selections set to take place next month. Another student from Tamil Nadu who played for the Homeless World Cup got selected to the State Junior Girls team recently," says Vasanth.

Despite football taking up a major chunk of her time, Sangeetha has her priorities set for the future. She wants to study and become a professional football coach, and inspire the generations to come with her game, she says.

"There aren't many women coaches here. I want to train to be a coach, get a licence and teach many kids to play football," she says. 

Political violence
In most Kerala campuses, there is an unspoken understanding about which walls are reserved for which political group’s campaign. A row over this led to the gruesome murder.
  • Monday, July 02, 2018 - 18:50

Still reeling under the shock of their friend being hacked to death on campus, students of Maharaja’s College in Kochi travelled to Idukki to bid farewell to their dear classmate. It will perhaps take many months for those who witnessed the gruesome violence – which took place near the back gate of the college on Sunday night – to come to terms with losing Abhimanyu.

Nikhil, a second-year student at the college and a member of the Students Federation of India (SFI) was painting the walls at the back gate with a few others on Sunday evening.

“We were standing near the college back gate, opposite to the IMO blood bank. Late Sunday evening, we saw some guys who did not look like they were studying at our college, sticking posters on the wall. We told them people from outside can’t participate in any college-related events and can’t stick posters. This escalated to a verbal argument between us and the group. But around 10 pm, the issue was resolved and we stayed back to complete all our work to welcome the new batch,” Nikhil told TNM.

The other group had two students who belonged to the Campus Front of India, the student wing of the PFI.

However, what the students hadn’t realized then was that their troubles were far from over. The group, made up largely of outsiders, returned to Maharaja’s, but this time armed with weapons.

Recounting the horror that unfolded at midnight, one activist from the Kerala Students Union (KSU), who did not wish to be named, said, “When the SFI people took down the Campus Front posters, these outsiders attacked them with weapons. Abhimanyu was not there then. Hearing about the attacks he and a few others came from the hostel to the back gate. It was during the fight that Abhimanyu sustained an injury. I went to hospital to see him along with the others. He sustained a really big injury in his chest area and by the time he was taken to the hospital he was nearly gone.”

Of walls and violence

Arguments and even violence over which group gets to use which wall inside the college campus and fill it with their political writings, paintings and posters is not new to Maharaja’s, one of the most prestigious colleges in Kochi.

In most Kerala campuses, there is an unspoken understanding about which walls, and which portions of the campus, are reserved for which political group’s campaign. Student political groups such as SFI, the student wing of CPI (M), KSU, student wing of Congress and ABVP or Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, mark walls where they have ‘exclusive rights’ to stick their posters, paint political messages or carry out other forms of party campaigning. 

In most campuses, SFI and KSU – that are more active than other groups – get a larger advertising space.

And as a rule (unspoken, but understood), no party will encroach the advertising space of another - whether it is for an induction or a campus election.

“Although we have had issues with political writings and posters in our college, violence over breaching the unsaid rule has never happened. This is the first time,” says Mridhula, the Chairperson of the Students Union told TNM.

For a few years now, the walls near the back gate of Maharaja’s, where Abhimanyu was murdered, has been the exclusive territory of the SFI, according to Mridhula.

“Paintings and writings are usually done during the beginning of an academic year to welcome the new batch of students. SFI has for years now booked the back gate walls to campaign with its writings and paintings. We mark the walls well in advance before any other group can stake claim. KSU has other areas in the college where they paint. Neither of us have breached and used the others’ walls,” Mridhula says.

On Sunday night too, students spent the day by the walls, writing messages and painting them ahead of the arrival of the new batch. This was when a few members of the Campus Front of India stuck posters on SFI walls and this turned into an argument between the two groups, Mridhula alleges

Campus Front of India began its activities in Maharaja’s only in 2017.

“They began operating only last year and are not very strong in Maharaja’s. For years now, it has been the SFI and the KSU. Even in the group that came to stick posters on the walls, there was only one Maharaja’s student. The others we believe were SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) members,” Mridhula adds.

Criminals from outside

Mirdhula, Nikhil and other students from the college believe that the attackers were not part of their college.

“They looked like 30 – 40-year-olds and were not from our college,” Mridhula says.

Police officers too confirmed that out of the attackers, one had just taken admission in Maharaja’s the previous week and the other was to join on Monday.

“Our initial investigations reveal that the rest are outsiders. A probe is on. Soon, the culprits will be caught,” the police official said.

Pitiable campus politics 

Reacting to the incident, Youth Congress leader and former member of the KSU Sherin Verghese said that although the situation that had led to the death of a student was terrible, it was sadly not surprising.

“Campus politics has been deteriorating over the years. It is not a rosy picture where all student parties participate with equal power and democracy prevails. These campuses in Kerala, be it the Thiruvananthapuram University campus or Maharaja’s, are the headquarters of student political violence,” he says.

Sherin believes, in most cases, the victims of such violence are those who come from tribal areas of the state.

“Young kids who join these colleges from tribal hamlets in Idukki, Wayanad and other areas, I have noticed, get carried away with the political climate in the colleges. These young men are energized by the importance and purpose given by the parties that they join and they get too invested in it,” Sherin adds.

Sherin says that certain campuses turn into ‘red bastions’ and disagrees with Mridhula’s assertion that all groups respect the ‘wall boundaries’.

‘Many a time SFI activists do not allow students of other parties to campaign in any way. In Thiruvananthapuram colleges, SFI workers turn violent if banners, flags or symbols of other parties are put up on the campus. And when students wish to oppose this, they join outfits such as Popular Front/SDPI and rebel against the red rule with their own brand of violence,” Sherin notes.