Category Archives: NRI’s / PIO’s

The Indian in the Yasukuni Shrine

Plaque in Yasukuni Shrine, northwest of Tokyo’s imperial palace, features a large black and white photograph of an Indian judge: Radha Binod Pal (1886-1967).

To the northwest of Tokyo’s imperial palace, the Yasukuni Shrine is a 148-year old complex of memorials and cherry tree-dotted grounds, commemorating those who died in the service of Japan between 1869 and 1947.

It has emerged as the symbol of Japan’s fraught relations with its neighbouring countries and its own uncomfortable relationship with its Second World War history. Among the two million people buried there are 1,068 convicted war criminals. Fourteen of these are categorised as ‘Class A’ criminals, found guilty of a special category of “crimes against peace and humanity” by the 11-member team of justices from Allied countries that made up the 1946 Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Visits to Yasukuni by senior Japanese politicians are viewed by neighbouring countries, in particular China and South Korea, as provocations, tantamount to a denial of war crimes. Japanese nationalists believe Yasukuni visits to be a justified exercise of sovereignty, indicating a moving on from what they consider to be an overly apologetic stance to the war. On the day this correspondent visited, there were scant traces of these bitter recriminations. A series of memorials dedicated to military horses, pigeon carriers and dogs charmed camera-wielding tourists. But the plaque attracting the tightest knots of visitors featured a large black and white photograph of an Indian judge: Radha Binod Pal.

In Japan, this Bengali jurist elicits the kind of recognition and reverence that other countries reserve for the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Biographical mini series about the judge are aired on Japanese TV, memorials to him have been erected in Tokyo and Kyoto, and books debating his legacy are published every few years. The average Indian would be hard-pressed to identify Justice Pal at all. Until the war, he was best known for his contributions to the Indian Income Tax Act, 1922. His international profile comes from his participation in, and eventual dissent from, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Twenty-five of Japan’s top wartime leaders were convicted by the tribunal of the new category of ‘Class A’ charges. Going against the grain of Allied judgment, Pal issued a 1,235-page dissent in which he rejected the creation of the ‘Class A’ category as ex post facto law. He further slammed the trials as the “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge”. And he argued that the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should also be counted as major war crimes.

Procedural flaws

The Indian judge tends to be valorised by Japanese nationalists and historical revisionists who seek to deny Japan’s wartime culpability. But in fact the jurist did not absolve Japan. His intention was rather to highlight the flaws in the legal process of the trial. Since all the judges were appointed by victor nations, the Indian justice thought the trial to be biased and motivated by revenge.

In his 2007 book on Pal, Takashi Nakajima, an Associate Professor at Hokkaido University’s Public Policy School, criticises right-wing supporters of Pal for relying on out-of-context quotes from the dissenting judgment. Pal’s dissent ran to a quarter of a million words, but Prof. Nakajima says that only a handful of quotes tend to be used by historical revisionists as ballast for their agenda.

Back at the shrine, a Japanese tourist gazed at the Pal memorial, silently mouthing the words written on the plaque: “When Time shall have softened passion and prejudice… then Justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places.”

(Pallavi Aiyar is an author and journalist based in Tokyo)

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Tokyo Despatch – International / Pallavi Aiyar / November 18th, 2017

Policing feather in city girl cap

Millie Banerjee

London:

Calcutta-born Millie Banerjee has been appointed the new chairman of the UK’s College of Policing.

Actually, she has been interim chairman since November last year so her appointment was today made permanent by the home secretary, Amber Rudd.

“Working with Millie over the last year I have been impressed by the insight she brings from her time leading other public and commercial organisations, including the British Transport Police,” Rudd said on Thursday.

Millie’s responsibilities are highly sensitive – keep an eye on “standards in policing” across the 43 police forces in England and Wales; developing knowledge and “what works”; and assisting with education and career development.

It is possible she will want to exchange notes on policing in Calcutta.

“Millie” is really her nickname but it has come to stay as she has become part of the great and good in Britain. She was born Urmila Ray-Chaudhuri in Calcutta on June 30, 1946, and is friendly with a number of prominent figures in the city, among them the physicist Bikash Sinha.

Millie, who was honoured with a CBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2002 and was High Sheriff of Greater London in 2012-13, was chairman of the British Transport Police Authority for seven years and spent 30 years in the telecommunications and satellite industries. This included 25 years with BT in senior positions.

She is currently the chairman of NHS Blood and Transplant and a board member of East London NHS Foundation Trust.

Reacting to her confirmation, Millie said: “I have spent many years in policing and it has been a privilege to witness the dedication and compassion of officers and staff to protect the public. This is evident when I see that public approval for police has remained high despite officers and staff being faced with ever more complex crime, a reduced workforce and greater demand.

“We are dedicated to providing access to the best knowledge and skills which sits behind the bravery, dedication and compassion shown by police on a daily basis. We have ambitious plans ahead and I intend on working with people across policing to continue building a professional body that supports all officers and staff.”

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcuttu / by Amit Roy / November 17th, 2017

Meet Miss Japan who is also half-Bengali!

For the world she is Priyanka Yoshikawa -Miss World Japan 2016.

But those close to her know her as Priyanka Yoshikawa Ghosh.

Born to a Bengali father and Japanese mother, she is the first woman from a multi-racial background to have won the pageant in Japan. But Priyanka’s journey was far from easy .

When she broke the glass ceiling, there were some who questioned why the title was not bestowed upon a `pure’ Japanese, but Priyanka found support in her nation and also in India, where she has her roots.

On a whirlwind tour to Kolkata where she attended a dinner hosted in her honour by Masayuki Taga, Consul General of Japan in Kolkata, Priyanka spoke to us about the backlash and support, tracing back her roots and why her family doesn’t discuss Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, her greatgrandfather and Bengal’s first chief minister, over dinner.

Excerpts:

Is this your first trip to Kolkata since you won Miss World Japan in 2016?

Yes. But I have been to the city quite a few times before that. I lived here when I was nine years old. That was for a year. I also studied in a school here. Even before that, I have been to the city when I was two or three, but I don’t have memories of those visits. Another long visit was five years ago, when I was 18. That time, I stayed here for a month. My father is Bengali and our extended family lives here. My connection with Bengal was established with my birth though I was not born here.During the one year I was here, I explored my father’s country and got to understand my roots.

On this visit for a day, did you get to meet your relatives living in Kolkata?

My father comes from a big family and he has many siblings. My uncle and aunt live in Kolkata.Some of my cousins are still here, but many got married and live abroad. Whenever I am in Kolkata, I visit them. I came on Sunday midnight and on Monday , I visited Mother House and later, went to a doctors’ meet. Though I was not in Kolkata on work, I am the brand ambassador of a charitable foundation, and ended up doing some meaningful work. I wanted to visit Kolkata ever since my win, but it was hard to get a vacation. Then, I got a few days off and came here on my way to Guwahati.

After you became Miss World Japan 2016, the first contestant from a multi-racial background to do so, you spoke about drawing inspiration from Ariana Miyamoto, born to a Japanese mother and African-American father, who won the Miss Universe Japan 2015. She had to endure racial backlash for being a hafu (a person with a non-Japanese parent), but since she set a precedent just the previous year, was it easier for you?

To be honest, Ariana was not exactly my inspiration. We participated in different pageants. I followed my own dreams, but I have tremendous respect for her.I didn’t know her before I won, but we became good friends after winning the title. I didn’t hear stories about her trials and tribulations, but she made it big as the first hafu to win a pageant in Japan. She had to face racial backlash as she was the first and people were not used to it. For me, I was the first for Miss World in the nation. Nothing has been easy even though Ariana won the previous year. I got good media coverage and though some people questioned my win, it never affected me. I was confident and was concen trating on the international pag eant where I made a mark after 60 years. During the pageant, there was no social media back lash, but after the win, some questioned why the title was not awarded to a `pure’ Japanese. I got a lot of support too. Messages came trickling in from hafus living in Japan, and also from Indian citizens. When you get such strong support, it gives you more confidence. I am proud to have an Indian in me, but that doesn’t mean I am not Japanese.

What were the celebrations like in India?

My relatives messaged me. My first cousins are very close to me. I call them didi. One of my didis lives in the US and she was a great support during the inter national pageant. She is eight nine years older than me and she and everyone else was happy about the win.

What was the homecoming like this time around?

I was excited as I was meeting everybody after five years.Visiting home and meeting my aunt, uncle, nephews was quite something. Though they are all in touch with me, talking to them on social media is different from meeting them. I got to eat Bengali food. I was looking forward to tasting some homecooked Indian food. I often crave for white chicken, which is perhaps called doi chicken. And I love phuchkas though I missed it this time. I was in Mumbai and had panipuris there, but it’s different from having phuchkas in Kolkata.

How did you learn to speak so fluently in Bangla?

I studied Bengali in school, but I picked it up naturally as everyone speaks Bengali around me in my family .

Your great-grandfather Prafulla Chandra Ghosh was the first chief minister of Bengal. You must have heard many stories about him from your father?

He was my great-grandfather, but I didn’t meet him. My father did tell me stories about him but only at times. I never really asked questions about him.Everybody in our family knows about him, but we don’t discuss him over dinner.

An elephant trainer, are you visiting Guwahati for a purpose?

My Guwahati trip is all about wild elephant conservation and nature conservation.

You have keen interest in Bengali movies…

I remember having seen The Japanese Wife and some others that I watched on flights. I can’t read or write in Bengali though I can speak the language. It’s sad that not many Bengali films can be found in Japan, though Bollywood movies -sometimes three years old -travel to the country . I love to watch them. I have grown up watching Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Kajol. Kajol is one of my favourite actresses.

Should you foray into Bengali films if an offer comes your way?

Yes, why not! I would also love to do something with films in India, maybe bring them to Japan… There are many takers for Indian films in Japan and I am sure a lot of people here are waiting to watching Japanese films. If I can bridge the gap, I will be the happiest.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / Home> News> City News> Kolkata News / by Zinia Sen / TN / November 02nd, 2017

SOCIETY – The diaspora men

Newly arrived indentured labourers from India in Trinidad. | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

In 1834, 36 impoverished men from Bihar and Bengal set sail for Mauritius to work as indentured labour. Over the next 80 years, more than two million people would travel to some 20 European colonies, the first of a global Indian diaspora, before indentured labour was abolished 100 years ago

When the British abolished slavery in 1834, they populated their plantations with indentured labour from India, launching the biggest international movement of workers after the notorious ‘middle passage’. In 80 years, more than two million Indian labourers were transported to about 20 British colonies before it was stopped in 1917 under intense pressure from Indian abolitionists. This year marks the centenary of the abolition of indentured labour.

Kalachand was on the verge of collapse when Champa, a fellow tribesman from the hills of Hazaribagh, came looking for him that fateful September evening in 1834. Champa too looked starved, but his eyes held a glint of excitement.

“Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you since noon. Didn’t I tell you god is great? We are going to escape this wretched life,” he said.

Kalachand didn’t say a word in response. All he wanted was to eat something. He hadn’t had a proper meal for three days now.

Champa too, and many others, had not eaten the past few days, but he suddenly seemed to have found some energy. Standing on the slushy banks of the Hooghly, he pointed to the Kidderpore depot and said, “This will save us.”

All Kalachand could see was a long shed and some small sail-ships at a distance. “Are we going somewhere,” he asked. “Tapu,” said Champa.

“Come, let’s eat something, I am starving,” he said. “Money?” Kalachand asked. “Don’t worry, I have some,” he said. He didn’t tell Kalachand it was the same Ghulam Ali, who had promised road work in Calcutta for ₹5 a month, who was now promising a brighter future.

Back in his shanty in Howrah, Kalachand found Bachu, Chuniram, Budhu, Bhola, Chota Bandhu and other friends from Bihar, Burdwan and Bankura, preparing to leave. Champa had sold them the hope of a better life on a faraway island working in British-owned sugarcane plantations. They would have legal contracts, medical help, and plenty of money to save for the future. In five years, they could come back and start a new life.

New lives, new names

The next day, September 10, Kalachand and 35 others put their thumbprints on a paper for a contract with George Charles Arbuthnot of Hunter Arbuthnot & Company. It was read out to them by a magistrate at the Calcutta police headquarters. On the contract, their names were written in English exactly the way the white men pronounced them.

Kalachand became Callachand, Champa became Champah, Bachu became Bachoo, Chuniram became Chooneeram, and Chota Bandhu became Chota Bundhoo. Most of their names had “ee”, “oo” and “ah”. It would be repeated a few million times in the next 100 years, changing Indian names to strange-sounding new variations.

After a medical examination and a five-day wait in a barrack in Bhowanipore, the men were finally herded onto a boat on the Hooghly that took them to a medium-sized sail-ship called Atlas. They were led to the lower deck while the dock workers loaded a big cargo of rice. In a few hours, the ship was heading towards the Indian Ocean. Its destination: Mauritius, the once uninhabited island off the southeast coast of Africa, discovered by the Portuguese in the 14th century and colonised by the Dutch, the French, and finally the British.

The tiny land of forests and hills, originally occupied only by dodos, rats and locusts, now had a flourishing plantocracy that desperately needed cheap labour. The abolition of slavery that year was threatening the survival of the sugarcane plantations. The planters needed workers by the thousands or faced bankruptcy. The only source of cheap labour they could think of was India, poor, overpopulated, and with millions from oppressed castes.

For the 36 men cooped up in the Atlas, it was a desperate, uncertain voyage to escape poverty and oppression. What they didn’t realise was that they were making history by launching the biggest movement of labourers in the world after the ‘middle passage’, laying the foundation for a global Indian diaspora.

50 days later

Over the next eight decades, more than two million Indians would travel to about 20 European colonies. A large number would die in transit, many would return to India, but the majority would remain, building vibrant Indian communities and sometimes even changing forever the demographies and socio-cultural and political histories of the colonies.

After 48 arduous days at sea and two days aboard the ship just off the shore, Kalachand and the other men set foot in Port Louis and walked up 16 stone steps carved at the harbour before they were processed and sent to the sugarcane estates. In the following years, till the turn of the next century, about half a million more Indians would climb up this flight.

Those steps, like those at Ellis Island near Manhattan that millions of immigrants to America passed through, would go on to become an iconic symbol of the history of Mauritius, and the incredible story of indentured Indian labourers across the world.

Kalachand and the others were the uninformed first participants of a ‘Great Experiment’ that the British had come up with to substitute slave labour and safeguard their commercial interests. If slaves had been hunted down and sold to the British and other Europeans, the new scheme used a method called indenture, which in simple terms meant a written contract signed by a person to work for another person or company for a fixed tenure and sum of money.

Compared to “slave” labour, indenture was projected as “free” labour, even though the workers were bonded by contract for five years under harsh conditions. ‘Double-cut’, for instance, would dock two days’ pay for a day’s absence from work.

The workers could not easily move outside their estates. If caught without their ‘immigration ticket’, they were jailed for ‘vagrancy’. The colonisers wanted to appear morally right without losing profits, but what they had surreptitiously laid out was “a new system of slavery”, as Hugh Tinker would call it in his seminal book in 1974. (A New System of Slavery, Hugh Tinker, Oxford University Press, 1974)

They chose to stay

Although their contracts promised the workers a return passage to India after five years, a majority of them chose to stay back by obtaining a new indenture. Some did return to India, mostly empty-handed, but many went back with wives and children.

Following the Mauritian experiment, which in the next four years saw more than 24,000 Indians arriving in Port Louis (an average 500 people per month), ships carrying Indian ‘coolies’ from the ports of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay became a common maritime activity for the British.

Between 1838 and 1920, another half a million would go to the Caribbean islands and the Dutch-controlled Suriname (based on a convention on emigration signed between the governments of Netherlands and England in 1870.) By the turn of the 20th century, almost all the British colonies, from Sri Lanka to St. Kitts, had tens of thousands of Indian indentured labourers. A few thousand Indian men had been transported as slaves, lascars, artisans and labourers by European colonies during the slave-trade era, even before the ‘Great Experiment’. However, what makes the 1834 Atlas voyage historic and pioneering is that it was the first-ever lawful movement of indentured labourers in the world.

Although Kalachand and his 35 companions survived, many who arrived in subsequent trips, which had more people packed into small ships, didn’t. Infectious diseases, unsuitable food, and the stress of the journey killed them. Mortality often touched double figures.

But in the later years, with the introduction of faster ships, the mortality rates decreased even as the numbers of workers rose rapidly.

The early recruits endured slave-like working and living conditions, and many perished. The Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission in its 2011 report said: “The treatment meted out to the flow of Indian workers who came to Mauritius between 1834 and 1842 was very harsh. Their recruitment, transportation, housing and conditions of work left much to be desired. The condition of work was so appalling that the authorities decided to suspend further recruitment.”

Most of the early ones were tribal people (collectively called Dhangars) and from lower castes — they were the desperate ones who could be easily duped or even kidnapped. The same report shows the attitude of the planters towards the Dhangars: “They have no religion, no education, and, in their present state, no wants, beyond eating, drinking and sleeping; and to procure which, they are willing to labour.”

Tracing their footprints

Did Kalachand or any of the men who came with him die young? Probably yes, but they left no traceable footprints, melting into the sugarcane fields that seemed to have filled the entire island. With no women partners, they probably didn’t even leave any descendants. But some of the early ones did survive and lived long lives. Some, such as Harran, a Bihari from Calcutta, left a record of their life, including photographs, purely by chance. (Angaje, Volume 1, Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, 2012.)

Harran reached Mauritius in December 1836, and did multiple indentures without ever going home. He rose through the ranks, finally becoming an overseer. He was booked for ‘vagrancy’ twice and was photographed by the Immigration Depot for the first time aged 76. His photo, available in the Indian Immigration Archives of Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Mauritius, shows a nattily dressed labour-hardened man with a white beard who looks to have done well for himself.

The stories of Harran and some others, available in the archives, throw light on the early migrants who survived the neo-slavery. The details of the later migrants, particularly those who came in the late 19th century, are well documented.

In the Caribbean islands, migrants fared better because they started travelling late. Munshi Rahman Khan, who became a sort of legend in Indian indenture history for his unique autobiography, was one such. (Autobiography of An Indian Indentured Labourer, Shipra Publications, India, 2005.) Hailing from a village in Hamirpur in the United Provinces, he was a schoolteacher. On a visit to watch the Ramlila in Kanpur, he was lured by the “sugary talk” of two agents into a job in Suriname as a sardar or supervisor at a salary of 12 annas or ₹24 a month, unheard of in India at the time.

He left Calcutta in 1898, finished his five-year indenture, but chose to stay on as an agriculturist while also working as a sardar in railroad construction. He got married and bought a plot near the capital of Paramaribo. By the time he migrated, the reforms in indenture laws and land ownership and the falling sugar prices gave him a different life experience. His memoir is a rich source of history.

Workers to owners

In 1870, the planters were forced by falling prices and labour shortage into land parcelling or grand morcellement — selling small plots on the fringes of their estates to labourers. Many labourers thus became small planters. By the 20th century, there were 40,000 Indian planters who accounted for about 30% of the estates. Their descendants went on to become prime ministers and presidents, ministers, writers, academicians, artists, and businessmen. Nearly 70% of Mauritians are of Indian origin, and they dominate the island’s politics. In Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname, Indians constitute 40%, 51% and 35%, respectively, of the population.

Where are the women?

Indenture history and literature is dominated by the stories of men. But the Mauritius Immigration Office records (1853) [New System of Slavery, Hug Tinker, p-70] show that a handful of women too travelled in the early years like Deeti in Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. The very first woman immigrant to Mauritius, and possibly in indenture history, to be issued a number by the Mauritius immigration authorities was Rimoney from North Bihar in 1845. (Satyendra Peerthum, Le Mauricien, 3 November 2016) And what a story it is!

Rimoney, 30, was a widow with a 12-year-old son when she was recruited by an agent in Calcutta where she was struggling to make ends meet. She was literate and so got a job as shopkeeper in an estate while her son was enrolled as labourer. She worked for several years, and with her savings, bought some land to become a vegetable farmer who employed other immigrants and later expanded the business.

There were other women too who migrated under extraordinary situations despite the prevailing patriarchy in India. Gauitra Bahadur, an American journalist of Indian origin, explored the 1903 journey of her great-grandmother Sujaria from Majhi district in Bihar to Guiana, in the book Coolie Woman. Sujaria’s story is fascinating because she was single, pregnant and, above all, a Brahmin for whom crossing the seas was taboo.

By 1910, about 23% of the indentured Indians in Mauritius were women — sifting sugar, stirring the juice, maintaining the mills.

An imagined India

The most remarkable feature of the indenture phenomenon is the creation of a “coolie diaspora” more than a century before the present diaspora India prides itself on. Recruited mostly from the Bengal and Madras presidencies, and to some extent from the Bombay presidency, the labourers and their descendants preserved their culture and heritage in its original form and created an India of their imagination, from handed-down memories and later, from satellite TV and cinema. A poor Tamil woman selling flowers on a Durban street dreams of meeting Rajinikanth in his Chennai home. Women, including young urban girls, who’ve never seen India, wear salwar-kameez and bindis and perform Bharatanatyam.

Temples are prominent in the diaspora’s cultural heritage, whether in Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji or the Caribbean, and Shiva and Kali temples, and Amman, Subramanya and Venkateshwara temples dominate. Shivratri, Diwali, Thaipoosam and Kavadi are gala events, with some rituals likely to surprise even Indians for their adherence to detail.

In Mauritius, for instance, a huge crater-lake atop a secluded mountain has been made into their Ganga Talo, where they celebrate Shivratri with bells and incense and rituals, an astonishing recreation of a heritage that travelled with them when they left their homeland more than 100 years ago.

The 16 steps the emigrants climbed are now immortalised as the centrepiece of a Unesco World Heritage site called Aapravasi Ghat. The Ghat, the barracks and the immigration depot have been restored and converted into a living museum. In its cool interiors, exhibits and faces tell the story of the odyssey of generations of bonded labourers from a country more than 3,000 miles away, how they built a nation with their sweat and blood, and finally, how they owned it.

As Kalachand stood at the steps, Champa probably whispered to him that the tapu they had reached was Marich tapu, Mauritius, the centre of a new India they would soon build.

@pramodsarang is a journalist-turned-UN official-turned-online columnist who lives a semi-hermit life in Travancore and adores Sanjay Subrahmanyan.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Society / by G. Pramod Kumar / October 28th, 2017

Skin cancer hope from Calcutta-born biologist

Aishwarya Kundu

New Delhi:

Cancer biologist Aishwarya Kundu has chemically tweaked a natural compound found in broccoli, cabbages and cauliflowers to design a novel molecule that shows promise as a treatment for skin cancer resistant to standard therapy.

The California-based researcher and her colleagues have shown through laboratory studies that their designer compound is about 20 times more potent in killing skin cancer cells than the parent compound extracted from the vegetables: indole-3 carbinol (I3C).

Scientists have known for nearly 30 years that broccoli and the other so-called cruciferous vegetables contain I3C, which has anti-cancer properties. Several research teams working independently have since the late 1980s shown that I3C suppresses breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and leukaemia cells grown in laboratory petri dishes.

The compound, packaged into tablets, has even been sold as a “health supplement”.

“But the exact way it works in different kinds of cancers is not known. Nor are its direct targets known, without which a compound cannot be given the status of a drug,” said Kundu, who was born in Calcutta and studied at Calcutta Girls’ High School before moving to Manipal and then to the US for higher studies.

Kundu’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, is the first to establish that I3C can block two specific biological pathways -BRAF and PTEN – that drive the growth of skin cancer. While the current drugs against skin cancer target the BRAF pathway, I3C promises a second alternative route of attack.

The researchers have added a chemical structure to the I3C compound to create a novel molecule that shows the same anti-cancer effect at a concentration 20 times lower than the parent compound.

“This is a specially valuable aspect that the drug industry looks for – compounds that are effective at very low concentrations,” Kundu told The Telegraph over the phone. The novel molecule also blocks a third biological pathway: Wnt.

Skin cancer cells use the Wnt pathway as an “escape route” to develop resistance to the standard drugs. Most of these drugs target the BRAF pathway, which is the primary “driver” in 70 per cent of skin cancer patients.

“Since our novel compound blocks the Wnt escape route, we hope it will be more effective than BRAF blockers alone. It can be used in combination with BRAF blockers to curb the risk of resistance,” Kundu said.

“It may also hold out hope for the 30 per cent of patients who don’t carry the BRAF mutation in their tumours and, currently, have limited treatment options. This market alone runs into billions of dollars.”

The California researchers’ studies show that both I3C and the new compound can independently shrink skin tumours in mice. Kundu and her colleagues are now hoping to conduct the required animal studies before the new molecule can be assessed in human clinical trials.

If all goes well, Kundu speculates, human trials could start within two years.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Home> India / by G.S.Mudur / October 27th, 2017

Malaria App

Two aspiring engineers have developed an app-based system to detect malaria in a blood sample in less than a minute.

The detection involves a multi-step process that starts with the collection of a person’s blood sample. The slide containing the blood sample has to be inserted into a foldscope – a small microscope made of folded paper and a microlens.

The foldscope was developed by Manu Prakash, who teaches bioengineering at Stanford University.

Prakash’s lab sent two prototypes to the Calcutta researchers. The foldscope then has to be fitted to a smartphone, whose camera helps magnify the sample. The magnified image is then transported to a server, where using an algorithm, malaria parasites, if any, are detected in less than a minute. The diagnosis is relayed back to the phone user and the findings archived.

Nilanjan Daw and Debapriya Paul, BTech final-year students of computer science and engineering at the Institute of Engineering and Management (IEM), Salt Lake, developed the system with the help of their teacher Nilanjana Dutta Roy and IIEST professor Arindam Biswas.

Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Home> Calcutta / Thursday – October 19th, 2017

The accidental zamindar – The East India Company did not learn its lessons well

A painting by Benjamin West, 1765, of the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam, transferring the right of tax collection to Lord Clive

East India Company was basically a commercial enterprise; till the end it continued to make good money by exporting Indian goods. In the 19th century, its monopoly was corroded by the entry of other British traders; but trade continued to be a major activity till its demise in 1858.

But it was an odd bird from its birth. The Spanish and Portuguese adventurers who preceded it were an explicit extension of their home governments; the British crown, on the contrary, kept out of the Company’s affairs abroad. Charles II gave the Company power to judge and punish people in its territory abroad according to the laws of his kingdom in 1661; the power to make locally applicable laws followed.

The injunction assumed that the Company would occupy and own territory. But its territory in India was not virgin territory; it had its own administrative structure, of which the Company became one pillar. So it had two masters; and in so far as the two never talked to each other, it had considerable freedom of manoeuvre. But legislation and administration were not its main business; it tried to minimize the effort it put into them. One way it did so was to use local law where it existed, and import British law where there was no local law.

The two differed greatly in respect of landed property. In 1660, King Charles II abolished personal service due from noblemen and converted it into a monetary obligation; that is how land revenue became the dominant tax in Britain. In India, too, land revenue was the major tax; it was reckoned as a third of agricultural produce under Akbar. But it was not always in cash. And it did not necessarily go to the king; the nobleman delivered his dues in cash or in military service. The feudal structure applied to the Mogul empire, but not necessarily to other, smaller kingdoms. So when Lord Clive defeated the Mogul army in 1765 and took the Diwani of Bengal, the Company had to learn the ins and outs of zamindari.

The lessons it learnt are the main part of Law and the Economy in Colonial India, a new book by Tirthankar Roy and Anand V. Swamy. They are an odd pair. Tirthankar is a first-class economic historian. But he is not a leftist; so he faced discrimination from the academic powers-that-be in India. Finally he got fed up and left India; now he teaches in the London School of Economics. Anand Swamy teaches economics in Williams College. They have been running into each other in conferences, and working together on books once in a while.

Their conclusion is that the Company did not learn the lessons well. Its laws led to thousands of cases in Bengal relating to property, tenancy and rent; the system remained overloaded throughout British rule, and cases took decades. As if property law was not obscure enough, legal proceedings were complicated by succession law, which differed according to religion. They do not say so, but the mess was sorted out after Independence, first by legislation abolishing zamindari, and more slowly by population growth, which reduced the size of holdings.

It is difficult to imagine today that Indians could own slaves till 1843; and once slavery was abolished by law, all they had to do was to give a loan to the slave and turn him into a bonded labourer. That is not surprising, since Britain itself outlawed slavery only in 1811. But slavery served a purpose under conditions of labour shortage, which was commonly faced by plantations in the north-east. There were not enough workers in the area; they had to be brought from far away, most often tribals from Chhota Nagpur, which is now Jharkhand. Loading them into bullock carts and transporting them hundreds of miles cost money; a planter could not afford to bring them and then let them walk over to a neighbouring planter for a higher wage. So planters asked for and got laws which empowered them to jail their workers for not repaying a loan. But maltreating workers also earned a planter a bad reputation that he would rather avoid; so planters who could get and retain workers more easily avoided using penalties. Roy and Swamy deal with these labour market adjustments in some detail.

I found their discussion of contract law fascinating. Before the statification of the Company, Indian governments did not legislate or enforce laws. But commerce had existed for millennia; and where there was trade, there was always scope for cheating and breach of promise. Traders used social networks to deal with these risks; loss of reputation and standing was the punishment for breach of contract. But this could work only with those who had reputation to lose; it could not work with Santhal labourers or indigo farmers. When it came to workers, the Company gave penal powers to their employers. That could not be done with indigo farmers; they were not housed by indigo buyers, and could not be jailed or beaten up. So indigo buyers collected chits documenting debt against various farmers, and when an opportunity arose, sold them off to someone who had greater influence on the debtors. Partly under their influence, a contract act was passed in the 1860s; but few cases were filed under it.

Such are the narratives collected by Roy and Swamy. Their book is neither a treatise on law nor a history book: it does not systematically align legislation and case law, and it does not tell a story. The topics it has chosen are broad; a systematic treatment would take more space. Making a history out of it would require a larger role for the personalities involved; a legal treatise would require links with both legislative and case law. So there is a case for expanding the book.

Roy and Swamy should also try their hand at pathology of Indian law. The Indian judicial system is hugely overloaded, and extremely slow; the two aspects are connected, but slowness is not just due to overload. It is a good deal due to antiquated procedure; for instance, judges let lawyers drone on and on, briefs cite piles of cases unnecessary to make the point, and courts give postponements and adjournments for the asking. There are too many briefless lawyers, and too few judges. High courts reverse a high proportion of lower court judgments, generally on the ground of poor police investigation. Other systems have faced these problems and overcome them.

No one in India has looked critically at the judicial system except Arun Shourie; anyone who thinks of doing so is bound to consider the possibility that he may face judicial bias if he is hauled to court. Roy and Swamy do not have to worry about that. At worst, a book of theirs would be banned in India. But that would not be much of a loss; hardly any book sells more than a thousand or two copies in India, and the publicity would increase the book’s sales outside. If the judicial system is to be repaired, someone has to start somewhere, and no one is better placed to do so than Roy and Swamy.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> Opinion> Story / Writing On The Wall: Ashok V. Desai / Tuesday – February 14th, 2017

Kolkata girl bridges Bengal-Costa Rica gap

Kolkata :

This saree-clad, Spanish-speaking woman had stood out in the Costa Rica pavilion of the Kolkata Book Fair. Nothing about her looks and demeanour was Central American and yet she seemed so much at home, spreading native Costa Rican cheer. But speaking to a visitor at the pavilion, her Spanish changed into pure Bengali within seconds. Kolkata girl Baishakhi Saha has made it big in Costa Rica to gain permanent residency from the government there.

Saha used to live in Salt Lake and studied at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan before settling down with her parents in Chennai. Her ties to the city, however, remained strong as the family often returned to visit relatives. Always a brilliant student, Saha bagged a scholarship from the Singapore department of education to major in computer science and minor in German from University of Singapore. It was during her stay there that she realised being part of university exchange programmes would help her see the world.

However, she soon realised that with a partial scholarship, it was quite an expensive proposition for an Indian girl with a middle-class background. Around this time, she participated in a global essay-writing competition hosted by the government of Switzerland, on how Europe still inspires imaginations. This won her a limited period stay in Switzerland, which was a turning point in her life. “I yearned see the whole of Europe.

There were many like me and I soon found that by becoming a member of Aiesec, a global students’ body, I could get placed in jobs and get internships that could help me with that. Luckily, I managed to clear the necessary tests and was called for an interview to Malayasia, after which I was awarded a management internship with Model United Nations in Nigeria. It was a two-month job and I made $200 a month — quite a hand-to-mouth situation, but I enjoyed every moment of it,” Baisakhi recalls.

For the next one-and-a-half years she travelled the length and breadth of the west coast of Africa for the TV show Goge Africa. Aiesec acknowledged her work and her next assignment was that of an English teacher in Venezuela, after which she got a similar assignment in Costa Rica. By then, she had started writing her book, ‘magicNine’. The book was a success and Baisakhi was soon giving inspirational talks and teaching business communications at institutes. Her popularity made the Costa Rican government acknowledge her contribution and offer her permanent residency.

“Life has been a dream since then. Costa Rica is more or less like Kerala or Goa if you want to compare Indian situations. I come to Kolkata once in a while, but I have plans to take slices of Bengali culture there now,” Baisakhi said. She is a dancer too and has performed Indian dances in Costa Rica, which have been instant hits. As one of the few Bengalis in a distant land, she has much to do to bridge the two cultures, she explained.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey / TNN / February 13th, 2017

Diversity makes US great, says Nasa scientist from Kolkata

Goutam Chattopadhyay.

Kolkata :

A jet propulsion scientist at Nasa who grew up in the suburbs of Kolkata believes America owes much of its success to immigrants.

“The driving force of America is the assimilation of people from all over the world; people who are talented and have used the opportunities to drive innovation. That is what makes America great,” said Goutam Chattopadhyay, who migrated to the ‘land of opportunities’ in 1992 and lived his dreams.

Growing up in utter poverty in Konnagar, Chattopadhyay was not allowed to sit in a Class III exam as his school fee (Rs 8) hadn’t been paid. Still, he finished second in class that year, the only time he did so as he topped his class right up to his engineering degree in Electronics & Telecommunication from BE College, Shibpur. He had even cracked IIT entrance exam but could not study since his family could not afford it.

From BE College, Chattopadhyay went to TIFR in 1987. That’s when his horizon widened. “Till then, I wasn’t sure what to do other than take up a job to support my family,” the senior scientist recounted. As a design engineer at the premier institute, he was part of the team that designed the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope (GMRT). Chattopadhyay designed the Local Oscillator System that converts the signal that comes from the sky into lower frequency signal that is easier to process.

In 1992, he went to the US to pursue higher studies, doing his masters at the University of Virginia and then PhD at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). There, he was in the group that developed Terahertz that will come into commercial telephony when 5G is rolled out.

On completion of the PhD in 1999, he got a call from Nasa. “Looking back, it has been an amazing journey and it has been possible because the US has been welcoming. I don’t think Indian students will be affected by what is happening right now. These are short-term bumps. I hope this will not stop the flow of talent to the US,” he said.

Chattopadhyay is currently working on a project that could help President Donald Trump overcome some of the fears on homeland security. His team is using Terahertz to do a remote pat-down of suspects. A project for the department of Homeland security, it is a device that allows law enforcement agencies to remotely scan a person to detect guns or bombs hidden under the jacket. “It can work at a 30-40 metre distance and be of use in airports and stations,” he explained.

Talking of airports, Chattopadhyay missed the crowds waiting at LA airport to welcome immigrants to protest against Trump’s ban on seven Muslim-majority countries as a judge in Seattle had put a stay on the executive order a day before he took his flight to India. Though he wasn’t worried about taking this trip as there are no restrictions on travel from India, fellow colleagues in Nasa who hail from the countries under the scanner won’t risk a visit ‘home’ anytime soon.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / TNN / February 09th, 2017

Bengal weaves to make it to UK’s Asia House show

bengalweaveskolk15oct2016

In a bid to showcase to the world the craftsmanship of traditional weaves and tribal work from Bengal and other parts of India, five Indian women running design houses in Britain’s capital have come together to organize an exhibition at London’s Asia House on Sunday.

A software consultant, Rajeswari Sengupta who works with weavers from tribal Bengal will display the products under her label, The Far East Studio.

“We have been working with master artisans from different parts of Bengal to revive textile traditions. At the exhibition, I will have an entire collection of hand-woven jamdani from Bangladesh, hand-embroidered kantha, Tangail products for buyers in the UK. There will also be sarees in organic cotton and natural dye, besides other drapes, including silk, by national award-winning artisans,” said Sengupta.

The other designers at the show will be Jyoti Chandhok, who will bring chikankari works from Lucknow, Neetu Jalali who will showcase Kashmiri Pashmina, Josephine Nirmala who will come with her Rajasthani silver jewellery and Dimple Kalla, who will showcase hand-painted furniture.

Hailing from different parts of India, the five designers shifted to London almost a decade ago but they still swear by Indian handloom, jewellery and artefacts. Sengupta said, “The five of us are from different parts of India and we have managed to bring a piece of all the four corners of the country at this exhibition which will have works of weavers, embroiders and jewellery designers from the grassroots level.”

The group’s aim is to support and promote handwoven works. “The UK has seen a lot of big exhibitions where Indian products are showcased in abundance. But this might be the first initiative by Indian women to showcase the works of grassroots weavers and artisans,” Sengupta added.

Apart from the loyal Indian customer base, the exhibition is expected to have a good response from the English as well. “They are very interested in sarees and handwoven textiles. Even stoles, shawls from Kashmir, kantha dresses are quite a rage here. Through these expos, we are looking to create a platform for Indian weavers who can directly interact with buyers,” Sengupta added.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News Home> City News> Kolkata / Swasti Chatterjee / TNN / October 10th, 2016