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Kolkata cafe celebrates ‘queer’ identities over food

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Kolkata, May 8: Festooned in fairy lights, far from the prying and judging eyes of the public, cafe “Amra Odbhuth” (We are Queer) provides space to the LGBTQ community members here to get together over platters of food and celebrate their identities.

What started out as a pop-up and the need for a meeting space to discuss issues and furnish a platform for queer reading and performances sans censorship, has become a movement of sorts to reclaim the word “Odbhuth” (queer in Bengali).

“Amra Odbhuth” in a renovated family home in south Kolkata, has branded itself “as a space where queer and trans voices get together, laugh, perform and celebrate identities.”

The unique cafe-collective movement was started by Upasana, Nandini Moitra, Raina Roy and Kallol Guha.

“There aren’t a lot of queer friendly spaces in the city. We just wanted to share our experiences and connect with each other, outside activism and NGO spaces. We wanted to have a concrete, physical space outside online forum. Since food culture is big in Kolkata, people always love to get together over food,” one of the founders told IANS.

The cafe-collective, more of an extension of an idea to break away and start something new, also resonates with Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore’s famous verse “Amra nutan joubaneri doot, amra chaanchol, amra odbhuth, amra bera bhangi, amra ashok bone, ranga neshay rang”.

In English it translates into “We are heralds of youth, we are restless, we are unique, we break down barriers and sway to the forest’s intoxication.”

Although it is not operational on a regular basis, the cafe comes up with rotational menus aligned with its events: queer art meet, evening of poetry with performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon and screenings.

It also unveiled a full-fledged traditional Bengali menu for the Poila Baisakh celebration last month.

Apart from the regular coffee, the popular foods here are basil ham cheese grilled sandwich, bacon salad and mandarin mojito (non-alcoholic).

The founders have expansive plants for the space, though funding is a pressing issue.

The cafe is also open to non-LGBTQ members as long as “they respect boundaries”. Some of the other house rules include a no-alcohol policy since the cafe is smack bang in the middle of a residential area.

“The concept is to ensure the members of the community feel comfortable and are able to enjoy art, cinema and performances without being judged,” the co-founder added.

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Bengal government to provide tabs to 9.5 lakh students to facilitate online education

There are around 36,000 government and government-aided secondary schools, around 14,000 higher secondary schools and 636 madrasahs in the state.

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Mamata Banerjee

The state government will provide tabs to around 9.5 lakh students in government schools and government aided schools, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Thursday.

“Because of the pandemic students are suffering. We will provide tabs to 9.5 lakh students studying in class 12 in government schools, government-aided schools and madrasahs. Computers would also be also provided to every secondary school to facilitate online education during pandemic,” Banerjee said at the state secretariat.

There are around 36,000 government and government-aided secondary schools, around 14,000 higher secondary schools and 636 madrasahs in the state.

“Many students are not being able to follow the online classes. The tabs would help the students even when they are pursuing their graduation,” said Banerjee.

With an eye on the crucial 2021 Bengal assembly elections, the chief minister also announced 3% dearness allowance for 10 lakh state government employees from January 1, 2021. This would cost the state exchequer Rs 2200 crore.

Speaking in another program during the day Banerjee said that Information Technology (IT) firms in West Bengal have registered 133% growth in the last eight years and IT exports have gone up by 175%.

“Many more investments are coming. On December 1, we cleared 20 proposals of setting up IT offices at Bengal Silicon Valley Hub with a proposed investment of Rs 3000 crore. They would directly employ 9000 IT professionals,” Banerjee said at a program

At present over 1500 IT companies, including Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro, Infosys, Cognizant and IBM among others, have their offices in West Bengal. The state has around 2.1 lakh IT professionals.

The chief minister while listing out a series of expansion plans of some of the top IT firms in the state said that while Nxtra Data of Bharti Airtel has come up with a proposal of Rs 350 crores, Wipro has an expansion plan worth Rs 500 crores in the state.

“Tata Consultancy Services is expected to increase their employment from the present 44,000 to around 61,000. Very soon their operation in West Bengal would be larger than their Bengaluru operation,” she said.

The chief minister added that while Cognizant Technology Solutions is also expected to expand further, ITC Infotech has almost completed their project in New Town and will employ around 3000 IT professionals there.

IT services giant Infosys will start construction of a proposed software development centre in the state by July 2021. They have been allotted 50 acres of land.

“Our youth will not have to roam in other states and across the world looking for jobs. They can work here,” Banerjee said.

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Once dreaded ‘queen of outlaws’ Phoolan now a ‘veerangana’

Phoolan Devi emerged as an icon for the Nishad community (boatmen) but after her brutal death in 2001, the community was not given adequate representation by political parties.

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phoolan devi Bandit Queen

Bandit queen-turned-politician Phoolan Devi has been conferred the title of ‘veerangana’ (a brave warrior) by the Eklavya Welfare Society in Jalaun district.

Phoolan’s native village Garha Ka Purwa is located in Jalaun district and the Eklavya Welfare Society represents the Nishad community to which Phoolan belonged.

“The title of Veerangna has been conferred on Phoolan Devi because she was a true warrior — she fought for her honour and later, for the welfare of the oppressed.

“She deserves her and the young generations need to be told about her contribution. We will soon install her statue here,” said Gopalm Nishad, a member of the Eklavya Welfare Society.

Phoolan Devi, a bandit in the ravines across Uttar Pradesh and present Chhattisgarh and also Madhya Pradesh, had hit the headlines when she massacred 22 Thakurs in Behmai in Kanpur in February 1981 to avenge her sexual exploitation by a Thakur gang led by Lala Ram and Sri Ram.

In 1994, then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh withdrew the cases against Phoolan and she contested and won the Lok Sabha elections from Mirzapur in 1996 on a Samajwadi Party ticket.

Phoolan Devi emerged as an icon for the Nishad community (boatmen) but after her brutal death in 2001, the community was not given adequate representation by political parties.

The Nishad community constitutes about 4.5 per cent of the state’s population and are known to be among the Most Backward Castes (MBC).

The Nishad community has a sizeable population in about 40 assembly segments. Since the past one decade, they are trying to be included in the Scheduled Caste’s category but their demand has been caught in legal hassles.

An attempt was made to install Phoolan’s statue in Gorakhpur in 2016 but the attempt was foiled by the district administration that claimed that requisite permission for same had not been obtained.

The issue had revived an intense caste war between OBCs and MBCs in Uttar Pradesh.

Last year, Phoolan’s mother, Moola Devi, 90, who still lives in the village in abject poverty, had released the Chambal Manifesto on the eve of Lok Sabha elections to press for development of the Chambal region.

The 4-page manifesto was a compilation of the demands for the region which included the formation of the Chambal Commission for a scientific study of the issues and challenges faced by the people living in Chambal region along with solutions.

More than 40 years after she picked up the gun and turned into a bandit, following a dispute over four bighas of land with her cousin Maya Din, Phoolan Devi’s family in her native village in Jalaun district is still waiting to reclaim that elusive piece of land.

Meanwhile, the land that was initially owned by Phoolan’s father, Devi Din Mallah, and after his death, it still eludes her mother Moola Devi as the rightful owner.

Maya Din, son of late Devi Din’s elder brother allegedly grabbed the plot and did not allow Phoolan’s mother to till the land. Maya Din claimed the land was passed on to him as legacy.

Moola Devi said, “My daughter Phoolan fought with Maya Din for this land. Maya Din and his men ridiculed her and hurled abuses at her. She got together some girls from the village and staged a dharna on the land. The village elders tried to remove her from the land but failed. Then Maya Din hurled a brick at her and she fell unconscious. After this, she became a ‘baaghi’ (rebel).”

It is said that Maya Din ‘sold’ her off to Lal Ram and Shri Ram — heads of a Thakur gang of dacoits — who not only raped her but also held her captive.

A few years later, Phoolan Devi fell in love with another dacoit Vikram Mallah, who was later killed by the Lala Ram and Shri Ram gang.

To avenge the wrong done to her by the Thakur gang, Phoolan Devi gradually built up her own gang and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Lunar Eclipse: Chant these mantras for peace during Chandra Grahan

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Lunar eclipse

Lunar Eclipse 2020: The fourth and the last Upachaya Chandra Grahan (Penumbral Lunar Eclipse) of 2020 will take place today. Though Sutak is not applicable during Upachaya Chandra Grahan, the constant movements of the Grahas (planets) may cast an impact on zodiac signs. It may influence people’s natal charts. Hence, people must chant mantras to negate the negative effect of Grahan.

The Lunar Eclipse will have a duration of 4 hours and 18 minutes. It will begin on Monday at 1.04 pm and reach its peak at 3.13 pm. The Lunar Eclipse will end at 5.22 pm and will have a magnitude of 0.82.

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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