Fire at Panjab University: Campus abuzz with sabotage talk

Fire at Panjab University: Campus abuzz with sabotage talk

A day after a major fire broke out in the accounts branch of the administrative block of the Panjab University in the wee hours of Sunday, the campus is rife with conspiracy theories claiming sabotage.Un jour après un incendie majeur a éclaté dans la branche des comptes du bloc administratif de l’Université Panjab au plus tôt le dimanche, le campus regorge de théorUn día después de que un gran incendio estalló en la sucursal de cuentas del bloque administrativo de la Universidad de Panjab en las primeras horas del domingo, el campus está plagado de teorías de conspiración que demandan sabotaje.Un día después de un incendio mayor es una explosión en la cuenta de cuentas Del gobierno administrativo de la Universidad Panjab au plus tôt le dimanche, le campus regorge de théories de conspiration prétendant saboter.
A day after a major fire broke out in the accounts branch of the administrative block of the Panjab University in the wee hours of Sunday, the campus is rife with conspiracy theories claiming sabotage.Un jour après un incendie majeur a éclaté dans la branche des comptes du bloc administratif de l’Université Panjab au plus tôt le dimanche, le campus regorge de théorUn día después de que un gran incendio estalló en la sucursal de cuentas del bloque administrativo de la Universidad de Panjab en las primeras horas del domingo, el campus está plagado de teorías de conspiración que demandan sabotaje.Un día después de un incendio mayor es una explosión en la cuenta de cuentas Del gobierno administrativo de la Universidad Panjab au plus tôt le dimanche, le campus regorge de théories de conspiration prétendant saboter.

Un fait qui prête une certaine crédibilité à une telle conversation est qui la branche a été rénovée en 2014. En outre, le bilan des paiements effectués par l’ingénieur en chef depuis 16 ans a également été vidé.

Un comité de investigación encargado de examinar las irrégularidades en la calidad de los trabajos ejecutados y el registro requerido.

Un hecho que da credibilidad prima facie a tal charla es que la rama sólo se había renovado en 2014-end. Además, el registro de los pagos realizados por el ingeniero ejecutivo de los últimos 16 años también se ha eviscerado.

Un comité de investigación que examinaba las irregularidades en la calidad de las obras ejecutadas había solicitado el registro, pero el proceso se estancó bajo algún pretexto u otro.ies de conspiration prétendant saboter.

Un fait qui prête une certaine crédibilité à une telle conversation est que la branche n’avait été rénovée qu’en 2014. En outre, le bilan des paiements effectués par l’ingénieur en chef depuis 16 ans a également été vidé.

Un comité d’enquête chargé d’examiner les irrégularités dans la qualité des travaux exécutés a demandé l’enregistrement, mais le processus a été bloqué sous prétexte ou l’autre.

A fact that does lend some prima facie credence to such talk is that the branch had only been renovated in 2014-end. Also, record of payments made by executive engineer for the past 16 years has also been gutted.

An inquiry committee looking into irregularities in quality of works executed had called for the record, but the process was stalled on some pretext or the other.
Un fait qui prête une certaine crédibilité à une telle conversation est qui la branche a été rénovée en 2014. En outre, le bilan des paiements effectués par l’ingénieur en chef depuis 16 ans a également été vidé.

Un comité de investigación encargado de examinar las irrégularidades en la calidad de los trabajos ejecutados y el registro requerido.

Un hecho que da credibilidad prima facie a tal charla es que la rama sólo se había renovado en 2014-end. Además, el registro de los pagos realizados por el ingeniero ejecutivo de los últimos 16 años también se ha eviscerado.

Un comité de investigación que examinaba las irregularidades en la calidad de las obras ejecutadas había solicitado el registro, pero el proceso se estancó bajo algún pretexto u otro.ies de conspiration prétendant saboter.

Un fait qui prête une certaine crédibilité à une telle conversation est que la branche n’avait été rénovée qu’en 2014. En outre, le bilan des paiements effectués par l’ingénieur en chef depuis 16 ans a également été vidé.

Un comité d’enquête chargé d’examiner les irrégularités dans la qualité des travaux exécutés a demandé l’enregistrement, mais le processus a été bloqué sous prétexte ou l’autre.

A fact that does lend some prima facie credence to such talk is that the branch had only been renovated in 2014-end. Also, record of payments made by executive engineer for the past 16 years has also been gutted.

An inquiry committee looking into irregularities in quality of works executed had called for the record, but the process was stalled on some pretext or the other.

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Emergency was perhaps an avoidable event

 

A few minutes before midnight on 25 June 1975, the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, pro­claimed a ‘State of Emergency’ under Article 352 of the Constitution. I was in Calcutta for my Rajya Sabha elec­tion, scheduled for 26 June, and got to know of this development on the morning of the 26th. Indira Gandhi asked me to return to Delhi as soon as the election was over and meet her at the earliest. D.P. Chattopadhyaya— who was then the Minister of State for Commerce and also in Calcutta | for the Rajya Sabha election—told me he had received similar summons from Delhi.

I got to the assembly building at about 9.30 a.m. It was teeming with state legislators, ministers and politi­cal leaders, some with questions and others with conspiracy theories. Some went to the extent of suggesting that, a la Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi had abrogated the Constitution and usurped power for herself, with the army in tow. I cor­rected these prophets of doom, saying that the Emergency had been declared according to the provisions of the

Man behind the mess: Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on the advice of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then West Bengal chief minister

Constitution rather than in spite of it. I argued that if the Constitution had indeed been abrogated, why would the Rajya Sabha election take place at all? The logic worked and people started to see reason. Around 11 a.m., Siddhartha Shankar Ray—the then Chief Minister of West Bengal- returned to Calcutta from Delhi and called me to his chamber. I met him there alongwithD.P. Chattopadhyaya and a couple of state ministers, one being Abdus Sattar, and discussed the developing scenario. Siddhartha babu briefed us about the happenings in Delhi the night before.

It is believed that Siddhartha Shankar Ray played an important role in the decision to declare the Emergency: it was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it. In fact, Indira Gandhi told me subsequently that she was not even aware of the constitutional provisions allow­ing for the declaration of a state of Emergency on grounds of internal disturbance, particularly since a state of Emergency had already been proclaimed as a consequence of the

Emergency was perhaps an avoidable event

The Emergency was a crucial phase in our parliamentary democ­racy. The declaration, its operation and, finally, its withdrawal had a profound impact on India’s politi­cal structure as I have mentioned earlier. Those who had been scep­tical of a parliamentary democ­racy succeeding in India became gleeful at the thought that they had been proven correct. Those who had bought into the idea of democracy and were enchanted by the Constitution of India and the successful execution of electoral democracy since 1952 were rudely shocked.

I will discuss the impact of the Emergency on domestic politics in the subsequent narrative. At this point in the book, it will be sufficient to say here that many of us who were part of the Union Cabinet at that time (I was a junior minister) did not then understand its deep and far-reaching impact. While there is no doubt that it brought with it some major positive changes—discipline in public life, a growing economy, controlled infla­tion, a reversed trade deficit for the first time, enhanced developmental expenditures and a crackdown on tax evasion and smuggling—it was perhaps an avoidable event. Suspension of fundamental rights and political activity (including trade union activity), large-scale arrests of political leaders and activists, press censorship, and extending the life of legislatures by not conducting elections were some instances of the Emergency adversely affecting the interests of the people. The Congress and Indira Gandhi had to pay a heavy price for this misadventure.
No laughing matter: Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (centre), the home minister who signed a letter seeking the president’s assent for imposing internal emergency, with Maharashtra Congress leaders in 1977

Indo-Pak conflict in 1971.

According to Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s deposition before the Shah Commission (set up by the Janata government to investigate the ‘excesses’of the Emergency), he was summoned to Indira Gandhi’s resi­dence on the morning of 25 June 1975. He reached 1 Safdarjung Road and met Indira Gandhi, who said that she had received a slew of reports indi­cating that the country was heading into a crisis. She told him that in view of the all-round indiscipline and law­lessness, some strong corrective mea­sures needed to be taken. Siddhartha babu told the Shah Commission that Indira Gandhi had, on two or three previous occasions, told him that India needed some ‘shock treatment’ and that some ‘emergent power or drastic power’was necessary. He recalled to the Shah Commission that on one such occasion (before the announcement of the Allahabad High Court judgement on 12 June 1975), he had told her that they could
take recourse to the laws already on the statute books, and cited to her the success with which he had tack­led the law and order problems of West Bengal within the framework of the law. According to Siddhartha babu, Indira Gandhi then read out intelligence reports of Jayaprakash Narayan’s public meeting scheduled for that evening. The reports indicat­ed that he would call for an all-India agitation to set up a parallel adminis­tration network as well as courts, and appeal to policemen and those in the

Deposing before the Shah Commission, Siddhartha Shankar Ray ran into Indira Gandhi in the Commission Hall and tossed a sprightly remark: ‘You look pretty today/

‘Despite your efforts/ retorted a curt Indira.

 

armed forces to disobey what were supposed to be illegal orders. Indira Gandhi, he maintained, was firm in the understanding that India was drifting towards chaos and anarchy. Siddhartha babu then asked Indira Gandhi for some time to consider the possible courses of action, and returned later that evening, at about 5 p.m., to tell her that she could con­sider,

…if she so desired, Article 352 of the Constitution for the purpose of imposing internal emergency [whereupon] she asked Shri Ray to go along with her to the President immediately…She gave to the President a summary of what she had told Shri Ray with regard to the facts, that the President heard her for about twenty minutes to half an hour and then asked Shri Ray as to what were the exact words in the Constitution, that the President then told the Prime Minister to make her recommendation…

Siddhartha babu had been very close to Indira Gandhi ever since the days of the Congress split in 1969, and was at one point regarded as one of her most influential advisors. Indira Gandhi would seek his advice on diverse matters. As a member of the CWC and the Central Parliamentary Board, Siddhartha babu had consid­erable influence over the decision­making process of the organization and administration. His voice was prominent at the meetings of the National Development Council and at the conferences of chief ministers. He had a say in Congress policies at the national level from the early 1970s till the end of 1975. In matters relating to West Bengal, his was the decisive voice. So, it is not surprising that he was privy to considerable informa­tion, as the following incident indi­cates.

Man for all seasons: Mukherjee, then minister of state for finance, addressing Income Tax commissioners during the ‘raid raj’ in 1976
At the AICC session at Delhi in

through the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme as well as the number declarers. He was particularly viru­lent about my ‘high-handedness’ and ‘vendetta’ against Maharani Gayatri Devi who had been arrested during the Emergency. I was further accused of multiple misdemeanours—from beingthe author of the ‘raid raj’during the Emergency, to being responsible for removing the SBI Chairman, R.K. Talwar, because of his alleged refusal to give Sanjay Gandhi a loan, to even conducting a raid on Baroda Rayon merely to recover some incriminating documents. Raised by private mem­bers, these allegations were allowed to go on record, undenied, as the min­isters who were in possession of the facts (as custodians of government files and papers) did not bother to provide the correct and full informa­tion. It became clear that some of us would not get any protection either from the government or from our own party. I did occasionally try to defend myself through my interven­tions in the Rajya Sabha or through the media, but was not always suc­cessful.

In the House and lobby, I was avoided by almost everybody, apart from two CPI Rajya Sabha members, Bhupesh Gupta and Kalyan Roy, both good friends, and Congress leaders A.R. Antulay, Saroj Khaparde and Pratibha Singh. I became a common sight in the lobby as I whiled away time alone, smoking my pipe. To each his own share of woes.

★★★

Battle lines drawn in the Congress

On 3 October 1977, the CBI arrest­ed Indira Gandhi from her resi­dence at 12 Willingdon Crescent. I was at home when I got the news from a

United News of India correspondent that Indira Gandhi, along with K.D. Malaviya, H.R. Gokhale, P.C. Sethi and D.P. Chattopadhyaya, had been arrested. The correspondent told me that I, too, was likely to be arrested.

  • requested a friend (who was visit­ing) to go fetch my wife, Geeta, who had gone out to watch a movie. And then I waited on the lawn with my pipe, tobacco, matchbox and a small suitcase. I decided I would not apply for bail, and prepared myself for an indefinite stay in jail. Geeta came back and together, we waited for the police, but nobody came. After about
  • m., I told Geeta that instead of waiting for the police, we could go to Indira Gandhi’s residence and find out what was happening there. We left a note with our servant in case the police came looking for us—that we would be at 12 Willingdon Crescent.

At Indira Gandhi’s residence, we found several people, but not Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi came in later, and was surprised to see me. He had been told that the police had already picked me up. I heard from him the details of Indira Gandhi’s arrest, and then we talked about making arrangements for the next day. I returned home at 2 a.m., only to go back to 12 Willingdon Crescent a few hours later. The area had now been cordoned off, and it required a fair amount of coaxing for me to be allowed in. Having met the others inside, Vasant Sathe and I left for Police Lines, where we were told that Indira Gandhi had been taken to court. We headed there, making our way past numerous groups of pro- and anti-Indira demonstrators. The anti-Indira rallies were mostly Janata Party demonstrations against her. ‘Hang herl’they shouted. Some of their slogans were in very bad taste. The pro-Indira demonstrators, on the other hand, were shouting slogans against the high-handedness of the Janata government and the political­ly motivated arrest of Indira Gandhi.

The courtroom was crowded and we would not have made it inside

A few minutes later, the judge, R. Dayal, delivered his judgement and she was honourably acquitted…. without police help. Indira Gandhi stood in the dock, a Shantiniketan bag hanging from her shoulder. She saw me and asked, ‘How come you are here?’I told her what had happened.

The arrest was full of drama. The police came at 3 p.m., without a prop­er warrant. They produced one only when this was pointed out to them. In the meantime, uniformed as well as plainclothes policemen surrounded the house. Maneka Gandhi contact­ed as many people as she could (her phone had been spared from being disconnected), and a large number of Congressmen and leaders assembled
at 12 Willingdon Crescent. The law­yers—who had a previously sched­uled appointment with Indira Gandhi for 3 p.m.that day—got into an argu­ment with the CBI’s N.K. Singh.

The drama notwithstanding, Indira Gandhi was taken away late that evening, but not before she made a brief statement to the press that the arrest was politically motivated. While Sanjay Gandhi did not react, Rajiv Gandhi’s reaction was sharp. He pointed out that the Janata Party government was unlikely to have any­thing against Indira Gandhi, aside from some flimsy charges of ‘illegal connivance’to secure some jeeps for the party.

Indira Gandhi was followed by her lawyers, a group of loyalists and fami­ly members—Rajiv, Sonia, Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi. It was decided that Nirmala Deshpande would accom-

Rajiv Gandhi’s reaction was sharp. He pointed out that the Janata Party gov­ernment was unlikely to have anything against Indira Gandhi, aside from some flimsy charges of ‘illegal connivance’ to secure some jeeps for the party.

 

During its early years, several illustrious peo¬ple, including many freedom fighters, visited and stayed at the Pinakini Satyagraha Ashram.

About 11km from the humming city of Nellore lies Pallepadu village, which is home to the Pinakini Satyagraha Ashram. Blissful silence and a calming breeze welcome you as you navigate a dirt road to reach the ashram.

Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated the ashram, known as the Sabarmati of the south, in 1921. Gandhi was planning to spread his message of non-violence to the south when he met two social workers, Digumarthi Hanumantha Rao and Chaturvedula Venkata Krishnaiah, who were interested in his mission. The Indian National Congress contributed ?10,000 and 22 acres were bought on the banks of the Pennar river to build the ashram. Rao and Krishnaiah were the co-founders. During its early years, several illustrious people, including many freedom fighters, visited and stayed at the ash­ram. Many programmes for khadi production, eradication of untouchability, education and equality were started.

Soon, as the ashram gained popularity, the need for additional accommodation arose.

That is when Ghorkhodu Rustomjee Jiwanji stepped in. Better known as Parsee Rustom­jee, the businessman from South Africa, who was also Gandhi’s friend, contributed a 5,000 sq ft building to the ashram that was named Rustomjee Bhavan.

As it became popular, the ashram attracted unwanted attention. In 1923, a gang of bandits attacked the ashram when most inmates were away on work and took away precious orna­ments. The women offered stiff resistance under the leadership of Rao’s wife, Buchhi

Krishnamma. Though they were severely injured, they did not inform the police. However, the police got the news and caught the bandits. Krishnamma was called as wit­ness to the court to identify the ornaments. She had a look at the ornaments, but said she could not confirm that they belonged to the ashram. Hearing this, the bandits had a change of heart and confessed to their crime.

The ashram had established itself as a cul­tural force in the region, but, after the death of Rao in 1925, internal squabbles surfaced and many inmates left to join other ashrams. During the salt satyagraha in 1930, police attacked the ashram and destroyed flags and furniture. This signalled the end of the ashram’s golden period.

In 1952, Krishnamma tried to revive the ashram and established training centres for the villagers. But soon the activities stopped and the ashram was leased out to the Andhra Pradesh Grama Swarajya Samiti.

During the 1980s, philosopher Sivaram started an experimental school for the poor at the defunct ashram and was joined by Brit­ish educationist Eleanor Watts. They ran the Srujana Education Trust from 1983 to 1989.

In 2005, the ashram was handed over to the Nellore branch of the Indian Red Cross Society. The society collected funds and re­built the dilapidated building. “It was rebuilt to give it the original look,” says Dr A.V. Sub- rahmanyam, the secretary of the society. An eco-friendly guest house was built with the help of volunteers from the Wardha Ashram. On November 7, a peace rally from Nellore city to the ashram, called Vande Gandhiyam, was organised and about 1,300 people par­ticipated. Among them were singer Ghazal Srinivas, MP Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy and District Collector N. Srikant. •

 

President Pranab Mukherjee, who was minister in the Indira years, reveals the man behind the Emergency in his new book, The Dramatic Decade (Rupa Publications). And says Indira Gandhi did not know that there were Constitutional provisions to impose internal emergency.

Exclusive extracts

Lessons from Father

I was a restless child, forever up to mischief an5 with a penchant for avoiding studies as much as I could. I would rather play away my day with the neighbourhood boys than go to school. This is not to say that I did not get thrashed for this indiscipline, both by my mother and the school­master, but at that time I thought it well worth to endure the thrashing to pursue my deep interest in having a good time!

It could be said that between 1940 and 19451 did not go to school, prefer­ring instead a life of playing games, climbing trees or running along with the grazing herds of cows. In 1946, however, I was enrolled at the Kirnahar Shib Chandra High English School in Class V. A well-known school in the area, it was about two- and-a-half kilometres away from home, which meant travelling five kilometres every day on foot—and that too barefoot, as was common­place in those days. Much of the jour­ney entailed walking over a raised path with ditches on either side. During the rains, when the entire area was several feet deep in water, I would take off my shirt and shorts and wade through the water wearing a gamchha (towel), changing back into my presentable, school-worthy attire once I reached higher ground. In 1973, when I was a minister, I got that road paved.

It was in high school that I first began taking some interest in studies, routinely ranking first or second in class. Around twenty-two or twenty- three of us from my school took the matriculation examination—the final school exam—at the end of Class X. We were the first batch from my school to take this particular school­leaving exam. In 1952, after the school final exam, I enrolled at Vidyasagar

College in Suri and stayed in the hos­tel all through my college years from 1952 to 1956. Our college enjoyed a great reputation, known to be gener­ally ahead of a number of other col­leges under C alcutta University at the time. After graduating from college in 1956,1 went on to Calcutta and did my postgraduation—both in modern history and political science—from the university. Having enrolled as a ‘private’ student, my education took me longer than it does most regular students (private students had to put in an extra year). In 1960, after I had got my first postgraduate degree, I enrolled in law college and, three years later, obtained a law degree, too.

My father, Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee, was a staunch national­ist and a dedicated Congress worker. After the Lahore session in 1929, when the Congress pledged to observe 26 January as Independence Day, we would raise the Congress flag at home every year on this day. If my father was home, he would unfurl the flag and read the Independence pledge; if he was away, my mother took his place, though she sometimes allowed my older brother the privilege (and if he, too, was away, I was given the responsibility). Having joined the Congress in 1920, my father remained an active member till 1966.

Father had a great talent for orga­nizing people. Our home stood thirty miles south of the Ajay River, and twenty-five miles north of the Mayurakshi River. The large area between these two rivers was assigned to my father by the party. He was out all day, travelling on foot or by bullock cart, explaining to peo­ple the various facets of the national agitation for Independence. He trav­elled from village to village, sharing meals with the locals and preaching the Congress ideology. Rabindranath Tagore once jokingly remarked to my father that he (Father) was compensating for the behaviour of our forefa­thers who disdained the poor, calling them low caste and keeping them at a distance.

Father participated in virtually all agitations launched by the Congress before Independence and courted arrest innumerable times. I recall an amusing incident from those times, one that my mother recounted for many years after. A police party turned up one day to confiscate all our possessions. We had been warned in advance, so we had shifted all our cat-
tie and grain to the houses of various people in the village. Father’s papers also had been similarly removed and given to neighbours for safekeep­ing. Not finding much to-confiscate, a sub-inspector in the police party asked me, ‘You used to have cows at home, I’ve seen them. Where have they gone now?’ Straight-faced, I replied, ‘Cows? We ate them.’ The sub-inspector was astounded. ‘What are you saying? You are Hindus and you ate your cows?’ I, all of eight years old then, said, ‘Actually, Father has been in jail for a longtime. So we sold the cows for some money to feed ourselves.’

Even when a large number of Congress workers and leaders in West Bengal were swept away by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s fer­vour and became his followers, my father was among the handful of people who remained steadfast in their loyalty to Mahatma Gandhi. He, along with a few others, was charged with the responsibility of running the Birbhum District Congress. While he held party posts at the district level and was also a member of the West Bengal legislative council, he had

First strike: It was Pranab Mukherjee who gave Bangla Congress founder Ajoy Mukherjee the idea to form a united front against the Congress in the 1960s

Unite and win

My active political career started in the mid-1960s, when I joined Ajoy Mukherjee’s Bangla Congress….

The Bangla Congress was formally launched on 1 May 1966. While in the process of setting up this party, Ajoy babu had called a meeting of Congress workers at Shyam Square, Calcutta (5-6 February). I attended that meet­ing, though I was not a Congress regu­lar then. I told Ajoy babu: ‘Look, I’ve studied politics. If there is any writing- related work you would like me to do


Not finding much to confiscate, a sub­inspector in the police party asked me, ‘You used to have cows at home, I’ve seen them. Where have they gone now?’ Straight-faced,

I replied, ‘Cows? We ate them.1

little enthusiasm for working in the government and preferred to work at the grass-roots level or at the level of the party organization.

Father taught us the value of self- respect, maintaining that it was enormously important. Many years later, in 1978, when the Congress split under Indira Gandhi, he told me: ‘I hope you will not do anything that will make me ashamed of you. It is when you stand by a person in his or her hour of crisis that you reveal your own humanity. Don’t do any­thing which will dishonour your fore­fathers’ memory.’His meaning was clear, and I didn’t, then or later, waver from my loyalty to Indira Gandhi. ★★★

for the party, I will.’ Ajoy babu replied: ‘Okay, come to the office.’

It was on 8 June 1966, when on a tour of the state with Ajoy babu, that I first mooted the idea of a ‘United Front’ to him: ‘Ajoy da, if we want to defeat the Congress, we have to unite all parties… If we fight the elections on a common platform, we could defeat the Congress.’ Ajoy babu then began efforts in that direction.

The first United Front government, led by Ajoy Mukherjee and Jyoti Basu, was formed in West Bengal in 1967.

Every other NGO that worked for the people in this region is gone. But Jesurathinam remains as the pillar of strength for fisherwomen in Nagapattinam and Velankanni.

The sea took away Valli’s daughter, the only earning member of the fam­ily. And Valli could never bear to go to the beach after the tsunami. “I haven’t gone to the fish market near the shore to sell fish. I go to the Nagapattinam harbour every day and sell dry fish,” she said. She lost her granddaughter a few years ago and lives in a house donated by an NGO.

Valli has not moved on from that day of horror. Nightmares keep her awake and water still scares her. During rainy days she does not even step out of the house.

AGAINST THE TIDE
When the water receded he came back home, only to see the wreckage and his sisters weeping. His father was missing and his mother wasothing short of a miracle would have saved Sakthivel’s life on December 26, 2004. In Sambanthapettai, a coastal fishing village in Nagapattinam, the 11-year- old boy was watching television with his two older sisters when his father came running. “He asked us to run away. My sister held me in her hand, but when the water level rose she drifted away. I climbed into a basket,” he said.

dead. Karibeeran Paramesvaran and Choodamani, a couple who had lost their children to the tsunami, took him home and sent him to school.

Sakthivel now lives with his sis­ter and has completed his diploma in marine engineering. “After a few months I will join as a fifth officer in a ship,” he said. And he does not hold any grudge. “The sea is our mother,” he said. “We lived near the sea and it was the source of our livelihood. I want to live my life by the sea.”

PILLAR OF STRENGTH
Minutes after the killer tide at Nagapattinam beach began to ebb. she joined rescue efforts. And she has not stopped since. Her deep under­standing of the socio-cultural milieu of tsunami-affected villages made her adopt a bottom-up approach to relief and rehabilitation.Jesurathinam began her life as an activist in 1984, with the NGO Sneha (Social Need Education and Human Awareness), which worked for the uplift of fisherfolk in Nagapattinam. Later she married its founder, P. Christie. In 2004, two years after Christie’s death, Jesurathinam took up the most challenging task of her life: reaching out to tsunami-hit villages near Nagapattinam.

Her first effort, in the months after the tsunami, was to curb child mar­riages. “There was a practice to marry off young, orphaned girls to men who were in need of a family to get the relief package,” she says. “There was an influx of gynaecologists imme­diately after the tsunami. But there wasn’t a single doctor to provide pre- and post-natal care.”

Ten years later, women at Nambiar Nagar hail Jesurathinam, 59, as the goddess who rescued them from devastation. Every other NGO that worked for the people in this region is gone. But Jesurathinam remains as the pillar of strength for fisherwomen in Nagapattinam and Velankanni. •

 

Sakthivel, who was

11 years old when the tsunami struck, escaped by climbing into a basket