19 in 2019

A recap of 2019 newsmakers who displayed exemplary courage and compassion, innovation and hard work

Published: 23rd December 2018 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd December 2018 07:11 PM   |  A+A-

Amidst the haystack of daily news, there are people who have displayed exemplary courage and compassion, innovation and hard work. Some of them have suffered immensely in natural disasters and others have laid down their lives in the line of duty. Yet their efforts have gone unrecognised, their losses uncompensated and their pains overlooked. These 19 categories of people have been chosen from across the country and await acknowledgement in 2019.

Victims of Circumstance

Flood Survivors | Kerala 

Kerala witnessed unprecedented floods in a century, triggered by a deadly monsoon in August. The widespread devastation left 493 people dead and rendered lakhs of others homeless. Ironically, over 7,000 people are still waiting for relief benefits from the government. According to reports, over 20,000 houses were destroyed. But five months later, 813 members from 243 families are still awaiting help in 41 relief camps across the state.

Eliyamma Ettekar, a resident of Mukkudi in Senapati Panchayat of Idukki district, has lost all her hopes. “So far I have received only Rs10,000 from the government, offered as immediate assistance. Now, I am living in a rented house struggling each day to meet my ends,” says the widow. As the Sabarimala controversy gained prominence, the attention of the government got diverted from the relief and rehabilitation efforts to the temple issue, claim reports. The reconstruction efforts continue to be in a limbo. Families are yet to recover from the flood havoc and landslides. 

The LDF government in Kerala had promised a compensation of `4 lakh to those who lost their house to help build new ones. But the aid comes with mandates such as the families must have title land deeds and the land must not be situated in a disaster-prone area. Most of the afflicted families come from economically-poor backgrounds and do not have title deeds for the land where they had their houses built. Perhaps, the new year will ease the situation for those affected.             by Anuja Susan Varghese

Law and No Order 

Policemen | Slain in line of duty

Some of us are quick to jump the gun the moment we hear of a police official involved in an unlawful killing, but what about the times when a cop himself is at the receiving end? So many of our bravehearts have lost their lives while trying to fight Naxals or terrorists or—as the recent killing of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh early this month in Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh shows—even at the hands of the mob. In strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, where such cases are more frequent, four policemen guarding a habitation of Kashmir Pandits were killed by Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorists in Shopian district this month.

These men were only doing their duty and it takes a different kind of courage to do that in the face of hostility and hardship. Ministry of Home Affairs data states that till December 15, 87 security personnel, including 44 state police personnel, were killed in Kashmir alone. That the killing of policemen in line of duty has sharply increased—from 130 in 2016, 123 in 2017 to 130 in 2018 so far—points to the fact that we as a society are failing to protect our protectors.                      by Medha Dutta

Equality Crusaders 

Women in Cinema Collective | Malayalam Film Industry

A group of reel life protagonists have been crusading in their real life, demanding justice and equality in the Malayalam film industry. The Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) was formed in 2017, as a response to the kidnapping of and sexual assault on an actress. But the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), led by actor Mohanlal, hasn’t paid any heed to the WCC’s demands. Mohanlal has even gone on record to call the #MeToo movement a “fad”. 

WCC is engaged in a battle for gender justice in an
industry that thrives on hero worship. The group
members have spoken up against powerful male
superstars like Mohanlal and Dileep.

A few actresses have resigned from AMMA to protest its lackadaisical handling of the issue. The group is often vilified online and its members are systematically denied work for speaking up. In October, WCC filed a PIL in the Kerala High Court demanding the formation of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at AMMA, to handle incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace.

After a court mandate, AMMA hurriedly put together an ICC. WCC members Revathy, Rima Kallingal, Padmapriya, Remya Nambeesan, Geetu Mohandas and Anjali Menon have slammed AMMA for not standing by the victim, while actor Dileep, the main accused in the incident, continues to get work in the industry. The WCC’s work seems to be far from over.                       by Sajin Shrijith

In the Face of Brutality

Gagandeep Singh | 28, Sub-Inspector of Police

Sub-Inspector of Police Gagandeep Singh is not a believer of the popular adage — everything fair in love and war. In May this year, Singh hit the news for saving a Muslim boy from a lynch mob in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand. The boy was attacked for being with his Hindu girlfriend on the premises of a temple. Given the rampant mob violence that our country has been witnessing, this could have easily turned into another case of an innocent man being beaten to death.

However, the Sub-Inspector’s timely intervention saved the youth. According to reports, a mob had surrounded the boy at Garjia Devi Temple. On being informed about a trouble in the area Singh rushed to the spot where he found the angry crowd preparing to attack the couple alleging that they had been found in a compromising position.

The policeman immediately rushed to rescue the boy and drew him close to his own body to act as a shield. A video shows how Singh took several blows from the mob on himself. The mob was dispersed and the couple was taken to a police station from where they were sent back to their families.

Singh, who joined the police force in 2015, had been allegedly receiving death threats from radical groups after the incident. When the country’s atmosphere is rife with disharmony and intolerance, Singh did not for once think about the victim’s caste or religion and ran to protect him, which is why he needs to be lauded in such divisive times.                     by Kaushani Banerjee

Demolition Man

Sriram Venkataraman | 32, IAS Officer 

As the sub-collector of Devikulam, Sriram Venkataraman earned respect from locals for his cordial behaviour but his tough stand against encroachments earned him a quick transfer from the position too. After serving as Pathanamthitta assistant collector and Thiruvalla RDO, the 2013 batch IAS officer was posted at Devikulam, considered hotbed of encroachments, but he could stay there for barely 11 months. Two MLAs and an MP from the area turned against him and the ruling CPI(M)’s local unit started a protest in front of the RDO office seeking his transfer.

The tremors of Venkataraman’s evictions were felt in the capital. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan locked horns on the issue. The end of Venkataraman’s eventful stint came with the eviction of a 50-acre land, which was encroached upon by a Thrissur-based church denomination. The visuals of the removal of a giant cross, aired repeatedly by the media, irked the CM who feared a backlash from the minority community. Venkataraman was ultimately shunted off to a relatively lesser position, Employment Director. It was akin to a reward being replaced by rebuke.       by Shyam Yadagiri

Steel Frame’s Samaritans 

Civil Servants | In disaster mitigation role

When the devastating flood hit Kerala in August, there was a pool of IAS officers who worked hand 
in hand with the common man to save thousands who were  stranded in the flood-hit regions. The scenes of Food Safety Commissioner MG Rajamanickam and Wayanad Sub-Collector NSK Umesh IAS unloading rice bags at the Collectorate warmed the coldest of hearts.

Idukki Collector Jeevan Babu was in the midst of arguably the busiest schedule in his life when the entire district was cut off from the outside world. He used his Collectorate office as relief camp during the peak flood days. Months after the flood, he is still coordinating the rehabilitation work in the region.

Krishna Teja Mylavarapu from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, is the Sub-Collector of Alappuzha. His timely intervention saved around two lakh people as he got them evacuated to safety in just 48 hours under the Operation Kuttanad. He is still engaged with post-flood rehabilitation work. Ernakulam District Collector noticed a man carrying bags along with labourers and identified him as Kannan Gopinathan, the Collector of Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

A native of Kottayam, Gopinathan began volunteering without revealing his identity. He was there to hand over a cheque of `1 crore from Dadra & Nagar Haveli Administration to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund. These civil servants, who toiled behind the scenes, and acted selflessly in the face of a mega calamity, deserve a salute and more.                                      by Dhinesh Kallungal

Lone Ranger

Tejashwi Yadav | 29, Leader of the Opposition, Bihar Assembly

Last week, when Chief Ministers were taking oath in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, a boyish Bihari neta, often dismissed as ‘bachcha’ in politics by the BJP, occupied the front row alongside Congress President Rahul Gandhi and other political A-listers of India.

Tejashwi Pratap Yadav, incarcerated Lalu Prasad Yadav’s younger son and opposition leader in the Bihar Assembly, was seen having an animated chat with Rahul. If this is not the proof of his arrival in India’s opposition unity against NDA, then what is? And not to mention his Twitter jibes that take on the BJP leadership every now and then. 
In March, he led the RJD to thumping bypoll victories. 

The elections were Tejashwi’s first test in his father’s absence. The first-time MLA, who was anointed deputy CM in the grand alliance government led by JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar in 2015, was a political greenhorn. The government, however, fell after 20 months when Nitish pulled out and allied with the BJP in July last year. Observers believe 2019 may be his year of reckoning as the country goes to General Elections before Bihar Assembly polls in 2020.      

While his MLA-brother Tej Pratap Yadav is mostly absent in the legislature and is engaged in a bitter divorce battle with his wife, Tejashwi leads the charge with his mother Rabri Devi, a former CM, and other senior party leaders inside the House and outside it. 

Star of the  Middle Class

Rajkummar Rao | 34, Bollywood Actor

When Stree cashed in `130 crore at the box office earlier this year, Rajkummar Rao was heralded as the star of small-budget films. Despite such unprecedented success,  Rao was overshadowed by Ayushmann Khurrana as the later’s Badhaai Ho raked in a solid `300 crore. It was a tough race between Khurrana and Rao this year and Khurrana was declared more bankable by trade experts.

Rao’s globe-trotting festival film, Omerta, crashed at the box office unlike his previous collaborations with film-maker Hansal Mehta such as City of Lights, Aligarh and Shahid. This was followed by the multi-starrer Fanney Khan which featured Rao along with Anil Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai, which also tanked. With four films lined up, hopefully luck will come through for Rao in 2019.       by Kaushani Banerjee

Reinventor of Horror

Sohum Shah | Bollywood Actor-Producer

Horror is no more a laughable genre in Bollywood, thanks to Sohum Shah. 2018 saw the release of horror-mystery Tummbad, where Shah worked both behind (as producer) and onscreen (as actor). The film took six years to be completed and was lauded by critics.

It revealed Shah’s brilliance as an actor but despite having essayed central characters in Ship of Theseus (2012) as stock-broker Navin, Talvar (2015) where he played mean ACP Vedant Mishra, and the boy next door in Simran (2107), his body of work has gone fairly unnoticed. From selling edible oil to establishing a real estate business in Gujarat, Shah’s foray into Bollywood has been unconventional and deserves accolades for managing to break the mould. Perhaps, recognition is in store for him in 2019 with his next, Baatuni.                                                                                                                —KB

The Silence Breaker

Raya Sarkar | 24, Law Student and Dalit Activist

Sarkar’s crowdsourced list where students
anonymously indicted teachers who
allegedly sexually harassed them fired up
the conversation around consent in India.

In 2017, US-based law student Raya Sarkar heralded a storm by publishing a crowdsourced list of names of alleged sexual harassers from academia on social media. The list was widely shared and came to be known as LoSHA (list of sexual harassers in academia). It included 75 names of South Asian academics from approximately 30 colleges and universities across India, the UK and the US. 

At that point, the idea of naming and shaming harassers was not considered legitimate and Sarkar was vilified for her daring act. Sarkar and the victims, some of who were anonymous, were asked to follow the official complaint channels and provide proof of harassment. LoSHA was not only heavily criticised, Sarkar was targeted for creating it. She received rape and death threats. Protecting and defending the list damaged her mental health and the student went into depression. 

Exactly a year later in 2018, Indian women bypassed the so-called due processes and named their perpetrators as the #MeToo wave swept the nation. Women from all walks of life came forward and outed their abusers. Some followed official routes of the complaint, some simply spoke their truth. Several of the sexual predators, including journalists, admen, filmmakers, artists, actors and entrepreneurs, have been dropped from projects, sent on leave or faced investigation following harassment charges made on social media. 

In fact, a few men mentioned on Sarkar’s list were also found guilty as the movement snowballed. However, Sarkar who had originally sown the seeds of dissent was not credited for the role she played in invoking the movement. Several critical voices have expressed the need to acknowledge Sarkar as a pioneer of the Indian arm of #MeToo, which the new wave has largely ignored.                              —KB

Effervescent Music Maker

Prateek Kuhad

The musician shot to fame on social media
in 2014 with his single ‘Oh Love’. It has
over 1.8 million views on YouTube. He has
gone on to win several awards, including the
EMAs, but Bollywood isn’t ready for him yet. 

Prateek Kuhad is at present one of the most popular singer-songwriters of the country. He has performed to sold-out shows in India and remains a big draw at music festivals with a strong fan base of 80,000 subscribers on YouTube (his official Facebook page has over 29,000 likes). Kuhaad is best known for his albums In Tokens and Charms (2015) and cold/mess (2018), and sings in both Hindi and English.

But success in Bollywood eludes the indie artist. One would hope that by winning the ‘Best India Act’ at MTV’s Europe Music Awards (EMAs), Kuhad would have made a big entry in the mainstream music industry. But besides a few occasional songs in movies such as Karwaan and Bar Bar Dekho, his voice has been rarely used. In 2019, Kuhad has a US tour lined up but will Bollywood take notice of this creative genius in the coming year?                   —KB

Trailblazer of Indian Stage

Sneh Sapru | 30, Indian Playwright

Sneh Sapru is a playwright who previously wrote the META (Mahindra Excellence in Theatre) award-winning play Elephant in the Room. Mumbai-based Sapru is one of the few women playwrights in the industry and was recently nominated for a prestigious award for her latest work, Hello Farmaish. It was her second outing with Dur Se Brothers, after Elephant in the Room. The play expands to the hinterlands of Haryana to build a world that uncovers characters rooted in the soil with a plot that simmers among the stars.

It dwells on magic realism, and premiered at Aadhyam Festival this year. However, Sapru did not bag the prize. The unique script questioned patriarchy, corruption and has been underlined with dark humour. The epicentre of the play is Kalpana Chawla, who is the first woman of Indian origin in space, and hails from Karnal in Haryana. Sapru’s writing especially deserves recognition for breaking stereotypes.                                                                                                                                          —KB

Green Guardian

Nityanand Jayaraman | 49, Environmentalist and Social Activist

Nityanand Jayaraman has been a silent crusader of social and environmental issues. He is part of an anti-corporate collective called Vettiver Koottamaippu. From the issues of Unilever Kodaikanal poisoning and Mettur industrial pollution to Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant agitation, Jayaraman has toiled tirelessly for 26 years to lend solidarity to grass-root level struggles that have seen a lot of challenges—curbing of freedom of speech, opinions, arrests and attack on the critical voices.

Although a recognition didn’t come at home, Jayaraman was recently honoured abroad with the prestigious Franco-German Award for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.With rapid industrialisation, Jayaraman believes the biggest challenge for addressing the global environmental crisis is the crisis of democracy—an institution that has been captured by global capital.by Meera Bhardwaj 

Woman on Top

Mithali Raj | 36, Test and One-Day Player, Indian Women’s Team

With a career spanning over two decades, Mithali Raj—considered to be the backbone of Indian women’s cricket team—hit an unfortunate bump in 2018, after she got dropped from the team for the all-important semi-finals of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in November. Differences of opinion cropped up between Mithali and coach Ramesh Powar, who reportedly accused her of having a “lack of intent to score quickly”.

She was placed further down the batting line-up, instead of opening. After an injured knee made her 
sit out of the final group game against Australia on November 17 (which India won), Mithali found herself unceremoniously dropped from the team that was playing against England in the semi-finals on November 22. India lost the game, and hopes of winning the World Cup were dashed. Cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar batted for Mithali, reportedly asking, “If you had a Virat Kohli who was injured for one game and is then fit for the knockout, will you leave him out?” Provided there is an amicable solution to the issue, Mithali can help India win the  next ICC Women’s T20 World Cup that will be hosted in Australia in 2020.                                                                                                        by Shyam Yadagiri

The Gold Collector

Pramod Bhagat | 31, Para-badminton Player 

The para-shuttler recently won gold at the Asian Para Games 2018 at Jakarta, followed by a bronze in doubles with Manoj Sarkar. Yet, Bhagat has received no recognition from his home state, Odisha. While Sarkar received the prestigious Arjuna Award this year, Bhagat seemed to have been left out. The Odisha Government left no stone unturned to hype the silver medals won by Dutee Chand at the Jakarta Asian Games. A cash prize of `1.5 crore was announced for Chand but Bhagat was completely sidelined despite his numerous victories.

The government has launched a direct recruitment policy for the sportspersons, under which sprinter Dutee Chand and Srabani Nanda were employed. However, in case of para-players like Bhagat, there is no such provision. It is interesting to note that World Olympics Body holds both the general events and para events in equal stead, but discrimination is still metted out to players like Bhagat.  by Tanmay Das

Benched in the Back

Karun Nair | 27, Batsman

Is it a good time for Indian sportspersons? Karun Nair has a different story to tell. In December 2016, the Karnataka batsman headed into the new year on a high with an unbeaten 303 in Chennai against England two weeks before the year-end festivities marked him out as the latest in the chain of top-class batsmen India has produced. He was ranked as the only other player to score a triple century after Virender Sehwag. Cut to December 2018, Nair can’t be faulted if he feels somewhat disillusioned. Nair has played just three Tests—the last of them 21 months ago—and lost his place in the squad to Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari. 

The manner of his unceremonious omission during the England Test Tour Series this year drew sympathetic remarks from the fraternity. Sunil Gavaskar led a chorus of former players questioning the move to elevate Vihari, who was not even part of the initial squad. The argument was, why drop someone without giving him a chance? Heading into another new year, Nair can’t afford to let this get the better of him. He has to start afresh.                                                          by Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

Queen of Duels

CA Bhavani Devi | 25, Sabre Fencer

Indian sportswomen are heralding a new dawn in international competitions. Chadalavada Anandha Sundhararaman Bhavani Devi became the first woman from India to win a medal for a sport that’s barely spoken about—fencing. Out of the three categories in the sport: epee, foil and sabre, Bhavani Devi fences sabre. Fighting all odds, the Chennai girl won a gold medal in the Senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship 2018 held in Canberra, Australia, this year.

She is a classic example of the fact that we as a society are apathetic towards our athletes, especially women, unless they play sports like cricket. With no government grant, Bhavani Devi trained with the bare minimum guidance that was available for international fencing events. In a first-of-its-kind support, the sportswoman had crowdsourcing websites such as Milaap rooting for her. 

 Ironically, her glorious win was overshadowed by iconic boxer MC Mary Kom’s Sixth World Boxing Championship win. Earlier this year, Bhavani Devi had bagged a silver medal at the Tournoi Satellite Fencing Championship and in Reykjavik, Iceland. But she failed to wield the sword at Asian Games. Despite the setbacks, her next target is 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As the qualification process for it starts in March 2019, we can only hope the government pays heed and provides the necessary support for the global fencing champion.                                    by Medha Dutta

Master of Strokes

Jogen Chowdhury | 79, Painter

Veteran artist Jogen Chowdhury’s name is mentioned in the same ranks as SH Raza, FN Souza and Akbar Padamsee. His career graph is impressive to say the least. He travelled to Paris on a Scholarship from the French Government for a stint at L'Ecole Nationale Superior des Beax-Arts (1965-57), followed by a curatorship at President's Estate at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1972 and was principal and professor of Kala Bhavan between 
1987-99. In 2017, his paintings sold at record prices in the international art market. Chowdhury is also a recipient of the prestigious Kalidas Award (2001) by the Madhya Pradesh government along witha special award at the 2nd Havana Biennale, in 1986. 

What’s amiss? The living legend is yet to be conferred with an honour from the government. However, in May this year he was snubbed as the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly expressed reservations over Visva Bharati’s highest accolade, Desikottam, which was supposed to be conferred on Chowdhury along with several others. Perhaps 2019 will shine the light on one of the greatest painter of the 21st century.                                                                                                                                                                —KB

Mover and Tech-er

Neeraj Arora | 39, Former Chief Business Officer, WhatsApp

Once tipped to become the CEO  of WhatsApp, Neeraj Arora’s announcement to step down last month came as a surprise to many. An IIT Delhi and Indian School of Business alumnus, Neeraj had joined the messaging service in 2011. He reportedly played a pivotal role in the company being acquired by Facebook in 2014 in a $19-billion deal. Interestingly, WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who had hired Neeraj, also resigned earlier. Jan reportedly quit after clashing with Facebook over its use of personal data and its attempts to weaken encryption. And Brian said he didn’t necessarily agree with the business practices, principles and ethics of Facebook’s executives. 

As per reports, one of Arora’s major achievements was to convince Reliance Communications to incorporate unlimited use of WhatsApp in its monthly data plans. Given his experience in the inner dealings of boardroom policies and an uncanny ability to identify opportunities, Arora’s tech expertise can allow him to make a real impact in 2019.                                                                                      —SY

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