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India’s first openly gay actor to win a national award on his journey from insults to stardom

The voice on the other end is rapturous. Not without reason. Benjamin Daimary ’s afternoon nap had been just interrupted by a phone call telling him that his role in the Assamese film Jonaki Porua (Fireflies) had won him the jury’s special mention at this year’s National Awards for acting. “I was like, ‘What! Me? Why me?’ when Prakash-da ( Prakash Deka , director of Jonaki Porua) called. So I googled to confirm,” he says, all dressed up for his interview in a black sheer shirt with shimmering silver flowers.

Covid funding hits other causes hard, NGOs struggle for funds

For a sector that relies heavily on public generosity to survive, the pandemic has dished out a double blow to nonprofits as donors — both individuals and corporates — diverted their funds to Covid relief and the PM Cares fund. And then came the Foreign Contribution Regulation Amendment (FCRA) bill in September that imposed stiff conditions on bigger organisations and stopped their transfer of funds to smaller ones.

How these folks turned a job loss in pandemic into a new start

And just like that one morning in July, he was dismissed. Sandeep Sinha, a senior procurement manager at a real estate firm in Gurgaon, says he had anticipated it — “It was critical for the survival of their business and not personal.” However, in one instant, it also became apparent that the 36-year-old with degrees in mechanical engineering and business management and an experience of 11 years had joined tens of thousands of skilled professionals — from engineers and chefs to pilots and journalists.

Vaccine envy among major harmless side-effects on families of medicos post jab

Eighteen-year-old Nitant Pandya , the youngest in his family and usually the more pampered of them all, suddenly found himself navigating a new normal — of not getting his share — when the gift of life arrived for the rest of his family brimming with healthcare workers, Nitant was “happy” for them. Yet, the newly disenfranchised teenager couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy.

Bees halt hungry elephants eyeing crops, cut human-animal conflict

After several failed attempts, Dhanesh Parashar, a 36-year-old cashew farmer from Dodamarg in the Sindhudurg district has finally found a new ally in his struggle to keep free-ranging elephants from chomping down on his crop: honey bees. Yes, elephants — the largest animal on land — are afraid of bees. So intensely that the tiny insect is helping farmers shoo away marauding elephants that could wipe out a year's harvest in one night.

Designer’s coming out as a woman magnifies transgender visibility

While she’s still trying to get the hang of walking in six-inch stilettos or adjusting her bodice, Swapnil Shinde, reborn at age 39 as Saisha Shinde, appears ready to upstage all the fashionistas that she has been dressing for the past two decades. Transgender visibility in the country reached new heights after the fashion designer came out to the world with a new name and a new face as a transwoman, becoming one of the first to break grounds with her trans identity in India’s pop culture sphere.

The differently abled start speaking up against sex abuse

As a visually impaired woman who navigates her way around with a white cane, Nidhi Goyal has often felt violated by strangers. She’s been whistled at, catcalled and groped in public places, crowded areas and on dark streets. But the story she shared with the world recently is what she calls “different, yet similar” when a disabled man who was her co-panelist at a technology and accessibility event a couple of years ago, bent over and brushed his face against her cheek.

AI-driven emotional care for FGC survivors

To help women initiate conversations on female genital cutting or mutilation (FGC/FGM)—a topic that most in India's Bohra Muslim community still struggle with—an artificial intelligence powered app called Mumkin, meaning ‘possible’ in Hindi and in the shape of a friendly octopus—simulates emotional responses that one would expect from a mother or a husband, and helps them navigate the stigma and silence around the practice, thus enabling them to strike-up difficult dialogues in the real world.

How harassment is pushing women cyclists off Mumbai’s streets

In August, when the little people in Dadar’s traffic lights swapped their straight-legged trousers for a triangular frock, Mumbai became the first Indian city to install female figures in its pedestrian signal as a step towards greater inclusivity. But a symbolic move to dispel the notion that only men should be out may not be enough unless there is a rethink on women’s safety in public.

'Champions' and 'Mitras' address mental health issues in rural areas

According to Internet wisdom, the best response to a troll is indifference. But not always. A fortnight ago, a flippant social media post — “I have never ever seen anyone suffering from depression in villages and small cities... people suffer from depression in the big cities and film industries only” — saw mental health experts leap into a thread of discussion on the “medical malinformation” simply to debunk popular misconceptions such as these surrounding mental illness among rural folks.

The ‘influencers’ waging a hashtag war on Bollywood

#BoycottBollywoodDruggies — this insidious hashtag with its implication of a rampant culture of drugs and addiction in Bollywood — made social media jump in outrage on Monday. Barely a day had gone by when #BollywoodDirt picked up the baton. A third hashtag chimed in the next day — #BollyDawoodKilledSSR. A closer examination threw up a few recurring names that start and steer this bloodsport on Twitter, daily. Although a few men do not a movement make, a chat with some of the people behind these handles to understand who they are, why they do this, and how they hold sway over social media.

How sunshine is bridging e-learning gap for Ladakhis

Turning on a computer isn’t that difficult. Except, if one doesn’t have the power supply to begin with. While the pandemic era is turning out to be the biggest experiment in remote learning, many children didn’t even get on the starting grid, especially those living in the high mountain desert of Ladakh where schools lie scattered across 60,000 sq km without electricity, phone connectivity or roads, and take anywhere from two hours to three days to reach. Now, a project is using abundant sunshine to combat some of the challenges faced by schoolchildren of Ladakh, especially during the lockdown.

Bengal teacher harnesses TV air waves to school kids cut off from e-learning

When Soumya Sengupta, a zestful 38-year-old looked into the camera and decided to hum ‘Boli o nanadi aar du mutho chaal phele de haritey’ he wasn’t rapping about the proverbial son-in-law but was using the rapid rhythm of this santhali folk tune to demonstrate the life-saving technique of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. “You have to do 100 chest compressions in a minute but if you can’t keep count, pump to the tempo of this song,” he explained, bent over a CPR mannequin in a makeshift set set at home made to look like a classroom.

Child marriages in Maharashtra soar during lockdown

When Mitali Sathe stepped out of her home in Latur decked in a yellow sari, the mehendi and green glass bangles gave her away. A member of an adolescent girls' protection group spotted the 15-year-old before her marriage to a man four decades her senior. After her elder sister's death, Mitali was the sacrificial bride on offer to the 50-year-old widower: he needed her to care for the children. With the protective shield of a school gone, job loss rampant among daily wagers and reduced surveillance of district machinery currently focused on Covid-19 management, many families in rural areas are stealthily marrying their minor daughters off as a survival strategy.

After Covid and cyclone, it’s visarjan before Ganpati for Pen idolmakers

Sunil Sawale, 59, counts his gains and losses as his eyes scan idols of the elephant-headed, mouse-chauffeured god—in various stages of completion—from a corner of his workshop at the Nandimal Naka of Pen in Raigad. By July, they’re usually ready to file out, but this time, they remain half-done, in-waiting or simply rejected in the backdrop of the Covid outbreak that forced his buyers from nearby towns to faraway countries to drop their orders.
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