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Road to Nowhere

Unforgettable trip! I took 22 out of 35 Mass Communication 1st semester students of Salesian College Siliguri for a rural outreach program on Saturday 3rd December 2022. Along with us came 15 Bachelor of Social Work students and five BSW faculty members who were going to neigbouring Pathibari Tea Garden for an awareness program for girls on Sexual Violence being held in Pathibari Church.

The college group left to the Dooars in the college bus a little after 9 am

The Dooars, literally means ‘doors.’ It is the Piedmont areas of northern Italy in North Bengal at the edge of the mighty Himalayas and carpeted with tea gardens for miles at a stretch.

Passing through Sevoke and Coronation Bridge along National Highway 17, turning left at Minaore, the group trundled to their destination, moving past an Army camp, to Sonali village.

Sonali is a congested village of tea garden workers who live in well demarcated lines. To the south of Sonali village in the distance flows the Teesta. Its eastward perimeter is flanked by the Gheesh river and the west by Leesh. Both are dry riverbeds except in the monsoons, when they turn into raging torrents.

Apart from a few people, the workers are all of Oraon origin and speak Kuruk, a tribal dialect. The ancestors of the villager’s settled in the Dooars in the last quarter of the 19th century.

To the south of Sonali flows the Teesta. Its eastward perimeter is flanked by the Gheesh river and the west by Leesh. Both are dry riverbeds except in the monsoons, when they turn into raging torrents.

The rural people of Sonali gaon have paddy and vegetable cultivation. They rear cattle, pigs, goats, poultry and are occupied with gainful lucrative activities like fishing, and timber smuggling. However they lack, basic developmental indicators like decent roads and primary health care facility, a must for remotely located villages.

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Academia-Industry partnership empowers tea garden women

Tea Promoters India director J.P. Gurung inaugurates workshop.

Sonada, 21 February 2021: In a first time effort in the hills, academia-industry partnership initiative to empower tea garden women was launched, 21 February 2021.
Salesian College Sonada established in 1938 and the Tea Promoters India who own plantations in Darjeeling, Dooars, Assam and Kerala have launched a pilot project entitled: Women Empowerment in Tea Communities Workshop, to be spread out on five Sundays from 21st February to 21 March 2021.
In the first phase, ten women workers from three gardens are being trained in Health and Hygiene; Domestic Violence and Rights; Parenting Skills; Alcohol and Substance Abuse; and formation of Self Help Groups.

Student presentation on women empowerment.

The newly opened Bachelor of Social Work department under its head Assistant Professor Sumina Chhetri and eight students organised the workshop.
“This women empowerment workshop is a part of our social outreach program,” said Rector of Salesian College Sonada Fr Tomy Augustine, welcoming participants and plantation management staff.
A total of 28 participants along with their management staff from far flung Seeyok, Selimbong, and Singell organic plantations formed the first batch brought together by the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of The Tea Promoters India (TPI) whole time director Mr. J.P. Gurung.

Resource person Salesian Sister Anjana Rai from Auxilium Dispensary Mirik

Salesian Sister Anjana Rai native of the hills currently nurse at Auxilium Dispensary Mirik took day-long sessions (10.15 a.m. to 3.15 p.m.) on Health and Hygiene related to women and girls. She stressed on Infant and Young Child feeding as well as first aid, menstruation and menstrual hygiene; and safe drinking water.
India is one of the second largest producer of tea after China and despite competition, the Darjeeling and Assam Tea are renowned all over the world. 
“The tea plantation is the largest sector in the formal private sector industry, yet the wages of these workers are the lowest in this sector,” says Gurung who has recently authored two books on tea industry. 
The tea workers inability to learn other skills restrict their job opportunities. And due to such limited skilling, women plantation workers are seen as “inferior in terms of social status due to their wage work and lack of control over their leisure activities.”
Recently the daily wages of in the tea plantation in the hills has been raised from Rs.170 to Rs. 207 while the wages in Assam are Rs. 217
Tea Promoters India was founded in 1980, with the intention of promoting sustainable tea cultivation through Organic, Biodynamic and Fair-trade practices. 
“This holistic approach helps us produce the highest quality teas with full transparency and traceability,” says TPI director Gurung.
The group produces high quality black teas, green teas, silver tips, speciality and handmade teas from these tea gardens.  END

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Dhajea Vestitions launch 180th Salesian Foundation Day

Kolkata province novices at Dhajea, 8th December 2020.

Dhajea, 8 December 2020: Out of 11 novices at Kolkata province novitiate at Dhajea in Darjeeling hills 10 novices had their decisive movement to be Salesians when 8 novices received their cassocks and 2 lay brother novices received their crosses.

Eleventh novice  belonging to Kolkata province has requested for more time for prayer and discernment.

North Bengal Provincial Council member and principal of Salesian College Fr George Thadathil was the chief celebrant while former Provincial Fr Nirmol Gomes was the choir master at the celebrations marking the feast of the Immaculate Conception, vestition and the launch of 180th foundation day of the  worldwide Salesian Mission.

The novices who received the crosses are: Sanjit Topno and Shailesh Toppo. 

Among 8 novices who received cassocks are Alphar Beg, Essak Hereh, Johnystar Khardewsaw, Paankaj Kujur, Joy Murmu, Jacob Rai, Prajnnadeepta Singh and Manish Tigga. They belong to Kolkata and Guwahati provinces, each with four clerics and one lay brother.

Explaining the significance of the vestition, Master of Ceremonies Fr. Raymond Tudu reminded the novices of the words of Mamma Margaret to John Bosco on the eve of his departure to the Seminary after a few days of his vestition. 

She said, “John, my dear, now you are wearing the clerical habit. Mine is the happiness of a mother whose son has been fortunate. But remember that it is not the habit that brings honour to your state in life, but only the practice of virtue. Should you ever come to doubt your vocation, for heaven’s sake, never dishonour this cassock! Rather, lay it aside. I would sooner have a poor peasant for a son than an unworthy priest.”

Concelebrants at Salesian novitiate at Dhajea, 8th December 2020

Nine concelebrants including Novice Master along with some 8 Brothers from Salesian College Siliguri and Sonada as well as 10 Sisters participated. 

Salesians from neighbouring communities of Mirik, Sonada (both communities), and Siliguri were joined by Sisters from Mirik, Molot, Dhajea and Kurseong. END

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College Celebrates World TV Day with Smart TV Installation

Sonada, 21November 2020 : Salesian College Sonada celebrated World Televsion Day, 21 November with the inaugration of a smart TV installed in the Library’s e-Journal computer lab section, 21 November 2020.

Inauguration of New Television in the Library

The smart TV is a 2019 model TCL 163.9 cm (65 inches)  AI 4K Ultra HD Certified Android Smart LED TV.

Residential students were treated to the screening of a 2018 Russian action movie with sub-titles enititled Reshenie o likvidatsii (Decision – Liquidation). It is the real life story of ruthless extremist Bazgaev responsible for terrorist attacks which lead to deaths of hundreds of civilians, among them school children. A group of security officers is to track and destroy him.

World Television Day stands as a reminder of the power of visual media and how it helps in shaping public opinion and influencing world politics.

World Television Day is celebrated on 21 November every year. According to the UN, this day highlights the major role that television plays in daily life by presenting different issues that affect people.

In December 1996, the United Nations general assembly declared November 21 World Television Day. The UN recognized television as having an increased impact on decision making as well as being an ambassador for the entertainment industry. Television is a symbol of communication and globalization that educates, informs, entertains and influences our decisions and opinions. END

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Scripture scholar starts on-line weekly Bible study series on book of Revelation

BibleBengaluru, 31 August 2020 — A scripture scholar in Bengaluru is scheduled to start a weekly on-line Bible study series to unravel the secrets of the last book of the Bible – The Revelation, 4th September 2020.

The presenter of the study series Salesian Fr. (Dr.) Shabu Joseph has a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome) and a Doctorate in Biblical Theology from St Thomas Aquinas University (Angelicum – Rome). He is currently professor of Sacred Scripture at Kristu Jyoti College, (Bengaluru), aggregated to the Pontifical Salesian University, (Rome).

An initiative of Aflame Ministries, Bengaluru, the Zoom classes are to be held on Friday and Saturday from 6.00 pm to 7.30 pm IST from Friday 4th September each week. 

The classes will also be Live Streamed on Aflame Youtube Channel.

Participants who register on and attend the sessions will be awarded e-Certificates at the end of the course.

Shabu Joseph“We invite you to delve deeply into this amazing book of the Bible in our Biblical theology course on the Book of Revelation,” says Fr. Shabu Joseph.

Fr. Shabu adds, “The Year 2020 has been one where we have been left wondering whether the end of the world is almost near. Immediately our thoughts turn to the Book of Revelation for answers. We may have heard many talking about the Book of Revelation as the Book of our times. Many predictions on the future these days have been made on it.”

“The question,” Fr. Shabu asks, “What was the mind of the author who wrote the book of Revelation? How do we actually interpret what is written?”

The Aflame Ministries from Kristu Jyoti College, Bengaluru started in 2016, takes care of the spiritual needs of people through on-line Holy Mass and other popular devotions like Rosary Service, Stations of the Cross, and other youth ministry events. END

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Gaston Roberge, as I remember

RobergeSonada, Darjeeling, 26 August 2020 — It is with great sorrow that I heard about the death of Fr Gaston Roberge SJ of Kolkata. The last time I met with him was on 7 June 2015 at St Xavier’s College Kolkata, with a group of MA students of Mass Communication from Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahati (see pic above). He was delighted to see us and spent time fielding questions from students.

As the last president of Unda/OCIC-India and first president of Signis India (1998 to 2001 and 2001 to 2004), I cannot but remember his contribution to communication and media ministry in the Church and society. He was president of Unda/OCIC-India when I joined the Indian chapter of the World Catholic Communications body for Radio, Television and Cinema in 1983.

Today there are some 300 Christian communicators who deeply mourn the demise of our former president of the association and pay our humble homage to the  apostle and pioneer of film appreciation and film studies and Church communications in India.

Jesuit Fr. Gaston Roberge died in Kolkata on 26 August 2020 on 110th birthday of his dear friend Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He was 85.


His death was as dramatic as his life – after receiving Holy Communion and taking breakfast he just passed away peacefully.

The Canadian Jesuit fell in love with India watching Satyajit Ray’s classic debut film Pather Pachali in New York. On arrival in Kolkata in 1961 he made friends with the world-renowned filmmaker and set up Chitrabani in 1970 (light & sound, or audio-visual studio) to train people in film appreciation and also to produce audio visual material for training purposes. He directed the premiere institution for 26 years until 1996.

Chitrabani was the first such Church run institution in Eastern and Northeast India imparting training in photography and film production and film appreciation. A professional audio studio was set up in 1973 and Radio Veritas Asia, Bengali Service was started in 1980 from Chitrabani studios. 

Gaston RFr Gaston partnered with government and set up EMRC (Educational Multimedia Research Centre) Calcutta, in Chitrabani in 1986, the year when he relinquished his term as president of Unda/OCIC-India Catholic Association for Radio Television and Cinema – forerunner to Signis-India. 

Fr. Gaston inspired popular radio broadcaster Dilip Mazumdar (member of Signis Bengal) to use radio for special adult education program in Bengali called ‘Chetana’ (awareness  or awakening), which began in 1992 and drew over 200,000 listeners both in West Bengal and Bangladesh.

After directing Chitrabani for some 26 years till 1996, Fr Gaston had a three year stint as Executive Secretary for Social Communication, at the Society of Jesus Curia in Rome. On his return to Kolkata, Fr Gaston was also Head of Department of Communications at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, until 2001.

Gaston 1Author of some 25 books on cinema and communication, Fr Gaston was also faculty member of St. Xavier’s College`s Departments of Mass Communication and Film Studies.

His book Communication, Cinema, Development (1998) received a national award at the 46th National Film Awards of India in 1999.

He also received life time achievement award from Signis World in 2014.

Fr Gaston has summarised his spirituality, philosophy and theology of communication in his millennium book: The Faithful Witness: On Christian Communication (1999).

Another book by him entitled Chitra Bani (1974) is a manual for film appreciation with a forward by Satyajit Ray. The book makes in-depth comparison between Western and Indian appreciation paradigms showcasing his knowledge of Indian masters like Bharata Muni, Anandavardhana, Panini, and Kalidasa.

Gaston 01Gaston’s association with auhtor of THE CITY OF JOY Dominique LaPierre whose controversial film IN THE NAME OF GOD’S POOR (1997) cannot be forgotten. Fr Gaston had premiered the film in Montreal at the Unda/OCIC World Congress in 1998 where I saw it first time. I had proposed the film to be the opening film at the first Mother Teresa International Film Festival (MTIFF) held in 2003 to mark her beatification. There was much pressure to drop the film from the festival list. Thanks to Fr Gaston’s intervention and support, the film survived the controversy and was chosen to be the opening film at MTIFF 2003 held in Kolkata’s popular cine halls (New Empire & Light House).

Fr Gaston, faithful witness and communicator, rest in peace. END

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College NSS, NGO distribute relief supplies in Sonada area

Samip 1Sonada, 19 March 2020 – A group of college students and faculty teamed up with a local NGO to distribute relief supplies to people in seven areas of Sonada town.

The National Service Scheme (NSS) unit of Salesian College Sonada led by Asst. Prof. Mr. Samip Sinchuri of Sociology Department distributed food grain and other consumable items among indigent families of different villages in Sonada area. 

The families receiving the relief were the ones who were most hard hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and were amongst the most deprived people in the area.

These initiatives under taken by NSS in association with All India Nepali Scheduled Caste Association, Sonada Branch benefitted 14 families.

Samip0“The objective of the programme was to reach the poorest of the poor in the villages and distribute supplies in Ramitay, Munda Busty, D.B. Road, Saraswati Dara, T. N. Road, 11th Mile and Gorabari,” explained NSS Darjeeling Nodal Officer Mr Samip Sinchuri.

Mr. Sinchuri added “We tried to identify poorest of the poor indigent families of this area who have been hit the hardest due to the outbreak of Corona Virus and the ensuing lockdown. In the initial stage we have been able to provide supplies to 14 families but in the upcoming days we are also trying to identify and reach out to more such needy families.”

Samip 2“It was a great experience to come forward to serve the community and to distribute relief supplies to the needy in the times of lockdown.” added, President of Salesian College Student Council and B.Com final year student Mr. Bikash Agarwal of Sonada. END

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Holotropic Breathwork Workshop Held

holotropic. braethworkjpg

By Shruti Chhetri

Kurseong — A group of 22 faculty members from both the campuses of Salesian College Sonada and Siliguri attended a workshop on “Healing through Holotropic Breathwork” on 23 January.

The one day programme, which was held in Auxilium Convent Kurseong, introduced the participants to the “holotropic breathwork” practice that strives to promote healing through the act of deepened breathing.
“Breathing has healing properties, as does music. We combine these two powerful elements in this practice,” explained Salesian Fr K.C. Thomas from Trivandrum, one of the resource persons.
Fr Thomas was accompanied by his co-facilitator and resource person Sr Regi K. from Bhopal.
The participants were divided into pairs and one (breather) from each pair was asked to lie down with eyes shut while the other (sitter) was asked to look over their respective partners for a period of two hours. During this period, a variety of music was played while the “breathers”took rapid and deep breaths.
“For me what I experienced was something unusual and new. And after the session i felt like something was taken away from me which was not needed so ultimately i felt light and relaxed,” said Miss Pinky Gupta, a participant.
The programme ended with a closing round where the faculty members shared their individual experiences with each other.

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Balasun Youth Centre Turns Golden

IMG_5329Silas Lepcha

Upper balasun — Upper Balasun, one of the 20 Sunday centres conducted by Salesian College students held its Golden jubilee recently. The parish priest of St. Theresa sonada Fr. Sunil Lakra presided over the event.

Sir Suboth Rai, the Assistant Manager of ‘Balasun Tea Estate’ and the headmaster of local primary school Sir Ashok Gurung made the event successful by their presence.

“In the late eighties when the Gorkhaland agitation took great height, all the Youth centres were closed due to the unrest’’ recounts Sir Ashok Gurung.

Mr Gurung quickly adds “ in those difficult moments we took initiative at our own risk and conducted a meeting to revive once again our Balasun Youth centre.”

The youth centre president of Balasun, Esha Gurung says that, “ Young people at present are busy with mobile phones, coming to the youth centres have become a boring business for them, we can see in our own centre that only the children are present for Sunday youth centre activities.

Balasun is one of the leading tea estate for the production of tea leaves in the hills of Darjeeling. It is ninety minutes walk from Gorabari.The local residents are mostly tea garden labourers.

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Youth work, study on Sunday for extra pay

By Bartholomius Dhan


Thapa Dhura — A group of village students of the Thapa Dhura Youth Centre do odd jobs on Sundays to earn income to support their studies. Some young people even learn skills to be better employable.

One of the students Bruno Thapa says, “I go for work on Sundays because on this day I get more income to support my studies. My parents’ wages are very less to give my school fees. I do the jobs of construction, cleaning, firewood, carrying and breaking stones in the local areas. I feel that these kinds of works are very helpful for my education.”

girlsAnother student Miss. Shreya Thapa says, “I break the stone so that I can get more money for my extra expenses. I contribute some money for my dance class too.”

Thapa Dhura Y. C. was closed down many years ago but recently in 2015 it has been reopened for the second time by Bro. Jeremiah the captain and his companions. This place is located on the way to Lower Cedar, some two hours walk from the Salesian College Sonada.

Thapa Dhura Y. C. belongs to Sonada Zone with 25 youth members. The present SCS team includes three Brothers: Jacob Minj, Mukesh Barwa, and Bartholomius Dhan.

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