Cover Story en Thu Jul 29 18:53:41 IST 2021 how-the-intense-war-played-out-before-the-sudden-fall-of-kabul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was early morning in Bati Kot district, 200km east of Kabul. A crowd had gathered in front of the governor’s office. Young men sat on the ground, a lone woman in a blue burqa begged for alms as she soothed a baby, and an elderly man nervously clung on to what appeared to be documents. They were all waiting for the governor—for money, material support, food, signature and seal on documents, and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A convoy of military vehicles brought the governor. Suleiman Sha Khpalwak was young and elegantly dressed. He wore a white perahan tunban, the loose-fitting Afghani attire, with a black wascat (traditional vest) on top. Khpalwak belonged to a respected family in Bati Kot. His father used to work for the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khpalwak saw the people who had been waiting. He held the woman’s hands, and listened intently to the old man’s words. “Give the food aid to those who are eligible,” he told the office staff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surrounded by armed guards, he entered his office and asked for tea. He then turned towards us, and asked for patience. “There are too many people in need,” he said. “I can’t go with you without listening to them first.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He returned half an hour later, and said it was still too early to take us to the checkpoints, where his men were keeping watch. The marauding Taliban was just a few kilometres away; the district could be their next stop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, as we waited, Khpalwak began to tell the story of Bati Kot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The infection</b></p> <p>Bati Kot is part of eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. It is in the Pashtun heartland. Nearly all of the three lakh people in the district are Pashtuns, and a good number of them belong to the prominent Mohmand tribe, whose members include well-known scholars, poets, politicians and even the first (and only) Afghan astronaut. “There are no ethnic clashes here,” said Khpalwak, briefly pausing for effect. “We are all Pashtun.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bati Kot, he said, is also a strategically important district. Its villages are rich in minerals and other resources, making them a source of revenue for the government in Kabul. Also, the highway connecting Jalalabad, Nangarhar’s capital, to Torkham, a town on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, runs through Bati Kot. When Khpalwak spoke to THE WEEK, the province was well-represented in the national government; Hamdullah Mohib, national security adviser, and Mohammad Shakir Kargar, chief of staff of president Ashraf Ghani, hailed from Nangarhar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The government expects a lot from this province’s representatives; and we expect a lot from the government,” said Khpalwak. “After all, we have to protect the border with Pakistan. Taliban members train there, and they cross the border to get into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khpalwak was appointed governor last year. He also led the Bati Kot militia, which was fighting the Taliban. A few months ago, just before Ramadan, a member of the dreaded ISKP (Islamic State’s Khorasan Province, the IS offshoot in Afghanistan) blew himself up in front of Khpalwak’s office. Remembering it makes Khpalwak both tense and proud—tense for the fact that he nearly died, proud that he managed to survive. He whips out one of his three cell phones and shows us pictures—of the attacker’s body and of him posing with the man’s wife and daughters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I could expel them from the district, both his wife and his mother,” said Khpalwak. “I could ask that their houses be burnt down. It is the way the social contract works here. A sin begets a punishment. But I spoke with the district’s elders and persuaded them to let the women stay. Why should they suffer more?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khpalwak wants to come across as magnanimous and enlightened. As he got into a military vehicle to go to the checkpoints, he explained why he religiously opposed the Taliban. “When the Prophet captured Mecca,” he said, “he declared: ‘Those who are in Mecca are safe. Those who live in Abu Sufyan’s home, too, are safe.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abu Sufyan, a prominent merchant of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, was a staunch opponent of Prophet Muhammed and had even led battles against him. But, after Muhammed captured Mecca, Sufyan capitulated and converted to Islam. “The Prophet taught us to respect enemies,” said Khpalwak. “Islam has its rules; war has, too. Taliban is not respecting any.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bati Kot militia was born three years ago to fight ISKP, which had been active in the area since 2015. ISKP militants had for years hidden in the valleys, sustaining themselves with generous help from local sympathisers. The outfit paid salaries to its members, who initially took care to project themselves as generous and respectful. After ISKP began taking control of the province, though, their benevolence turned to brutality. Tribal leaders, activists and journalists were executed on a daily basis, and schools were destroyed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An enemy’s enemy can be a friend, so provincial governors struck deals with Taliban leaders to neutralise ISKP. After a year of fighting, with the US tactfully providing air support, ISKP was defeated. The fight is now between the governors and the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You see, when a part of the body is infected and there is risk of it spreading to the whole body, you need to cut that part away,” said Khpalwak. “We did that [with ISKP]. Now we have to do the same with the Taliban.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bati Kot militia comprises 600 men. It functions like a paramilitary group funded by provincial grandees, and is supported by intelligence agencies and other militias. “District elders selected our best men, respecting the wishes of families. If there are two sons, only one is chosen to go into battle. If he becomes a martyr, at least one son is left in the family,” Khpalwak said as our vehicle passed through the countryside. Plants and flowers surrounded the houses, and children played barefoot beside streams. Men greeted the convoy with respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We came to a halt. Khpalwak got out and the guards surrounded him. It was the first checkpoint. There are seven in the district, all defended by Khpalwak’s men. “We have five checkpoints along the road and two in the villages,” he said. “This is the central point from which we provide assistance to others if they are in danger. Among us are students, merchants and old men. Nobody wanted to fight again, but the situation has forced us to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khpalwak and the militia supported Ghani’s fragile government. “They didn’t trust us in the beginning,” he said. “Now they cannot do without us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How did he view the US withdrawal? “They could not stay here forever, we knew that. Now it is up to us. We thanked them for coming; now we thank them for leaving. The withdrawal of American troops is an opportunity, not a tragedy,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His men, especially the young among them, look sceptical as they hear the word ‘opportunity’. News from provinces besieged by the Taliban is not good. Pictures of the plight of refugees were pouring in.</p> <p>As if sensing the scepticism, Khpalwak grabbed a gun and pointed it skywards with bravado. “This is our home and we have a responsibility to defend it,” he told the men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is there room for talks with the Taliban? “They do not respect agreements,” said Khpalwak. “Only if they stop fighting can we talk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said he disliked the word ‘militia’. “We are not militia; we are the resistance. And, this is not a civil war. Ours is a holy war against the traitors.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the entrance of the last of the checkpoints was a big picture. It showed three men. The caption read: “Our martyrs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beside the picture was Abdul Qaher, son of one of the martyrs. His father, Mohammad Taher Darwish, was a founder of the group. He commanded 350 men and was killed in an ambush on January 1, 2021. Abdul Qaher studied engineering in India, and he spoke fluent English. He had listened to our conversation with the governor, and could barely hide his scepticism. “Opportunity?” he scoffed. “The Americans signed the agreement with the Taliban without including our government. It means they wanted the Taliban to capture power, and now it is up to us to avoid it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdul agreed with Khpalwak on one thing, though. “Now is not the time to talk; now is the time to kill them,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does he consider his group to be a militia? “We are a militia, because we are people fighting for the people,” said Abdul. “Civil war is not a thing of the future; this is the civil war. Look around.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The waning warlords</b></p> <p>Ashraf Ghani liked neither militias nor warlords. But he had no choice but to ask for their help as the Afghan security forces crumbled under the Taliban onslaught. On August 11, after Taliban commanders started a blitzkrieg across the country, Ghani left the presidential palace in Kabul for Mazar-e-Sharif, a major city close to the Uzbekistan border in the north. He met two warlords—Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Nur, who were part of the erstwhile Northern Alliance, a coalition of militias created in 2001 to fight the Taliban. Ghani desperately wanted support from the warlords to defend government territory and, hopefully, reclaim areas captured by the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghani had realised that the peace talks with the Taliban were dead. His plan was to arm civilians and ask them to fight with the warlords to stop the Taliban in its tracks. Regional militias were also expected to secure the roads between main cities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a 1990s redux. Afghan groups were uniting against the Taliban to start a war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation was hardly buoyant, though. “Afghanistan’s experience with militias has not been good,” explained Fahim Sadat, political analyst and head of the department of international relations in Kabul’s Kardan University. “Warlords were born from these militias. They became rich and spread corruption.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadat was sceptical of the government’s plan to build up militias into a national resistance. “The big question is: will the government be able to manage this mobilisation, and to control militias that are under specific power structures? Considering the hostile relationships between rival groups in the past, we risk going back 30 years; to a country isolated and controlled by warlords,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the withdrawal of western troops, though, the warlords are back in the reckoning. They are indeed the same people who helped the US-led coalition end the Taliban regime 20 years ago, but now it is hard to tell whether they are fighting for democratic values or for their own benefit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dostum, an Uzbek general known for his brutality against enemies, had promised Ghani that his men would fight until they shed the last drop of their blood. But such promises did not really hold much hope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hours after Ghani had visited Mazar-e-Sharif, a powerful warlord and former minister called Ismail Khan surrendered to the Taliban. Khan had been fighting various enemies since the 1970s—first as an army captain-turned-mujahideen against the invading Soviets, and then as part of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. In his seventies now, Khan had again picked up his rifle in July and mobilised people to prevent the Taliban from entering Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city which is close to the Iran border. Weeks ago, the “Lion of Herat” had declared that he had the support of five lakh people in northern Afghanistan. After a two-week siege, though, Herat finally fell on August 13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mazar-e-Sharif had fallen a few hours earlier. By the time Ghani returned to Kabul, Taliban commanders had captured nearly half of the 34 major cities in the country. They had done so in a week, and in some cases, without any fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was clear that Ghani’s plan was unravelling. The Taliban was preparing to enter the final stretch of its campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kabul was now exposed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A thousand sordid suns</b></p> <p>Mountains in Afghanistan look the same in daylight, but sunsets reveal their true, distinct souls. The Shinwari mountains in Parwan province, located 45km north of Kabul, were glowing ochre as fighters prepared to take a final stand. Twilight had bathed the valleys, and its winding roads and forlorn-looking houses, in a thousand different hues. Flags on top of the mountains indicated militia positions; the men moved like shadows to guard their turf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 6, three prominent men met in the mountains—Abdul Basir Salangi, former governor and commander of Parwan; Abdul Zahir Salangi, member of parliament and leader of the area’s resistance forces; and Abdul Qadir Salangi, who supervised the 10 checkpoints in the region. The aim of the meeting was to decide on a strategy to push back the Taliban, and protect the valleys and the roads that led to Kabul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parwan’s population was multi-ethnic, comprising Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pashtuns, Hazaras, Kuchis and other communities. The Taliban’s advance was threatening the relative peace that the province had enjoyed for 20 years. Hundreds of villagers had taken up arms and joined the militia to defend the 10 checkpoints in the mountains and valleys. Most of them had come to realise that it was a mistake to give up arms after the Americans defeated the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The last attack,” said Abdul Basir, “was three nights ago. But we succeeded in keeping our positions. The Taliban attacks at night, in groups comprising 40 to 50 people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdul Zahir, the politician among the trio, said he disliked the word ‘militia’. He believed in the need for the resistance to appear more institutional. “I believe in the government,” he said. “But if the army fails, somebody has to protect our land and citizens have to take up arms. Americans left us halfway in the war. They weakened our institutions with the Doha agreement.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Old mujahideen were back in action. One of them is Ghulam Eshan Salangi, 49, commander of the last outpost in the valley. He had been working as a security adviser for the United Nations in Parwan, but he lost his job when the UN closed its office. He was running a shop when he got the call from a former commander. “‘It is again time to fight,’ he told me,” said Ghulam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He pointed to the enemy positions. “We want to defend our country, but we don’t have the means. We don’t even have binoculars, while they have night-vision,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 19-year-old gunman, Enaiat, took a picture with his smartphone. He proudly showed the cover photo on his cell phone—Ahmad Shah Massoud, the “Lion of Panjshir” who fought the Soviets and the Taliban. “He is my hero,” said Enaiat. “We are here to carry on his battle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The following afternoon, as Enaiat and Ghulam built an outpost using stones and rocks, a young man brought water in two jugs. The meeting of the big three in Parwan was over, apparently. The trio had left, escorted by four military vehicles and 50 guards. Only fighters remained in the mountains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was anybody’s guess how long the men would be able to hold on to the checkpoints. Even if they did, the future would remain uncertain. The warlords were playing their own game. Twenty years after the fall of the Taliban, they had become part of the Afghan crisis with their corruption and nepotism. It was difficult to predict how the warlords would leverage the loyalty of their men, who they would support if Kabul fell, or whether the men themselves would benefit from the murky deals. Afghanistan’s history was replete with instances of warlords choosing power and wealth over principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Ghulam walked away carrying a rifle on his shoulder, the mountains were again bathed in soft, afternoon light. Beyond him, the valleys looked hazy and desolate, much like Afghanistan’s uncertain future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Collapsing cities, crumbling trust</b></p> <p>It was early afternoon in Jalalabad, about 130km east of Kabul. Usually, a bustling commercial and cultural centre, the city seemed eerily quiet. On a narrow street, a group of children were rattling sticks as if they were sword-fighting. People looked edgy and suspicious, as if they were exposed to dangers they could not yet see. The Taliban were yet to capture the city, but it had made its presence felt with a string of assassinations—of activists, journalists and people who worked for the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 2, unknown assailants gunned down a former interpreter for the US-led forces. Hamdullah Hamdard, who had been waiting for a visa to migrate to the US, was shot dead in front of his wife and three children. The message from the Taliban was clear: We know where you are and we can kill you whenever we want.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He was proud of his work,” said Wasiqullah, Hamdullah’s younger brother. “He always talked about the training he received in Logar, the fight against the Taliban, and the missions to train the Afghan security forces. He travelled with the troops, and met provincial and district governors, and the local people. Once he told me, ‘I learned more about our country by working with the Americans than by crisscrossing it alone.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The morning he was killed, Hamdullah woke up Wasiqullah and took him for a walk. They strolled around the city side by side for half an hour, talking about the deteriorating security situation and the people who were on the run. Neither of them dared discuss the looming threat—of being considered collaborators and executed by the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They split when they reached a town square. Hamdullah headed to his office and Wasiqullah went to the university where he was studying political science. They promised that they would meet for dinner together with the families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few hours later, Wasiqullah was back home and getting dressed to go out and buy bread. Then he heard a shot, and one of his nephews started screaming: “They shot father!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wasiqullah ran out and saw his brother lying in a pool of blood. He ran through the alleys looking for the killers, but they had vanished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wasiqullah was an interpreter, too. He was in Helmand province from 2011 to 2014, after which he enrolled at the university. His days as a university student seem to be over, though. As he sat down and talked, he clutched the rifle that rested on his legs. He never goes out without a weapon now; he had become a prisoner, he said. A condemned man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“American troops left us in the hands of the killers and terrorists they had vowed to fight,” said Wasiqullah. “This is a death sentence for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is one of the 20,000 Afghans who, along with 50,000 of their relatives, had applied for the coveted American SIVs (special immigrant visas). The SIV programme was instituted by the US Congress to provide a quick way out for Afghan interpreters and officials who had assisted US-led forces. The demand for SIVs, however, far outstrips supply. And, the prerequisites for applications make it extremely difficult for people like Wasiqullah to obtain their pass to freedom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SIV process has, in fact, left many Afghanis seething. One of them is Mahmoud Omid, a 31-year-old in Kabul. “I was born and raised in war,” he said. “I would probably die in war.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omid lives in an old house in the northern part of the city. There is no electricity, save for a few hours on some nights. His mother was a civil servant before the Taliban banned women from work in the 1990s. She shuns the hijab, and wears her long brown hair in a ponytail. Omid worked for the US troops for three years. He was more than an interpreter—he was a bridge between two alien cultures, and had taken part in operations in Kandahar and Helmand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“<b>I trained, advised and assisted Afghan</b><br> security forces, and liaised with American troops,” said Omid. “I would describe myself as a cultural advisor because, you see, most Americans when they came to Afghanistan did not know anything about our culture. They didn’t know how to greet a woman without shaking her hand. We taught them that you have to put your hand on your chest. They didn’t know how to behave, and often they weren’t able to respect traditions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What did he learn on the job? “From the Americans, I learned the meaning of freedom. I learned to believe in the word’s value. Now, I don’t believe in it anymore,” he said. The Americans had christened the Afghan mission as Operation Enduring Freedom. The irony of it seems inescapable now. “The freedom they promised, the freedom that was supposed to last, was a lie,” Omid said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omid’s final mission with American troops was last year. He remembers the day his friends told him that they were leaving. They were having meals at the base, and a news channel showed the ongoing talks between the Americans and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. His team captain told him: “Mate, we’ll leave soon. Be careful about your future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He kept listening to the news for days after, sceptical of the possibility of the talks yielding a deal. “[US president Donald] Trump was in a hurry to sign the agreement,” said Omid. “This hurry made the Taliban stronger, with the result that today’s war in Afghanistan is more brutal than the ones we have survived.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Joe Biden became president and confirmed the unconditional withdrawal, Omid knew he had to leave. “Soldiers at the base told me: ‘Brother, it is time for you to leave this country,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slow demobilisation began from that point. It culminated with the troops leaving the Bagram base in Parwan province, which was the largest US military facility in Afghanistan, in a hurry in July. The troops left without handing over the base to Afghan forces. “They entered Afghanistan 20 years ago without asking permission, and now they leave like thieves,” said Omid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thousands like Omid were left in the lurch. And their hopes have been crushed slowly and painfully. Omid had applied for an SIV at the end of 2020, but his application was rejected on March 29 this year. He filed an appeal, along with letters of recommendation from soldiers who had worked with him. The appeal was being reviewed, but Omid was certain that it would be rejected as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I went to the American embassy in Kabul, where applicants have to undergo polygraph tests,” he said. “They connect our right hand to the machine and check our heartbeat. ‘You are nervous,’ they told me. ‘Your heartbeat is irregular.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It struck Omid as a cruel joke. “Am I nervous? Of course, I am nervous. I lived in Kabul through the war. The Taliban executed part of my family in our home village. My mother is an activist and she is risking her life. I am an interpreter for Americans and I am risking my life,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omid passed the polygraph three times. The last one, however, went bad. “They rejected me because I was nervous and my heartbeat was irregular,” he said. “This apparently made me a national security threat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two weeks ago, Omid’s friend was captured, tortured and beheaded by the Taliban. “For them, it doesn’t matter if you have worked for US troops and their allies for one hour, one day or ten years,” Omid said. “If you did it, you are on the blacklist of infidels to be killed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we met him, Omid was living like a prisoner, alienated from the world and suspicious of everyone. All of his three decades of memories were linked to the unending war—the freedoms that his mother lost, the relatives who were killed fighting the Taliban, the dreams of peace and opportunities that he had shared with his peers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The memories only add to his raging resentment. In 2019, he took part in a special forces operation in Nangarhar province. The troops were supposed to meet a group of village elders before the operation. One of the elders took him aside and told him that he was an infidel. “He told me: ‘I won’t shake hands with you. If I do it, I’ll have to wash it a thousand times.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Omid reported this to the Americans, they asked him to find out the elder’s phone number. The number was passed on to the CIA, which began intercepting calls to the phone. The man turned out to be a member of the dreaded Haqqani network, which was allied with Al Qaeda and was responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. The CIA learnt that a plot was being hatched to attack American and Afghan troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The day the Americans arrested him, they hugged and kissed me, and told me: ‘From now on, you are not only our interpreter, you are also our brother. Because you saved the whole team’s life,’” said Omid. “They gave me a medal, you know.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He pulled out a shiny medal from a drawer. He also showed a plaque presented to him by American soldiers. He read aloud what was written on it: “From the army department, the achievement certificate awarded to Mahmoud Omid: A recognition of your outstanding performance in support of advisor team 2211. Your support was crucial and played an important role in the success of our advisors’ mission. More than simply translating, you helped us understand and kept us alert and alive. We cannot begin to thank you enough for your time, and most importantly, for your friendship.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Omid muttered the last word on the plaque several times. And then he looked up and told us that he no longer knew its meaning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Awaiting the ark</b></p> <p>Around 50km northwest of Jalalabad is Mihtarlam, an ancient city named after Lamech, the father of the biblical patriarch Noah. Mihtar means ‘headman’ and lam is the diminutive of Lamech. Mihtarlam is perched on a valley of two ferocious rivers, the Alishang and the Alingar, which often wreak havoc on the countryside when the mountain snow melts. Legend has it that Noah’s Ark landed on a nearby peak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mihtarlam is in Laghman province, which comprises five districts. Four of them were controlled by the Taliban. Mihtarlam, which is in the middle of the province, was almost cut off from the rest of the world. The sound of gunfights in the mountains reverberated through the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is 10am; it’s odd,” said Zahidullah, a resident of the neighbouring Alingar district. “Usually, they fight at night. That is why we are terrified when the sun goes down. We don’t know if we would wake up alive in the morning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zahidullah is 30 years old. When the Taliban took control of his war-torn district, thousands of villagers like him had no choice but to flee. A makeshift refugee camp was set up in Mihtarlam, and the city’s elders chose Zahidullah as the representative of the displaced families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humanitarian crises around the world have made people familiar with a certain image of refugee camps—UN-sponsored white tents, chemical toilets, water canisters, and fences and gates to protect people. The Mihtarlam camp had nothing like these. It was on a stretch of dry land, off the main road that ran from the city centre to the mountains. On one end of the road were the Afghan security forces; on the other, the Taliban. Caught in the middle were the poor villagers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were no tents in the camp. Women and children took cover behind partitions made of clothes and wood. They could barely shield themselves from the scorching heat of the day and freezing cold of the night. In the past two months, as many as 300 families—around 1,500 people—had arrived here. Some of them were forced to camp out in the open; some took shelter in buildings under construction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zahidullah’s house in Alingar was on the front line. Artillery fire destroyed it. Another refugee, a 60-year-old man named Berhem, showed pictures of his home and livestock. He had lost all of it. “It is a dirty war, dirtier than the past ones,” said Berhem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every makeshift shelter hosted survivors and their stories of loss. There was Rahimullah, 35, who had lost his brother and was taking care of his widow and children. Habiba, 45, was tending to her husband, Chenargul, who is 50 but looked 80. Severely ill, Chenargul was having trouble breathing. But the camp had no medicine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The days at the camp are marked by the sacrifices people make just to survive. “Nobody is helping us,” said Zahidullah, “except for neighbours who bring us food and water for children, when they can.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One could tell that they were beyond the reach of the UN and humanitarian organisations just by looking at the children. All of them were covered in dirt; many were sick. “We don’t get to bathe the children,” said Zahidullah. “When the need is unavoidable, we take them to the neighbours’ well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The camp is becoming a dangerous place. “Last night, the Taliban attacked military vehicles right here on this road,” said Zahidullah. “We have nowhere to go.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says more than three lakh Afghans have been internally displaced in the past few months. In all, 3.5 million people have lost their homes. Government figures were higher. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said nine lakh people were displaced from April to June alone—an increase of 74 per cent compared with the corresponding period last year. Kabul’s population had surged—from four million to an estimated seven million—as thousands of families from provinces captured by the Taliban fled to the capital. Days before the capital itself fell, there were mile-long queues in front of the passport office. People were so desperate to get out of the country that smugglers were making a fortune helping families cross borders illegally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is no safe place in Afghanistan,” said Ghulam, a 35-year-old from Helmand, the country’s largest province by area. “The fighting in Helmand was intense. The Taliban occupied our houses, turning them into their bases. We had no choice but to flee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghulam was in the queue at the passport office; he knew he could not stay for long in his relative’s house in Kabul. He was trying to obtain a visa to Turkey. In normal times, it would have cost him $140. But now, “if you don’t know someone, or you don’t have the money to bribe officials, you don’t get a visa”. Turkish visas were going at $6,000 apiece in the black market. “None of us can afford it,” said Ghulam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, the Ghani government was slowly going bankrupt. Major cities had either fallen or were besieged, with the Taliban controlling borders, strategic points and trade routes and centres. The government was bleeding money defending itself, while tax revenues were drying up and the prices of essential goods were rising.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rents in Kabul were soaring as the city continued to absorb streams of refugees from all sides. People who could not afford to pay for lodging were building makeshift homes using dirt and stones. Slums were springing up around the city, each of them housing a thousand battered souls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of them is Abdul Ghafar, 21, who came to Kabul three weeks ago from Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand. His mother died in the war and he lost a foot in an explosion. He was living in a room with four other men, all of them refugees from the southern province. Ghafar cannot work, and he has run out of money. For him, life has come to a grinding halt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharam Khan, also from Lashkargah, seemed resigned to his fate. He had also lost a leg, but not in this war. It was the civil war in the 1990s that did it. “It’s our fate,” said Kharam Khan. He kept on saying it like a dirge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had fled Lashkargah along with his two children and eight grandchildren. He was now living in a settlement in downtown Kabul. The children were walking barefoot in puddles of wastewater.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am too old to escape,” said Kharam Khan, watching them. “And too tired to witness another war. But what will happen to them, to our children?”</p> Thu Aug 19 20:09:16 IST 2021 will-afghanistan-have-peace-now-or-has-the-region-become-more-unstable <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If anything happens to me, please tell my story.” This was the last communication I received from a feisty young Afghan girl who, till the very last, was keen on fighting for her space, and that of other women, in her country. But the day her president fled, she realised that for the present, discretion was the better part of valour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid's assurances, at the group's first presser, about ensuring the emancipation of women, within the framework of Islam, has not done much to soothe the frayed nerves of a people who feel betrayed by every side and do not know what to believe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just a 20-something woman in Kabul who is bewildered by the recent developments. World leaders and global strategists are baffled. And, it is not only the speed of the Taliban takeover of the country that has caught them off guard. The cultured new language of peace, development, human rights and self-determination that the Taliban is speaking was not expected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many leaders had thought it would be easy to dismiss a band of men who spoke the language of bullets. Most countries—from Germany to Turkey, and including India—had maintained that a government imposed by force would not be recognised. But, the almost bloodless takeover of Kabul means they cannot shield themselves behind this moral high ground. The surprising peace in Afghanistan since the takeover of Kabul (no reports of looting, riots or retaliation), a point Mujahid stressed in his presser, brings to the fore the question: How will the world engage with the Taliban now?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China and Pakistan were prompt with responses—China stating hope that the Taliban would establish an open and inclusive Islamic government, and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan noting that the Afghans have broken the “shackles of slavery”. Turkey, which planned to take over Kabul airport security after NATO forces left, dropped the plan, but said it is ready to “provide support if the Taliban requests”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China and Russia both have embassies open in Kabul. Moscow even said the situation in Kabul is better than it was under Ashraf Ghani. Saudi Arabia said it stands with the choices the Afghan people make. Even Shiite Iran looks at the US military failure in Kabul as a chance to establish lasting peace in the country. Iran, initially fiercely opposed to the Taliban, has in recent times established communication links with its leaders. Clearly, the world is in no hurry to immediately condemn the new reality in Kabul, though every country is now calibrating developments from its viewpoint. India is among those which have decided not to utter anything, but to wait and watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The takeaway from the United Nations Security Council's special meeting on Afghanistan, presided over by India, was clear—the concern for the country is mostly humanitarian. Ensuring food security, women's rights and evacuation of refugees topped the agenda. The UN subsequently said it will engage with the de facto government in Kabul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taliban representatives repeatedly stress that while their aim to rule by Islamic law stays, they have evolved over the past two decades in outlook to governance and minority rights. The Taliban is keen to be recognised, to be the entity which takes the country to development, to establish diplomatic ties and sit at the high table in multilateral outings. Can it walk this talk? There are reports that old Afghan leaders, like Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, may join the government, thus providing the world with acceptable faces to engage with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, can Kabul's new elite ensure that the grassroot following is also compatible with the updated version of the Taliban? “The ball is now with the Taliban, the world is watching for every misstep,” said Kabir Taneja, strategic studies fellow, Observer Research Foundation. India shut its embassy with alacrity, but Taneja said at least a charge d'affaires should have been left behind. “Now, if India returns, it will be starting from scratch,” he said. Security concerns, however, might have overridden pragmatism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will all the hearts India has won in the Hindu Kush yield results now? Afghanistan is the largest recipient of India's development aid. Even the Taliban knows the good education and medical treatment Afghans get in India is important. It did not destroy India-built infrastructure and will most likely rule from the Parliament building India built. It has also said India can continue to work on the incomplete projects. India has projects in every Afghan province.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to remain patient and see how the situation plays out over the next few months,” said G. Parthasarathy, who was the Indian high commissioner to Islamabad during the hijack of IC-814 in 1999. “The China-Pakistan-Taliban axis cannot be ignored.” Parthasarathy believes that the Taliban would find acceptability difficult, even with ordinary Pashtuns, let alone other ethnicities. Even the Islamic world will be divided on how to engage with the Taliban, now that they are themselves keen on image makeovers and are even diplomatically dealing with Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will Kabul finally step into that elusive era of peace under the Taliban. Or will the land nurture a million new mutinies? Already, Panjshir, which still remains free of the Taliban, is being looked upon as the centre for the first resistance to form, just like two decades ago. The peace on the Iranian front can evaporate the moment the Taliban strikes on Hazara Shia, who were oppressed under the previous regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taliban may think it is savvier with governance now, but it faces the challenge of keeping all its regional leaders happy. And even if the Taliban's lofty intentions of world-class governance are genuine, will it be allowed to take them forward? There are just too many nations invested in the region, who might foment uprisings for their own purposes. Who knows, instead of that promised peace, season three of the Great Game may be about to play out.</p> Thu Aug 19 20:04:12 IST 2021 the-return-of-the-taliban-could-rekindle-militancy-in-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITH THE TALIBAN</b> seizing power in Afghanistan, security officials in India are assessing its possible impact on Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much like what happened after the Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan in the late 1980s, the US withdrawal and rise of the Taliban could rekindle militancy in Kashmir, especially when India's focus has shifted from Pakistan to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Contrary to popular perception, say former militant commanders in Kashmir, the seeds of militancy in the region were sown much before the alleged rigging of the 1987 assembly elections. The National Conference, with the backing of the Congress government at the Centre, had allegedly fixed the elections to prevent the Muslim United Front, a coalition of different groups with separatist leanings, from coming to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The rigging created the right conditions to recruit people into militancy,” said a former militant commander. “Armed struggle in Kashmir was the idea of [Pakistan president] General Zia-ul-Haq.” He said Zia believed the success of the mujahideen against the Soviets could be replicated in Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Jamaat-e-Islami chief Saddudin Tarbali visited Pakistan in 1983, Zia had told him that they were finishing the job in Afghanistan and would focus on Kashmir, said the commander. “Tarbali told him that the Jamaat was a socio-religious organisation, and that it couldn’t take the responsibility,” he said. Ultimately, the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was chosen for the job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another militant commander, now in his 60s, said that many young men who joined militancy—including JKLF leader Yasin Malik—were supporters of the MUF. In the 1987 elections, militants like Ashfaq Majeed Wani, Hamid Sheikh, Javed Mir and Malik had campaigned for Mohammed Yusuf Shah, who “lost” and later became Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the elections, Wani, Sheikh, Mir and Malik were jailed. Support for them and their cause grew, and militancy erupted in the valley. Another former militant commander, who made several trips to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the 1990s, said JKLF's pro-independence agenda allowed plausible deniability. “General Zia was an Islamist to the core and the Afghan mujahideen held him in high esteem,” he said. “He had planned to send the battle-hardened mujahideen to Kashmir after the withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan. But the plan died with Zia when his plane exploded mid-air on August 17, 1988—over a month after JKLF had carried out its first bomb blasts in Srinagar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A former JKLF commander said after the blasts in Srinagar, they fled to Muzaffarabad (in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to evade arrest. “Then Benazir Bhutto became prime minister, training camps were closed, and we were detained,” he said. He added that if Zia had not died, perhaps the story of Kashmir militancy would have been different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the ouster of the Taliban from power in 2001, Pakistan had to reportedly deploy more than 1.5 lakh troops on the border with Afghanistan to prevent Baloch separatists and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from launching attacks in Pakistan. Two decades later, with the Taliban back in power and desperate for recognition, Pakistan and China will likely use their leverage and Chinese investment in Afghanistan to rein in the militants from attacking the projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan. If that happens, Pakistan could divert a large number of its troops and equipment from the Durand Line to the Line of Control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, having already committed a portion of its military resources to counter the growing threat from China, could be found wanting on the north-western border. Moreover, the situation could lead to increased infiltration into Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Security analysts believe the Taliban's victory will embolden militant groups fighting in Kashmir, especially the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which follows the Deobandi school of thought like the Taliban. In the past three years, Indian forces have killed at least 630 militants in encounters in Kashmir. Most of these were local boys who lacked training and equipment. However, an influx of highly trained foreign militants could create serious problems for India.</p> Thu Aug 19 20:01:35 IST 2021 taliban-has-never-been-india-enemy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The roots of failure of one of the longest armed conflicts in US history lies in America’s calamitous and disastrous relationship with Afghanistan,” journalist Adrian Levy told THE WEEK in an interview from London.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Levy recently co-authored Spy Stories: Inside the Secret World of the RAW and the ISI, published by Juggernaut, with author-journalist Cathy Scott-Clark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On India’s role in Afghanistan, he said that Delhi had been busy nurturing its relationship with the national government, forgetting that there was an Afghanistan beyond Kabul. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What role do you see for Delhi in Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India did many things in Afghanistan. It pumped in cash and resources and created a relationship, but perhaps its biggest failing was that it was late in [reaching out to] the other side (Taliban). Kabul is not equivalent to Afghanistan; India put too [much trust] in the US mirage there. It went late to Doha. Its reach mirrored the US’s. We must remember that the Taliban is not India’s enemy. It never was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much as Indian intelligence agencies like R&amp;AW want to build a narrative that Pakistan will be the biggest worry again, there is evidence to suggest that groups that have decamped as a result of constant purging by Pakistan are now operating in the lawless lands across the Durand Line. Elements of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba are forming deadly battle-hardened groups inside southern Afghanistan and will attack anyone, including Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the other worries in Afghanistan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, it is the chaotic space created in places in Afghanistan by insurgents who fled Waziristan and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), where terror groups are deeply entrenched inside communities. They will continue to spark tension around the Durand Line and beyond. Second, there are spoilers like Iran, which has funded sections of the Taliban to hamper the US; and Russia, which had previously lost in Afghanistan, and is engaged in a contest with Washington. There is Turkey, which is deep into Pakistan, rivalling Saudi, and wants to be seen as a regional power. So, the failed state and the spoilers together pave the way for a breeding ground for evil forces and dangerous groups to thrive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 20 years, there have been some changes. The Pakistan army has come through 18 years of war for the better, and Rawalpindi has spent a lot of money to fortify the Durand Line with fencing and tech. What is far from clear is how and whether adventurist elements within the military and the intelligence establishment have now been enabled, too, to prosecute their old anti-India project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the book, you draw links between the 2019 Pulwama attack and Afghanistan.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaish-e-Mohammad plotted Pulwama inside Afghanistan. They had occupied compounds alongside Al Qaeda and other terrorist outfits. While the public statements and perception were completely different, that the ISI and the Pakistan military establishment were to blame, the facts suggested that the command and control structure was inside Afghanistan. If you look at the aetiology of forensics, a similar device was used in the 2008 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Aluminium powder was used to create enormous heat. So, what you have are Al Qaeda engineers, Jaish leaders and even men trained by the now dead [Al Qaeda] commander Ilyas Kashmiri, who targeted Pulwama. What we see is how few people are needed to spill blood and create the architecture of terror. But what happens afterwards, despite the evidence, is that India lambasts Pakistan. The political project takes over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So are you saying that R&amp;AW is good at perception management?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has had great success in projecting itself as benign. It is a masterful thing done through soft and hard power, where you gather a cloak around yourself to disguise all hot actions and instead portray yourself as being the patient, perpetual victim of Pakistan terror. Good play, as ISI would say. There has been Pakistan-backed terror and insurgency. But that is all we see. Thanks to this cloak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the book, you describe Kulbhushan Jadhav as an asset and not an officer. What is the difference?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Jadhav, Pakistan spotted an opportunity. India required a new facility post 26/11; there was a need to step up and deploy assets that had access deep inside Pakistan and neighbouring countries to illuminate operations by Jaish, LeT and Al Qaeda. Given that actions by these groups had been switched down to only a simmer in Kashmir, they re-formed in Karachi and elsewhere looking for new routes to attack India. All agencies in India needed to reset around this thesis, be it the Indian Navy, the Intelligence Bureau or R&amp;AW.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India worked hard to make connections through assets in Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and [among] Baloch nationalists, as well as seeking influence in places like Iran’s Chabahar Port, which was the natural competitor to Gwadar Port. So, there is China and Pakistan in Gwadar and R&amp;AW and Iran in Chabahar. What we have are two ports of extreme strategic importance in Central Asia. And then there is Kulbhushan Jadhav working in Chabahar, but also able to traverse Pakistan and India. The man has at least two forms of official identity, mis-describing his religion and an actual address in Mumbai that the ISI learns is linked to a former senior police officer. The ISI sees a perfect opportunity to trap India. To build Jadhav from a roving itinerant—a roving ear—into being seen as an Indian master spy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you saying Pakistan’s claim on Jadhav is real?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What cops do is detect crimes and put them through the criminal justice system, but what spymasters do is latch on to a crime and let it run as long as possible to see what the man is up to. They germinated an idea—in this case a conspiracy to attack a Pakistan air force base—and thrust upon him plans for the base, making him a party in a serious criminal conspiracy. They waited to see whom he would contact. Would he find a Baloch national? All along, in the background, they know he is a family man with kids. So, Jadhav gets jammed between spy wars of two sides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In spy wars, enemy's enemy is your friend. How true is it for India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agencies like R&amp;AW and Intelligence Bureau are using forces and assets and officers of every kind against Pakistan. This is classic intelligence work and this is what R&amp;AW should be doing and is doing, while shielding its actions. It did that with MQM, when it was divided and its leader took asylum in London - recruiting inside MQM. The agency does this in London, Vienna, Geneva and other safe European havens and not within the theatre which is Pakistan. It does this with other outfits in Kashmir and along the Durand Line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did you see a rivalry between the R&amp;AW and IB?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IB became frustrated by not only the monopolisation of technical resources by the R&amp;AW after 26/11 especially but also the scope of their operations. Although India is the theatre of action for IB, its officers told us that since the terror plans are brewed abroad, they too wanted operations tracking and eavesdropping outside India. That's also where a man like Jadhav comes in.</p> <p>What we see - and more specifically what ISI might see - are only glimpses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the ills plaguing the R&amp;AW?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The organisation hollowed out after partition and became quite communal. The senior R&amp;AW officers wanted and want to remove the IPS recruitment system and rigid promotions structure and start recruiting across religions, communities and languages. Some others want to involve the diaspora which speaks all languages. But, even today, hardly any Muslim officer has made it to the top in intelligence agencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But these are struggles the MI5, MI6, CIA, FBI have all had - becoming more like the societies they have to operate in. Relying on technical intel is not enough. RAW also desired a conditional role and a charter but these have been denied by many different governments that have resisted reform so that the intel agencies can continue to be political tools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>R&amp;AW is suspected to be behind the Pegasus snooping scandal. Your comments.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We must look at the sequence of events. After 2001, the coming together of US and Pakistan enraged India which felt that the old abusive relationship was back on again and they tried to smash it and undermine it and colour it. They were successful in portraying Pakistan as the harbinger of terror, advancing bogus theories that, for example, 9/11 was funded by the Islamic Republic. They even projected a powerful false conspiracy involving an assassination threat to US secretary of state Colin Powell where Ilyas Kashmiri was said to have plotted to kill him in Rawalpindi using one of the CIA's missing Stinger missiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By 2004, under US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, the US slowly began to repoint its relationship with India having acknowledged the rise of China. A series of military and security deals, that led to the civil nuclear pact, followed. By 2009, there was an attempt at high-level technical intelligence sharing (which initially struggled to get off the ground because of leaks in India) and the coming together of various agencies, United Kingdom Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the United States National Security Agency (NSA) inducting India into high-level groups. India began to centralise its technical eavesdropping facility and then bought into German spyware in ousting FinFisher that could access Blackberry and Android but could only pry into jail-broken Apple phones. It was used by spy agencies around the world to listen in to journalists and political dissidents, creating a scandal in which India was also accused. What replaced it, it seems, was Pegasus, supplied to in a country-to-country deal by Israel’s NSO, likely in 2018 and the Pegasus trials started running in 2019 which have exploded into the public arena with the leak of 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But R&amp;AW and the intel services have shown great initiatives on the Techint side since the East Pakistan war and especially during Kargil when Pervez Musharraf was eavesdropped exposing his plans. The intention and skill was there, but the full capabilities would come after 2009. By when these capabilities outpaced the legislature and, remember, oversight also is practically non-existent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did R&amp;AW and IB officers agree on the need for a parliamentary oversight for intelligence agencies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These agencies do not have a charter and have been used as a political football by different governments. Narasimha Rao government was one that used intelligence this way, and others too, especially Indira Gandhi. All the officers we met agreed there was a need for an oversight mechanism and a chartering that placed the intel services inside a constitutional framework.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Edward Snowden pointed out after 9/11, there were unlimited budgets combined with a climate of fear that grew intelligence agencies, their facilities and technical skills, which far outpaced the law, but also pushed at the boundaries of what was moral, ethical and also legal. The Pegasus exposé shows this and ultimately our political leaders - who we vote in - should be held accountable. They are not beyond the law and intelligence is not a legal. You cannot allow intelligence agencies to outpace the legislature and the majority of people I spoke to within R&amp;AW agreed. Only the ISI does not agree. They want to continue to operate in the dark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How was your interaction with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval? Is he a mongoose or a cobra (reference from the book)?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is action-oriented. He is also a storyteller and likes to make and control the narrative. What we are seeing in Kashmir is complete social media penetration, use of laws like AFSPA and the PSA, where the state of law is permanently upended, to mild and project these stories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doval also does not believe in talks without preconditions. He began to talk to Pakistan only when he had removed Kashmir from the table, and then a back channel started to work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doval has helmed a communal system, too, which has concentrated power in itself but also for its political masters and their agenda. The police, NIA, IB and R&amp;AW have all been made to fit this objective. This set-up is undermining free thought and legitimate political action. It punishes all kinds of difference and resistance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think the positives are that India has created an agile intelligence infrastructure, which responds quickly, and is cleverly wooing foreign countries, thought leaders, power brokers, some of whom were not on their side but are friends today. Doval has wooed the Gulf countries and Saudi. He wants to see out each to China and Iran as well as Turkey. This has created a huge problem for outfits like the D company as extradition to India is now a real threat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the shortcomings of this approach?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lot of stage fog. It is hard to know what has happened and what has been allowed to happen for political reasons. Terror outfits are puppeteered and penetrated. Theories are put into practice - communal ones - by encouraging acts as well as detecting them. The British did this in Northern Ireland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All intelligence organisations are becoming more chauvinistic, nationalistic but then there are others who also resist it. In India, we see an assertive Hindu agenda and those who have reason to fear it. Those who are being intimidated or jailed. The security organisations are a mirror of the societies they exist in. All our societies around the world are debating these traits and India is no exception. Popularism and authoritarianism vs liberal democracy. Personal freedom vs State controls. India has ended up more allied with an Orban-Trump-Netanyahu world than any other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it will not permanently limit Indian democracy. India's cultural, regional, language divides are so profound that no Deep State will be able to control them for long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have named and quoted senior serving officers of the wing. Did you experience any push back after the book was published?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We cannot write a book and deliver it for approval. We do not work with any limitations other than time and money! So, what ISI and R&amp;AW reads might surprise them and might antagonise some.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea was to share their views based on enormous experience so that we could see their thinking, their evolution and show some of the secret scaffolding that holds up their world. In a way, it’s like <i>The</i> <i>Truman Show</i> - that moment when he bumps his head on the roof of his world and finally understands how he has been playing a part. We wanted to define that roof and show some of those in the gallery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had to be responsible too - sensitive to the subject. So, even though we have transcripts for all our conversations, 90 per cent of what we learnt has not yet been published because it was either too sensitive or inappropriate or could cause hatred.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, we were always open about our own beliefs with them. We went into every room as if we were being recorded.I have a thumb rule which I apply always: when you say something out loud then you should be prepared to hear it back.</p> Thu Aug 19 21:54:02 IST 2021 afghans-who-have-been-trying-to-be-self-reliant-are-unlikely-to-accept-taliban <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TALIBAN HAS</b> been breaking bread with terror outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba for far too long to say that it will not be a puppet government for Pakistan, where it was in exile in the past two decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though it has taken over now, the Taliban is facing a challenge of acceptance not just within Kabul, but also in the vast swathes of Afghanistan where people have clung to hope of a better future for their children even amid drone strikes and bloodshed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While military resistance might not be the Taliban’s biggest worry, the scale of and platforms for resistance are many, within and outside Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Matiullah Wesa, 29, has a message for the Taliban. “If the Taliban movement wants to end violence, war and destruction in Afghanistan, they should allow boys and girls to get educated, know their rights and the rights of others, which would in turn [make them] shun violence and extremism,” he told THE WEEK from Kabul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in Kandahar province of Afghanistan, Wesa saw his school getting burnt in the 1990s and lost his cousin in a mine blast on the eve of Eid last year. He runs Penpath, an NGO that reopened many schools shut by war in rural Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The educated urban Afghans might not be against Islamisation, but history has taught them that nations are built by their own people; the Afghans have been trying to be self-reliant and self-sufficient for some time now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Afghans do not like to have foreign troops in their country,” said Wesa. But at the same time, they also despise a Pakistan-controlled puppet regime and the return of terrorist forces to their land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the global community is aghast at the speed with which Kabul fell, the Indian security establishment is keeping its eyes peeled for any damage the Taliban might cause with Pakistan’s covert support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to latest intelligence reports, around 80,000 armed Taliban cadres, who were given refuge and training in Pakistan, are returning to Afghanistan after having developed kinship with the LeT and the JeM, which gave them supplies and services (health care and community support) during the long exile. There are also 1,000 to 1,200 LeT and 1,500 to 2,000 JeM cadres in Afghanistan, mostly in the eastern and southern provinces, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reports, which THE WEEK has accessed, say that around 250 Pakistan army officers, across ranks, are involved in running the Taliban today. The veracity of this report was seen on August 17, when a major general-ranked Inter-Services Intelligence officer reportedly arrived in Kabul. “It is difficult to cut the umbilical cord with Pakistan. To gain support among people will be its (the Taliban’s) first challenge,” said a senior security official.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reports say that the ISI is trying to bring together loose elements of Al Qaeda, Daesh, Islamic State Khorasan Province, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi under the integrated command of the LeT and the JeM. The JeM, which was behind the 2019 Pulwama attack, has large drones, night-vision devices, thermal scopes, computers and communication sets. Pakistan, say the reports, has already started relocating training camps of India-centric entities of the LeT and the JeM to southern Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per reports, the JeM is working with the Afghan Taliban; JeM commander Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar is supervising the overall ‘Afghan operations’. The JeM is regularly providing cadres—trained in Peshawar—to help the Taliban. Some of the Taliban shadow governors are apparently associated with the JeM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there are outfits like the ISKP, which has claimed some of the major civilian attacks in Afghanistan of late. A senior officer said ISKP’s links with the ISI were exposed after some of its key leaders were killed in US drone strikes in Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this deadly mix, the LeT's involvement reflects its wider jihadist rhetoric—it is supplying fighters to fight alongside the Haqqani Network and the Taliban. “The LeT has a presence in Nuristan, Kunar, Nangarhar, Mohmand, Khyber and Kurram regions,” said an intelligence input.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former home secretary G.K. Pillai said it appeared that a backdoor deal was struck, which allowed the Taliban to move quickly. President Ashraf Ghani’s role is being questioned; his fleeing of the country quickened the fall of Kabul. Delhi, which had been closely working with the Afghanistan government to avoid a security nightmare in the region, did not expect that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Taliban will try and show that it is a new Taliban,” said a senior intelligence official. “[It will claim that] different groups will be accommodated and communities will be represented, but as far as security is concerned, the command and control will be with the Taliban.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also worrying is the fact that all the arms and ammunition that the US gave the Afghan army over the years will now fall into the Taliban’s hands. This is bad news for Jammu and Kashmir in the immediate aftermath. “Kashmir is the favourite project of the ISI,” said Pillai. “Many of these fighters who are now armed with US-made weapons will be moved to the LoC to stoke unrest. The next few months will be critical for security forces as infiltration will start.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jammat-ud-Dawa chief and LeT patron Hafiz Saeed's fund collection and operations in Afghanistan and Kashmir are well-known.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And with Russia, China and Pakistan coming out to support the Taliban, India has more cause to worry. “These countries are filling the vacuum the US created. In the short term, Pakistan has gained with a display of strategic depth and has managed to keep India out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the long term, Delhi needs to maintain its goodwill towards the Afghan people, nurture the existing relationship and wait to see whether there is a backlash in Pakistan. The Pashtuns in the country's north-western region are holding Pakistan responsible for the deteriorating condition in Afghanistan. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, an anti-war group, has held massive rallies in the past few months condemning Islamabad's support to the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior Pashtun leader from north Waziristan told THE WEEK: “The Taliban should be ready to fight elections and come to power. We will not accept rule by gun.” The leader, who has family in Afghanistan, demanded to know which country's passport the Taliban leadership was using when it was talking to the US in Doha and elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If Pakistan gave passports to Taliban leaders,” he said, “the onus is on Islamabad to maintain peace and not allow killings of our brothers and sisters.” He said they would continue the resistance even as several of their activists have been killed or are missing. “We are nationalists and we want development in Afghanistan,” he said. “We are against terror and killings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he added that Delhi had not supported them enough. With China's CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) interests prompting it to cosy up to the Taliban, he hoped India would wake up to the opportunity to protect its own interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Global intelligence agencies active in the region are alert. While a full-blown military resistance is unlikely, given that many of the forces are demoralised and the western forces are already tired, there will be, in all likelihood, a campaign of extermination in the coming months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were reports that forces close to caretaker President Amrullah Saleh moved from the Panjshir Valley (not under Taliban control till August 17) and attacked the Charikar district of Parwan province, north of Kabul, on August 17-18, while another force under Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum was planning an attack from the north, indicating a link up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid all this uncertainty, the most vulnerable groups are women and children. Wesa is upset. “'The pull-out of US and international troops could have been done in a more orderly fashion, which would have created a safe environment for peace talks and the subsequent new government,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he is determined to continue the door-to-door education campaign with 2,400 volunteers in 304 districts of 34 provinces, especially rural areas, to help Afghan boys and girls pursue education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His organisation lost two members last month. “We will continue what we have done in the past and even increase our activities. We will encourage parents to allow their children, especially girls, to go to school,” said Azimaullah Zahid, a volunteer of Penpath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wesa, meanwhile, is applying for an Indian visa, hoping to get support to secure the future of his country and its children. He knows his efforts are a drop in the ocean. But like all Afghanis, he has learnt never to give up hope. “I request India and the international community to not abandon Afghan children and support their hopes and dreams,” he said.</p> Thu Aug 19 19:57:02 IST 2021 when-ordinary-indians-took-on-the-british <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Reckoned from Plassey, the British ruled and looted India for 190 years. Counting from Warren Hastings, 42 governors-general and viceroys–a few acting–ruled India. Much as Indians resented their rule and their plunder, none of them was assassinated.</p> <p>For the sake of a blood-soaked record, Lord Mayo, remembered thanks to a college in Ajmer, was knifed by a loony convict while the viceroy was visiting the Andamans. The man had no political motive; so Mayo’s murder is not counted as an assassination.</p> <p>Left-leaning revolutionaries had thrown bombs at viceroys—at Lord Hardinge while he was entering the new capital, Delhi, in 1912; and at Irwin’s train while he was travelling from Calcutta to inaugurate New Delhi in 1929. But historians have wondered whether the assailants intended to kill the principals, or only wanted to scare the empire. Even Bhagat Singh’s intended target was Superintendent James Scott, who had baton-charged Lajpat Rai to death; it was by mistake that he killed young John Saunders. He did not intend to kill anyone when he hurled pamphlets and what were no more lethal than smoke-bombs in the central legislature.</p> <p>Such individual incidents of violence were acts of individual revenge perpetrated on individual officers who had acted unjustly or vindictively—Udham Singh’s murder of Michael O’Dwyer, the butcher of Amritsar; Khudiram Bose’s bid on Magistrate Douglas Kingsford, and so on. Often they killed the wrong persons—Khudiram’s bomb spared Kingsford, but killed two women; the bomb hurled at Hardinge killed an Indian servant; and Bhagat killed Saunders instead of Scott. A few other killings, such as at Kakori or Chittagong, happened during raids on armouries or treasure trains. There was no intent to kill.</p> <p>Yet, the British, though having legated a liberal jurisprudential system, hanged the perpetrators. Bhagat’s trial violated all norms of fair trial under English law, and he was hanged disregarding Mahatma Gandhi’s pleas for pardon. Irwin justified his rejection of Gandhi’s pleas, saying he was preventing the Mahatma from deviating from the path of nonviolence! Praise the Lord for small mercies!</p> <p>The fact remains that the Indian political ethos, unlike what Gandhi would have wished, was not nonviolent all along. There have been violent outbursts of individual and popular anger against colonial conquerors, which remain as blood-smeared milestones on the otherwise nonviolent road to freedom.</p> <p>The frequency with which these milestones appear (see graphics) makes one wonder: was the path to freedom actually non-violent? The mainstream narrative of the freedom movement, authored by Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Azad, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and others, has been a saga of non-violence. They abhorred or abjured violence and, as we will see in the Chauri Chaura story, acts of violence reinforced their faith in nonviolence.</p> <p>That saga of nonviolence has been told and retold. So have been the tales of battlefield valour—of dowager ranis like Chennamma and Lakshmibai, aged heroes like Kunwar Singh, hill guerilla chiefs like Pazhassi Raja, folk leaders like Veerapandiya Kattabomman, princely resisters like Tikendrajit Singh. We also know the stories of the controversial Tipu Sultan, the valiant Tantia Tope, the elusive Nana Saheb, as also the individual acts of bravery of Bhagat, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Azad, Khudiram Bose, the Chapekar brothers and others–men who scared the empire with pistol shots.</p> <p>What has not been told enough are the stories of the angry common folk. Those who took part in little uprisings, often without leaders.</p> <p>On this diamond jubilee of independence, THE WEEK looks at five landmark uprisings by the ordinary folk–the Attingal revolt, the <i>sanyasi</i> rebellion, the Sehore rebel raj, the Chauri Chaura riot and the Kakori raid. Each has been selected with care so as to represent a particular style and philosophy of revolt that is distinct from another’s.</p> <p>If Attingal was the first recorded armed uprising against the British, the <i>sanyasi</i> or <i>fakir</i> rebellion was the first challenge to the right of the Company Bahadur to collect taxes. Sehore’s Sipahi Bahadur Sarkar was a unique attempt by a brigade of soldiers at erecting a native state system on captured territory. Chauri Chaura, the centenary of which will be observed next year, was perhaps the last outburst of folk violence before the Gandhian doctrine of nonviolence captured mass imagination. Kakori, on the contrary, was the best planned plunderous raid by a gang of idealists on the Alibaba caves of the raj.</p> <p>Each had its own impact on the national sentiment. One could say, there was no national sentiment when the Attingal folk revolted 300 years ago. They did not shake any empire. All the same, the aftermath of the revolt weakened the feudal order of barons and martial arts-skilled knights in south Kerala, and led to the rise of a national monarchy in Travancore under Marthanda Varma.</p> <p>Breaking out in the wake of the East India Company establishing a state system in Bengal, the <i>sanyasi</i> rebellion, the cause and conduct of which is a matter of dispute, could have been the first challenge to the regime’s right to collect taxes. It also inspired the first perfect novel in India, and gave birth to what would be free India’s national song.</p> <p>The Sehore insurrection of 1857, though started as a sepoy war, was different from the revolts in the Ganga-Yamuna doab. The revolts in Meerut, Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Jhansi and elsewhere were a series of battles between John Company’s loyal regiments on the one side, and the baronial armies of Nana Saheb, Tope and Lakshmibai joining forces with the rebel regiments. Sehore, on the other hand, was an attempt by the revolutionary troops to carve out a new territorial state; they sought no princely legitimacy nor military generalship from elsewhere.</p> <p>The national movement, as we understand it today, was born in the years after the revolt. The ruthless suppression of the revolt had the effect of drilling into Indian minds the futility of waging armed battles against the raj. Considered the peaceful afternoon of the raj by the British, the latter half of the 19th century witnessed hardly any anti-colonial strife in India. The last war with a princely state had been fought in the 1840s with the Sikhs; and the last challenge, the great revolt, had been suppressed, leaving the British free to wage wars in Afghanistan, Burma, Persia, South Africa and Crimea, and day-dream of a lasting empire under Pax Britannica.</p> <p>Indeed, there were attempts by idealists like the Haryana hero Rao Tula Ram, who travelled out to seek the help of the Amirs of Afghanistan, the Shah of Persia and the Tsar of Russia, to throw out the British. (Subhas Bose would follow in his footsteps in the 20th century.) These attempts reached nowhere. The imperial subjects resigned to a process of petitioning; the masters responded with patronising but parsimonious constitutional reforms. There were sporadic shocks delivered to the day-dreamers–such as the Poona insurrection and the Chapekar brothers’ murder of two British officers, but the period remained largely peaceful.</p> <p>Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal at the turn of the century changed all that. This most unimaginative political move by any ruler after 1857 ‘revolted’ both the Hindu and Muslim folk across India. Like Jallianwala Bagh a decade and half later, it exposed the Englishman’s perfidy to the masses who had come to imbibe his ideals of liberal democracy and judicial fair play. Bengal plunged into turmoil, with more of the common folk—as distinct from the feudal elite who had been waging wars and the educated elite who had been petitioning—taking to violence. Though the partition was annulled six years later, the national anger that it had unleashed could not be contained.</p> <p>Voices of restraint were still heard from the likes of Gokhale, but they felt increasingly helpless against the continued perfidy of the British. The 1909 Minto-Morley reforms, the cheating on promises of post-World War I political concessions, the humiliation felt by the Muslims over the dissolution of the Turkish caliphate, the massacre of innocents at Jallianwala Bagh, and the disappointment with the 1919 Montagu-Chelmsford reforms undermined the moderates’ cause.</p> <p>Gandhi appeared at this juncture preaching nonviolence, not as an option of the weak but as an article of faith, and seeking to involve not just the common folk but also the depressed classes, in the national movement. Underlying his non-cooperation call was a historic reality: that every regime–Maurya or Gupta, Pratihara or Paramara, Khilji or Tughlaq, Mughal or British–had ruled with an unexpressed consent, or splendid indifference, of the masses. By asking the masses to stop cooperating with the raj, Gandhi was urging them to withdraw that consent, or end their indifference. He was giving every Indian a stake in India’s governance.</p> <p>Chauri Chaura was his first test. As he called off the movement in the wake of the violence saying India was not ready for peaceful struggle, every other leader, including Nehru and Patel, warned him against calling off the battle after unleashing the troops. Gandhi took it as a test of his own leadership–could he, like a general, call back his phalanxes after they had charged ahead, and then redeploy them?</p> <p>Miracle of miracles! Gandhi succeeded.</p> <p>The phase of violent mass uprisings ended with that. The few incidents of violence that India witnessed afterwards were individual acts, which, too, had their role in weakening the will of the rulers. The bomb bid in the central legislature by Bhagat and comrades, the attempt on Irwin’s train, the raid on the treasure train at Kakori, the attack on the Chittagong armoury were attempts at disrupting the smooth system of the colonial administration. The incidents unnerved the rulers, as much as did the Gandhian attempt at withdrawing cooperation with the regime, and then willfully breaking its laws.</p> <p>Subhas Bose’s attempt at seeking a military solution as the World War clouds gathered was a hark back to the early period of military resistance. The defeat of the Axis powers in the war, largely with the help of Indian troops, put paid to his dreams. However, the move to prosecute his troops as mutineers outraged India so much so that the British were forced to grant them pardon.</p> <p>Though Bose’s attempt failed, it kindled a rebellious military spirit among Indians. As that spirit burst forth in a communist-inspired naval mutiny, national leaders realised that it could have disastrous consequences on the constitutional stability of independent India. They intervened to pacify the rebels.</p> <p>But the mutiny had rung alarm bells across the empire. The British realised it was wiser to heed to the national leadership, and let the sun set peacefully on their raj.</p> <p>As it rose on an August morning 75 years ago on a new dominion, which would turn itself into a grand democratic republic led by a galaxy of the finest statesmen found anywhere in the post-colonial world, there were also marks of mass violence appearing ominously on the territorial horizons of a partitioned Bharatvarsh. &nbsp;</p> Sun Aug 15 22:32:30 IST 2021 is-bjps-effort-to-revive-memories-of-1922-chauri-chaura-revolt-a-poll-ploy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sometime before mayhem descended and much before the crowd was denounced as one of the criminals, the nervous anger that slithered through it had begun to dissipate.</p> <p>But then, the firing started.</p> <p>It was February 4, 1922. A crowd of volunteers who identified themselves as Mahatma Gandhi’s&nbsp;satyagrahis, the ones who were following his instructions on the non-cooperation movement (NCM), had marched to the Chaura police&nbsp;station. The event gets its name from the railway station of Chauri-Chaura that lay behind the&nbsp;police station. The name was a portmanteau of two adjacent villages that lay some 23km from Gorakhpur city in eastern Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>Three days earlier, on February 1, three <i>satyagrahis</i>—Bhagwan Ahir, Ramrup Barai and Mahadeo—were beaten up on the orders of Gupteshwar Singh, the sub-inspector of the&nbsp;station,&nbsp;when they were picketing Mundera Bazaar, a prosperous market of pulses, raw sugar and rice. Of the three, Ahir received the most severe beatings.</p> <p>Ahir had been a soldier in World War 1 for two years and had been posted at Basra. The policeman’s anger against Ahir was the greatest for he drew a government pension as an ex-soldier and yet, as Singh perceived, he wanted to overthrow the same government.</p> <p>Kallan Ahmed, the grandson of Nazar Ali, one of the leaders of the movement, who came from the village of Dumri Khurd—which was the epicentre of the political activity in the region—said: “Ahir was a strong man. But so merciless was the beating that he struggled to get back home.”</p> <p>Over the next three days, a spate of meetings was held, and it was decided that the volunteers would march to the&nbsp;police station&nbsp;to ask Gupteshwar Singh for an explanation for their behaviour. Letters were sent out to neighbouring villages in an approximately 10km radius, asking volunteers to gather at Dumri Khurd on the morning of February 4. It was at this village that a&nbsp;mandal&nbsp;committee of the NCM had been formed the previous month—on January 13, 1922.</p> <p>Ironically, some of these meetings were held in front of the home of Shikari—the approver deemed most reliable by the courts. Shikari’s son Ashik Ali still lives in Dumri Khurd and is not free of the taint of the past. “I know nothing of the event,” he told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;On the morning of February 4, volunteers, including Shikari, went from door to door in the village asking for contributions of jaggery and roasted rice–refreshment for the volunteers. The meeting venue was a threshing ground in the village. (This is disputed by the elderly residents of Dumri Khurd, who say it was held in an orchard of mango, jackfruit and&nbsp;shisham&nbsp;trees in the local cemetery). Here, sacks had been laid out for volunteers to sit on, in groups of six. Ali made a speech extolling the volunteers. He also said that anyone who left midway would be guilty of defiling their religion. Not a single volunteer left.</p> <p>Historical accounts of that march, which started sometime between 1:30pm and 2:00pm, indicates that just like the meeting, it was also an orderly affair. As the crowd marched to the&nbsp;police station,&nbsp;it swelled as passersby joined in. Though the speculation about the strength of the crowd varies, the High Court judgment in the case puts it between 1,000 to 1,500.</p> <p>At the&nbsp;police station, the volunteers spoke to Singh. It was, by some accounts, courteous, with the sub-inspector going as far as saying that Ahir was like a brother to him. With the matter resolved, the crowd moved on as planned to picket Mundera Bazaar.</p> <p>“And then someone said to Singh: ‘What a shameful act this is. You being a Thakur bowing to these low-caste men’,” recalls Sharda Nand Yadav, the great-grandson of Bikram Ahir, one of the 19 men hanged for the violence that followed.</p> <p>At this taunt, Singh ordered his&nbsp;<i>chowkidars</i>&nbsp;to hit their lathis on the ground, and the armed police to fire in the air. The large part of the crowd which had moved ahead sensed danger and returned to pelt the&nbsp;police station&nbsp;with ballast picked up from the railway track. A lathi-charge ensued and the police then fired into the crowd—killing at least three and injuring many others. This further enraged the crowd. Outnumbered, the police retreated into the&nbsp;police station.&nbsp;Some of the volunteers seized kerosene oil from the&nbsp;market&nbsp;and set the&nbsp;police station&nbsp;on fire. Other volunteers cut off the telegraph wires of the local post office to prevent the news from spreading.</p> <p>Twenty-two policemen (including constables and&nbsp;<i>chowkidars</i>) died in the fire. One severely injured&nbsp;<i>chowkidar</i>&nbsp;died a day later.</p> <p>An Indian National Congress report of an inquiry into the incident would later note: “Twenty-three men were beaten to death and all except a few of them burned. The&nbsp;<i>thana&nbsp;</i>was set on fire and the men who attempted to escape were driven back into it.” Yet, even in that fury, the volunteers offered safe passage to women and children (including the pregnant wife of Singh).</p> <p>The Gorakhpur Sessions Court said this about the killings: “The burning of the victims took place while some of them were still alive.… They poured kerosene oil on the corpses and set fire to them.” It would also link the event directly to the non-cooperation movement, “in the sense that if it had not been for the movement, it could not possibly have occurred”. Gandhi was central to the event for he called for the NCM and then stopped it. On February 12, Gandhi wrote in&nbsp;<i>Navjivan</i>&nbsp;an article titled, ‘Crime of Gorakhpur’. Four days later, in&nbsp;<i>Young India</i>, he called the violence the “deadly poison from Chauri Chaura”.</p> <p>The Congress Working Committee in its meeting in Bardoli, Gujarat, on February 11-12, 1922, passed resolutions condemning the “inhuman conduct of the mob at Chauri Chaura”, tendered its sympathy to the families of the deceased policemen and called off the non-cooperation movement as “the atmosphere in the country [was] not non-violent enough for mass civil disobedience”.</p> <p>There was nothing on the atrocities that the police had forced on the volunteers both before and after the incident. It was labelled a “<i>kand</i>”—a word for an abominable incident. The police launched a massive hunt for the perpetrators of the violence. Womenfolk scurried away to their paternal homes.</p> <p>“Chauri Chaura” became a metaphor for shame. Though its enormity could be gauged by the fact that the poorest had risen to commit an audacious act against a police force.</p> <p>It remains somewhat of a mystery why the distress that lay beneath the event at Chauri Chaura was not recorded then by even Munshi Premchand—a prolific writer who captured the agony of the peasantry in searing detail. The department of history at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University (DDU) was set up in 1958. Yet, till very recently it produced nothing of worth on Chauri Chaura.</p> <p>Then in 2021, the Union government and the Uttar Pradesh state government announced that the centenary of the event would be celebrated with year-long celebrations. On January 25, at the Constitutional Club of India, New Delhi, was released a Hindi book titled&nbsp;<i>Chauri Chaura, A Re-evaluation: A Local Event of National Significance</i> edited by Himanshu Chaturvedi, a professor of history at DDU.</p> <p>Chaturvedi said: “In history, it is not the event but its narration that is important. And the narrative on Chauri Chaura has been misguided and has divided [the people behind it] into [different] castes. Terming it subaltern is demeaning. The people who participated in it stood for the nation.”</p> <p>Chauri Chaura was, in fact, a fight of the “little people” led by Muslims, dalits and backward classes. Its leaders were men who were not even accorded the respect of having their full names listed in court documents. The same records prefixed Gupteshwar Singh’s name with “Thakur”.</p> <p>Shahid Amin’s&nbsp;<i>Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri-Chaura, 1922-1992</i>&nbsp;(1995), is the first academic work on the subject. In its prologue, Amin, a retired professor of history from Delhi University, describes it as the story of “anonymous characters from a self-defining event of Gandhian nationalism”.</p> <p>For Amin, the most fascinating part of his research for the book was the “strong presence” of Gandhi as the “author” of the movement. “Without his visit to Gorakhpur the preceding year, and the electric excitement it generated, the kind of mobilisation that happened would not have been possible,” he said. Yet, on February 4, 2021, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually inaugurated the centenary celebrations at the Chauri Chaura memorial, he omitted any reference to Gandhi.</p> <p>Subhash Chandra Kushwaha’s is the second published book on the event. Written, originally in Hindi (in 2014), the book’s English version&nbsp;<i>Chauri Chaura: Revolt and Freedom Struggle</i>&nbsp;(2021) draws material from the doctoral thesis of Anil Kumar Shrivastava&nbsp;and a booklet written by Ramamurti—a Gandhian from Gorakhpur.</p> <p>Kushwaha is dismissive of the contention that martyrs have no castes, pointing out that the two high caste men (among the 19 who were hanged) were accorded the respect of their surnames while the other 17 were not.</p> <p>“Characters from specific castes have been brought in to claim that this was a movement of all,” he said.</p> <p>Kushwaha believes that the government’s efforts to recast the movement in a light that links it to the idols it cherishes are bound to fail. “Claiming a role in what was done by people from the margins of society is a distortion of history. That is just an election ploy,” he said.</p> <p>He further explains this warping of history with reference to a filmmaker who wanted to know who the heroes of the movement were around which a movie on Chauri Chaura should revolve. “I said Nazar Ali and Lal Muhammed. The filmmaker said that was not possible in the current climate,” said Kushwaha.</p> <p>Nazar Ali was an ex-soldier and Lal Muhammed was a seller of coarse clothes. Both were wrestlers—an important fact as news of activities planned for the non-cooperation movement often and most swiftly travelled through the&nbsp;<i>akharas</i>, which were meeting points for men from different villages in the region.</p> <p>Mohammed Mainuddin, the great-grandson of Lal Muhammed said that the fact that his great-grandfather was “the biggest hero” of the event had brought no respect to the family. The Chauri Chaura Shaheed Smarak also leaves one confused. It has just two stone plaques engraved in Hindi and English about the details of the event. Many of these details are incorrect.</p> <p>As one enters the Smarak, to the left are painted pictures of the “shaheeds” of Chauri Chaura. All bear a generic look, distinguished only by a Gandhian cap here or a moustache there. At the centre of the Smarak is a reddish-brown stone monolith with flanking plaques bearing the names of the 19 martyrs who were hanged. Around it is a fountain—its water smelly and thick with algae. At one place on a brightly painted wall is written ‘Shaheed Smarak—Chauri Chaura&nbsp;Kand—February 1922’, next to a drawing of three nooses. Notice the use of that odious word&nbsp;<i>kand</i>&nbsp;and the missing date.</p> <p>The Smarak also has a library—with not one book on Chauri Chaura, except one copy of a booklet written, just in time for the February 4 kick-off, by Manoj Kumar Gautam, the deputy director of a Buddhist Museum in the district. The only historical document available in the library is a copy of the High Court judgment on the case. The only guide available to walk visitors through this is Lal Babu, the&nbsp;<i>chowkidar</i>, who admits to not having read anything on Chauri Chaura. “I only know what I have heard,” he said.</p> <p>The District Magistrate of Gorakhpur, K. Vijayendra Pandian, said that the government had acquired two acres adjacent to the memorial to build, among other things, an amphitheatre, and a digital library. The descendants of Chauri Chaura’s “political sufferers”, as Sharda Nand Yadav calls them, have more modest demands—such as a small memorial in Dumri Khurd, a stone plaque listing the names of not only the martyrs but also the many others who played their roles in the movement, and some literature on it for the young to read.</p> <p>There have been some attempts at reviving the memories of the movement. However, four generations down, the glories of martyrdom seem amorphous. In Rajdhani lives Akhtar Ali, the great-grandson of Abdullah, who was a key figure in the event. It is his name that figures in the title of the case that was filed at the sessions court—King-Emperor versus Abdullah and others.</p> <p>“It is not a question of glory when all you are struggling for is two meals a day,” said Akhtar Ali who works on construction sites in different states. It was that sense of being left with nothing that was coursing through the peasantry of Avadh in the colonial period.</p> <p>Chandra Bhushan Ankur, professor of modern history at DDU, drew a parallel between the distress of the peasantry under the British and of farmers today. “An imperial ruler, a native landlord and no control over one’s land—that lay at the heart of the distress then,” he said. “Now, one of the fears is that corporates will take over farming and there will be no safety nets.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammed Sajjad, professor of modern Indian history at Aligarh Muslim University, said today’s Indian peasantry is more assertive unlike the one in British India. “The [current] government is pushing them into a corner, hoping for them to indulge in violence so that it can respond likewise,” said Sajjad. “The peasantry was provoked in Chauri Chaura—but that fact though known was not popularised.”</p> <p>Hundred years after Chauri Chaura, its subdued voices have only grown louder. But its lessons seem to have grown feebler.</p> <p>Or, perhaps the nation’s collective will to listen has grown weaker.</p> <p><i><b>Note: The details of events, unless otherwise specified, are from Shahid Amin and Subhash Chandra Kushwaha’s books. The names of people and places are as they appear in the judgment of the sessions court.</b></i></p> Thu Aug 12 19:29:13 IST 2021 fearlessness-discipline-communal-harmony-the-big-lessons-from-kakori-martyrs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The desire to free one’s motherland from the shackles of serfdom was not a task devoid of delight.</p> <p>At least not for the members of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) who had gathered at the home of Rajendra Lahiri in Varanasi one summer.</p> <p>Lahiri, a post-graduate student of history with a deep knowledge of weapons, was the HRA’s district organiser. On that day, he challenged his comrades to jump from a ledge that hung some 20 feet above the inner courtyard of his home.</p> <p>Chandra Shekhar Azad was the first to go, followed by Ram Prasad Bismil. When Lahiri’s turn came, he climbed, touched the edge repeatedly and then chickened out. “He told his comrades that the dare had just been for fun and that a real champion could only be one who could polish off the greatest quantity of sondesh (a sweetmeat),” said Udai Khattri, the son of Ram Krishna Khattri. Khattri Sr was one of the 16 revolutionaries who spent anywhere from two years to a lifetime in jail for their involvement in the Kakori conspiracy (or Kakori train action). Khattri Jr, now 73, cannot date the incident at Varanasi, but uses it to illustrate the easy camaraderie among the men.</p> <p>In his autobiography, Bismil (meaning wounded; it was his nom de plume) writes of Ashfaqullah Khan—one among the four who was sent to the gallows—that when he lost consciousness once, the only words he said were, “Ram, hey Ram”. To onlookers, it was the strangest sight—a Muslim chanting the name of a Hindu god. But Khan, described as fair, handsome, tall and strong, was actually calling out to his good friend Bismil. Khan had dropped out of school after Mahatma Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement (NCM) in 1921. After its abrupt ending he persuaded a hesitant Bismil that he, too, be permitted to join the HRA, despite him being a police officer’s son. Both Bismil and Khan would be hanged on December 19, 1927. The former at Gorakhpur, the latter at Faizabad.</p> <p>The HRA was formed in 1924, as a reaction to the abrupt suspension of the NCM by Gandhi in 1922 after the Chauri Chaura incident. Radical action to overthrow the British government was the most extreme manifestation of the countrywide disappointment with Gandhi’s decision. Bismil, Sachindra Nath Bakshi, Sachindranath Sanyal and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee were the founders of HRA. Under Bhagat Singh’s influence, HRA would later be named the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.</p> <p>The train action was as necessary as it was audacious. The revolution needed funds—to procure arms, to publish and distribute literature, and to cover basic food and travel expenses of volunteers. Before the action at Kakori, there had been numerous “village hold-ups” that the revolutionaries had successfully attempted.</p> <p>In his book, <i>They Lived Dangerously; reminisces of a revolutionary</i>, Manmathnath Gupta (who was imprisoned for 14 years) recounts 13 such events which he participated in. These hold-ups targeted local <i>zamindars</i> and money lenders from whom cash and ornaments were to be looted. “Forced contributions” is how Manmathnath Gupta describes them. The yields from such loots were insufficient. There was also the danger of innocent villagers being killed in a crossfire.</p> <p>The associates then began to debate the possibility of looting a government treasure (for example, a bank). Khan opposed the idea, reasoning that such an act would blow their cover of secrecy and bring the young organisation in direct conflict with the British government. While the group was thinking this over, Bismil took a train from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow. Seated in a carriage next to the one which carried the guard, he noted that at every station the master would come and hand over a bundle to the train’s guard. Bismil guessed that this was the station’s earnings of the day. At Lucknow, the last stop, a coolie carried off a trunk under the guard’s supervision; Bismil surmised that the trunk contained all the bundles collected by the guard.</p> <p>The train Bismil was on was the 8 Down Passenger, which made a 90km trip. Bismil calculated that the trunk would contain around 010,000 by the time it reached Lucknow. It made sense to loot the trunk after the entire route’s earnings had been collected. Kakori was the penultimate halt. It would also be dusk by the time the train reached Kakori and this would provide cover to the operation.</p> <p>On August 9, 1925, ten members of the HRA would loot this train after it had crossed Kakori—a small town best known for its mangoes and kebabs, some 18km from Lucknow.</p> <p>The first attempt had been made on August 8, but as the revolutionaries reached the station, they saw the train whizz past them before its appointed hour. The next day, unwilling to take any chances, they boarded a train headed west from Lucknow—so that they could reach Kakori ahead of time.</p> <p>When the 8 Down pulled up, Khan, Lahiri and Bakshi boarded the second-class compartment with tickets. They were to pull the chain and stop the train just after it had left the station. Other revolutionaries—Bismil, Azad, Mukundilal, Murarailal Sharma, Kundan Lal Gupta, Manmathnath Gupta and Banwarilal—fanned out through the train’s third-class compartments.</p> <p>As the chain was pulled, the revolutionaries in the third-class compartments stepped out as though they were random passengers checking the reason for the halt. They then lined the length of the train on both sides, armed with Mauser pistols. They warned the passengers that as long as they downed the window shutters and did not step out no harm would come on them. Bullets were fired to emphasise the seriousness of that injunction.</p> <p>The guard had meanwhile been overpowered and the iron trunk secured. When the trunk couldn’t be jimmied open with a hammer and chisel, Khan stepped in. But just as the lid of trunk began to give way, the lights of an approaching train startled the group.</p> <p>The oncoming train (the Punjab Mail) rushed past without stopping. The trunk had by then yielded its treasure (much less than 010,000 though) and the revolutionaries decamped with it.</p> <p>The next day, newspapers would report that this sensational robbery had been carried out by 20 khaki-clad, masked men. The reports contained another falsehood that three men, including a European had been killed. (One of the warning shots had killed an Indian, but the revolutionaries had not realised it just then.)</p> <p>Government action was swift. By September the arrests had started, with Manmathnath Gupta (then only 14) being one of the first. Charges of conspiracy were slapped against 25 revolutionaries; the charge was not merely dacoity, but a larger conspiracy against the empire.</p> <p>Cases against two accused were withdrawn. Two switched over to the prosecution’s side.</p> <p>Among the key players, Azad, Keshab Chakravarti, Murari Lal Sharma, Mahaveer Singh, Kundan Lal Gupta and Ram Shankar escaped arrest.</p> <p>Azad, who had vowed that he would never be taken alive, took his life in a gun battle with the British in Alfred Park, Allahabad, on February 27, 1931. He had meanwhile tried to spring his comrades from jail.</p> <p>The defence committee for the revolutionaries was chaired by Motilal Nehru. The first hearing was held at a special court in Lucknow in December 1925. The revolutionaries were feted as heroes during their daily transfers to the court from the prison in Lucknow. They used those rides to chant ‘jai’ and sing patriotic songs. For Basant Panchami in 1926 (a festival that marks the advent of spring) they composed a song that went, “Mera rang de basanti chola… [Colour my robes saffron]”. It would go on to become a song synonymous with patriotism and sacrifice in popular culture.</p> <p>Six months later the case was transferred to the special sessions court of Justice Andrews Hamilton who had the reputation of being a “hanging judge”. On April 6, 1927, Hamilton sentenced Bismil and Lahiri to death. The third death sentence went to Roshan Singh—a surprise as he was not involved in the Kakori action, though he was a member of the HRA.</p> <p>Jitendra Pratap Singh, 48, the great-grandson of Roshan Singh said that there were very few memories handed down to the family, as Roshan Singh’s eldest son was only 11 when his father was hanged. Of those sentenced to death, Roshan Singh was the oldest and the only married man.</p> <p>Khan, who had been arrested much later, was sentenced to death in a supplementary trial in which the judgment was announced a month later. This trial upheld the three previous death sentences.</p> <p>The Kakori action and its aftermath illustrate some of the most sterling attributes of nationalism—among them fearlessness, discipline, and communal harmony. The relative youth of the revolutionaries and the blazing poetry they sang or created had an electric magnetism.</p> <p>The fascinating stories of the Kakori martyrs continued until their very last day. Lahiri was hanged in Gonda jail, two days before the others. One assumption is that this was done because the British feared there would be an attempt by his comrades to free him. Bismil approached the noose with the cry, “I want the end of the British empire”. Singh walked to the gallows, at Naini Jail in Allahabad with his copy of the Gita. He made one final lusty chant of “Vande Mataram” and “Om” before his smiling face was masked.</p> <p>Khan’s last wish was that he be given new garments of the finest fabric and itrr (oil-based perfume) for he was on his way to meet his bride—the noose.</p> <p>Till the end, they remained fiercely brave but identifiably human.</p> <p>The unmarried Khan, for instance, told his elder brother Riyasatullah, who visited him two days before the hanging, that he desired that a child in the family be named after him. This would ultimately be his brother’s great-grandson—as the family did not want the memory of his name to pain Khan’s mother, Mazhoor-un-nisa, who had nurtured his love for learning.</p> <p>“People come to his grave to collect the earth and we are invited to functions all over the country. But [the initiative to keep] the memory alive has been largely left to the families”, said Ashfaqullah Khan, 50, the martyr’s descendant.</p> <p>Bismil, who added to his autobiography until three days before he was hanged (the original manuscript is unavailable) signed it off with the couplet: “…Bismil, Roshan, Lahiri, Ashfaq die tortured, [but] from the stream of their blood will be born hundreds”.</p> <p>His last plea to his countrymen was, “…whatever you do, do it all together, do it for the good of the country. In this lies the good of all”.</p> <p>It is a plea still waiting to be heard.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 19:18:30 IST 2021 how-356-sepoys-of-bhopal-contingent-defied-begum-british-to-set-up-a-parallel-govt <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A massive neem tree amid a maize field acts as the only signpost. If not for the tree, one would miss the spot where a massacre took place in early 1858.</p> <p>We are at Saikdakhedi in Sehore, 40km from Bhopal and about 1km from the busy Bhopal-Indore highway. River Siwan flows close by. The neem tree on Sainik Chawni (cantonment) ground is said to mark the spot where 149 of 356 rebel sepoys of the Bhopal Contingent Force—a joint force raised by erstwhile Bhopal nawabs and the British—were killed by the British on January 14, 1858; the rest were killed in different spots on the ground. As per local lore, bodies of the sepoys were hung by the tree and later dumped in a common grave.</p> <p>It is only when one nears the neem tree that the concrete structures become visible. There is a newly built boundary wall that runs along just two sides of the 10-acre plot, a slightly older pavilion-like memorial structure under the tree and a much older whitewashed tomb. The tomb, which probably marks the grave, is almost buried under a heap of dumped irrigation pipes.</p> <p>The 10 acres were earmarked for the memorial thanks to Smarak Nirman Samiti, Sipahi Bahadur Sarkar, a citizens’ organisation. Anand Gandhi, 39, general secretary of the Samiti, is saddened by what he sees. The tomb is littered with dried leaves and other refuse. A buffalo is tied nearby. He removes some of the pipes and, picking up a dried branch, sweeps the tomb clean. He, along with the organisation president Omdeep Singh, 80, and social worker Jayant Shah, 57, silently pay homage to the martyrs with folded hands. “You would not imagine this is such an important spot, right?” asked Gandhi.</p> <p>Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that this spot was witness to one of the most significant stories of the 1857 uprising. A unique aspect of the Sehore mutiny is that the sepoys not only rebelled against Bhopal’s begum and the British but also set up a parallel government. Yet, their story remains forgotten and the spot neglected by government authorities, although it falls in the home district of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.</p> <p>The most detailed and authentic narrative of the Sehore revolt is found in <i>Sipahi Bahadur</i> (1994) by Asadullah Khan. It was later translated from Urdu to Hindi by state culture department’s Swaraj Sansthan. Khan’s book extensively quotes from preserved documents of the rebellion (<i>Gadar ke Kagzaat)</i>; <i>Hayat-e-Sikandari</i>, a biography of then Bhopal nawab Sikander Jehan Begum (reign: 1844-1868); the <i>Bhopal State Gazetteer</i> compiled by Captain C.E. Luard in 1908; <i>Central India</i> <i>during the Rebellion of 1857 and 1858</i> by Thomas Lowe, medical officer in the British army; and the <i>Delhi Gazette </i>of January 15, 1858. Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Shaharyar Khan, a descendant of the begum, also mentions the Sehore mutiny in his <i>The Begums of Bhopal</i> (1999).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rebellion and beyond</b></p> <p>The 1857 revolt against the British was slowly gaining ground in north India. Sehore, where the Bhopal Contingent Force was based, was already simmering. Many in the contingent were upset over low wages—they were paid only 03 to 04 per month, half of what the armies of Holkar and Scindia rulers were paid. On May 1, about 500 copies of a poster on rebellion were distributed among the sepoys. One of them, inspired by the poster, refused his wages and left for Delhi to join Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s force. He was removed from service, thus infuriating other soldiers.</p> <p>On July 1, rebel soldiers of Holkar army attacked the residency building in Indore cantonment. About 50 Englishmen were killed. Henry Marion Durand, the British political agent to Indore, sought help from the Bhopal begum and was brought safely to Sehore. The begum’s action upset the sepoys. Also, 14 rebel sepoys who were posted at Indore and Mhow returned to Sehore without permission and instigated the Bhopal soldiers. It had reached a point where the British political agent to Sehore—Major William Henry Rickards—and his family and associates were forced to flee to Hoshangabad on July 10.</p> <p>The unrest intensified when their commander-in-chief Bakhshi Murawwat Mohammad Khan set up a committee to check on the rebellious activities at the begum’s order. The committee ordered the dismissal of the 14 soldiers who had left Indore and Mhow, including the popular Koth Havaldar Mahavir and Subedar Ramjulal, among others. Fearing a mutiny, Mahavir and Ramjulal were spared. Later though, there was an order to arrest Mahavir and dismiss rebel leaders like Risaldar Wali Shah, his brother Arif and Ramjulal.</p> <p>Matters came to a head on August 6, 1857, when a probe at Ramlila ground in Sehore found that powdered bones of animals was mixed with sugar. And, there was an open revolt.</p> <p>As per records, on Shah’s call the sepoys who returned from Ramlila ground gathered at another spot in Sehore. Shah spoke about the begum’s allegiance to the British and the harassment of soldiers. Shah was declared leader of the rebel sepoys. He also announced the setting up of ‘Sipahi Bahadur Sarkar’, on the lines of the British’s Company Bahadur Sarkar. The Union Jack was pulled down from official buildings and two flags—Mahaviri Nishan and Nishan-e-Mohammadi—were unfurled, reportedly at Kotwali police station, as a mark of unity between Hindu and Muslim soldiers. This ‘independent and parallel government’ was established at Sehore.</p> <p>Soon, an administrative council called Mahaviri Council, headed by Mahavir, was formed. Two courts—probably for criminal and civil cases—were set up on August 8 and 9. The courts were headed by Shah and Mahavir.</p> <p>The begum tried to rein in the rebellion, ordering the dismissal of 137 rebels in September 1857. In October, a reward for their arrest was announced. Mahavir escaped to Garhi Ambapani, where the <i>jagirdar</i> (vassal) Fazil Mohammad Khan had also rebelled. Mahavir’s arrest order caused many sepoys to rebel. However, state forces attacked different rebel centres and killed leaders like Fazil, thereby weakening the rebellion.</p> <p>On January 14, 1858, General Hugh Rose, commander of the Central India Field Force, and his men entered Sehore and killed the arrested rebel soldiers. They later defeated the Rani of Jhansi and the forces of Scindias in May and June, respectively.</p> <p>Asadullah Khan wrote that 356 soldiers were killed in small groups on the day, without a fair trial. Of these, 149 were lined up at a single spot and shot, wrote Thomas Lowe.</p> <p>While Mahavir, who had escaped to Sagar, was executed on February 3, 1858, no records are available about Shah’s fate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lest we forget</b></p> <p>The government has done little to honour the martyrdom of these “early freedom fighters”. Anand Gandhi’s father Rishabh, a journalist, set up the Samiti almost 25 years ago. Every January 14, its members pay homage to the martyrs. It was thanks to the Samiti that then Union minister Anil Dave led a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ from the Saikdakhedi ‘Shaheed Sthal’ to Bhopal in August 2016. The pavilion was Dave’s initiative and was built with the state tourism department’s support. The Samiti managed to convince the district administration to build an approach road to the 10-acre plot. The boundary wall was built last year.</p> <p>The plot was part of the property owned by the now closed BSI Limited (Bhopal Sugar Industries Limited). With the district administration yet to formalise the memorial project, residents have started farming at the spot.</p> <p>Gandhi said that he had heard community elders say that the sepoy residences and a hillock used for firing practice near the spot were razed when BSI Limited came up in 1937. Only the neem tree was spared, and later the tomb was erected by residents. However, remnants of an elevated canal that carried water from River Siwan to the Sehore cantonment still exist close to the spot.</p> <p>“Things and memories have been lost and are likely to further fade away,” said Gandhi. “This is why we want the government to take over the spot and build a proper memorial with a museum and resource centre that could highlight the history of Sehore’s contribution to the 1857 freedom struggle.”</p> <p>Madhya Pradesh Culture Minister Usha Thakur told THE WEEK that if a proposal was sent to her, she would ensure that the memories of the martyrs were preserved and honoured.</p> <p>Sehore district collector Chandramohan Thakur said that he would collect more details about the proposed memorial project and initiate proper action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 19:09:17 IST 2021 attingal-revolt-was-among-earliest-acts-of-resistance-against-british-imperialism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The weather is sultry, and the air smells of dried fish. Dark clouds hover over the Anchuthengu Fort and the multi-coloured shanties of fishermen that flank it, but it does not rain. The iron rails circling the fort resemble a clothesline, with white <i>mundu</i> and saris hung to dry. The fort, with an area of just over an acre, looks more like a huge house. But it hides its past well—it is the lone memorial of one of the earliest “successful” resistances against British colonialism, wherein 130-odd Englishmen were killed by natives.</p> <p>The uprising happened exactly 300 years ago in 1721, and it happened in a region ruled by a queen: Attingal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Rani reign</b></p> <p>The Attingal principality, with the sea on one side and the Sahyadri on the other and rich with rivers and connecting water bodies, was the motherland of all rulers of Travancore. The rani of Attingal was the head of the Venad royal house, one of the four medieval kingdoms in Kerala, which followed a matrilineal system of inheritance. The most famous queen of Attingal was Aswathi Tirunal Umayamma Rani (1677-1698).<br> She was known for her valour, beauty and diplomacy. Umayamma was not only the queen of Attingal, but also the head of a confederacy of semi-independent states such as Travancore, Nedumangad, Kottarakkara, Kollam, Karunagappally and Kayamkulam. It was during her period that the British came to Attingal, seeking permission to build a fort in Anchuthengu or Anjengo, as the British called it. They came calling for the pepper from Nedumangad, one of the most sought-after spices in Europe then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tread in by trade</b></p> <p>The Portuguese, by virtue of being the early ones to arrive at the Malabar coast, had monopoly in all four kingdoms in Kerala—Venad, Cochin, Kozhikode and Kolathunadu. By the turn of the 17th century, the Dutch had monopolised the Kerala coast, as the natives preferred the better-mannered Dutch over the Portuguese.</p> <p>But soon, the English East India Company made inroads by appeasing the rulers. Umayamma welcomed the British in Attingal, thinking it would end the Dutch monopoly and bring more money to her land. It was opposed by the Dutch and the merchants supporting them. The British, however, showered the queen with precious gifts and got permission to build a fort in 1694. They also got exclusive rights to buy pepper at a much cheaper rate than what the Dutch were offering.</p> <p>This led to huge protests from farmers—mostly Nairs and Ezhavas—and also traders, mostly Muslims. A section of the feudal lords with an army of their own—the Pillais—also turned against the British. “While rani remained the figurative head of the Attingal kingdom, the real power rested with these Pillais who were her ministers,” said historian M.G. Sashibhushan.</p> <p>Following the unrest, Umayamma asked the British to stop the construction of the fort. When they refused, she sent troops to the site. The troops, however, stood no chance before the guns and cannon balls of the British. On July 27, 1694, Anjengo became a full settlement of the English. Umayamma died in 1698, regretting her decision.</p> <p>Around the same time, the Company sent a new officer—William Gyfford—to the fort to rein in corruption as some officers were indulging in private trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A revolt in the making</b></p> <p>The two rulers who succeeded Umayamma were weak, and the British made deeper inroads into Attingal. The Dutch were made powerless. The British also exploited the lack of unity among the Pillais. By the 1720s, the British dictated the terms of merchandise in Attingal.</p> <p>The natives were already fed up with the unethical trade practices of the British. To add to it, Gyfford and his wife, Catherine, would make fun of their religious practices. He and his Portuguese assistant—lgnatio Malhiero—were also averse to Muslims. Catherine apparently would throw dirty water on them when they visited the fort.</p> <p>Moreover, the English started buying properties around the famous Sarkaradevi temple, infuriating the natives, who always suspected that the English had a religious motive as well. Worse, Gyfford and his men humiliated the ‘potti’(the Brahmin priest) of the temple. The priest and his family reportedly committed suicide.</p> <p>The natives had suffered enough. They approached Kudaman Pillai, one of the most prominent ministers of the kingdom, and requested him to lead a revolt against the British. While Pillai—well-trained in <i>kalari</i>—agreed, he knew the natives stood no chance before the advanced weaponry of the British. With his nephew’s support, he invited <i>kalari</i> experts from the north and south to train the natives—both Hindus and Muslims. “The people of Attingal came together against the British, forgetting caste, class and religious barriers,” said C.V. Giri Aradhya, author of <i>Attingal Kalapam</i>. “It was a rare act at that point in time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The fateful visit</b></p> <p>Gyfford and his officers got a whiff of the brewing hatred against them, and thought it prudent to win over the queen. He decided to pay her a visit. Vanchimuttam Pillai, a minister who was close to the British, advised him against visiting the queen, but he insisted. And, the queen invited him to the palace to celebrate Vishu.</p> <p>Gyfford set sail for Attingal in three huge boats with 132 Englishmen (some say 133) and an equal number of slaves. While sailing through the Vamanapuram River, he saw crowds gathered on its banks. He apparently waved at them, thinking they were there to greet him. Little did he know that they were the <i>kalari</i> warriors.</p> <p>Gyfford presented the queen with gold coins, velvet and perfume. He and his team were served the traditional feast, and liquor, too. As night set in, Kudaman Pillai and his<i> kalari</i> warriors entered the palace. The result: none of the Englishmen survived.</p> <p>Historians are, however, divided on the location of the attack. Some say it took place at the palace when the drunk Englishmen were asleep; others say it happened when they were sailing back to Anchuthengu.</p> <p>The fact, however, remains that the entire British crew was decimated. “They [natives] were so fast that the British died before they realised what was happening,” said historian Prof T.P. Shankarankutty Nair. According to him, the bodies of British leaders, like Malhiero and Gyfford, were cut into pieces. Gyfford’s tongue, too, was chopped into pieces and thrown into the river.</p> <p>“The brutality with which the British were treated was proof of the agony and humiliation the natives must have suffered at the hands of the British,” said Giri Aradhya. “The river had turned red for a while with all the dead bodies floating in it.”It is said that the river got the name Kollumbuzha (the river that kills) after the incident.</p> <p>“While 134 British soldiers died, none from the native side died. That is quite unique in our fights against colonial powers,” said historian Rajan Gurukkal. “The Attingal revolt may not be nationalistic in fervour, but it certainly sprang from love for one’s motherland.”</p> <p>The Company records, however, only mention 23 casualties. “It was the Dutch records that gave a clear picture about the casualties,” said Sashibhushan.</p> <p>Historians are also divided on whether the queen was aware of the attack. Some like Nair say that the attack had her silent approval. “Though she blamed Kudaman Pillai for the ‘heinous’ act, the raja of Travancore blamed her for the massacre,” said Nair. “The Dutch records also blame the queen for her connivance.” Giri Aradhya, however, said that the queen would not have allowed the attack if she had information. “The fact that rani wrote a letter of apology to the British is proof of this,” he said.</p> <p>As news about the killings reached the fort, family members of the dead officers were shifted to Kollam, and the remaining soldiers took guard of the fort. Natives tried to ambush the fort, but fell back after they were fired at.</p> <p>According to research scholar A. Anilkumar, the natives blocked trade for nearly six months until additional forces arrived. “The natives sent a clear message to the Company that there will be resistance if they went ahead with their deceit and unethical practices,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Repercussions of the revolt</b></p> <p>When the Attingal rani apologised for the bloodshed, the British not only demanded a hefty compensation, but also saw to it that the family of Kudaman Pillai was decimated.</p> <p>When Marthanda Varma, founder of the Travancore dynasty, came to power in 1729, he put an end to feudalism. He saw the Pillais as a threat to his sovereignty and decimated them with the help of the British. He also annexed Attingal and merged it with Travancore state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Off the records</b></p> <p>Despite being the first incident of native resistance against the British, the Attingal revolt finds little mention in the Travancore records or even the Company records.</p> <p>“The revolt of 1721 is one of the earliest of the anti-English and anti-foreign upheavals of India, staged 36 years before the Battle of Plassey and 136 years before the 1857 struggle for freedom,” said Nair. “It is unreasonable and illogical that this fight has been sidelined by historians.”</p> <p>The British, said Sashibhushan, tried to underplay the incident as it would affect their international standing. “The Company would also find<br> it difficult to get recruits from Britain if the magnitude of the bloodshed gets reported<br> correctly,” he said. “Palace historians tried to downplay it as they were worried it would affect the foreign trade from Attingal.” According to Anilkumar, the revolt is not much celebrated “as it had no royal patronage”. Said Anilkumar: “Attingal revolt was the first ever resistance of common men—farmers, fishermen and traders—against a colonial power. It should not have been neglected like this.”</p> <p>Even in Kerala, history textbooks have only two lines on the revolt. “You are lucky if you have studied at least two lines about the Attingal revolt in school. In our times, even that was not there,” said Kerala Council for Historical Research chairman Michael Tharakan, adding that more in-depth research into the revolt is required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>All that remains...</b></p> <p>The Attingal rani’s palace is in a sorry state today. Nobody would say that queens whose writ was revered all over south Kerala lived here. A major portion of the palace is in a dilapidated state and some portion has been sold to private hands. The rest is being renovated by the state culture department.</p> <p>The natives barely have any idea about its history or the revolt. “I have heard some stories about Umayamma Rani and the revolt from my grandmother when I was a child,” said Narayanan Kutty, who stays next to the palace. “But who remembers all that now?”</p> <p>The Attingal fort, meanwhile, has caught public fancy, thanks to a ‘secret tunnel’ that opens to the sea. Many colourful stories are being spread about it and the fort, which is now under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India.</p> <p>Look deep into the tunnel, and all one can see is darkness, but one can hear the sound of waves at a distance—just like how history whispers truths to those who care to delve deeper.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 19:02:37 IST 2021 anjengos-eliza <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Attingal was quite famous in London literary circles of the 18th century, not because of the revolt but because it was the birthplace of a pretty woman of “great calibre”—Eliza Draper. She was the muse of Laurence Sterne, author of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>.</p> <p>But Draper was more than just a muse. Witty and frank, she was a chronicler of her times—her letters to her cousins carried keen observations about life in pre-independent India. The letters, preserved in the private collection of Lord Basing, were routed into a book, <i>Sterne’s Eliza</i>.</p> <p>In a letter to Eliza, Sterne wrote: “Who taught you the art of writing so sweetly, Eliza? You have exalted it to the level of science… their sense, natural ease, and spirit, is not to be equall’d, I believe, in this section of the globe; nor, by any of your country women in yours.”</p> <p>Eliza was born at Anchuthengu in Attingal on April 5, 1744. Her father May Sclater was secretary of the Anjengo Fort, and mother Judith Whitehill was the daughter of the fort’s chief Charles Whitehill. Scalter died in 1746 and Judith died two years later, leaving three daughters in the care of her parents.</p> <p>Eliza married Daniel Draper, a senior official at the East India Company. He was 20 years older and the marriage was set to doom from the word go. If she was a vivacious girl, full of energy, he was a dull man who rarely smiled.</p> <p>On a visit to London, Eliza met Sterne, who was captivated by her vivacity and intelligence. Three months later, Eliza left for India. Sterne immortalised her in his books. He died from consumption a year later without seeing her again.</p> <p>Eliza was least concerned about the stifling British moral codes. She ended her marriage with Draper, writing a note to him, and left for London. She became the life and soul of the London literary circles—a rare thing for a woman in those days.</p> <p>In 1778, she met French writer Guillaume Thomas Raynal and reportedly helped him write <i>Histoire des deux Indes</i>. Eliza died the same year and Raynal wrote a tribute: “Territory of Anjengo, thou art nothing; but thou hast given birth to Eliza.... The men used to say that no woman had so many graces as Eliza; the women said so too. They all praised her candour; they all extolled her sensibility; they were all ambitious of the honour of her acquaintance.”</p> Thu Aug 12 18:54:14 IST 2021 the-real-story-behind-sanyasi-rebellion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 1872, the Bengali poet-journalist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay published <i>Anandamath</i>, a historical novel set in the background of the Sanyasi Rebellion of the late 18th century. It became an instant classic, inspiring generations of nationalists to struggle against the colonial rule as the sanyasis had done. Many such nationalists went to the gallows singing the poem in <i>Anandamath</i> that would later become India’s national song—‘Vande Mataram’.</p> <p>While the greatness of <i>Anandamath</i> as a work of literature is not disputed, the true nature of Sanyasi Rebellion is. Many historians have taken issue with Chattopadhyay’s naming of the rebellion itself. Since both Hindu and Muslim monks had revolted, a more apt name would have been Fakir-Sanyasi Rebellion, they say. Historians abroad have even suggested that the contribution of fakirs was much more than that of the sanyasis.</p> <p>In <i>Anandamath</i>, Chattopadhyay portrays the sanyasis as selfless residents of a sacred abbey. Historians say the monks who began to rebel against the British in 1760 were Dashnami Naga Sanyasis, who wore little or no clothes and lived in <i>akharas</i>—monasteries that doubled as armouries and training centres. According to the historian Jamini Ghosh, who wrote about the rebellion in the 1930s, the movement does not deserve to be called the first struggle against the British rule, even though it was a united revolt of Hindu and Muslim monks against the British led by Warren Hastings, who took over as governor general of Bengal in 1772. “They (the sanyasis and fakirs) were aggressive plunderers in religious garb, tormenting the Bengal countryside,” wrote Ghosh.</p> <p>When the rebellion started, British rule had not yet been properly established. The East India Company was still a trade licensee of the Mughal emperor in Delhi. The Naga monks were also traders largely based in Varanasi. Many of them had travelled through Bihar and settled in North Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district bordering Nepal. The Nagas used to trade with Nepal; for them, North Bengal served as a trade corridor. Over time, the Nagas population also spread to south Bengal.</p> <p>“They were resourceful and influential, and kept on purchasing land,” said Shouvik Mukhopadhyaya, head of the department of history at Calcutta University. “They also used to impose levies on common people, and carried arms with them while travelling.”</p> <p>The fakirs were from Persia; they settled in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh in the 17th century. They later spread to Bihar and Bangladesh, which were part of undivided Bengal then. Belonging to the Madariya sect that believed in the Sufi philosophy, the fakirs did not follow sharia. “In fact, many doubted whether they could be called true Muslims,” said Mukhopadhyaya. “They were influential and engaged in money-lending.” The rebellion was only intended to protect their interests. The East India Company had by then secured the <i>dewani</i> from the Mughals, allowing it to streamline administration and revenue collection in Bengal. After he became governor general, Hastings also challenged the charging of levies by the sanyasis and fakirs.</p> <p>“The tussle soon escalated to rebellion as both the fakirs and sanyasis used to carry arms and were physically trained,” said Mukhopadhyaya. “Interestingly, the rebellion went on for more than three decades. Historians say nationalism was not a reason for the rebellion, because the definition of one’s ‘country’ was then very local.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 18:50:40 IST 2021 revisiting-sites-that-shaped-indian-polity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The name of a north Bengal village makes many shudder today. It came into the news five decades ago and modern-day dissenters are tagged to the name of the village: they are called “Urban Naxals”. Located 3km from the Nepal border, Naxalbari was the birthplace of an armed revolt by peasants, which gave a new term to the political lexicon. The armed Naxalites have a presence in over 50 districts. “This shows the relevance of Naxalbari even after 50 years,” said Abhijit Mazumdar, son of revolutionary Charu Mazumdar. “The flaming fields now have extended far and wide.”</p> <p>Existing in a parallel narrative is Ayodhya, an ancient city being prepped as the Hindu capital of the country with Ram as the presiding deity. The temple, a symbol of Hindu nationalism, will be opened for <i>darshan</i> by December 2023. The city has sharply influenced the political history of the country and the fortunes of the BJP. Mahant Satyendra Das, the chief priest at the Ram Temple, also an eyewitness to the tumultuous events of Ayodhya, confirmed to THE WEEK that his Guru Abhiram Das placed the idol of Ram Lalla inside the disputed structure in 1949—an act that would change the course of the country.</p> <p>As we embark on year-long celebrations of the 75th year of independence, it is also a time to revisit stories from some of the key places that have shaped our polity: from Naxalbari to Ayodhya; Lal Chowk in Srinagar to Pokhran; Anandpur Sahib in Punjab to Kumarakom in Kerala; Nagpur to Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu. THE WEEK visited 12 places to hear from eyewitnesses who unwittingly became characters in some important events in the nation’s history.</p> <p>In 1956, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of our Constitution, did an act of defiance from Nagpur to fight casteism. He, and lakhs of followers from the dalit community, quit Hinduism to embrace Buddhism. Nagpur is also the headquarters of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Ironically, the <i>sangh</i> had embraced Ambedkar to bring dalits into the Hindu nationalistic fold. However, in 1981, when 300 dalit families converted to Islam in Meenakshipuram to escape caste violence, many of the <i>sangh parivar</i> outfits descended on the small village to reconvert them to Hinduism. The event thus became a precursor to anti-conversion laws now being brought in by various BJP-ruled states.</p> <p>In the last 75 years, different versions of nationalism and regional identities have swept the country. The 1998 Pokhran nuclear test was arguably the most important event that contributed to the rise of muscular nationalism–the kind that is now being practised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But, as THE WEEK discovered, the residents of Khetolai, the closest village to the blast spot, suffered a lot because of the event.</p> <p>In contrast, Lal Chowk in Srinagar is a symbol of divergent categories of nationalism. Unfurling a tricolour on the street has been portrayed as a valiant act of nationalism. The terror groups, too, have tried to unfurl their flags as a sign of assertion.</p> <p>We also bring stories from places that witnessed the events that would set the ideological trajectory of some of our major political parties. In 2000, the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to Kumarakom, a scenic village in Kerala, to have a vacation. He wrote two essays from here that had a reconciliatory tone on two “legacy” issues—Kashmir and Ayodhya. Two decades later, the new BJP under Modi-Amit Shah has realised these ideological goals, albeit aggressively. The 1955 All Indian Congress Committee session in Avadi, Tamil Nadu, made the grand old party adopt a socialist line, which is still reflected in its ideals of rights-based governance. Anandpur Sahib in Punjab is a place of great significance for the Shiromani Akali Dal as it is here that the party adopted a comprehensive document—referred to as the Magna Carta of Sikh aspirations—in 1973. It was decried as a separatist document, only to find its relevance again when talks of redefining Centre-state relations are gaining credence.</p> <p>In 1977, months after suffering a humiliating defeat after Emergency, Indira Gandhi set a unique example of political outreach. Her visit to Belchi—a remote village in Bihar where a dalit massacre jolted the nation—caught the country’s attention, and helped Indira to regain power. However, Janaki Paswan, 82, the lone surviving witness of the massacre, told THE WEEK that the condition of Belchi’s poor remained unchanged.</p> <p>Shimla, which features because of an eponymous agreement of 1972 between India and Pakistan, is no longer a hot favourite for political conferences; as veteran journalist P.C. Lohumi remarked, all the conferences (including those under British rule) that have taken place in Shimla have either failed or were not in the interest of India.</p> <p>India is too vast to be covered in a few events, but some of these forgotten events had been catalysts for wider changes. The idea of this nation exists beyond the dominant narrative. Some echoes can be heard in the collective consciousness of the people who have been witness to the epochal changes, yet themselves remained unchanged.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 18:45:05 IST 2021 srinagars-lal-chowk-always-at-centre-of-politics-and-clashes-in-kashmirs-history <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For a while, it was known as Palladium Chowk because of the Palladium Talkies cinema hall that was started by a philanthropist in 1932. But in the early 1940s, Sikh leftist and intellectual B.P.L. Bedi, father of actor Kabir Bedi and a confidant to National Conference leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, named it Lal Chowk (Red Square) after the Red Square of Moscow. Since then, this square in Srinagar has been an important landmark</p> <p>In 1947, the NC, which opposed the autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh, shifted party headquarters to Lal Chowk from Zaina Kadal in downtown Srinagar after Singh fled from Kashmir to Jammu to avoid the Pakistani tribals who were advancing on Srinagar. After the Indian Army landed in Kashmir and prevented the tribals from reaching Srinagar, a UN-mandated ceasefire between India and Pakistan over Kashmir came into effect. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru then visited Kashmir and addressed a gathering of mostly NC supporters, who had joined the local militia to fight the tribals. He told the gathering that after normalcy is restored, the issue of Kashmir’s accession would be decided by holding a UN-supervised plebiscite. “Even if you decide against accession to India, your wishes will be respected,” he declared, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Sheikh responded to Nehru’s speech by quoting a couplet of Persian poet Amir Khusroo, “<i>Mun tu shudum tu mun shudi; Mun tun shudam tu jan shudi; Ta kas na goyad baad azeen, mun deegram, tu deegray</i>” (You become me, and I become you; I am the body and you are the soul; henceforth, let nobody say we are separate from each other).</p> <p>In 1953, Sheikh, who was prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was deposed and arrested on orders of Nehru on charges of conspiring against Kashmir’s accession with India. Sheikh and his supporters then launched the Plebiscite Front to demand a plebiscite in Kashmir. In 1963, when the holy relic at Hazratbal shrine went missing, scores of people staged a sit-in at Lal Chowk until the relic was recovered. In 1975, when Sheikh signed an accord with prime minister Indira Gandhi and abandoned the Plebiscite Front, he addressed a large crowd at Lal Chowk and defended his ditching of the Plebiscite Front. He accused Pakistan of misleading people in Kashmir over the Indira-Sheikh Accord.</p> <p>In 1980, Bajaj Electricals raised a clock tower at Lal Chowk with the company’s logo and clock to advertise the company’s products in Kashmir. In 1988, when militancy erupted in Kashmir, many rallies were held by separatists in and around Lal Chowk. Sometimes, the supporters of militant groups would also hoist flags of Pakistan and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on the clock tower. Later, the BSF constructed a bunker at the spot to deter separatists from housing flags atop the clock tower.</p> <p>On January 26, 1992, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi took out the ‘Ekta Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Srinagar and hoisted the national flag at the clock tower. He was accompanied by a group of BJP leaders including Narendra Modi. In 2008, when Kashmir erupted against the transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board at Batlal in Ganderbal, thousands of people gathered at Lal Chowk and hoisted Pakistani flags on the clock tower.</p> <p>In 2011, the BJP Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP, announced another ‘Ekta Yatra’ from Kolkata to Srinagar to inform people on the Kashmir issue and challenge pro-Pakistan separatists by hoisting the flag of India at Lal Chowk on Republic Day. The move was opposed by the Congress and the NC fearing it would stir unrest. While the majority of BJYM members were stopped from reaching Kashmir, senior BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley continued the march until they were stopped from entering Jammu and Kashmir from Punjab. The BJP members in the rally were subsequently arrested and released after the Republic Day celebrations were over.</p> <p>Besides being the business centre of Kashmir, Lal Chowk has some important buildings in the vicinity, like the Tyndale Biscoe School. The school was founded in 1880 by missionaries and was named after Canon Cecil Tyndale-Bisco. NC president and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, JKLF first commander Ishfaq Majeed Wani and Muslim League leader Masarat Alam are alumni of the school.</p> <p>At walking distance from the school is the Press Enclave, where national, international and local media have their offices. The Palladium Talkies, which was reduced to a heap of debris during militancy, now houses a CRPF camp. On the other side is Maisuma, which has earned the sobriquet of Gaza of Kashmir, because of recurring clashes between security forces and separatists after the eruption of militancy in Kashmir. Maisuma is also the place where the jailed JKLF leader Yasin Malik lived all his life.</p> <p>During the 2019 security and communication lockdown on Kashmir, Lal Chowk was the first to be sealed by the security forces with concertina wire. Other sites in the vicinity include Court Road, Pratap Park, Residency Road and the Polo View, where tourists come for shopping.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 18:40:10 IST 2021 kagodu-satyagraha-an-uprising-that-demanded-dignity-for-peasants <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Varada river flows quietly along Kagodu, a hamlet in Sagara Taluk of Shivamogga district in Karnataka, nourishing vast tracts of paddy fields, coconut, banana and areca plantations. In 1951, this village witnessed an important peasant uprising named Kagodu Satyagraha, which set the scene for major land reforms in Karnataka two decades later. Driven by landless peasants from a backward community called Deevaras, the defining moment of the movement was that it spelled the end of the exploitative&nbsp;gowda-genidaara&nbsp;(landlord-tenant farmer) relation in Karnataka’s Malenadu region.</p> <p>“Lohia&nbsp;mara”, a peepal tree planted by the socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia who came to support the agitation, remains the only symbol that reminds the village about the agitation. The satyagraha was started with the&nbsp;Kolagada&nbsp;jagala—a dispute over&nbsp;<i>kolaga</i>, a container used to measure agriculture produce grown by tenant farmers. While the landlords used a smaller&nbsp;<i>kolaga</i>&nbsp;(of three measures) to loan grains to the tenant farmer, they used a bigger&nbsp;<i>kolaga</i>&nbsp;during the loan repayment.</p> <p>H. Ganapathiyappa, a freedom fighter belonging to the Deevara community from the neighbouring Siddapura village, was the architect of the Kagodu Satyagraha. Ganapathiyappa had taken part in the Quit India Movement, and had spent time in Sirsi and Hindalagi jails before coming to Hirenellur in Sagara taluk. There he started a school in an attic of a Lingayat landlord.&nbsp;</p> <p>A temple row that erupted in 1948 about installing new idols in a temple in nearby Hirenellur village was the precursor of events that would lead to the agitation. The Deevaras were the main contributors—but the landlords tried to steal the credit for its installation. Ganapathiyappa responded to it by printing a handbill in the name of Deevara Mandali&nbsp;(Deevara Circle),&nbsp;which made the landlords furious. They shut down his school and sent men to attack him. This made him flee his home in Siddapura. He started teaching at the Mariamma Temple in Hirenellur and began mobilising men from his community.&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 4, 1951, with the support of leaders from the community, he founded the Sagara Taluk Raitha Sangha. Ganapathiyappa then began to sensitise the Deevara youth about their rights. The disparity in the size of the&nbsp;<i>kolagas</i>&nbsp;became a contentious issue and snowballed into a full-fledged peasant agitation. The slogan&nbsp;<i>uluvavane neladodeya</i>&nbsp;(tiller is the owner) was first coined during this agitation—after socialist leaders started associating with it.</p> <p>Interestingly, K.G. Wodeyar, a Gandhian Congress leader (who had won the Lok Sabha seat from Shivamogga in 1952 and 1957), was the main target of the satyagraha. Guruvayya Gowda, the youngest brother of Wodeyar, refused to budge to the demands of the peasants. He argued that the terms of tenancy were non-negotiable as the&nbsp;<i>geni</i>&nbsp;(food grains) collected from the tenants in Kagodu was much less compared with those in nearby villages. Gowda then issued a diktat against the agitating farmers entering his fields. He had the support of other <i>zamindars</i> and government officials.</p> <p>However, in April 1951, a section of farmers entered the fields for sowing. The landlords chased them out, confiscated their ploughs and filed cases of criminal trespass against them.&nbsp;This made Ganapatiyappa and others intensify the movement. Soon, farmers from other taluks and socialists from Bengaluru, Kolara, Davangere, Chitradurga and Shivamogga came in batches to be part of the movement. Every day, the agitators would try to enter the fields and the police would arrest and bundle them into the sub-jail in Sagara.</p> <p>Lohia landed in Kagodu to support the movement on June 14, 1951. On his way back, he, along with a few other leaders, were arrested by the police at the Sagara railway station. On September 21, 1951, socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan visited the Sagara jail and told the&nbsp;satyagrahis&nbsp;that their agitation had caught national attention. Soon, the farmers were released, but without a clear roadmap on the agitation.</p> <p>G. Rajashekhar, author of&nbsp;Kagodu Satyagraha&nbsp;says that the movement ended on a compromising note. “It neither demanded land ownership nor challenged the status quo, the social hierarchy or the power equation between the landlord and the tenant farmer,” he said. “It did not factor in the rights of landless labourers or dalits in the village. The satyagraha seemed like a mere dispute over the&nbsp;kolaga.&nbsp;However, it did mobilise the oppressed Deevara community to unite and find their voice.”</p> <p>Kannada writer from Sagara, Na D’Souza, who has authored&nbsp;<i>Kolaga</i>,&nbsp;a Kannada novel inspired by the farmers’ movement, points out that before the&nbsp;satyagraha, a Deevara was even not allowed to wear footwear, or new clothes while walking in front of his zamindar’s house. “food was served to the&nbsp;genidaara&nbsp;only at the&nbsp;<i>naayi katte</i>&nbsp;[place where dogs are fed] in the <i>zamindar</i>’s backyard,” he said.</p> <p>Ganapathiyappa’s wife Manjamma, who lives with her son Hoysala at Vadnala, remembers her husband as a person who was committed to the movement. “My husband was not subservient to the Wodeyars as he was educated,” she said. In 1974, the Congress government led by D. Devaraj Urs brought in reforms that granted land ownership to peasants. Ironically, Ganapathiyappa’s family did not get land for a long time even after the reforms. “Some local politicians ensured that we do not get land as they wanted to keep my father’s political growth under check,” says Umesh, the eldest son of Ganapathiyappa.</p> <p>The Wodeyar family, too, reminisces the old times. “The Sagara Taluk had many landlords who owned more land than us, but it was an irony that a kind-hearted and cultured man like my father was targeted,” said Susheela, daughter of Wodeyar.</p> <p>“Wodeyar was soft-spoken, a freedom fighter and a Gandhian. But his two brothers were feudalistic like other landlords in the region,” reasons Umesh. “The agitators chose Wodeyar to catch the attention of the government.”</p> Thu Aug 12 18:36:35 IST 2021 the-1955-avadi-congress-session-set-india-on-the-path-of-a-socialist-society <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Avadi is one of Chennai’s busiest industrial areas. The Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), the Ordnance Factory Board (ODF), which houses the locomotive factory, and the DRDO’s Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) have given this populous western suburb of Chennai much national significance. But more than the defence establishments, it was at Avadi that India was set on a socialist economic path, nearly six decades ago.</p> <p>The 70th session of the Indian National Congress was held in February 1955 under the presidency of U.N. Dhebar. The reception committee was headed by noted freedom fighter Ambujammal. She was the daughter of S. Srinivasa Iyengar, who presided over the 58th Congress session at Guwahati in 1928. Ambujammal writes in her book <i>Naan Kanda Bharatham</i> (The Bharat I witnessed) that a new Congress was born at the 1955 Avadi session, shunning its old image.</p> <p>“I was hesitant to be the head of the reception committee for the conference,” she wrote. “But [Madras chief minister] K. Kamaraj convinced me, saying I was the competent person [to do it]. However, I was worried, as everything had to go on well and the conference had to be successful.” In another chapter, Ambujammal notes: “We met at Avadi and resolved to establish a socialistic pattern of society. At Avadi, the Congress also drew up a fresh economic policy.”</p> <p>Former Jammu and Kashmir prime minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and the president of Yugoslavia Marshal Josip Broz Tito attended the 1955 convention as special invitees. As a result of the convention, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Soviet Union in June that year and invited Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin and the man who would succeed him, Nikita Krushchev, to India and asked them to develop heavy industries in the public sector. In August 1955, Khrushchev and Bulganin visited India.</p> <p>As Ambujammal wrote, the conference and resolutions passed at the conference paved the way for economic and industrial growth in the decades to follow by the opening of public sector units, employment opportunities, a progressive rise in the standard of living, equality of opportunity, establishment of heavy industries and development of small-scale industries unlike ever before.</p> <p>Avadi sowed the seeds to build India by way of Jawaharlal Nehru’s diplomacy, Ambujammal noted. Over the months that followed, there were deliberate attempts by the legislation to implement the resolutions passed in the Avadi conference. The deliberations by Nehru, Morarji Desai and other Congress veterans at the conference led to a consensus to facilitate the forward march of privatisation and liberalisation in India.</p> <p>Later that year, on Gandhi Jayanti, the shell division of the Integral Coach Factory was inaugurated by Nehru in the presence of Railways minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Kamaraj and MPs O.V. Alagesan and R. Venkataraman, who would become India’s eighth President.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 18:29:27 IST 2021 how-nagpur-became-the-home-of-rss-hindutva-and-ambedkars-navayana-buddhism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nagpur is at the heart of India, geographically. The city, famous for its oranges, is also the heart of two prominent political ideologies that have widely influenced the nation’s political discourse. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, mother organisation of the BJP and the larger <i>sangh parivar,</i> was founded in Nagpur by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and his associates in 1925. Similarly, the Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur is where B.R. Ambedkar, architect of the Indian Constitution, renounced Hinduism and converted to Buddhism with six lakh followers on October 14, 1956. It paved the way for a strong dalit voice in national politics. Ambedkar’s Navayana Buddhism and the RSS’s hindutva ideology are thus products of Nagpur.</p> <p>In 1956, the entire dalit population of Nagpur was charged up on the day of Ambedkar’s <i>dhamma deeksha</i> (dharma initiation), and many others had come from other places. Among them was a young Jogendra Kawade, who would later become a member of Parliament. The senior dalit leader told THE WEEK that he was 13 when he embraced Buddhism. “I was in class eight and was part of the volunteer brigade that had been set up to ensure all the arrangements were taken care of on<i> dhamma parivartan din</i> (day of change),” he said. “My father had converted to Buddhism a year before, so he was invited to perform <i>bhumi poojan </i>(ground-breaking ceremony) of the Deekshabhoomi. There was shortage of white cloth in the entire city and nearby towns of Vidarbha as Ambedkar had urged his followers to wear freshly washed white clothes at the time of embracing Buddhism.” Kawade, 79, later became the founder president of People’s Republican Party, one of the many factions of Ambedkar’s Republican Party of India.</p> <p>Bhimrao Kalamkar, another Ambedkarite from Nagpur, calls Deekshabhoomi the most important pilgrim centre for dalits from all over India, not just from Maharashtra. “Dr Ambedkar was staying at Shyam Hotel near Anand Talkies in Sitabuldi area. In those days, this was the only hotel with a lift in Nagpur and since Dr Ambedkar had trouble climbing stairs due to his old age, he chose Shyam Hotel,” said Kalamkar. “My family accepted Buddhism on that day after Dr Ambedkar. I was not even born then but I have grown up with all those stories.”</p> <p>Ambedkar chose Nagpur as the venue of his <i>dhamma deeksha</i> as Nagpur had been the land the Nag community, who were Buddhists. “Also, Nagpur and Vidarbha had a larger number of Mahar and other dalit communities, who were active in his movement,” said Kawade.</p> <p>Ambedkar had declared in 1935 that he was born a Hindu, but would not die as one. But his becoming Buddhist happened only in 1956. “He gave it more than two decades, hoping there would be a change in the mindsets of <i>thekedars </i>(contractors) of Hinduism, so that our people would be accepted in society as equals. But that did not happen,” said Kawade. “He hoped people like V.D. Savarkar, the RSS and Shanakarcharyas would bring about change and abolish the caste system, but his hopes proved futile.”</p> <p>Kawade said that senior dalit leaders were concerned that the RSS and other hindutva forces could disrupt the <i>dhamma deeksha</i> ceremony. “While volunteers like me were ensuring safe arrival of people to Nagpur, the Samata Sainik Dal had been instructed to offer protection to Ambedkar, other senior leaders and Buddhist monks,” he said.</p> <p>However, senior RSS observer Dilip Deodhar says that the RSS had no plans to disrupt the ceremony. “The RSS has always looked at Ambedkar and Mahatma (Jyotirao) Phule as reformist leaders within the Hindu fold. That is why you find that there is a Sanskrit shloka devoted to them in the RSS’s Ekatmata Stotra,” said Deodhar. “Also, the RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar had asked senior ideologue Dattopant Thengadi to work as Dr Ambedkar’s election agent when he contested from Bhandara in 1952. So, the RSS had already been in touch with Dr Ambedkar and knew what was on his mind. They had conveyed to him that if he wished to convert, he should avoid Islam and Christianity as these religions did not have Indian roots.”</p> <p>The Navayana Buddhism of Ambedkar and the RSS’s hindutva may appear to be conflicting ideologies for outsiders, said Deodhar, but for the RSS, it has always held the view that it is not anti-dalit. “From early days of the <i>sangh</i>, the RSS has made efforts to bring dalits into its ranks,” he said.</p> <p>RSS founder Hedgewar was a Congress activist. Disillusioned with the Congress, he founded the RSS to organise and unite the Hindu society. “Dr Hedgewar was a visionary,” said Rambhau Tupkary, 85, a Nagpur-based RSS veteran. “Within two years of starting the RSS in Nagpur, he sent a <i>pracharak</i> to Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and started a <i>shakha</i> there. He had envisioned the spread of the organisation all over India, and that is why <i>pracharaks</i> like Dadarao Parmarth (Madras) and Dattopant Thengadi (Calcutta) were sent to different parts of India within the first few years of the RSS’s foundation.”</p> <p>According to Tupkary, who was founder chairman of VNIT Nagpur, the RSS is a dynamic organisation. “The mechanism of assessment and reassessment is constantly at work in the RSS and it wishes to keep alive the sense of <i>rashtriyatva</i> (nationhood) among Indians,” said Tupkary. The RSS will complete 100 years of its formation in 2025.</p> <p>The goal of the RSS, said Tupkary, is to keep alive the unity in the Hindu society. “So, in a way, it is a never-ending project,” he said. “It will, however, have to change with the times. Anyone who is living in this land and is proud of its traditions and culture is a Hindu according to RSS. That is why Dr Hedgewar named it Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and not Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 18:22:44 IST 2021 is-a-new-left-coming-to-india-supporters-of-naxalbari-movement-believe-so <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Revolution will come, some day, though I don’t know when,” said Shanti Munda, 78, one of the last surviving members of the Naxalbari uprising. Advanced age, multiple ailments, failing memory and financial woes have not dampened the spirit of this eternal optimist.</p> <p>Munda lives in a frugal two-room house at Hatighisa village in the Naxalbari block of Darjeeling district in West Bengal. Her room is spartan, while the adjacent room is full of numerous awards her daughter won in athletics. Pictures of Jesus and Krishna adorn the room. Munda’s father had come from Jharkhand, and made his living by tilling land. She got married in her teens. Her husband was revolutionary leader Keshav Sarkar, who also mentored her in peasant politics.</p> <p>She recalled the time when protests were held against the <i>jotedars</i> (landowners) for exploiting the peasants. “My husband first told me about the exploitation,” she said. “Then Kanu <i>da</i> (revolutionary leader Kanu Sanyal) came and organised us. We demanded that instead of paying our share in rice, we should be paid money, which the <i>zamindars</i> did not agree to.”</p> <p>On May 24 1967, she tied her 15-day-old daughter to her back, and joined the peasant revolt led by the armed tribals of Naxalbari against the atrocities committed by <i>jotedars</i>. “The police had gathered in Naxalbari thinking that senior communist leaders were hiding there,” said Munda. “A huge crowd of peasants—most of them women—had gathered. Some of them were over 80. I felt bad resting at home. So I went with my daughter. We had bow and arrows. We struck Sonam Wangdi, a police officer. He died.”</p> <p>This set off a chain reaction. A day later, the protesting women surrounded a group of policemen and snatched their weapons. The women let them go after listening to their pleas. But as they were leaving, the policemen fired upon the group killing 11 people—eight women, two children and a man. The peasants decided that there would be retaliation. It was the beginning of the Naxal revolt.</p> <p>“Later, Kanu <i>da</i> asked me to organise women,” said Munda. “There were 7,000 of them. When Kanu <i>da</i> was alive, people came from all over to meet us. Now the movement has gone down. But I am sure it will survive. There are comrades all over the country.”</p> <p>As the police cracked down brutally, the Naxal movement gradually weakened and the cadres and leaders got divided into various factions. Munda took to mainstream politics for a while, contesting assembly elections in 1982 and 1987. After performing poorly, she gave up electoral politics.</p> <p>She is not impressed by present day politicians. “Now, we don’t find leaders, only brokers,” said Munda. Ask her about the BJP’s growth in West Bengal, even winning the Naxalbari seat, and she would point towards the left front. “When L.K. Advani conducted his <i>rath yatra</i>, chief minister Jyoti Basu didn’t stop him. The left brought the BJP here,” said Munda.</p> <p>At the place where the 11 people were killed stands a memorial, marked by busts of communist leaders like Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Charu Mazumdar. A handful of people gather every year at the memorial to commemorate the deaths.</p> <p>The RSS has a strong presence in the region, with its active work among the tribals aimed at making them part of the “national mainstream”. It has opened schools, helps arrange weddings for poor tribals and also celebrates Hindu festivals with fervour.</p> <p>“The area has changed. Many Hindus came from Bangladesh to settle here after 1992. They don’t have any memory of the revolution,” said CPI(M) activist Raju Sarkar, son of Naxalite leader Asit Sarkar. “They were forced to leave their homeland because of repression. So, they harbour an anti-minority sentiment, which the RSS and the BJP find easy to appeal to.”</p> <p>With the Trinamool Congress and the BJP reinforcing their position as the principal political players in West Bengal, the left, including the Naxal factions, are struggling to stay relevant. A political party born in the ferment of Naxalbari uprising is the CPI (ML) Liberation. Legendary Naxal leader Charu Mazumdar’s son Abhijit belongs to this group. “In order to arrive at Naxalbari, one should see the social turbulence that existed just after independence. In Bengal, there were a number of mass and political movements which culminated in the Naxal uprising,” said Abhijit, who teaches English at Siliguri College.</p> <p>He said the left should learn from its failures and adopt new tactical lines. He expressed hope that the prevailing political situation in the country could lead to a change. “The sufferings, apprehensions and distress—be it social, economic or psychological—coupled with the people’s movement... it is a very productive time to unleash huge energy,” he said. He clarified that his group is not looking at an armed revolution.</p> <p>Despite the many failures of the left movement, Abhijit is optimistic about its future, pointing out that sections of the radical left are always around fighting for various causes, including in the farmers’ agitation. “Look at the price hike, unemployment, vaccination scam, we are heading towards a frontal clash,” he said. “We have role models from the farmers’ movement and the students’ movements. There are leaders like Akhil Gogoi. Things are happening.”</p> <p>Abhijit said the left movement did not lack relevance. “The challenge is to explore local and national history to foreground the contribution of the working class and peasantry during the independence struggle,” he said. “This is a transition phase.”</p> <p>The idea of a new left is coming up, said Abhijit, and its aim is to save democracy, the working class and the farmers. “Another Naxalbari will not happen overnight. But it is not time for hopelessness,” he said. “A new generation has already emerged. They are thoughtful. They can fight the regressive ideas of nationalism in a cogent manner. The spirit which is being ignited cannot be doused.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 17:59:12 IST 2021 history-of-failed-agreements-why-shimla-is-no-longer-a-summit-estination <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was the last week of June 1972. Shimla had turned out in full strength to catch a glimpse of the daughter of visiting Pakistan president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was in India for negotiations with prime minister Indira Gandhi. The 19-year-old Benazir Bhutto was the cynosure of all eyes. The casually dressed teenager took leisurely strolls on Mall Road, visited local shops and even attended a special screening of the Meena Kumari-Ashok Kumar starrer <i>Pakeezah</i> at the Ritz theatre. At the Convent of Jesus and Mary school in the city, she met some of her old teachers, who had moved from Pakistan to India.</p> <p>While Benazir enjoyed her stay from June 28 to July 3, Bhutto and Indira were involved in intense negotiations over the release of 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war and also about critical issues plaguing bilateral ties. The air in Shimla was triumphalist as India had defeated Pakistan a few months earlier. The entire world was waiting to see how the two neighbours would behave. Hordes of journalists from across the world were in Shimla to cover the talks.</p> <p>“It was peak tourist season in Shimla. When Benazir was out on Mall Road, people gathered in huge numbers to watch her,” said Prakash Chand Lohumi, 76, a journalist assigned to cover Benazir. “She visited local shops, and during one of her trips, Indira accompanied her. Benazir did not buy anything, but we heard that the things she liked were gifted to her. One of the newspapers even ran a headline ‘Peerless, penniless’ as the word <i>benazir</i> meant peerless.”</p> <p>Benazir, who was to become the first woman prime minister in a Muslim country 16 years later, dressed up in smart casuals during her outings in Shimla, but wore a sari for an official picture with her father and Indira. The pictures now adorn the walls of the summit hall at the Barnes Court, now the official residence of the Himachal Pradesh governor, where the Simla Agreement (Shimla was earlier spelt Simla) was signed. The historic building, which was built in 1832, was used as a state guest house till 1981, when the Raj Bhavan was shifted there. The visiting Bhuttos stayed there during the summit. Earlier, it served as the summer residence of British commanders-in-chief like Generals Sir Charles James Napier, Sir William Maynard Gomm, George Anson, Sir Colin Campbell and Sir Hugh Rose. “It was here that the news of the Great Uprising of 1857 was given to General Anson,” says the Raj Bhavan website.</p> <p>Indira stayed at the Retreat Building, which now serves as the summer home of the president of India. She had been the perfect host and even picked up curtains and tablecloth for Barnes Court before the Bhuttos arrived. “Bhutto and other officials used to hold their meetings on the lawns, fearing that the rooms were bugged,” said Raja Bhasin, a Shimla-based historian. “Indira had arrived a day in advance to personally inspect the arrangements. She waited for six hours at the Annadale helipad for the Bhuttos to arrive.”</p> <p>For Lohumi, the intriguing part of the summit was the three hours before the agreement was signed. “At 8pm on July 2, Bhutto held a press conference, saying that the talks had failed. After that, the media delegations left. At around 11pm, as I prepared to leave, a fellow journalist told me to wait as something was going to happen. Then everyone was called to Barnes Court.” Lohumi remembered that nobody at Barnes Court was prepared for the twist. “When Indira came, there was not even a tablecloth. A curtain was hurriedly taken down and put on the table. The Doordarshan reporter had gone home. He was my senior, so I gave the officials his address,” said Lohumi. When the reporter finally returned, P.N. Haksar, who was principal secretary to the prime minister, told him that he made Indira wait for an hour. Even a pen to sign the agreement had to be borrowed from a journalist.</p> <p>While the official date of signing is recorded as July 2, 1972, Lohumi said it was already 12.40am on July 3 when the actual signing happened. “Not much has been spoken or written about what pressures worked as India agreed to all demands by Pakistan,” said Lohumi.</p> <p>While India had the advantage of having 90,000 POWs in its custody to make Pakistan agree to a final settlement on Kashmir, Bhutto got away with just a verbal assurance, which Pakistan violated repeatedly, later on. The term ‘spirit of Simla Agreement’ is still used in diplomatic parlance to remind Pakistan to observe peace at the borders.</p> <p>Many people thought the agreement was skewed in Pakistan’s favour. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was then a senior leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, travelled to Shimla to hold a rally to put pressure on Indira to not accede to Pakistan’s demands. “He was not allowed to hold a rally, so he held a press conference,” said Lohumi. The Jana Sangh also held protests when Indira returned to Delhi.</p> <p>The Congress had swept the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections in 1972. “Had the elections been held after the agreement, the situation could have been different as India did not get a good deal,” said Lohumi.</p> <p>While Shimla had enjoyed a preeminent place in India’s political history, primarily before independence, it subsequently faded as a destination for political parleys. Moreover, many of the key agreements which were concluded here have not been really good for India. The finalising of the Radcliffe line demarcating the border with Pakistan, the 1914 accord to determine India-Tibet boundaries, the 1945 meeting between viceroy Lord Wavell and Indian leaders to approve self-government and separate representation for Muslims and the India-Pakistan accord of 1972 did not really advance Indian interests. “All such meetings either failed to serve their purpose or went against India,” said Lohumi. “In such matters, Shimla has a poor record.”</p> Thu Aug 12 17:55:15 IST 2021 political-aspirations-of-sikhs-have-been-shaped-by-1973-resolution-at-anandpur-sahib <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Gurdwara Kesgarh Sahib sits majestically atop a hillock. Its white edifice, visible from a distance, establishes its solemn authority in the Sikh religion. The Khalsa <i>panth</i> (community) was formally established in Anandpur Sahib by Guru Gobind Singh, the last Sikh guru. Kesgarh Sahib is the second-most sacred temple for the Sikhs after the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and is associated with an event that influenced Akali politics in post-independent India: The Anandpur Sahib resolution of 1973.</p> <p>“I was in school when the meeting of Akalis took place at the first-floor hall of the gurdwara,” said Surinder Singh, who is a member of the Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), an elected body that looks after Sikh temples, and principal of Sikh Missionary College. “People had gathered in numbers to see the leaders. I remember Sirdar Kapur Singh telling the leaders not to come out till they take some decisions. ‘Lock them inside,’ he said.”</p> <p>Sirdar Kapur Singh wore multiple hats. He was an Indian Civil Service officer and went on to become a theologian and politician. He is widely considered to be the architect of Anandpur Sahib resolution.</p> <p>The resolution was a comprehensive document adopted by the Akali Dal, asking for greater federal freedom, inclusion of more Punjabi-speaking areas (including Chandigarh) into Punjab, considering Sikhs as a separate entity and protecting the rights of the state over river water, among other demands. The Akalis presented it as a treatise on Centre-state relations where currency, defence and foreign affairs should be with the Centre, and the states be allowed to manage the rest. As the document gave impetus to Sikh nationalism, many thought it led to a demand for separatism culminating in Khalistan. In 1982, the Akali Dal was joined by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha agitation to push for the Anandpur Sahib resolution demands. “The document was considered, by those outside the state, as a precursor to the demand for Khalistan. But it was for political aspirations of Sikhs,” said Surinder.</p> <p>This region has a history of people fighting for their rights. He recalls the contribution of the Sikh gurus in fighting foreign aggressors and saving the local Hindu and Sikh communities. Even during the struggle for independence, over 80 per cent of those martyred were Sikhs and Punjabis.</p> <p>Mohinder Singh Baaghi was a teacher in the local Khalsa college when the Anandpur Sahib conference took place. He says the importance of the document was felt in the subsequent years as more political and religious agitations were centred around it. “Despite Anandpur Sahib being so famous and important for political and religious reasons, it has never been a political hotbed. Even during the days of terrorism, it was peaceful,” said Baaghi. He recalled listening to speeches of Sirdar Kapur Singh, who would say that Akalis alone cannot get the Sikhs a separate state.</p> <p>Since the 1970s and 1980s, the Akali Dal has splintered into multiple groups and factions. The group led by Parkash Singh Badal has survived politically. Various Akalis over the years refer to the Anandpur Sahib resolution in their political speeches, but are cautious about it. Even now, when new Akali Dals are formed, they hark back to the magna carta of Sikh aspirations.</p> <p>“The Anandpur Sahib resolution talks about greater devolution of powers as enshrined by our country’s Constitution,” said Ranjit Singh Bhrampura, former MP and patron of newly formed Akali Dal Sanyukta. “If you look at the 1920 Akali Dal demands, when the party was formed, it talked about greater rights. Countries like the USA have progressed as they gave greater rights. The work is done better when it is divided between the states.”</p> <p>The idea of Khalistan often surfaces whenever Sikh nationalism gains prominence in the politics of various leaders and outfits. There were apprehensions that the recent farmers’ agitation had shifted towards the demand for separatism as some participants were vocal on the issue. But the union leaders have kept the longest running movement (since November 2020 at Singhu Border) as apolitical as possible.</p> <p>The talk of Khalistan can cause a scare among people, especially outside Punjab, as the state has witnessed long periods of violent terrorism. “Khalistan is a nostalgia of Sikh rule that the community witnessed under Maharaja Ranjit Singh,” said Baaghi. “One of the reasons for the separatist movement was the Green Revolution. Those who owned 20 acres became rich. However, the land got divided into smaller units as families grew. As they were born in riches but were forced to divide, they tilted towards Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as he propagated Sikh rule. People have emotional attachment with land. Now, all those who migrated abroad for better facilities and riches that the 20 acres gave, again dream of power back home.” There are more Khalistani supporters in foreign countries than in India.</p> <p>Even in the case of the farmers’ agitation, the farmers are bound to the emotional value attached to land and they also fear the loss of the economic cushion if minimum support price was to be taken away.</p> <p>Anandpur Sahib’s importance in Sikhism is known world over. For colourful festivities during Holi, Nihangs showcase their martial arts. The city, located near the Sutlej river, also attracts visitors to Virasat-e-Khalsa, the Sikh museum designed by Israeli architect Moshe Sadie.</p> <p>Despite it being a key place for Sikhs, Anandpur Sahib’s politics has not been dominated by the Akalis, but rather the Congress or the BJP, because of the large Hindu population. But Anandpur Sahib, as the seat of Sikh faith and with its aspirations, is back in currency as demands of regional sub-nationalism gain ground across the country.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 17:48:28 IST 2021 life-hasnt-changed-much-for-residents-of-village-where-indira-arrived-on-elephant <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Janaki Paswan, 82, will never forget the horrendous events of May 27, 1977. Hiding in his neighbour’s house to save his life, he witnessed the gruesome murder of 11 people—eight dalits and three members of the backward castes. They were shot dead after their hands were tied. Their bodies were then burnt on a common pyre. Paswan was too scared to make a sound. The perpetrators belonged to the land-owning Kurmi caste, and Paswan remembers in horror that the killers feasted, while the bodies burned.</p> <p>Paswan is the lone surviving witness of the carnage, which came to be known as the Belchi massacre. Belchi is a remote village located 90km from Patna. Based on Paswan’s testimony, two of the accused were sentenced to death, while 11 others were given life sentences. But what made this massacre part of India’s political history was the extraordinary sight of former prime minister Indira Gandhi riding an elephant to reach the village to meet the victims’ families.</p> <p>Indira was going through a political crisis at the time. She was ousted from office in March 1977, after opposition parties came together in the post-Emergency general elections. Indira herself lost Rae Bareli, her pocket borough. On hearing the news of the gruesome killing, she headed to Belchi. Since then, the visit is listed as a key event in the history of the Congress and in Indira’s political revival.</p> <p>“The monsoon was particularly heavy that year. The fields were filled with water, and even the roads were submerged. We were told that she would come. We wondered how she would get here,” said Paswan.</p> <p>Indira flew down to Patna and drove from there. She switched from her car to a Jeep, and then to a tractor as roads got worse. But even the tractor got stuck at one point. Someone then suggested that an elephant might be able to navigate the road ahead. An elephant named Moti was arranged locally from Harnaut, the ancestral village of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Indira rode Moti to reach Belchi on August 13, 1977.</p> <p>“When she came, she did not speak much. The loss of power was weighing on her. She sat on the elephant, while her personal secretary took notes. She was here for nearly one and a half hours. We told her that the accused should be punished, and we should get some compensation,” said Paswan.</p> <p>Indira’s visit meant that the case could no longer be ignored. It also led to the involvement of former chief minister Jagannath Mishra. “He used to listen to us patiently,” said Paswan.</p> <p>The younger generation of Belchi still listens to Paswan when he speaks about the massacre and Indira’s visit. And he is always ready to oblige. With a stick in his hand, he walks barefoot around the village, looking for an audience who would listen to his tales from the past.</p> <p>Unfortunately, nothing much has changed for Belchi. The biggest change after the massacre is that a police station and a school have come up. “The nearest police post was at Sakshora, three kilometres away. The policemen used to ask for bribes to listen to our complaints. After the killing, which took place at around 11am, we had informed the police. They came at 5:30pm. After the incident, the police camped here, and ultimately a police station was set up,” Paswan said. “I gave my land to set up the school.”</p> <p>Paswan said the person responsible for the massacre was Mahavir Mahato, a Kurmi strongman, who was notorious for usurping land and harassing people. Things changed when Paswan’s brother’s son-in-law Sidheswar, known popularly as Singhwa, shifted base to Belchi. And the clashes between the two groups started becoming more frequent.</p> <p>“On May 27, Mahato sent a message to Singhwa for rapprochement. When Singhwa and his associates came, Mahato’s hired men captured them. They were shot and then burnt. After watching this, I escaped, only to return the next day,” said Paswan. “It was a fight between the rich and the poor. The rich tried to control us.”</p> <p>Paswan became a key witness in the case. “As I feared for my life, I asked for security,” he said. “They tried to frame me, too. Two false murder cases were registered against me, but nothing came of it.”</p> <p>Ram Swarath Singh, a Kurmi from Belchi, too, remembers Indira’s visit. He said the massacre was the result of the fight between two criminal groups. “The area had a history of criminal gangs and dacoits. The rivalry between the two gangs led to the killing. There was no caste angle to it,” said Singh, sitting at the hardware shop run by his son. “Even I was once waylaid at night by the Mahato group.” Singh somehow managed to escape, and went later to Bombay, where he tried his hand in acting. “I started with small roles, then started getting character roles, often that of a policeman. I was fondly called Ranna <i>ji</i>,” he said.</p> <p>Singh recalled that when Indira came, local politicians had arranged food for her. “But she did not eat anything,” he said. “She sat on the elephant, listening to the complaints of the victims. Since then our area got a makeover. We got electricity, a police station, and a block office. And, our area was no longer dacoit infested.”</p> <p>For the Paswans, not much has changed. They have to wade through slush to reach their homes. “The only people who got better are the Kurmis. It is a Kurmistan,” said Paswan, alleging that Nitish, who is a Kurmi, cares only for his caste. “We Paswans rely on places like Delhi and Chennai, where our brethren have gone for work.”</p> <p>As we made our way through the slush to reach the site of the massacre, Paswan came face to face with Mahato’s daughter-in-law. She taunted him: “Why do you want to go there? We will build a temple there.”</p> Thu Aug 12 17:43:02 IST 2021 how-mass-conversions-in-a-tn-village-sowed-seeds-for-the-1980s-ayodhya-movement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At the foothills of the Western Ghats, on the southwestern border of Tamil Nadu, lies Meenakshipuram, a village just off the town of Panpozhi in Thenkasi district. It is a two-hour drive from Tirunelveli over bumpy roads. As you enter the village, a crescent atop the dome of the mosque glints in the morning light. The lane opposite the mosque is dotted with houses of Hindus and Muslims. An eerie silence belies the tumultuous upheaval that took place here, four decades ago.</p> <p>Rahamathullah, 53, who works as a <i>muthavalli</i> (accountant), walks into the mosque and greets Fairoz Khan, 48, who is arranging firewood. Fairoz is employed in the mosque to recite the prayers every day. “We have overcome those difficult times. We are happy following Islam now,” said Rahamathullah.</p> <p>He was 13 when Meenakshipuram, now called Rahmath Nagar, witnessed violent caste clashes. Rahmathullah was then known as Ganesan, a dalit. He was studying in a school at Panpozhi. But as Ganesan and his family faced discrimination, his family converted to Islam. His father’s brother Murugaiyan, though, still follows Hinduism. “They did not convert. But we do not have any differences. We still get together for family functions,” said Rahmathullah. Fairoz was eight when his family converted. “I remember that our village was plunged into huge turmoil. But I don’t know why my parents converted,” he said.</p> <p>In 1981, Meenakshipuram stunned the nation when over 300 dalit families in the village converted to Islam on a single day. The families came together the next day to build a mosque, which stands testimony to the humiliation and the agony the dalits underwent then. The dalits here are from the Pallar community, while the upper castes are the Thevars. Though they hold the same economic status, the Thevars do not accept Pallars as their equals. So, the dalit families converted to Islam.</p> <p>In a state that came of age with Periyar’s anti-caste movement, the mass conversions in Meenakshipuram irked the Hindu right wing across the country. Hindu leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and others belonging to <i>sangh parivar</i> outfits descended on the small village, and requested the dalits to return to Hinduism.</p> <p>“This mosque had a thatched roof then,” said Rahmathullah. “I remember hindutva leaders like Vajpayee coming here. The Thenkasi collector was a man called Arumugam. The Hindu procession was not allowed to go this way.” He says the Hindus then raised slogans against the conversions and the collector. They shouted a rhyming slogan: “<i>Anju paisa murukku; Arumugam collectora norukku. Pathu paisa murukku; pallivasala norukku</i>” (Five-paisa <i>murukku</i> (a snack); mince Arumugam collector. Ten-paisa <i>murukku</i>; mince the mosque).</p> <p>However, Rahmathullah is a happy man now. He does not want to turn his back on Islam even with the news about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “Allah preaches equality,” he said. “Earlier, when I was a dalit, people never used to call me by my name and give me respect. Now they call me <i>bhai</i>.”</p> <p>A little away from the mosque is a Karuppasamy temple. Clad in T-shirts and lungis, a few boys sit on the steps of the temple, playing games on their phones. Among them are cousins Akhtar and Manikandan, who always play together. “We do not feel the caste difference among us. Manikandan is my nephew,” said Mohammed Khalik, 23, who sits on a bike nearby. Near the temple, in a single-room, elementary school, 23-year-old Maheshwari Jafar Ali waits her turn to get the food provided by the government for infants. Along with her is her husband’s niece Abhinaya Shri, carrying Maheshwari’s children Jasim and Kasim. “My husband is my aunt’s son. I was converted to Islam during my marriage,” said Maheshwari. “It was not a forced conversion. We are living a peaceful life.” Jafar, her husband, is an auto driver in Panpozhi. The lives of these youngsters, be it Akhtar and Manikandan, or Maheshwari and Abhinaya, indicate there are no caste differences in the village any longer.</p> <p>It was the mass conversions at Meenakshipuram that sowed the seeds for the Ayodhya movement in the early 1980s and sparked a debate over freedom of religion in India. “Islam is egalitarian, and we get the self-respect,” said Khalik. “There is no caste system here.”</p> <p>But Bramma Devi, an elementary school teacher who is a Hindu, feels that nothing has changed in the village in the past four decades. “They don’t put their children in our schools. They go to the nearby Panpozhi town,” said the 39-year-old. When asked who “they” are, Devi said she was referring to the Thevars, who do not want their children to study with the Pallars.</p> <p>Despite the calm, community differences could still be simmering underneath. “There are saffron flags hoisted in many of the houses. Many have chosen a particular political party that supports a religion,” said Khalik. “But peace is still not lost here, and I believe it will continue to be so.”</p> Thu Aug 12 17:37:13 IST 2021 village-closest-to-indias-nuclear-test-site-is-proud-of-tests-worried-about-future <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the few hundred residents of Khetolai, a dusty nondescript village on National Highway 11 in Rajasthan, May 11, 1998 was yet another sweltering summer day until Indian Army personnel walked in and asked them to evacuate quickly with their belongings. The abruptness was surprising, although the villagers were familiar with routine disruptions in their otherwise uneventful life, after having given up their land for the Army to test its weapons. Often, an officer would inform the village headman before firing sessions, and would return later to assess whether the testing caused any damage. But this time, it was different.</p> <p>“We were not allowed to move in or out of the village. We were told a bomb was being tested,” said Ram Rattan, advocate and <i>sarpanch pati</i> (the sarpanch’s husband). “By afternoon, we experienced an earthquake, and saw a massive dust column rise in the sky. Army men clapped and raised patriotic slogans. They told us it was a nuclear bomb.”</p> <p>Rattan had witnessed the 1974 nuclear test ordered by prime minister Indira Gandhi as well. “At that time, there was only a mild tremor, and we came to know through a radio broadcast that a nuclear device had been tested,” he said. “But in 1998, the tremors were significant. Two days later, more tests were conducted. The test site was three kilometres from our village. It was our land that was acquired for the test range. It was in national interest.”</p> <p>The first test was conducted at 3:45pm. Only Khetolai knew about it initially. At 6pm, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed a hurriedly-convened press briefing and informed a stunned world about the tests. India entered the elite club of nuclear powers, and a wave of muscular nationalism swept across the country.</p> <p>A day before, Vajpayee had greeted the people on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, saying Buddha’s message of non-violence had an eternal relevance to humanity. “Buddha smiles again” was the message he received from Defence Research and Development Organisation chief A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on the successful testing of the nuclear device.</p> <p>After Kalam became famous, Khetolai residents realised that the “frail, long-haired man in military camouflage” who often visited the area was him. “He was here, and used to talk to us. It was only later that we realised that he was the main architect of the nuclear programme and went on to become the president of India,” said Kishna Ram, a villager.</p> <p>Although Khetolai is the village closest to the testing site, it was Pokhran, a town which lies 45km away, which became famous. “It is because of political reasons,” said Kishna. “After the test, it was decided that Vajpayee would hold a rally here. But as our village is full of Congress supporters, the venue was shifted to Pokhran. And when the prime minister arrived at a nearby helipad, we waved black flags at him for not holding the rally here. It was held against us. We were not even allowed to go to Pokhran.” He said the village was against the royalty, so it had always sided with the Congress. And despite BJP coming to power several times in Rajasthan and at the Centre, Khetolai has been steadfast in its political beliefs.</p> <p>Khetolai’s tryst with history started in late 1960s when two dozen villages in the region were acquired by the government for setting up a testing range for the military. “My 300 <i>bighas</i> of land (around 190 acre) was acquired for the test range. We were given Rs20 per <i>bigha</i>. Those who bought land with that money were the ones who later earned a lot,” said Mohan Ram, who retired as junior engineer from the Rajasthan Canal project.</p> <p>There are four ranges which are used for testing weapons, including small arms and bigger missiles. What sets the Pokhran-Khetolai ranges apart is the facility to test nuclear devices. The barren patch of land is ideal for the purpose as the water table lies more than 1,000 feet below the ground.</p> <p>Although the nuclear tests have devastated the fragile ecology of the region, being a test site has its advantages. The sighting of the great Indian bustard at the test sites has caught the attention of conservationists. Less than 200 of these birds are believed to be alive, and a significant number of them seem to have made the test site their home thanks to minimal human presence. After the birds started flying into high-voltage overhead power lines, the Supreme Court ordered that cables be laid underground.</p> <p>Talking to outsiders about the nuclear tests is a bittersweet experience for the villagers. They are proud about the unique status of their village, but they are also worried about their future. “The tests were a matter of pride for us. When I used to drive a truck, I had proudly inscribed ‘Shakti 98 Khetolai’ on it, to commemorate the tests,” said Kishna. But the villagers have some concerns as well. “Our houses developed cracks after the tests,” said Rattan, pointing to the walls of his house. “We have had a few cancer cases since then, although no one is willing to believe that it could have been because of the nuclear tests.” Kishna said the livestock, too, faced problems. Sometimes our cattle develop complications and stop giving milk,” he said. The village keeps losing out on development projects because of security concerns. For instance, several other villages in the region were adopted by big companies as part of their corporate social responsibility campaign and were given solar projects, but Khetolai was left out because of its proximity to the testing range and the wildlife corridor.</p> <p>Development thus remains a distant dream for Khetolai, which is dominated by members of the Bishnoi community. “It was our community which took actor Salman Khan to court for killing a black buck,” reminded a youth who was present at the <i>sarpanch</i>’s house. Although the village has achieved 100 per cent literacy, the predominant occupation of the villagers is cattle rearing. Others often flock to big cities in search of jobs.</p> <p>“The nuclear tests made the country powerful, but we got nothing,” said Rattan. “It is as if we are forgotten.” &nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 17:32:11 IST 2021 vajpayees-vacation-gave-a-unique-push-to-tourism-in-kumarakom <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a Mann Ki Baat of a different genre.&nbsp;</p> <p>The time was the beginning of this millennium. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minister, had chosen the beautiful Kumarakom village in Kerala to usher in the new year. He had spent five days on the banks of the serene Vembanad Lake, keeping mostly to himself, ruminating about the past, present and future of India.&nbsp;</p> <p>The result was the famous Kumarakom Musings, two essays where he touched upon India’s two “legacy problems”—the Ayodhya dispute and the dispute with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. Both were contentious issues that his predecessors had struggled to deal with. Through Kumarakom Musings, Vajpayee tried to rise above the rabble and become a statesman.</p> <p>&nbsp;And, he did become one.</p> <p>“Each new generation… has to give a worthy account of itself in its own lifetime, aware that its contribution to India’s progress will be judged essentially on two counts: One, how many ‘legacy problems’ inherited from the past has it resolved? Two, how strong a foundation has it laid for the future development of the nation?” Vajpayee wrote in his essay. “My mind probes these questions as my eyes feast on the verdant environs of Kumarakom resort on the banks of the sea-sized Vembanad Lake in Kerala.”</p> <p>The prime minister reached Kumarakom on December 26, 2000, a day after his 77th birthday. It was a vacation he badly needed, as he was being attacked from all sides—while his political opponents called him a “counterfeit moderate”, the hardliners in his party considered him a “closet Nehruvian”. “Vajpayee&nbsp;<i>ji</i>’s Kumarakom trip turned out to be much more than a mere vacation. He used the trip to give a credible and inspiring message for the people of our country,” said Sudheendra Kulkarni, a close aide of Vajpayee who had accompanied him on his trip. “He was a man of dialogue and tried to think out of the box to find solutions to two long-pending issues that our country was facing then.”</p> <p>For Vajpayee, the Kashmir issue was a subject very close to his heart. That was a time when the bitterness of the Kargil War was still fresh in Indian minds, but he sounded optimistic when he wrote: “In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past. Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;The portions of Kumarakom Musings on Kashmir did become a talking point in diplomatic circles. “It was unusual for a prime minister to sit down and pen his ideas and thoughts about bilateral relations. His ideas on the subject were quite unorthodox,” said former diplomat T.P. Sreenivasan, who has had a long association with Vajpayee ever since he was the foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government. According to him, Vajpayee was committed to bringing peace to Kashmir and tried many things to make it possible. “He followed up what he wrote in the musings with the Agra Summit later that year, when he invited Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf to discuss the Kashmir issue,” said Sreenivasan. “Vajpayee was determined to find a solution but could not because of the pressures from hardliners in his party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;In December 2001, the Indian Parliament was attacked. Vajpayee was shocked and disappointed, but he continued with his efforts to solve the Kashmir issue. He visited Kashmir in April 2003. “I had accompanied him on this visit. He took everyone by surprise when he announced that India was ready for talks with Pakistan on all issues, including the issue of Kashmir,” said Kulkarni. According to him, Vajpayee would have solved the Kashmir issue amicably if he had got a second term. He added that Vajpayee would never have approved of what the current BJP government did in Kashmir—the abrogation of Article 370.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ayodhya dispute was something that had earned Vajpayee a lot of brickbats from the opposition and his own party hardliners. On Ayodhya, he wrote: “It is a challenge to the collective wisdom of our society that we find a peaceful and amicable solution to this problem, sooner rather than later.” He also upheld the Constitution and the supremacy of the law of the land in the matter.</p> <p>Kumarakom became a much sought-after name in the tourism map of the country after Vajpayee’s visit. “As a person who was with Vajpayee&nbsp;<i>ji</i>&nbsp;in Kumarakom, I know how the beauty and serenity of Kumarakom influenced Vajpayee to write his musings,” said Kulkarni. Dr Venu V., who was the tourism director then, said Vajpayee’s visit to Kumarakom happened due to some smart moves made by the Kerala tourism department, then headed by Amitabh Kant.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;“When we came to know about the prime minister’s vacation plans, we immediately prepared a brochure on Kumarakom, its backwaters and houseboats,” said Venu. “He was fascinated and changed his initial plan to go to a tourist destination in the north [India].”</p> <p>&nbsp;People from various parts of Kerala had flocked to Kumarakom to catch a glimpse of Vajpayee. “We never knew Vajpayee had those many fans here, as the BJP had a bare minimum presence in Kerala then,” said Shyju K.P., a local journalist, who covered the event.</p> <p>&nbsp;Vajpayee attended only one public meeting during his stay—a BJP convention where he exhorted his party cadre to do everything to make the party a strong presence in Kerala. The coconut palm he had planted at the premises of the Taj Kumarakom resort became a tree and produced many coconuts, but his call to make the BJP a strong player in Kerala is yet to see desired results.</p> <p>“Kerala is certainly God’s own country… so beautiful,” Vajpayee said as he was leaving. When journalists asked him whether it has inspired him to write poetry, he replied: “Poetry will follow.” And, it did… in the form of Kumarakom Musings.</p> Thu Aug 12 17:05:02 IST 2021 bjp-rss-want-to-turn-ayodhya-into-a-modern-showcase-of-hindu-piety <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Satyendra Das was just 20 when he renounced the world and became an ascetic. In 1958, he arrived in Ayodhya to join Mahant Abhiram Das as a disciple. Abhiram, the head of the powerful Nirvani Akhara, had gained fame for placing Ram’s idol inside Babri Masjid in December 1949, a singular act which changed the course of modern Indian history. Das’s association with the Akhara was to change his life, too.</p> <p>The 84-year-old Satyendra Das is now the longest serving chief priest of the Ram temple. Nine months after he took over as chief priest in March 1992, Babri Masjid was brought down in front of him. After decades of legal and political battles, Das is happy that Ram’s idol will finally find a home in a grand temple which is presently under construction.</p> <p>As all legal cases in the Ram Janmabhumi dispute have been settled favourably, Das told THE WEEK about the key event which started it all. “Mahant Abhiram Das <i>ji</i> had kept the Ram Lalla idol inside the disputed structure on the intervening night of December 22 and 23, 1949. He told me that it was discussed among the sadhu-sants that Babri Masjid would be brought down to reclaim the Ram Janmabhumi. However, as the country had just become independent, it was thought that the demolition would cause more problems, and Hindus may not even get the temple. So they decided against demolition, but thought of taking control by placing an idol inside it,” said Das, sitting in his spartan accommodation in Ayodhya.</p> <p>“Abhiram Das <i>ji</i> and Brindaban Das <i>ji</i> were appointed to undertake the job. There were two policemen on duty outside the masjid in shifts. There was a Hindu constable Sher Singh and they had spoken to him. When his shift came, they went inside and placed the idol under the middle (<i>gumbad</i>) dome. When the Muslim constable came for duty in the early hours of December 23, he saw the idol. By then, puja had started. And he gave a statement that Ram Lalla had appeared there.” Abhiram Das was named in the FIR registered after the incident, but the popular belief remains that the idol had appeared miraculously.</p> <p>After the incident, Abhiram Das was called Ram Janmabhumi Uddarak (redeemer of Ram’s birthplace), and thus started a chain of events which was to influence the country’s political and cultural history. Ayodhya today is a key milestone in hindutva’s political journey. The BJP; its ideological mentor, the RSS; and the Vishva Hindu Parishad have been the key players and beneficiaries of the project. The once sleepy city is slowly witnessing a big change. The foundation work for the new temple is on, while the Ram idol has been shifted to a makeshift temple, reinforced with multiple layers of security.</p> <p>The devotees will be able to pray inside the new Ram temple from December 2023, although the construction of the entire temple may not be over by then. The city is waiting for visitors to arrive in large numbers and revive the stagnant economy even as the state and the Central governments are trying to turn Ayodhya into a modern showcase of Hindu piety.</p> <p>For Das, meanwhile, the tryst with history was accidental. After joining the Nirvani Akhara, he finished his higher education in Sanskrit and joined the Sanskrit Vidyalay as teacher in 1976. In March 1992, the Kalyan Singh government removed then chief priest Lal Das, and was looking for a non-political person with a clean image to replace him. Das was soon elevated to the post.</p> <p>Recalling the fateful day of December 6, 1992, Das said the makeshift temple was closed after the bhog ritual at 11am. “People had gathered in huge numbers from across the country. The previous day they were asked to bring sand and water from the Sarayu to start construction at the <i>chabutra</i> (plinth). However, on December 6, they were asked to wash the <i>chabutra</i>. It enraged them as they were brought to perform <i>karseva</i>—to demolish the disputed structure. Many of them climbed up the domes. Soon locals also joined and the police withdrew from the scene. It was free for all. One by one, the three domes were brought down by 5.30pm,” he said.</p> <p>After the demolition, Das and his four associates removed the Ram Lalla idol which was kept on a wooden plank and placed it under a neem tree. “By 7pm, as the ruckus subsided, a tent was erected on the flattened structure, and the idol was kept there, and the puja started from that evening.”</p> <p>VHP leader Purshottam Narayan said the <i>karsevaks</i> were out of control and listened only to the appeals of senior BJP leader Vijaya Raje Scindia. Although they were calm for a while, they soon restarted the demolition. Other BJP leaders present included L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati.</p> <p>When asked whether the demolition of the mosque was the only solution to the Ayodhya crisis, Das said there was no need for that. “It was proved in the court that the mosque had come up after demolishing the temple. The country had to pay a huge cost for bringing down the structure. Temples were targeted in India and across the world, many lives were lost. If the matter was resolved amicably, it would have benefited the Muslims more,” he said.</p> <p>Das, who came to Ayodhya as a student and went on to become the chief priest of the Ram temple, has often been at odds with the VHP leadership, especially because of his outspoken nature. “The Ram temple movement used to have an impact on elections, but it is no longer there. The BJP gets the credit as the decision was made by the Supreme Court and the temple is being built when it is in power,” he said.</p> <p>Das earns Rs14,500 per month as emoluments, while his four aides get Rs9,000 each and four workers Rs7,000 each. Now, the new temple management trust will decide on the new priests. Das said his time would probably be over in the near future. The new leadership seems to have new plans for the holy city.</p> <p>“Ayodhya is not just for Hindus, but for everyone. Ayodhya is the first city of the universe, set up by maharaja Manu. It is the first place for moksha among the seven sacred places in the country,”</p> <p>said Champat Rai, senior VHP leader and general secretary of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, the body set up for the construction and management of temple after the Supreme Court verdict. “The construction of the Ram temple at his birthplace is as important as August 15, 1947 and as getting Kargil back. It is not only a cultural or spiritual issue. It symbolises that we got rid of the remnants of foreign invaders. All countries want to be free of foreign influences.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 12 17:00:29 IST 2021 indian-colleges-are-better-prepared-for-online-education-this-academic-year <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cyra Sumit, 20, from Kochi, Kerala, graduated from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, in 2021. When the first lockdown shut down the campus in March 2020, just at the end of the second year of her BA (honours) economics course, she was confident that she would be back in her final year. But, as it turned out, she never went back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said that it was disheartening at times, the way her third year played out. However, she considers herself lucky to have spent two years on campus in India’s best arts and science college. But, yes, she feels bad for her juniors who started college life during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fellow Kochi-resident Anagha Haycee Alex is among those juniors. She joined the BA (honours) English course in October 2020, but is yet to visit the campus. For Anagha, who had been dreaming of joining St. Stephen’s since she was in class 10, it was definitely not the start to college life that she would have imagined. But she remains remarkably buoyant. “The virtual experience has been very good,” she said. “At times, I feel that I am physically in college.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She is now into her second semester and said exams have been cancelled; assessment is to be assignment based. “We have four-and-a-half hours of classes daily, including the morning assembly,” she said. “During the assembly, which is around 20-30 minutes, we get an opportunity to interact with the principal. He shares anecdotes daily. He also enquires about our well-being.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said that her class of 33 is divided into smaller groups that have tutorial sessions with teachers assigned to the groups. “We can clarify doubts during those sessions,” she said. “We can also call teachers or mail them.” She added that the Social Service Society at the college provides laptops to students who need them. She has also made friends in her class, virtually, and is looking forward to meeting them in person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While that wait continues for students countrywide, it seems like India’s best colleges have all the bases covered for now. And, with increasing familiarity to the online mode, things could get even easier. Subhasis Chaudhuri, director, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, said: “If online classrooms continue, they may get better as the faculty and students are more adapted to this mode of delivery.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he added that continuing online classes for too long could result in boredom and frustration in the minds of both faculty and students. This could make sessions less effective. Thankfully, it is a challenge that colleges are well aware of. Hence, the focus is on constantly evolving practices. While the technical institutions like IIT Bombay may have an edge, other colleges are catching up fast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rev. Dr A. Thomas, principal, Loyola College, Chennai, said: “Pedagogy for online learning has to adapt itself to changes impacted by industry 4.0.” He said assessment should be judiciously blended with the e-content and added that they now have a logbook to monitor the engagement of staff and the participation of students. The college also has a student initiative to lend gadgets to fellow learners who are in need.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As colleges gear up for the new year, there is also a renewed focus on the emotional and psychological pressure on students. Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, has started an online certificate course titled Covid-19: The Psychology of Human Behaviour; it is aimed at fostering well-being among students. “Some of our faculty who are trained psychologists are counselling students,” said Suman Sharma, principal, LSR. “This dialogue is immensely useful and fosters a sense of community even though there is no physical presence of students in the college.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many colleges have also responded fast to mitigate challenges faced in the last academic year. For instance, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, had suspended some programmes like the social involvement programme and extracurricular activities. This was done in light of complaints from students about increased screen time. But principal Rajendra Shinde said suspending these activities “took away the essence of Xavier’s”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In the new academic year, we would like to reintroduce these activities in a modified way,” he said. “We will be having an online virtual college fest. We are restarting our social involvement programme and have identified NGOs which require more online help. So, students will be doing their social work online.” The college is also planning to create online, value-added courses, open to non-Xavierites, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another initiative most top colleges in the country have prioritised is providing remote access to their libraries. The LSR library even upgraded its computer systems to support the online library services, which apart from journals and e-books, also include access to newspapers and magazines. Students at Delhi University colleges also have access to the university’s library system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is hope that 100 per cent vaccination would speed up the reopening of colleges. But, 2021-2022 is still likely to follow a hybrid mode. “To maintain physical distance between students, we will have to call them in batches,” says Shinde. “So, there will be a mix of online and offline teaching. The advantage of this would be that the science students will be able to do their practicals.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Change in plans</b></p> <p>Meanwhile, Covid-19 has also forced many students to re-evaluate their plans, especially with regard to going abroad. Nikita Deshpande, 18, of Belagavi, Karnataka, wanted to pursue a course in medicine abroad, but could not do so this year because of the postponement of her class 12 exams. “Most of the colleges started functioning normally in the west and their admission process was on track,” she said. “Now, I will have to concentrate on getting into a good medical college in India.” She is preparing for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and said that there was tremendous pressure as by the time NEET results are out, all other options for the year would have evaporated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her mother, Bhavana, is concerned, too. “Because of the pandemic, many students have decided to pursue professional courses in India rather than try to go abroad,” she said. “I believe NEET will be more competitive.” She added that Nikita was affected by the scenario and the postponement of her exams. “She just stopped studying,” said Bhavana. “Sometimes, I found her too put off by everything that was happening, but I kept encouraging her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the practical challenges posed by the pandemic, such as the postponement of exams, it has also resulted in a change in perspective for some students. Anush Gandhi, 18, who completed his schooling from Aditya Birla World Academy, South Mumbai, scrapped his plan to go abroad or even outside his city. “It was my own decision to stay with my parents for at least the next three to four years,” he said. “I thought it would be better to be with them during a pandemic.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His mother, Himali, supports his decision fully. “The pandemic has changed our value system,” she said. “Children are rethinking whether it is right to go away from their families for higher studies. Many children have seen their loved ones falling sick and suffering during the pandemic.” She added that she has no problem sending Anush to a campus, as long as the college takes necessary precautions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lt Col (Dr) T. Vijaya Sagar</b></p> <p>Dean, Symbiosis Medical College for Women</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Symbiosis International University, Lavale, Mulshi, Maharashtra</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multidisciplinary education and personality development are inherent to the Symbiosis ethos. In addition to the curriculum, students can undertake online courses of their choice and are regularly exposed to extracurricular activities like adventure sports, photography, debating, quizzing, and sports and games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sasangan Ramanathan</b></p> <p>Dean (engineering), Amrita University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several pedagogical modifications were made to ensure that online learning was interesting, participative, made use of virtual labs and had more discussion hours to keep the students engaged. There was emphasis on self-study with mentorship from faculty and evaluations based on projects and viva voce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Girish Desai</b></p> <p>Executive director, Pimpri Chinchwad Education Trust (PCET), Pune</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If education institutes are allowed to take regular classroom sessions, we are ready to start, while following all safety measures. We are also prepared to conduct all academic and cocurricular activities in the online mode. All educational institutes under the PCET are well equipped for either scenario.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Maitreyee Chaudhuri</b></p> <p>Group director, IAM Institute of Hotel Management</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All processes are now in a blended mode to ensure there is no gap in learning and evaluation. The virtual platform created opportunities for sessions from international master trainers, which may have been difficult otherwise. Students were able to get the best of both contact and virtual modes of learning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sam Paul</b></p> <p>Director, Krupanidhi Group of Institutions</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is evident that the future is in a blended form of education. While being at campus for some practical education is essential, remote learning cannot be withdrawn entirely. Hence, the amalgamation of online and offline approaches to the teaching-learning process is going to be normal for students this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Indranil Sengupta</b></p> <p>Vice-chancellor, JIS University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Academic details and routines have been chalked out in consultation with principals of the various educational institutes under the aegis of JIS. Both theory and practical classes, including question- and-answer solving sessions, will be held regularly through online platforms until further notification from regulatory bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tejinder Kaur</b></p> <p>Principal, Army Institute of Law, Mohali</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The effective methods of teaching, conducting assessments and ensuring that teaching-learning is interesting, engaging and context specific are essential for online mode of education. Students will have to adopt and accept the methods of online teaching-learning process using technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dr Farzana Mahdi</b></p> <p>Vice chancellor, Era University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Use of technology in the form of online learning tools, software and learning management systems has helped our students scale new heights. [Our] animation department produces 3D animation videos to complement the lectures and [our] educational gaming platform creates world-class games that hone the skills of students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Vandana Arora Sethi</b></p> <p>Group director, Lloyd Group of Institutions</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Teachers and students have made use of one-stop apps to centralise processes like practice quizzes and tests. The data gathered help in making the track record of students stand out; our teachers have been leveraging this to impart customised knowledge and give individual attention to students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Devinder Narain</b></p> <p>Director, corporate relations, Shobhit University</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blended education is the future. It is not only about faculty and students, teaching and learning. It also gives an opportunity to bridge the gap between the university and the industry. For example, an experienced worker can teach students from a remote location like his factory or office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Madhu Chitkara</b></p> <p>Pro chancellor, Chitkara University, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Users have been provided authentication keys to check the availability of any book/journal [in our library system]. The library team has done a phenomenal job in honouring 100 per cent of the requests received. More than 13,000 students have benefited from this service directly or indirectly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>B.L. Shivakumar</b></p> <p>Principal and secretary, Sri Ramakrishna College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The faculty used more than 60 tools for teaching, classroom management and internal evaluation. We believe that the new methods, new modes and new models adopted so far will flourish. Utmost care has been taken to prepare the student community and to get them ready to face a competitive world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ina Shastri</b></p> <p>Vice chancellor, Banasthali Vidyapith</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Online has remained at the forefront of delivery modes and we anticipate that it will remain so for the remainder of 2021. A proactive approach to learning design by professors and the institutes will be called for as long as the situation remains fluid and unpredictable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rajul Karsoliya</b></p> <p>Chairman, Shri Ram Group, Jabalpur</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New labs and centres have been launched dedicatedly to research on topics like augmented reality, virtual reality and 360° imaging. These immersive technologies will surely help students understand theoretical concepts more easily, prepare them for careers through enriched simulated experiences and keep them engaged in the learning process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>M. Akila</b></p> <p>Principal, KPR Institute of Engineering and Technology</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fusion of conventional and online learning requires a careful technology selection and a proactive approach in teaching-learning. Regular classes and placement training for the third- and fourth-year students are done online and we will complete the odd semester successfully in November 2021 and the even semester in June 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>S.R.R. Senthil Kumar</b></p> <p>Principal, Sona College of Technology</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As part of the interdisciplinary approach, the college has introduced open elective, choice-based credit and credit transferability. A student may drop a subject and go for a MOOC course that blends with the major subjects. They may also take any number of additional MOOC courses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Raj Kushwaha</b></p> <p>Chairman and managing director, Axis Colleges, Kanpur</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the admission process, we are planning to organise track-based webinars and tutorial videos to help candidates through the admission process. We have also included alumni testimonials. The college is planning to adopt augmented reality in pedagogy. This will help the faculty enhance classroom experiences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Research methodology</b></p> <p>THE WEEK conducted the Best Colleges Survey 2021 in association with Hansa Research to rank the top colleges in India. This year, the study was done across 10 disciplines—arts, science, commerce, engineering, medicine, dentistry, law, hotel management, fashion technology and mass communication—and covered 22 cities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As many as 1,074 academic experts, 2,055 current students, 722 aspiring students and 35 recruiters took part in the primary survey. Opinions of recruiters were taken only for engineering colleges. Aspiring students were interviewed for arts, commerce, science, engineering and medicine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The respondents were asked to nominate and rank the 25 top colleges in India and their respective zones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perceptual score was calculated based on the number of nominations and the actual ranks received.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For factual data collection, a dedicated website was created and the link was sent to more than 3,500 colleges. Of the 452 colleges which responded, 18 were rejected as they did not meet the eligibility criteria—the programme should have a minimum of 20 seats, at least three batches should have graduated from it and at least 40 per cent of seats should have been filled in the last academic year (30 per cent for arts, science and commerce).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Factual score was calculated based on weightages assigned to parameters such as infrastructure, faculty, teaching-learning process and extracurricular activities, placement and hospital association (for medicine and dentistry).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Final score = Perceptual score (out of 600) + factual score (out of 400)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some colleges could not respond to the survey. For them, the composite score was derived by combining the perceptual score with an interpolated factual score based on their position in the perceptual score list.</p> Fri Aug 06 16:36:12 IST 2021 no-compromises-in-excellence-and-service <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>St Stephen's College, Delhi is one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. It has maintained its number one position in the field of Arts and Science consecutively for many years altogether. As per THE WEEK-Hansa Research survey, the college was ranked number one in the country in the field of Arts and Science.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prof John Varghese, Principal, St Stephen's College, Delhi in an interview with THE WEEK, talks about why the college is special and why it has always managed to maintain the topmost position among the best colleges of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How has your institute managed to maintain an edge over all the other colleges of the country in the field of Arts and Science?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>St Stephen’s College is one of a kind. We started our vocation of service in education 140 years ago and we have been honing that skill all through these years. The founding fathers of the college were missionary scholars who were all fired up in the cause of education. They faced challenges and overcame each one of those challenges. At college we don’t boast of a fancy building or a tech-savvy campus—our pride is our young men and women. In Arts and Science, they learn the fundamentals and they learn it the hard way—without compromises. Perhaps that is why our students fare so well; that is perhaps why they win accolades all the way. Be that the Rhodes Scholarships that our students have been qualifying for regularly, or the high pay packages they command or the fantastic NGO work that they do; they excel everywhere because they’ve got their fundamentals right. Excellence and service. No compromises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What’s special about St Stephen's?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well just about everything. The campus, the Residence (with a capital R), the classrooms, the Library, the Archives, the College Hall, the Café (yes, not the canteen), the Junior Combination Room, the Ladies Common Room, the Staff Room, the Principals office…all of those exude “character”. However, what makes the college really special are the people and the spirit which drives these folks – the teachers, the students and the non-teaching staff. They are a driven lot; driven by passion and by zest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What innovations did you bring in during the pandemic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Online classes are a requirement, but we try to do that “little more”—it could be through the availability of a teacher for her students, or the college counsellor giving a few tips to a desperate student. That spirit of innovation is reflected in a sensitive associate dean of residence, urging students to brighten up the lives of fellow resident students during the second wave by caring for each other. The lockdown [also] gave us an opportunity to get some maintenance and infrastructural work done. Innovations are there for the asking, you just need to think smart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Any kind of new hybrid courses or new subject streams you are planning to introduce this year?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January 2020 we launched the Public Policy programme. In March, we made it online to beat Covid-19. We have been running this programme with a whole set of niche specializations with the best in the field as resource persons—the very creators and implementers of Public Policy themselves! Now you may think that you just can't do better than that! But wrong! College went ahead and made it even better. We have now got an international fellowship programme going with the support of the Ministry of External Affairs—The first of its kind from any college in India! We want to support the government in its neighbourhood-first policy by helping create dynamic leaders. And we hope to launch this programme as soon as international flights are cleared; this year itself, if that is possible.</p> <p>We have got much more and we are waiting eagerly for the NEP (New Education Policy) to grant us autonomy. We have got a list of close to twenty new courses lined up (and believe me, one of them is a unique, first of a kind in India). We are keen on the aspirational parts of the NEP because, with un-stinted support from the government, we can make big things happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Going forward, what will the class of 2021-2022 be like for the students and teachers this year?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This new academic year is going to be another challenge. Covid is very much around, complicating the lives of our teachers and students; but we shall overcome each of those challenges with the characteristic Stephanian qualities: A determination to excel and a strong urge to serve. Stephanians are good at transforming challenges into opportunities and we will continue that tradition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Anything new planned for this academic year?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, the fellowship programme is one. If the NEP is implemented in spirit and word, then autonomy for college will give us the freedom to be creative and push the boundaries of our staid education system. We have got quite a few ideas that, with the government’s support, will prove that the NEP is not just an aspirational document but the harbinger of a much-awaited change in education. The wish is there, but the government needs to make that wish a reality.</p> Thu Aug 05 20:49:13 IST 2021 graduation-from-srcc-is-often-a-visiting-card-to-greater-ventures-in-life <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) Delhi, throughout its glorious history, has played a pivotal role in the field of commerce and economics education in the country since the early 1900s. A student pursuing a degree in commerce from SRCC is a transformation in motion, both during and after the graduation from the college. THE WEEK Hansa Survey has ranked SRCC as the top most college for commerce education in the country. In an interview with THE WEEK, Prof. Simrit Kaur, Principal, SRCC talks about different aspects that make the college stand out from the rest of the commerce colleges in the country and the ongoing initiatives the college has undertaken to deal with the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How has SRCC managed to stay at the top in commerce education in India?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>At SRCC, the student is sublimed, distilled, immersed, refined, redefined and completely transformed by an encouraging environment that promotes both didactic and autodidactic learning and development. The students are taught and mentored by faculty members who are known and respected for their research and books. A large number of books for nearly all subjects in the discipline have been written by SRCC faculty members. This kind of tutelage and two-way democratic engagement of thought and expression lead to students developing a keen appreciation for commerce in specific, and life in general. Additionally, the pedagogy is equally rooted in traditionalism and modernism, where we incorporate both classical methods like chalk and talk as well as newer methods like participative learning. These methods focus on instilling a deep sense of conceptual clarity and curiosity for life-long learning in students, something very clearly observed in the alumni of the college. Apart from the curricular programme of the University offered by the college, the institution offers greater value addition as it regularly provides add on courses, internships, schemes for academic research and research mentoring to its students. Students can pursue relevant add-on courses which are introduced in collaboration with industry to bridge any curricular gap. At the same time the students can publish their research in house through a very exertive academic mentoring process, as well as avail funding to present their research at various national and international forums.&nbsp;</p> <p>Also the environs of the college promotes an all encompassing education beyond curriculum. In addition to the great student support system of extensive peer-to-peer mentoring and learning provided by the institution, the college encourages students to foster community spirit and team participation through its fifty plus students’ societies. Students can pursue their extra-curricular interests in diversified areas—from performing arts like dance and craft, to sports, to hosting very large events, and social care and community welfare amongst others. The biggest strength of pursuing a course at SRCC is the associated brand name of the institution and the pride of being an 'SRite'. A graduate degree at SRCC often acts as a visiting card to greater ventures in life. The brand recognition of the college helps students progress at an accelerating rate in their chosen course of career.</p> <p><b>What kind of collaborations and initiatives has your college undertaken in recent times?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Several initiatives were taken to enhance the consultancy profile and extend the college’s industry-academia interface. The college has signed an MoU with Indian Corporate Law Service Academy (ICLS), Manesar, under which faculty members of SRCC design and administer training modules for new recruits of the Academy. A similar MoU has been signed between SRCC and RBI under which faculty members of SRCC conduct a training programme for Grade B and Grade C officers of the RBI. Our college is the only undergraduate college to have collaborated on training and consultancy with ICLS Academy and RBI. The college has also undertaken a research project of the government of India on regulatory issues pertaining to digital platforms.</p> <p>Recently, our college was awarded two National Resource Centres in Commerce and Economics by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). In July 2019, our college launched two refresher courses: Refresher Course in Commerce and Refresher Course in Economics. These refresher courses are sponsored by the HRD, under its initiative “Annual Refresher Programme in Teaching (ARPIT). These refresher courses were designed to provide the faculty members an exposure about the latest developments in the frontiers of knowledge in the subjects spanning the field of commerce and economics. Both courses are for a duration of 40 hours each, delivered over a period of 16 weeks through the SWAYAM portal of MHRD. Each course consisted of video lectures, e-content, discussion forums and weekly assessments for the participants. Since their launch, over 11,000 combined participants have enrolled for these courses. The National Resource Centre has also set up a state of the art soundproof video studio lab consisting of modern multimedia capabilities.</p> <p><b>How did you innovate during the pandemic?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>We had to ensure academic well-being during the lockdown and pursuant to the university notice on March 13, 2020, a staff council meeting was convened for strategising how best the process of teaching-learning would continue during lockdown. It was decided that faculty, in addition to providing e-resources through the institutional website, would explore and adopt multi-modal channels to deliver the curriculum, such as taking online classes. It was also decided that they would remain available to the students during their stipulated academic hours. Consequently, a mail was sent to students with a copy to the faculty informing them of the modalities for contacting the faculty concerned and also accessing e-resources through the institutional website. Additionally, two separate Google surveys were conducted—one each from faculty and students—enquiring participation, perception, effectiveness, and satisfaction due to the paradigm shift in teaching learning modalities due to the lockdown.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, our college has proactively taken steps prior and during the current Covid-19 situation towards its commitment of emotional and psychological well-being of its stakeholders. To address anxiety and stress, especially of the students, during the lockdown, a coordinated strategy has been formulated and implemented by the counselling services. Two senior faculty members were appointed as nodal officers for formally counselling and addressing student queries.</p> <p>Currently regular college work is going on satisfactorily despite the exceptional circumstances. The principal, office of the principal, AO admin and AO accounts continue to handle routine matters and also communicate with the university and UGC. Our Computer Centre (CC), too, has taken over the additional burden of uploading e-resources competently. The CC is also in the process of framing modalities wherein the faculty will be able to upload their e-resources directly, negating the present requirement of routing it through the CC and the Principal’s Office. For cleanliness of premises, including watering of plants and garbage disposal, minimal staff has been asked to report for duty. We have also created WhatsApp groups wherein the members are the principal and various year-wise and subject-wise class representatives. Currently six such groups exist, three each for commerce and economics streams.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you planning to introduce any new hybrid courses or new subject streams during this academic year?</b></p> <p>To augment and enhance the skill sets of students and align it to industry expectation, our college launched its first value added course in August 2018. Since then, various value-added courses have been introduced. These short term courses are in collaboration with a specialized industry partner with a very specific aim of closing the curricular gaps. The value-added courses have garnered a very positive response from the students.</p> <p><b>What are your plans for this academic year?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Owing to the ongoing pandemic, the college continues to function in a hybrid mode, where teaching and learning is conducted online and only limited staff visit the college. Our college plans to enhance its environmental profile in a major way and emerge as a role model in the same. Our solar power project is nearly complete and has started generation of electricity. We have also developed our in-house solid waste management system. We also plan to introduce more value-added courses in collaboration with industry partners to further enhance the skill and growth profile of our students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 05 20:31:24 IST 2021 we-have-a-dynamic-process-in-place-that-keeps-evolving <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>What makes you the best among engineering colleges in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the best things that distinguishes IIT Delhi from [others] is its faculty. We follow a three-level reviewer selection process to recruit our faculty. In the last four years, we have started nine new departments and centres. This means that we have created a new IIT within an existing IIT. Among the new centres are the Centre for Automotive Research and Tribology that focuses on electric vehicles (EVs). We also have three new schools—School of Public Policy, School of Artificial Intelligence and the School for Interdisciplinary Research.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a dynamic process in place that keeps evolving…. Institutions have to emphasise on new things that are important in society today such as EVs. If we do not, then India will have to import all those technologies. We are now recruiting at least 20 new faculty members in the EV space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How important are collaborations and constant engagements for IIT Delhi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being in Delhi, we thought that we needed to get into policy studies in a major way. So we started a school of public policy. We are again recruiting a large faculty in the space. At the same time, Delhi also has a lot of location advantages. We get to directly engage with the ministries, and some of the finest institutions of India—AIIMS Delhi, National Institute of Immunology, Regional centre for BioTechnology—are also in Delhi. We have MoUs with all the major institutes, and have joint supervision of faculty and students between them, which helps in bringing a multi-disciplinary focus to our research.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Any new innovations you have worked on?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the pandemic, we have undertaken and licenced at least 13 innovations. For instance, we have the cheapest low-cost RT-PCR kit. We also developed a Rs 50 antigen test. Around 70 lakh Kawach PPE suits, developed by IIT Delhi, have been sold until now. [Likewise,] N95 masks were very expensive and were not freely available. We launched masks under the Kawach brand for just Rs40, which met all the N95 specifications.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you introducing any new multidisciplinary course?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have started an MTech in cyber security, which involves multiple departments in the institute, from electrical to computer science to information technology. Very recently, we launched an MTech programme for e-mobility, and a new masters in public policy. We are also starting a bachelors in design programme, and a BTech programme in energy engineering. There would also be MTech progammes in AI and data sciences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you see the academic year 2021-22?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During Covid times, we have pushed our infrastructure projects. Around 1.8 million square feet of new space [will be] handed over to us in 2021. It will ensure that when students come back, we will be able to maintain some social distancing. There are two new hostels coming up, and we are planning [another] one. A sports complex and a laboratory space are also coming up. A research and innovation park will be inaugurated soon. We hope to see at least 100 industries come and do their research on the campus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 05 22:06:31 IST 2021 nep-will-phase-out-the-affiliation-system <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>K. Kasturirangan is the head of the drafting committee on the National Education Policy 2020 and Leena Chandran Wadia is a senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation, and member of the technical secretariat to the Kasturirangan Committee and is also a member, drafting committee of the draft NEP 2019. In a joint interaction with THE WEEK, they highlight the significance of NEP, how it compares with other education policies in other countries, how it will transform higher education in India and several other aspects of the NEP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What major changes will National Education Policy 2020 bring?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NEP 2020 is not about tweaking the educational system, but transforming it. It will change all aspects of education, at all levels. For instance, children between the ages of three and six would be brought into the fold of formal education for the first time. The NEP will also help in achieving foundational literacy and numeracy for all children by the age of eight. The Central government has launched a national mission to achieve the objectives of this policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NEP emphasises the importance of bilingual and multilingual education for all children. Moreover, vocational training will be integrated into school education. Classes from nine to 12 will be combined into a programme during which students will be allowed to make choices across a range of subjects, including science, social science, the arts, vocational education and even sports. The basic degree for a school teacher will become the four-year BEd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multidisciplinary education and research universities will be set up. Also, a national research foundation (NRF) will be set up to nurture research in the university system. The higher education system will be restructured into research universities, teaching universities and autonomous degree-granting colleges. The focus will be on providing autonomy, with accountability, to higher education institutions so that they can lead the transformation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Could you elaborate on the changes specific to higher education?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Higher education will become much more student centric and focus on building 21st century skills. Youth and adults will have the opportunity to keep learning throughout their lives, as and when necessary, to keep pace with a fast-changing world. The steps like the setting up of an Academic Bank of Credits, a liberal undergraduate education and the integration of vocational education will all contribute towards this. The NEP will take higher education away from lecture-based pedagogy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Higher education will see a completely new regulatory framework that will have four independent verticals—for regulation, accreditation, funding and standard-setting—under the umbrella of the Higher Education Commission of India. The system will grow, but it will also require consolidation since over 65 per cent of the 42,000 plus colleges have less than 500 students at present. Only 4 per cent of the colleges have enrolment greater than 3,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is important to note that higher education in India is largely private (79 per cent of institutions and 66 per cent of enrolment). The NEP has provided encouragement and support to the private sector by treating them on par with government institutions, with regards to regulation and access to research funding. The regulatory framework will help in weeding out institutions that are unable to improve their standards over a period of a decade or more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It (the new regulatory framework) will also phase out the affiliation system and create autonomous institutions that will be able to innovate in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. It will help provide mobility to students across streams through the creation of a national higher education qualification framework that will also be interconnected with the national skills qualification framework.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was the vision with which you drafted the NEP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The focus of the NEP is captured in one of the statements in it: &quot;Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India's continued ascent and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration, and cultural preservation.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Key considerations include emphasis on the full development of human potential as articulated in the declaration of human rights in 1948; an education system that draws upon India’s heritage and value systems; the unfinished agenda of previous policies; the sustainable development goals; seeking to create a flexible yet integrated system of education that facilitates national development, and preparing students to realise their own dreams and aspirations and secure their future and that of their families, and also to contribute to society and the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How does the NEP compare with the education policies in western countries?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As you know, we had wide ranging consultations while formulating the NEP. These consultations and the knowledge of the members of the committee meant that we had a comprehensive understanding of the educational systems in [countries like] the US, Europe, South Korea and Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Furthermore, there were the key elements of India's educational system consistent with our culture and ethos that needed to be included. Therefore, though the policy recognises the centrality of Indianness, it incorporates the best of experiences and practices of other leading countries engaged in innovative concepts in education and research. Thus, if the NEP is implemented in the spirit in which it was created, it will give India an education system that is second to none.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What kind of deliberations went in before you drafted the NEP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It began with the bottom-up consultation started by the then HRD minister Smriti Irani, where inputs were gathered from panchayat level upwards and state governments collated these reports and submitted them to then MHRD. The TSR Subramanian committee report and the MHRD report that followed were based on these. Our committee received inputs from many individuals and groups (listed in the DNEP report). I even travelled to various places to meet important individuals such as the head of the Jain sect. We also sought out many experts on our own to get their inputs and we subjected the draft policy to peer reviews by several independent experts. After our draft, DNEP 2019 was put into the public domain and it received over 2.4 lakh responses which were then considered and incorporated into the document. Last but not the least, the final draft of the document received extensive reviews from Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose thoughtful and valuable suggestions were incorporated into the final policy document.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Initially the students had to study fixed subjects in schools but as per the NEP, there should be flexibility in terms of the courses they choose. How will this help the students?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most students have multiple interests and abilities. The policy has also adopted holistic and multidisciplinary education as the key thread running across the policy for school as well as higher education. The NEP has, therefore, suggested that students be given a choice of subjects across all the disciplines available at the institution, including vocational education and sports. In this context, we do away with the existing practice of separation between curricular and co-curricular, science and arts, vocational and professional and ensure a truly multi-disciplinary approach including areas like arts, crafts, sports. This move should also make a lot of ICT-related courses in programming, data sciences and so on available to students. Being introduced to such a large canvas of subjects will help the students make more informed choices regarding directions for their careers. A similar strategy is adopted for the undergraduate education which will be more multidisciplinary and holistic. Education will be moving more towards the adoption of integrative and liberal approaches. All these steps will create well rounded individuals capable of playing their rightful roles both in their profession or vocation and also in dealing with social issues and interacting with communities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have said that the education system in India needs change and not tuning? What kind of changes were needed on an urgent basis in the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As you must have seen, the policy is not about tweaking the existing educational system but transforming it. This is evident at any level of education. A serious reader making a critical assessment of the policy will find an unambiguous answer to your question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have stressed that the NEP will make India a knowledge hub. How will that happen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India must ensure that it is in a position to generate knowledge across disciplines. The students must become active participants in the process of knowledge creation from a young age, beginning at secondary school. The NEP enables this transformation as it reorients the pedagogy from rote learning to learning how to learn and inquiry-driven learning. It provides autonomy to institutions, encourages research and innovation. It also makes provision for research funding across disciplines and levels through the NRF.</p> Thu Aug 05 22:12:43 IST 2021 anti-sedition-law-Is-it-a-necessary-evil <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the night of December 17, 1995, a large consignment of weapons, including AK-47 rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition, was airdropped from an aircraft in the Purulia district of West Bengal. The weapons were confiscated by the police after the locals informed them about the mysterious event. A Dane named Niels Holck, also known as Kim Peter Davy, was later found to be the kingpin behind the operation, and the Central Bureau of Investigation slapped sedition charges in the case.</p> <p>The sensational events captured the imagination of the public and the political circles: there were allegations that the arms drop was plotted to destabilise the Left Front government of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal. The CBI issued a statement in 2011 dismissing claims that the operation had the nod of “political forces” at the Centre.</p> <p>An illegal act of this sort, that has the potential to incite an armed revolt against an elected government, can best be described as a seditious act and not just a terrorist plot.</p> <p>Loknath Behera, a senior IPS officer involved in the investigation of the Purulia arms drop case, said the anti-sedition law should be used sparingly since it entails heavy punishment up to life imprisonment. Moreover, it is also a difficult offence to prove in court. “Sedition cannot be invoked for small offences,” he said. “It has to be used judiciously in the context of the Kedar Nath Singh [vs the State of Bihar] judgment [of 1962], where the constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was tested and upheld.”</p> <p>In the Kedar Nath Singh judgment, the Supreme Court narrowed down the scope of the anti-sedition law, saying that mere criticism of the government was not seditious unless it incited violence or disturbed public order. This meant that if the law was not read in the context of this interpretation, it threatened to engulf any expression of opposing opinion—written or spoken—qualifying it as incitement of hatred or disaffection towards the government.</p> <p>In the last few years, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has slapped sedition charges in a series of cases. Leaders of the proscribed organisation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and terror-accused in Kashmir to politicians and activists protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in 2019 became the accused in these cases. The NIA, set up in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, has mixed experience in courts on sedition cases. While the agency successfully proved the charges in some, it failed in many others.</p> <p>“The anti-sedition law has its relevance,” said a senior NIA official. “When a banned outfit like the SFJ, which propagates the idea of a separate Khalistan state, enters into a social media campaign besides invoking the anti-terror law, such activities also attract penal provisions defined under IPC Section 124A which explains the offence more clearly.”</p> <p>But there has been a plethora of cases where courts have acquitted the accused. Recently, the NIA court in Guwahati acquitted activist and MLA Akhil Gogoi and three others in a sedition case slapped against them during the height of the anti-CAA protests in Assam in 2019.</p> <p>Successive governments have used the anti-sedition law with impunity to quell dissent. The result is that several writers, journalists, cartoonists, politicians, activists and students got entangled in the dreaded colonial-era statute. And, the level of sedition charges has stretched the imagination of the law itself.</p> <p>Two months ago, a sedition charge was slapped against an Assam woman for using a table cloth that resembled the national flag while celebrating Eid. In June, the Guwahati High Court granted her bail. In another instance in Punjab in 2020, a political leader was accused of sedition when he posted a message on social media about the lack of ventilators during the pandemic. The bail order by the Punjab and Haryana High Court termed the use of sedition in this case as an “overzealous exercise of power” by the police. The trial is yet to commence.</p> <p>The courts are now dealing with several cases of visibly apparent misuse of the anti-sedition law, and this has drawn the ire of the Supreme Court. On July 15, the Supreme Court asked the Union government as to why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence people like Mahatma Gandhi.</p> <p>“Is it still necessary to keep this statute even after 75 years of Independence?” asked the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, while agreeing to examine the pleas filed by the Editors Guild of India and an army veteran, challenging Section 124A. The bench issued a notice to the Union government and pointed out that the conviction rate in sedition cases is extremely low.</p> <p>Section 124A was inserted into the IPC by the British in 1870. Repealing obsolete and archaic laws was a poll promise of the BJP. After it came to power, more than 1,200 redundant laws were struck off. A special committee has been set up in the prime minister's office to review archaic laws and make recommendations to the government. But the final word on making changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure, IPC and anti-terror laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and National Security Act lies with the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA). The ministry has constituted a five-member committee to look into overhauling such fossilised legislations, or removing them.</p> <p>With the review of the sedition law on its table, it is not the first time Home Minister Amit Shah and Home Secretary A.K. Bhalla are burning the midnight oil. The first option is to revise the draconian legislation to make it in sync with the changing times. Second, to issue guidelines based on the directions of the Supreme Court, and third, to strike it down if it has outlived its purpose.</p> <p>“There is a need for wider consultation on the matter,” said D. Raja, general secretary of the Communist Party of India. “The government should consult stakeholders and get public opinion while making changes to any laws.”</p> <p>In 2012, the UPA government had walked a few steps to review the anti-sedition law but developed cold feet. A group of ministers was then constituted to suggest changes based on recommendations of the law commission. Former home ministry officials said the view taken was to retain the law after revising the definition for sedition. Several changes were proposed including replacing disaffection against “government” with disaffection against “Parliament, state legislature, Constitution, national flag, national anthem and national emblem”, and reducing the punishment for sedition to a seven-year jail term with a fine. But the proposals never saw the light of day. In the meantime, law enforcement agencies were asked to avoid misuse of sedition and make use of other provisions in the IPC to deal with similar offences of a lesser category.</p> <p>In the mid-1980s, the Union home ministry had shown greater political will when it came to drafting a law to quell separatist tendencies. P. Chidambaram, former Union home minister told THE WEEK: “In 1987, the Terrorists and Disruption Activities (Prevention) Act was drafted and passed in the context of the rising terrorism in Punjab. It was intended to be a temporary law.” Chidambaram, who was then minister of state for internal security, sat down with M.K. Narayanan, the then director of Intelligence Bureau, and a senior Punjab police officer, to draft TADA that encompassed a wide range of activities, including protests of all sorts. For the first time, it made confessions before a police officer admissible in court, put restrictions on bail and gave enhanced powers to detain suspects. TADA was in force between 1985 and 1995.</p> <p>According to police officers of that era, the law was grossly misused. Over the years, the Supreme Court read down the application of the law to prevent its misuse. “Safeguards were introduced and the law was upheld by the courts, but still, the law was misused,” said Chidambaram. “The Congress government under P.V. Narasimha Rao allowed the Act to lapse.”</p> <p>Shantanu Sen, former joint director in CBI who was then deputy inspector general in Punjab Police, said: “I was part of the consultations that drafted TADA. While it was useful at one time to fight terrorism and organised crime in Punjab, I am not mourning its end.”</p> <p>In western countries, said Sen, various forms of incarceration are there: individuals can be put under house arrest and other steps taken to control their movement if they are found on the wrong side of the law which are not heavily punishable. “But here, the situation of an undertrial is the same as that of a person who is convicted for a crime,” he said. Sen added that simply because the sedition law is being misused, it cannot be struck down. “However, the government should immediately bring provisions to control its misuse,” he said.</p> <p>The danger, according to law enforcement officers, is that it may open a pandora's box of new forms of misuse. Also, offences that strictly qualify as seditious speech or writing might be stretched as offences under some stringent laws like the UAPA.</p> <p>The recent death of the 84-year-old Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, while being in judicial custody, raised several questions on the use of draconian laws like the UAPA. Swamy was booked under various sections of the UAPA; there was no sedition charge against him. He had already spent nine months in jail, before his death on July 5, waiting for his trial to start. There are many others like Swamy, booked for sedition and anti-terror charges, waiting in jails for years awaiting trial.</p> <p>Undeniably, state police have different experiences with sedition, owing to their different social concerns and history of crime and terrorism. The number of cases varies from state to state. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Maoist-infested state of Chhattisgarh had just one case filed under Section 124A in 2019. Whereas Karnataka had 22 cases, Assam had 17 and Jammu and Kashmir 11.</p> <p>Vishwaranjan, former director-general of police, Chhattisgarh, explained why there was no need to invoke too many sedition cases in the state. “There is no denying that the Maoist literature, speeches, actions were all seditious,” he said. “But until their claims were backed by seditious activity that could damage law and order, we arrested them under normal sections of the IPC.”</p> <p>M. Mahender Reddy, director-general of police of Telangana, said sedition is used only against top Maoist cadres who use the ‘barrel of the gun’ to threaten the state. N.R. Wasan, former special director in CBI, said in his career spanning 36 years he never used sedition against any accused. “There were all kinds of cases under investigation, from insurgency to Naxalism, but I did not feel the need to use it,” he said.</p> <p>There have been efforts by state governments to ensure judicious use of the anti-sedition law. In 2015, the home department of Maharashtra issued a circular asking police stations to issue guidelines to prevent the misuse of the law. The circular mentioned that words against politicians and government servants cannot be termed as sedition, obscenity or vulgarity does not fall under sedition and a legal opinion must be obtained in writing from a law officer of the district, giving reasons why the charges are being invoked.</p> <p>Shishir Hiray, a special public prosecutor in Maharashtra, points out that there are many provisions to prevent unnecessary arrests which can be used to stop the misuse of laws like sedition. “For example, Section 41A of the CrPC has penal provisions that can be invoked against an investigating officer if he flouts the rules of arrest,” he said.</p> <p>P.D.T. Achary, former secretary- general of the Lok Sabha, said Article 19(2) of the Constitution authorises the government to impose reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression. And, it is under this umbrella that sedition exists on the statute book to date. Achary, however, noted that the problem persists in the law which is arbitrary and unjustifiable at any stage. “The Supreme Court should strike it down now,” he said.</p> <p>Parliamentarians have time and again argued about the number of sedition cases in the country under different governments. The method of calculation varies as in some FIRs Section 124A is not a primary offence but a secondary one. This is one of the reasons why figures of the NCRB on sedition cases are at odds with the numbers recently revealed by Article 14—a portal run by a group of lawyers, journalists and academics which has tracked sedition cases between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2020. Their data showed a massive 96 per cent rise in cases since Narendra Modi came to power. The home ministry officials said they have started maintaining a separate database on sedition since 2014, unlike the UPA regime when all sedition cases were clubbed with IPC cases.</p> <p>Lt General Shokin Chouhan, former chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group in Nagaland, said: “More than numbers, the cause for disaffection toward any government needs to be addressed. Whether it is the Central or state government, lack of [good] governance breeds disaffection.”</p> <p>Lubhyathi Rangarajan, a lawyer who heads the Article 14 project, said inherent in the meaning of sedition lies a stigma—it is <i>desh droh</i> (traitor) in several Indian languages. While the word sedition awaits a final decree on its fate, the silver lining is that it is never too late for the government to build the affection of people.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 19:25:36 IST 2021 anti-sedition-law-who-is-responsible-for-the-flaws-in-our-law-enforcement-system <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Time and again, the judiciary has played a critical role in the functioning of democracy by setting in motion reforms that are followed up by the executive or even the legislature. The latest Supreme Court judgment in the sedition case against journalist Vinod Dua can be one such opportunity, if used judiciously by other arms of the government, to overhaul the law enforcement system that seems to have made too many mistakes when it comes to the interpretation of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code that defines sedition.</p> <p>Dua was worried after sedition and public mischief charges were slapped against him over his YouTube videos. A journalist for many decades who had seen successive governments and critically analysed their policies, he had sleepless nights and court updates to follow. He was reassured by his lawyer Vikas Singh, but the final relief came for him when the apex court heard his case and quashed the FIR.</p> <p>“If the investigation drags in such cases, it demotivates and stifles the freedom of expression further because the accused is always scared and careful. It actually amounts to suspension of fundamental rights,” said Dua.</p> <p>The FIR against Dua had been filed in May 2020 based on a complaint—by a BJP leader in Himachal Pradesh—that the senior journalist had made serious allegations against the prime minister. Quashing the FIR, the apex court once again held that, “every journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh judgment”. This essentially meant that journalists cannot face an FIR for raising concerns or criticising the government unless there is an active call for incitement to violence as laid down in earlier judgments.</p> <p>The debate over the interpretation of the anti-sedition law has devoured the time of many courts for decades. That's because a local police station or the policeman did not read or understand the Supreme Court judgment in the landmark 1962 Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case, or the law enforcers were not held accountable after the sedition charges were thrown out by court.</p> <p>Political pressures aside, the onus still lies on the policeman who registers a first information report before he begins an investigation that leads to the framing of charges against a person accused of a cognisable offence. But the blame cannot be put solely on the policeman. The question here is who is responsible for explaining to the constable or SHO whether an individual can be charged under sedition?</p> <p>“There should be a circular or clear guidelines issued by the state government or police chiefs to every police station using simple language to educate the local policeman on how the offence of sedition needs to be read [in accordance] with the Kedar Nath Singh judgment of the Supreme Court,” said Singh.</p> <p>The home ministry's role in issuing advisories to ensure the proper use of the Indian Penal Code and other laws by enforcement agencies is well known. And, at the state level, the police chiefs issue circulars from time to time.</p> <p>On July 14, the Union home ministry asked states and Union territories to direct police stations not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which criminalised the posting of any “offensive” information online. It also asked states and Union territories to sensitise law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the order issued by the Supreme Court on March 24, 2015, which had struck down the section. “The MHA has also requested that if any case has been booked in states and UTs under Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, such cases should be immediately withdrawn,” said the MHA advisory. Similar guidelines can be issued by the Centre or states, asking state police units to educate its men on handling cases under the anti-sedition law.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 19:18:07 IST 2021 section-124a-is-not-necessary-to-prevent-insurrection--says-owaisi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the morning of February 1, 2020, I travelled from Hyderabad to Bidar in Karnataka to meet Nazbunnisa and Fareeda Begum, imprisoned in Bidar district prison. Nazbunnisa has a 12-year-old daughter who studies at the school where Begum is the headmistress. I have seen many absurd things in my three-decade-old political career, but this incident is the strangest. Nazbunnisa and Begum were arrested for the crime of sedition, except that they did not commit any crime at all.</p> <p>Briefly, these are the facts: the daughter, who was 11 then, participated in a school play around the time when Muslims across India were participating in the movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and related issues. A local worker of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad objected to a specific monologue in the play that was delivered by the girl: “I will ask him (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) where he was born and where his documents are. If he can’t show them, I will hit with a chappal. Amma, I’m scared. Where do we go, leaving our home, our country and our livelihood?”</p> <p>Overzealous and ever so committed to illegality, the police in Bidar “interrogated” nearly 85 schoolchildren aged nine to 11 years five times over nine days, in complete violation of law and decency. Eventually, it was decided that Nazbunnisa and Begum would be arrested under Section 124A, which criminalises seditious speech. This was perhaps one of the first instances where a single mother and a school principal were booked for a non-crime committed by a minor child. But it is not nearly the first time that the law of sedition has been used to persecute, intimidate and imprison citizens.</p> <p>According to a national database maintained by, nearly 11,000 individuals have been booked under Section 124A in the past ten years; 65 per cent of them after Modi became PM in 2014. Ninety-six per cent of sedition cases filed against 405 people [for criticising politicians and governments] over the last decade were registered after 2014. As many as 149 of the accused were booked for making “critical” or “derogatory” remarks against Modi; 144 people were booked for criticising Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Between 2017 and 2018, the previous BJP government in Jharkhand had slapped sedition cases on 10,000 unnamed tribals for the crime of erecting stone plaques with provisions of Schedule V of the Constitution and other laws dealing with rights of adivasis. Between 2011 and 2013, the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu booked around 9,000 people on charges of sedition for protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.</p> <p>It is a common misconception that Section 124A is necessary to prevent insurrection and treasonous activity against the republic. There are other provisions of the law that specifically deal with violent attempts to overthrow the state. Section 124A exclusively deals with spoken or written words that bring “into hatred or contempt” or “excite or attempt to excite disaffection” against the government. The provision parodies itself by further clarifying that “disaffection” includes “disloyalty and enmity”. In an act of generosity, the provision exempts speech that expresses disagreement with measures of the government or proposes lawful change while not expressing disaffection.</p> <p>In societies based on rule of law, crimes are not actions that are ‘objectionable’, but those that cause tangible harm to individuals or society at large. Laws should not penalise words, and they certainly should not penalise feelings that such words may rouse among readers or listeners. Most important, citizens ought to know if their actions are crimes in the first place. Prosecutors should be able to objectively prove that the act itself was a crime. However, it is simply impossible for a prosecutor to prove if particular words evoked particular feelings among particular people.</p> <p>It is obvious that the sedition law serves governments, and not the republic. The Constitution protects individuals regardless of their ‘feelings’ towards it. Only autocrats are offended by the idea that there are citizens who have unfavourable and unpleasant feelings towards the regime. Simply setting ‘guidelines’ for the valid use of an otherwise unconstitutional provision does not protect citizens’ rights from insecure and trigger-happy governments.</p> <p>As the Supreme Court hears constitutional challenges against sedition, it has the opportunity to protect citizens like Nazbunnisa from the future trauma of being punished for the words spoken by their children. It has the opportunity to recognise that bad laws do not become constitutional simply because of a few ‘guidelines’. The court has the opportunity to inaugurate a robust criminal law jurisprudence that strikes down criminal laws penalising acts that are otherwise victim-less or non-violent.</p> <p><i><b>The author is president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad ul Muslimeen.</b></i></p> Thu Jul 29 18:54:36 IST 2021 is-anti-sedition-law-killing-journalism-in-the-northeast <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kishorechandra Wangkhem, 41, is one of the petitioners who have challenged the controversial sedition law in the Supreme Court. This outspoken Manipur-based journalist has been booked twice for sedition, twice under the National Security Act (NSA) and once for defamation. As he walked out of jail on July 23—after spending more than two months in Manipur Central Jail in Imphal on an NSA case—he said he has become more confident and fearless to speak the truth.</p> <p>In recent months, sedition charges have been slapped against several journalists in separate cases in Manipur, including Wangkhem’s colleagues Dhiren Sadokpam and Paojel Chaoba—editors of <i>The Frontier Manipur</i>.</p> <p>Wangkhem is not much upset about the fact that he got jailed. He used his jail time to read books and hear the stories of other inmates. But he is upset about the misapprehensions about the people of the northeast, especially Manipur.</p> <p>“Manipur is a region where several ethnic groups live in the hills and the valley. Each group is distinct. But the people end up suffering because of lack of understanding [of the law enforcement system about these different identities],” Wangkhem told THE WEEK. “In 2018, I was booked for sedition when I tried to explain that the patriotism of Rani of Jhansi is not historically linked to Manipur. I was emphasising that the younger generation should learn about the struggles of our leaders from Manipur, but it was misunderstood.”</p> <p>The journalist was arrested but later granted bail in this case. In 2020, another sedition case was slapped against him. He said this time it was for trying to raise his voice against a racial slur. The trial is going on in this case.</p> <p>Wangkhem points out that the problem will not be solved merely with his release but only by the government fulfilling political commitments, allowing people to speak their mind and showing political will to bring an end to the decades-long insurgency in the northeast.</p> <p>He uses Wangkhemcha Wangthoi as his Facebook name. In May, he was booked under NSA for an “offensive” Facebook post on the demise of a BJP leader because of Covid-19. Wangkhem's wife Elangbam Ranjeeta says her husband has a sharp mind, and he does not mince words. The couple has three children. “I am thankful to the judiciary for releasing my husband,” she said. “We are simple people, and it unsettles my life each time he gets arrested.” Wangkhem’s lawyer Chongtham Victor said his client is planning to seek compensation for the time spent in jail.</p> <p>The journalist affirms that he has no connection to any political outfit and is totally against violence. Officials in the Manipur Police, however, said “repeat offenders”—who are booked under laws like sedition and NSA—are a problem as they do not abstain from the acts that can fuel unrest in the state. A senior state government official said, “Sometimes the revolutionary ideas are used by certain forces to keep the pot boiling. It is not the decision of the [higher officials of the] government to invoke sedition or not, it is a decision taken by the [local] police.”</p> <p>But Lt General Rameshwar Roy, former director general of Assam Rifles, disagrees. Roy, who has led counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and the northeast, said a fair assessment needs to be made about the capability of the offender before booking them under such laws.</p> <p>“It is painful to see students and journalists being booked for sedition for certain social media posts and writings without examining whether they even can use it as an instrument against the state,” he said. He added that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, that is in force in insurgency-affected areas of the northeast, already covers a number of offences.</p> <p>The northeast accounts for a huge share of sedition cases. Sadokpam, editor-in-chief of <i>The Frontier Manipur</i> and his colleague Chaoba were arrested on January 17 for an article published on their news portal. They were slapped with charges under the sedition law and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The article was written by another author but was published after being approved by Sadokpam and Chaoba.</p> <p>“As far as I remember, the article took a dig at the way insurgent groups were operating in Manipur,” said Sadokpam. “In the northeast, just like some other parts of the country, many writers operate under a pseudonym. The same article was published by other news websites, too, but only we were booked for sedition.” Both Sadokpam and Chaoba were released a day after their arrest. “However, it was a traumatic experience for us and our families,” said Chaoba.</p> <p>Sadokpam said they were asked to give a written statement which they submitted on March 16 explaining how the editorial clearance was given for the controversial article. “We are not sure if the charges have been dropped or changed to other sections,” he said.</p> Thu Jul 29 18:49:42 IST 2021 in-manipur-the-oppressed-has-become-the-oppressor-activist-erendro-leichombam <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A former associate of activist Irom Sharmila, Erendro Leichombam holds a postgraduate degree in public administration from Harvard University. In 2016, a year before the assembly elections in Manipur, he and Sharmila co-founded the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance. The party was crushed in the polls, but Leichombam has continued to fight for social and political causes.</p> <p>He has been arrested and released several times since 2018, allegedly for his staunch criticism of the BJP-led government in the state. On May 13 this year, he was arrested and charged under the stringent National Security Act after he published a Facebook post criticising BJP leaders for advocating the use of cow dung and urine as cure for Covid-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court ordered his immediate release, saying his prolonged imprisonment would qualify as a breach of Article 21, which guarantees life and liberty.</p> <p>Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Why did the government charge you under NSA?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I posted on social media that cow dung and cow urine cannot cure Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>What happened after that?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Within hours, the police came to my house and picked me up. Around the same time, a friend of mine, journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, was also picked up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Was he also charged under the act?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes, but initially we were not charged under the act. We received bail from a local court the very next day, on May 14. But soon after our release, we were slapped with NSA. I spent a night in the lock-up; the next day, I was sent to judicial custody and stayed there till I was released on July 19, thanks to the Supreme Court. I was in custody for two months and four days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>N. Biren Singh, the Manipur chief minister, used to be a human rights activist.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes, he was. He was once arrested as a journalist charged under the sedition law. So in Manipur, a person who was oppressed once has become the oppressor today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>What must have been the reason behind your arrests?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ See, this BJP government does not like criticism. They want to control their image all the time. I always try to counter the chief minister’s narrative. He does not like that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Why would the government feel threatened by you?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Because this government came to power through money and muscle power. They did not get a mandate on their own. So they suffer from an insecurity complex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Perhaps that is because insurgency continues to plague Manipur.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes, but that does not give them the power to attack common people. There are many people like me who are under detention for no reason. Why should a government that is elected by the people feel so threatened by the people?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>You said you were attacked in police custody.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The police wanted the password to unlock my cellphone. I refused to give it, because my phone has personal information—bank details, photos and videos. I told them I would show them things that they wanted in particular. But they wanted to see everything in my phone. When I refused, they assaulted me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Did you tell the court about this?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Yes, I told the judge of the local court. The judge scolded the policemen. That was it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>You have said that the BJP was trying to radicalise Manipur.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Not really the BJP. I know many BJP leaders who are very good people. It is the chief minister who propagates his radical views.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Was the case against you withdrawn after the Supreme Court order?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The NSA charge has been withdrawn. But the act is so draconian that the state government can again charge me under it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Do you fear that?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ See, I had my dad to fall back on [in this issue]. He went straight to the Supreme Court and filed a writ petition. What about others? Even Kishorechandra could not be released.</p> <p>My argument is that getting justice is expensive for Indians. I am grateful to the Supreme Court, but I need to say that not all people can go down that path. It requires a huge amount of money.</p> Thu Jul 29 18:41:30 IST 2021 how-the-seditionist-label-cost-aseem-trivedi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a nationalist country, being labelled anti-national is more harmful than being tried in court for sedition,” said Aseem Trivedi, award-winning cartoonist who quit the profession after he was arrested by the Mumbai Police in 2012 under the colonial-era Section 124A of the IPC.</p> <p>Aseem was 24 when he was booked for sedition in November 2011, after seven of his cartoons were displayed at Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex, where lakhs of people had gathered to support Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement. He had also uploaded cartoons to the website of the ‘Cartoons against Corruption’ campaign, attracting many complaints.</p> <p>Aseem was charged under several laws, including Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. “My grandfather was a freedom fighter and a respected citizen,” he said. “So it was insulting for my family when I was booked for sedition. People said I was a <i>deshdrohi</i> (seditionist). I cannot wipe off that stigma.”</p> <p>In 2015, the Bombay High Court ordered that the sedition charge against him be dropped and the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act. But Aseem continues to live with the seditionist label.</p> <p>Having grown up in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Aseem struggled to convince his parents that he wanted to be an activist-cartoonist. He left Kanpur to work in Hindi dailies, magazines and web portals in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi. In 2012, Aseem won the ‘Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award 2012’ from the US-based Cartoonists Rights Network International. He was supposed to travel to Washington that year to share the award with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, but they could not make it. Ferzat found it difficult to get out of strife-torn Syria, while Aseem was booked for sedition by the police.</p> <p>“I had never been to the US. I missed that opportunity and instead travelled to Mumbai to surrender before the police,” said Aseem.</p> <p>Today, Aseem is a co-petitioner in the plea filed by the Editors Guild of India before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A. His case is considered a fitting example of how sedition charges can hamper the freedom of speech and expression of citizens guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.</p> <p>Atul Kulkarni, chief of the criminal investigation department in Maharashtra, told THE WEEK that the judgment in the Trivedi case prompted the home department to issue guidelines in the form of a circular to all the police personnel explaining the ambit of sedition. The aim: to prevent arbitrary use of the law. “The High Court order sets a precedent for police forces to follow certain guidelines while using the law,” he said.</p> <p>On January 10, 2012, the Bandra police station had received a letter from one Amit Katarnavare asking the police to register a first information report against Aseem under Section 124A. The complaint was forwarded to the directorate of prosecutions for legal opinion. The assistant director of public prosecution advised invoking Section 124A and provisions of the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005. Aseem was arrested on September 8, 2012, on allegations that his cartoons had not only defamed Parliament, the Constitution and the emblem, but also tried to spread hatred and disrespect against the government.</p> <p>“The police reached my home in Kanpur with a non-bailable warrant while I was in Delhi,” he said. “They picked up my father and interrogated him at the local police station. The local newspapers reported it in a very negative light. They asked my parents to call me and ask me to surrender.”</p> <p>Aseem could not go back to Kanpur immediately, so the Mumbai Police asked him to come to Mumbai. “Since I did not have enough money or contacts in Mumbai, I couldn’t hire a lawyer. I chose to approach the police directly and presented myself before the Mumbai Police on September 8. They arrested me the same day and produced me in court the next day, seeking custody for seven days.” Aseem told the metropolitan magistrate that he drew the cartoons; he did not apply for bail.</p> <p>He was made to share a cell with half a dozen people accused of murder, rape, financial fraud and robbery. He was later sent to Arthur Road Jail on judicial custody for two weeks. Meanwhile, an independent lawyer filed a public interest plea in the Bombay High Court against his arrest; Aseem was soon granted bail.</p> <p>In 2015, a division bench of chief justice Mohit S. Shah and justice N.M. Jamdar of the High Court said Aseem’s cartoons were full of anger and disgust against corruption, but had no element of wit or sarcasm. Nevertheless, the judges said, “Aseem's freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) cannot be encroached upon when there is no allegation of incitement to violence or intention to create public disorder.”</p> <p>In spite of the relief he got, Aseem continues to struggle. In 2017, the Mumbai Police filed a second charge-sheet under the National Emblem Act. The hearing in the case has begun; he faces three years in jail if proven guilty.</p> <p>Aseem says his media career as a cartoonist is over. “After 2012, many organisations hesitated to work with me,” he said. “I was once invited to an event as a guest speaker, but they later dropped my name from the list. Sometimes, when I am invited to talk, they do not upload the video [of the speech].”</p> <p>In 2012, Aseem participated in a TV reality show that led to public protests by a political party. The producers had to take him off the show.</p> <p>The struggles have cost Aseem his wit and humour. “Till the time draconian laws like Section 124A are there,” he said, “there would be little room for healthy criticism or dissent—either through words, written or spoken, or visual representation.”</p> Thu Jul 29 19:28:09 IST 2021 aisha-sultana-case-eclipses-larger-concerns-in-lakshadweep <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Lakshadweep administrator Dineshwar Sharma died last December, the islanders were sad. Sharma had been the Centre’s interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir before he was sent to Lakshadweep in October 2019. And though he was a former spy who had served in militancy-affected Kashmir and Assam, and had been chief of the Intelligence Bureau, he was known to be an endearing personality. The islanders liked him.</p> <p>A day after his death, former Gujarat legislator Praful Khoda Patel was appointed administrator. He ushered in a slew of reforms to develop the Union territory, but unlike his predecessor, he encountered resistance and protests. The wave of anger against Patel also reached Kerala. The Pinarayi Vijayan government said some of the reforms would impact the close ties between Kerala and Lakshadweep.</p> <p>That Lakshadweep needs development is quite clear. But, its unique culture also needs to be protected. Peace in the strategically located islands seems elusive, though, considering the political wrangle that began after sedition charges were slapped on Aisha Sultana. A 26-year-old film director, Aisha had said during a television debate on June 7 that the Centre had used a “bio-weapon” against the people of Lakshadweep, apparently referring to the stringent Covid-19 protocols that had led to the protests. Aisha later issued a clarification, but the president of the BJP’s Lakshadweep unit, Abdul Khader Haji, lodged a complaint. The police in Kavaratti registered a case against her on June 9 under sections 124A (sedition) and 153B (hate speech) of the Indian Penal Code.</p> <p>Why sedition? “A lot of people in Lakshadweep are senior citizens or are illiterate,” said Haji. “So when she uses such a word, will it not create disaffection against the government? Her action was politically motivated.”</p> <p>According to Khader, Aisha has the backing of political parties in Kerala. “Those who are over-hyping the Lakshadweep issue want to create a perception that people here are living in poverty. But this is untrue. The government is giving us all kinds of facilities,” he said.</p> <p>Aisha’s legal struggle has attracted wide attention. According to her, outsiders were trying to portray the people of Lakshadweep as religious extremists. “But we can dance and sing and participate in art forms,” she said. “The biggest event on the islands is the Independence Day celebrations. We are a patriotic people.”</p> <p>Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal said the sedition case against her has shifted the focus from livelihood issues raised by the fisherfolk, young people and senior citizens. “It is not about her, but the islanders. But today, whatever Aisha is saying or doing is being highlighted. I agree that the sedition charge against her is unwarranted. She has already apologised. It is purely a case of political targeting.”</p> <p>Aisha said she wanted to talk about the problems of Lakshadweep. “But now I have to talk about my own cause,” she said. The political fight may not end soon. Said Hibi Eden, Congress MP from Kerala: “When the administration makes anti-people rules, there is bound to be opposition.”</p> <p>The Save Lakshadweep campaign has picked up steam. “We have a lot of support from various parts of the country,” said lawyer T.K. Attabi of the campaign. “We are also against the sedition case filed against Aisha.”</p> <p>Intelligence agencies worry that the campaign would lead to a misinformation frenzy on social media. “The police has to keep tight vigil so that no inimical element takes advantage of the situation and creates law and order problems,” said a senior security official in Delhi.</p> <p>The Kerala High Court has asked for responses from the Union government and the Lakshadweep administration on the case. Said Aisha’s lawyer Akbar Kareem: “The government ought to drop the sedition case suo motu if it is responsible to its citizens.”</p> <p>—<b>With Nirmal Jovial</b></p> Thu Jul 29 18:32:21 IST 2021 local-bjp-targeted-me <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>You stated in a TV debate that the Union government had used a “bio-weapon” against Lakshadweep.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ What I meant was that the policies of administrator Praful Khoda Patel could cause a biological infliction on the people of Lakshadweep. During the debate, I came under pressure when I heard the lies of the BJP representative. And, I did not get the right word to express it. If my expression was against the government, the government could have taken suo moto action against me. But it is the local BJP leaders who targeted me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Why? Were you representing any particular organisation or group?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Neither was I part of any organisation nor representing any group. It was my personal decision to talk about the problems faced by my land. I am a filmmaker and I do not wish to join politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Was your uncle a member of the BJP?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ My uncle Abdul Hameed belonged to the BJP. The BJP office in Chetlat island was operating from my property for five years. My uncle resigned from the BJP after the administrator’s new policies were implemented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>Are you against the policies of the Union government?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I am not at all against the Union government. The same government had sent many other administrators to Lakshadweep. But none of them had made policies similar to the ones made by the current administrator. His personal decisions are being implemented on the islands.</p> <p>On July 12, I wrote to the prime minister and Union home minister explaining my story and requesting them to ask the home secretary to drop the sedition charge against me, and also appoint a new administrator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>A new administrator may also follow the same policies.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I do not think so. I believe that our government will not cheat us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b>There are allegations of dubious funding and travel against you.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The police checked my passport. The only travel abroad was to Dubai during 2009-2010 for work. Some people even said I should go to Pakistan. Who are they to decide where I should go?</p> <p>I do not have a criminal background. I do not have a business partner. I do not have any property except in Lakshadweep. The police had checked my bank accounts and allowed me to leave Lakshadweep because they did not find anything wrong.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 29 18:29:31 IST 2021 in-this-olympics-it-is-the-women-who-have-the-spotlight-on-them <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The year was 1896. The Olympics—a festival of virility—had returned. Men from across nations lined up to prove their athletic prowess; women, though, were made to sit this one out. “It was for their own good,” said men with twirly moustaches and inflated egos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Testosterone triumphalism was in vogue, and oestrogen could only lend polite applause. “The common wisdom held that a woman was not physiologically capable of running mile after mile; that she wouldn’t be able to bear children; that her uterus would fall out; that she might grow a moustache; that she was a man, or wanted to be one,” read a 1996 The New York Times article recapping those days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A century and a quarter later, a Jamaican lady will take to the track in her quest to become the fastest woman ever—nearly four years after having become a mother to little Zyon. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, fondly called ‘Mommy Rocket’, covered 100m in 10.63s this June in Kingston. This made her the fastest woman alive; Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo) is the fastest of all time, clocking in at 10.49s in 1988 (she died in 1998).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pregnancy was the last thing on my mind,” Fraser-Pryce recalled in a BBC interview. “A couple of tests later, I found out I was pregnant. I was shocked because I was thinking I had to finish track and field before I could start a family.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following a victorious return to the track at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, she told Olympic Channel: “Motherhood does not stop us from achieving our goals. If anything, it adds value to who we are. And knowing that we can create a human being and come back and be able to get the ball rolling and still be a tough mum was just awesome.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fraser-Pryce is one of the most decorated runners of all time, having been on the Olympic podium six times. She won the 100m gold at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, and a bronze in 2016 Rio. She also won silver in the 200m and 4x100m relay in London, and in the 4x100m relay in Rio. She also has nine golds and two silvers from the World Championships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If she grabs gold in Tokyo, Fraser-Pryce, at 34, would become the oldest athlete to win the individual Olympic 100m dash. A task made a little easier by the absence of American Sha’Carri Richardson—a favourite in the race—who was banned for a month for smoking weed. The women’s 100m this time is more exciting than the men’s. While there will be hype to find out who Usain Bolt’s successor will be, the names in the mix are not household ones. Among the women, though, there is the Jamaican trio of Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah (the defending champion) and Shericka Jackson, as well as Britain’s Dina-Asher Smith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That Fraser-Pryce also hit her personal best in 200m in June—21.79s—makes her outing in Tokyo all the more exciting. For, in that race, she will meet Harvard graduate and epidemiology student Gabby Thomas, who recently did in 200m what Fraser-Pryce did it 100m—registering the fastest time in the discipline, just behind Flo-Jo. At the US Olympic trials, Thomas—who recently found a benign tumour on her liver—outdid herself thrice in three days, crossing the finish line in 21.61s in the final. Flo-Jo’s record of 21.34s looks fragile, especially as Thomas started celebrating 5m before the finish, which means she can go faster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was another story unfolding in that race. The veteran Allyson Felix finished fifth and failed to qualify for Tokyo in 200m. The former gold-medallist in the half-track dash at London 2012 will, however, compete in 400m and 4x400m relay in Japan. Also, a mother, the 35-year-old Felix is just one medal away from being the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history. She currently has nine, including six golds, and could join Carl Lewis as the most decorated Olympic US track and field athlete of all time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Felix had, in 2018, undergone emergency C-section forced by pre-eclampsia and delivered daughter, Camryn. The more vocal of the track mothers, Felix called out her sponsor Nike for refusing to promise that she would not be penalised for not being at her peak in the months surrounding childbirth. She has since switched sponsors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Felix has also testified before Congress on the racial disparities in the maternal health care system. “You need to make sure you don’t say too much,” she recently told TIME. “It has to be this pretty, pretty package. That’s always been in the back of my head. And that’s not real.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Felix and Fraser-Pryce will run into the sunset in Tokyo. They might compete in other events, but their Olympic chapter will end in 2021. And the mommies would want to put their feet on the podium before they put their feet up.</p> <p>Simone Biles, though, is not done writing her book. In fact, she is red-pencilling the history books with every leap and landing. Fearless and peerless, the four-foot-eight gymnastic powerhouse is—and it might sound hyperbolic—competing only with herself. Biles has won every all-around national, world and Olympic competition she has entered since 2013. She also has four gymnastics skills named after her, and will likely add a fifth in Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been speculation that judges underscored Biles’s outrageous Yurchenko double pike vault at the US Classic in May—she was the first woman to do it in competition—to dissuade other gymnasts from trying it.</p> <p>As of now, Biles has four Olympic golds and one bronze. A bronze that disappointed many. She has, overall, won 25 World Championships medals, including 19 golds. She has the chance to be the first woman in half a century to successfully defend the all-around title at the Olympics—Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia was the last.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Biles’s story is not confined to what she does in competition. Hers is a story made for Oscar-winning biopics. From having spent her early years with a mother battling alcoholism to being put in a foster home to being adopted by her grandparents, Biles has had, to put it delicately, a tumultuous life. In her autobiography, Courage to Soar, she says: “I don’t recall much about living with Shanon (birth mother), but for some weird reason I do remember playing with a cat… this cat was always being fed—and at that time, we were hungry a lot, so I was always kind of mad at this cat…. I can still see us pouring dry cereal into our bowls and then putting water on it because we didn’t have any milk.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having found gymnastics, life got better. But then came #MeToo and Biles put out a post claiming that she, too, had been sexually abused by the US gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. He was accused of sexually abusing more than 140 women during his stint and was later sentenced to jail in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is from this cauldron that Biles emerges in Tokyo. And she will not be denied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neither will her compatriot Katie Ledecky. The swimming phenom had quite a different first few years on earth compared with Biles. The tight knit Ledecky clan was always a pillar of support; uncle Jon co-owning the hockey team Washington Capitals meant that, as a child, she sat in the owner’s box with basketball legend Michael Jordan during a match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ledecky is arguably the best freestyle swimmer in the world; she has won 15 World Championship golds and has set 14 world records. She won her first Olympic gold in 2012 London at the age of 15. She defended that 800m freestyle title at 2016 Rio four years later, creating a world record of 8:04.79 and beating the rest of the field by more than 11 seconds. She also struck gold at Rio in 200m, 400m and 4x200m relay; there was a silver in the 4x100m relay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Katie does not have all the tools that some others have when it comes to technique,” Rowdy Gaines, who won three golds at the 1984 Olympics, told New York Post. “What she does have is an incredible feel for the water, from her fingertips to her elbow, and uses that as a paddle, which others cannot tap into. She was built to be one with the water where others are adapting to be in the water.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has forced Ledecky to stay away from her folks for over a year; she FaceTimes them twice or thrice a day, but their absence in Tokyo will lessen the sweetness of any medal she wins. The virus has also made another one of her tasks difficult. A long-time fan of American singer Bruce Springsteen, Ledekcy is hoping to meet his daughter, Jessica, who has qualified for the Olympics in equestrian. Covid-19 protocols may not let that happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If all goes to plan, though, she could be the most decorated Olympian at the Tokyo Games, perhaps alongside Biles. But there is a 20-year-old Australian creating ripples in the pool. Ariarne ‘The Terminator’ Titmus defeated Ledecky in 400m at the 2019 World Championships. Ledecky withdrew from the 200m and 1,500m races citing medical reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many analysts are backing the Aussie to dethrone the American in the 200m and 400m races, especially as Ledecky was quite slower than her best in the latter event at the US Olympic trials. Titmus, in her trials, nearly broke Ledecky’s world record. Nerves may decide the outcome; it is, after all, Titmus’s Olympic debut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking of debuts, the sports making their first appearance at the Games also have some champion women on display. First up, sport climbing. The event has three disciplines—bouldering, lead climbing and speed climbing—and the combined results will determine the medallists. Slovenian Janja Garnbret is widely seen as the frontrunner, though she has competition from Natalia Grossman of the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Garnbret has had a whopping 46 World Cup podium finishes, and wants to take the increasingly popular sport to, well, new heights. “I think it (Olympics) will be really beneficial to climbing because [it] is still a young sport,” she told CNN in June. “It’s definitely a huge playground for everyone, for sponsors, for some non-endemic sponsors that are still yet to come into our sport.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Garnbret has said that she feels responsible for her sport; a sentiment the other women representing the first-time sports would share. Or, for that matter, girls. Sky Brown, 13, is set to become Britain’s youngest Olympian in Tokyo. Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk described her thus: “She could definitely be one of the best female skaters ever, if not one of the best, well-rounded skaters ever, regardless of gender.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Brown fell from a 4.5m ramp, fractured her skull, broke her left arm and hand, and had lacerations to her heart and lungs. She was back in action two months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Brown’s influence extends beyond the skate park. She has appeared in an ad campaign alongside Serena Williams and Biles, has won the reality show Dancing With the Stars: Juniors and has a Barbie doll in her likeness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Japan-born Brown competes in the park event, and is ranked third in the world going into Tokyo. Number one is Japanese skateboarder Misugu Okamoto. She is 15. Rayssa Leal, ranked second in the world in street, is 13. Skateboarding has for long been an anti-establishment sport and its fans are divided over it going mainstream. However, if the sport is to pull in viewers in Tokyo, it would likely be because of the precocious young girls who will likely steal the spotlight from their older male counterparts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If a team of teens is trying to put the sport on the global stage, then two much more established teams are looking to extend their streak of domination. The US women’s football team was shown the door after a penalty shootout against Sweden in the quarterfinals in Rio in 2016. It was a shocking result, given that the American women had won four of the previous five golds at the Olympics. However, the team bounced back to win the 2019 World Cup, which it had also won in 2015. The most successful team in women’s football history will be looking to right a wrong in Tokyo. It will also look to become the first women’s football team to follow up a World Cup win with an Olympic gold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This will also likely be the last Olympics for at least two of the greats of the US team—Carli Lloyd (39) and Megan Rapinoe (36). Lloyd is America’s oldest women’s football Olympian ever; the midfielder-turned-forward also scored a hat-trick in the 2015 World Cup final against Japan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this Olympics will be special for another reason. Lloyd had fallen out with her family—parents, sister and brother—at the time she first became famous. According to The Washington Post, “Her parents were not invited to her wedding; she didn’t attend her sister’s. She was not immediately told of her father’s heart surgery.” But the pandemic gave Lloyd time to speculate. Slowly, they reconciled. “I feel whole again,” said Lloyd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rapinoe, too, took a big life decision under lockdown. Last fall, she proposed to girlfriend and basketball legend Sue Bird. They had met in the run-up to 2016 Rio and started dating soon after.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After being part of a US women’s football team that, for the first time, failed to win a medal at the Olympics, Rapinoe had a rocky time professionally. Her support for causes off the pitch—she was the first white American athlete to take a knee during the US national anthem—also had its repercussions, and she credits Bird for providing back-up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The veteran was player of the match in the 2019 World Cup final against the Netherlands. She also famously refused to go to the White House while Donald Trump was president; she did go earlier this year to meet President Joe Biden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now older, the midfielder has been working harder on her fitness, and has been training with Bird. “We have quite a bit of overlap,” Rapinoe told InStyle in mid-June. “Even though we play different sports, I think especially as a little bit older athletes, you know, we have some of the same ailments—the lower back hip thing. It’s just nice to have a workout buddy, to break things up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bird, too, is looking to make history. Or make further history. The US women’s basketball team has won six consecutive Olympic golds. Bird herself has four of these. “She’s a life point guard,” said Olympic teammate-turned-coach Dawn Staley. “She gives assists to justice causes; she gives a voice to women who are underpaid and underappreciated. She’s unapologetic and unafraid. Once a point guard, always a point guard. That’s her legacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Bird, the Women’s National Basketball Association’s all-time leader in assists, knows that a gold is not a foregone conclusion. The team recently lost back-to-back matches to the WNBA All-Stars and Australia. Spain, too, has grown into a legitimate threat over the years, and that is good for the game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US team has won eight of the last 11 World Cups, and 10 overall. In what could be her last Olympic appearance, the 40-year-old would want to extend that streak alongside fellow veterans Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles, and the talented Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson. There is pressure, but also confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps no other athlete at Tokyo feels pressure as much as Naomi Osaka. The four-time Grand Slam winner—the highest-paid female athlete in a year, ever—has arguably been the most talked-about athlete going into Tokyo, mostly for her life off the court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She was criticised for not speaking at a press conference at this year’s French Open; she withdrew from the tournament citing mental health reasons. She also skipped Wimbledon a few weeks later. The introverted athlete has, in some ways, been forced to be the face of mental health and sports, and she has been open about suffering long bouts of depression.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Osaka, 23, was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, was raised in the US, and renounced US citizenship for a Japanese one in 2019. She wanted to represent her nation of birth at the Olympics; there was backlash. “So, I don’t choose America and suddenly people are like, ‘Your black card is revoked’,” she said in a new Netflix documentary on her. “And it’s like, African American isn’t the only black, you know? I don’t know, I feel like people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are a few people in Japan, too, who are not completely on board with Osaka. A half-Japanese, or hafu, Osaka has not spent a lot of time in Japan since she was three. Being biracial, she does not fit into set notions of what a Japanese star should be. And that she is vocal about movements like Black Lives Matter is hard to digest for some who have been brought up in a racially homogenous country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of this, however, should take away attention from her game. Going into Tokyo, Osaka is ranked number two among women, has won the two Grand Slams before the 2021 French Open and is known to be strong on the hard-court, which will be used at the Olympics. “I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo,” she wrote in a recent TIME article. “An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If any colour is to be talked about with regards to Osaka in Tokyo, fans of the sport would hope it is gold.</p> Fri Jul 23 11:29:48 IST 2021 tokyo-2020-india-aims-to-match-or-better-london-2012 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tokyo 2020 is different. Not just because of the restrictions at venues. Covid-19 has also resulted in many athletes going into the world’s biggest sporting event without sufficient competitions or test events. For Team India, too, the lockdowns were tough; training, even more so. But, for 17 days, the athletes will strive to shift the focus of the nation from the grim to the glorious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 228-member contingent—117 athletes and 111 officials—is looking to better the two medals won at Rio 2016. But the real target is to match or better the six-medal haul at London 2012. While shooting is expected to deliver the most medals, there are expectations in other disciplines, too—men’s hockey, badminton, boxing, wrestling, javelin throw, and, perhaps most notably, weightlifting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hopes of a weightlifting medal are shouldered by the 4’11” frame of Saikhom Mirabai Chanu. At Rio 2016, a 21-year-old Chanu failed to lift any of her three attempts in clean and jerk in the 48kg category. But, five years on, she is wiser, fitter, an Asian Games and Commonwealth Games (2018) medallist, a world champion and a world record holder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A lower back issue in 2018, plus the lockdown in 2020 seemed to have derailed her preparation for Tokyo, but the postponement of the Olympics helped. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme facilitated a stint in the US for her to work on strength and conditioning. She went from not being able to lift two days in a row to lifting twice a day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Asian Championships this April, she lifted a below par 86kg in snatch, but went on to break the world record by lifting 119kg in clean and jerk. The combined total of 205kg earned her a bronze and a ticket to Tokyo. Before landing in Japan, Chanu, who hails from Nongpok Kakching, 45 minutes from Imphal, in Manipur, trained in St. Louis, Missouri in the US for almost three months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her coach Vijay Sharma told THE WEEK from Tokyo that they worked a lot on her strength and conditioning with Dr Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter. “We worked a lot with Dr Horschig to improve her shoulder strength and snatch lift” he said. The withdrawal of her main competitor Ri Song-gum of North Korea (the country is not participating) will help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time Chanu tests her strength against the best, India would have started its Olympic quest with a test of precision—archery. To land arrows in the 10-ring over the standard competition distance of 70m, it takes great skill, a calm mind and a strong heart. Many times, in order to ensure consistency, the shots have to be fired at the exact same stage in the cycle of an archer’s heartbeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Deepika Kumari, 27, the run-up to Tokyo has been all about controlling the mind and the heart to keep past disappointments at bay. Her outings at London 2012 and Rio 2016 were disastrous. But, Kumari and her archer husband, Atanu Das, put up strong performances and won medals in the World Cup Stage III in Paris, just three weeks before the Games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumari’s triple gold elevated her back to world No 1. However, her performance in Paris came in the absence of archery power house South Korea, which decided to skip the World Cup ahead of the Olympics. “I don’t want a repeat,” said Kumari, before leaving for Tokyo. “It is the past, but it will play on my mind. So, it is about trying my best to keep myself free of all those negative thoughts and focusing just on my shooting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the women’s team failed to qualify, Kumari practised against her male teammates—Das, Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav. Kumari had booked her spot in 2019, and the archer from Jharkhand is in with a chance of winning a medal in her individual event (recurve) and in the mixed team event. The mixed event is making its debut at the Games and only 16 of the 29 teams will make it to the matchplay phase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While archery has failed to produce an Olympic medal thus far, shooting has got India medals in three of the last four Games. The disappointment in Rio produced a reaction from the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). Changes ensued, resulting in a new crop of fearless shooters dislodging many a veteran. Consistent performances by fresh blood have resulted in Olympic debutants making up 11 of the 15-member team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shooters returned with record medal hauls from the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in 2018 and dominant performances in International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cups. The NRAI, too, deserves praise for swiftly moving the Indian squad to Croatia for training and competition before the second lockdown at home. But, the performance in the World Cup in Croatia last month was lukewarm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NRAI president Raninder Singh said the circumstances cannot get better than what they are currently. “You can’t expect everyone to win every day, but on a given day, all my shooters are capable of winning,” he said. “It is evident in their results and pedigree.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saurabh Chaudhary (10m air pistol), from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, and world No 2 Rahi Sarnobat (25m pistol) from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, are in fine form.Chaudhary, 19, has won eight medals at ISSF events since he came into the national squad post Rio. The 2018 Asian Games gold medallist is in with a chance of winning two medals—in the individual event and the mixed team event, in which he forms a formidable combination with the talented Manu Bhaker. The duo has won five back-to-back golds at ISSF World Cups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhaker, 19, is the only Indian shooter competing in three events. Sarnobat, the Asian Games gold medallist, was the team’s best performer in Croatia, where she broke the world record on her way to the gold. For the men’s pistol team, the main threat is Iran’s Javad Foroughi, who beat the Indians in Delhi and Croatia this year. The Chinese have not competed in international events and remain an unknown quantity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The women’s 10m air rifle team has Apurvi Chandela and Elavenil Valarivan. Until the start of this season, both were dominant. World No 1 Valarivan, 21, has, however, disappointed in the two World Cup outings this season. Divyansh Singh Panwar, 18, enjoyed a meteoric rise to world No 1 in the men’s 10m air rifle, reinforcing India’s faith in youth. He was initially rusty post the lockdown, but is now looking sharp again, and expectations are still high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian women’s hockey team is competing in the Olympics for only the third time. The previous outing in Rio ended with elimination in the group phase. The team lost four out of its five matches, conceded 19 goals and scored just three. Goalkeeper Savita Punia said: “At Rio, we were happy to have qualified after 36 years, but we lacked experience at that level.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team has bounced back well. The tenth-ranked Indian women qualified for Tokyo after beating the US 5-1 in the first leg and overcoming a stiff challenge in the second leg to prevail with an aggregate of 6-5. The team got international exposure tours to Argentina and Germany earlier this year and while it did not win a match, the team held its own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coach Sjoerd Marijne feels a quarterfinals place is a realistic target, but added that from thereon in, it is anybody’s game. “I just want to see that this team reaches its potential and my job is to help achieve that,” he said. The squad has a good mix of youth and experience and is led by 26-year-old forward Rani Rampal. India’s group consists of Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and South Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The men’s team goes in with far more expectations and the weight of history. But, the last of India’s medals—its eighth gold—came at Moscow 1980 (it also has one silver and two bronzes). Halfback Manpreet Singh leads a team focused on a podium finish. The team had excellent outings against the Netherlands in 2019, and Belgium and Australia in 2020. But, Covid-19 hampered the momentum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six players tested positive after returning to camp last year. But, since tours resumed, the team has not lost a match. It played Germany and Britain twice each. In April, in the tour to Argentina, India prevailed in a shootout in the first match and beat the host 3-0 in the second match. But, Argentina, the Olympic champions, will be looking to make amends after being drawn into the same group as India in Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The others in the group are Australia, New Zealand, Spain and host Japan. Coach Graham Reid said: “If you look at the 12 teams that are going to the Olympics, we have beaten 10 teams in the last two years; we have not played Canada.” He added that this recent record is an important point to note. “If we play well, if we do our things, we are definitely aiming to jump onto that podium,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In badminton, world champion P.V. Sindhu has little left to prove, but she will be determined to better her silver medal in Rio. Apart from Sindhu, only three Indian shuttlers will be in Tokyo. B. Sai Praneeth will compete in the men’s singles and Satwik SaiRaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will play in the men’s doubles. It remains to be seen whether the absence of chief coach Pullela Gopichand will hurt the Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sindhu has been handed a tricky draw with a possible quarterfinal meeting against home favourite Akane Yamaguchi. Sai Praneeth has his task cut out for him, having been drawn into the same half as world No 1 Kento Momota of Japan and world No 2 Victor Axelsen of Denmark. The doubles team would have to produce something special to survive its group, which has the top-ranked Indonesian pair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In track and field, it has become usual for a slew of national records to be broken in the Olympic year. This year was no exception. Nine members of the Olympic team broke national records this year. But, usually, in key moments at the Games, things fall apart pretty quickly. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra remains the lone genuine medal contender. The rest of the 26-member squad has mountains to climb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur. She is ranked sixth in the world and threw her personal best and national record of 66.59m in June. But, her competition in Tokyo includes world champion Yaime Perez of Cuba, who threw 68.99m this year, and two-time world and Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic of Croatia. Perkovic has thrown the discus beyond the 67m-mark an unbelievable 65 times!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post Rio 2016, the Athletics Federation of India put its faith in the 4x400m relays to deliver the elusive medal. But the women’s relay team failed to qualify for Tokyo. The men’s team managed to qualify, but could find it tough to advance past the preliminary rounds. Shot putter Tajinderpal Singh Toor broke the Asian record with his 21.49m throw in June, but would need a special throw to get to the finals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Golf will see Anriban Lahiri and Aditi Ashok represent India for the second consecutive time. Also in the team is Udayan Mane, who Lahiri has grown up playing with. Lahiri has chosen best friend Chikkarangappa to caddy for him. All are students of coach Vijay Divecha. “The Olympic experience is not like anything else,” said Lahiri, who finished 57th in a field of 60 at Rio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You’re playing a smaller field and are always going to play a golf course that you’ve never played before,” he said. “Professional golf is four days of stroke play, the same format, and if I finish fourth, it is still a good result. At the Olympics, you don’t get anything for coming fourth.” He finished tied for third at the Barbasol Championship in July. It was his best result of the season and a timely boost before Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Olympics is also about the lone rangers who work hard away from the limelight to qualify for and compete at the grandest stage of them all. Shushila Likhmabam, 26, qualified for judo (women’s 48kg) via the additional continental quota. She is India’s only judoka in Tokyo. And, at her first Olympics, the Manipuri girl, ranked 46 in the world, has little chance of a podium finish. But she can definitely walk in with her head held high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gymnast Pranati Nayak, 26, follows in the footsteps of Dipa Karmakar, who finished fourth in Rio. She got the Tokyo ticket via the Asian quota after the cancellation of the Asian Championships. Her hopes of qualifying had diminished after faltering on the beams at the 2019 World Championships. She was training at clubs in Kolkata when she first got news of her possible qualification.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From there, it was a race to get ready. Once her qualification was confirmed, a bio bubble was created for her at the SAI centre in Kolkata. Nayak, the daughter of a bus driver, is not thinking of the challenges she faced during preparations. Her focus is on her routines. “She is strong on the vaulting table and our first target is to qualify for the finals,” said her coach Lakhan Manohar Sharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Timed to perfection</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WHEN MILKHA SINGH</b> lost out on an Olympic medal by one-tenth of a second in 1960, or P.T. Usha did so by one-hundredth of a second in 1984, it was Omega that timed the races. The Swiss watchmaker has been timing the Games since 1932, and has time and again introduced newer, more sophisticated technology to clock results across the various sports on display. For the latest Olympics, Omega has introduced a few commemorative pieces, the latest being two new timepieces made in full 18K yellow gold. The new Seamaster Aqua Terra pieces come housed in 38mm or 41mm yellow-gold cases, with the laser-engraved dials displaying a pattern inspired by the Tokyo 2020 emblem.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:41:43 IST 2021 with-4-seeded-wrestlers-in-squad-it-would-be-surprising-if-india-draws-blank-in-tokyo <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The most painful moment of her career was telecast live to millions around the world. Come Tokyo, Vinesh Phogat would hope that, this time, the cameras catch her at her happiest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phogat had to be stretchered out of her quarterfinal bout because of a knee injury. She left the arena in tears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five years later, Phogat is world number one, has won her three previous major tournaments and is seeded first in the 53kg category at Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a media interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India earlier this year, Phogat said: “I am more mature now. I do not take [expectations] as seriously anymore. I want to wrestle for myself, for fun.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though her recent run has been impressive, her gold at the Asian Championships in Kazakhstan in April was a little less shiny because of the absence of her strongest rivals—the Japanese Mayu Mukaida and Chinese Qianyu Pang. Phogat had wanted to gauge their preparation before the Olympics, but was left with a depleted field en route to her first gold at the tournament. While she has beaten Pang in the past, Mukaida has won their past three face-offs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Phogat said that she and her Hungarian coach, Woller Akos, have been working on Mukaida-specific strategies, including focusing on the ground game. “Earlier, I was always attacking and tended to make mistakes,” she said on her training with Akos. “Now I have learnt how to time my attacks. I used to think only those who are afraid study their opponents. But I now know that you first have to read the wrestler. We are working on that for every opponent. I am smoother now, not in a hurry.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Phogat may be leading the pack, but youngsters Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik are hungry to prove their worth. Anshu (57kg) struck gold at the Asian Championships this year. In six international events on the senior circuit, she has won five medals. The 19-year-old Sonam (62kg) is the youngest Indian women’s wrestler to qualify for the Olympics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Phogat said it was important for them to get this chance, but their inexperience might stop them from reaching the podium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The youngsters might take exception to that. Sonam has beaten Rio Olympics bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik four times in as many meetings. And, given that the two teens have nothing to lose, they will be champing at the bit to make a splash in Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oldest Indian woman in the fray, 29-year-old Seema Bisla (50kg), will also be keen to prove that she is made for the big stage. Having had poor outings in the 2018 and 2019 World Championships, she won the bronze at the 2021 Asian Championships and seems to have finally hit her stride.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the men’s side, Phogat’s cousin-in-law leads the charge. Bajrang Punia—who recently married Phogat's cousin Sangeeta—is entering his first Olympics with a formidable reputation. The grappler, managed by JSW Sports, is seeded number two in Tokyo and is the only Indian to have won three World Championship medals. “This my first Olympics and it is special for me,” he told THE WEEK. “Having said that, one cannot enter a competition thinking of all the medals one has won in past competitions. I approach every competition in the same way, and the Olympics will be the same.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His 65kg category is dense with talent, be it top seed Gadzhimurad Rashidov from Russia, the Japanese Takuto Otoguro or the Kazakh Daulet Niyazbekov. “65kg is the toughest category right now; there are 12 to 13 elite wrestlers,” he told THE WEEK. “On their day, each of them can defeat the other. So, I am not focusing on any individual competitor. The wrestler that shows the most determination and has God’s blessings will win.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If there is any weakness in Bajrang’s game, it is that he gives away early points. Though he has the skill to recover, a stage like the Olympics may not offer too much room to regroup. “People have been saying that my leg defence is weak, but I have worked on that with the help of my coaches and have not lost any point in the past few matches,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Injuries, however, are a concern. Bajrang had to pull out of the final of the Ali Aliyev tournament in Russia in June because of an injury to his right knee. Though he later said that it was not serious, this was the second time this year he had withdrawn from a final because of injury. In April, he had skipped the anticipated Asian Championships final against Otoguro because of an injured elbow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bajrang had lost to Otoguro in their two previous bouts—at the World and Asian Championships—and could meet him again at the Olympics, this time on his home ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Otoguro is on Bajrang’s mind, young Deepak Punia (86kg) would have Hassan Yazdani on his. Deepak, 22, is seeded second behind world champion Yazdani, and had lost to him on technical inferiority in the Asian Championships final this year. He had earlier pulled out of the 2019 World Championships final against Yazdani because of an injury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coach Virender Kumar has said that Deepak has laid those ghosts to rest and has a plan. Deepak is the youngest Indian wrestler to reach the final of the World Championships; he won silver in 2019. He was also the world junior champion in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going into Tokyo, though, Deepak might be undercooked; he has not had much international competition and had to pull out of the recent Poland Open because of an injury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi Dahiya, seeded fourth in the 57kg category, rounds out the men’s squad. The 23-year-old had won bronze at the 2019 World Championships and the Asian Championships gold in 2020 and 2021. The shy Dahiya, who has often flown under the radar, also clinched silver at the recent Poland Open.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His seeding also means that Dahiya will meet two-time world champion Zaur Uguev—who beat him at the 2019 World Championships—late in the event. He could be the dark horse in India’s squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Phogat had rolled into Rashtrapati Bhavan on a wheelchair to receive her Arjuna Award. If she were to go again, she would hope to walk up to the president, this time with a bigger smile.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:39:35 IST 2021 india-largest-boxing-contingent-is-looking-to-make-history <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo is the spiritual home of sumo wrestling, national sport of the 2020 Olympics host country. It has hosted every legendary national sumo fight since it was rebuilt in 1985. Few stadia in Japan are as iconic as the kokugikan (translates to ‘stadium of national sport’), despite its capacity of just 11,000 people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the 2020 Olympics, boxing is the only sport that will be hosted at the kokugikan. But the significance of the arena might be lost on the pugilists. Vijender Singh, India’s first Olympic boxing medallist, told THE WEEK that he does not care for venues. “I never remember the city name, place name…. It’s all about boxing. Go into the ring, beat that guy, come out with the medal,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps it sums up a boxer’s mentality. A single-minded focus to win that shuts off everything else around them. In that moment, everything outside the 6.1sqm ring fades to black. Andre Agassi in his book, Open, said that only boxers could understand the loneliness that tennis players experience on court. For those 11-minute-long bout, they undergo a lifetime of training and struggle. And struggle really is the thread that runs through the current Indian contingent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An unprecedented nine boxers will represent India across the 13 categories, and each of them has had to make incredible sacrifices enroute to Tokyo. Vikas Krishan (69kg) has been on the road for so long, he could only see his two babies “grow up in photographs” over the last year; Ashish Kumar (75kg) qualified for Tokyo just a month after his father’s demise; Simranjit Kaur (60kg) lost her father in 2018—four months before her first world championship medal—making her the sole breadwinner of her family; Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) missed precious training time in February this year to be with her mother during her kidney transplant; several of the boxers contracted Covid, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yet, the expectations have never been higher for India. The team is spearheaded by 2012 bronze medallist and six-time world champion Mary Kom, and world No 1 Amit Panghal, top seed in his 52kg category. Panghal is India’s best hope for a gold this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the men, Krishan is the most experienced, and this is his third Olympics. He lost out on a medal in Rio after a quarterfinal loss. “What I learnt from those past mistakes is mainly discipline—train on time, sleep on time, take nutrition on time,” said Krishan, who is managed by JSW Sports. “The expectation and reality are not very different for me. I am expecting a gold medal and I am going to get that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishan says the men’s team is one of India’s all-time best. He is the only Indian male boxer to win gold medals at both the Asian and Commonwealth Games. Of the others, Panghal and Manish Kaushik (63kg) have won medals at the world championships, Asian Games and CWG and Ashish Kumar has won silver at the Asian championships. Satish Kumar is the first Indian to qualify in the super heavyweight category.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the arrival of high-performance director Santiago Nieva in 2017, the boxers have been regularly given detailed analysis of their bouts, technique and opponents, which has transformed their approach to matches. He builds personalised strategies for them using video analysis, sending them clips on WhatsApp of the tweaks he wants them to make.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Asian championships held in May in the UAE was a fruitful outing for the women. Pooja Rani (75kg) won gold, Mary Kom (51kg) won silver, and Kaur and Borgohain won bronzes. “We missed out on few weeks of training before the Asian championships because of the second wave, but that tournament was very important for us as we wanted to check our progress and rectify our mistakes,” said Raffaele Bergamasco, foreign coach of the women’s team. “Post that, we have continuously worked on the technical and strategic part with high intensity, but above all on leg work, which is very important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mary Kom might be 38, but has accepted the fact that she is no longer the fastest mover in the ring, and has instead added muscle, shifting focus from speed to power. “Mary is relentlessly focused and works very hard, and that is why she can still make a difference today,” said Bergamasco. “Having her in the group is a constant source of motivation for everyone in the team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rani, meanwhile, has not had it easy either. She has had to defy her father’s resistance and a career-threatening injury to win two Asian championship gold medals before finally making it to Tokyo at age 30. Like Krishan, Kaushik and many others, she comes from Bhiwani, aka India’s ‘mini-Cuba’ with its boxing culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since Vijender set the ball rolling for a sport that India rarely excelled at before, boxing has witnessed a spike in interest in the country, resulting in a rise in investment and better infrastructure that have all culminated in this record-size contingent, despite the corruption and in-fighting that plagued the national body in the early 2010s. With all that this contingent—and the sport in India—has been through, a challenge of epic proportions lies ahead. The kokugikan, and history, beckons.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:37:45 IST 2021 neeraj-chopra-could-script-a-new-chapter-in-indian-athletics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On the shoulders of the 23-year-old javelin thrower from Panipat rests India's hopes of an elusive medal. The Athletics Federation of India has fielded a 26-member team for Tokyo 2020, and Neeraj Chopra is the prime and, perhaps, the lone contender for a medal. No Indian athlete has ever had an Olympic podium finish; Chopra is expected to change that and script a new chapter in Indian athletics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 10, Chopra, thanks to Sports Authority of India and sponsors JSW Sports, competed for the first time in over a year at the Meeting Cidade de Lisboa in Lisbon, where, despite the slippery runway and other issues, he struck gold with a throw of 83.18m. The Lisbon event was a warm-up for two subsequent competitions. It was also a ticket to compete in Europe and gain exposure ahead of Tokyo 2020. The men’s javelin throw is scheduled on August 4 and 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Chopra to THE WEEK, "The three competitions I took part in Europe went well for me…. I had to face a lot of hurdles to get here. I had to run around to get my visa. My focus remains on Tokyo."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Klaus Bartonietz, Chopra’s coach, “In Karlstad [Grand Prix in Sweden] there was cold rain when the game began. It was just 13°C to 15°C, and the javelin was slipping out of the hands of the throwers. But, Neeraj, despite this problem, clinched the gold. In the Kuortane Games [in Finland], Neeraj felt new, encircled by world champions, an Olympic champion, and he did well in almost optimal conditions."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chopra, the reigning Commonwealth and Asian Games champion, was starved of competition. The three recent outings have assuaged his hunger somewhat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Chopra, “These competitions helped a lot…. Competitions are important. We train for them. If we don’t get competitions, what's the use of training so hard?"</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chopra is currently world No 4. Johannes Vetter of Germany is No 1, with consistent throws over the 90m mark in the last one-and-a-half years. Vetter's best this year is 96.29m, against Chopra's 88.07m. Vetter is, undoubtedly, the favourite to win the gold. The fight for the remaining two medals is expected to go four ways—between Marcin Krukowski of Poland, Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago, Gatis Cakss of Latvia and Chopra. None of them have breached the 90m mark this season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Bartonietz, "The top javelin throwers have their strong sides, but they also have their weak sides. At the performance level of 88m-90m and beyond, mental toughness on a specific day and time will become critical…”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking about Vetter and his consistency, Chopra was anything but unnerved. "Vetter is consistently throwing well, but I don’t feel any pressure,” said Chopra, “It is an individual throw and we have to throw our best. I feel I am ready. There is a difference of 2m if I release well. I have already thrown 88m and above. So, it is not such a big distance to cover. You just need to release well."</p> Thu Jul 22 19:36:08 IST 2021 tokyo-2020-dutee-chand-focused-on-realistic-target <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Chand has made a vicious start, said the commentator, three seconds into the women's 100m final at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Italy. Just over eight seconds later, Dutee Chand had won gold at the world university games. It was her first big step in the bid to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Chand, who ran 11.32 seconds that day, edged out Switzerland's Ajla Del Ponte by 0.01 second. Del Ponte was the favourite going into the final and has since qualified for Tokyo 2020 with a time of 11.07, making her joint 19th in the list of qualified sprinters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chand's “vicious start” in Italy evidently caught Del Ponte and the other six finalists—four of whom have qualified for Tokyo—off guard. “Dutee's start is [among] the world's best,” her coach Nagapuri Ramesh told THE WEEK. “So, we try to take advantage of that.” Ramesh confirmed that though Chand has also qualified for 200m, the focus will be on 100m. In 2019, around three months after the Universiade, Chand won the 100m gold at the 2019 India Open in Ranchi, setting a national record of 11.22 along the way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June, she ran 11.17, but missed out on the Olympic entry standard of 11.15. But, her average performance score of 1,219 made her 41st in the 56 qualifying places. It was bolstered by 1,231 in Italy and 1,246 in Ranchi; her 11.17 sprint only got her 1,188 because of easier competition. Notably, Chand has only averaged close to 11.50 in 2021. Did the pandemic-induced break in competition have an impact on her preparation? Ramesh said it did not. “We did extensive indoor training to maintain fitness,” he said, and added that restrictions also allowed for more rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chand herself has stayed positive. “Earlier, I used to run 100m in 12.5 seconds,” she said. “Now, almost 10 years later, I ran 11.17.” At the Olympics, everyone will say win a medal, she said. “But I cannot confidently say that I will return with an Olympic medal,” said the 25-year-old. “The training when you are a medal hopeful is different from the training when you are trying to improve your timing.” She added that in races where there is hope of a medal, it is about running systematically, deciding how much energy to use at each stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am focused on my timing,” she said. “My coach says that I can easily run 11.10. If I am able to run that speed, I should be able to reach the semi-final [at Tokyo 2020]. So, that speed is the target I have kept for myself. That is how I am training.” Fickle sports fans may not take too kindly to her realistic approach. But India's fastest woman said it is natural for the public to celebrate only medallists. Chand has seen too much in life and worked too hard to get where she is now. As a result, she is not unnerved easily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramesh calls her fearless. This has been proven many times over, including in her fight to overturn a hyperandrogenism ban, and when, in 2019, she came out as India's first openly homosexual athlete. Chand said that contrary to reports, she did not face “severe backlash” over her sexual orientation. She said her villagers never bothered her and that her neighbours, family and the Athletics Federation of India were all supportive. “They all said that it was my life and my choice,” said Chand. Now, it is up to all of India to show similar support ahead of the 100m on July 30 and July 31.</p> Thu Jul 22 19:34:52 IST 2021 four-indian-origin-women-describe-their-work-on-nasa-mission-to-find-life-on-mars <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The year is 1961, when the US and the USSR are at the height of the Cold War, and all attention is focused on space. In October 1957, the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into the earth’s orbit, thus gaining a distinct advantage in the ‘race for space’. The next year, to regain lost ground, president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an order for the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). At NASA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, there was a segregated west side whose existence not many NASA employees knew of. This was where the coloured women—or the ‘West Computers’—who did much of the space agency’s complex mathematical equations, sat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Theodore Melfi’s biographical drama, Hidden Figures (2016)—about the lives of three path-breaking West Computers—begins after the Soviet Union’s Vostok 3KA-2 successfully orbits the earth in March 1961, carrying a mannequin and a dog. There is a note of desperation in the voice of Al Harrison, the head of NASA’s Space Task Group, as he demands a human computer who is good with analytical geometry to do the agency’s orbital calculations. A missive is sent to the west side, and Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson becomes the first West Computer to work with the Space Task Group. As she enters a room full of white men who pay her scant regard, a trash bin is thrust at her. “This wasn’t cleared yesterday,” says one of the men. “Oh no, I’m not here to…,” she tries explaining, but the man has already left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, nearly 5,000 miles away, the Russians make history when Yuri Gagarin became the first cosmonaut to orbit earth in April 1961. By this time, everybody in the US is paying close attention to the space race, the interest amplified by the new medium of television. The country’s space programme is being heavily covered by the media, with the American astronauts portrayed as national heroes on a crusade against the “commie villains”. It is almost with a sense of relief that NASA successfully put Alan Shepard in space a month later. For decades, no one would know the full extent of the role played by the West Computers in helping NASA do this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sixty years later, the action has shifted from space to Mars. February 18, 2021 is a tense day at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. It is the day when the space agency’s fifth rover to Mars, Perseverance, which launched in July 2020, is landing on the Red Planet. The team members of the Mars 2020 mission are spread across eight locations in the vast 177-acre campus of the JPL. Some are in the mission control room. The EDL (Entry Descent Landing) operations team is sitting upstairs. Across the hall is the surface mission control room, whose scientists are waiting to take over as soon as Perseverance’s wheels touch the ground of Mars. Then there is the Dark Room, which is the heart of NASA’s deep space networks. It is from where the spacecraft “phones home” to NASA from across the solar system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Landing on the surface of Mars is an extremely complex process. After the cruise stage separation (where Perseverance separates from the cruise stage hardware that it relied on to get it to the Martian atmosphere), the ground team at NASA will turn the transmitter off. Then the rover is left on its own to execute the manoeuvres necessary for the entry, descent and landing on Mars, which takes approximately seven minutes, known famously as the “seven minutes of terror”. In this time, many things must go right with sub-second timing accuracy; Perseverance must read over five lakh lines of code autonomously. The rover, which comes hurtling into the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour, must first slow down to two miles per hour at landing. Once it is slow enough, it deploys a supersonic parachute to slow it down further. After Perseverance zeroes in on the place where it wants to land, it jettisons the parachute and lights up its rockets which help steer it to the landing spot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usha Guduri, the planning and sequencing subsystem manager for the Mars 2020 mission, had prepared meticulously for landing day—the culmination of five years of hard work. She had even got her daughter, four-and-a-half-year-old Moksha, a landing day present—a Wall-E soft toy. They were all at home, wearing NASA landing T-shirts, and watching the nail-biting live stream. Her parents had video-called her earlier from Hyderabad. Her husband Praveen was recording her reaction to the moment when the mission commentator announced “Tango delta nominal”, indicating Perseverance’s safe landing on Mars. “I had turned all red,” Usha remembers. “Once the landing happened, I was in jubilant tears. Moksha was jumping up and down.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Usha joined the Mars 2020 project in April 2016 to lead one of the six subsystems handling the ground software of the mission, she was five months pregnant with Moksha. On the day she had to present the preliminary design for the subsystem at a key NASA project meeting she went into labour. As her presentation came up, she signalled her colleague to take over and rushed to the hospital. When she came back after her maternity leave, things had to be ramped up fast. From two people, she built her team to over 30 members. While other teams are responsible for several aspects of handling the telemetry from the rover—including images, video and audio files—Usha’s team is responsible for the input that goes into the spacecraft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I always tell my team that we need to understand how privileged we are,” she says. “Whatever comes out of our tools gets into the spacecraft. With NASA missions, we cannot afford to build very fancy tools because we work under extremely tight time constraints. No matter what happens, you have to meet your deadline because if you miss the launch window for sending a spacecraft to Mars, then you have to wait for another two years to send it.”</p> <p>The Mars 2020 mission is expected to be a game-changer for NASA’s Mars programme because this is the first time a rover will be sent there as the first step to bringing back samples from Mars, so that scientists can investigate the astrobiology on the planet to find out whether life ever existed there. Perseverance will self-drive on the surface of Mars for 200m a day, building a map of the terrain that it covers. It will then collect samples of Martian rock and sand, put them in small tubes, seal them and set them in designated places on the planet. Another mission in 2030 will collect the samples and bring them back to earth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The technology with which Perseverance is outfitted is extremely complex, says Usha. This includes MOXIE; a testing method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere; Ingenuity, the first-powered helicopter on Mars; and TRN or terrain relative navigation. Perseverance is the first mission that used TRN to land “with its eyes open” at a precise location on the Jezero Crater (believed to be home to an ancient river delta), which contains some of the most beautifully preserved delta deposits in Mars, and therefore, would have been an ideal place for micro-organisms to thrive. This also means that the loose sand and the hills and boulders of the crater made it an extremely dangerous place to land a rover. “We were completely mind-blown by how accurately the system worked,” says Usha. “On the landing map, you would see hazardous areas everywhere, and there was this tiny safe spot where the rover could land; it landed there beautifully.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, Perseverance has taken more than 75,000 images of Mars and its microphones have recorded the first audio soundtracks of Mars—a muffled wind that sounds like what one might hear “listening to a sea shell or having a hand cupped over the ear”. On June 1, Perseverance left its landing site. Until then, it had been undergoing systems tests or commissioning. Over the next few months, the rover will explore a 4 sqkm patch of the crater floor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is easy to detect the passion in Usha’s voice. Much like the West Computers of the 1960s, what these women do is not for the glory but for the joy. As Nagin Cox, 56, a systems engineer who is the deputy team lead of the engineering operations team on the Mars 2020 mission, once said, “I have never expected that anyone would remember my name. But I’m hopeful they will remember my missions.” The Bengaluru-born Nagin, who has won the NASA exceptional achievement medal twice, has been part of enough memorable missions for her hope to be realised. She was also a member of the teams that worked on previous Mars rovers like Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. She even has an asteroid named after her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nagin wanted to work at NASA-JPL from the age of 14. When she got there in 1993, for a long time, she wrote the acronym IWWTWTF at the top right-hand corner of every notebook. It stood for ‘I was willing to wash the floors’—a reminder of just how much she wanted to work at NASA. She had been too young to remember the Apollo moon landing, but she had seen some of the later Apollo and early space shuttle missions. That is when she realised that these landmarks in space exploration brought people together in a way few things did. “There were not even VCRs those days,” she remembers. “Because you could not record it, everybody would come together to watch [these historic space missions]. After the Apollo moon landing, nobody said ‘Americans’ landed on the moon. Everybody said ‘we’ landed on the moon.” Even as a little kid, she realised that there were big challenges that we could solve together—like curing diseases or stopping wars. Space, she saw, was one of them. Shows like Star Trek and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos further fuelled her interest in space. Another insight came when she saw that astronauts had only gone as far as the moon. But there were robotic spacecrafts that were sending back outstanding images from places as far as Jupiter and Saturn. Her goal was set: she was going to work on robotic missions at NASA-JPL. The destination had been decided. Now, only the journey remained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the days of the West Computers, things at NASA have progressed admirably. The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, flew aboard the Space Shuttle STS-7 in June 1983. The 2013 astronaut class was the first with an equal number of men and women. NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch completed the first all-female spacewalk in October 2019. Several women have served in important roles at NASA Langley, including Lesa Roe, who was its centre director; Ellen Stofan, who served as chief scientist; and Elizabeth Robinson, who served as chief financial officer.</p> <p>Still, it is not easy for women from ethnic minorities in high-tech industries in the US.</p> <p>“As a coloured woman, I felt unwelcome when I joined the workforce in 2005 as a military contractor,” says Yogita Shah, an avionics domain lead with the Mars 2020 mission. She talks about feeling intimidated at meetings, especially when she was working in the aerospace industry, where she would be the only woman of colour in a room dominated by white men. “I used to feel like nobody looked at me,” she says. “It is not a pleasant feeling. I started doubting myself. Am I doing something wrong? Even after working hard, as a woman of colour, I have to prove myself every single day.” Sometimes, when she got passed over for promotions that she felt she deserved, she would find herself wondering about how much easier things would have been if only she had been born in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, Yogita had been born in Aurangabad. She did her schooling in different parts of Maharashtra when her father, a bank employee, got transferred every three or four years. Yogita grew up hearing him talk about how, if only he had a son, he would have made him an engineer. That is why, in her third grade essay, she wrote that she wanted to be an engineer when she grew up; she had no idea what an engineer did, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the India of the 1980s and 1990s, women were discouraged from pursuing higher education, remembers Yogita. From a young age, she knew she would have to fight against this unfairness and injustice, because women, too, she felt, deserved freedom. When she joined the Government Engineering College at Aurangabad, members of her community were skeptical. “Why spend so much money on her education when eventually, you will have to get her married?” they asked her parents. Ironically, it was marriage that took Yogita to America and, ultimately, to NASA-JPL, after a 11-year stint with the aerospace industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka Srivastava, 28, who was a systems engineer with the Mars 2020 mission and is now part of the Europa Clipper, NASA’s interplanetary mission, is one of the younger Indian women at NASA-JPL for whom it has largely been smooth sailing. “I have been extremely lucky to be part of great teams,” she says. “All my group supervisors have been women. In the Europa mission, for example, there is a 60-40 ratio between men and women. The lead chief engineer in the project is a woman. NASA is also making an effort to bridge the pay gap between men and women.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She says it has been a privilege to work at NASA-JPL. “Because everyone is committed to working towards the same objectives, all the meetings are very goal-oriented,” she says. “At the same time, if you hang around by the water fountain, you will hear people discussing everything from their latest hiking trip to their favourite restaurants. This passion in diverse interests triggers so much creativity at NASA.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Priyanka was born in the US, she spent most of her growing-up years in Lucknow. When Yogita did her electrical engineering in the 1980s, there were six women in her class of 80. By the time it came to Priyanka in the 2000s, in her electronics and communications engineering class at Panjab University, 25 of the 40 students were women. This generational progress goes back, beyond Nagin, Yogita, Usha and Priyanka, to almost the beginning of NASA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The privileges these women enjoy today have been bought for them with the struggles of others who came before them, like Katherine Johnson, who did the trajectory analysis for Shepard’s space flight. But the real contribution of the brilliant mathematician, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, was in 1962, during America’s first manned orbital mission, described in the final scene of Hidden Figures. The IBM computers, linked with tracking stations around the world because of the highly complex nature of the mission, have been programmed with the orbital equations that mapped astronaut John Glenn’s flight on the Friendship 7 capsule from liftoff to splashdown. On the day of the launch, Harrison, the head of the Space Task Group, realises that the landing coordinates provided by IBM are not tallying. A call is made to Cape Canaveral, where Glenn is making the last minute preparations for the flight. When the problem is explained to him, Glenn is believed to have famously said, “Let’s get the girl (referring to Katherine) to check the numbers. If she says they are good, I’m ready to go.” A messenger is sent to the west side, where the West Computers, like the rest of the nation, is watching with bated breath. All eyes are on Katherine as she quickly does the math and comes up with the correct landing coordinates. Back at the Space Task Group, she hands over the document and the door shuts in her face. As she stands outside wondering what to do, Harrison opens the door. “Get in here,” he tells her. When she sailed through that door, she did not just make history, she opened the way for countless other women at NASA to do so.</p> Fri Jul 16 22:16:23 IST 2021 husbands-of-the-desi-women-behind-nasa-mars-mission-say-they-live-on-2-planets <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Have you ever wondered what it feels like to live on two planets? Ask the NASA scientists who are working on its Mars rover, Perseverance. A Martian day is 24 hours + 40 minutes, the time it takes Mars to complete one rotation around the sun. These engineers can be said to work the “Martian night shift”. The only problem is that you have to come to work 40 minutes later every day to stay in sync with Mars, which can become really confusing. NASA’s ‘Martians’ counteract this problem by wearing Mars watches, with mechanically adjusted weights to slow down the time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what about their spouses? How will they adjust? Sometimes it becomes really weird, says Earl Cox, Nagin’s husband. “We have to keep her in synchronisation with Mars and give her a place where she can create her own night, even when it is day on earth. So we put foil over the bedroom windows when she’s working the night shift. Sometimes when she’s sleeping, I’ll just drive around and explore Los Angeles. When she wakes up, she will text me, so I’ll know when to return home.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the conversations can be funny, says Earl. “She spends eight to 10 hours a day [manoeuvring the rover] on Mars, studying rocks and other things,” he says. “Sometimes, we’ll start talking and I’ll say: ‘Wait a minute. Are we talking about earth or about Mars?’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes, the interests of spouses are diametrically opposite, but somehow the chemistry works. Like in the case of Usha and her husband, Praveen Pilly. Praveen is a research scientist who works on machine learning and artificial intelligence. “I’m fascinated by the brain and she’s fascinated by the universe,” says Praveen with a laugh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Theirs is a classic love story. They knew each other from standard one, when they studied in the same school in Hyderabad. “Till class 10, we were mostly competing with each other,” he says. “To see who comes first.” After 10th, they went their separate ways. Slowly, though, their rivalry blossomed into romance, when he got in touch with her in the first semester of college, while he was studying in IIT Madras and she in BITS Pilani. “It is wonderful to know that I am living with a person who plays a leadership role in such a complicated mission,” says Praveen. “Very few husbands can be proud like that. I just think about the complexity and the ambition of the mission, and I feel a sense of awe and wonder.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When both partners in a marriage are highly accomplished and committed to their work, how do they keep the flame alive? “Our biggest common investment is our daughter, Moksha,” says Praveen. “We both enjoy spending time with her.” For Yogita and her husband, Tushar, too, their children, Bhavin and Brijal, are the common denominator. Also, India. “We want to inculcate in our children the best of both cultures—east and west,” says Tushar. “Our culture instils good family values. But there is a lot to learn from the west. It is so much more advanced in cleanliness, research and technology.” He says he has always supported his wife. “At some point, she wanted to change to another project,” says Tushar. “I was the one who encouraged her to stick to this one, because I knew its importance.”</p> Thu Jul 15 18:17:50 IST 2021 sirisha-bandla-family-says-she-was-always-courageous-adventurous-and-focused <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hours after landing back on earth after a historic journey in space, Sirisha Bandla spoke to her aunt, Manjulatha Kanneganti, about the “life-changing experience”. Manjulatha asked Sirisha if she would do it again. Pat came the reply: “I cannot wait to go again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sirisha, 34, who was part of the six-member crew of Virgin Galactic’s Unity-22 test flight on July 11, was always focused on space science, say her family members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, Sirisha migrated to the US with her parents when she was four years old. “Sirisha always wanted to be an astronaut and she never forgot that dream. As a young child, she visited NASA on a school field trip. The thought of going to space and being an astronaut persisted ever since. She started looking around and planned the routes that could lead her to fulfil her dream,” says the Texas-based Manjulatha. As a teenager, Sirisha got a licence to fly single-engine aircraft and was also a ‘G gravity’ intern at NASA. When an eyesight issue prevented her from joining NASA, Sirisha took a different route, leading to her becoming Virgin Galactic’s vice president for government affairs and research operations. Her role aboard the flight was to evaluate researcher experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in India, Sirisha’s grandparents have always known her to be “courageous, adventurous and focused”. But her paternal grandfather, retired research scientist Bandla Ragaiah, and maternal grandfather, retired chemistry lecturer Venkat Narsaiah, experienced some tense moments on the evening of July 11. Bandla lives in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. That evening, he made an unusual request to the gods—for a safe flight for his granddaughter. “It is a thrilling experience. She is world-famous now,” says Bandla, who is flooded with congratulatory calls from friends and relatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In nearby Tenali town lives Sirisha’s maternal grandfather, Venkaiah. It was a media circus in his house as channel crews set up cameras and recorded the live reaction during Sirisha’s flight. It was a special moment for Venkaiah as Sirisha spent most of her childhood with him before she moved to the US. He recalls an incident which took place when Sirisha was nine years old. “In 1997, Sirisha came from the US to attend a function at our place,” he says. “My wife and I were happy to see her. She said that she will become a pilot and fly me to the US.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venkaiah admits that imagining Sirisha in a spaceship gave him some “tension”, but it was all well after a call from his daughter. “She called and told me that the mission was successful,” he says. Sirisha’s parents, Murali and Anuradha Bandla, were at the launch site in New Mexico that day. Sirisha belongs to a family of science graduates. Her father, Murali, is a scientist employed with the US embassy in Delhi and her sister, B. Pratyusha, is a biological science technician in Maryland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For her family, Sirisha is a down-to-earth person, but for the world watching the video recorded from inside the spaceship, Sirisha looked like she loved being far from earth.</p> Thu Jul 15 18:11:59 IST 2021 allowing-private-players-to-isro-facilities-marks-new-era-in-indian-space-segment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On February 28, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s polar satellite launch vehicle PSLV-C51 lifted off from the Sriharikota spaceport carrying 19 satellites, including a 3U CubeSat (a nanosatellite) that weighs just 1.9kg. Named after Satish Dhawan, one of the pioneers of the Indian space programme, this nanosatellite carried a digital version of Bhagvad Gita, a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and names of 25,000 space enthusiasts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Developed by a Chennai-based private space company, Space Kidz India (SKI), this satellite is currently in earth’s lower orbit, orbiting its home planet 16 times a day. The ‘all-under-one-roof’ concept of ISRO helped SKI speed up the testing process of its satellite. Also, if not for ISRO’s facilities, the testing and launch of the satellite would have cost the company a huge sum of money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in May 2020 that the Union government had announced its new space legislation. Accordingly, the government opened up ISRO’s facilities for private companies. Also, an independent nodal agency named Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) was created to act as a regulator and enabler for all space activities in India. Post that ISRO is welcoming private companies with open arms, sharing its facilities and technical mentorship. “Space is not only an elite industry but also one of the most expensive industries,” says Srimathy Kesan, founder and chief executive officer, SKI. “Opening up of the facilities [by ISRO] has truly come as a boon for organisations like ours.” According to the founders of Bengaluru-based space startup Pixxel, the establishment of IN-SPACe made communication and collaboration between the private space ecosystem and multiple sectors within the government more streamlined and efficient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pixxel’s first satellite, Anand, was also scheduled to be launched on ISRO’s February 28 mission. But five days before the launch the company had to pull out, owing to certain glitches found during the final stages of testing. Pixxel’s initial plan was to launch Anand on a Russian Soyuz rocket. But in December 2020, the company entered into a deal with ISRO for the launch. Awais Ahmed, co-founder and CEO of Pixxel, says ISRO responded to their request with great enthusiasm. “They provided expertise and resources, and offered us their facilities to test our satellite,” he adds. “The framework and approach that is already in place in these facilities will help budding space organisations, as they will take less time to build and scale basic structures.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since ISRO opened their gates for private players, many firms have come forward to use its facilities. The organisation has also invited private players to develop research and development solutions for food, medicine, space suits for astronauts, and anti-radiation and thermal protection technologies for spacecraft, for its human spaceflight programme, Gaganyaan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kesan says that, in 2015, when her company entered the space arena, things were different. There were only a handful of private space players in the country back then. “This was primarily because private players had zero opportunities—everything was dominated by ISRO and the government,” she says.&nbsp;But in the last six years, things changed for the better for the startups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bellatrix Aerospace, founded in 2015 by two young entrepreneurs—Rohan M. Ganapathy and Yashas Karanam—was the first Indian startup to win a developmental order from ISRO towards satellite propulsion technology. Since 2016, the startup has been working closely with the country’s premier space agency. In May this year, the company successfully tested India’s first privately developed hall-effect thruster—an electric propulsion engine used in micro-satellites. “The [2016] contract made us learn a lot of things, especially on testing and setting the quality standards,” says Karanam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hyderabad based Skyroot Aerospace, a startup focusing on building a series of satellite launch vehicles—Vikram series—is another startup utilising ISRO’s facilities. “It is helping us focus on the core product rather than building on the infrastructure,” says Pawan Kumar Chandana, co-founder and CEO, Skyroot Aerospace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January, ISRO made its first-ever announcement of opportunity (AO) for developing theme-based merchandise. This prompted Bengaluru-based firm Rocketeers to start discussions with the government agency. The company is looking at education and outreach programmes where they can help support and expand operations for ISRO. “The AO will allow the private sector to create products for consumption by the general public and improve awareness and outreach for ISRO,” says Divyanshu Poddar, co-founder of Rocketeers. “We hope to utilise ISRO facilities to launch and fly amateur rockets safely. This had not been possible earlier. This will also help us to set up the first-of-its-kind amateur rocket flying zone in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, entrepreneurs believe that the opening up of government-run space infrastructure alone will not boost the private companies. A lot of work needs to come in from the industry side, especially on creating products that are disruptive both in terms of cost and innovation, they say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karanam observes that even now the Indian companies have to import numerous components and subsystems of satellites and rockets. “Growing local capabilities across the entire supply chain is important,” he says. “We also need to ensure that there is enough capital available locally in India as companies scale up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The industry experts point out that despite the changed atmosphere, it is still a very long way forward for Indian private space players. “The percentage of business and revenue generated by private space players in India, compared to the west, is low,” says Kesan. Srinath Ravichandran, co-founder and CEO of Chennai-based space startup AgniKul Cosmos, says that the revenue of private space players in India has not been as high as international players primarily because the Indian companies are focusing on capital-efficient value addition. “I believe in looking at how much was achieved with a smaller amount of money spent from the whole ecosystem, rather than looking at individual company revenues,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The industry experts also point out that in countries like the US, China and Russia, there is more governmental support for private firms. “These countries undertake numerous launches,” says Kesan. “This helps their private space players to flourish. The government should give more budget and help private players launch their spacecraft. At the same time, ISRO should not only open doors to their facilities but also support the buying of components and systems from the private players.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The space entrepreneurs say frequent launches from ISRO will help them to work on developing innovative solutions. SKI, for instance, had successfully demonstrated the LoRa technology—that enables long-range data transmissions with low power consumption—in its nanosatellite, Satish Dhawan SAT. Now they want to try the same technology in geostationary satellites (GSATs). “We are aware that GSATs are not launched very frequently by ISRO,” says Kesan. “Yet we are planning to send them a proposal and wait for an opportunity.” If it succeeds, SKI could become one of the first Indian space companies to provide internet-of-things (IoT) communications to India using space-based IoT gateways.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Collaboration among private players in the space-tech ecosystem is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Though a little late, the Indian space segment is also witnessing this phenomenon now. Technology and research-based partnerships enable the free movement of ideas and know-how, which makes it easier for companies to develop high-quality products and services. For instance, Bellatrix Aerospace signed a memorandum of understanding with Skyroot in February to use the orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) being developed by the latter in the upper stage of its Vikram series launch vehicles. An OTV can perform various in-orbit operations that would allow a launch vehicle to deliver satellites to more orbits than what was conventionally possible. The companies plan to have the first mission of a Vikram launcher with an OTV by 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seeing the increased enthusiasm in the segment, global investors have started funding space startups in India. AgniKul Cosmos, the world’s first company to successfully test a fully 3D-printed rocket engine, raised $11 million in series A funding in May. Similarly, Skyroot Aerospace also raised $11 million in its series A round. These two startups received the largest funding ever since ISRO opened its doors for private players.</p> Thu Jul 15 18:08:02 IST 2021 package-delivered <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Mission: MARS 2020</b></p> <p><b>Rover: PERSEVERANCE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>OBJECTIVE</b></p> <p>Seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to earth</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is carrying 25 cameras, the most ever flown in the history of deep-space exploration</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>LAUNCH</b></p> <p>July 30, 2020, Cape Canaveral, Florida</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>LANDING</b></p> <p>Feb 18, 2021, Jezero Crater, Mars</p> Thu Jul 15 17:47:50 IST 2021 my-life-with-jayalalithaa-v-k-sasikala <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tamil Nadu is under total lockdown. The towering steel gate of a swanky bungalow on Habibullah Road in Chennai’s T. Nagar is closed. A security guard checks my name against a list and lets me in. An assistant calls the lady of the house on the intercom and informs her about my arrival. On cue, the wooden door opens, and I am ushered in. Portraits of former chief ministers M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa adorn the walls of the small visitors’ room. I take a seat on the long, brown sofa, and in no time, a steaming mug of strong filter coffee is served.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I set the empty mug down on the glass coffee table, in comes V.K. Sasikala, clad in an all-grey salwar suit. “Vanakkam (greetings),” she says, her hands folded. Even though the mask covers her smile, I can see it in her eyes. Sasikala was Jayalalithaa’s confidante, staying by her side in politics and life. Their friendship weathered many a storm. Everyone thought that she would fade into oblivion post the developments following Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, 2016, including her 2017 conviction in a disproportionate assets case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On her release from the Bengaluru prison this January, she had announced a step back from politics. But now, Sasikala, who has been well-versed with the internal politics of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for more than 33 years, is set to make a comeback—all to keep her friend’s legacy alive. And, it is to document this friendship between the two—once the most powerful women in Tamil Nadu politics—that I have been waiting to meet Sasikala for years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“All well with you?” she asks me. As I inquire about her health, she says, “I got the letters you wrote to me when I was in prison. Sorry, I could not reply and also could not give you time to visit me, as there were several restrictions on people visiting me in the prison.” The four years in prison were the most difficult phase of her life, she says. The last year was particularly lonelier, with fewer visits owing to pandemic-induced restrictions. Her appeal for remission was rejected. And, just before her release from jail was approved, she caught Covid-19 and was shifted to a hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neither Sasikala nor her family want to dwell too much on her time in jail and hospital. All she divulges is that while in hospital, her only thought was to get well soon and return to Tamil Nadu. “I swore at akka’s (elder sister’s) memorial that I would come back, defeat all the betrayers and save the party. And now I am on it,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A bond begins</b></p> <p>Sasikala was born in 1954 to a farmer couple—Vivekanandam and Krishnaveni—at Mannargudi near Thanjavur. Despite hailing from the influential Kallar community (commonly known as Thevars) and being land-holders, the family was not rich. With her father’s Dravidian-Periyar leanings, their humble abode would be abuzz with political news, thanks to All India Radio. A discussion would always follow the news.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, Sasikala’s wedding with M. Natarajan in 1973 was solemnised by chief minister M. Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. No Hindu rituals were performed at the wedding. Despite their political connections, the couple struggled to make ends meet. They moved to Chennai where Natarajan worked as a public relations officer in the state’s directorate of information and public relations department.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Emergency days were difficult as cases were filed against Natarajan for his involvement in the anti-Hindi agitation. He was unemployed from 1976 to 1980. To support the family, Sasikala started a video rental shop. But the money from the shop was not enough, and Sasikala had to pawn and sell her jewellery to fight the cases against her husband.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after M.G. Ramachandran, aka MGR, came to power, Natarajan started working as PRO at the district collector’s office in Cuddalore, then South Arcot, in the early 1980s. That is when Jayalalithaa, who was the propaganda secretary of the AIADMK, went on a state-wide tour to popularise the midday meal scheme. MGR asked South Arcot district collector V. Chandralekha to ensure the best media coverage for Jayalalithaa’s tour. Chandralekha delegated the responsibility to Natarajan, who roped in his wife to cover Jayalalithaa’s programmes. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. By the late 1980s, Sasikala and Natarajan had moved into Jayalalithaa’s Veda Nilayam at Poes Garden. Their bond further strengthened after MGR’s death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With grief, comes growth</b></p> <p>MGR died in the wee hours of December 24, 1987. As soon as Jayalalithaa heard of his death, she rushed to his Ramavaram Gardens residence with Sasikala. “The gate was closed. We drove on, breaking it open,” recalls Sasikala. “Akka cried. But MGR’s family members tried to lock her inside a room on the ground floor. We didn’t leave. We saw the body being brought down from the first floor. As it was put on a stretcher and taken in an ambulance, we rushed out, got in our car and followed the ambulance. [T.T.V.] Dhinakaran [Sasikala’s nephew] drove the car.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worse, Jayalalithaa was pushed down from the hearse carrying MGR’s body. “Akka was injured. We came back home,” says Sasikala. When they reached Poes Garden, Jayalalithaa fell in front of the portrait of her mother Sandhya and cried saying, “I lost, amma.” Sasikala saw how upset and disturbed she was. “That is when I decided that I should be with her,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though she was MGR’s protégé, Jayalalithaa had to fight her way to the top of the party. Every attempt was made to side-line her after MGR’s death. The AIADMK split into two factions—one led by Jayalalithaa and the other by MGR’s wife Janaki.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Jayalalithaa staked her claim on the party, Sasikala stood by her side. “She went on a tour, and I accompanied her throughout,” she says. When Jayalalithaa was looking for a party office, Sasikala, through Natarajan, found a place in Alwarpet in one night. “I got a huge steel rod from Parry’s Corner and got it painted red and white to make the flag post for our new party,” she recalls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, Sasikala along with her husband went to Ramavaram to convince Janaki to give up her claim on the party. “Akka told me not to go. She said nothing will come of it,” says Sasikala. “But I was stubborn and said that I will go and talk with Janaki amma and unite the party. Akka told me, ‘Do as you wish’, and walked up the stairs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala says they met up with Janaki in the evening. The latter told them that she had decided to give up. “She sent out the news to Doordarshan then through [TV host] A.V. Ramanan,” says Sasikala. “We came home. Soon, akka took over as the leader of the AIADMK.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With so much love for Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK, one wonders why Sasikala stepped aside from the party during the last assembly elections. “How can I campaign against the two leaves symbol?” she asks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Seeking simple pleasures</b></p> <p>During her 33-year stay at Poes Garden, Sasikala had never stepped out without Jayalalithaa’s knowledge. “If I was missing at home, she would immediately call me and ask about my whereabouts,” she says. The only place she used to visit without Jayalalithaa was the Milan Jyothi showroom in Chennai to purchase the former chief minister’s favourite Garden Vareli saris. “She loves green, that too dark green. She felt it was her lucky colour,” says Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala would buy the sari material in rolls. Two Muslim tailors would then embroider the sari border. “It would be done as a small patch. I would buy the matching colour thread for the embroidery,” says Sasikala. She would get a sample patch done, get it approved by Jayalalithaa and pass it on to the tailors. “She was never for expensive jewellery. She always preferred to be simple,” says Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every time though, Sasikala would pick a pair of identical saris. “Whenever she wore a new sari, she would insist that I also wear the same colour and design,” says Sasikala. She recounts how during an income tax raid in 2018 at Poes Garden while she was in jail, a lady officer was flummoxed to see two rows of saris in the same design and colour in the wardrobe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Sasikala, materials, like the green sari, have become tangible cues to memories past. She says she has stopped eating fried groundnuts, green peas and neer kozhukattai (steamed rice balls)—all Jayalalithaa’s favourite snacks. “I used to remove the skin of groundnuts and give them to akka whenever we were on tour. When I see groundnuts, I remember the days we spent together.” Recently, when a relative brought her steamed rice balls, she asked that the snack be taken back as it reminded her of Jayalalithaa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayalalithaa also needed her filter coffee fix on tour. She liked it strong, served in the traditional tumbler set. “I would carry a kettle and coffee powder for decoction only to prepare coffee for akka wherever she went,” says Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Jayalalithaa had a sweet spot for cakes baked in five-star hotels, she preferred home-cooked food over fancy cuisine. “She loved anni’s samayal [cooking],” says Sasikala. Anni is Sasikala’s co-sister Elavarasi Jayaraman, who was also jailed in the disproportionate assets case. Jayaraman’s kovakkai poriyal (sautéed ivy gourd, seasoned with a little ‘gun powder’ and pepper) and tomato rasam were Jayalalithaa’s favourite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayalalithaa loved pets, particularly dogs. She had 13 dogs. “Julie was her favourite,” says Sasikala. Julie was Sasikala’s pet before she came to Poes Garden. The moment Jayalalithaa walked in, recalls Sasikala, Julie would start wagging her tail and would wait till her mistress finished her conversation with the visitors. Julie would follow her upstairs to her room, wait at the doorstep till she freshened up and then get on to her lap. The day Julie died, Jayalalithaa had left for Hyderabad and was supposed to go to Delhi to meet BJP leader L.K. Advani. But when she heard of Julie’s death, she cancelled the meeting and rushed home. “She did all the rituals and we got Julie buried in the lawn at Poes Garden,” says Sasikala. “Akka loved dogs. She would feed them, and sometimes take them for morning walks.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jayalalithaa yearned to take long walks on the beach, but it was a luxury that she could ill afford because of her position. “There were days when we would go near Mahabalipuram and go for long walks late at night,” says Sasikala. Jayalalithaa loved Mahabalipuram and its architecture. But her favourite retreat was her Kodanad tea estate. Sasikala becomes teary-eyed when she speaks about Kodanad estate. In Kodanad, she says Jayalalithaa preferred to go for boat rides or walks. She talks about the robbery and murder of the Kodanad security guard in April 2017, saying the mystery behind it is still not resolved. The two accused met with separate accidents; only one of them survived. “It is actually a conspiracy,” she says, adding that the then AIADMK government could have resolved it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rift in relations</b></p> <p>Sasikala’s and Jayalalithaa’s friendship did hit a rough patch. Sasikala was twice expelled from the party. Between June 1996 and April 1997, Sasikala was in jail in a Foreign Exchange Regulation Act case, which is still pending in a magistrate’s court. Jayalalithaa, too, was arrested, but was released on bail 45 days later. In a press conference, she blamed Sasikala’s family and vowed to banish them from Poes Garden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Akka has never been without me for even a minute. It [the expulsion] was only for the outside world, but we were talking with each other,” reveals Sasikala. “When I [fell sick in jail] and was taken to the government hospital, the news shook her and she rushed to the hospital. She was on her toes, impatiently inquiring with the doctors about my condition.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala was banished from Poes Garden again in December 2011. Exactly after 100 days, in March 2012, she returned to the residence after issuing a public apology to Jayalalithaa.</p> <p><br> She wrote that her family members would not call the shots in the party and no one from the Mannargudi clan would be allowed inside Poes Garden. She also promised to stay away from everyone in the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala says that this expulsion was again for people’s sake. It was on Jayalalithaa’s instruction that she stayed at the T. Nagar house. “It was all planned,” says Sasikala. “She would call me over the phone every day. The phone conversation with akka would begin by 8pm and end only at midnight. She would discuss every political development with me.” Apparently, the public apology was also Jayalalithaa’s suggestion.</p> <p><br> “It [the 2011 expulsion] was only to know the roles played by people like Cho [Ramaswamy, political commentator] and a police officer who was heading the intelligence then [in influencing government officials against Jayalalithaa and Sasikala],” says Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After her return to Poes Garden, Sasikala says that Jayalalithaa regularly spent time with her after a tiring day. “She would lie down on my lap like a little girl,” she says. Jayalalitha, in an interview with TV host Simi Garewal, said that Sasikala “is like my mother”. And, twice in the Assembly, she referred to Sasikala as her “udanpirava sagothari”—a sister not related by blood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A friend in Modi</b></p> <p>The sisterhood gave Sasikala a ringside view of politics, state and national. She recalls how Modi broke protocol to have lunch with Jayalalithaa at Poes Garden on August 7, 2015. The prime minister and Jayalalithaa, she says, were closeted before partaking a simple vegetarian meal, home-cooked especially for Modi. “Akka was very particular that the prime minister was served the best of south Indian dishes,” she says. “He loved appam. I remember the prime minister asking for it again and again. Akka was so pleased that he liked south Indian cuisine.” Those were the days when the AIADMK was the third largest party in Lok Sabha, and had 11 members in Rajya Sabha. Over lunch, the two leaders discussed the Goods and Services Tax bill. “Akka was never for the GST bill,” recalls Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi apart, Poes Garden had hosted several national leaders, like L.K. Advani and Rajiv Gandhi. “Advani had huge respect for akka,” says Sasikala. “But Modi was always her friend.” She recalls how Modi rushed to Chennai to pay his last respects to Jayalalithaa. “He knew I was completely shattered when akka died,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among BJP leaders, Sasikala’s favourite is former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee. “I used to listen to his speeches in the early 1980s on radio. My father was a staunch follower of Vajpayee’s speeches those days,” she says. But she met Vajpayee for the first time when the AIADMK extended support to the BJP government in 1998. But it lasted only 13 months as Jayalalithaa pulled out of the coalition. “It was akka’s decision to withdraw support,” says Sasikala. “I advised her not to. We fought over it for several hours. But she was stubborn.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala says that Jayalalithaa announced her plans to withdraw support when they left Chennai for Delhi. “I got into the [Chennai] airport through a different gate, while she came in through another one where the media asked for her comments,” she says. “She was categorical that she withdrew the support. I did not know this. We reached Delhi. And as I switched on the TV, [I saw] akka’s comments. I was shattered. I pleaded with her. I argued, even fought. But she did not relent. The government fell.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another issue where the two friends disagreed with each other was when Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested at Chennai airport in a murder case in 2003. “I fought with akka the whole night,” she recalls. “I said it would only ruin the party’s image. But for her, every wrongdoer must be punished. I even fell at her feet, but she did not take my advice then.” The seer’s arrest turned the Brahmin community in Tamil Nadu against the AIADMK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Bound by faith</b></p> <p>Jayalalithaa was highly spiritual. She would never skip prayers no matter how busy her schedule. Every morning, 45 minutes were dedicated to chanting hymns like Hanuman Chalisa and Soundarya Lahari. “Akka got this habit from her grandmother, who was very spiritual and orthodox,” says Sasikala. On her return from work, Jayalalithaa would be given a small pot of water. “She would spill a few drops on her feet and a few on her head and only then get into the main hall,” says Sasikala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On official tours, Sasikala would carry two boxes with miniature idols of Jayalalithaa’s favourite deities—Lord Perumal, Lord Venkatachalapathy and Lord Murugan. The boxes also had all the puja essentials. “I would arrange fragrant flowers for her puja every day,” says Sasikala. “Though she was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu (Perumal in Tamil), she offered prayers to every other deity, too. She would chant Ramaneeyam and Baagavatham very often. I got all the lyrics stored on the iPad when she was in the hospital. I would read it out for her.” Sasikala says she even memorised all the hymns for Jayalalithaa’s sake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Adieu, Akka</b></p> <p>Sasikala’s eyes still well up when she talks about Jayalalithaa’s final days. As tears roll down her cheeks, she wipes them with a tissue and takes a deep breath before recalling the events of the evening of September 22, 2016. “Everything was fine,” she says. “Akka and I were chatting in the bedroom. Akka went to the washroom and came out. She said she felt giddy. As I walked towards her, she fell onto me. Holding her up with one arm, I reached for the phone and called the doctor and security officers. I was devastated.” Sasikala shows the small wireless intercom phone she used to alert the security. When she stayed with Jayalalithaa in Poes Garden, she always carried the phone in her salwar suit’s pocket, so that Jayalalithaa could always reach her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Jayalalithaa was taken to the hospital, Sasikala hoped she would be back home soon. “She was fine. The next day she instructed authorities on the Cauvery water issue. But at last, none of our prayers saved her,” she says, wiping her tears. Jayalalithaa was in the hospital for 75 days. “Akka was fine till the evening of December 4 [the eve of her death],” says Sasikala. “I had decided to take her back home on December 19, after she had completely recovered. Akka wanted to go to Kodanad and take rest there. But I advised her that we stay back at Poes Garden and then go to Kodanad. She agreed. I never thought akka would leave me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 4, Jayalalithaa had only curd rice. Doctors advised her to eat at regular intervals. So, Sasikala, accompanied by the hospital dietician and the Poes Garden cook, went to the hospital kitchen to get two dinner buns and a cup of filter coffee for her. “Those are small dinner buns. Akka likes it only if the top layer is a little extra brown,” says Sasikala. “So, I went to get it prepared myself.” She placed the bun and coffee on a trolley and rolled it next to Jayalalithaa, who was lying on the bed watching Jai Hanuman. “She had placed the TV remote on her thigh and I went to take it,” recalls Sasikala. “Before I could give her the coffee, she fell back with a huge gasp. The doctor was standing near the bed, writing the daily medication. As I yelled, he came running. I shouted, ‘akka, akka’. [Every time I called her name], she would struggle to open her eyes and sit up. But, despite my cries, she fell back and was moved to the ICU.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the fifth of every month, Sasikala holds prayers for Jayalalithaa at home. Her offering: two dinner buns and a cup of strong filter coffee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CASES AGAINST SASIKALA</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE INTIMIDATION CASE</b></p> <p>Booked on June 30, along with 500 unidentified supporters, for allegedly intimidating former law minister and AIADMK Villupuram district secretary C.V. Shanmugam. This case is not expected to trouble Sasikala too much, politically. However, her FERA and income tax cases are likely to be more troublesome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE FERA CASE</b></p> <p>The case under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973, was filed in 1996. Charged with remitting foreign currency worth Rs3.29 crore from Malaysia. A Rs3 crore-loan was obtained against this deposit. The money is said to have been used to purchase shares of the Kodanad estate, one of Jayalalithaa’s favourite destinations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>INCOME TAX CASES</b></p> <p>In October 2020, the IT department attached properties worth more than Rs2,000 crore under the Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988. These included the palatial white mansion at the Kodanad estate and the Siruthavur resort in the outskirts of Chennai. The IT department also attached assets worth Rs1,500 crore, allegedly purchased using demonetised currency.</p> Sat Jul 10 19:38:40 IST 2021