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News Wrap

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The Sixth Schedule status granted by the constitution of India aims to prevent unscrupulous plainsmen from exploiting tribals, in Assam and other north eastern states of India. But the interests of the non-tribals are not being safe-guarded. The provision for the government to nominate one-fourth of the council members to give proper representation to the minorities, is scarcely invoked for political expediency. To avoid demands for separate homeland the Bodos, the Rabhas, Lalungs and Minings have been granted autonomy. Nagaland has not accepted suggestions for amending the Sixth Schedule, as in the tribal state it is redundant. The state still retains the powers to interfere in the functioning of the autonomous councils. There are demands for direct funding from the Union Government of India from the autonomous councils. North Cachar Hills Dima Hasao autonomous council allegedly paid crores of rupees to a militant outfit to purchase arms. The boundaries of the autonomous councils, particularly for Bodos have not been clearly delineated. In Shillong there is tension between the Khasis and non-tribal businessmen. There are several cases of licenses not being renewed, in respect of non-tribal shopkeepers, doing business for decades.

Maoists Regrouping
Since 2002, Maoists have been building a presence in Southern Singhbhum (Jharkhand state), declaring it a ‘liberated zone’. Home to Ho and Birhor adivasis, the Saranda forest area holds a quarter of India’s iron ore. It has been declared the Eastern Regional Bureau Headquarters of the CPI (Maoist). The para-military forces in 2011, launched a massive operation called ‘‘Operation Anaconda’’, flushing out Maoists. Soldiers combed through Saranda for thirty five days, detaining and beating up over a hundred adivasis. 47 adivasis were arrested. The Union Rural Development Ministry’s Rs 250 crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) aimed to bring in development and strengthen the government’s hold on the area. The Maoists retreated but continued to collect levy. They are looking for opportunities to reclaim their former bastion. CRPF camps dot the area, but welfare distribution varies, depending on the location of the villages. There are no welfare facilities deeper in the forests, in villages like Thalkobad, Tirilposi and Baliba. Some new schools are under construction after the existing schools were blown up in the conflict between CRPF and the Maoists. The rivers and channels crisscrossing the forest are polluted from mining waste from Steel Authority of India and other private mines. Hence, nearly all the villages have no clean drinking water. Under the Saranda Development Plan (SDP) to bring in development, the SAIL that operates iron ore mines entrusted with completing Ten Integrated Development Centres, has completed only one centre in panchayat Digha, connected by roads via Odisha. Some roads, regular rations and a check dam have been provided. CRPF raids on villages have led to loss of identity cards, which are yet to be replaced. 5000 adivasis of 110 villages do not exist in administrative records. They are locally known as ‘Jharkhandi’ adivasis, who settled in the 1980s, during a resistance movement, against the state forest department’s decision to replace sal trees, considered sacred, with teak plantation.

Ever since the Trinamul Congress Party assumed power in West Bengal, the Maoists have been able to revive at least 18 squads in Junglemahal areas of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts. Youths are being recruited from remote areas, and being trained by senior leaders, at various undisclosed places. The CPI (Maoist) has decided to set up four guerilla bases in Junglemahal, in the next two years. The Maoists are forming a ‘tactical united front’ with other left wing extremists, along with rising attacks on security forces, police stations and government offices.

Jordan Valley
The Oslo Accords (1993) between Israelis and Palestinians, divided the West Bank into three parts. The Palestinian Authority governs and provides security to areas A and B, about 40% of the West Bank, which includes major Palestinian cities and most of the Palestinian population. Israel fully controls Area C, where the Jordan Valley lies. Israeli actions throughout Area C of Jordan Valley are forcing Palestinians to move closer to areas A and B. Israeli soldiers and bulldozers are destroying buildings and Palestinian homes of West Bank’s Jordan Valley. There has been a sharp increase in the tear-downs in recent months. Israeli authorities, who control most of the valley, deem the Palestinian structures illegal, because they lacked proper permits. With little recourse to financially support or option to rebuild, hundreds of Palestinians are homeless. In 2012, 172 houses were demolished. 390 structures were torn down in 2013, leaving 590 people, more than half of them children, scrambling to find a new place to live.

About 7500 Jewish settlers and 10,000 Palestinians live in the Israeli controlled Jordan Valley, in small farming communities that produce dates, herbs, flowers and winter vegetables. The Palestinian Authority governs another 50,000 Palestinians, in the ancient city of Jericho. With fertile land and available water, the Palestinians view the area, which borders Jordan to the east, as the key to economic stability, in any future state. The valley can serve as Palestine’s border with Jordan, and its access to the wider world. The Jordan Valley is a strategic, non-negotiable territory for Israel, essential for securing its borders, and protesting its population. Israel is opposed to handing over security to foreign peacekeepers. More constructions have been allowed in the Jordan Valley Jewish settlements of Gitit and Tubas. Israel has been using the peace talks, as a cover to reduce the presence of Palestinian farmers and Bedouins, ultimately to ensure that the area stays in Israel’s hands. Demolitions have increased by 43% since the peace negotiations began in July 2013. Building permits are nearly impossible to obtain by Palestinians in B’Tselem. Between 2000 and 2012, more than 94% of 3750 building requests submitted by Palestinians, were rejected by Israel. Palestinian residents have no choice but to build illegally, and face possible demolition, for the foreseeable future.

Syria’s Ancient History
Civil war in Syria has made impossible the work of archeologists in the ancient cities, houses and temples. Archeologists from Belgium, Britain, France, Italy and other countries, who spent years uncovering Syria’s ancient history, consisting of the world of the ancient Greeks, the Romans and early years of Islam in the Levant, are now trying to catalogue and recover stolen Syrian artifacts, working with scholars, collections and law enforcement authorities in bordering countries. Syria’s civil war, armed fighting, rampant pillaging, looting from museums and other collections have destroyed the world’s most important historical records and archeological sites. Syria is in the process of obliterating its cultural history. Illegal excavations are occurring in about 350 sites, thieves work with metal detectors and jackhammers. Looting and pillaging have occurred largely in rebel held areas, and also contested places. Citadels and castles, often built in high points, like the crusaders’ castle, the Krak des Chevaliers, are particularly vulnerable in the fighting. Museums in Hama, Apamea and Damascus have been looted. Rebel fighters aligned with Al-Qaeda consider preservation of statues as against religion.

Frontier
Vol. 46, No. 46, May25 -31, 2014