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On 26 April 2016, a fire
devastated the National Museum of Natural History, at the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce (FICCI) building in New Delhi. Prized flora and fauna specimens, including a 160-million-year-old fossil of a saurapod’s femur, fossilised eggs and stuffed models of two extinct vultures, two Asiatic lions, a white tiger and a giant dolphin were destroyed. Delhi Fire Services claims the building had no fire clearance, and the fire-fighting equipments there were not functional. Firemen on 35 fire tenders took over four hours to douse the flames. It is not clear what led to the blaze. At least 200 exhibits are lost. The museum had opened in Delhi in 1972. The vast collection of books, exceeding 15,000, part of the Natural History Library, situated on the fourth floor of the building, is also feared burnt. The only surviving vulture specimens of Delhi are incinerated. There are plans to move to a new area, to create a new museum.
Gurgaon to Gurugram
Scores of multinational businesses have their India headquarters at Gurgaon, near Delhi. Henceforth, the city is to be called Gurugram in the latest place-name change, imposed by India’s politicians. Some Indian nationalists have praised the announcement by the State Government of Haryana, but many Gurgaon residents mocked it as pointless. The name change move triggered a storm of commentary on social media, such as Twitter. Many view changing names of cities and towns is a waste of time, money and energy. But one informal snap poll on Twitter suggested supporters and opponents were evenly split. The meaning of the city name, ‘‘Village of the Guru’’, is unchanged. Haryana opted to drop the modern Hindi rendering, and revert to the full version of the name from ancient Sanskrit. Dronacharya is the ‘Guru’, the skilled archer revered by both sides in the great war portrayed in the Mahabharata, the Indian Sanskrit epic. As per legend, his pupils gave him the village which has developed into an urban sprawl of office blocks, shopping malls, residential skyscrapers and factories over the past twenty five years. Haryana has also decided to change the name of neighbouring Mewat district to Nuh, after the district capital.
Indians over the age of sixty, account for 8.6% of the country’s 121-crore population. The number of citizens over the age of 60, increased from 7.6 crore in 2001 to 10.3 crore in 2011. The jump is 33.5%, which is a record high since 1950. In the same period of 2001 to 2011, India’s overall population grew by 17.7%. While population ageing is a global phenomenon, it is a social challenge in future India. Kerala has the highest percentage of elderly, at 12.6% of the population. Arunachal Pradesh has the least number at 4.6% of the population over 60, followed by Meghalaya at 4.7%. Age dependency ratio denotes the ratio of older dependants (people above 64), to the working age population (those between 15 and 64). India’s present age dependent ratio is also increasing, standing at 14.2 against 10.9 in 2011. Ageing economies such as Japan have an age dependency ration as high as 42, while Belgium has 28.
Airstrikes on Sana’a
Over a year of war has left Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country torn apart, with faltering peace prospects. Saudi Arabia led airstrikes have hit schools and hospitals in Sana’a, where the social fabric has been ripped apart. Saudi Arabia launched its aerial bombing campaign on 26 March 2015, after the Riyadh-backed president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was overthrown by Iranian-backed Houthi Rebels from northern Yemen. Cities of Aden and Taiz have been reduced to rubble. Militants from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have control of strategic towns. The Islamic State has established a foothold in the country. Saudi Arabia stops and searches flights into Sana’a. Unemployment and poverty are rife in Sana’a. Since over a year, electricity has been non-existent. Prices have risen. Thousands of civilians have died, and child soldiers are fighting in horrific numbers. 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. Along with their ally, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis remain entrenched in Sana’a and the north. The region is riven with conflicts between rival militias, and has suffered from ISIS suicide bombings and assassinations.
Anti-Houthi militias in Taiz have endured a siege for months. 1.3 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, which is 1 in 3. Ten million inhabitants in Yemen, are struggling to survive without clean water.
US Forces in Syria
British, French and American special forces are fighting against Islamic State on the Syrian front line. Recently, USA despatched 250 more troops to Syria. US has 50 special forces soldiers fighting with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) predominantly Kurdish militias fighting against ISIS in north-eastern Syria. The jihadists have been driven back within 30 miles of Raqqa, capital of the so-called caliphate. US troops are working alongside local forces, and very few are engaged in direct combat. British, French and American troops operated on the front line, during the Kurdish advance on the town of Shadadi, in north-eastern Syria. Western soldiers are arranging airstrikes from American A-10 tankbuster war planes, and using sophisticated weaponry, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, to destroy ISIS suicide bombs. Aleppo has been the centre of violence in May 2016, leaving more than 400 civilians dead in the contested city. Russia’s aerial bombardment ravaged a Medicins sans Frontieres hospital in Aleppo.
Vol. 49, No.1, Jul 10 - 16, 2016