News Wrap


Beginning in the late 1990s, thousands of young men and women had paid millions in bribes, to a network of fixers and political operatives to rig the official examinations run by the Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal (known as Vyapam), a state body that conducts standardised tests for thousands of highly coveted government jobs and admissions to state-run medical colleges. Since the examination-fixing scandal first became public in 2013, the Madhya Pradesh government’s Special Taskforce of state police arrested about 2250 people of whom 1870 were released on bail after questioning. From 2010, more than 50 doctors, medical students, policemen, civil servants and investigative journalists, with links to the Vyapam scam, have died in mysterious circumstances. A large number of top officials and a few ministers have been arrested. Opposition parties insist that the probe is an elaborate charade, intended to convey a sense of urgency to the public, while protecting the BJP Chief Minister. The Supreme Court is reviewing the progress of the Vyapam Case. The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) now probing the case, does not have the manpower to investigate so many deaths and arrests.

Kapu Quota
A Kapu rally at Tuni, in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, demanding reservation of the community in backward caste category turned violent on 31 January, 2016. The protesters set fire to four coaches of Ratnachal Express and pelted stones. Four railway officials were injured. The Kolkata-Chennai highway was blocked, and a rural police station set on fire. A constable was injured in the incident. During pre-independence, the Kapus were placed in the ‘backward class’ list from 1910. When the composite state of Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956, the Kapus did not figure in the list. In 1961, Chief Minister D Sanjeevaiah brought Kapus in the ‘backward class’ list, through a government order. The order was struck down by the High Court in 1963, and subsequently the order was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Kapus and the Kammas are two prominent land-owning communities in Andhra Pradesh state. The Kapu community has not faced any disability like the SCs and STs, and has produced eminent persons in all walks of life. The demand for inclusion in BC status by the Kapus stems from an objective to obtain quotas in government jobs and seats in educational institutions. Constituting 27% of the population, the Kapus decided to vote the Telegu Desam Party to power in 2014. The Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has not yet fulfilled his election promises of allocating Rs 1000 crore annually, for the welfare of the Kapus.

Syrian Orchestra
Members of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music had scattered across the globe, and are divided politically over whether to support President Assad. Organisers of a celebration of the ‘‘strength and joy’’ of Syrian culture are confident that they will be able to reunite more than 50 Syrian musicians, for a series of concerts with Damon Albarn. Eight years ago, the Syrian musicians had collaborated with Damon Albarn’s band ‘‘Godzilla’’ in Damascus. Most of the musicians were still in Syria, while others in Europe and USA had applied for asylum. The projects organisers hope to re-unite about 20 members of the Orchestra and 20 members of the choir for concerts in June 2016. Although the musicians had different opinions over who should rule Syria, they all wanted peace. The concert, at the Southbank Centre on 25 June 2016, forms part of 14-18 November, a UK arts programme commemorating first world war events, such as the Anglo-French Sykes-Picot agreement, which drew Middle East borders. One outcome of the war in the Middle East was the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which set borders for the benefit of European powers, but to the detriment of stability for the region.

‘No’ to Name Change
Two Balkan countries, Greece and Macedonia have failed to make a break-through in a dispute that has divided them for over 24 years, namely, what to call Macedonia. To avoid a territorial claim on the region of Northern Greece, known since antiquity as Macedonia, Greeks argue that Macedonia’s name must be altered. Macedonia says ‘NO’ to name change, and Macedonians have held firm. Since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the collapsing Yugoslav federation, Greek companies have become the biggest investors in Macedonia, controlling banks, supermarkets and the country’s only oil refinery. Even though some 140 countries recognise the constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, the Greek government insists on calling its northern neighbour Fyrom (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). With the Balkan wars subsided, few Greeks believe Skopje would ever lay claim to the Greek region of Macedonia. Under a right-wing nationalist government, the Macedonians’ desire to share Alexander the Great’s heritage, is considered heresy to the Greek nationalists in Athens and Thessaloniki, Capital of modern Greek Macedonia. Athens has vetoed Macedonia’s membership of NATO, as well as the start of EU accession talks.

Jail Terms Cut
To lower the prison population, thousands of prisoners in United Kingdom, have had their jail terms cut. More than 10,000 foreign inmates are incarcerated in England and Wales. On the condition that they leave the country, in an effort to boost the number of such offenders removed from UK, more foreign inmates would be released at least nine months early. Sentences are reduced for British prisoners. More are being let out on day release monitored by satellite tracking devices. Prisoners are being allowed to work during the week, and return to their cells at weekends. Organised crime gangs have been running sophisticated networks and smuggling legal drugs into jails using catapults, bows and arrows, and even potatoes. Britain is part of a European Union compulsory prisoner transfer deal (2011). As some EU countries are taking years to implement the deal, only about 75 inmates have been sent to member states, to serve their sentences. Britain is contributing £ 25 million towards a new 1500-place jail on the Caribbean island Jamaica. This will enable hundreds of Jamaican prisoners to be sent home. A review is being conducted to assess whether jails are ‘‘fit for purpose’’ to meet the needs of transgender prisoners in UK.

Vol. 48, No. 39, Apr 3 - 9, 2016