News Wrap


The Maharashtra government is enforcing a five-year ban on sanctioning new sugar mills in the drought hit Marathwada region, which is facing a severe drinking water crisis. Sugar cane requires a large amount of water to cultivate. Maharashtra accounts for 32% of the total sugar production in India. 40% of the 202 sugar mills in Maharashtra, are in Marathwada region. Only 20 to 25% of sugar mills have implemented drip irrigation. A majority of the sugar mills draw water from dams. Sugar cane growers seek higher subsidy to implement drip irrigation. The state government is planning to make drip irrigation compulsory for all sugar mills across Maharashtra. A joint venture with Israel, could make drip irrigation a less expensive process. Farmers are opting for pulses which require less water, floriculture and horticulture.

Cricket in South Kashmir
A two month long cricket tournament, the first of its kind in Tral, in the heart of restive South Kashmir, had participation of 16 teams in April 2016, from the town and surrounding areas. Of the sixteen, at least three teams, had names inspired by militant commanders, viz Burhan Lions, Aabid Khan Qalandars and Khalid Aryans. Other teams drew inspiration from the IPL and the recently launched Pakistan Super League for names. The tournament was held in the memory of Khalid Muzaffar Wani, the bother of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Khalid was killed by the army in 2015, in the forests of Pulwama, in an encounter.

Doubts over Encounters
Kiran was a commander of the Malangir Area Committee of the CPI (Maoist) in Bijapur/Dantewada of Chattisgarh state. Zareena was his deputy. They wanted to marry but were told to wait. Kiran aged 27, was allegedly involved in the Jhiram Ghati attack of May 2013, that wiped out the Congress leadership in the state. He was increasingly disenchanted with Maoist ideology, and surrendered on the condition that police would try to get Zareena out too. Zareena was part of the Jhiram Ghati attack. On 19 January 2016, an unarmed Zareena was picked up in a nightgown, from village Tumirgunda, deep inside Bijapur’s forests. She was taken away alive, by at least a hundred policemen. In her early 20s, she had been ailing for the past few years due to ‘‘a worm in her brain’’. Police claim that Naxals set up an ambush. Both sides fired. When the firing stopped, security forces found Zareena’s body and a rifle.

There is a blanket ban on journalists in Bastar (Chattisgarh state). Ever since Bela Bhatia, a human rights activist and social researcher, helped tribal women register an FIR against security personnel for gang rape and grievous sexual assault in November 2015, there is a clampdown on journalists and civil society activists in Bastar. The Communist Party of India (CPI) celebrates the Bhumikal rebellion of 1910, with the people of Bastar. Fake encounters, forced surrenders in grand ceremonies, and detention of people in camps are on the rise in Bastar.

Rebel camps in Colombia
The war between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and government forces has killed more than 2,20,000, left 40,000 missing and displaced an estimated 5.7 million. It has stretched on for half a century, and three truces for bringing lasting peace have collapsed. Rebel camps are communist time capsules, where old guerilla fighters sing songs about Che Guevara on guitars, while crowds lean in to listen, armed with rifles and grenades. Salaries do not exist in the armed camps, nor do marriages. The fighters believe in free love, since they are wed only to the revolution. Life is still possible with Karl Marx in one hand, and a Kalashnikov rifle in the other. As negotiations continue with the government, the rebels are prepared for peace, and also ready for war. About 150 fighters live in sprawling jungle hideouts in rugged mountains. Many of the rebels have never set foot in any of Colombia’s cities. Some of the rebel groups have been infamous for kidnapping civilians and holding them for years. Many of the rebels have childhood memories of deadly campaigns waged against peasants by para-military groups, searching for rebels. The rebels, particularly the girls have decided that taking up arms was the only way to survive.

The day at the jungle camps begins an hour before dawn. The FARC once ruled the Colombian countryside with the profits of the illicit cocaine trade. Resolve from the Colombian government, and a $10 billion aid package from USA, has left the rebels on the run. The rebel group, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US state department once counted to some 17,000 fighters in its rank. Now it is reduced to just 7000. In spite of guerillas shouting slogans like ‘‘Against imperialism’’, ‘‘For the Fatherland!’’ ‘‘Against the oligarchy’’ and ‘‘For the People’’, the old generation of greying fighters of the FARC, believe that the future brings the possibility of political rebirth. Unlike revolutions in Cuba and Nicaragua, the future of the rebels in Colombia may come through joining the system, that exists. There are questions on financing the lives of rebels, if FARC can no longer levy its taxes. Teachers come with instructions on using Facebook and Twitter, tools that guerillas consider as vital for future electioneering.

Battling Boko Haram
Boko Haram has killed at least 16,000 people in Northern Nigeria, and forced to another 2.6 million from their homes to flee. Since June 2014, when a woman blew herself up at an army barrack, the group has used at least 105 women and girls in suicide attacks. Explosive belts and bombs have killed hundreds of people in mosques, markets and villages. The group is known for abducting women, most notoriously the 276 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno state, north-east Nigeria in April 2014. Now some women are fighting back, joining anti-Boko Haram militias. Waving wooden sticks at night, they stop vehicles, and search them for possible suicide bombers. Though men in the militia carry double-barrelled shot guns, female members are not allowed to carry arms, only batons and metal detectors. The militia works closely with the security services, receiving official training and vehicles. Women in the militia have helped flush the Boko Haram terrorist out. Some men in the conservative society of northern Nigeria, are shocked to see women in a militia, and object to having their cars or rickshaws stopped, and searched by them. On patrols a woman militia is accompanied by a female partner, as well as two police officers and two soldiers. Aside from working at checkpoints or main roads, they also frisk women going into mosques. General Mukhmmdu Buhari took office as president of Nigeria in 2015. The Nigerian military has since stepped up its campaign against Boko Haram, and released thousands of people held in camps in the Sambisa forest, where the Chibok girls were first taken.

Vol. 48, No. 52, Jul 3 - 9, 2016