News Wrap


India and China’s latest struggle is over which one will be able to tie the ancient practice of Tibetan medicine formally to its National patrimony. The prize promises international cachet and the possibility of significant commercial rewards. China, in March 2017, filed paperwork asking the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to recognise medicinal bathing, one of many practices of ‘‘Sowa Rigpa’’, the Tibetan name, for this type of medicine, as part of its ‘‘intangible cultural heritage’’. UNESCO will consider the request in 2018. India filed its own bid, for the entire sowa rigpa tradition, around March 2017 also. India claims the traditional medicine, as part of Indian culture as well. The founding text of Tibetan medicine is for the whole world to enjoy. Sowa Rigpa is practised in China, India and neighbouring countries, including Bhutan, Mongolia and Nepal. The name is often translated in English, as ‘‘the science of healing’’. The present form of the discipline’s founding text, ‘‘The Four Tantars’’ is attributed by many western scholars to a 12th Century Tibetan doctor, with antecedents stretching to the eighth century or earlier. About 20 years ago, people began to recognise the potential commercial value of traditional medicine. The Chinese military invaded Tibet in 1950. In 2010, India officially recognised Sowa Rigpa as an Indian medicinal system, whose theory and practice is similar to that of ayurveda, an Indian tradition, that India says first arrived in Tibet, in the third century.

More Killed
On 20 September 2017, Shantanu Bhowmick, aged 27 years, who worked for a pro-Left Deen Raat TV, died after he was injured in an attack by Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) men, while returning home from an assignment in West Tripura district. The TV news channel reporter had gone to tribal dominated Manduai in West Tripura, to cover clashes between IPFT and CPI(M) cadres. Bhowmick was hit with sharp edged weapons, between Mandwai and Jirania, about 30 km from Agartala. Bhowmick and a camera-person had footage of IPFT men attacking a CPI(M) office at Mandwai.

Gauri Lankesh (1962-2017), a prominent Indian journalist, who has been critical of rising Hindu nationalism was shot twice at close range, and killed by attackers on a motorbike on 05 September 2017, in Bangalore. After parking her car and walking to her home, she was attacked by assailants, who fired at least seven rounds. Lankesh was a fierce advocate of secularism and had often opposed hard-line Hindu groups, associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Gauri became editor of ‘‘Lankesh Patrike’’ in 2000, and in 2005 published her report of the killing of a Maoist Naxalite leader in a police encounter. There has been no convictions in 28 cases of journalists murdered in India, since 1992. Komu Souharda Vedike, the forum for communal harmony, which Gauri started in 2005, frequently clashed with Hindu right-wing groups. The government has increasingly sought to exert control on India’s vibrant media sector and has been running social media operations that had flooded sites with supportive messages.

Al-Qaeda in Syria
In Idlib province in North-western Syria, al-Qaeda has quietly become the most powerful force, where it administers a de facto statelet, while the Western nations focus on eliminating ISIS. Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate has worked to destroy or assimilate other armed groups in Idlib province. For long the province has been a centre of opposition to the Assad regime. Now it is attempting to rule the region. Instead of imposing draconian laws, al-Qaeda has tried to woo civilians, and deflect the hostility of outside powers. Al-Qaeda sends convoys of bread for the poor. It has held back from public executions. Initially it even refrained from enforcing the veil. They want to control the water boards, the local councils, and all the parts of civil society. Tired of war, many civilians accept al-Qaeda’s dominance. Al-Qaeda members now occupy top positions at Idlib University, enforcing gender segregation in classes and demanding that female students cover their faces. Civilians have begun to protest and defeated a ban on smoking. Since first appearing in Idlib in 2012, al-Qaeda has left many guises, like the al-Nusra Front, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Earlier USA used to court other Syrian rebel groups in Idlib with weapons and cash. Syrian rebels now complain that Washington’s obsession with defeating ISIS, has left them abandoned, and unable to stop the rise of al-Qaeda. Now Nusra controls 100% of Idlib. Mid September 2017 talks in Kazakhstan, resulted in an agreement to divide Idlib into three ‘‘deconfliction zones’’ administered by Turkey, Russia and Iran. It is unlikely to affect the balance of power in Idlib’s near inaccessible interior, like the ISIS stronghold, the desert city of Deir ez Zor.

Channel Island Alderney
The tiny Channel Island Alderney, a British dependency, is Britain’s ‘‘Little Auschwitz’’, could be destroyed by a £500 million energy scheme, backed by the European Union. Nazi soldiers established the only concentration camp to have existed on British soil, during the Second World War. 40,000 Russian, French and Jewish slave labourers were murdered on the island, earmarked by Hitler as an ‘‘impregnable fortress’’ for his regime. Preliminary drilling has already ‘‘severely damaged’’ the main burial ground. The 137-mile cable is planned to enter Alderney by passing through the cemetery area, while avoiding known graves, and a Nazi fortification that prisoners of war called ‘‘the Wall of Certain Death’’.  The France—Alderney—Britain link (FAB) will connect the two countries’ electricity grids, via Alderney, and is a key plank of British and French energy strategy. The cable will run across the island and the bottom of the channel to a station near Exeter Airport, which will distribute the nuclear-generated power across the United Kingdom. The project is jointly owned by EDF, the French energy giant, and private firms. So far it has received 7.2 million Euros (£ 6.3 million) of EU funds.

Vol. 50, No.25, Dec 24 - 30, 2017