News Wrap


On 04 February 2018, a group of Maoists set fire a camp site of a road construction company near Desughati on Belghar-Jhiripani road, under Belghar police station limits in Odisha's Kandhamahal district. No one was injured in the incident. The Maoists at night burnt down six vehicles and construction machinery, including three excavators, two tractors and one concrete mixer, parked at the spot. At the spot there was a handwritten poster left behind by the Maoists, alleging that roads being constructed in remote areas of Odisha were not meant to benefit the tribals, but to loot the natural resources. A group of ten to twelve armed rebels reached the campsite on the Belghar-Jhiripani road on 04 February 2018 night. They threatened the workers at the spot not to intervene, and torched the vehicles and machinery. Anti-Maoists operations by the security forces, have been stepped up in the area, following the incident.

Between 2016 and 2018, there has been a dip in encounters with Maoists, but an increase in alleged Maoists killed, surrendered and arrested in Chattisgarh. There has been an increase in the number of civilians killed in the conflict. In the first major operation after the new Congress government assumed power in Chattisgarh, on 07 February 2018, ten Maoists were killed and at least eleven weapons recovered, after an encounter inside the forests of Abhujhmaad in Bijapur district (Chattisgarh state). The Maoist training module, close to the villages of Talibood and Bharga, was being led by Maoist divisional commander Rajman Mandavi and commander Sukhlal. The security forces did not suffer any casualties, even though the Maoists used IEDs against the forces.

Sedition cases
On January 14, 2019, the Delhi police filed a charge sheet at a city court against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Student's Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, and others, saying he was leading a procession and supported seditious slogans raised on the JNU campus in February 2016. The event on the university campus commemorated the hanging of parliament attack mastermind Afzal Guru. Sedition was not part of the original section 124 of the Indian Penal Code, enacted by the British colonial government in 1860. It was incorporated as section 124A in 1870 to silence and arrest freedom fighters. The sedition laws violate fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a) freedom of speech and expression. The police action is a politically motivated act. Of late the misuse of sedition has increased. In November 2015, the Tamil Nadu government arrested under section 124A, a popular singer S Kovan for two songs pillorying chief minister Jayalalitha. The songs sought closure of state-run liquor shops, in keeping with the spirit of article 47 of the Constitution. Earlier the government slapped sedition charges on protesters against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. Recently, the Assamese scholar and writer Hiren Gohain has been arrested under section 124A of the IPC.

Silicosis in Mahbubnagar
During the early 1970s, mining quartz promised jobs and prosperity in Mahbubnagar district of Andhra. The public sector undertaking Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) at Elkatta, a dusty village, 5 km from Shadnagar, in Telengana's Ranga Reddy district (earlier in Mahbubnagar district) operated factories for quartz mining and crushing. The village workers belonged to poor scheduled tribe / scheduled caste/ backward class, or minority communities. Since the second half of the 1970s, the workers started suffering from severe coughs and a mysterious illness, called "Silicosis", an incurable illness. There were no remedies at private doctor clinics at Shadnagar and at big hospital in Hyderabad. The APMDC, now known as the Telengana State Mineral Development Corporation (TSMDC) ran the quartz mines from 1965 to 1974, and then shut them down abruptly, when they saw that workers were succumbing en masse to silicosis. Around 450 workers were employed in the mines and the crushing unit. A majority of them were exposed to silica dust. With primitive mining technology and crushing, working conditions and the safety protocols in the early 1970s, most of the workers were exposed to heavy doses of silica dust on a daily basis. Quartz was mined at Chowlapally, and brought to the crushing unit at Elkatta, where it was heated at 1000oC in a kiln, then broken into smaller pieces, and turned into fine dust, in an oblong closed shed. The workers kept inhaling the odourless silica dust, which gave them a racking cough, leading to shortness of breath. Over 100 employees were involved in each of the three shifts daily. No government agency has been willing to recognise silicosis death. 136 people (85 men and 51 women) of Mahbubnagar district died from silicosis. Most of the deceased were from 30 to 49 years of age. More than 20 years after the death of their husbands, the affected widows and families have not received any compensation.

Horror in Zimbabwe
Since mid-January 2019, hundreds of people, including children as young as 10, have been killed or beaten in Zimbabwe, in a crackdown the regime has tried to hide, by shooting down the internet, and deporting foreign journalists. President Emmerson Mnangagwa is using murder of unarmed civilians as a tool to retain power. There are hundreds of people in safe houses, hospitals and courts, who have been beaten or had dogs set on them by masked police or soldiers. The closure of the internet for periods on government orders, has made information difficult to obtain. There has been as many as 200 deaths in January 2019. Over 300 people have suffered gunshot wounds. Hundreds of people have been denied bail by magistrates, and detained, on government orders. The crackdown followed a more than doubling of fuel prices, with petrol costing $ 3.31 (£2.57) a litre, the most expensive in the world. It promoted a nationwide shutdown, as well as protests and looting. The authoritarian rule of long-time dictator Robert Mugabe, 94 years, ended in November 2017, after 37 years. August 2018, six people were shot in front of foreign journalists, during protests against the election of Mnangagwa, who had been Mugabe's deputy and right hand man for decades. The old methods of human rights abuses and internal displacement continue. Mnanga-gwa's deputy is General Constantine Chiwenga, who as army chief led the move against Mugabe in November 2017. Chiwenga has grown impatient with Mnangagwa for appointing people from his Karanga tribe and profiting from stakes in diamond mines, and Zuwa, the country's biggest petrol station chain.

Peace in Somalia
Mogadishu (Somalia) is a shattered city, caused by war and violence. It is now the focus of a construction boom. Most new buildings come with high blast walls. The once deserted Lido beach is busy, as is the airport. The Somali diaspora is returning with Manchester and Birmingham accents, along with Turks, Emiratis and Chinese. There is a new vibrancy in the Somali capital, after almost three decades of civil war and terror, and almost eight years after the Islamist terror group al-Shabaab abruptly pulled back from the streets. Even though Somalia is trying to reconstitute itself as a state, attacks have not stopped. On 01 January 2019, mortars were fired at the UN headquarters. There were three car bombing in December 2018, four in January 2019 and two in February 2019. This is quiet by Somali standards. In October 2017, a truck bomb in the city killed 587 people. Al-Shabaab still controls a large territory, running its own administration in central and southern areas. Only a 21,000 strong African peace keeping force keeps it at bay. US president Donald Trump is pulling troops out of Syria. But he has stepped up America's shadow war in the horn of Africa. More than 500 US troops are operating in Somalia, levels not seen since 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed and dragged through the streets by militias. The number of US airstrikes has tippled to an average of almost one a week, since Trump took office. In the past thirty months, they have killed over 650 people, 10 of them in four airstrikes of first week of January 2019. Terrorists operating in Africa have expanded into new areas, and repeatedly targeted US citizens and interests. Encouraged by the threat from the skies, hundreds of al-Shabaab members have been persuaded to defect. Four deradicalisation centres have been set up, including one with British help that offers vocational training.

Vol. 51, No. 40, Apr 7 - 13, 2019