News Wrap


A politician of the ruling party in India, defines any activist who takes up the cause of the downtrodden, or speaks out against any form of injustice, a "half Maoist"! The Modi government's favourite epithet to those opposing its policies or resisting the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva offensive has been "anti-national". On 06 June 2018, five leading dalit and human rights activists were arrested in different parts of the country. They include Shoma Sen, head of the English department, Nagpur University; Surendra Gadling, General Secretary of Indian Association of People's Lawyers; Sudhir Dhawale, editor of Marathi magazine "Vidrohi" and founder of Republican Panthers; Rona Wilson, human rights activist, and secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners; and Mahesh Raut, a former prime minister's Rural Development Fellow, who has been working among tribals in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district. Among other things they have been charged of inciting violence in Pune on 31 December 2017, by organising the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan, on the eve of the bicentenary of the battle between the Peshwas and the British, near the village of Koregaon on the Bhima river. The British regiment consisting of people belonging to the untouchable Mahar community, defeated the Peshawas on 01 January 1818. Babashaheb Ambedkar was the first to commemorate that day, as a victory of the oppressed against Brahminical forces. The second centenary celebrations of 2018, was marked by Ambedkarite groups being attacked by mobs allegedly led by Manohar Bhide and Milind Ekbote, both having links to the "sangh parivar".

Those being arrested under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are not carriers of bombs and weapons. Year 2017 was significant with arrest of dalit activist Chandrashekhar Azad 'Ravan' of the Bhim Army in western Uttar Pradesh under the National Security Act; the charges of sedition against student leaders such as Kanhaiya Kumar, and Umar Khalid; and the mass arrests of agitating farmers in Madhya Pradesh. G N Saibaba, a Delhi University professor and leading civil liberties activist, was arrested in 2014, on the charge of being a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). He was convicted in March 2017, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is a wheel chair user, with 90% physical disability, held in solitary confinement, Saibaba is mistreated and mishandled in Nagpur jail, by police and jail staff, on a regular basis.

On 17 July 2018, social activist Swami Agnivesh was punched, kicked and pushed to the ground by a 200-strong mob of alleged BJP Yuva Morcha workers at Pakur, in BJP-ruled Jharkhand state.

Silt From Bhutanese Rivers
Flash floods in Bhutan's Sanpang district in 2016, wreaked havoc in downstream areas in Assam's Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. The excessive silt turned large tracts of farmland into desert. The silt was so huge that the hundreds of farmers in Patgaon, located around 30 km to the north and close to National Highway 31, cannot cultivate paddy even now. After the flash floods, Bhutan tried to divert the river. The worried villagers tried to block the road to Bhutan. Silt from the Saralbhanga and other Bhutanese rivers is a cause for concern in Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD). 56 rivers flow down from Bhutan to the BTAD, and other places in western Assam. Unscientific stone mining and construction is playing havoc with the lives and livelihood of the people living downstream. While rainfall data is shared by Bhutan authorities with Kokrajhar district officials, there is no mechanism to check silt flow and mining. India's forest department considers the 5000-odd Bodo, Adivasi, Nepali, Rabha and Garo families living in the Ultapani reserve forest as encroachers. Since the 1990s nearly 500 farmers from five villages, during the monsoons, are trying to build, repair or rebuild a make shift stone dam on the Saralbhanga, flowing down the hills of Bhutan about 4 km away. The Sarpang district administration in Bhutan, disallows digging of the river bed. The nine-foot-tall dam the villagers build in the middle of the road, allows the villagers to divert water through "dongs" (traditional irrigation channels) to their villages, situated around five feet higher on the Indian side. The irrigation system is affected by increasing stone mining by Bhutan.

Alterations in Text Books
The National Certificate of Education Research Traning (NCERT) has developed school text books during 2005-09, which are used by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), and which provides the model for state boards. In the past one year the NCERT has made alterations in text books developed during 2005-09. Changes in the social science books relate mainly to History, Political Science and Economics. The altered text books are currently used in the school year. Unlike changes made both before and after 2014 in social science text books, the current alterations, over 300 in number, show little regard for the established process of revision, where the Text Book Development Committee (TDC) that produced the text books, was consulted. The NCERT is an autonomous body. Changes in the text books were made in-house by the NCERT, bearing in mind the suggestions received. Direct instructions were issued from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, which has no right to give them. The books remain unaltered in format and approach. Figures such as Shivaji and Rana Pratap have been provided larger space. While a host of new visuals has appeared, most of the supplementary material is not part of the text, that the student reads as a crucial argument. The space of the text books has become a field for stray information, that various influential individuals and groups hold dear. In a major break with practices until 2016, in the current process, there was no consultation of the chief advisors and the TDCs, that prepared the books during 2005-09. There was no alert to writer-contributors who had not waived their rights over their contributions. The prevailing system of revision, referring to TDCs, has not yet been official revised. Much of the text book material has been left alone in the latest NCERT changes. Political directives are flowing to the NCERT autonomous body, that has shown its ability to take an imaginative course, while maintaining factual accuracy.

Military Base
On 04 June 2018, Seychelles president Danny Faure made a statement that the development of a military base on Assumption Island by India "will not move forward". Faure expressed his views at a live press conference in Victoria, and accepted that it is important for Seychelles to have a military post in the area. In next year's budget, Seychelles will put funds to build a coast guard facility on Assumption Island, by themselves. Seychelles funding its own coast guard is not an issue. India hopes that it would not be kept out of the project, which is envisaged as a 2-year agreement, seen as crucial in India's strategic interests. China has a growing influence in the area. Situated southwest of the Seychelles main island of Male, the Assumption Island falls in the Indian Ocean maritime routes. Faure does not have a majority in the Seychelles National Assembly Parliament, and there is domestic opposition to India's involvement to develop infrastructure on the island. Besides opposition parties, many private citizens and environmental groups have raised concerns over the construction of a military base on Assumption. India and Seychelles have an established relationship in defence and maritime security, through which India helps patrol the waters of Seychelles. The island nation receives defence equipment from India, for the nation's defence forces. On 25 June 2018, at New Delhi, India and Seychelles agreed to go ahead with the Assumption Island project to develop a strategic naval base. India announced a $100 million line of credit for the Indian Ocean Nation, to strengthen its defence capabilities and maritime infrastructure. The Seychelles parliament had in the third week of June 2018, refused to ratify the agreement for the strategic naval base at Assumption Island.

Vol. 51, No.9, Sep 2 - 8, 2018