News Wrap


A number of surrendered women Maoists and Salwa Judum victims in Chattisgarh state, who after surrender would mostly be busy with "housework" in their camps, are blazing away with AK-47 rifles, in the frontlines of the war against Maoist insurgency. Taking their name from Chattisgarh's guardian deity, the "Danteshwari Ladake" fighters have proved a potential force in combat. On 08 May 2019, they took part in operations that killed two Maoists During April-May 2019, fighting shoulder to shoulder with men, this small action group has gunned down ten Maoist commanders. In camouflage fatigues when fighting in the jungle or clad in saris with guns concealed in sari folds, the undercover Ladake are a potent force against the Maoists. Most surrendered Maoist men are trained and recruited in the district reserve guards. The Ladake is a unified combat security force of women commandos. Thirty women were selected and sent to the Kanker Jungle warfare college for six weeks of intensive combat training in Dec 2018, followed by in-house training till Mar 2019. The initiative has restored self-esteem of the ex-women Maoists. The Danteshwari Ladake is an inclusive group of women and men commandos, who are well versed in traversing forest terrain and close-quarter fighting in the jungles. They are habituated to surviving in the forests.

Religious Polarisation in West Bengal
The Lok Sabha poll results indicate that in West Bengal the ruling Trinamul ahead in 93 out of the 125 Muslim minority dominated Assembly segments, and the BJP in 23, suggesting voting largely along religious lines. An Assembly seat gets the minority-dominated tag if Muslim voters are over 20%. The spread of the Muslim population is not even and the concentration is high as 70% in some of the segments. In Muslim dominated Assembly constituencies, Trinamul got an overwhelming majority, due to consolidation of Muslim votes. The BJP got the lead in 23 segments, where Hindus seemed to have voted almost en masse for the saffron party's candidates. Religious polarisation was sharp and spread across Bengal. Prime minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah had mentioned in their rallies issues like the National Register of Citizens, infiltration from Bangladesh, Trinamul's policy of Muslim appeasement, problems in holding of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja, and Mamata Banerjee's love for Pakistan. Mamata's anti Modi campaign made Trinamul the most favoured party among Muslims. A similar coalescing of Hindu votes was triggered towards the BJP. Driven by religion, a significant majority of those who had voted the Left and the Congress, three years ago (state Assembly elections). Now chose Trinamul or the BJP. The Trinamul was ahead in 59 of the 65 Assembly constituencies, where Muslims comprise over 45% of the electorate. The remaining six—three each in Beherampore and Malda South—have gone to the Congress, Muslims' traditional favourite. At some places, Muslims voted for the BJP, to align with the ruling party.

Desertification Of Marathwada
Water experts have warned of the desertification of Marathwada of the 76 talukas in eight districts that compromise Marathwada (Maharashtra state) 50 received around 300 mm rainfall in 2018. This implies 3 million liters of water per hectare. Given that the average population density in Marathwada is 300 per sq. kms, this could be more than enough to meet the basic drinking water and house hold needs of the populace, besides leaving enough water for one crop. Data from Ground water surveys and Development Agency indicates that water table had dropped alarmingly in 70 of the 76 talukas with more than 25 reporting a drop of more than two metres. Over the past decades, the crop pattern in the region had drastically changed. Earlier the main crops cultivated used to be cereal and oil seeds, which were not only conducive to Marathwada's arid climate, but were drought resistant, and led to moisture harvesting. Now the predominant crops in the region are soybean and Bt Cotton, which dominate more than 80% of Marathwada's 50 lac hectares of cultivable land. These crops, coupled with the lure of easy profits from sugarcane, have led farmers to the edge of the current hydrological disaster. Sugar cane which is grown only in 4% of the total cultivable land guzzles 80% of the water resources. A slight change in the meteorological cycle is enough to cause a full-blown water crisis.

There are provisions within the Maharashtra Irrigation Act (1976), wherein the state government can notify people in the command area, not to go in for water intensive crops like sugar cane, in the case of acute water scarcity. There is no effort on the government's part to wean farmers away from cultivating sugar cane, and switching to drought resistant crops like oil seeds and pulses. Government authorities have made no move to curtail water supply to industries. Of the 200 old sugar factories in Maharashtra state, nearly 50 are located in Marathwada. Nearly 46 sugar factories are operational, despite the mounting water crisis. To produce 1 Kg of sugar, 2500 litres of water are required. Besides diverting water for human beings and livestock, the sugar mills have sucked the dams dry. Latur receives water supply once in 12 days. But water resources are diverted from the Manjara dam to the district's sugar mills. The eight districts of Marathwada region, viz Jalna, Aurangabad, Parthani, Hingoli, Nanded, Latur, Oswamabad and Beed are becoming a desert.

Libyan Students Displaced By Conflict
On 04 April 2019, Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli, and unseat the internationally recognized government of National Accord (GNA), Fighting between Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army and forces loyal to the GNA continues to rape south of Tripoli. More than 80,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting, and about 550 have been killed. More than 2500 have been wounded, while 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes. The fighting is directly affecting some 125,000 children. The academic year has been suspended on all schools in conflict affected areas, and seven schools are currently sheltering displaced families. An attack on an education ware house in April 2019, destroyed five million school books and national school's exam results.

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Vol. 52, No. 2, Jul 14 - 20, 2019