THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, May 25, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, May 25, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
The Times of India, May 24, 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
A 1998 photo of the barrier on the ATR at Jirkatang
Five years ago on May 7, 2002— the Supreme Court passed a set of landmark orders for the protection of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ unique ecosystem. Besides the fragile ecology of the islands, the orders were also meant to protect its tribal communities, which are slowly being pushed to the brink.
The orders included, among others, a direction to stop all timber exports from the islands’ tropical forests, restrictions on sand mining on the islands’ beaches, the creation of an inner-line regime to regulate the influx of people into the islands from the mainland, shutting down of the Andaman and Nicobar Forest Plantation and Development Corporation, which had illegally logged forests set aside for the tribal communities, and the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) that runs through the heart of the forests of the Jarawas—one of the tribal groups native to the islands.
Much traffic has moved down this road since then and the message that comes across loud and clear from the islands is that no one really cares if the Supreme Court orders are implemented. Since the order, the islands have had four chief secretaries, three lieutenant-governors and two members of parliament, and each of them has shown that Supreme Court orders are not for him to implement. There have also been many entreaties on behalf of the islanders in these five years: many petitions have been sent to New Delhi and Port Blair. Various committees of the government—including the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (cec), another expert committee created by the Calcutta High Court and most recently, one that was formed by the National Advisory Council, with Jairam Ramesh and Syeda Hameed as co-chairs—have pointed out that the islands’ administration continues to violate orders of the Supreme Court. The response of the local administration? Continued indifference. The ATR continues to be open, bringing in a huge set of disastrous influences on the Jarawas.
What the ATR brings to the Jarawas
This is a series of pictures taken on the ATR in February 2003 showing the driver of a passenger bus handing out biscuits to a young Jarawa woman on the part of the road that runs through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve and which has been ordered shut by the Supreme Court in May 2002
KISS OF DEATH
When construction of the ATR began in the late 1960, Jarawas had opposed it violently. It is alleged that in retaliation, camps of construction workers were fortified with high voltage wires and many Jarawas were electrocuted. As work on the road progressed, more of the Jarawa’s forests became accessible for settlements, agricultural fields and horticultural plantations. It brought in people from the outside and took out thousands of cubic metres of tropical evergreen forests, forests that the Jarawa needed for survival. For the Jarawa, the road only brought the kiss of death. The small community has been hit by an epidemic of measles twice in the last seven years. The first, in 1999, affected roughly 60 per cent of their total population of 300-odd individuals. The second epidemic happened about a year ago when a significant portion of the population had to be hospitalised. There are innumerable examples of forest-dwelling communities from around the world that have been annihilated by diseases like measles, which might be common in the outside world. The Jarawas could be the latest on that long list.Disease is just one of the miseries that ATR brings. The others include alien food, intoxicants and, reportedly, even sexual exploitation. atr has also facilitated the rise of a pernicious endeavour, perversely called ‘Jarawa Tourism’. Tourists visiting the islands are being openly solicited with offers of rides along atr and the promise of seeing stone-age tribes.
Traffic on the ATR: A huge line of vehicles (top) waits at the Jirkatang police chowkey before starting on the ATR through the Jarawa Tribal Reserve. Tourists and passenger buses (right) at the jetty on Middle Strait on the Andaman Trunk Road
R K Bhattacharya, Former director, Anthropological Survey of India, and member of the Expert Committee appointed by the Calcutta High Court. In the report submitted to the court in 2003, he says: “…The ATR passes through an area that contains an important aspect of cultural heritage of mankind and this highway disturbs the heritage in probably irreversible ways. We are committed to preservation and maintenance of culture and heritage and the human component of culture...ATR is like a public thoroughfare through one’s private courtyard.”
The writer is author of Troubled Islands Writings on the indigenous peoples and environment of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Vallur, Andhra Pradesh
Sunday, May 20, 2007
VANISHING VOICES OF THE GREAT ANDAMANESE
Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese is a Major Documentation Project directed by Prof. Anvita Abbi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. It is funded and supported by the SOAS, UK under the ELDP program. Readers may view the ongoing research under this project as well as on other tribes of the Andaman in the following pages.
It is generally believed that all Andamanese languages might be the last representative of those languages whose history goes back to pre-Neolithic times in Southeast Asia and possibly the first settlement of the region by modern humans. These isolated Andamanese languages that are spoken by the descendents of the aboriginal population of Southeast Asia are, at present, ‘very critical’ stage (see Map 1).
Living Andamanese tribes can be grouped into four major groups, i.e. the Great Andamanese, the Jarawa, the Onge and the Sentinelese (Map 2). Barring Sentinelese, other tribes have come into contact with the mainlanders. Their history of contact varies from tribe to tribe, chronologically, the first one to come into contact with the mainlanders were the Great Andamanese followed by the Onge and finally the Jarawa. All attempts to establish contact with Sentinelese have failed so far.
Tribals in general have shown better resilience than the non-tribals in facing the Tsunami havoc. The Great Andamanese, who are 50 in number, live in Strait Island, 53 nautical miles away from Port Blair as well as in the city of Port Blair. The Jarawa, approximately 250 in number, live in the thick forests of the Middle Andaman, were totally isolated from the outside world till very late. Onge, who lived in two separate reserves in Little Andaman, i.e. Hut Bay and Dugong Creek (Map 3), have recently moved further interior to the forest after Tsunami killer waves attacked the Island. The fourth, a totally obscure and isolated tribe is Sentinalese who live in Sentinel Island. No human contact has been established with this tribe so far as they resist all outside intervention. For details refer to my book entitled Endangered Languages of the Andaman Islands. 2006. Munich, Lincom-Gmbh.
At present we are trying to document the language of the Great Andamanese.
Friday, May 18, 2007
In a speech at a CII meet, Mani Shankar Aiyar argued that policy is hijacked by a small elite. That the cabinet he belongs to is quite comfortable with this hijacking. That India’s system of governance is such that Rs 650 crore for village development is considered wasteful but Rs 7,000 crore for the Commonwealth Games is considered vital. The classes rule all the time, Aiyar says, the masses get a look-in every five years
A few weeks ago the newspapers reported that the number of Indian billionaires had exceeded the number of billionaires in Japan, and there was a considerable amount of self-congratulation on this. I understand from P. Sainath that we rank eighth in the world in the number of our millionaires. And we stand 126th on the Human Development Index. I am glad to report that last year we were 127th.
At this very fast rate of growth that we are now showing, we moved up from 127th to 126th position. This is the paradigm of our development process. In a democracy, every five years the masses determine who will rule this country. And they showed dramatically in the last elections that they knew how to keep their counsel and show who they wanted. We, my party and I, were the beneficiaries and we formed the government. Every five years, it is the masses who determine who will form the government. And in between those five years the classes determine what that government will do.
In determining what that government will do, the CII has played an extremely important role. I am not surprised, as that is its job. It represents industry, and therefore it argues for the interests of the industry. Industry has been enormously benefited by the processes of economic reform that we have seen in this country over the last 15 years or so. But the benefits of these reforms have gone so disproportionately to those who are the most passionate advocates of reforms that every five years we are given a slap in the face for having done what the CII regards as self-evidently the right thing for this country.
It is a sustainable economic proposition, because our numbers are so vast, that there are perhaps 10 million Indians who are just as rich as the richest equivalent segment anywhere in the world or in any group of countries. There are about fifty million Indians who really are extraordinarily well off. That’s the population of the UK.
But if you look at the 700 million Indians who are either not in the market or barely in the market, then the impact of the economic reforms process, which is so lauded by the CII, makes virtually no difference to their lives. That is why there is a complete disjunct between what the democratic processes are trying for in the short run and what those who have made an enormous success of our achievements in the last fifteen years deem to be, at least in the short run, their own requirements.
So when you talk of a nine point two per cent growth rate, it becomes a statistical abstraction: 0.2 per cent of our people are growing at 9.92 per cent per annum. But there is a very large number, I don’t know how many, whose growth rate is perhaps down to 0.2 per cent. But certainly, the number of those who are at the lower end of the growth sector is very much larger than those who are at the higher end.
Yet what happens when you have the budget? As an absolute ritual every finance minister (my colleague Chidambaram is no exception) will devote the first four or five pages of his budget speech to the bulk of India and there will then be several pages, including whole of part B, which deals perhaps with one or two per cent of our population. Almost the entire discussion that takes place at CII or CII-like forums, will be about Part B rather than Part A.
There are comfort levels that you get from statistics — for instance, suddenly Arun Shourie, announcing in the NDA government that our poverty rates have fallen from 35 per cent to 22 per cent. He did it by changing the basis on which you estimate poverty. You cannot compare apples and oranges. The next national sample survey has shown that our poverty levels have actually increased. Are we going to be mesmerised by these statistics or understand that 700 million of our people are poor?
So we have an Indira Awaas Yojana which will ensure that there will be a ‘jhuggi’ for every Indian round about the year 2200. We have the PM Gram Sadak Yojana which was supposed to complete all the gram sadak in seven years — we are in the eighth year. And where we are told that the education of 1000 may be covered, who knows only the education of 500 will be covered. And if you happen to be a tribal in Arunachal, you are told that because of your social custom you are to live in one hut atop a hill, we can’t provide you a road.
I was always something of a leftist. But I became a complete Marxist only after the economic reforms. Because I see the extent to which the most important conception of Marx — that the relationship of any given class with the means of production determines the superstructure — holds.
This ugly choice is placed before the government. An unequal choice, because you have organised yourself to say what you want to say but the others are only able to organise themselves and that too without speaking to each other in the fifth year when the elections take place. That is why this expression anti-incumbency, although the Oxford Dictionary says that it is a word belonging to the English language, is a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. Because everything that goes in the name of good governance like the economic reforms either does not touch the life of people or affect them at all.
We have seen what happened at Nandigram, we have seen what was happening at Singur and we have these propositions that say that SEZs are going to come and lakhs of hectares are going to be utilised for the good of the country. For what’s the syndrome in all this, it’s still ‘do bigha zameen’. The chap says that I want my one bigha of zameen to be reinstated, but you offer double the compensation and “baad mein dekha jayega”. You go to Hirakud, which is where Jawaharlal Nehru actually used the expression modern temples of India, and you ask what happened to the tribals who were driven out of there. Absolutely nobody knows.
Coming to the cabinet, you see what happens. The minute suggestions are made as to what would perhaps benefit the people and what would benefit the classes, the tendency is to say that our great achievement is 9.2 per cent growth. Our great achievement is that Indian industrialists are buying Arcelor and Corus. That Time magazine thinks we are a great power.
In these circumstances, when a proposal came before the government to spend Rs 648 crore on the Gram Nyaya department, we were solemnly informed by one of the most influential ministers in the government to remember that we are a poor country. I was delighted when the next day he was with me in a group of ministers and I reminded him of his remark and said in that case can we stop spending the Rs 7000 crore on the Commonwealth Games and he said, “No, no, that is an international commitment and a matter of national pride.” This national pride will of course blow up if you spend Rs 7000 crore on the Commonwealth Games. We will be on the cover of Time and Newsweek.
I have always wondered why this rate of growth and economic reforms process is dated to Manmohan Singh. Because actually it should be dated to L.K. Jha’s book Economic Strategy for the 80s. It is the decade in which we quickly recovered from agricultural depression and registered a double digit growth. At the beginning of the decade our biggest import was crude oil and after that it was edible oil. By the end of the decade we were exporters of several kinds of edible oil.
Why is it that Nehru became successful with his Hindu rate of growth? The reason is that the Hindu rate of growth was five times what our pre-Hindu rate of growth was. From 1914 to 1947, the figures of which are available, the rate of growth of the Indian economy was 0.72 per cent. And we got the Hindu rate of growth which was five times that and it made a difference to the people. The minute you had solid land reforms, the people had their ‘zameen’. That is what Mother India was all about. People felt that they were involved in the process. All the political talk was: gareeb ke liye ham kya kar sakte hain. Indira Gandhi matched it beautifully when the entire political spectrum joined hands against her by saying, “Woh kehte hain Indira hatao, hum kehte hain Garibi hatao.”
There is nobody so marginal in a government as the minister of Panchayati Raj. I count for nothing. Nothing! When I was the minister of petroleum, I used to walk surrounded by this media. I kept on telling them that petrol prices can do only three things — go up, go down or remain where they are. And it was all over the place. But try and get them to write two words about the 700 million Indians — absolutely impossible. And now with terrestrial television it is even worse. You have to be quarreling with your mother-in-law or hitting your daughter-in-law to be able to hit the headlines. It is impossible to get particularly the pink papers to focus on issues that affect the bulk of the people. And it is so easy to get them to focus on issues that are of high relevance to only one or two per cent of the people.
I believe the CII, if it is serious about the issue, should not be restricting itself to 25 minutes discussion before lunch but hold discussions for ten days and maybe something will come out of it.
Edited extracts from a speech at the CII Northern Region annual meeting 2006-07, New Delhi, April 4
Saturday, May 12, 2007
In the jungles of India, local animal trappers have a new breed of client: Islamic militants using the trade in rare wildlife to raise funds for their cause. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark report from Assam
Saturday May 5, 2007
It is so early in the morning that the cooks in the roadside dhabas along India's National Highway 37 are asleep in their kitchens, their tandoors unlit. Across the valley of Assam, in this far north-easterly corner of India, there is not a flicker of light except the feeble yellow beams from the Gypsies, the open-backed vehicles carrying small groups of tourists to the edge of one of the world's most bountiful jungles.
Kaziranga - 429 sq km of forest, sandbanks and grassland - was recognised by Unesco in 1985 as a world heritage site. Tourists come in their thousands to glimpse some of the 480 species of bird, 34 kinds of mammal and 42 varieties of fish, many rare, endangered or near extinct, that inhabit this remote jungle.
In recent times, however, the wildlife has attracted a new kind of visitor. According to India's security services, police, intelligence analysts, local traders and forestry officials, Islamic militants affiliated to al-Qaida are sponsoring poaching in the reserve for profit. These groups have established bases in the formerly moderate enclave of Bangladesh and have agents operating all along the country's porous 2,500-mile border with India. They have gone into business with local animal trappers and organised crime syndicates around Kaziranga - as well as in parks and reserves in Nepal, Burma and Thailand - in a quest for horns, ivory, pelts and other animal products with which to raise "under the wire" funds that they can move around the world invisibly.
A small rhino horn, the size of a bag of sugar, with good provenance (the beast's tail and ears, presented to a prospective buyer) and in the right marketplace (in Asia, Europe or North America), can fetch £20,000. Big cat pelts can go for up to £10,000. Monkey brains, bear bile, musk, big cat carcasses, elephant feet, tails, horns and teeth have considerable value. A shipment worth £2.8m was recently intercepted by UK customs. Profits from the trade run from $15bn to an incredible $25bn a year, according to estimates from the WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature). The punishment for trading in these items is generally a fine as low as £300 in India and £900 in Nepal.
A senior Indian security source, based in the north-east, who has tracked the incursion into the trade by Bangladeshi militants, warns that the poaching has global consequences. "There is an environmental disaster in the offing here, but as pressing are the security ramifications," he says. "Only a minuscule percentage of the vast profits need to trickle back into a nascent Islamic insurgency in a country like Bangladesh to bring it to the boil. And then it can reach out around the world."
In 2000, US president Bill Clinton commissioned "a global threat assessment" which concluded that the illegal trade in animal parts and endangered species was second only to drugs in the profits it could turn. That same year, the UN general assembly expressed its strong conviction that the "transnational crime" of trafficking in endangered species had growing links with terrorism. The WWF took up the baton and commissioned a report from Wolverhampton University that found organised crime was taking advantage of existing routes used for smuggling small arms, drugs and humans. The UK scene was a microcosm, with 50% of those prosecuted for wildlife crimes having previous convictions for serious offences including drugs and guns.
That's if there is such a prosecution: ill-defined laws often prevent police making arrests. British torpor was highlighted in London in 2004, when customs intercepted a multimillion-pound ivory haul but were powerless to arrest anyone. Meanwhile, radical Islamists from Bangladesh have done what conservationists had long predicted and moved in on the endangered species racket.
One has only to tour Kaziranga, or any of the outlying parks in Assam or Nepal, to understand why. Dawn breaks as our convoy of Gypsies reaches the park. The rangers whisper urgently, "Gorh", the local word for rhinoceros. Metres away, eight rhino are lumbering through the rich alluvial mud, showing off their prized uni-horn. There are more than 2,000 of these short-sighted beasts here, making up three-quarters of the global stock of one of the rarest pachyderms in the world. Beside them are scores of swamp deer coloured like the scrub. A group of wild buffalo, whose colossal horns have the span of a longboat oar, plod by, as does a troop of elephants, their tusks glinting in the purple dawn. Somewhere in the long grass, which rises in clumps like a castle keep, are more Royal Bengal tigers per square kilometre than in any other stretch of jungle in the world - broken down into their constituent parts, each is worth as much as a bespoke Italian racing car.
The gangs hired to trap and kill in Kaziranga are said by forestry staff to camp on the vast sand bars created by the flow of the Brahmaputra river. The river here is at least a kilometre wide and we haggle with a man paddling a wooden canoe to take us across. But as soon as it dawns on him where we intend to go, he backs out of the deal. "I will not go there," he says. "The people who live there will skin me alive." He offers to rent us his boat instead, and with our driver, a migrant from the impoverished state of Bihar, we launch ourselves into the water. The nearest sand bar is clearly visible, but so vicious are the currents that it takes two hours to reach it.
As we near, people who look more like Saharan Touaregs than Assamese run towards the shore, waving hunting rifles. Trapped in a swirling eddy, we can't decide what to do. From the sand bar, they pelt the canoe with stones. The Bihari driver, who understands what they're saying, starts screaming. The canoe pitches and rolls as we try to calm him. He takes a deep breath and addresses the angry crowd: "These are only here for talking. Please... These bring gifts. Not the police." We hold up baskets of fruit, bags of nuts and sweets. The sand bar dwellers lower their weapons and motion us ashore.
We climb the bank and at the crest of the dune see there are hundreds of them, living in an improvised encampment. We want to know about life on the sand bar, we say, passing round the food. They shrug, munching. One man offers: "We are people who have few rights." Another agrees: "We are poor and we do what we can." Does that include poaching? Has anyone trapped animals from Kaziranga? Now everyone is eating and nearly all the hands shoot into the air.
One man says, "We are for hire. We can trap and shoot, but when the summer rain comes, the river breaks its banks and the animals float to us." Another adds, "We patrol the park's border, too; when the animals wander out, we are there." He pulls from his pocket an unidentifiable animal claw.
These sand bar dwellers at the start of the tangled enterprise know far more about the intricacies of the business than the authorities told us they would. They draw trafficking routes in the sand, explaining how the trade is coordinated by agents across Assam. A villager places stones on the sand-map to mark the towns. "Golaghat, Tezpur, Kamrup, Nagaon, these are the main places for agents." They answer to a boss based in Dimapur, one of the richest cities in the neighbouring state of Nagaland, with a highway that runs into Burma and rail links to New Delhi and Calcutta . "But everything tends to collect and move through Siliguri," a villager says, identifying a chaotic city in West Bengal which is also a springboard into the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan.
What do they poach? "Whatever we can and whatever we are asked for." The money is in rhino horn and elephant tusks, the latter taking advantage of a black hole in the forestry department's record-keeping. While the rhino population remains closely monitored, no accurate records are kept for elephants. The forestry department estimates that 170 were poached over a six-year period, but the sand bar people claim a figure almost double that.
From whom do they take orders? The villagers look stony-faced. They talk among themselves. "The Tibetans and Chinese are big men in this," says one, "but we are all from Bangladesh. Bangladeshis dominate the network now." Are they talking only about those living in India, or about orders coming from over the border, too? They shrug and mumble, clearly distressed. We should talk to an agent they name in a nearby city. They cannot tell us any more.
In nearby Tezpur, the wildlife trade agent turns out to be a rich local jeweller, but he is tight-lipped and refers us to his boss in another town. This boss, who runs a local hotel, says he can't talk without clearance from the bhai, the big boss in Siliguri. After 10 hours on the broken highway, we find his modest house in a chaotic suburb. Over plates of daal-fry, bread and curd, he tells us he is a haulier, shipping freight over the border with Bangladesh, but also "a man of many hats. One hat, you could say, is in animals. I move a lot of everything: elephant ivory, cat skins, musk deer, bear gall bladders, rhino horn, live leopard cubs that are sent to Nepal, Burma and then into Thailand. The prices we pay are so low, the profit margins are healthy." He opens both arms expansively, as if demonstrating the size of a fish. "We can get a snow leopard pelt for $1,000 and sell it for 10 times that. Ivory can be bought for as little as $200 a kilo and sold for 100 times this."
He munches on a red onion as a glass of milk poured straight from a churn froths in front of him on the table. How did he get involved? The wildlife trade in the town took off in 1983, he says, when old trafficking networks in Calcutta were effectively shut down by the police.
The Siliguri police confirm that soon after this, a stash of horns was discovered, tipping them off to the town's new business. But it was not until 1995 that the local authorities grasped the scale of the racket when, in the first operation of its kind in India, an entire syndicate trading in rhino horn was rolled up and found to have members in China, Taiwan and Tibet. "But these police successes were few and far between," claims the haulier, showing us his gleaming new trucks and his home - the first in town to have a flat-screen TV, now with one in every room.
He is happy to talk, and calls colleagues to confirm his stories. Eventually we ask who's behind the Bangladeshi business. "Where, not who," he says and points to Bangladesh. "Religious men hold the purse strings now. The business has changed. Their agents came to see us. They want a low-risk business."
A trader from Siliguri with betel-red teeth tells the same story. "This was a Chinese business but now it's Bangladesh's business. It's become God's work," he says, raising an eyebrow. "And, as you know, the Prophet, peace be upon his head, is irresistible."
It all began two years ago. Says the haulier,"A friend in common at a local mosque [in West Bengal] passed me a message saying representatives working for two militia groups in Bangladesh wanted a meet in a madrassah [seminary] in Siliguri."
A trader with an import-export company near to the India-Bangladesh border explains: "They came to us because we are the same as them," he says. "The hauliers and money men behind the wildlife trade are of Bangladeshi origin. The poachers, too. All of us can move freely over the border. We look right. Talk the same. They wanted in. Small, valuable commodities - horn, teeth, pelts - fetch incredible prices and are easy to conceal among legitimate export goods. Also, something truly valuable can be used to borrow against, to secure a line of credit."
The traditional methods by which anyone wishing to raise and transport money invisibly were through nominal charities, the gold market and the global unofficial banking system known as hawala. But these were heavily disrupted after September 11 2001, the traders say. New channels were needed.
Three of those who claimed to have been at the meeting two years ago say they knew exactly whom the agents worked for in Bangladesh: Al Mujahideen, an obscure jihadist umbrella organisation governing a panoply of militant groups that have sprung up in Bangladesh in recent years. Two in particular, both banned by the Bangladeshi government, were in need of money and eager to get into the racket, said Siliguri traders. One was Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), allegedly linked to al-Qaida; the second was Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), whose leader, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, had joined Bin Laden's World Islamic Front for the Jihad Against the Jews and the Crusaders in 1998. He was captured in Bangladesh and in March was hanged for the killing of two Bangladeshi judges and for nationwide bombings in 2005.
A 147 million-strong, predominantly Muslim state, Bangladesh was once renowned for its religious and ethnic tolerance. Then, six years ago, Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamic party, was elected as a coalition partner in the ruling government. Extremists, especially the HuJI and JMB, have already been accused of a string of terrorist attacks. In June 2001, former prime minister Sheikh Hasina was injured when an explosion killed 20 and injured 300 at a rally in Dhaka. On May 21 2004, Anwar Choudhury, the British ambassador to Bangladesh, was targeted in a bomb blast that claimed the lives of three others, including his bodyguard. In January 2005, the former finance minister and four other opposition activists were killed and 70 people injured when a grenade was thrown during a meeting in the north. Some graduates from terrorist training camps run by the HuJI were recently arrested, suspected of plotting a coordinated wave of 459 explosions that detonated across Bangladesh on August 17 2005.
There is already an international dimension, too. After the fall of Kabul in 2001, in a now notorious incident, the MV Mecca, a boat loaded with 150 Taliban and al-Qaida cadres, was said by Bangladeshi intelligence sources to have anchored off the country's Chittagong port, where small boats ferried them ashore. The Indonesian authorities raised concerns about the direction Bangladesh was taking after interrogating "Hambali", the leader of Indonesia's militant Jemaah Islamiya group, who was arrested in Thailand in connection with the Bali bombings in August 2002. Hambali, currently in US custody at Guantánamo Bay, allegedly admitted having made plans to shift part of his organisation to Bangladesh as life got more difficult at home.
Earlier this year India said it had intelligence connecting Bangladeshi militant groups with some of those behind the Mumbai train blasts of July 11 2006, in which more than 100 people died and 700 were injured. India also claims that on January 4 this year, two Bangladeshi nationals, who admitted belonging to HuJI, were arrested in New Delhi carrying 1.42kg of explosives, four electronic detonators and two hand grenades thought intended for the Republic Day celebrations.
The Indian security services officer we interviewed says, "There has been a significant migration from Bangladesh, with tens of millions fleeing to expatriate communities abroad. Poverty has helped radicalise them and we have put to your government our concern that the increasingly ambitious militant groups in Bangladesh are aiming to incite the exiles and so broaden the jihad - as Pakistani groups did in Britain."
This warning was echoed by Bruce Riedel, a former director on Clinton's National Security Council, at a conference in the US in February. "After September 11," he said, "al-Qaida determined it would be increasingly difficult to bring Arab or South Asian operatives into the [West] on Arab or South Asian passports. They needed to look for a new mechanism in order to move operatives around. They found it, for example, in the large Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the United Kingdom. Those communities turned out to have a significant, albeit small, minority of radicals who could be encouraged to perform al-Qaida's dirty work for it. Since those people had as a birthright a British passport, they had relatively easy access into the UK and out, and into the US and back into Pakistan."
In Kaziranga, an anti-poaching patrol prepares to leave: 16 men, nine carbines, rope, machetes, plastic sheeting - and eight elephants. Only elephants are capable of navigating the sodden terrain. As we move forward, the canopy overhead thickens. There is a micro-climate beneath the tree tops; a humid mizzle generated by the perspiring vegetation folds around us. Clouds of pinprick flies swarm, irritating everything they touch. Creepers with blood-red scales snag skin and clothing; high above our heads, amid a bouquet of jungle orchids, red spiders have trapped a nectar-hunting bird. No one lingers too long. Small mistakes here have grave results. Fall over and the soupy air prevents a scab forming; toxic spores blossom in an open wound. None of us dares drop litter or personal possessions, not just because the jungle is pristine but because we do not want to leave a trail for predators. By five it is dark. We have seen nothing suspicious, but the thick vegetation obscures everything. There is a strange drumming in the mud up ahead. It sounds like digging. The branches crackle. No tour parties are allowed this far in. Anyone we encounter will have to shoot their way out because they know the park rangers will fire on them first. The elephants rip into the undergrowth, the rangers raise their rifles.
We reach the banks of a vast lagoon and catch sight of something skimming away from us. It might be a canoe, or an animal. The rangers mutter. They fear it is poachers. One lets loose a shot out of frustration. Timid wildfowl tear out of the undergrowth, shrieking, setting off the bar-headed geese, which clatter and flap over the water. A lame Chinook clips the trees, shaking up a colony of ring-tailed macaques; they go off like car alarms. Osprey, kites and fish eagles. Wigeons, pigeons, shovellers and barbets. Shrikes, thrushes and bronzed drongos. Names of birds, inelegant and bizarre, are whispered by the mahouts, who identify everything they see as if constantly making an inventory of the jungle that is now at screaming pitch. A radio crackles. It is the rangers' HQ calling.
Miles away, with the electricity supply cut again, the duty officer huddles by a loudspeaker powered by a car battery. Next door, Central Range chief Dharanidhar Boro sits at his table, a bowl of rice in front of him. He is one of the most vigorous of the park's rangers charged with disrupting the poaching. But he is exhausted.
Boro is an awkward man. He does not drink or get stoned when all around him do. He believes in straight talking. "We cannot stop but it is difficult sometimes to go on. We are up against it. This is hard, hard work. We have to be merciless. This is a war for survival."
He pulls from a cabinet a photo album. On the first page is a picture of a corpse splattered by shotgun fire. "I killed this man as he prepared to stake out a rhino." He turns the pages and points to another corpse, its entrails dangling like ship's bunting. "I killed this one, too, as he sawed at a rhino's horn." There are scores more photographs picturing the dead laid out like mackerel.
We ask him about the new jihadi component in the trade. "We hear things but we have no hard facts. The rhino horns are used to buy guns and bombs, we are told. The guys we catch, what can they tell us? The colour of the shirt worn by the guy who paid them off."
In December, Boro's men tracked a gang of poachers to their tents. They had fled but left behind a new, modern tranquilliser gun and darts. "They used to shoot at rhinos, but the crack of the bullet is a problem as it carries far and we will hear. Some place poison. Others pull down power lines and try to electrocute the animals. However, recently they have come here with silencers. We are finding increasingly sophisticated weapons."
The poaching figures for Kaziranga were stark until very recently. As many as 48 rhinos a year were being killed for their horn, a figure comparable to about 2% of the total population in Assam. The state is classified as a "disturbed area", with a stubborn and often bloody secessionist movement desperate to break free from New Delhi. Militants have been fighting for 27 years and 10,000 lives have been lost. Recently, as peace talks began, there was a lull, then an insurgency blew up in Nepal. Boro says, "Through better organisation among the rangers and better stability in Assam, the gangs laid off us and started attacking Nepal, which also has rhino." Then he adds dourly, "We cannot count on peace."
Shortly before we arrived in Assam in February, seven Hindi-speaking labourers were shot dead at one of the state's brick kilns. A railway bridge was blown up, just missing a crowded train. Masked gunmen attacked six labourers' colonies in the northern districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia, killing 48 Indian settlers. Another eight people, including police officers, died when their vehicle hit a roadside mine in the central Karbi Anglong district. It was the state's worst violence in a decade, all the killings perpetrated by the United Liberation Front of Assam. An indefinite curfew was imposed while the Indian security forces combed the jungle for rebel camps and forest rangers hid themselves among the trees, waiting, resignedly, for the opportunists to arrive. Whether it's an independence struggle in Assam or an al-Qaida terror campaign, the outlook is perilous for the wildlife of Kaziranga.
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while there is a race to change the names of the islands it is absurd to change them to the names of warriors who were defeated by the Britishers. Why don't we rename all these islands, if they have to be , by their original names still intact in Andamanese languages? We have been fortunate in collecting indigenous names for all of the relevant islands.
Prof. Anvita Abbi
Centre For Linguistics
School of language, Literature and Culture Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi 110067, India
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Can you also please give us a few examples of this? Are there for instance Andamanese names of islands in the Ritchies's archipelago - Havelock, Neil.
Also other places on South, Middle or North Andaman islands?
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I completely agree with you-- this would afford many opportunities at once- primarily one of knowing what the Andamanese language sounds like and how they named these islands-- no doubt these would be based on some special characterisitc of each island-- related to flora/fauna or anything else—a great way to bring in these ideas into the public realm. I can well imagine that perhaps some children's publishing/ creative writers and illustrators coudl use what you know to produce something based on this for children!Should we ask our friends in this sector? God knows whether administration or any one else would take note of this idea, but if implemented in this way, it will certainly capture the imaginaiton of the next geenration!
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For Discussion sake. If one is keen to rename the Islands, (which I personaly should not be done) why not name them after those Freedom Fighters who have spent their life in " Kalapani" or heros like Sher Ali who stabed Lord Mayo to death here in the Islands. Certainly not those who even did not know about the existance of these Islands.
Col. KV Cherian
Renaming the islands with heroes and zeroes is absolutly absured- in any context- but we have people who can only see and think so far. A couple of years ago i had placed layers of names- Andamanese, british and Indian for the islands and places which have them or such-it looks quite nice- Wonder if the renaming lobby would care to take a look- there are stories in these transformations and quite interesting too.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Kaalapani Came Later
If a certain line of beliefs and historical thinking (‘Remembering Kaalapani’ Swati Dasgupta, The Times of India , May 7, 2007; see post below)) has its way, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could well see a monumental shift in their present namescape. The island named after Sir Hugh Rose, the man who finally cornered the Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi after the mutiny of 1857, could soon be named Laxmibai Dweep or maybe Rani Jhani Dweep. Havelock Island named after the British General who re-took Lucknow from Nana Sahib could well be named Nana Sahib Dweep and the island chain itself should be the Shaheed and Swaraj Islands because that is what Subhas Chandra Bose wanted them to be. The Rani of Jhansi or Nana Sahib may have known little of the islands (or even that they existed) but that surely is of little consequence.
This group of 500 odd islands scattered in an arc in the Bay of Bengal, are certainly fertile territory for a massive, even lip smacking renaming exercise – Tantya Tope, Mangal Pandey, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar…how about Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi….the list is endless; one’s imagination the only limitation and why not – reclamation of one’s history, after all, is believed to be one of the most important and effective tools of nation building.
There is one hitch however, a question that renaming enthusiasts might want to first consider – How does one reclaim what was never yours in the first place? The A&N islands, located far away from mainland India (roughly 1200 kms from Chennai) can only be considered a gift that British left India with when the empire disintegrated. There are undeniable connections of India’s freedom movement with the islands; best symbolized by the mutiny of 1857 and the Cellular Jail. There can be no denying that and neither can one deny the close bonds that a large section of the country feels with these islands, but, and this is the crux of the argument here, all put together this history does not go beyond a 150 years.
We might want to rename Havelock Island in the memory of Nana Sahib, but is it not worth asking whether the island that is today called Havelock had some earlier name too?
Let it not be forgotten, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been the traditional home of a number of aboriginal communities - the Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge and Sentinelese (in the Andamans), the Nicobaris and the Shompen (in the Nicobars) that have been living here for nearly 50,000 years. The 150 years that we want to claim now is like the blink of an eye in comparison. Injustices have been done and continue to be done to these communities in a manner that has few parallels in India. Their lands have been taken, their forests converted to plywood and agricultural plantations, and the fabric of their societies so violently torn apart that extinction looms on the horizon for many of them. The Great Andamanese who were at least 5000 individuals when the 1857 mutiny happened are today less than 40 people. The Onge who were counted at about 600 individuals in 1901 census are only a 100 people today. There are critical issues of survival that these communities are faced with – problems that are complex and will be difficult to resolve. If indeed there is energy and interest in doing something in the islands and for the islanders these are lines that we need to be thinking on.
These are people, like indigenous peoples everywhere, who have their own histories, their own societies, and yes, their own names for the islands and places. First the British called something else and now we want to call something else again. If indeed the places have to be renamed, should not an effort first be made to find out what the original people had first named them, why they were so named, what the significances were and which names are still in use by them. Should that not be the work of scholarship and historical studies? It would be a far more challenging and worthwhile exercise and perhaps not a very difficult one either because a lot of information does already exist.
If indeed the real and complete history of the islands is ever written, the British would not be more than a page and India could only be a paragraph. How’s that for a perspective and a context?
Monday, May 7, 2007
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Editorial/Remembering_Kaala_Paani/articleshow/2009048.cms[7 May, 2007 l 0010 hrs IST]
A tiny uninhabited island in the Andamans with a solar-powered lighthouse as its current sole usefulness still bears the name of a knighted general of the English East India Company and its successor British administration in India: Hugh Rose.Even the Andaman and Nicobar administration sometimes gets confused about the name. In some maps it is shortened to Rose island and in some others it is misspelt as Ross island.What was in British eyes Hugh Rose's lasting claim to fame in India? This general's forces besieged Rani Laxmibai at Jhansi, pursued her from one battle to another in central India for more than two months and ultimately killed, on June 17, 1858, this (by an assessment of her adversaries) bravest and best leader of the Indian Mutiny.If the national committee set up by the ministry of culture to prepare for a suitable observance of the sesquicentenary of the Great Indian Mutiny or India's First War of Independence accepts the idea of renaming Hugh Rose island it need not fear any objection.The committee has been stumbling through one controversy to another from its birth. The initial announcement of a budget of Rs 150 crore for the 150th anniversary of the uprising appeared hugely extravagant to many who suspected that this was opening a honeypot soon to be infested by corrupt hordes.Culture minister Ambika Soni hastened to explain that Rs 10 crore would be sent on the anniversary of the Mutiny of 1857 and there were other coincidental occasions to celebrate, like the diamond jubilee of India's independence and Bhagat Singh's birth anniversary.Nothing much has been heard so far about the programme of celebrations the committee may be drawing up.The anniversaries of the rumblings of the Great Mutiny such as the revolt of the XIX Regiment at Behrampore in Bengal on February 26 and the individual uprising and hanging of Mangal Pandey on March 29 and April 8, dramatised in a film by Aamir Khan, were allowed to pass in silence.One cannot be sure that those in charge will look as far away as a small island cluster in the Bay of Bengal.The Andaman and Nicobar adminis-tration is reported to have requested only a seminar like the one held at Port Blair during the golden jubilee of India's freedom from the British.The Andamans can claim not too unimportant a place in any programme for remembering the Mutiny and its aftermath. The notorious Cellular Jail at Port Blair was planned initially for transportation of the unbroken fighters for India's freedom to a Dantesque hell.And with sardonic deliberateness the British Indian government named or renamed some of the nearby islands after the soldiers who had crushed the mutineers of 1857.Hugh Rose was one of them. Names like Outram, Havelock, Nicholson, Neill still proclaim from the Andamans the glory of British generals of an era long bygone.And in an amusing hash cooked by bureaucrats, the recently-created Rani Jhansi Marine National Park now cradles the islands named after Outram, John Lawrence and Henry Lawrence.A touristic jewel is known as Havelock, the name of the general who retook Lucknow from Nana Sahib. Quite incongruously again, a Subhas Mela is held on Havelock every January.Netaji Subhas took symbolic control of Andamans and Nicobar for his Arzi Hukumat Azad Hind, renamed them Shaheed and Swaraj, flew the tricolour at Port Blair and appointed Colonel A D Loganathan of INA as governor of what was called a liberated part of India.The old names came back after World War II. In Indira Gandhi's days Samar Guha tried in the Lok Sabha but failed to revive the names chosen by Netaji Subhas.But Pygmalion Point in Nicobar was renamed Indira Point. Nobody has felt so far any need for taking up the cause of renaming the islands Havelock, Henry Lawrence, John Lawrence, Neill, Outram, Inglis, Sir Hugh Rose, Paget.The sesquicentenary celebrations are a good occasion to do what should have been done long ago.
The writer is a historian.