#ed Forces

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18 years of age for compulsory (Jews/Druzes) military service, 17 years of age for voluntary (Christians, Muslims, Circassians) military service, both sexes are obligated. Conscript service obligation – 36 months for enlisted men, 21 months for enlisted women, 48 months for officers, pilots commit to 9 years service, reserve obligation to age 41-51(men), 24 (women). Tracing it’s roots to the Jewish paramilitary organisations, the Israel Defence Forces or the IDF differ from most armed forces in the world in many ways. Differences include the mandatory conscription of women and its structure, which emphasizes close relations between the army, navy, and air force. Since its founding, the IDF has been specifically designed to match Israel’s unique security situation. It is one of Israeli society’s most prominent institutions, influencing the country’s economy, culture and political scene and with the number of wars and border conflicts it has been involved in its short history, the Israel defence Forces is one of the most battle-frequented armed forces in the world.

 Through the haze of smoke rising out of hashish-laden chillums, Barak a young backpacker dressed in a bright shirt and shorts, looks up ‘need some full power. Of course he needs some. His friends, sprawled casually elsewhere around the room are already in the throes of  ‘full power’ (a deep drag from a chillum) and ‘boom shiva’  the new- age mantras that are bringing peace and nirvana to the army of Israeli backpackers trooping into Kasol in Himachal pradesh -India looking for some quiet and some hashish. Bustling with hidden reggae bars the dense pinewood covered with little hamlets tucked in cozy corners, the fierce flowing Parvati river cutting through – this half hour’s diversion from Bhuntar make ‘haeven’ for the unending flocks of Israeli youth on longhalt freedom trips after their mandatory military stints. It’s easy to spot the typical Israeli backpacker in the crowd. Around 21 to 23 most are here on an extended holiday after completing their compulsory three-year stint in the army. They have heard of the Shangrila in India from their seniors who also travelled East and are merely following that tradition. Subjected to a regimented life in the barracks, the young men and women are waiting to cut loose and have a good time. A few come here for spiritual fulfilment but others go overboard in their pursuit of pleasure and end up as wrecks.

 Their influence is beginning to tell on the placid environs of the region.The brash, young Israeli backpackers have literally taken over villages like Kasol. Their overwhelming presence has made tourists from other parts of the world wary of including Manali in their itinerary. Says Mansukh who runs a small guest house in Kasol ‘There was a time when we had tourists from Italy, England, Japan, Germany and sometimes US. Ever since the Israelis have come, many of the others avoid coming here. So much so that the word ‘firangi’ here is coming to mean exclusively Israeli’. Sharmaji still calls his restaurant ‘Little Italy’. But the food he serves in it is now Israeli. His pizzas have made way for the traditional pita bread and the tehina, labane, hatzilim and falafal, all borrowed from Israeli kitchens. ‘I had to learn how to make Italian food, but once the Israelis came in, they wanted only ‘home food so my chef quickly learnt new recipes.’ So particular are the backpackers about home food that one sees Israelis troop in and out of Sharma’s kitchen armed with ladles and a pressure-cooker. They obviously like to supervise the cooking.

No wonder local eatery owners are beginning to feel insecure. They feel those among the tourists with culinary skills will soon set up shop and run them out of business. Some of them have even signed up with locals and set up their restaurants in the process pushing local entrepreneurs towards a slow death. ‘We know this is illegal but what can we do?’ says Sharma ‘Once Little Italy was the dominant restaurant in Kasol. Now, the 500-metre stretch on the Kasol-Manikaran road boasts of seven restaurants and several smaller eating joints and cafes.’ The economics of the region has indeed undergone a sea change in the mid 90s when the first Israeli backpackers took to riding up the hills on those Enfield 350cc bikes. The old Manali village quickly turned into a favourite haunt only to be replaced soon enough by Kasol, Chalal, Malana and Manikaran. Hotels and restaurants have come up everywhere. Villagers who till the other day grew crops on terrace farms quickly set up shops selling souvenirs. Others like Sumit Mukherjee, who ran an agency that organised treks out of Manali, moved to Kasol and built a hotel that stays packed throughout the season.

In short, today everything in Kullu is now targeted at the Israeli tourist – the food, the clothes, the trance and the techno music. A shack adjacent to Sharmaji’s promises boom shiva (hash) and good music. Peep in and a blast – repetitive and cyclic- hits you. Breathe, and you can inhale Shiva all around. All across Kasol there are posters advertising the latest couple of rave parties on the coming full moon night. All of Kasol would head for the party. Resort-owner Mukherjee has seen the several changes tourists have brought over the years. With a note of regret, he says ‘The European tourist would come dressed in salwar-kameez and try to respect local customs. But the Israelis come and live as they please. As a result, you will see many among the youth here trying to ape them. I am not sure whether this is good for us in the long run.’ Outside, as the light of day fades into the dull hue of dusk, bright hoardings in Hebrew light up, offering a variety of Israeli eats. It’s party time in Kasol. It’s been a headache however, for the local administration and the Israeli government which has had to send several delegations to India to find out why their young countrymen are going astray and how to rescue them.

 A member of one such delegation states ‘Marijuana’ is available everywhere. They grow under your guesthouse and come incredibly cheap.’ This man was asked to set up a commune at Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast to detox and rehabilitate countrymen returning home from overseas with addiction-related problems. And most of those who have been through the commune have partied and over-indulged in India around this belt. It’s easy given that accommodation, food, smoke and a good time come cheap in our country. The Israeli government estimates that of the 70,000 young Israelis who travel abroad every year, nearly 45,000 head towards India, wander the hills of Kullu-Manali in the summer and head towards the beaches of Goa in winter. In Kullu, district officials anxiously monitor the influx of Israeli tourists each summer. Their number has been growing steadily by nearly 60 per cent annually in the last three years. Not just that , they are also the largest group among foreign tourists who seek visa extensions and are aggressive about it. ‘They usually come in and ask for visa extensions as a matter of right ’ says a senior police official. ‘One group even offered to fight it out when I refused them . The Israelis undoubtedly form the largest group of foreign tourists coming here and are a fairly aggressive lot.’  The problem can be compounded by the fact that nearly 4,000 acres of the land in the district is under hashish cultivation. The situation has gone so out of hand that district administration officials, unable to cope with the problem on their own, have written to the state and central governments to intervene with requests of demanding at least $5,000 from all Israelis before they are granted Indian visas.

A couple of years back, the DG of the Israeli Authority Against Drugs, took up the matter with the Israeli ambassador in India and decided to set up a Bayit Cham (Israeli home) in Old Manali run by a middle-aged Israeli couple who would advise and counsel those coming to the region. The authorities felt Israeli youth like to visit special places, and India being beautiful and very cheap is a great favourite. In Goa, Kasol, Manali and Mcleodganj (Dharamsala), they find themselves in an environment where drugs are cheap and readily available. With an Israeli couple stationed here councelling would be easy and available at the source so a couple came to Old Manali a little over a year ago to take charge of the home. ‘We ensure that when the kids come and spend time with us, they don’t do drugs. We also tell them to be polite to the locals and respect local customs. We see to it that the Israeli backpackers who come into the region make use of our library which has books in Hebrew on India to sensitise them to local mores. It’s usually the first-timers who have just come out of the army and are keen to experience new cultures who need us the most, stated the couple. While most of their efforts are centred in and around Manali, Kasol and Chalal, she also spends time at Bhagsu village near Mcleodganj (Dharamsala) where Israeli backpackers go in search of spiritual solace. Now though Jewish rabbis armed with the holy Torah too have set up camp in Old Manali and Kasol to bring the astray back into the fold. One rabbi has based himself in Kasol and functions out of a local restaurant that serves as a makeshift synagogue. While he goes about his task with great commitment, his flock is yet to grow, given that most Israeli backpackers still go for smokes rather than spirituality.

Good or bad the Israelis look like they are here to stay,  by force, if necessary. The locals find them more demanding than the Europeans and Americans. They bargain for everything and usually get their price, they demand their food as a matter of right and even be ready to fight for what they want. Life isn’t the same anymore for the people of the Kullu Valley as the villages have been jolted out of their idyllic slumber witness to the hustle and bustle all summer and rave parties every full moon. The 35,000-strong Israeli backpackers mean good business. But the elation comes tinged with apprehension. The party may not last too long, with drugs becoming so rampant and the Israeli government getting worked up about it. If the police are forced to crack down severely on the trade, a heathen paradise would then be lost .

E-rickshaws regularisation: A political drive?

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Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari was greeted with loud cheers at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan yesterday when he assured that now e-rickshaws will ply on Delhi’s streets without the need of a license.

Announcing Deen Dayal E Rickshaw Scheme aimed at giving jobs to 200 million people across India, Gadkari spoke of eight measures the government had decided on to end the harassment faced by e-rickshaw drivers at the hands of traffic and transport officials. As he elaborated each measure, cheers in the makeshift tent packed with people grew louder and louder. “Police used to harass us. Now, we can earn our livelihood without any fear,” said Sunil, an e-rickshaw owner. While another driver, Sonu said, “If their promises on the loan come through, it will be a huge boost to us. Otherwise, contractors can really exploit people like us.”

Nitish Gadkari addressing the e rickshaw drivers' rally

Nitish Gadkari addressing the e rickshaw drivers’ rally

Critics argue that e rickshaws are not registered and ply without any license number plate, thereby, marring their accountability. Lack of legally binding documents makes it difficult to prosecute these vehicles in case of an accident or traffic violation. It is virtually impossible to fine these vehicles as they are not registered. E Rickshaws are not suitable for plying on major roads due to their limited speed. The highly fragile and unstable e-rickshaws are vulnerable to accidents.

Another drawback posed by these battery powered vehicles is that the battery used in these vehicles cannot be recycled. An e-rickshaw battery has a lifespan of 6-7 months. This means that harmful chemical and metals end up in the garbage that in India can be discarded anywhere- from parks, landfills, streets etc. Also, it was observed that many drivers used illegal means to charge the battery of these vehicles, which usually takes up to 10 hours.

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Urban development experts argue that e-rickshaws are in an urgent need of regularisation or else they would end up being a menace on Delhi roads. These rickshaws were first introduced on city roads in 2010 ahead of the Commonwealth Games, but have been accorded legal status by the government it almost after four years.

Amid this debate on the issue of legal or illegal, BJP has played its game very smartly. With this decision, the BJP-led NDA government has not just put an end to the protests by e-rickshaw drives but also managed to steal the spotlight from the Aam Aadmi Party, a day after its leaders met Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to plead the case of the e-rickshaw drivers. In the case of a re-election in the capital, BJP leaders admit, a slight shift in this vote bank will help the party in a big way.

Obituary of Another Obsolete

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After years of seeing the old lady stay grossly overweight, smoking too much, wheezing and coughing under load, staggering arthiritically around corners and displaying unsightly bulges and bumps as compared to her sleek younger competitors, with potential suitors and patrons decreasing by the day, Hindusthan Motors decided to shut down it’s assembly line production of India’s grand old car ‘The  Ambassador’ end of May, citing escalating debt, lack of demand among vehicle buyers and stiff competition in the automobile industry.

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In a country where you were either privileged or powerful if you owned a car, a good portion of the progressive society fell for nothing less than a sense of national pride to find strong positives in two extra-ordinary vehicles. One of them was the ‘Amby’. Extra ordinary as it was a car which could seat the entire family, including the in-laws. It could actually go up and down the country in all sorts of terrain without the radiator heating to a level that the engine seized. Any roadside mechanic across the country could repair it. No power steering, no side mirrors, no power brakes, no stick shift gears, no seat belts with seats resembling two sofas placed one in front of the other. Yet it sold at a premium, and the manufacturers got rich to richer from Rishra to Rashtrapati Bhavan in full control of the supply side ensuring a thriving black market. Successive Congress governments, ensured monopolistic manufacturing signoffs till the end of the licence raj. The supply side grew exponentially, as did the quality of the new cars. Suddenly, it was real virtues and real features that mattered, not the imagined and manufactured ones. And able suitors walked with their wallets to brands offering more value for their money. Slow and steadily the Ambassador lost it’s sheen and with it it’s declining  marketshare signalling the inevitable.

One study points out that service and fuel efficiency are no longer the most important features for car buyers in India. Engine power, aerodynamic design, interiors and automatic transmissions matter as much, if not more. But the amby remained the standard choice for government, public sector, PWD, and civic officials as well as for the security cars which puff and fume as they struggle to keep up with the big cars of their VIP’s. The black cats would be hopelessly entangled in their weapons, walkie-talkies and ammunition belts in any lesser car with less generous height, space and wide doors. Without doubt the India built Ambassador might have been the longest reigning fighter despite the onslaught of small Maruti’s and posh larger cars in it’s time quite because of one more feature – price. But today even that’s obsolete.

So adieu to the saga of the grand old Indian Amby which started way back in 1957 carrying forward the legacy of Britain’s long defunct Morris Oxford. Wonder what the copywriter/visualiser of the ‘It’s Always There’ nationalistic amby campaign would want to throw in now !

Live link for a green future

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The European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) and Cambridge Cleantech are undertaking a ‘first’ in terms of novel events by connecting consecutive speakers in a live link-up between Cambridge and New Delhi. Hot topics which are important for India and in which Cambridge based cleantech companies can help supply the solutions are recycling and energy-from-waste.

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Monish Verma, Environment Sector Specialist, EBTC in New Delhi, said, “A viable collaboration between EU and India can only begin by understanding the real problems in the field and positing a solution based on local needs, i.e. in effect by promoting bottom-up project development.”

Martin Garratt, CEO of Cambridge Cleantech, said, “We are delighted to be testing this new event concept of live streaming speakers from Cambridge and New Delhi to the delegates at venues in both locations.  Following the speakers, who will outline market opportunities in India and examples of cleantech solutions, we will have a lively Q&A between delegates from both countries, live across the airwaves. The event provides a real opportunity to understand the Indian market and consider how to propose potential solutions.”

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Live streaming events are the first step for both the UK and Indian communities to understand each other’s attributes and then develop collaborations. Speaking at the live stream event today were:

  • Stephen Bates, Director, Environmental Communications on The Human Factor: Recycling that transcends international boundaries
  • Rahul Chhabra, CEO, Proton Enviro on Best Practices for Waste Management in India from the Field
  • Andrew Shepherd, Partner, The Alexander Partnership on Energy from Waste: the Nova Pangaea Technologies process, targeting waste biomass such as sugar and palm oil which are plentiful in India
  • Sanmit Ahuja, CEO, ETI Dynamics on Investing in Waste Management Projects – what to do, and what not to do

Triumph of Grief

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Chhanda Gayen

Chhanda Gayen

Chhanda Gayen’s family has asked the state government of West Bengal to stop search operations on account of bad weather. The rescue operations were being conducted in Nepal above camp three near the world’s third highest peak Kanchenjunga. Chhanda’s brother Jyotirmay, who went to Nepal last week and joined the search team himself, said it was a futile attempt to look for her in the present weather conditions there. He has requested the state government to withdraw the search and rescue operation reinstating that the West Bengal Government cooperated in all possible ways and did its best to find her.

The Nepal government according to their law issued the death certificate for Chhanda three days after she went missing on the 19th May. However, the death certificate stated that she is either dead or missing. Nepal government officials explained that a certificate of this kind is issued after three days to help the bereaved family get insurance money and complete the legal requirements though search operations may go on. As per India laws however unless the body is found a person is not considered dead for seven years after going missing. The family needs to wait for seven years to get the death certificate.

Chhanda  went missing along with two Sherpas after being hit by an avalanche in the Kanchenjunga range of the Himalayas. She was trying to climb Yalung Kang – or Kanchenjunga West – after setting a record of being the first woman from India to reach the summit of the world’s third highest peak - the main Kanchenjunga peak  on the 17th May.

Kanchenjunga is many times more difficult at its higher reaches than  Mt. Everest. There are several challenges with deadly spots, ice falls and at the top, there is hardly a foot to stand. It can take 6-7 days to fix ropes and climb a mere 100 feet. Tactically speaking, it is much more challenging than climbing Mt Everest. Infact around 1931, a German expedition returned from 3,000 feet below the summit. This was considered such a great achievement that the expedition was awarded the gold medal at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. This only goes to show how difficult the climb is’ – says Col (retd) Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar the man who led the first Indian expedition to Kanchenjunga from the North East spur in 1977.

Chhanda set a world record last year by summiting Everest & Lhotse (the 4th highest peak of the planet) consecutively in a span of 2 days. This was achieved in the same expedition without coming back to the base camp after summitting Everest. She is also the first  civilian woman from West Bengal to reach the top of the world. This year too she was on a dual peak conquering mission. After summiting Kanchenjunga she diverted her trail above camp 3 towards Yalung Kang. While doing so she got caught in an avalanche and went missing.

Kanchenjunga is difficult. And when you club that with one other peak as your target stakes get very high. Just reaching the Kanchenjunga base camp takes a gruelling 17 days trek from the nearest road head. Two months have to be spent above the snowline. This often gets monotonous and can trigger psychological effects. It is extremely remote and the only colour around is white. Gradually one  runs out of things to say and sometimes are confined within tents for days due to bad weather. With temperatures as low as minus 40 and very high wind speeds it’s difficult to survive the days waiting for a single attempt. Thats about surviving the weather and high altitude waiting to reach the summit. But long before they even set foot in the mountains to summit a peak, India’s indomitable mountaineers undergo an uphill task arranging the huge sums of money required to fund expeditions . The disappearance of Chhanda shifts the spotlight on this hard fact. Rajib Bhattacharya the other climber who accompanied Gayen while summiting Kangchenjunga in the same expedition states ‘ just around 250 metres before the Yalung Kang peak when Chhanda’s Sherpa  forced her to call off her attempt to complete her second peak, Chhanda  broke down and started crying. All along Chhanda had rejected the sherpa’s requests to abandon her ‘ double summit’ mission for which she had raised Rs 35 lakh (3.5 million) from sponsors and kept on advancing despite the worsening weather.’ The decision to abandon the attempt due to bad weather was too much for a top climber like Chhanda who had earlier been through the ordeal of running pillar to post hunting for the money for the expedition. Her sponsors weighed so heavily on Gayen’s mind that she threw caution to the winds and ignored the looming inclement weather and shortage of rope to attempt the rare feat of summiting both peaks on the same expedition.

Most Indian mountaineers mobilize money for an expedition on their own, dipping into their savings, taking loans, selling ornaments or mortgaging their homes. But why do corporate bodies turn a deaf ear to mountaineers’ sponsorship pleas? High sponsorship cost in exchange of low brand  visibility deter business firms. But what exactly in the name of visibility should the brand managers be looking at while sponsoring a mountaineer ?  Has the country been watching too much live streaming ? And must sports with low ‘live watch’ potential be buried under avalanches ? If mountaineering is such a non-visible sport potentially unattractive to sponsors, how is most of the 8000 plus peaks increasingly getting overcrowded with western climbers every year ?

Chhanda rests peacefully in a place she loved most and will drive many more inspired expeditions in the future remaining in the hearts of millions forever.

Will Modi magic improve Indo-China relations?

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To focus on pushing forward bilateral ties to a new level and seize opportunities presented by the assumption of power by the new Narendra Modi-led government, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be visiting New Delhi tomorrow as a special envoy of President Xi Jinping. He will hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Modi during his two-day visit. He is also expected to call on President Pranab Mukherjee and meet the new National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

This is the first contact between the two governments after the Indian general election while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has already spoken to Modi over phone soon after he was sworn in. During that time, Modi had noted that China was always a ‘priority’ in India’s foreign policy and welcomed greater economic engagement between the two countries.

During his visit, Wang will meet leading Indian officials and will have in-depth exchanges on how to push forward bilateral relations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “India has formed a new government and China and India now face a new opportunities of development.”

While the Chinese official media and state-run think tanks projected a new momentum in trade and economic ties between the two countries considering that Modi visited China four times as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Beijing also closely watched the new government’s policy towards US and Japan, whom it regards as arch rivals.

The invitation to Xi was extended by Modi when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang telephoned to congratulate him on taking over as Prime Minister

The invitation to Xi was extended by Modi when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang telephoned to congratulate him on taking over as Prime Minister

China is watching the countries Modi will be visiting on his first trip abroad considering that Li had made India his first destination abroad after taking power last year. Modi’s plan is to visit Bhutan first this month followed by Japan in July. He is expected to meet Xi at the BRICS summit in Brazil next month.

In addition, China has expressed keen interest about the presence of President Mukherjee for celebrations marking 60 years of Panchsheel, the five principles of peace proposed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in 1954. The function is proposed to be held on June 28.

The new Chinese leadership is keen to improve relations with India in the face of serious challenges it faces over its maritime disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with Vietnam, the Philippines and other maritime neighbours in the South China Sea amid a major US military push into the Asia-Pacific.

The signature of the Panchsheel Agreement between India and China on April 29, 1954

The signature of the Panchsheel Agreement between India and China on April 29, 1954

China and India would appear to have endless reasons to cooperate. The world’s two most populous nations are both developing nations eager to improve the welfare of their 2.6 billion people and attain their rightful position on the world stage. In the 1950s, in the early years of India’s independence, hopes were high that India and China would be close allies, a spirit captured in a phrase popular at the time — “Indians and Chinese are brothers”. Those high expectations were dashed in 1962, when China armed forces invaded India over border disputes. The war was a humiliation for the Indians and left New Delhi’s relations with Beijing under a permanent dark cloud.

Modi's visit to China as Gujarat CM

Modi’s visit to China as Gujarat CM

Now Modi has come. Though generally tight-lipped on foreign policy matters, he probably more prone to stand up to China, especially on sensitive issues like their continued border disputes. Or, he might hope that he could revive India’s economic growth, and Chinese investment and trade could help him do that. Let’s see whether that popular phrase – “Indians and Chinese are brothers” – can become a reality or remain a distant dream.

India and EU working together on aviation & environment

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The third aviation conference on ‘Indian Aviation and Environment: What next?’ took place today in New Delhi. Planned in the framework of the ‘Institutional capacity building for the civil aviation sector in India’, which is cooperation between the government of India and the European Union, the conference was organised by the University of Applied Sciences Frankfurt, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies and the EU-India Civil Aviation Cooperation Programme.

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The conference was inaugurated by the Director General of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) of India Prabhat Kumar, who stressed the importance of the growth of the Indian aviation industry and the need to address the challenges of climate change and noise management.

The conference brought together experts from around the world to discuss policy and technology changes that are shaping the industry, identify environmental strategies for sustainable growth and encourage joint initiatives and networking.

During the inaugural session, Joao Cravinho, Ambassador of the European Union to India, mentioned that India has made tremendous progress over the past few years on aviation and environment issues, while it is important to continue working together on the environmental problems the world is facing.

Prof Yvonne Ziegler, Programme Director of the MBA Aviation Management Programme opened the day-long event said, “The main objective of our programme is to strengthen the booming aviation sector by educating highly qualified employees. One educational measure sponsored by the EU is our MBA Aviation Management programme that we have launched in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore with over 50 Indian students.”

Panagiotis Karamanos, Senior Environmental Expert with the EU-India Civil Aviation Cooperation project focussed on policy formulation indicating that “India is becoming a leader in aviation and environment by formulating effective initiatives, such as the annual carbon footprint and the airport noise studies.”

The aviation conference was attended by over 130 participants representing Ministry of Civil Aviation, DGCA, aviation industry experts, practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, environmental managers including K Haag from Lufthansa, P Kumar from Boeing, R Raman from Airbus, K Kaul from CAPA, M Muthukrishnan from Delhi airport, Harpreet De Singh from Air India, A Dubey from KPMG, to name a few.

The presentations and panel discussions covered the topics like EU’s approach to noise management and climate change; environmental design at Airbus and Boeing and new developments; issues and challenges regarding environment in Indian aviation, Air India and Delhi airport; etc.

The objective of the EU-India Civil Aviation Cooperation Project, which was launched in 2010, is to strengthen the institutional capacity of the civil aviation regulator in India and to promote a safe, secure and sustainable aviation environment.

 

 

India elected to UN Body for conserving cultural heritage

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Where culture is the way of life of the people, its uniqueness and diversity is world famous… It is India, which has been elected to a United Nations committee tasked with spreading the knowledge of intangible cultural heritage and promoting awareness of its importance.

Traditional Vedic School in Kerala

Traditional Vedic School in Kerala

For the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, India has been elected for the next four years (2014-2018) to the Intergovernmental Committee.

In a vote at UNESCO headquarters yesterday by the General Assembly of the States Parties to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, India won the election by a resounding 135 votes against a total of 142 votes cast by Member States who were present and voting. India’s 135 votes were the highest received by any member State at the election.

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The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage has 24 members who are elected for a term of four years. The core functions of the Committee are to safeguard the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), ensuring respect for the intangible cultural heritage of nations, groups and individuals, as also to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Intangible cultural heritage encompasses practices and living expressions handed down from one generation to the next.

This is the second time that India has been elected to the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the earlier term being from 2006-2010.

 

 

 

Tale of Tolerance

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The firm handshake and warm smile Narendra Modi greeted Nawaz Sharif with on the day he was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India will be etched in history. The  invite of the Pakistani chief who has had somewhat similar agendas of winning elections in his country as Modi’s, is almost as young as him in the chair, which gives fresh hope of reconciled cordiality, chemistry and contours for a new relation. A relation which perhaps will have to give a hard look into Pakistan’s  planned & induced terror attacks on India, failure in processing promised legal actions against the perpetrators, India’s reorientation of foreign policy in light of Pakistan’s mobilisation of terror groups as strategic assets used against India and of course economic reforms and easy trade. Both leaders have atleast close to a five year horizon to work together with possibilities of multiple meetings in future to assess progress. Both seemed upbeat about the new beginning with issues like cease fire violations, Herat attacks, terrorist Hafiz Sayed walking free in Pakistan…still looming large in the minds of an average Indian.
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Many questions …Where does such show of statesmanship and diplomatic talks lead to eventually with a country like Pakistan ? What has it led to since the birth of Pakistan ? Is India a secular state ? Does India promote secularism with it’s neighbours & the world ? Does India have any record of violating such norms ? Can the same questions be asked to Pakistan ? Is public memory short and fleeting ? Do events register momentarily like a blip on a radar and are then consigned to some dark corners of our cerebral galaxy never to wake up again ? Does the brain need to be bombarded with repetitive stimuli or jolted by a single moral turpitude of seismic proportions to evoke a strong and sustained re-sponse ? In the absence of such reinforcement,  does  thoughts fade away from ones mind ? Thoughts of what Pakistan has been repeatedly doing since it’s inception? Thoughts of how bilateral talks have not made much or any difference in the way Pakistan and it’s leaders have treated humanity with ? Has the world forgotten the unfortunate tragedy of the Bangladesh genocide ? When Indians can raise their voice for 2,000 Muslims killed in Gujarat, they can also yell from rooftops for the 30 lakh Hindus killed in 1971 or the 2.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits forced out of their homes in Kashmir. Why do they not? Why were the guilty not brought to book ?

A crime like genocide usually involves established institutions like governments or nations. For the criminals to be brought to book, one needs a dedicated champion like the legendary Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, or a driven community, who share a commonality with the victims and will not let the perpetrators to rest. The Hindu community has neither. To ascertain the etiology of this amnesia or selective attention deficit we need to delve deeper into the details of this chapter of the horrific deeds of the Pakistan military in Bangladesh in ’71.

We’ve seen the gut of Pakistan’s fanatical nihilism. Their unprecedented  attacks against humanity in the name of religion shows the depths to which Pakistan has sunk in terms of sectarianism and social fragmentation over the past decade. Tragically, and despite high-profile efforts by the government to clamp down on the ability of militant groups to target anyone they feel right, the Pakistani goverment have only proved time and again their complete failure in running a country. This only signifies the legacy in  continuation of the country’s past spiralling into it’s recent state of a self-destructive communal mess created by it’s elected leaders.

Today Brigadier Javed Hussain of Pakistan says. ‘Diplomacy is engagement. India to abandon tactical monitoring . No attacks on India could be traced to credible sources . Trade cannot progress in isolation. War is not an option. ‘ :)  Isn’t  this the same man who is highly respected and commands a great deal of authority in pakistan ? Wasn’t he around when this massive military operation, code named Operation Searchlight aimed at crushing Bengali aspirations of autonomy was unleashed in march ’71 that killed about 3 million Bangladeshis and forced another 10 million to seek refuge across the border in India. Note the numbers. In a preface to this massacre, Tikka Khan, the military lead of Pakistan for that operation was supposed to have remarked ‘kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands’  Just the numbers put this massacre high up in the list of notable world genocides. While the number killed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (in excess of 2 million) may top the Bangladesh genocide, it was carried out over a period of four years in comparison to the nine-month deadly rampage of the Pakistan army.
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A chilling cinematic glimpse of this brutal massacre by General Tikka Khan’s batallions can be seen in the recently released movie ‘Children of War’ or as initially titled ‘The Bastard Child’. A well researched dark chronicle of one of the most brutal genocides in human history, debutant director Mrityunjay Devvrat has left no stone unturned.  A separation saga of a Bengali journalist (Indraneel Sengupta) and his wife (Raima Sen), and turns it into an uncompromising, relentless, soul-sucking tale of despair and darkness. The narration as real times have no time for basic emotions like longing and sorrow after she is put into a concentration-camp styled prison with many other ‘fertile’ women, run by an Islam extremist (Tikka Khan – Pawan Malhotra). His mission is to rape and impregnate them, and create an entire generation of nationless children. No further description is needed. Malhotra here constructs possibly the most vile and deranged screen antagonist in recent times. His rendition is spine-chilling, combining the deceptive deviousness of…if you recall Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds), cold-blooded ruthlessness of Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List) and the scowlish arrogance of Scar (Lion King). He engages and terrifies even in a one-shot sequence where he drunkenly converses solely with his gun. The only respite from this carnage of torture is a parallel story of two orphaned Bangla teens struggling towards the Indian border to seek refuge. The track is the only mildly escapist section that forays into the abstract to portray psychological damage. There is a touch of Hans Zimmer to the music Devvrat uses to dramatise bloodshed, and the effect it has is overwhelming, even at the cost of its indulgent length. This may seem exploitative at times, but so are the subject and its characters. There is an inescapable loss of innocence all around, much like in today’s world, where lines between revenge and justice are blurred. The magnitude of brutality and shock is always amplified if preceded by brighter times, but in Children Of War, there is rarely any cause for hope or joy and sadness is only succeeded by further despair.

Questions often lurking in the dark corners of our cerebral galaxy pops up again. Who bore the brunt of this genocide? It is important to know the actual distribution of the casualties for therein may lie the clue to the big unanswered question – Why were the guilty not brought to book? The killings were not random acts of response to a mass uprising but a meticulously crafted strategy of selective victimization. General Tikka Khan and his top leaders planned the indiscriminate massacre of Hindus and drove the rest into India in an attempt to destroy Indias bordering state’s socio-economic base. One of Pakistan’s directive during the time was…’when the Hindus have been eliminated by death and fight, their property will be used as a golden carrot to win over the under-privileged Muslim middle-class. This will provide the base for erecting administrative and political structures in the future.’ Later reports confirm  this persecution of Hindus stating ‘ countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as World Bank and additional information available document the reign of terror which gripped East Bengal. The surviving Hindus were robbed of their lands and shops, systematically culled out and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked ‘H.’ All of this officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.’ Why Pakistan did so is intriguing. Does it have to do something with Islamic brotherhood and the fact that the victims happened to be predominantly Hindu ? What about the Hindus themselves ? The Hindus, wherever they maybe, are afflicted with a strange psychic malady that inhibits them from standing up for their rights or highlighting atrocities committed against them. Moreover those Hindus, who do so are shouted down by their own brethren. However, in defense of Bangladeshi Hindus, I must say that the continued oppressive religious environment in that country makes any such protest impossible, especially with their limited numbers. The only other lobby with a special interest in this matter was predominantly Hindu India. I have always felt that India owes a moral responsibility to the Hindus left behind in Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1947. While the Muslim minority of India became a part of a secular republic with equal rights, the Hindu minority of Pakistan (and later Bangladesh) were relegated to second class status through no fault of theirs. Could India with its famed free and secular media have played a key role ? Yes, it certainly could have. And should have. But did not.  To side with Hindus even if they are right is akin to blasphemy in the vaunted circles of the free Indian media. How else can you explain the relentless crusade against the Gujarat riots that persists even to this day in comparison with the near total silence on the monumental genocide that obliterated 3 million Hindus from the face of the earth or the shoddy treatment meted out to the continued ethnic cleansing of a quarter million Hindus from Kashmir ? All atrocities regardless of the color, caste, creed or religion of the victims must be condemned fair and square and the perpetrators relentlessly pursued till eternity if need be.

It was Mascarenha’s reportage that helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and encouraged India to play a decisive role. Rest we are aware how Pakistan was humiliatingly defeated by the Indian armed intervention and Bangladesh as a country was born.

But all said and done. Did that teach Pakistanis a lesson, did they start respecting humanity. One after another brutal attack continued over decades most aimed towards India and humanity against it’s progress towards peaceful co-existence with each attack credibly traced to Pakistani mililary and intelligence agencies.

Must India continue being tolerant. Must changing goverments continue adapting the Pakistan issue as a political stance ? Till when Mr. Modi ?

SIT formed on black money – Team Modi’s first decision

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In its first day in office, Team Modi seems to be bang on job. In its first decision after taking charge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe black money, signalling its intension to crack down on corruption that was a key issue in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The decision was taken in the first meeting of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Modi.

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Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the SIT will have retired justice M B Shah as its head. Secretary revenue, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India, director of the Intelligence Bureau, director of the Enforcement Directorate, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes and director of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) will be among the members. “We are committed to fighting black money,” Prasad said.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

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