Monthly Archives

September 2018

Development

Modi inaugurates the Pakyong Airport in Sikkim

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Pakyong Airport in Sikkim on September 24, nine years after the foundation stone was laid.

The airport is the hilly state’s first and only airport.

PM Modi had spoken about the inauguration of the airport on September 23 during the launch of Centre’s Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission from Ranchi, Jharkhand. The prime minister had said that that it will improve connectivity and benefit the people of Sikkim

Currently, the nearest airport for the people of Sikkim is 124 kilometre (km) away in Bagdogra, West Bengal.

Here’s all you want to know about it:

> The foundation stone for the greenfield airport was laid in Pakyong in 2009, which is around 33 km from Gangtok — the state capital. The airport is located around 60 km from the Indo-China border.

It is constructed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). The project cost Rs 553 crore.

> The airport is seen as an engineering marvel for its soil reinforcement and slope stabilisation techniques, keeping in view the altitude it was built at.

> Integrated structures of the airport comprise of an ATC tower-cum-fire station, a terminal building for passengers, high-intensity runway lights, parking for over 50 vehicles.

> The reinforcement wall of the project is 80-metre-high — one of the tallest in the world.

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Sikkim’s first-ever Airport at #Pakyong decked up for inauguration by Hon’ble PM @narendramodi, a short while from now. #PakyongAirport

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> The runway is 1.75 km long and is 30 metres wide. It has a 116-metre taxiway connecting the runway to an apron measuring 106 metre by 76 metre. The apron can accommodate two ATR-72 aircraft.

> The airport has 3,000 square metre terminal building and has a capacity to handle 50 in-bound and out-bound passengers.

> Although the airport will be inaugurated on September 24, the commercial operations are expected to begin on October 4.

> There is also plan to construct another 75-metre stretch adjacent to the main runway in the coming days, which would allow the Indian Air Force (IAF) to land various types of aircraft on the airport’s runway.(With inputs from PTI)


Politics, Society

When Brecht speaks as Ambedkar

Citing literary sources, turning to parables, prose, plays, poetry is the wherewithal of political discourse

Policemen and policewomen are not mindless digits in khaki. They have all been to school. Many of them are MAs, some PhDs. And they have families, friends just like anyone else who has not been clad in hide-tough uniforms the whole day. When at end of duty hours they return home, get back to home-clothes, settle down to a tired day’s evening, like anyone else, they talk of all they went through during the day, good and bad, honest and wicked, how they had to respond to political orders, ‘high’ influence, low intrigue. They laugh then at the ways of the cunning world of which they have become part, and feel sometimes proud of what they did and sometimes not. And then turn on their television sets to watch not news — of which they have had enough and more — but, to lighten their minds, old and new cinema, hear Lata Mangeshkar singing through the lips of Meena Kumari, or Asha Bhosle through those of Madhubala. In States like West Bengal and Maharashtra, with their strong traditions of theatre and musical arts, they can well go to see a play, ‘with family’, based on old epics or written by bold new playwrights staged in theatre-houses invariably named after Tagore, in his grey-flowing beard or the great Chhatrapati Shivaji in his sharp-pointed black one.

Yet, Bertolt Brecht’s is not a name all policemen on duty in Maharashtra’s Bhima-Koregaon village on January 1, 2018 are likely to have known. The great German playwright is, sadly, ‘niche’. Why sadly? Because he is bound to have amused, inspired, delighted, enthralled the non-kitabi, the not-a-bookworm-at-all as much as the bespectacled ‘intel’. And because Brecht speaks the truth and doesn’t care a hoot whether his truth is seen as the truth or is not. And Brecht’s truth, rather like truth itself, is non-denominational, non-sectarian. The Marathi translation of his timeless play The Good Person of Szechwan is more than likely to have passed by the police force on duty at the village celebrating, as it has done for decades, on that day the great Dalit-Mahar battalion’s vanquishing – disputed by some – of the much stronger army of the Peshwa order known for its rough-handling of Dalits. Only, this year the celebration was the more celebratory, being the centenary year of that 1818 victory. And since one group’s celebration is seen as another group’s lamentation, ‘law and order’ was a concern. And rightly so. Violence and counter-violence saw ‘the law’ swing into action, ‘order’ asserting itself. And months later, arrests are still being made. Has all this been without ‘fear or favour’? The courts will, without doubt, tell us.

Those who know Brecht’s play laugh at lines in it like these:

“I am afraid of making enemies of other mighty men if I favour one of them in particular. Few people can help us, you see, but almost everyone can hurt us.”

“Stomachs rumble even on the emperor’s birthday.”

“The First God: Do people have a hard time here? Wang the water-seller: Good people do.”

“The First God to Shen Te the prostitute: Above all, be good, Shen Te, Farewell!”

“Shen Te: But I am not sure of myself, Illustrious Ones! How can I be good when everything is so expensive?”

“The Second God: We can’t do anything about that. We mustn’t meddle with economics!”

And they would have understood, with a sigh, the line: “No one can be good for long when goodness is not in demand.”

The same play, one of the funniest, wittiest, most profoundly thoughtful and mind-rinsingly disturbing in that genre, has the woman prostitute-protagonist burst out with the words: “Unhappy men! Your brother is assaulted and you shut your eyes! He is hit and assaulted and you are silent!… What sort of a city is this? What sort of people are you? When injustice is done there should be a revolt in the city. And if there is no revolt, it were better that the city should perish in fire before the night falls…”

In Ambedkar’s words

In words that powerfully echo Brecht’s, the architect of our Constitution, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, said in the Constituent Assembly: “How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”ALSO READ‘Ambedkar not just a Dalit icon, but a national leader’

Here is a great, perhaps the greatest, German writer of our times, using a Chinese parable to give the world a touch of truth about the human condition, the human propensity for domination and the human impulse for freedom, justice. And when on January 1, 2018, in the Bhima-Koregaon event these lines with a timeless and location-free message were recited in their Marathi rendering, they were seen as “an incitement to violence”. If, instead of Brecht’s the reciter had cited Babasaheb’s words, would he have been charged with incitement to violence? Today, who can tell?

Mohandas Gandhi was charged, likewise, in the spring of 1922 “for inciting disaffection towards His Majesty’s government” for articles by him published in Young India. In one of them, titled ‘Shaking the Manes’, he used a phrase from then current political discourse and ‘shook’ the Raj. The accused said in his famous trial: “I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system.”

We have our own Brechts.

Just before the declaration of the national emergency in 1975, Jayaprakash Narayan had, before a massive rally in Delhi, quoted the great Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s lines: “Singhasan khali karo ki janata aati hai (vacate your throne, here come the people).” We know what happened thereafter to JP, to India. Also, what happened subsequently to the system that imprisoned him.

We shall see

Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem Hum Dekhenge (We Shall See) is a classic in the same vein, quoted time and again as a call against oppression.

Citing literary sources, turning to parables, prose, plays, poetry is the wherewithal of political discourse. Our Prime Minister has in a Dinkar commemoration cited the same line with pride.

Just as policemen on duty are only human beings in uniform, so are lawyers in black silk. They know true from false, fact from fiction.

India, the theatre from time immemorial of a hundred injustices, a thousand oppressions is also the site of a million awakenings. Therein lies its strength.

Kuchh bat hai (there is that something), as Iqbal sang, about Hindustan that cannot let its self-hood fade. (The Hindu)

By Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of West Bengal, is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University

Development

Sikkim’s Pakyong airport stuns before it flies

Perched between the Himalayan ranges at a height of 4,500 ft, flights from Sikkim’s first ever airport in the small town of Pakyong are set to take off from September 23.

Pakyong airport, sikkim airport

XSikkim will finally get its own airport — the Pakyong airport is perched between the Himalayan ranges at a height of 4,500 ft. 

To visit Sikkim by air means landing at West Bengal’s Bagdogra airport, then travelling 124 km uphill on winding roads to reach its capital, Gangtok. However, from September 23, Sikkim will finally get its own airport — perched between the Himalayan ranges at a height of 4,500 ft! The Pakyong airport will be the country’s 100th functional airport — and on September 23, Prime Minister Narendra Modiwill fly in to inaugurate it.

Pakyong airport, sikkim airport

The Pakyong airport will be the country’s 100th functional airport. Photo Courtesy: Airports Authority of India (AAI)

The greenfield airport — the Northeast’s first — which has been conceived at a budget of Rs 605.59 crore is skilfully engineered to include soil reinforcement and slope stabilisation techniques in context of the altitude it has been built in. 

Pakyong airport, sikkim airport

From October 8, SpiceJet will operate daily flights under the Union Civil Aviation Ministry’s UDAN scheme.

Photo Courtesy: Airports Authority of India (AAI)

“Greenfield airports have their own beauty and merits. You will experience them when flights start operating. Moreover, the airport will have multi-dimensional benefits for Sikkim which will gradually come to the fore with time,” said Ugen T Gyatso Bhutia, Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism department, Government of Sikkim. The airport — located in the small town of Pakyong in East Sikkim — is about 30 km from Gangtok. 

Pakyong airport, sikkim airport

The greenfield airport — the Northeast’s first — which has been conceived at a budget of Rs 605.59 crore. Photo Courtesy: Airports Authority of India (AAI)

Earlier this year, on March 5, the Indian Air Force’s Dornier 228 was tested from Pakyong. Later, SpiceJet followed by conducting test runs of the 78-seater Bombardier Q400 from Kolkata to Pakyong on March 10. This led to security clearances for commercial operations.

Pakyong airport, sikkim airport

The airport — located in the small town of Pakyong in East Sikkim — is about 30 km from Gangtok. 

Photo Courtesy: Airports Authority of India (AAI)

From October 8, SpiceJet will operate daily flights to and from Kolkata and Guwahati under the Union Civil Aviation Ministry’s UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) scheme that aims to enhance regional connectivity. Fare prices are pegged at Rs 2,600.

The airport will be inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi on September 23. Photo Courtesy: Airports Authority of India (AAI)

“Also, gradually, the airport will connect Sikkim with other countries in the region like Bhutan, Kathmandu and Bangkok where people from the state usually go on vacations,” said Bhutia. ( Indian Express)

Photo Courtesy: Airports Authority of India (AAI)

UN

Senior UN gender and youth official sacked over sexual misconduct

Hannah Summers

A senior UN official tasked with promoting gender equality and youth partnerships has been sacked for sexual misconduct following claims made against him by younger male colleagues.

Ravi Karkara, an Indian national based in New York, was dismissed from his post at UN Women on Friday following an investigation lasting nearly 15 months.

In a statement on Monday, the executive director at the division said an investigation into the allegations had upheld findings of sexual misconduct, and the UN was ready to work with police on any further investigation.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the dismissal of Karkara, who was not named in the statement, was the strongest disciplinary measure available within UN rules.

She added: “I can also confirm emphatically that the former staff member cannot be protected by diplomatic immunity.

Sexual harassment and assault rife at United Nations, staff claim

“Although UN Women does not have the authority to prosecute, the UN is guided by its obligation to bring credible allegations of criminal conduct to the attention of the relevant national authorities.”

Karkara was suspended on full pay last year following allegations that included those in a 23-page complaint filed in June 2017 by policy advocate Steve Lee, 25. He said the senior adviser had sent him links to pornography and grabbed his genitals through his trousers when they were alone in a hotel room.

Others, including Muhammad Junaid Mandoori, 26, told the Guardian that they had been stalked online, bombarded with indecent images, and asked for sexual favours in return for opportunities within the UN.Advertisement

Mandoori, who said he had been sexually harassed online for two years, welcomed the news of Karkara’s dismissal. “The decision is a relief for me and other victims. I hope a police investigation will now follow and there will be justice for those affected.”

However, campaigners said the positive steps taken by UN Women should be considered against the backdrop of “deep systematic failings” of the UN at large.

The legal adviser for campaign group Code Blue, Sharanya Kanikkannan, said: “Many of the actions taken by UN Women surpass the actions taken in recent months by other UN entities.

“The same UN organisation which promises to refer this case to the authorities is responsible for sitting on dozens of cases of civilian peacekeepers, from as far back as 2015, among which not a single one has ever been referred to justice.”

Kanikkannan said questions remained unanswered regarding the Karkara case, including the issue of why UN Women had declined to name him, why a copy of the report would not be shared with victims, and why the adviser had not been referred to police earlier in the process.

She said: “Firing a staff member is not a punishment proportionate to the severity of the crime. It remains to be seen if the UN follows through on its obligation to cooperate with the authorities. Its system-wide policy of jumping the line ahead of police action has undoubtedly already jeopardised the justice process.”

The investigation into Karkara was carried out by the UN Development Programme’s Office of Audit and Investigation, which delivered a report to UN Women at the end of August.

Speaking to the Guardian before the announcement, Purna Sen, UN Women’s spokesperson on sexual harassment and discrimination, said she had not been privy to the document so was not aware of how many victims were involved.

And she said the division was unable to name Karkara in its statement due to a General Assembly resolution that protects the privacy of those facing disciplinary action.

However, she added: “While the spotlight has been on the UN in light of the #MeToo movement we hope this a very clear, categorical expression of our actions which are of no tolerance to sexual harassment.”

Sen said that once the executive director was passed the report, a decision was taken as swiftly as possible to impose the maximum possible sanction.

She explained: “This is UN Women showing that we take this seriously, while the executive director has made clear to staff she understands there is still work to be done and we will work to further create a climate where people feel safe to report.”

Since being seconded to her specialist post in March, Sen has been talking to UN employees and holding consultations about how to improve the response to sexual harassment. “It is hoped we can find a harmonised approach to sexual harassment across the UN system,” she said.

Source; The Guaridan. If somebody has experienced abuse by UN officials and want to share story, he/she can contact development@theguardian.com in confidence.

Woman

Why is India so bad for women?

Of all the rich G20 nations, India has been labelled the worst place to be a woman. But how is this possible in a country that prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy?

by Helen Pidd 

Video of a woman being molested in Guwahati, India
A woman being attacked in Guwahati, Assam, has sparked outrage in India.

In an ashram perched high on a hill above the noisy city of Guwahati in north-east India is a small exhibit commemorating the life of India’s most famous son. Alongside an uncomfortable-looking divan where Mahatma Gandhi once slept is a display reminding visitors of something the man himself said in 1921: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex (not the weaker sex).”

One evening two weeks ago, just a few miles downhill, a young student left a bar and was set upon by a gang of at least 18 men. They dragged her into the road by her hair, tried to rip off her clothes and smiled at the cameras that filmed it all. It was around 9.30pm on one of Guwahati’s busiest streets – a chaotic three-lane thoroughfare soundtracked by constantly beeping horns and chugging tuk-tuks. But for at least 20 minutes, no one called the police. They easily could have. Many of those present had phones: they were using them to film the scene as the men yanked up the girl’s vest and tugged at her bra and groped her breasts as she begged for help from passing cars. We know this because a cameraman from the local TV channel was there too, capturing the attack for his viewers’ enjoyment. The woman was abused for 45 minutes before the police arrived.Advertisement

Within half an hour, clips were broadcast on Assam’s NewsLive channel. Watching across town, Sheetal Sharma and Bitopi Dutta were horrified. “I was fuming like anything. There was this horrible, brutal assault being shown on screen – and the most disturbing thing was, the blame was being put on the woman, who, the report emphasised, was drunk,” says Sharma, a 29-year-old feminist activist from the North-East Network, a women’s rights organisation in Guwahati. “The way it was filmed, the camera was panning up and down her body, focusing on her breasts, her thighs,” says Dutta, her 22-year-old colleague.

When the police eventually turned up, they took away the woman, who is 20 or 21 (oddly, Guwahati police claimed not to know exactly). While NewsLive re-played pixellated footage of her attack throughout the night, she was questioned and given a medical examination. No attempt was made to arrest the men whose faces could clearly be seen laughing and jeering on camera. Soon afterwards, the editor-in-chief of NewsLive (who has since resigned) remarked on Twitter that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”.

It was only a few days later, when the clip had gone viral and had been picked up by the national channels in Delhi, that the police were shamed into action. By then, Guwahati residents had taken matters into their own hands, producing an enormous banner that they strung up alongside one of the city’s arterial roads featuring screen grabs of the main suspects. Six days after the attack, the chief minister of Assam, the state where Guwahati is located, ordered the police to arrest a dozen key suspects. He met the victim and promised her 50,000 rupees (£580) compensation.Advertisement

The damage was already irreversible. Most Indians know full well how tough life as a woman can be in the world’s biggest democracy, even 46 years after Indira Gandhi made history as the country’s first female prime minister in 1966. But here, caught on camera, was proof. And in Assam – a state long romanticised as the most female-friendly corner of the country, largely thanks to the matrilineal Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. The nation was outraged.

“We have a woman president, we’ve had a woman prime minister. Yet in 2012, one of the greatest tragedies in our country is that women are on their own when it comes to their own safety,” said a female newsreader on NDTV. She went on to outline another incident in India last week: a group of village elders in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, central India, who banned women from carrying mobile phones, choosing their own husbands or leaving the house unaccompanied or with their heads uncovered. “The story is the same,” said the news anchor. “No respect for women. No respect for our culture. And as far as the law is concerned: who cares?”

There is currently no special law in India against sexual assault or harassment, and only vaginal penetration by a penis counts as rape. Those who molested the woman in Guwahati would be booked for “insulting or outraging the modesty of a woman” or “intruding upon her privacy”. The maximum punishment is a year’s imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

As a columnist in the national Hindustan Times said of the attack: “This is a story of a dangerous decline in Indians and India itself, of not just failing morality but disintegrating public governance when it comes to women.” Samar Halarnkar added: “Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male.”

Halarnkar then offered as proof a survey that caused indignation in India last month: a poll of 370 gender specialists around the world that voted India the worst place to be a woman out of all the G20 countries. It stung – especially as Saudi Arabia was at the second-worst. But the experts were resolute in their choice. “In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labour,” said Gulshun Rehman, health programme development adviser at Save the Children UK, who was one of those polled.

Women on a bus in Chennai, India
 Women travelling on a bus in Chennai, southern India. Photograph: Gustafsson/Rex Features

Look at some statistics and suddenly the survey isn’t so surprising. Sure, India might not be the worst place to be a woman on the planet – its rape record isn’t nearly as bad as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, where more than 400,000 women are raped each year, and female genital mutilation is not widespread, as it is in Somalia. But 45% of Indian girls are married before the age of 18, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (2010); 56,000 maternal deaths were recorded in 2010 (UN Population Fund) and research from Unicef in 2012 found that 52% of adolescent girls (and 57% of adolescent boys) think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife. Plus crimes against women are on the increase: according to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, there was a 7.1% hike in recorded crimes against women between 2010 and 2011 (when there were 228,650 in total). The biggest leap was in cases under the “dowry prohibition act” (up 27.7%), of kidnapping and abduction (up 19.4% year on year) and rape (up 9.2%).

A preference for sons and fear of having to pay a dowry has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the past three decades, according to a 2011 study by the Lancet.

A glance at the Indian media reveals the range of abuse suffered by the nation’s women on a daily basis. Today it was reported that a woman had been stripped and had her head shaved by villagers near Udaipur as punishment for an extramarital affair. Villagers stoned the police when they came to the rescue. In Uttar Pradesh, a woman alleged she was gang raped at a police station – she claimed she was set on by officers after being lured to the Kushinagar station with the promise of a job.

Last Wednesday, a man in Indore was arrested for keeping his wife’s genitals locked. Sohanlal Chouhan, 38, “drilled holes” on her body and, before he went to work each day, would insert a small lock, tucking the keys under his socks. Earlier this month, children were discovered near Bhopal playing with a female foetus they had mistaken for a doll in a bin. In the southern state of Karnataka, a dentist was arrested after his wife accused him of forcing her to drink his urine because she refused to meet dowry demands.

In June, a father beheaded his 20-year-old daughter with a sword in a village in Rajasthan, western India, parading her bleeding head around as a warning to other young women who might fall in love with a lower-caste boy.

This July, the state government in Delhi was summoned to the national high court after failing to amend an outdated law that exempts women (and turban-wearing Sikh men) from wearing helmets on motorcycles – an exemption campaigners argue is indicative of the lack of respect for female life.

But the story that outraged most women in India last week was an interview given to the Indian Express by Mamta Sharma, chairwoman of the National Commission of Women (NCW), a government body tasked with protecting and promoting the interests of Indian women. Asked by the reporter if there should be a dress code for women “to ensure their safety”, Sharma allegedly replied: “After 64 years of freedom, it is not right to give blanket directions … and say don’t wear this or don’t wear that. Be comfortable, but at the same time, be careful about how you dress … Aping the west blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen.”Advertisement

She added: “Westernisation has afflicted our cities the worst. There are no values left. In places like Delhi there is no culture of giving up seats for women. It is unfortunate that while the west is learning from our culture, we are giving ourselves up completely to western ways.”

Her remarks caused a storm. As Sagarika Ghose put it in the online magazine First Post: “It’s not just about blindly aping the west, Ms Sharma. It’s also about the vacuum in the law, lack of security at leisure spots, lack of gender justice, lack of fear of the law, police and judicial apathy and the complete lack of awareness that men and women have the right to enjoy exactly the same kind of leisure activities.”

The Guardian asked Sharma for an interview to clarify her remarks but our requests were ignored.

Maini Mahanta, the editor of the Assamese women’s magazine Nandini (“Daughter”), believes the NCW chair’s remarks are indicative of what she calls the “Taliban-plus” mentality that is creeping into Indian society. “In this part of the world, it’s worse than the Taliban,” she insists in her Guwahati office. “At least the Taliban are open about what they like and dislike. Here, society is so hypocritical. We worship female goddesses and yet fail to protect women from these crimes and then blame them too.”

Women in Bawana, Delhi
 Indian women, such as these three in Bawana, on the outskirts of Delhi, frequently come under pressure to abort female foetuses. Photograph: Gethin Chamberlain

Mahanta explains how traditions still cast women as helpless victims rather than free-thinking individuals in control of their own destiny. Girls still tie Raksha bandhan or “safety ties” around their brothers’ wrists as a symbol of their duty to protect them, she says. She complains, too, about the Manu Sanghita, an ancient Indian book that she claims preaches: “When a girl is young, she is guided by her father; when she is older, she is guided by her husband; when she is very old, she is guided by her son.” She despairs of the cult of the “good girl, who is taught to walk slowly ‘like an elephant’ and not laugh too loud”.Advertisement

Even in Mumbai, India’s most cosmopolitan city, women have been arrested and accused of being prostitutes when drinking in the city’s bars.

Sheetal Sharma and Bitopi Dutta, the young feminists from the North East Network, complain that modern women are divided into “bad” and “good” according to what they wear, whether they go out after dark and whether they drink alcohol. “We are seeing a rise of moral policing, which blames those women who are not seen as being ‘good’,” says Sharma. “So if they are abused in a pub, for example, it’s OK – they have to learn their lesson,” adds Dutta, 22, who grumbles that young women such as herself cannot now hold hands with a boyfriend in a Guwahati park, let alone kiss, without getting into trouble with the moral police, if not the real police.

Many women agree the response from the Guwahati authorities shows they are blind to the root cause: a society that does not truly respect women. Instead, a knee-jerk reaction was taken to force all bars and off-licences to shut by 9.30pm. Club Mint, the bar outside which the young woman was molested, had its licence revoked. Parents were urged to keep a close eye on their daughters.

Zabeen Ahmed, the 50-year-old librarian at Cotton College in Guwahati, tells how she was out for an evening walk not long ago when she was stopped by the police. “They asked me what I was doing out at that at that time – it was 10.30pm or so – and they asked me where my husband was.”

The fact that India has a female president – Pratibha Patil – and Sonia Gandhi in control of the ruling Congress party means very little, insists Monisha Behal, “chairperson” of the North East Network. “In the UK, you have had Margaret Thatcher – if you are being harassed by a hoodlum in the street there, do ask: ‘How can this be when we have had a woman prime minister?'” she says.

Every Indian woman the Guardian spoke to for this article agreed that harassment was part of their everyday lives. Mahanta revealed that she always carries chilli powder in her handbag if she ever has to take public transport and needed to throw it in the face of anyone with wandering hands. Deepika Patar, 24, a journalist at the Seven Sisters newspaper in Assam, says city buses were notorious for gropers. “If women are standing up because there are no seats, men often press up against them, or touch their breasts or bottom,” she explains.

In June, an anonymous Delhi woman wrote a powerful blog post detailing what happened when she dared not to travel in the “ladies carriage” of Delhi’s modern metro. After asking a man not to stand too close to her, things turned nasty. Another man intervened and told the first to back off, but soon the two were having a bloody fight in the train carriage. Rather than break up the brawl, the other passengers turned on the woman, shouting: “This is all your fault. You started this fight. This is all because you came into this coach!” and “You women always do this. You started this fight!” and “Why are you even here? Go to the women’s coach.”Advertisement

Speaking under condition of anonymity, the 35-year-old blogger says she had experienced sexual harassment “tonnes of times”. “I hate to use the word, but I’m afraid it has become ‘normal’,” she says. “Like if you’re in a lift, men will press up against you or grab you or make a comment about your appearance. It’s because of this that I stopped travelling by buses and started travelling by auto rickshaws, and eventually got a car myself – to avoid this ordeal. When the metro was launched I loved it – it’s an improvement in public transport, very well maintained, you feel safe. Then this happened and I was blamed.”

By Thursday last week, the Guwahati molestation case had become even murkier. Police had arrested and charged 12 men with “outraging the public decency of a woman”, and on Friday they charged journalist Gaurav Jyoti Neog of NewsLive with instigating the attack he filmed. Neog denies orchestrating the attack or taking any part in it, apart from filming it “so that the perpetrators can be nabbed”. But police have forced him to give a voice sample, which has been sent to a forensic laboratory for analysis, to compare with the footage. The verdict is out on that case, but one thing is clear: 91 years after Gandhi urged Indian men to treat their women with respect, the lesson has yet to be learned.

• This article was amended on 24 July 2012. The original said brothers tied Raksha Bandhan threads around their sisters’ wrists, when it is the sisters who put the threads on the wrists of their brothers. (This report published in the Guardian on Mon 23 Jul 2012)

Helen Pidd
Helen Pidd, The Guardian
UN

Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

YANGON: Myanmar’s powerful army should be removed from politics, UN investigators said Tuesday (Sep 18) in the final version of a damning report reiterating calls for top generals to be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

A brutal military crackdown last year forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh. Demands have mounted for those who waged the campaign to face justice.

The UN’s 444-page probe is the most meticulous breakdown of the violence to date. It says the military’s top leadership should be overhauled and have no further influence over the country’s governance.

Myanmar’s military dominates the Buddhist-majority nation, holding a quarter of seats in parliament and controlling three ministries, making their grip on power firm despite political reforms which began in 2011.

But the report said the country’s civilian leadership “should further pursue the removal of the Tatmadaw from Myanmar’s political life”, referring to the nation’s armed forces.

The UN’s analysis, based on 18 months’ work and more than 850 in-depth interviews, urges the international community to investigate the military top brass for genocide, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Myanmar’s army has denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting its campaign was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents who staged deadly raids on border posts in August 2017.

But the UN team said the military’s tactics had been “consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”.

The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure.

Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership.

Myanmar only recently emerged from almost a half century of military junta rule and Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals.

Their presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes, making any transition to full civilian control extremely difficult.

ARMY “ATROCITIES”

Three key ministries – home affairs, border and defence – are also in their hands, giving them carte blanche to conduct security operations with little oversight.

“It is impossible to remove the army out of political life without changing the constitution, and the military have a veto over constitutional changes,” Mark Farmaner, from Burma Campaign UK, told AFP.

The UN team said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the atrocities – including systematic murder, rape, torture and arson – were committed with the intention of destroying the stateless Rohingya, warranting the charges of genocide.

The mission, created by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, did not focus its sights entirely on the army.

It directed specific criticism at Suu Kyi, whose global reputation has been shattered by her failure to speak up for the Rohingya against the military.

While acknowledging that the civilian authorities have little influence over military actions, the report said that their “acts and omissions” had “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes”.

Pointing to “deeply entrenched” impunity in Myanmar, the investigators said the only chance to obtain accountability was through the international justice system.

They also pointed to failings of the UN’s office within Myanmar, alleging that “quiet diplomacy” was prioritised and that those who tried to push the UN’s Human Rights Up Front approach were “ignored, criticised, sidelined or blocked in these efforts”.

The independent UN team will present its findings to member states of the Human Rights Council in Geneva later on Tuesday, after which Myanmar will have a chance to respond to the allegations.

It also repeated suggestions that crimes against the Rohingya be referred to the International Criminal Court, which concluded in August that it had jurisdiction to investigate even though Myanmar is not a member of the treaty underpinning the tribunal.

Myanmar has dismissed the tribunal’s authority and analysts have pointed to the court’s lack of enforcement powers.

The investigators also recommended an arms embargo and “targeted individual sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible”

.Source: AFP/a

Development

Bhutan ranks 134 on Human Development Index

Bhutan ranks 134 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2017, climbing a step up from its 135 rank in 2016, according to the Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released online yesterday.

Bhutan’s HDI value at 0.612 puts the country in the medium human development category. A press release from the UN country office states that Bhutan shares its rank with Kiribati.  InSouth Asia, countries that are close to Bhutan in the 2017 HDI rank and to some extent in population size are the Maldives, which ranks 101 and Nepal, 149.

However, when the value is discounted for inequality, the HDI drops to 0.446, a loss of 27.2 percent due to inequality in the distribution of the HDI dimension indices, the press release states. The Maldives and Nepal show losses due to inequality of 23.4 percent and 25.6 percent respectively. The average loss due to inequality for medium HDI countries is 25.1 percent and 26.1 percent for South Asia.

Between 2005 and 2017, Bhutan’s HDI value increased from 0.510 to 0.612, an increase of 20.1 percent. Between 1990 and 2017, Bhutan’s life expectancy at birth increased by 17.7 years, mean years of schooling by 0.8 years, expected years of schooling by 6.9 years and GNI per capita by about 284.2 percent.

Bhutan has a Gender Inequality Index value of 0.476, ranking it 117 out of 160 countries in the 2017 index. The country has 8.3 percent of parliamentary seats held by women, and 6 percent of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education compared to 13.7 percent of their male counterparts. For every 100,000 live births, 148 women die from pregnancy related causes. Female participation in the labour market is 58 percent compared to 74.3 for men. In comparison, Maldives ranks 76 and Nepal 118 on this index.

The top five countries in the HID rankings are Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, and Germany while the bottom five are Burundi, Chad, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Niger.

The Human Development Index focuses on three basic dimensions of human development: the ability to lead a long and healthy life, measured by life expectancy at birth; the ability to acquire knowledge, measured by mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling; and the ability to achieve a decent standard of living, measured by gross national income per capita.

The 2018 Statistical Update highlights that across the world, people are living longer, are more educated and have greater livelihood opportunities.

The average lifespan is seven years longer than it was in 1990, and more than 130 countries have universal enrollment in primary education. However, progress since 1990 has not always been steady. Some countries suffered reversals due to conflicts, epidemics or economic crises. Human deprivations remain high despite overall progress, the press release states.

When taking into account inequality in the distribution of achievements of HDI indicators, the global HDI of 0.728 in 2017 falls to 0.582, representing a 20 percent loss and a drop from the high to the medium HDI category. Worldwide inequality in the distribution of income is the highest (22.6 percent) followed by inequality in achievements in education (22.0 percent) and health (15.2 percent).

By region, Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest regional loss in the HDI because of inequality (30.8 percent), followed by South Asia (26.1 percent) and the Arab States (25.1 percent). Europe and Central Asia remain the regions with the lowest overall losses in HDI from inequality at 11.7 percent.

The statistical update also indicates that women have lower HDI than men across regions and face specific barriers to empowerment all through life. Worldwide, the average HDI for women is 6 percent lower than for men. The HDI for men is 0.749 while for women it is 0.705. At the global level, the gap in HDI between women and men is due to women’s lower income and educational attainment in many countries.

At the global level, 44 percent of combined achievements in reproductive health, empowerment and labour market is lost due to inequality in achievements between men and women in these dimensions, as measured by the Gender Inequality index.Among developing regions, Europe and Central Asia have the smallest inequality between men and women (with a GII of 27 percent). Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest GII (of 57 percent), followed by the Arab States (53 percent) and South Asia (52 percent).

Nature

Famous Theory Of The Living Earth

A time-honoured theory into why conditions on Earth have remained stable enough for life to evolve over billions of years has been given a new, innovative twist.

For around half a century, the ‘Gaia’ hypothesis has provided a unique way of understanding how life has persisted on Earth.

It champions the idea that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings evolved together as a single, self-regulating system that has kept the planet habitable for life – despite threats such as a brightening Sun, volcanoes and meteorite strikes.

However, Professor Tim Lenton from the University of Exeter and famed French sociologist of science Professor Bruno Latour are now arguing that humans have the potential to ‘upgrade’ this planetary operating system to create “Gaia 2.0”.

They believe that the evolution of both humans and their technology could add a new level of “self-awareness” to Earth’s self-regulation, which is at the heart of the original Gaia theory.

As humans become more aware of the global consequences of their actions, including climate change, a new kind of deliberate self-regulation becomes possible where we limit our impacts on the planet.

Professors Lenton and Latour suggest that this “conscience choice” to self-regulate introduces a “fundamental new state of Gaia” – which could help us achieve greater global sustainability in the future.

However, such self-aware self-regulation relies on our ability to continually monitor and model the state of the planet and our effects upon it.

Professor Lenton, Director of Exeter’s new Global Systems Institute, said: “If we are to create a better world for the growing human population this century then we need to regulate our impacts on our life support-system, and deliberately create a more circular economy that relies – like the biosphere – on the recycling of materials powered by sustainable energy.”

The original Gaia Theory was developed in the late 1960’s by James Lovelock, a British scientist and inventor. It suggested that both the organic and inorganic components of Earth evolved together as one single, self-regulating system which can control global temperature and atmospheric composition to maintain its own habitability.

The new perspective article is published in leading journal Science on September 14, 2018.

It follows recent research, led by Professor Lenton, which offered a fresh solution to how the Gaia hypothesis works in real terms: Stability comes from “sequential selection” in which situations where life destabilises the environment tend to be short-lived and result in further change until a stable situation emerges, which then tends to persist.

Once this happens, the system has more time to acquire further properties that help to stabilise and maintain it – a process known as “selection by survival alone”.

Creating transformative solutions to the global changes that humans are now causing is a key focus of the University of Exeter’s new Global Systems Institute. (The Eurasia Review)

Water

Locals in Bhutan and India join across border to manage a river

INDIA CLIMATE DIALOGUE

The experience of managing the Saralbhanga River, which flows from Bhutan to India, shows the importance of peoples’ participation for effective cooperation in transboundary river.

There are as many as 56 rivers that flow down from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the eastern state of Assam in India to meet the Brahmaputra River. The hills of Bhutan are covered with lush forests, but on the Indian side of the border are vast tracts of dry plains with occasional patches of severely denuded forests.

A large share of Bhutan’s revenue comes from hydropower projects, although it has been declining over the years, from 44.6% in 2001 to 20% in 2013.

Most of these hydropower projects have been developed in cooperation with India. Bhutan currently has an installed hydropower capacity of 1,488 MW, although it hopes to increase this to 20,000 MW.

All the rivers flowing from Bhutan to India have changed their behaviour dramatically in the last decade – long periods of dryness, shallow flow and then repeated flash floods, followed by massive amount of silt, sand, sediments, stones and boulders hurtling downstream across the border into India, constantly altering the river’s course and causing hardships and misery to people on both banks and both side of borders.

Downstream riparian communities in Assam have been regularly raising alarms about these developments, worried that the plans to build more dams in Bhutan will lead to increased flooding, erosion and more destruction than good. The Bhutanese government and their Indian dam consultants were dismissive about these objections in the past, but the rapid and extreme changes in weather patterns in the recent past has upset all predictions and is now shaping the future course of the river and Bhutan’s relationship with India

The inhabitants of the India-Bhutan border are among the poorest of the region. The mostly tribal population is recovering from intermittent internecine periods of ethnic conflict and armed clashes in Assam that has displaced over 400,000 people since 1996

Mass exodus and internal migration have affected employment, land rights and traditional occupations, making many returning families depend heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods. Some 70% of the region’s population is food and energy deficient, a proportion almost as high as that in a desert region.

The flash floods in Bhutan’s Sarpang district in 2016 had wreaked havoc in downstream areas in Assam’s Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, with the excessive silt turning large tracts of farmland into desert. The silt flow was so huge that the hundreds of farmers in Patgaon, located around 30 bkm to the north and close to National Highway 31, cannot cultivate rice even now.

On July 21, 2017, the town of Sarpang Bazar was entirely washed away by floodwaters, when the Sarpang River broke its banks again, cutting off the road to the border town of Gelephu. There were 52 families that were left homeless after continuous and heavy rainfall.

With floodwaters and landslides cutting off the highway from Phuentsholing on the Bhutan-India border, landslides brought down power transmission lines and many parts of Bhutan were without electricity. The department of roads reported that nine gewogs (districts) were totally cut off.

After the flash floods, Bhutan began mitigation measures by trying to divert the river away from human settlements. One of the controversial decisions is to allow stone miners to retrieve and sell stones and boulders from the riverbed and is being opposed by a few organisations.


Controversial measure

Another controversial measure was to embargo the building of check dams by Indian farmers from Saralpara area of Kokrajhar district. Without water from the traditional Jamfwi check dams, the farmers downstream cannot irrigate their crops. This caused much concern and consternation among downstream communities.

Any changes in the river, its flow, its course and its siltation affects farmers adversely. Upstream damming and increased landslides in the mountains have changed once perennial sources of water into dry rivulets in winter. Without irrigation, most farmers are unable to cultivate their land. Women have to go long distances to fetch water for their homes.

The Saralbhanga River (also called Swrmanga) that flows from Sarphang district of Bhutan to Assam in India. About 500 farmers from five villages close to the international border contribute to building, repairing and maintaining this check dam on the river, a traditional diversion based Irrigation system of the Bodo tribe, which is called the Dongo or Jamfwi system.

The Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system channels water across the border in India through a labyrinth of small canals to irrigate rice and vegetable farms. Communities on both sides of the India-Bhutan border consume the produce.

Anarsingh Iswari, a leader of the Akhand Buryogari Bandh Committee in Navnagar, grows paddy, kaala dal and ginger using the traditional irrigation system. When the Bhutan government put an embargo on building of check dams, Anarsingh and Raju Kumar Narzary, executive director of the Northeast Research and Social Work Networking (NERSWN), a Kokrajhar-based NGO and members of All Bodo Students Union, Bodo Women’s Forum for Peace and Development, met the officials of Bhutan India Friendship Association (BIFA) to raise the concerns of the farmers

Traditional irrigation triumphs

The BIFA officials facilitated an urgent meeting with the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Sarphang district of Bhutan and after understanding the plight of the farmers, the Bhutanese officials agreed to allow the farmers to continue to build check dams and also decided help the farmers divert the water of Saralbhanga River for irrigation purposes, which they have been doing for centuries. This has given a huge relief to at least 5,000 farmers.

For 18-year-old Azlka Musahary, a student who helps her family in their farm, this has come as great relief, mainly because she has to walk a shorter distance to collect water for their household needs. Longer conversations with women of the village reveal how central the Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system is to the survival of the villagers.

At the community level, women participate in all decision-making around the quantum of water to be lifted for each household and the contribution to the maintenance of the irrigation system.

It is the women who have the most at stake and are the ones who want a more permanent solution, a treaty between the two countries if possible, so that there is better conversations on both sides of the border on flow of water.

“Water issues in river basins are becoming more and more complex and far reaching at all levels — local, regional, and national. The story of conflict resolution on Saralbhanga River is a great example of successful people to people engagement supported by administration on both sides,” Animesh Prakash of Oxfam India told indiaclimatedialogue.net. , Prakash is in Oxfam’s TROSA project, which aims to contribute to poverty reduction and to reduce marginalisation of vulnerable river basin communities. The project plans to do this through increased community access to and control over riverine water resources.

“We need to build on the foundation set by the students union and civil society on both sides of the border with continued strategic engagement to promote collective actions to mitigate and adapt to the climate change induced havoc playing out in these parts of western Assam. Peace is essential for implementation of any poverty alleviation and development programme in the region,” Prakash added.

Clearly, this successful interaction has led to increasing interest among local civil society organisations to participate in processes to influence practices at all levels in integrated water resource management that is more inclusive of community concerns.

“The golden anniversary of India-Bhutan Friendship offers a perfect opportunity for both the governments to explore how best to cooperate for joint projects to mitigate and adapt to the vagaries of our rivers in interest of citizens of both our countries,” Ugyen Rabten, Chairperson of Bhutan India Friendship Association, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “His Majesty the King of Bhutan has repeatedly expressed his interest in building on the past good relations with India to alleviate poverty and sufferings on both sides of the border and what better opportunity than to deal with this clear and present danger posed by the this devastating consequence of climate change.”

Saralbhanga05

This report is part of ongoing documentation by the author of Oxfam India’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project in India. This five-year (2017-2021) regional programme funded by the Government of Sweden works with communities in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) in Nepal, India and Bangladesh and the Salween in Myanmar.

Flood

76 Villages Submerged In Assam As Heavy Rains Force Dam To Be Opened

Neepco authorities at Yajuli in Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh were compelled to open three gates of the Ranganadi dam on Thursday due to the river overflowing.

Heavy rains in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have led to the Ranganadi dam being opened, which resulted in 76 villages in Assam being submerged and the lives of thousands being affected.

Neepco authorities at Yajuli in Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh were compelled to open three gates of the Ranganadi dam on Thursday due to the river overflowing.

The release of dam water has submerged 76 villages in Lakhimpur district, impacting nearly 25,000 people. The swirling waters have damaged 3,560 hectares of standing crop.

The Lakhimpur district administration had on Thursday evening alerted people to be cautious but not panic over the release of excess water from Ranganadi reservoir.

On March 11 last year, release of dam water had resulted in the Ranganadi wreaking havoc in 220 villages, breaching embankments at Amtola and near Lakhimpur.

Over one lakh people have been affected by the heavy rains and flash floods in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Ferry services in Assam, where six districts experienced flash floods, have been stopped due to the rising river waters.

Assam’s Dhemaji district, known for its perennial floods, is teetering on the brink with 173 villages inundated, affecting 47,471 people. Nearly 7,108 hectares of standing crop have been damaged. The district administration has opened three relief camps where 805 inmates have taken shelter.

A portion of bridge number 693 over Jiadhal river between Dhemaji and Bordoloni stations has been washed away.

The Northeast Frontier Railways said eight trains have been short terminated or cancelled.

In Arunachal Pradesh’s capital Itanagar, incessant rain since Thursday has caused heavy flash floods resulting in a child’s death and three people missing. Three more people have died in the state due to floods and landslides.

Early on Friday, a massive landslide triggered by rains has blocked roads in the state’s Papum Pare district. Reportedly a Tata Sumo with 10 passengers was buried under the landslide. However, all 10 have been rescued. Landslides triggered by rains has become a common situation. Many spots at the Yupia-Potin Trans-Arunachal Highway have been blocked due to the landslides. (NDTV)