Category Archives: News

Dongria Kondh – victims of harassment, beatings and torture

Some of you will know that I have been following this subject closely since my first visit to Orissa (now Odisha) in 1999. The Vedanta Company wanted to take vast quantities of high grade bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills which are sacred to the Dongria tribe. The case went to the Supreme Court and the decision left to the tribe who rejected Vedanta’s proposal. It appears that Vedanta continue in their quest using insidious methods including harassment.

Please read the link below and I hope you will sign this important petition. Thank you.

The Dongria Kondh are victims of violent and systematic attacks by state policeSurvival International

Survival International – uncontacted tribes

Survival International is a great cause. Please watch this 3 min clip about uncontacted tribes and support. Click on the highlight or double click on the image to open in a new window.


Remember the huge support they gave to the Dongria Kondh tribe in their battles against Vedanta’s proposals to remove 30 metres of Bauxite from the top of the sacred Niyamgiri hills in Odisha.

National Tribal Resource Centre – Vanjeevan

The Ministry for Tribal Affairs has launched a Tribal Resource Centre in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha (formerly Orissa) State. It is known as Vanjeevan and here are self-explanatory articles from the Orissa Post and the Times of India. This seems to be the Centre’s new website and as I understand it Vanjeevan as an overarching NGO. Please post a comment if you know anything more. Thanks.

Artangel – Reading Gaol, a short reprieve

oscar-wildes-cell-door

Oscar Wilde’s cell door

A great cultural event is going on in Reading, in a prison of all places. The New County Gaol was opened in 1844 as a prototype and partly based by on the design of Pentonville Prison in London. The architect was George Gilbert Scott who was later to achieve fame for his iconic design of the Midland Hotel at St. Pancras and the Albert Memorial. He was followed by architect sons and grandsons, notably Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to whom we owe the K2 red telephone box and Liverpool Cathedral. This venue is fascinating in itself and there is much to learn about prison life, the inmates, the public hangings, the exercise wheel, and the Chapel where no prisoner could see another.

Oscar Wilde brought fame to Reading Gaol for reasons that are almost unimaginable today. But this major art event is not only about him, his writings such as De Profundis (letters to Bosie), it is also about others who were homosexual, incarcerated, trapped, abused, rejected and so on. I was greatly moved by a letter from Binyavanga Wainaina to his dead mother, in which he reveals his love for another man; he could not say this while he was a live. It’s wrong I suppose to pick on a couple of people that touched me but I had never heard of Marlene Dumas. She conveys intense emotions through slightly awkward portraits of people such as Jean Genet with minimal colour. These are haunting images.

When I went yesterday a film-maker was a making a video to transmit in Brazil News. This is a worldwide event and must be seen if you can. It was due to end shortly but it has proved to be so popular that it will continue until 4th December 2016. Click on Artangel Reading for more information all necessary contacts.

Kashmir news: “the more biased the better”

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Courtesy of Reuters/Danish Ismail

The recent news from Kashmir of stone pelting, firing metal pellets etc. at children and ‘protestors’ has been reported widely but rarely has it been put in the context of how reporters have to work these days. This article from Scroll-in by David Devadas describes how things have changed over the years and how little respect many reporters now enjoy. I don’t think this is unique to Kashmir. The speed at which news travels and the thirst for a scoop has got way out of order. Incidentally I have experienced this recently first-hand in the UK. The article is well worth reading.

Kashmir – why India must not blink

Things have been hotting up lately with the death of the young Burwan Wani of the Hizbul Mujahideen and his orchestrated funeral which has virtually made him into a martyr. This article “why India must not blink” strikes me as very clear and even handed for those who want to take Pakistan out of the equation. Swarajya describes itself as “a big tent for liberal right of centre discourse that reaches out, engages and caters to the new India”

Kashmir – The Pandit Questions

Recently I took part in a Q and A discussion with Vinayak Razdan, a writer and game developer based in Kochi. We had met last year travelling in Kashmir and talked about his homeland, the effect of the militancy, that started in 1989/90 on Kashmiri Muslims who fled and Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) who were forced out of the Valley, the Indian Army, Pakistan, and the many issues that still face the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Last Saturday 21st May the Economic & Political Weekly published one of our conversations, which follows the pronouncement by PM Narendra Modi of his wish to establish three colonies so that Kashmiri Pandits can return to the Valley. The article is titled ‘The Pandit Questions‘ – please click on the highlight to read the article.

Supreme Court: Final decision for the Dongria Kondhs

It camDongria Kondh groupe as no surprise that the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), which holds the lease for land in the bauxite laden Niyamgiri Hills, would try a rerun to get last October’s decision overturned. This would enable the huge Vedanta Mining Co. to strip millions of tonnes of bauxite to supply its well-established enormous Lanjigarh refinery.  The OMC asked for a referendum in January and this time the Supreme Court has said ‘NO’. For now the homeland of the Dongria Kondh is safe.

Here is a news item from Survival International published yesterday.

On Monday 23rd May Vedanta published a rebuttal saying “to date neither OMC nor Vedanta has acquired any land in the Niyamgiri Hill ranges” and Vedanta “is not seeking to source bauxite from Niyamgiri bauxite deposits for its alumina refinery operations, and will not do so unless we have the consent of the local communities.”

Sachin and who? 10 April 2016

The papers and TV have been full of images of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their first visit to India and what a start. Never mind the dress let’s play cricket!

42 year-old Sachin Tendulkar, the worldwide legend, turned up at the Oval Maidan in Mumbai for a game with local children and the Royals of course. A journalist friend has kindly sent these excellent photographs which tell the story. And take a look at Kate’s determined expression.

Kate and Sachin - 10 April 2016

Photos courtesy of Anil Raina of Mumbai Mirror

Kate and Sachin 2 - 10 April 2016 Kate with bat - 10 April 2016

There is a more serious side which is to promote awareness for children’s’ charities.

News: Collapsed flyover, Kolkata. 31st March 2016

Collapsed Flyover - Kolkata - 31 March 2016This flyover was under construction in a densely populated area of Kolkata. Early this morning a section collapsed in five seconds and trapped people underneath. Many people came to the rescue and to remove rubble by hand. Large machines could not get near.

So far eighteen people are feared to be dead. The cause is not known and will be investigated. There is a suspicion that the materials used by subcontractors were inadequate; builders say it was an “Act of “God”.

On a recent visit to Central India I saw many other such flyovers being built over the centre of large towns.

Paris – multiple terrorist attacks

As I write this I am listening to the radio at night. Only two hours ago there was a report of a shooting in a restaurant close to the Stade de France where France was playing in a friendly football match against Germany. Several people were shot dead, currently believed to be 40.

Since then there have been five more shootings across Paris and it seems like a coordinated terrorist attack. Continue reading

Earthquake

As I awoke today Sky news announced a massive earthquake somewhere in Pakistan, Afghanistan and North India. Clearly this was a big one and as it turned out during the day the epicentre was near Jurm, Badakhshan, Afghanistan and recorded as 7.5 on the Richter scale. It was enough to stop the Metro in New Delhi for fifteen minutes, 1200 miles away, but much more seriously at least 280 people nearer to the source have been killed so far. That number is likely to increase.

With the wonders of modern Internet, when it’s working in North India, we were able to establish within just a few minutes that our friends in Kashmir were safe.

Kashmir houseboats – craftsmanship

Names such as Leh, Ladakh, Shalimar, Kashmir, and Amritsar arouse, excite, and beckon any curious traveller. Last year our regular agents TransIndus in London put together one of our most memorable trips. We had not been that far north in India and like many others before us were hooked by Kashmir. Through Mascot Houseboats (new website imminent) I learnt about the curious phenomenon of the houseboat born out of Maharajah Ranbir Singh’s refusal in the 1880s to allow outsiders like the British to cool off in the summer months and build on Kashmiri land. Thus this amazing floating tradition was established.

Nageen Lake - Srinagar

Nageen Lake – Srinagar

I have written about the record-breaking floods of September but it never occurred to me that some people would not know about the houseboats of Kashmir. So above is a general view across Nageen Lake that gives some idea. The boats, in varying condition, are big too, anything from 60 to 150 feet long, with two to four bedroom suites and about 14 feet wide. Then there is a small pantry for serving the dining room, a large lounge leading to the num or verandah. A true palace.
It is the craftsmanship that really impresses. I was lucky to see various stages in the restoration of a near wrecked hulk hauled out of the mud and after two years work, a mountain of bureaucracy, permits etc. it is due to be complete and ready for letting this month. Everything is carved and these two photographs just hint at the quality. It may even be the last of such fine work.

Kashmir Garden – unfinished panel (detail) with the carving tools

Chinar tree above the bed

Chinar tree (detail) above the bed.

Dholavira – step well discovery

Dholavira - Large tank from east gateway

Large tank from east gateway 2010

The Archaeological Survey of India has discovered a 5000 year-old step well at Dholavira according to the Times of India. Moreover it is three times the size of the Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro, one of its best known structures. Overall the reservoir is rectangular – 73.4m long x 29.3m wide and 10 m deep. It seems that this discovery shows a deeper excavation with rough steps down to the water level. The superintending ASI archaeologist thinks there may be other reservoirs and wells yet to be discovered and spot analyses will be done in December. And he hopes to find the ancient shoreline when Dholavira was a significant port. This find raises the reservoir to be greatest known ancient example in India.

 

 

Dholavira step well - Oct 2014

Step well – Oct 2014

Anyone who has been to Dholavira from Bhuj will know that it’s not a casual outing. An early start, chai at Raipur, a long country drive northwards, then the long causeway across the Rann of Kutch to Khadir Island, which was once a major link to open sea and is now enclosed by salt flats. When I got to the museum no one was there apart from the curator who locked up and showed us round, quite an experience. Even then there were at least 16 large fresh water reservoirs fed by monsoon channels. Only discovered in 1967 Dholavira is acknowledged to be one of the top five Indus Valley Civilisation cities. Now its importance has gone up even further and worth a major detour.

 

Kashmir: Nageen Lake – leaving

It has taken months of work to rescue the hull of an old houseboat which now lies in a cut and restore it. It’s nearly finished and our friend is very keen that we should see it before we go. The whole boat is made from Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara) noted for its rot resistant characteristics. The carpenters quickly make a neat bridge between these two boats that parted in the storm.
It is truly fantastic. The num or verandah leads to a huge lounge which will have a chandelier in the ceiling backed by a six-foot diameter ornate dish, then a dining room followed by four magnificent bedroom suites. But the most remarkable feature is the carving, every panel is carved and each room features something special, a chinar tree, paisley design and my favourite the Kashmir garden. The last will have a massive four-poster bed. And there is a suite above. Putting the flood behind them everyone is working flat out to get this unique masterpiece into use. Hopefully pictures to follow.

Nageen lake after the rain

Nageen Lake

The water is going down fast even though the sluices at Dal Gate are damaged. The emotional tension is easing and we have booked a flight from the reopened Srinagar airport. It’s time to get ready which means a bucket bath (water boiled in a giant pan on the roof) and some casual packing. We have got to know this family very well in a short time and feel part of it. But we are leaving for safer places whilst they have to rebuild their lives and business. Several have ant bites that have become infected, a damaged shoulder when saving someone from drowning, spectacles lost in the water just after an eye operation, bruises from a fall and so on. We leave what medication we can. As ever they are cheerful and we are sad to be leaving.

In the morning we are taken by a canoe boat along the lake and slide into the mud bank, climb up to a waiting car. Our journey involves a few detours and the true impact of this disaster becomes clear; a small sunlit vegetable market on dry land is reassuring, a dual carriageway with the wide central reservation full of makeshift tarpaulin and polythene tents, the people look numb. No sanitation, no water, unmanned first aid posts, no local officials etc. Everything seems to have been left to the Indian Army. Two wheels on the kerb and two in deep water but on the road. The Hospital seems just about open, a cemetery washed open and bodies exposed, a sheep wanders about and the stench of death is unbearable. Many housing areas in the city are flooded and these parts are low-lying which will need pumping out. Lots of teenagers wandering around and not knowing what to do, just wait until the floods go down.

After twenty years of militancy and uncertain political power, economic recovery was underway. This catastrophe is a cruel blow. We will go back in November nonetheless.

From my diary – 17 September 2014

Kashmir: Nageen Lake – waiting

Yaseen and me on the HB - Sept 14

Searching for any IT connection

It hasn’t rained for a couple of days, clothes, carpets, shawls dry in the sun on the roof and then are carefully folded and stored with other salvage from the house, which is now a wet wrecked shell. It’s bright and there are things to do but there is a feeling of emptiness, waiting for more rain or perhaps even the waters to go down.

A brother has returned from New Delhi wading for 2km chest high to reach his family, he is shocked. He has seen it all on TV, the aerial shots, submerged cars, rescue centres, makeshift camps, and the rusty red floodwater. We have seen nothing of this and have just heard rumours and a few helicopters. At last the generator kicks in and everyone gathers to watch NDTV News, in silence and disbelief. There are over one million people in Srinagar city and the sinuous Jhelum River has just burst its banks at Lal Chowk and thrust water right into its heart.
Next day Nageen looks beautiful. The chinar tree trunks look shorter, the children’s’ swings on the other bank are missing, some houseboats have rolled over but ours follows the water level. Noah knew about this.

The resourceful cook has found an obscure link to a phone network which can only be reached by sitting high on the ridge of the boat. At last we get a message to one daughter to say ‘we are safe’ and then it cuts out. Satellite is used by the Indian Army only; we are too near the Pakistan border. They are doing a fantastic job though and no doubt this will annoy the militant separatists. At the moment though it is a matter of survival.
Perhaps the water has peaked. There is time for the head of the family to tell us how he is descended from the Muslim prisoner and later emperor Timur and a marriage to a beautiful woman who migrated to Kashmir centuries ago. He talks beautifully.
There is a call “Come on the roof deck”. There is an exceptionally fine full moon in an inky blue sky with puffy clouds sliding past. In England this would be a Harvest Moon but here the crops are largely ruined, apple orchards lost, no saffron fields, and rice paddies washed away.

From my diary – September 2014

Kashmir – from Nageen Lake – Post 2

At 8am there is a single thunderclap. A couple of minutes later there are two more then suddenly the whole valley is rumbling as thunder rolls ominously round the hills. This must mean rain. And just after the water level has dropped two feet down to ten above normal. Things have been just about under control which is to say the house and garden completely flooded and about a dozen of the family are living in a tiny house just above flood level. The houseboat goes up and down with the water and travel is by a paddled canoe boat. This is now Kashmir’s worst flood for a 100 years.

I look out and there are a few expanding rings on Nageen. A moment later there is a deluge and it is impossible to see the other side of the lake. The noise on the roof is colossal, it’s hailstones. The Hanji (boatpeople) have come from the house as the wind whips up and pulls at the steel ties. One of the props has snapped and the new boat thumps into ours which is shunted along; it’s serious now in spite of all the precautions.

New props are placed, both boats re-tethered, and fingers crossed. There are waves on the lake now and the houseboat is starting to roll. After nearly an hour the storm moves east and we are all safe. It is time for breakfast, fruit juice and birthday cake left over from last night.

My admiration for these resourceful, caring and friendly people is beyond words.

Nageen Lake, Kashmir, 14 September 2014