|Thursday, May 25, 2000,
Total nuclear disarmament
it really the plague in Surat?
May 25, 1925
NEW DELHI is convinced that the LTTE is poised to win the Jaffna battle and hence its offer to help evacuate around 30,000 soldiers from the region. It says it is waiting for a formal request before giving the defence forces the nod to put its plan to action. This is clearly reversing the normal order of things.Courtesy and friendly relations demanded that India announce its contingency plan after Sri Lanka openly sought help, not in advance. As it is, the Tuesday announcement cannot but demoralise the desperate soldiers and greatly cheer the LTTE. Radio news would have breached the censorship wall in the island and the ground situation would have shifted perceptibly in favour of the separatists. Ironically, at about the time India announced its readiness, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga was talking of retaining Jaffna at all costs and promising soldiers modern weapons.Why did the Indian government go public? Obviously, it has some information indicating an early and imminent fall of Jaffna, which it is reluctant to share with the people. Or, is it under pressure from the pro-LTTE outfits in Tamil Nadu to force the hands of the Kumaratunga government? It is long known that the government is vulnerable and Mr Vaiko, a high-profile LTTE supporter, met the Prime Minister just before the crucial Cabinet Committee meeting.
The flurry of activities
during the first two days of the week shows how excited
this government is. The Prime Minister cancelled a visit
to Bhopal (indicating that he expected a dramatic
development any minute), the Cabinet Committee on
Security met thrice and the defence chiefs had their own
brainstorming session. Within hours US Under Secretary of
State for Asia Thomas Pickering and the Norwegian team
arrived to discuss the grave situation. Incidentally, one
of the ideas gaining support is to persuade the LTTE to
agree to a ceasefire and then goad it to join
negotiations on devolution of power in a genuinely
federal set-up. If it indeed is the case, the evacuation
talk has damaged its chance of success. A ceasefire will
allow the presence of around 30,000 soldiers in the
Jaffna area, greatly restricting the control of the LTTE.
With that restraint, it would have a stake in the talks
with the government. If it can take over the region
through military means, it gains handsomely on two
counts. One, the government will be forced to abandon any
thought of ever defeating the LTTE and, two, the huge
stockpile of arm and ammunition will fall in its hands
since the LTTE will not extend safe passage to hundreds
of tonnes of military hardware and India has refused the
Sri Lankan government any help in shifting the arms.
Committed opponents of terrorism would regret the
premature announcement about de-induction of soldiers and
would like to believe that it was impulsive and not part
of an elaborate plan.
COPIES of the British Court of Appeal verdict in the Lashkar-e-Toiba case should be sent to international forums dealing with the transnational aspects of terrorism. The court has added a significant chapter to the international jurisprudence on the subject. The significance of the verdict lies in its bold interpretation of the threat to national security from terrorist groups in the context of the world having become a global village. The three-judge Bench upheld the appeal of British Home Secretary Jack Straws seeking the deportation of a Pakistani cleric, Shafiq-ur-Rahman, head of the British wing of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which trains and sends terrorists to Kashmir. It goes without saying that the judgement upholding the Home Office's order for Rahman's deportation should be of special interest to India which has appealed to the global community to declare Pakistan a terrorist state for allowing training and transit facilities to terrorist groups active in Kashmir. The Lashkar is among the fastest growing terrorist organisations in Pakistan. It played a key role in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar via Lahore in December last year. Rahman has been identified as the brain behind the recruitment and training of British Muslims for jehad against India in Kashmir. The judgement overrules the order, of the newly constituted Special Immigration Appeals Commission, upholding Rahman's plea that his activities did not constitute a threat to Britain's security.
The case had attracted
wide notice because several M15 and M16 operatives had
testified from behind screens during the trial last
August. It was conclusively proved that he worked for
Markaz Dawat-ul-Irshad which had links with Lashkar and
other Mujahideen groups. Crucial evidence about his role
in masterminding terrorist attacks in Kashmir from
British soil was given by the head of the Security
Service branch monitoring subversive activities in the
Indian subcontinent. The testimony laid emphasis on the
fact that Rahman's activities in Britain posed a threat
to national security. It was forcefully argued that
"we see terrorism as a collective responsibility and
that terrorism in other parts of the world can affect
other countries. We don't accept that a threat to
national security has to be directed at a UK person. It
is broader than that". Of course, the defence tried
to give the case a communal tinge by stating that the
order against Rahman was being seen by the Muslims in
Britain "as an attempt by India to use immigration
laws to get the deportation of a holy member of the
British community". The Court of Appeal rejected
Rahman's defence as not based on logic or law and upheld
the wider interpretation that an activity constituting an
offence and danger to national security need not be
against Britain itself. The British court's ruling that
the promotion of terrorism against any State was capable
of endangering national security, help members of the
global village to build a consensus, irrespective of the
outcome of the appeal before the House of Lords, in
favour of evolving a common strategy for combating
terrorism in any part of the globe by treating it as a
"common threat" to world security. Sticking to
the old notion of national security in an increasingly
insecure world indeed makes little sense.
IF you are placed too close to a person or event, objective evaluation becomes rather difficult. Only from a distance can you see things in a perspective. Different persons in India may give different marks to Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister, depending more on their own political affiliations than his actual contribution. But a survey conducted by the prestigious Asiaweek magazine published from Hong Kong has given him exceptionally high grades, so much so that it has chosen him to head Asia's dream Cabinet. This rare honour has come to him because of his achievements within India as well as in the international arena. His biggest plus point has been his adroitness in the "diplomatic humbling" of Pakistan. It has been acknowledged that he had a major role to play in the geopolitical swing of President Clinton towards India after drawing the curtain on that country's special relationship with Pakistan. Incidentally, there is not a single Pakistani in the dream cabinet. Mr Vajpayee was also successful in neutralising a Pakistan-backed invasion of Kashmir. Among his internal achievements were the taming of hardliners in his coalition government and the routing of the Congress Party in the general election.
Mr Vajpayee has perhaps the longest parliamentary experience among those who have made it to the select list, and his success in keeping the coalition government in saddle and also taking the country forward despite the various constituents pulling in different directions has been acknowledged. An Asian cabinet is bound to be a coalition government and Mr Vajpayee is the ideal choice under the circumstances. Someone who has pulled along with the likes of Mr George Fernandes and Ms Mamata Banerjee should have no problem in working with China's Zhu Ronji, who has been named his deputy and is also to hold the finance portfolio. What must be borne in mind is that this honour has been bestowed on Mr Vajpayee over the heads of stalwarts like Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohammad (who has been designated interior minister) and South Korean leader Kim Dae Jung (foreign minister). Personal qualities attributed to him are serenity, honesty, restraint and astuteness. The magazine has gushed that it is now India rather than China that is bursting onto the world-stage as the powerhouse to watch. The only question mark on his exalted position is his health. He has only one kidney and even at this age cannot resist putting sugar in his tea.
In the list of Asia's 50
most powerful people, Mr Vajpayee has emerged as number
nine. The other Indians in the list are technocrats Azim
Premji of Wipro and Mr Narayan Murthy of Infosys besides
industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. The list headed by
leading Hong Kong business man Li Ka-Shing (with Chinese
President Jiang Zemin at the second place) is packed with
technocrats, businessmen and IT experts. There are very
few politicians. In fact, in the dream Cabinet of Mr
Vajpayee, the trade and portfolio has been given to
businessman Li Kasing and science and technology to Mr
Idei Nobuyoki. If only there were no artificial
boundaries! The magazine says that anyone who leads India
can lead the world. That is quite a compliment, even if
it is clearly left handed.
TO nobodys surprise there is a lot of crowing by the five recognised nuclear weapon powers over the just concluded five-yearly NPT review conference at New York. It will be uncharitable to deny the votaries of the NPT their self-congratulatory celebrations in which their usual camp-followers have dutifully joined. After all, it has taken them 15 years to be able to issue an agreed statement at the end of the review conference.
However, the key question is what does all this fuss and pother, to say nothing of the strident claims about significant progress, amount to? The honest answer, alas, is nothing much, indeed precious little. For the rude reality is that the month-long conference has been long on rhetoric and woefully short on concrete action worth the name.
The hub of the matter is complete elimination of all nuclear arsenals.. recognised or unrecognised, declared or undeclared within a reasonable timeframe so that the world can at last be rid of the most dangerous of all weapons of mass destruction. On this basic issue hypocrisy and ambivalence continue to underpin the stand of the Gang of Five that has arrogated to itself the exclusive right to possess what are, for good reason, called the ultimate weapons.
One should, of course, be grateful for small mercies. And it surely is a small mercy that after having denounced the call for total nuclear disarmament as impracticable, utopian and even a pipe- dream, the nuclear bullies have at long last committed themselves to the goal of a world free from the menace of nuclear weapons. But and this is what really matters they remain totally reluctant to even entertain the idea of a timeframe for achieving the noble goal.
To say this is not to suggest that agreement on a fair and practicable time schedule can be easy. But surely it is absurd to pretend to subscribe to an objective and do nothing about it. This is not an unfounded fear. For 30 years since the signing of the NPT and 10 years since the end of the Cold War, the monopolists of nuclear weapons have wilfully and arrogantly flouted their solemn obligation under article six of the NPT. What is there to prevent them from doing the same about a commitment made in only a consensus statement?
There is a clear and reasonable way to determine the most fair and feasible time schedule for saying farewell to the nuclear stockpiles. Before discussing it, however, one must explore why those speaking on behalf of the non-nuclear signatories to the NPT at the review conference have not pressed for a timetable, and indeed do not seem inclined to do so.
India, of course, is not a signatory to the NPT and, therefore, does not attend any conference concerning it. Pakistan and Israel are in the same position. Like India, Pakistan is a declared nuclear weapon power. Israel developed a nuclear arsenal long before either Pakistan or India did but about this there has been a prolonged conspiracy of silence.
Of the 182 non-nuclear signatories to the NPT more than 60 are mini and micro-mini states with populations of less than a million each. Their resources are equally paltry. Many others, especially in Africa and Latin America, do not face the kind of problems India does in its neighbourhood. All the rest are under the Western, principally American, nuclear umbrella under either multilateral or bilateral security arrangements. Moreover, the bulk of these countries are heavily dependent on American aid or assistance from US-dominated international financial institutions.
Even so, various regions have their special concerns and these do cause problems at NPT review conferences. Having fobbed them off in the past with vague promises, the USA had to accept this time round the Arab demand that something must be done about Israels nuclear armoury which everyone knows exists but no one likes to talk about. A special envoy is likely to be appointed to talk to all parties concerned in the hope that the problem would be resolved in the context of the West Asian peace process. Ironically, the peace process itself is in jeopardy, seven years after the Oslo accords were signed so ostentatiously in Washington. Pitched battles are going on between the Palestinians and the Israeli security forces both on the West Bank and in Gaza. The Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, has had to postpone his visit to Washington aimed at rescuing the peace process!
It is equally instructive that the American side refused to include any reference to Israel in the final statement without a corresponding mention of Iraq and the sanctions against it because of nuclear programme and ambitions. The Iraqis resisted strongly and in the end a face-saving compromise was reached.
All this goes to show how fragile is the show of unity behind the consensus statement. But even this is not the whole story. The issue of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD), about which Russia and China feel very strongly, also hangs over the NPT regime like the sword of Damocles. Russia has in fact threatened to tear up not only START-II arms reduction treaty but also all other nuclear agreements, including the CTBT, should the USA persist in its National Missile Defence (MND). China is angry with the Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) purported to protect not only Japan and South Korea but also Taiwan. The last, needless to add, is a matter of the greatest sensitivity to Beijing.
The irony, however, is that China is also known to be engaged in developing its own BMD, and some of the experiments in this connection are said to have been conducted at the plateau not far from the India-China border.
Against this backdrop, what should be Indias policy? In one respect life is uncomplicated for us. Even the NPT fundamentalists at their conclave recognised that India is not going to give up its minimum nuclear deterrent until a time-bound programme for total elimination of nukes is put in place. The New York meet also accepted that Pakistan and Israel, too, would roll back their nuclear weapons programmes.
Consequently, an insistence on complete abolition of nuclear weapons in not too distant a future and the maintenance of a minimum but credible India deterrent must be the two basic elements in Indian nuclear policy.
It will be the task of Indian diplomacy to get the message across to the world, especially to nonaligned, non-nuclear nations. Public opinion in the USA and Europe should also be addressed assiduously.
What kind of a timeframe should we suggest that would carry conviction to the majority of the countries? In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi, in his famous plan that was disdainfully ignored by nuclear weapon countries, had suggested a period of about two decades, 2010 being his target date for the completion of the elimination process. It is no disrespect to the late Prime Minister to point out that his plan has been overtaken by events, including this countrys overt exercise of the nuclear option. The nuclear threshold nations that he talked of have crossed the threshold. Those on the other side of the threshold are being mulish in refusing to accept this patent reality. But that in no way alters the ground situation.
Under the circumstances,
the best way to achieve the desired goal would be to
insist that a Nuclear Weapons Convention on the
lines of the convention that has outlawed chemical
weapons must be negotiated and concluded during
the five-year interval between now and the next NPT
review conference. Serious and sincere negotiations for
this purpose must start in Geneva immediately. It is in
the course of these talks that the time schedule for the
various stages of the elimination process can be fixed by
need for decisive policy
NOW it is Elephant Pass, next it will be Jaffna, 20,000 Sinhala soldiers on the run announce posters and hoardings recently put up in Chennai. They are the handiwork of the pro-LTTE groups in Tamil Nadu of which there is no shortage. The DMK government cracked down on a victory rally and banned a Chidambaram conference organised by the Tamil Eelam Liberation Supporters Co-ordination Committee (TELSCO) headed by a former Congressman, Mr P. Nedumaran.
Perhaps, such celebrations were too early. According to the latest reports, the Sri Lankan government had rejected a ceasefire proposal from the LTTE and announced its determination to hold on to Jaffna at any cost. The next few days may see crucial, bloody battles which would lead to further excitement and tension in Tamil Nadu.
The Vajpayee government, while discounting military help or arms supplies to Sri Lanka, is keen to coordinate its Sri Lankan policies with the Tamil Nadu government and other political groups in the region. Sri Lanka is an emotional issue in the region and a coalition government with the DMK and the MDMK cannot ignore the Tamilian feelings.
This needs much caution. The Centre would be foolish if it allowed its Sri Lanka policy to be usurped by the 21 Lok Sabha members from the region. These parties are gripped with an unhealthy Tamil chauvinism and look upon the dreaded LTTE as the liberators of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The most dangerous and mischievous approach had been taken by the MDMK leader, Mr Vaiko, and the PMK boss, Dr Ramdoss. The latter went to the extent of urging the Indian government to recognise Eelam. Mr Vaiko, addressing LTTE cadres in Geneva recently, commended the role of the groups suicide squads which had been targeting Sri Lankan leaders, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He was in Geneva to celebrate the capture of the Elephant Pass by the LTTE forces and extend his good wishes to the terrorist outfit. Yet the Vajpayee government regards men like Mr Vaiko as its ally.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot down President John Kennedy in November, 1963, did not belong to any political party. Can we imagine a situation in the USA if supporters of Oswald formed a political party, contested elections and assumed positions of power. What did not happen in the USA did happen in the India. The LTTE and its chief, Prabhakaran, planned and executed the dastardly murder of an Indian Prime Minster, Rajiv Gandhi. Yet today active supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE functioned freely in Tamil Nadu, formed political parties and won elections. Some time back, at the wedding reception of Mr Vaikos son in Chennai, important members of the LTTE were honoured guests. Also present was the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani! Leaders guilty of propagating anti-national policies who had endorsed the assassination of their own Prime Minister influenced major policies in Tamil Nadu. They are often consulted by the Prime Minister. Can anything be more degrading?
The Sri Lankan issue has become highly emotional in Tamil Nadu. This was only to be expected. The people in the state were often highly charged on political, religious and linguistic issues and did not hesitate to immolate themselves to focus attention on these. The deaths of DMK stalwart, C.N. Annadurai, film-actor-turned-politician MGR and the imposition of Hindi in the state by the Centre had led to a spate of suicides, often fiery and tragic. Only recently, the arrest of former Chief Minister and AIADMK leader Jayalalitha had resulted in some of her supporters trying to kill themselves. The more fanatical among them set fire to a school bus which resulted in the death of school children out on a picnic.
Unfortunately, their attitude had never been guided by reality or commonsense. Otherwise, they would never have accepted the LTTE as the true liberators of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The people of Tamil Nadu had readily swallowed the Dravidian propaganda of the Sinhala army hunting down and killing innocent Tamils. In fact, over the years, it had been the LTTE which had brutally and ruthlessly eliminated all the moderate groups which were ready to negotiate with the Sri Lankan government on a fair deal to the Tamils. But for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE would have gained more credibility and popularity in the state.
Can New Delhi afford to
deal with Mr Vaiko and company while forming its Sri
Lankan policy? Since the Rajiv killing the foreign office
policy on Sri Lanka had been frozen to no action, no
fresh thinking and plain indifference. But today,
following the desperate appeal from Colombo, the
government can no longer evade the issue. Any backing to
the Tamil Nadu groups on their hero worship to
Prabhakaran would be a disaster. Eelam today, Greater
Eelam tomorrow and the consequences can be disastrous to
the unity of India.
THE Chhamb-Jaurian bulge of the JK sector had always been a lucrative area to capture for the Pakistan Army in all the wars the country fought against India. Their aim was two fold (a) Capturing Akhnoor, a vital link town, cuts off the routes to Poonch that enables them to grab a large chunk of Indian territory without much fight, (b) POK boundaries will extend up to the Chenab river. Handicaps on the Indian side are deployment and manoeuvrability of armoured vehicles and artillery on a large scale, since we have the Chenab on one side and the hills on other side. This entire bulge can just accommodate a brigade with supporting arms and anything beyond that leaves no elbowroom in the area.
For the 1971 war which commenced on December 3, we were deployed in the month of October. Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw, then Chief of Army Staff, addressed all officers of our division sometime in the middle of November warning us not to look at beautiful Pakistani women with bad eyes when we advance into the enemy territory.
Another army officer and myself having some spare time decided to go for partridge shoot one evening and also to reconnaissance the artillery forward post along the Actual Line of Control. Driving through a thick growth of elephant grass (Sarkanda) with hardly any visibility, we suddenly reached an earthen bundh,which indicated to us the Actual Line of Control. We were still finding our bearing when suddenly a Pakistani Subedar in combat dress challenged us. He claimed that we were in his area and his troops were deployed for war and he could easily take us as POWs. We objected to his claim boldly. He said since he belonged to our Punjab having been born in Batala, he wouldnt do such a nasty thing to us. He confided in us that their army would attack us on December 3. With two partridges in our hands we made a hasty retreat. Thank you very much Subedar Habib Ullah, ex-Batala JCO.
A bloody battle ensued on December 3. Our army after giving a tough fight to the Pakistan army, decided to pull back to the southern side of Munnawar Tawi river. On December 5, I too was withdrawing with my troops as ordered. Prior to our withdrawal, Pakistan had already infiltrated an infantry battalion behind us in our sector and little did we know about this marauding enemy force causing havoc behind us. They had also captured our bridge of the Munnawar Tawi. At the bridge about 100 Pakistani soldiers who were deployed with machineguns were playing merry hell with our troops trying to cross the bridge when I arrived there at about 4 a.m. I too along with my troops was almost ambushed. In this melee compounded by total darkness nobody really knew who was firing at whom. As dawn came, I could, from a distance of about 100 yards see the Pakistani soldiers deployed all along the bridge. Thinking of absolutely no chance to survive and having lost quite a few men, I was furious and boiling for revenge. On contacting my superior commander on wireless, I was assured of immediate help. Our one tank rolled in immediately from a nearby position under our Subedar. The tank charged the Pakistani troops and succeeded in capturing one Pakistani Captain with his two jawans. We would have blasted the officer by the tank but his repeated humble requests that he was recently married and had a year-old son had a humanitarian effect and therefore taking him POW, we handed him over to our headquarters with his two soldiers. Later, I came to know that Col Bashrat Ahmed, the commanding officer of the Pakistani battalion, was also captured alive by our artillery officer. Though their battalion did considerable damage to our artillery, the complete battalion was annihilated by our troops.
In November, 1997, the
Captain bumped into me at Heathrow Airport, London. He
admitted that he was treated with dignity while he was
POW in India and was released immediately after the Simla
Agreement. He had a lot of praise for the defence forces
really the plague in Surat?
TOP medical researchers meeting in Delhi next month will discuss whether the disease that killed 47 persons in Gujarats bustling city of Surat six years ago was indeed the plague.
The June 6 meeting is being convened by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) at the request of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Sources in the government say the ministry is acting on demands from some public health specialists who have been insisting that the plague scare that caused a $600 million economic loss to the nation was a case of mistaken diagnosis.
According to ICMR Director-General Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, researchers who investigated the epidemic and concluded it was the pneumonic plague and those who claim it was not the plague have been invited to the meeting. I expect some fireworks, he told India Abroad News Service.
Ganguly, however, said the holding of this meeting should not be construed as the governments admission that its original plague theory was wrong. Our scientific data (confirming it was the plague) is foolproof, he said, adding that the meeting aimed at putting an end to the controversy by bringing the believers and non-believers face to face in a scientific discussion.
Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, chairman of the committee that investigated the Surat epidemic, said the renewed controversy is unfortunate considering his committee had scientifically established the disease to be the plague. I, however, welcome the open dialogue as there are still some people who doubt the plague theory, he told IANS.
Leading the list of non-believers is Satnam Singh, former programme director in the World Health Organisation (WHO) office in Delhi. He pointed out that the American Public Health Association which mentioned the Surat plague outbreak in the 16th edition of its manual on control of communicable diseases had deleted the reference in the next edition.
After having worked with WHO for 21 years, Satnam Singh is now director of the Regional Institute of Public Health in Chandigarh.
Other critics of the plague theory invited to the meeting include N.S. Deodhar, former director of the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health in Calcutta, V.J. Yemule, director of the Haffkine Institute in Mumbai, and Kalyan Banerjee, former director of the National Institute of Virology in Pune. Together they had authored a paper published in the U.S. Journal of Public Health Policy in 1997 which concluded that the Surat disease was not the plague.
According to Satnam Singh, there were at least two other scientific reports disclaiming the plague theory, but both were suppressed. One, he said, was by an expert committee appointed by the Gujarat government in 1995 and another by a committee under the chairmanship of N.R. Mehta, retired professor of community medicine in Surat Medical College. The two apparently found that the majority of evidence does not support the initial suspected diagnosis of pneumonic plague.
Satnam Singh also referred to a November 12 declaration by the Indian Association of Medical Microbiologists that there is not even a single convincing evidence of plague either in Surat or Beed.
According to Satnam Singh, the only report that pronounced the disease as the plague was that of the technical advisory committee set up by the Health Ministry, but its report was not unanimous. Kalyan Banerjee, then director of the National Institute of Virology, disagreed with the findings and did not sign the report.
The same disease which was diagnosed as the plague in 1994 continues to occur in Surat even now following periodical flooding of the Tapti, but it is neither reported nor investigated. To allay the fear of the plague, tonnes of DDT continues to be sprayed, polluting the environment, he said.
Ramalingaswami hoped the proposed meeting would produce constructive results and not turn into acrimonious debate between members of his committee who investigated the epidemic and others who refuse to accept their findings.
One of the invitees and critics of the plague theory alleged the ICMR exercise is just a ruse to put the rubber stamp on the Ramalingaswami committee report as the circulated agenda skirted the main issue and did not allow much discussion. He said the meeting should have been organised by an independent body instead of by Ganguly, who was a member of the Ramalingaswami committee.
The invitee said the
opponents of the plague theory would boycott the meeting
if the agenda was not changed. We want the members
of the Ramalingaswami committee to answer our questions.
We do not want to hear their lectures, which is mainly
what the agenda is all about, he said. IANS
starvation fuel exodus
STARVATION is stalking villages in many poverty-steeped tribal districts of Orissa, fuelling a mass migration of people to other states.
Unofficial sources said that more than a million people from several districts of Orissa have fled home over the past few years, of whom about 800,000 are from the Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput districts, notorious for starvation deaths.
There was no rain after October as a result of which more than 60 per cent of the crop was lost in the western districts, leading to a serious drought situation, said Jagdish Pradhan, Convener of the Western Orissa Krishijibi Sangha, a farmers association.
People have migrated to Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and also far off places like Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir to work in fields, on construction of roads and buildings. They also build canals and tunnels, crush stones and make bricks, he said.
If a villager goes to another state of his own will, he does not need to take permission of the administration, an official in the labour department said. This is the reason why we are not able to count the number of people leaving their villages, he added.
Ten years ago only the male members of socially underprivileged castes and tribes migrated, but since the 1992 drought which caused extensive damage to crops in western Orissa, people from other communities also started joining them, Pradhan said.
Earlier the womenfolk looked after their homes while the men were away, but in recent years they too have started migrating to flee hunger, he added.
Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput are part of the infamous poverty belt of western Orissa that used to make headlines for starvation deaths and sale of children by parents too poor to care for them. The situation has only worsened over the past few years. It is evident from the fact that starvation is becoming routine and does not make news any more, Pradhan said.
In Bolangir district, Gurundia, a tiny village with 80 households, is a glaring example of this exodus, said Thakurdas Mohananda of Janamukti Anusthan, a social organisation which works in the area. The village has acute water scarcity and all the tubewells have gone dry, he said.
Although most villagers have some cultivable land, they cannot grow crops due to the drought and have migrated to other states in search of jobs, Mohananda said. Anybody who will make a visit to this village will find only old men and women residing there, waiting for their last breath. Most of the villages in the area have a similar scene, he said.
Before the rains, the migrants return home to collect minor forest produce, said Pradhan. But this year there is no sign of their homecoming even though Orissa has begun to receive a few showers now, he said.
Now more and more people are planning to go out of the villages to the neighbouring states to earn as they feel that will keep them alive, said Birendra Dharua of Ainabhata village in Bargarh district. More than half of the people have already fled home and the rest are waiting for an opportunity to go, he said of his own village.
Similar is the situation in coastal Orissa, said a social worker at Bhubaneswar. The October supercyclone devastated the region and government help has been minimal, he said. Without shelter and a source of earning, many villagers have left home, he said.
THE recent stoning to death of two Ahmadis in Kabul does not enhance the reputation of Afghanistan as a civilised State. This occurrence is by no means a solitary instance of its kind, as only a few months ago Maulvi Naimatullah was put to death in the same brutal way for his religious beliefs, and the Secretary of the Ahmadiya community states that 30 more Ahmadis are in the Kabul jail under sentence of being publicly stoned to death.
Stoning to death by the populace is a relic of a barbarous past; and this form of punishment has gone out of vogue in Turkey, Egypt and other enlightened Muslim countries.
The retention, in the twentieth century, of this revolting form of punishment for those who happen to differ from the Amir of Afghanistan in religious matters or who are supposed to hold views which are not in complete accord with the views of orthodox Mussalmans, is opposed to the accepted notions of civilised government.
We hope the better mind
of Indian Mussalmans will enter a most emphatic protest
against the action of the Amir, and urge on His Majesty
the imperative necessity of repealing this antiquated
provision of the law which is nothing but a disgrace to
the statute book of any country that claims to be classed
among the civilised nations of the world.
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