Stealing the past
Massacre in Assam
Assassination of Sheikh Yassin
Medals — stolen and otherwise
HP’s Paragpur India’s first heritage village
Stealing the past
IT is bad enough that Rabindranath Tagore’s literature and liberal values are receding in our memory. Now someone has stolen even his memorabilia, including the Nobel Prize medallion and citation, from the Rabindra Museum in Santiniketan. Predictably there is shock and outrage. Everyone from the Prime Minister and Home Minister to the Bengal Chief Minister and custodians of the artefacts are expressing concern and seeking an expeditious probe. Once again, all that has been said before – about security and safeguards and laws, mechanisms and manpower to check such heists – would be repeated ad nauseam, and forgotten, only to be revived when the thieves strike again. The real issue — of ensuring that such valuable items are protected with modern technology backed by preventive policing and prosecution of the guilty — is conveniently neglected by passing the buck. This is inevitable in a situation where, for all the jingoism about our 5000-year-old civilisation, no one really cares to protect heritage structures and objects. As a nation and people we are indifferent to it and our government is truly representative of this attitude. This is borne out by the continuing theft tantamount to plunder that has gone on for decades. One does not have to go as far back as the Sivapuram Nataraja idol, the theft of which came to light years later when it surfaced in the US. More recently, in 2003, an exhibit was stolen from the National Museum’s Maritime Gallery. Close on its heels, a granth with handwritten verses by Guru Tegh Bahadur was stolen from the house of the Guru’s descendents. The year before, a rare second century Buddha statue was stolen from the Government Museum in Chennai. In 2001, for four successive months, thieves struck with impunity, week after week, in temple after temple in Orissa. The break-in at Santiniketan revives memories of these incidents. This is as much a part of our tradition of administrative failure as the stolen artefacts are a part of our civilisational heritage.
The real issue — of ensuring that such valuable items are protected with modern technology backed by preventive policing and prosecution of the guilty — is conveniently neglected by passing the buck. This is inevitable in a situation where, for all the jingoism about our 5000-year-old civilisation, no one really cares to protect heritage structures and objects. As a nation and people we are indifferent to it and our government is truly representative of this attitude.
This is borne out by the continuing theft tantamount to plunder that has gone on for decades. One does not have to go as far back as the Sivapuram Nataraja idol, the theft of which came to light years later when it surfaced in the US. More recently, in 2003, an exhibit was stolen from the National Museum’s Maritime Gallery. Close on its heels, a granth with handwritten verses by Guru Tegh Bahadur was stolen from the house of the Guru’s descendents. The year before, a rare second century Buddha statue was stolen from the Government Museum in Chennai. In 2001, for four successive months, thieves struck with impunity, week after week, in temple after temple in Orissa. The break-in at Santiniketan revives memories of these incidents. This is as much a part of our tradition of administrative failure as the stolen artefacts are a part of our civilisational heritage.
TWO years ago, the Gujarat Government enacted a law entitled the Gujarat Gas (Regulation of Transmission, Supply and Distribution) Act 2001 empowering the State to regulate transmission, supply and distribution of gas in the State and the laying of pipeline etc. This was avowedly done in the interest of general public and to promote gas industry in the State. But it was a strange law, which, in effect, said that the Union Government had legislative competence to make laws on oil, but not on gas. The Centre was of the opinion that the State had usurped the powers of the Union and a reference was made for the opinion of the apex court by the President. Striking down the Act insofar as the provisions relating to natural gas or liquefied natural gas (LNG) are concerned, the apex court has prevented a major mischief from taking place. Had such a law come into effect, it would have opened a Pandora’s box and different states would have passed different laws.
Both oil and gas are mineral oil resources and trying to treat them separately was wrong, to say the least. The country requires balanced growth in supply, transmission and distribution of natural gas and LNG. This can be ensured only if the Centre alone has the legislative competence to enact such a law, as the court has opined. States would be competent to pass legislation only in respect of gas and gas-works for industrial, medical and other similar purposes.
Some States’ tendency to view national resources as their exclusive wealth has been the bane of Indian polity. The most glaring example of it is the brazen waste of river waters which flows to the sea and the neighbouring countries while various States quibble about their claim on it. The emotive issue has been politicised to such an extent that it is almost impossible to enforce a reasonable solution. Sooner or later, a way will have to be found to treat such resources as belonging to the country and not any particular State.
Massacre in Assam
THE massacre of 33 villagers of the Karbi community in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district the other day represents the general breakdown of the law and order machinery in the state. The incident, in particular, shows the extent of a community’s hatred and jealousy towards another social group, little realising that ethnic clashes and fratricidal wars, far from finding solutions to problems, will only harm the interests of the state and its people. Peace has always been elusive in Assam. Even when the Karbi and Kuki leaders had signed a peace agreement on December 27, 2003, there were apprehensions that the agreement would not last long unless there is a change in the general mindset of both the communities. Not long ago, the civil administration and the police did take the initiative in bringing together the Kuki and Karbi leaders across the negotiating table. The two-month ceasefire in Karbi Anglong was a result of the series of meetings between the two communities.
The massacre suggests that there has been no perceptible change in the situation on the ground. The Kuki Liberation Army accuses the powerful Karbi community of trying to chase out Kukis from about 100 villages in the district. It claims that the Karbi community is jealous of their being prosperous by cultivating ginger in the Singhasan Hills. The Karbi, however, maintain that the Kukis have no place in the district as they have imported gun culture from Manipur, their homeland.
The massacre once again proves the failure of the administrative machinery. Though intelligence sources hinted at an offensive by the KRA on the Karbi community, it failed to take preventive steps to quell the offensive. There is also no follow-up of the minutes provided by the intelligence officials. The villagers are not being given adequate protection. The government should step up efforts to restore peace. Simultaneously, citizens’ groups and the intelligentsia should rise to the occasion and help promote goodwill and understanding between the two communities. There is no shortcut to peace. In their own interest, the Kuki and Karbi leaders would do well to shun confrontation and return to the negotiating table.
Assassination of Sheikh Yassin
WHAT must cause even greater concern than the murder of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the paralysed, half-blind wheelchair-bound leader of the Hamas movement committed to Israel’s destruction, is what the act portends for Israel’s intentions, not just in the Gaza Strip, peopled by the wretched of the earth, but in the abundant West Bank, seized from Jordan in 1967. Jews call the West Bank Judea and Samaria and see it as part of their Promised Land of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
The global outcry, even from Islamic moderates like the rulers of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, who are usually stout champions of the West, raises the spectre of Samuel Huntington’s cultural clash just when the outcome of the Malaysian elections had kindled the hope that some parts of the Muslim ummah might be eschewing fundamentalism. Given the unanimity of this condemnation, which must also include George W. Bush’s deafening silence, Pervez Musharraf must surely squirm under the accolade that Colin Powell has bestowed on him. The white elephant with which Siamese kings ruined favourite courtiers was nothing in comparison.
The killing’s regional fall-out can only add fuel to fire for Bush’s war on terrorism which is already under attack from internal sources. But Sheikh Yassin’s assassination did not sound the death knell of the so-called road map, the two-state solution deriving from the 1993 Oslo process and underwritten by the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN. Perhaps the Hamas leader might still have been alive if the process had not already been dead and if Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had not been busy putting the finishing touches to his preferred alternative to the Oslo road map. That alternative firmly precludes any possibility of a viable sovereign Palestine ever emerging.
The killing takes us back to February 2 when Sharon dropped the bombshell that Israel would unilaterally evacuate the Gaza Strip which it conquered from Egypt, also in the 1967 war, and which Egypt gladly abandoned when it got back the Sinai peninsula. Sharon told his ministers that the 7,500 inmates of the 17 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip were “a security burden and a source of continuous friction.” Israelis were as astounded as the Palestinian chairman, Yasser Arafat, incarcerated in the shelled ruin of his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank.
But, first, Sharon has to demonstrate to jubilant Hamas supporters, who foolishly rejoiced over the announcement as if it were a victory, that Israel is withdrawing voluntarily, at its own pace and on its own terms. The plan to liquidate the entire Hamas leadership – now confirmed by several Israeli leaders, including Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz – would make life safer for the Gaza Strip’s seemingly abandoned Jewish settlers.
That makes sense in the currency in which Sharon, his hands still bloody from the slaughter of Palestine refugees in Lebanese camps, deals. But even so, it leaves unanswered the central question: Why should Israel, which pays not the slightest heed to the world’s urgings or to moral and legal considerations, suddenly choose to give up any land at all?
Egypt’s reported willingness to police the Gaza Strip and prevent the Hamas from launching more suicide attacks from there is part of the explanation. But the real answer is that while the Gaza Strip is not worth the trouble, Israel has set its sights on the far richer prize of the West Bank. That could explain the high-powered mission led by Israel’s Chief of Staff Dov Weisglass and National Security Adviser Giora Eiland that Sharon sent to Washington last week immediately after Sheikh Yasin’s death. They had no need to explain the murder for even if Bush disapproves, campaign compulsions rule out any condemnation of Zionist actions that might offend America’s rich and powerful Jewish lobby. In any case, the US undoubtedly looks on the killing as another worthy blow against terrorism. As Israelis have reminded the world, both Bush and his Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, applauded when an American Central Intelligence Agency drone similarly eliminated another Arab militant, Qaed Sakum Sunan al-Harethi, in the Yemen in 2002. While Bush urged the hunting down of his enemies, Rumsfeld gloated that the killing was “a very good thing”.
But only the US can legitimise Israel’s surreptitious and continuing land grab in the West Bank. Invoking a 1858 Ottoman land law, it has already seized 59 per cent of the territory while its security apparatus controls the 22 per cent under the Palestinian Authority. Israel has 106 settlements, 400,000 settlers and 23 local authorities in the West Bank. The 2.2 million Palestinians who are being increasingly marginalised are not allowed to use the security roads that crisscross the territory linking Jewish settlements.
The 700-km fence (walls, rolls of razor wire and deep ditches) which Israel is now building at a cost of $2 million per kilometre will encroach on another 8 per cent of the West Bank. The UN has denounced it as “an unlawful act of annexation”. The UN Human Rights Commission warns that by cutting off 210,000 Palestinians from employment, schools and social services, the fence will breed a “new generation of refugees or internally displaced people.” Unemployment is a high 60 per cent; houses are regularly demolished on planning grounds; Palestinian villages are starved of water; and their fields and orchards are lopped off by Jewish settlements, Israeli fortifications, roads and fences. The Hague Regulations expressly forbid such permanent changes in occupied territory, and Israel’s Supreme Court as well as the International Court of Justice at The Hague are hearing petitions against the fence.
What price then the road map? It should come as no surprise if murderous fanatics like Osama bin Laden, the Taleban’s Mullah Mohammad Omar or the new Hamas chief, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, reap the ugly harvest of anger when the scales drop from Arab Islamic eyes. The clash of civilisations of which Huntington warned may still be a distant threat, but the context of Sheikh Yassin’s assassination reinforces the polarisation of cultures that underlies the battle that is not camouflaged by trite gestures like picking out the ummah’s Uncle Toms and bestowing on them the honorific of “Major Non-NATO Ally.” Remembering Hashemite Iraq and the Shah’s Iran, Musharraf must know that no kiss of death could be more fatal than such signs of American approbation.
Medals — stolen and otherwise
AS we were planning a small museum to showcase some of the awards and prizes, including the Nobel, Dr Amartya Sen had received as part of the proposed Pratichi (India) Trust office in Kolkata, I was particularly interested in having a close look at how the Tagore memorabilia were preserved at Rabindra Museum at Santiniketan.
The upkeep of the museum reflected the general state of neglect and decay at the Abode of Peace Rabindranath Tagore had thought of to blend the best in the Indian and Western traditions.
As I stood gazing at the Nobel medal Tagore won in 1913 for Gitanjali (Song Offerings), which dwelt on his years of sadness arising from the deaths of his wife and two children between 1902 and 1907, I could not have imagined that little over a year later, thieves would break into the museum and take it away along with other precious objects.
I should have thought about such a possibility as the Nobel medal Dr Amartya Sen had brought to Santiniketan to show his mother had also been stolen. In fact, the bag in which it was kept was nicked from either Heathrow or Dum Dum. Whether the thief is a desi or a videshi, he would have been shocked to learn that what he got hold of was not the original medal but a replica of it, also given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The original is safe in the custody of Dr Amartya Sen but the theft has rattled him so much that he has not summoned up courage to bring the precious object to Santiniketan. The “welfare economist” would be upset by the latest theft as it was Tagore who had christened him Amartya. Originally, his plan was to set up his Trust at Santiniketan, where his maternal grandfather was once a close associate of Tagore.
Dr Amartya Sen would be wondering about the fate of several mementoes that the Central and state governments had presented to him on his first visit to India after receiving the ultimate Prize in 1998. Of course, it is a matter of some comfort that they are kept in the State Bank of India vault at Santiniketan.
While I could not even see Dr Amartya Sen’s medal, I had a chance to hold another Nobel medal in my hands. I and a few senior journalists, including Mr Mark Tully and Mr Ajit Bhattacharjea, were on a visit to Aligarh Muslim University to take part in a seminar. The organisers had taken care to include in our programme a quick visit to the library, which remains open round the clock and attracts a large number of students.
The librarian took us to various sections and showed us many priceless manuscripts and the first editions of several classics. A complete set of the Sacred Books of the East edited by Max Muller sat on the shelves.
“Now I will show you the jewel in the library’s crown”, said the proud librarian as he opened a safe and took out a satin-covered jewellery box. He gently opened it as we strained our necks to see the content. “Oh, it is a Nobel!”
The librarian lifted up the medal and handed it over to me. Every one of us felt the urge to hold it and look at it closely. The medal was won by the Pakistani Physicist Abdus Salam in 1979 for his study on the fundamental interaction of particles. As AMU was his alma mater, he had a reason to donate it to the university. Mercifully, no thief has yet been able to lay his hands on the
HP’s Paragpur India’s first heritage village
IT is easy now to paint the walls of one’s house in colours of tradition. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has taken the initiative to bring mural painters from the famed Chitrakara families in Orissa to the premises of those who want to commission a work of art.
Raghurajpur, near Puri in Orissa, is a village where each of the 104 families has been into painting, sculpting, dancing or toy-making. The small village is home to Hotipura, the dance tradition which is a forerunner of Odissi. It is home to winners of Padma Vibushan, Padma Shri and President’s awards. INTACH, which helped revive the dying mural painting tradition of the region, has arranged to send the artisans on projects commissioned by individuals or companies. Although the styles and techniques of these artisans are traditional, the themes are varied to narrate religious, mythological and contemporary stories.
As part of its holistic approach, INTACH has built an ampitheatre, an interpretation centre and a tourist lodge in Raghurajpur. NGOs have been involved in the works at the village with attention also being paid to roads and civic amenities.
A similar transformation is taking place at Paragpur-Garli, twin hamlets in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, which have about 150 old “havelis”. Abandoned by members of the Sood community, who moved to other places in search of prosperity, the havelis are being restored to pristine glory by INTACH with the involvement of the owners and local residents. Due to the efforts of INTACH, Paragpur has been declared as the first heritage village of the country. Crafts centres and museum are proposed to be opened in the restored havelis of the village with attention also being paid to the creation of adeqate water and sewerage facilities, availability of doctors in primary health centres and teachers in schools.
INTACH, which has signed a MoU with the local sarpanch and the HP government’s tourism department, hopes to complete its work in the village early next year. Mr S.K. Misra, founder member of INTACH who recently took over as its chairman, says the trust will not be monument-centric in its approach. “It will be the catalyst for a mass movement of conservation,”’ he observes.
Raghurajpur and Paragpur are pilot projects of INTACH which are sought to be replicated in all states. “This will have a spin-off on neighbouring villages. Standard of living and quality of life will improve,” Mr Misra emphasises.
Credited with pioneering contribution to development of tourism infrastructure in Haryana, Mr Misra says the idea of creating the right ambience is through steps like landscaping and water bodies.
Talking of the future, he says the challenge is to involve the corporate sector in conservation projects in villages. “Corporate houses have shown interest in high visibility projects like the Taj and Jantar Mantar. The challenge is to involve them to adopt villages,” Mr Misra explains. The other focus will be on involving school children. INTACH has drawn a comprehensive programme to intearct with teachers and has already covered 10 cities during the last year. It has also brought out a training manual.
INTACH is the primary consultant on heritage to 14 state governments. It has been organising seminars and workshops to help in policy formulation. The Trust has also signed a MoU with Scouts and Guides who are imparted training to function as tourist guides in their areas.
The organisation has taken up several conservation projects in the northern states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab,
INTACH is taking interest to give a boost to tourism. Patiala and Kapurthala are rich in architectural heritage and Amritsar in religious heritage, says Mr Misra. INTACH is helping build a heritage hotel in Patiala which will run in the private sector later.
Mr Misra said that the trust has been laying emphasis on appropriate legislation to prevent damage to historic buildings since conservation work can be carried out on a limited scale. The trust is documenting heritage buildings in all major cities.
An autonomous NGO set up in 1984 for the conservation of the country’s natural and man-made environment, INTACH aims to create awareness among the public for the preservation of India’s heritage. It acts as a pressure group whenever any part of heritage is threatened by damage or destruction arising out of private acts or public policy.
Nearly 140 chapters of INTACH in various states and Union Territories interact with local governments on policy and development issues, initiate action by mobilising public opinion, spearhead legal action when required and take up specific conservation projects in their regions. Except for the initial financial corpus provided by the Centre, INTACH does not receive regular aid from the government.
While the Material Heritage Division of INTACH helps conserve India’s wealth of artifacts, paintings, sculptures, textiles, manuscripts and tools which are vulnerable to damage from vandalism, fire, floods, wind, light, insects, humidity and fungus, the Architectural Heritage Division provides expertise in structural conservation of built heritage, conservation of historic cities and development of museums.
Having recognised that the conservation of India’s rich natural heritage is vital for the preservation of its cultural heritage, INTACH set up the Natural Heritage Division in 1985 to tackle problems of environemental degradation.
INTACH has undertaken a systematic documentation of manuscripts in India and abroad as also documentation of Indian folklore and oral traditions. It is making films on conservation and documentaries on different aspects of our heritage for television.
AFTER making missiles, Light Combat Aircraft and tanks, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is now looking to make a foray into the life sciences field and products which could be used even by the civilians.
Over the years, though the DRDO has come to be known more for its failures than its successes and is recognised more as a white elephant, the hard work put in by its scientists, led by country’s chief defence scientist Dr V.K. Atre, has now brought the technology available with the organisation to a level where it can present itself as a leader and where it can offer technology transfer to private players for the betterment of the civilians.
While on Wednesday it put forth advanced technology in front of over 50 pharmaceutical companies to which it offered 18 products, the DRDO as a result of the byproducts which it has been able to make due to the level of technology available with it, can nowgive technology for chapatti makers which can make almost 2,000 chapattis an hour. Quite an achievement for an organisation which specialises in the field of military products.
Some of the other products which it has been able to make include ready-to-eat food material, mosquito repellent and even herbal creams besides various kinds of fruit juices. A major achievement was the development of the Neem contraceptive for women. Besides being a vaginal contraceptive, it also helps in prevention and treatment of vaginal infections.
Reliance to recruit
ex-servicemen The retired defence personnel in the country are in for a bonanza with the Reliance Industries Ltd planning to recruit a large number of them for running the petroleum retail outlets, which the company is planning to open shortly across the country. Maj-General V.S. Budhwar, Director-General, Resettlement, at a recent seminar on “Defence-Industry partnership in human resource management” which was organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) said that besides the petroleum outlets Reliance will also recruit defence personnel for its polymers and power plants. Union Minister of State for Defence Chaman Lal Gupta has called upon the industry to provide opportunities for employing personnel leaving the armed forces.
The retired defence personnel in the country are in for a bonanza with the Reliance Industries Ltd planning to recruit a large number of them for running the petroleum retail outlets, which the company is planning to open shortly across the country.
Maj-General V.S. Budhwar, Director-General, Resettlement, at a recent seminar on “Defence-Industry partnership in human resource management” which was organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) said that besides the petroleum outlets Reliance will also recruit defence personnel for its polymers and power plants.
Union Minister of State for Defence Chaman Lal Gupta has called upon the industry to provide opportunities for employing personnel leaving the armed forces.
battalions In response to news reports that the Ministry of Home Affairs was opposed to raising of more battalions of Rashtriya Rifles, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said more battalions would be in place very soon as the Rashtriya Rifles soldiers have been at the forefront of fighting insurgency and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Three battalions are in the process of being raised and nine more are being raised as planned. Being manned entirely by army personnel, the Rashtriya Rifles have been closely involved in counter-insurgency operations since inception. As a result, they have developed a unique capability making them a very effective force. Besides, the Rashtriya Rifles will provide necessary backup to the regular army formations in a conventional role.
In response to news reports that the Ministry of Home Affairs was opposed to raising of more battalions of Rashtriya Rifles, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said more battalions would be in place very soon as the Rashtriya Rifles soldiers have been at the forefront of fighting insurgency and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Three battalions are in the process of being raised and nine more are being raised as planned.
Being manned entirely by army personnel, the Rashtriya Rifles have been closely involved in counter-insurgency operations since inception. As a result, they have developed a unique capability making them a very effective force. Besides, the Rashtriya Rifles will provide necessary backup to the regular army formations in a conventional role.
Thought is not the ultimate reality, but there are various grades of reality above thought which have to be climbed before the ultimate reality can be reached. — Sri Aurobindo They who are detached (from Maya) and are saturated with the Name, know the Truest of the True here and there, now and ever. — Guru Nanak If you can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem. — J. Krishnamurti Your neighbour is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down. — Kahlil Gibran Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. — Soren Kierkegaard
— Sri Aurobindo
They who are detached (from Maya) and are saturated with the Name, know the Truest of the True here and there, now and ever.
— Guru Nanak
If you can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.
— J. Krishnamurti
Your neighbour is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down.
— Kahlil Gibran
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
— Soren Kierkegaard