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EDITORIALS

Better than expected
US remains committed on N-deal
Although the exact quality of relations between the Obama Administration and New Delhi has yet to emerge, the visit to India by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggests that Washington remains as committed to working with India as “partners” on various global issues as the previous administration. The Clinton visit has, indeed, gone off better than expected and, as such, has been useful for both countries.

Kasab’s confession
An attempt to save himself from the gallows
It is indeed significant that the sole surviving terrorist
of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Ajmal Amir Kasab,
has suddenly thought it fit to admit his guilt before the
special court in Mumbai. Kasab’s record since his arrest
has been one of confusing the prosecution by making
contradictory statements.


EARLIER STORIES

Two years for killing six!
July 21, 2009
Sharif’s triumph
July 20, 2009
Bringing out the best
July 19, 2009
No to wheat exports
July 18, 2009
Dealing with terror
July 17, 2009
Letting Hafiz Saeed free
July 16, 2009
Murder and acquittal
July 15, 2009
Mishap shakes Delhi Metro
July 14, 2009
Focus on food security
July 13, 2009
Blueprint for growth
July 12, 2009
In the dark
July 11, 2009
Zardari speaks
July 10, 2009



Mandate for education
Let not the law remain on paper
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill that has been hanging fire for several years has moved one step closer to becoming a law. The Rajya Sabha has passed the landmark Bill that promises free and compulsory education for children aged between six and 14 years. While at the time of framing of the Constitution the founding fathers realised the significance of education, it could not be declared a fundamental right.

ARTICLE

Unrest in Xinjiang
Birds coming home to roost for China
by Mohan Guruswamy
Xinjiang or East Turkestan abuts the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. The last leg of the ancient trade route linking India to the fabled Silk Route ran from Leh to Kashgar and Khotan through the legendary Karakorum Pass. This was the route on which mule trains brought valuable pashm into India to be woven into fine shawls in the Kashmir valley.

MIDDLE

Mango mania
by Vivek Atray
Mirza Ghalib’s views on those who do not relish mangoes are so well known that there is not much to be gained from reproducing them here, except perhaps the annoyance of that minuscule minority that is not afflicted by Mango mania. Suffice it to say that come summer, most of us are compelled by a strong urge to dig into basket loads of the delicacy at every possible opportunity.

OPED

Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Another way to teach
Children must learn without stress
by Manish Jain
More than any of the specific policy proposals, Kapil Sibal’s willingness to open a national dialogue on education outside the halls of elite commissions is to be lauded. Equally important is the tacit admission of a dirty little secret of educationists: the education system does not serve the learning needs of the vast majority of Indians. Nor does it serve the holistic development needs of local communities.

Remember Frontier Gandhi?
by Bharat Dogra and Reshma Bharti
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
The North-West Frontier Province, including the Swat valley, and FATA areas of Pakistan have become largely identified in recent times with the spread of the Taliban and their narrow, violent, extremist worldview. However, it is important to avoid the mistake of identifying all Pathan (or Pashtun or Pakhtun) people with this worldview. Several of them have resisted it bravely and suffered heavily for this.

Dragonfly flits between India and Mozambique
by Andrew Buncombe
It is known as the globe skimmer or wandering glider, but no one ever knew just
how far this remarkable dragonfly could actually travel. Now a British naturalist
living in the Maldives has claimed that Pantala flavescens may hold the record for
the longest migration of any insect. If it is confirmed, his theory would mean that
this dragonfly, which measures no more than 5cm, migrates from southern India
to Africa and then back.


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Better than expected
US remains committed on N-deal

Although the exact quality of relations between the Obama Administration
and New Delhi has yet to emerge, the visit to India by US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton suggests that Washington remains as committed to working with
India as “partners” on various global issues as the previous administration. The
Clinton visit has, indeed, gone off better than expected and, as such, has been
useful for both countries.

The most significant development was Ms Clinton’s declaration that the US would honour the nuclear deal with India in implementing it. She made it clear that the US would neither block the transfer of the latest nuclear technology to India nor deny any uranium enrichment and reprocessing technology to New Delhi.

She specifically mentioned that the G-8 controversial statement denying enrichment and reprocessing technologies to the countries that had not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty did not apply to India, as it fell in a different category. This ended the fears being expressed by skeptics after the change of political dispensation in Washington.

Ms Clinton concluded three agreements with India relating to cooperation in science and technology, defence and space exploration. The two countries finalised the end-use monitoring arrangement and a technology safeguards agreement to the satisfaction of both.

This will open the doors for US companies to sell their latest hardware to India without any hitch. The customary joint statement issued at the end of her visit laid the foundation for an India-US Strategic Dialogue, focussing on a wide range of bilateral, global and regional issues of mutual concern like terrorism.

There were, no doubt, areas of disagreement like those relating to protectionist economic policies of the US and climate change. But the US desire to work with India and help it emerge as a global power is bound to make the two countries take their relationship further.

Ms Clinton’s visit has brought out the fact that India continues to occupy a place of strategic significance in the US scheme of things. This is no small gain for both countries if they take their relations to another level of trust and understanding of each other’s compulsions.

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Kasab’s confession
An attempt to save himself from the gallows

It is indeed significant that the sole surviving terrorist of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Ajmal Amir Kasab, has suddenly thought it fit to admit his guilt before the special court in Mumbai. Kasab’s record since his arrest has been one of confusing the prosecution by making contradictory statements.

Earlier this year too he had made a confessional statement before a magistrate which was submitted to the court by the prosecution. But when the trial started, he retracted the statement. It is possible he has come to believe that telling the truth might earn him a lighter punishment than a possible death sentence.

While Kasab has named Lashkar e-Toiba operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi as a key conspirator, he has made no reference to Lashkar founder and now Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed who India regards as the kingpin of the operation. With Saeed being in the line of fire from India and the US after the provincial Punjab government in Pakistan decided not to appeal against a lower court judgment freeing him, one wonders whether Kasab is playing the tune of his mentors in Pakistan.

Another mysterious development is Kasab’s identification of Abu Jindal, a so-called Indian jehadi who he claims taught Hindi to the conspirators. Pakistan has of late been harping on an Indian connection to the Mumbai attacks, so even this revelation by Kasab needs to be taken with a pinch of salt since there was no earlier mention of this man.

If Kasab sticks to his statement, it would be up to Special Judge Tahiliani to decide whether to include the confession as evidence and continue the trial to track the Pakistani link further or to pronounce judgment and close this case. The issue is not just Kasab but also to what extent sections of the Pakistani establishment and the so-called non-state operators were party to the ghastly operation. Hopefully, the learned court will be able to get to the root of the conspiracy and unmask all those who contributed to it.

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Mandate for education
Let not the law remain on paper

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill that has been hanging fire for several years has moved one step closer to becoming a law. The Rajya Sabha has passed the landmark Bill that promises free and compulsory education for children aged between six and 14 years. While at the time of framing of the Constitution the founding fathers realised the significance of education, it could not be declared a fundamental right.

After the Lok Sabha’s approval and the Presidential assent, the right to education will become a fundamental right for every child. The Bill, which provides for the reservation of seats for disadvantaged sections in government-aided and private schools and the abolition of capitation fees as well as screening of parents and children for admission, can have far-reaching ramifications.

But its implementation will require a serious drive that no child is denied his or her right as also access to education. So far, India’s track record on providing education to its poor masses has been extremely poor. While the dropout rate is rather high, the government schools which cater to the underprivileged lack quality, both in terms of infrastructure and teaching.

Surveys have found that many primary schools do not have proper buildings and several operate from one room. In the given situation where many schools lack basic facilities, ensuring a school in every child’s neighbourhood will be a tall order. The Bill is an empowering measure and also makes the obligation of the State mandatory.

But it is only a good starting point and a step towards a common school system. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has rightly said, “It is a great opportunity.” Millions of children who are being denied education cannot be allowed to suffer. The law must not remain on paper or a promise.

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Thought for the Day

Remember that time is money. — Benjamin Franklin

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Unrest in Xinjiang
Birds coming home to roost for China
by Mohan Guruswamy

Xinjiang or East Turkestan abuts the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. The last leg of the ancient trade route linking India to the fabled Silk Route ran from Leh to Kashgar and Khotan through the legendary Karakorum Pass. This was the route on which mule trains brought valuable pashm into India to be woven into fine shawls in the Kashmir valley.

For many centuries the kingdom of Ladakh extracted rich levies from traders plying this route and prospered. The seeds of Ladakh’s decline were sown when the great Ladakhi king, Sengge Namgyal, after a dispute with his Kashmir overlord imposed a blockade of all trade emanating from the valley. His intention was to economically weaken Kashmir by crippling its pashmina shawl industry.

The traders then discovered an alternative trade route linking Punjab with Tibet and Xinjiang through Shipki La, now in Himachal Pradesh. This brought the shawl- weaving centres to Punjab and places like Ludhiana prospered. Historically, India had many other linkages with Turkestan. These links were snapped after China annexed both Xinjiang and Tibet after the Communists seized power in Beijing in 1949.

Like Tibet, Xinjiang also had a troubled relationship with China. Chinese dominance waxed and waned with the ebbs and tides of imperial power in Beijing. After 1912 when Sun Yat Sen proclaimed a republic, by now enfeebled China for all practical purposes lost all authority in Tibet and Xinjiang. Chinese garrisons were driven out and local leaderships assumed complete authority. The KMT regime of Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek tried to reassert Chinese authority but largely failed to do so.

While Tibet was securely under the control of the Buddhist theocracy, Xinjiang came under the sway of several warlords till 1941 when a renegade KMT general-turned-warlord, Sheng Tsi Tsai, established a Soviet Republic under the close guidance of the Comintern in Moscow. The Russians now moved in. They took over all international relations and trade.

It had consequences in India, because it caused the British to Ladakh’s border outwards by incorporating Aksai Chin to create a buffer. In 1949 Stalin handed over Xinjiang to the newly established People’s Republic of China of Mao Zedong. In 1949 the population of Xinjiang comprised almost entirely of various Turkic nationalities of which the Uighurs were the largest.

Han Chinese only accounted for 6 per cent. Thanks to a continuous migration sanctioned and blessed by the authorities in Beijing, that proportion has now gone up to almost 48 per cent. Much of this is centered in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, which is over 80 per cent Han. The Uighurs are still the majority in the region below the Khotan and Kashgar line. This is the region that abuts India.

In the recent years the Government of India has been active in Ladakh. It has begun to build a motorable road that will link Leh via Nubra with the far-flung Daulet Beg Oldi. It has also recommissioned the airfield at DBO to receive larger aircraft. DBO overlooks the Karakorum Pass that is linked by motorable roads to Kashgar and Khotan. It is obviously hoped that one day modern caravans will ply these roads and re-establish the lost economic linkages with Xinjiang.

This writer visited Xinjiang a couple of years ago for a conference organised by the Chinese authorities at Urumqi. The Xinjiang capital is now a modern and well-developed city with many industries. The gas and oil finds in the immediate region have given impetus to the development of the area. But unfortunately the gains have not been equally shared.

The Uighurs still continue to be less well-off and deprived. The feeling that it is their national resources that are being exploited by the Chinese authorities to mostly benefit the Han migrants is quite pervasive among the Uighurs. Shopkeepers in the bustling ancient marketplace were quite open and vocal about their sentiments.

Many Uighurs speak a bit of Urdu due to the burgeoning relationship developed with Pakistan after the construction of the Karakorum highway. Urumqi has several restaurants that advertise themselves as serving Pakistani food.

There is also another unintended but nevertheless burgeoning Pakistan connection. Well-known Pakistani terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jamaat-ul-Dawa have trained no less than 4000 Uighurs to wage jihad in their homeland. The ISI connection with these outfits is well known.

The Chinese nevertheless continue to assist Pakistan with modern conventional and strategic weapons. It is now well established that the Pakistani missiles aimed at targets in India are Chinese in origin and the nuclear bombs that may be sitting atop them are of Chinese design. Since missiles can be made to point anywhere, the Chinese now fear the takeover of Pakistan by the jihadis as much as India or the US. So much for Chinese foresight.

When in Xinjiang we had planned to drive down from Urumqi to Kashgar. But it had to be dropped as the road was interdicted by rebels. The Chinese are now seeking to link the Uighur rebels with Al-Qaeda. But to paint all Uighur nationalists with the same brush would not be correct.

The East Turkestan Freedom Movement predates the clandestine war on Soviet-controlled Afghanistan by an axis of the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China. This axis even orchestrated attacks on the Turkic underbelly of the former Soviet Union. One fallout of this unholy alliance is the advent of Wahabi Islam in the Turkic regions which hitherto mostly adhered to the Sufi traditions of Islam.

If what the Chinese claim about Al-Qaeda is true, then it is just a case of the birds coming home to roost. Whatever be the reasons behind the groundswell of Uighur sentiments against China, there is a lesson in it for them. That is, economic development alone does not guarantee fraternal feelings.

History cannot be overlooked by merely rewriting it and air-brushing portraits or smothering it with cash and shopping malls. Democracy is a good place to start to make ethnically and culturally different peoples to feel and think of each other as part of a whole. But the stork carrying democracy is not due to visit China soon, and Xinjiang will continue to be a troubled place.

The writer is President, Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi.

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Mango mania
by Vivek Atray

Mirza Ghalib’s views on those who do not relish mangoes are so well known that there is not much to be gained from reproducing them here, except perhaps the annoyance of that minuscule minority that is not afflicted by Mango mania. Suffice it to say that come summer, most of us are compelled by a strong urge to dig into basket loads of the delicacy at every possible opportunity.

This universal craze for the king of fruits has translated into a variety of incidents that I have been witness to over the years. My mother would regale family and friends with tales of how I as a toddler who could barely walk often used to be found under the dining table having finished off an entire Dasehri with the “guthli” quite miraculously still inside the peel. Not much has changed today, and I still love Dasehris, but I’m even crazier about Chausas and I simply go mad when I spot a Langra, especially if it is just the right colour.

Having thus devoured thousands of mangoes over the years I have always professed myself to be a blue-blooded expert on the subject. It is not often that I can be outsmarted when it comes to recognising the correct breed or selecting just the right piece from the fruit seller’s pile.

Perhaps part of my training came from hearing endless debates between my late parents on their favourite variety. My mother was always a Langra fan but my father always insisted that the Dasehri was not at all an “aam”, it was a “khaas”! My father also used to speak of the time when as a university student he and his friends would consume five kilos of mangoes, each!

Then there are those who have no idea about the intricacies of the subject and simply concentrate on polishing off as many pieces as possible as soon as they are unveiled. My wife is one of them. She used to insist before we got married that the best mangoes were the little ones which had no name but which simply were termed as “Chupne Vaale Aam’.

Once she became a part of our family, her general awareness on the subject increased rapidly and today she is almost as clued up about these divine delights as I am. Some mango lovers complain that the fruit makes them put on weight, that it soils their clothes and that it causes pimples and stomach upsets and thus ending up actually denying themselves.

Others simply swoop upon pile after pile during the season and worry about
cosmetic matters and fitness issues after it is over. Somehow a carefree attitude
becomes a true mango fan. What, after all, is the point of living a life if it is to be
lived sans mangoes.

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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Another way to teach
Children must learn without stress
by Manish Jain

More than any of the specific policy proposals, Kapil Sibal’s willingness to open a national dialogue on education outside the halls of elite commissions is to be lauded. Equally important is the tacit admission of a dirty little secret of educationists: the education system does not serve the learning needs of the vast majority of Indians. Nor does it serve the holistic development needs of local communities.

As climate change and economic collapse loom before our generation, this is indeed a welcome opportunity to rethink some of the assumptions that have defined the framework of schooling until now, such as: monoculture, fragmented disciplines, competition, compulsion and authoritarianism.

Everyone already agrees that government schools in villages are in bad shape. What will make this round of dialogue interesting is if we open up to greater interrogation the claim that elite private schools are providing “good education”.

It is essential to ask: Are children prepared to deal responsibly with the kinds of challenging uncertainty that characterises the 21st century? What are the opportunities for students to develop higher order skills such as: unlearning, critical analysis, research, problem solving, imagination, self-expression, decision-making, self-introspection, team work, wisdom? Are children equipped to build healthy and sustainable communities, and live in harmony and integrity?

The intention behind Sibal’s proposals is to reduce pressure on the child and to increase the joy of learning. This is a start, but it’s like giving a painkiller to someone who is bleeding to death. It does not solve the root sickness facing the education system.

Stress and pressure do not come only from the examination or marks. They come from unreasonable family expectations, from the mass media and a culture of consumerism, from a society that pushes greater and greater competition and intolerance.

Most importantly, they come from within an unmotivated, unconfident and frustrated learner – from one who holds a zero sum set of possibilities about their life. The mission of education must go beyond just teaching for exams.

The policy framework must seek to restore meaning, relevance and authenticity to the learning process. Real satisfaction and achievement do not come from external rewards or punishment. It comes from within.

Intrinsic motivation gives us the strength to construct our own lifelong learning journey and to embrace the struggle, conflict and pain that often accompany learning. It is the cultivation of this spirit that Mark Twain was alluding to when he said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

If India wishes to become a real democracy, then democratic practices will need to be modelled in the classroom. Also developing entrepreneurship involves more than providing vocational training. Both require a fundamental attitudinal shift.

We need to transform our policy discourse from “child-centred” to “child-directed” learning. This means that students should have a greater voice in what, when and how they learn. We must boldly declare that every child is intelligent, curious, talented and unique.

Rather than imposing a readymade syllabus, we need to explore with students what do they want to learn, what burning questions are alive within their communities, what are they passionate about doing right now? This vision will not happen overnight. But we must set our compass in the right direction.

Today, the world acknowledges diversity as a critical element in the survival of the planet. This refers not only to biological diversity but also to cultural diversity. There are many forms of intelligence and knowledge systems in India.

The current education system, with its Western urban-industrial bias, actively discriminates against this diversity. The child in rural India knows many valuable things but this is not recognised by the school.

Ask most elite urban children to build a bamboo house or to use medicinal plants and they would be stumped. We must stop all forms of institutional discrimination against those who do not have school certificates.

The policy framework must focus on decolonising education and making it locally relevant. About 30-40 per cent of the curriculum should be locally generated. We must also expand the range of “teachers” in the system.

Local knowledge holders and innovators such as artisans, businessmen, storytellers, gunis, farmers, government departments, should be enlisted to share their experiences.

Incentives should be provided to teachers to develop inspiring grassroots co-curricular learning programmes and exciting materials in local languages. Such efforts are already successfully being carried out in countries such as Peru and Bolivia.

Learning is as much an emotional process as it is cognitive. The role of teachers is not just to impart information. They need to be mentors and reflective guides to students. This means that they need time to listen and intimately interact with each student.

This is simply not possible with the prescribed student-teacher ratio of 40:1. There should be a policy directive to reduce the class size; initially to 25:1 in the short term and then to 15:1.

In addition, strong efforts must be made to restrict “up-down” teachers (those who live in the city and daily commute to rural areas). These teachers’ lives revolve around bus timings. They have virtually no extra time to get involved in the lives of children and their local communities.

To impose a single uniform measurement on one billion people is not only ludicrous, it is criminal. The Class X and XII exams should not carry the high stakes value that they currently do. They should be delinked from admission and hiring procedures.

Instead, professional associations should be encouraged to articulate the kinds of skills, knowledge, experiences and attitudes that are needed for entering a particular field and to develop appropriate evaluation mechanisms.

At the same time, diverse kinds of assessment tools should be developed. Research from neuroscience tells us that honest feedback is an essential part of brain development. Neither the examination nor a grade system gives the student the kinds of feedback that they need.

A healthy feedback system should include qualitative opportunities for self-assessment, peer-to-peer assessment, personal portfolios and even for students to assess teachers.

The current examination system does not raise quality; rather, it unfairly punishes students for the education system’s poor quality. Various other non-punitive mechanisms for monitoring and improving quality around the country should be created.

The policy framework should support young people to take a one-year break after Class X and XII. Students should be encouraged to venture outside the four walls and explore their own interests and the real world.

The book “Free from School” by Rahul Alvares gives a beautiful account of one young person’s learning journey away from school. He draws attention to a wide range of rich learning opportunities such as apprenticeships, travelling, libraries, animals and spending time in nature and with family.

This is merely a sketch of what is possible. Ultimately, though, it is not Kapil Sibal or even the government that can bring about real changes in the education system. It will be up to each of us to rise to the challenge.

The writer (manish@swaraj.org) is a co-founder of Shikshantar Andolan,
an Udaipur-based NGO.


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Remember Frontier Gandhi?
by Bharat Dogra and Reshma Bharti

The North-West Frontier Province, including the Swat valley, and FATA areas of Pakistan have become largely identified in recent times with the spread of the Taliban and their narrow, violent, extremist worldview. However, it is important to avoid the mistake of identifying all Pathan (or Pashtun or Pakhtun) people with this worldview. Several of them have resisted it bravely and suffered heavily for this.

Above all, it is important to remember that during India’s freedom movement, and more specifically during 1929 to 1947, this same area was the scene of one of the most inspiring non-violent struggles of the world, a struggle of the brave Pathans against the world’s biggest imperial force at that time.

This was done under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), one of the most inspiring figures of the 20th century who suffered the greatest pains willingly in his quest for peace and freedom for his people.

He spent over 30 years in jail for his completely peaceful struggles. He was called Badshah Khan (King of Khans) by his people who loved him most deeply. Elsewhere people called him Frontier Gandhi for taking Gandhi’s idea of peaceful resistance to injustice to the most violence-prone frontier province bordering Afghanistan.

As this was a most sensitive area from the security perspective of the British Empire, repression here was even worse than in other parts of the country. Badshah Khan was able to mobilise an army of thousands of completely peaceful soldiers called ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’ (servants of God) who after taking an oath for non-violence never raised their hands in retaliation despite worst atrocities against them by the imperial army and police.

This great example of peaceful struggle was set by the Pathans who were earlier known for their violence and a highly exaggerated notion of revenge. This unique army of peaceful soldiers was completely voluntary and every one offered his services free. Women also played an important role.

Badshah Khan regarded Mahatma Gandhi as his most important source of inspiration. Gandhi, in turn, said that what Badshah Khan had achieved at the grassroots had inspired him the most.

When Gandhi visited the Frontier in 1936 at the invitation of Badshah Khan, he noticed wherever he went “every man, woman and child knew him and loved him. They greeted him most familiarly. His touch seemed to soothe them. [He] was most gentle to whosoever approached him. All this has filled me with boundless joy. A general merits such obedience. But [Ghaffar Khan] has it by right of love, unlike the ordinary general who exacts obedience through fear”.

Gandhi told Ghaffar Khan, while departing. “I shall conclude with the prayer that the Frontier Pathans may not make only India free, but teach the world... the priceless lesson of non-violence.”

Later, Gandhi wrote about this visit, “The Frontier Province must remain a place of frequent pilgrimage for me. For though the rest of India may fail to show true non-violence, there seems to be good ground for hoping that the Frontier Province will pass through the fiery ordeal.”

According to Badshah Khan’s biographer Eknath Easwaran, one secret of his extraordinary success was the ability to understand the true qualities of his Pathan people hidden beneath the violent exterior.

“Beneath the violence and ignorance, Khan saw men and women capable of extraordinary self-effacement, endurance, and courage. He knew his task: to educate, to enlighten, to lift up, to inspire. With understanding, he saw, the violence and venality would fall from the Pathan character like dead limbs from a tree.”

In one of his prayers Ghaffar Khan says, “I have one great desire. I want to rescue these gentle, brave, patriotic people from the tyranny of the foreigners who have disgraced and dishonoured them. I want to create for them a world of freedom, where they can laugh and be happy. I want to show the world how beautiful they are, these people from the hills, and then I want to proclaim : Show me, if you can, any gentler, more courteous, more cultured people than these.”

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Dragonfly flits between India and Mozambique
by Andrew Buncombe

It is known as the globe skimmer or wandering glider, but no one ever knew just how far this remarkable dragonfly could actually travel. Now a British naturalist living in the Maldives has claimed that Pantala flavescens may hold the record for the longest migration of any insect. If it is confirmed, his theory would mean that this dragonfly, which measures no more than 5cm, migrates from southern India to Africa and then back.

“It’s an amazing story,” said the naturalist, Charles Anderson, speaking by telephone from his home in Male, capital of the Maldives. “But what is beautiful is that the pieces of the puzzle fit together.” Mr Anderson first started thinking about the dragonflies after he arrived in the Maldives in 1983. Every year in October, millions of the creatures arrive in swarms, a phenomenon that is well known to local people and which they say heralds the beginning of the north-east monsoon.

What the naturalist found particularly strange was that the Maldives – a string of more than 1,200 coral atolls located off the south-west coast of India – possessed only a tiny amount of fresh water on its surface. Fresh water, rather than salt, is essential for the breeding and life-cycle of dragonflies. Intrigued by the appearance of these creatures, he began collecting data and maintaining records about the dragonflies’ arrival and departure.

He discovered that the dragonflies in the Maldives arrived somewhat after similar swarms of the insects appeared in southern India. On the more southerly atolls of the Maldives, they appeared later still. The numbers peaked in November and December.

Mr Anderson believes the dragonflies are heading to southern and east Africa, slowly making their way eastwards on the tradewinds. In the northern Seychelles, around 1,700 miles from India, the dragonflies appear in November. In Uganda they appear twice a year – in March and April and again in September, while in Mozambique and Tanzania they arrive in December.

Mr Anderson, who has published his findings in the Journal of Tropical Ecology, believes the creatures are making the most of the weather system of the so-called Intertropical Convergence Zone, that moves southwards by way of the Maldives every year. It follows those winds at a height of more than 3,000 feet. “Circumstantial evidence suggests that the dragonflies fly with north-easterly tail winds, within and behind the ITCZ,” he writes.

The naturalist said he had also collated circumstantial evidence to suggest the dragonflies returned to the Maldives in the spring, en route back to Africa. In all, the journey would total around 12,000 miles and would involve the dragonflies passing through four generations.

As they make their way eastwards to Africa, the dragonflies attract company. Mr Anderson says these birds probably flew at about the same altitude as the dragonflies, made use of the same winds and ate the insects as they went.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Corrections and clarifications

In the first para of the item “Citi posts $ 4.28 billion profit” (Page 21, July 18) “…banking behemoth Citigroup today posted swung into profit of $ 4.28 billion…” the words “swung into” were wrongly inserted.

The headline “Samiti threatens Amarnath land-like stir” (Page 6, July 19) was
inappropriate. It should have been “Samiti threatens stir over shifting varsity
to Srinagar.”

In the headline “Schools to have toilets, drinking water by August 15” (Page 14, July 20) the word “All” should preceded “schools”.

The headline “FII inflow cross $ 6 bn mark” (Page 15, July 21) should have been “FII inflow crosses $ 6 bn mark.”

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

This column will now appear thrice a week — every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Kamlendra Kanwar, Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is kanwar@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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