Dialogue  October-December, 2004, Volume 6  No. 2

Editorial Perspective

The Manipur Episode

Normal life came to a halt in Manipur on December 27 following a 13-hour general strike called by Apunba Lup to press for repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The accepted view in Delhi is that the Apunba Lup led agitation in Manipur has run out of steam and a number of inquiry committees have taken care of the Manorama Devi incident in which a section of the Assam Rifles personnel were accused of violating and killing her after taking her into custody. It is also felt that the demand for the withdrawal of the AFSPA has also lost its edge with the appointment of a Committee to examine the issue of making necessary recommendations to the Govt. of India about its continuance etc. The Apunba Lup has decided not to appear before the AFSPA Committee.

The above impressions are a facile view of the incident and the agitation in its aftermath. The emotional and psychological impact has been considerable and the demand for the withdrawal of the AFSPA from the area is only symbolic of a deeper malaise. The real damage was caused by the manner in which the whole issue was dealt with. The subsequent statements of the Chief of the Army Staff and the Director General of Assam Rifles that Manorama Devi was not raped and that she belonged to the PLA only deepened the crisis, particularly when a judicial inquiry was underway on both the counts. This statement conveyed a sense that since Manorama Devi belonged to the PLA, somehow her killing was less serious or justified. In a country where the rule of law prevails even worse kind of criminals and terrorists when taken into custody, are entitled to due process of law including his/her safety and security. For all that matters Manorama Devi could have been the Chairman of PLA. Where the facts warranted a transparent, prompt and decisive action, the response was characterized by dithering and evasiveness.

One wishes that the security forces had acted with the same promptness and alacrity as they had in the subsequent case of allegations against Major Rehman in Jammu and Kashmir where he was accused of molestation/rape of a women and her 12-year old daughter. Medical report did not support the allegation of molestation of the girl. Even while the inquiries were in progress, the Army put Major Rehman under ‘close arrest’ pending internal and external inquiries. One wonders if it was direct result of the price paid by the security forces in Manipur for not acting promptly although the allegations against Major Rehman were not of the same gravity as in case of Manorama Devi. Subsequently it was decided to subject the to court martial trial.

Shorn of all semantics and plausible different posturings, there is a need for introspection both on the part of the Government and the security forces on the manner in which the issue was handled. It is true and desirable that in the face of terrorist/insurgency situation, the armed forces require legal cover so that they can function effectively. However, a distinction must be made that such a cover is for the protection of the legitimate and bonafide actions of the security forces and by no stretch of imagination it is a license. Secondly, ideally such ‘extreme legislations’ like the AFSPA, are meant to effectively counter such situations in a specific area for a short term. Such measures lose their original thrust and purpose and in due course lead to incidents like that of Manorama Devi, if stretched over prolonged periods of decades, as is the case in Nagaland and Manipur. At the same time when allegations of such a transgression take place, the action has to be just, swift and firm, if nothing else to protect the honour and dignity of the security force unit concerned. In such cases any hesitation is not only fatal but causes scars which last long. After the dust has settled down on the Manorama Devi episode, the Army and the security forces themselves would realise that they have done a grave injustice to themselves and their reputation, by the manner in which they handled the episode.

When the Disasters Visit

Tsunami caused death toll mounted rapidly with 7000 reported dead in India and over 12000 in Sri Lanka and 5000 in Indonesia within a day after the happening. It was supposed to go up further. Tamilnadu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been the worst sufferers in India. The Car Nicobar base of the Indian Air Force has been pushed off the map by sea, 100 IAF personnel and their family members have perished. Even Somalia and Seychelles of African continent suffered. The former is 65000 kms away from the epi-centre in the north-western tip of Indonesia. More or less nine countries suffered. Fortunately, Bangladesh, with hardly one metre elevation from the sea level upto 100 kms away from the sea, was spared from this havoc.

Any earthquake of the magnitude of 7.5 or more on the Richter scale generates a sudden drop of sea-water level at the epicenter. It causes displacement of huge quantity of water and generates huge waves. Such waves, called ‘tsunami’ in Japan, travel at very high speed of 700-725 kms per hour. The waves become higher as they approach the seashore. The highest tsunami, recorded so far in Japan, was 28 metres. The marine disaster of 26 December 2004 was caused due to the earthquake of the magnitude 8.9 and was the fifth largest since 1900. It was a rare happening. But it has also exposed our inadequacies.

Within 15 minutes of the earthquake, warnings were issued to 26 countries, which did not include India, from Tsunami Warning System of Honolulu in Hawai Islands. It stated, “Revised magnitude based on analysis of mantle waves (8.5). This earthquake is located outside the Pacific. No destructive tsunami threat exists for the Pacific basin….There is the possibility of a tsunami near the epicentre” And it was the same tsunami which caused havoc at our eastern coast. Andaman & Nicobar Islands was too near to take advantage of the warning issued, but the same was not the case with the mainland coastal areas. Tsunami waves would have taken 150 to 180 minutes to reach our coasts and it was possible to warn our people through radio, T.V. and loudspeakers in vulnerable areas/people. After all, even, Seychelles, a small island nation, had sent out an alert message and its civil defense forces were ready to handle the situation. We have satellites through which it was possible to get information about the approaching catastrophe. Again, It was possible to get information from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), of which India is a member, or from some U.N. agencies having the network to monitor tsunamis. The SOS from our embassies would have also helped us. It is strange that Indian Meteorological Department failed to forewarn the country about the visiting calamity. It needs mention that only the tsunami of this magnitude was new for India and not the tsunami itself.

Tad Murty, a Canada based Indian, helped in setting up Pacific Tsunami Warning System and Canadian Tsunami Warning System three decades ago. He tried several times to do the same in India. The Government said “no money”. And now they have thousands of crores to spend for relief and rehabilitation. The Centre is ‘to install Wave Warning System soon”. There is a realization only now that ‘We should be linked to global warning network’

Many years have passed since we had unprecedented earthquake in Kutch. Even national capital Delhi is not ready to handle a disaster of that type today. Media will be quick to criticize and condemn, but does not educate the people and does not report about the houses being built everyday which will prove to be grave-yards in case of an earthquake. The School curriculum does not include lessons on disaster management. Politicians do not miss a single opportunity to do politics over the grave. There is need to shed our callousness and complacency. Sooner we do so is better.

India and Central Asia

Astha Bharati and Indian Council for Cultural Relations jointly organized an International Seminar on “India and Central Asia: Classical to Contemporary Period” in New Delhi on March 1-3, 2004. This issue of the journal carries some of the papers presented in that seminar. The papers highlight various aspects of the history, culture, languages, economy and the politics, including the geo-politics, of the two neighbouring regions

There are many factors, such as our age-old historical and cultural linkages and common economic and strategic interests, which bind India and Central Asia together. Vast treasures of information about our links are available from Tibetan, Chinese and Russian sources. Expeditions and individuals have unearthed vast materials. The leading Russian pre-historians have discovered large remains of Sohan culture across difficult mountainous terrain of the Hindukush and Pamir in the vallies of Oxus and its tributaries.

Diffusion of culture continued in the Neolithic stage and in Bronze Age culture also. There is a marked similarity between Kangra valley Neolithic culture of India and Gissan (Hissar) culture of Central Asia. Details of the mountains, rivers, vegetation, climate, etc of Central Asia have been given in the Puranas and the epics. S.M. Ali (Geography of the Puranas, New Delhi, 1996) and other scholars (H. Raychaudhury, Studies in Indian Antiquities, Calcutta, 1932; N.L. Deva, The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India, London, 1927) have done useful work towards their identification. Shakas, Hunas, Turushkas (Turks), Tusharas, Darada, Pahlava, Rishik, Kanka (Kengyu) and Lampaka people finds numerous mention in classical Indian literature.

Vast treasure of art materials, manuscripts, temples and stupas have been discovered in the excavations at Penzikent (Tajikistan), Varaksha (Uzbekistan), Adzhina Tepe (Tajikistan) and other places in the Western Central Asia by the Russian and Central Asian scholars. The language and the script of 764 Kharoshthi documents discovered in Xinjiang in Eastern Central Asia is Indian. Sanskrit dramas and texts on medicine, astronomy and astrology written in Brahmi script, hundreds of documents of administrative, commercial, legal and miscellaneous kinds, drafts in Sanskrit, Prakrit or Central Asian dialects written in Indian scripts and tablets of complete Brahmi script have been discovered from Central Asian sites. Aurel Stein’s collection from Xinjiang had also the art objects including paintings from ‘Thousand Buddha Temple in Tun-huang.

Entire Silk route was dotted with cities where Indian culture, languages and way of living prevailed. Many dynasties had Indian origin. Vijaya kings of Khotan ruled for more than thousand years. Many Indian dialects are even now spoken in parts of Central Asia. Russian and other scholars have written about the influence of Indian culture in folk-lore, geographical names, moral-ethical code, rituals and other spheres of every day life of Central Asia. Buddhism was the dominant religion of Central Asia before the arrival of Islam. Apart from Mithraism (Sun-worship), Brahma, Indra, Mahadeva (Shiva), Narayana and Vaishravana (Kubera) were also worshipped. Brahma, Indra and Shiva had the Sogdian names Zravan, Adbad, and Veshparkar respectively. Portable fire altars associated with Mahadeva-Veshparkar, Brahma-Zravan and Indra-Adbad were found in a mural of 8th century at Penjikent.

There have been un-interrupted two way flow of men, materials and ideas between India and Central Asia. Central Asia played pioneering role in the spread of Buddhism and Indian culture, especially Indian music. Many scholars of Central Asian origin translated Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to the Chinese language. The names and works of the Central Asian scholars – Al-Beruni, Al-Khorezmi, Zia-ul Din Nakhshabi and Abdurrazzak Samarkandi are well-known in India.

It is necessary for us to know Central Asia, as it helps us to understand ourself in perspective because India and Central Asia formed part of a cultural continuum. Again, it is in the interest of both India and Central Asia to effectively advance and diversify their co-operation in various fields.

           —B.B. Kumar

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati