South Asia Theater
The recent devastating floods in the northern India state of Uttarakhand are being called a "Himalayan tsunami"—and an ominous portent for the future of the millions of people living downstream from the world's highest mountain range. The June floods may have killed as many as 6,000 people, although the majority of these are still officially considered "missing." The deluge wiped out the Hindu pilgrimage town of Kedarnath, causing damage to the 1,200-year-old temple to Shiva there. A smaller temple, built after an ancient one on the site was destroyed in a 1991 earthquake, was entirely swept away by the rain-swollen waters of the Bhagirathi River. "The Kedarnath floods may be only a small precursor to never-seen-before mega-floods," Maharaj K. Pandit, director of Delhi University's Center for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environments, told India Today.
A counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. First, in ostensibly democratic India, the country's newest and largest nuclear power plant has just gone on line—despite years of angry protests by local peasants in Tamil Nadu state. The first unit at the Russian-built Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) and India's 21st reactor, went critical July 14, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) announced. Earlier this year India's Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to the opening of the plat, saying the project was for the "people's welfare." Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and the Tamil nationalist Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have pledged a new round of protests to demand it be immediately shut down.
Srinagar and other towns in India-administrated Jammu and Kashmir are under curfew following unrest over the killing of four protesters by the Border Security Forces (BSF) on July 18. The killings took place in the Gool area of Ramban district. According to locals in Ramban, protests erupted after BSF personnel roughed up a religious leader's brother following an argument over offering late-night Ramadan prayers. The BSF dismisses this version, saying a mob attacked their camp and tried to storm their storehouse of arms and ammunition. Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has called for a three-day general strike in response to the incident, while several other prominent separatists have been arrested. A clash between demonstrators and security forces at the town of Doda, in Chenab valley, left 20 injured, including five police officers. The Amarnath Yatra, an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a sacred cave associated with the god Shiva in the mountains of Kashmir, has been ordered suspended. (Hindustan Times, CSM, July 19)
Islamist leader Ghulam Azam, 91, was sentenced to 90 years by the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICTB) on July 15 for crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 independence war. The tribunal stated that Azam deserved capital punishment, but was given a prison term because of his advanced age. Bangladesh maintains that Pakistan's army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women with the assistance of local collaborators during the war. From 1969 to 2000, Azam was the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is accused of organizing the collaborationist attacks. He is the third Islamist leader to be convicted in recent months for violence in the 1971 war. At least three people died in clashes in Dhaka after the verdict was announced. (AP, NYT, BBC News, AFP, Al Jazeera, July 15)
A string of nine near-simultaneous bomb blasts in and around the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, revered as the birthplace of Buddhism, left two monks injured on July 7. Another two live bombs were reportedly found near the temple and defused There was no damage to the temple, or to the holy bodhi tree within the complex, said to be that under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. The right-opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately accused the central and Bihar governments of failing to take steps to avert the attack despite warnings from the intelligence services.
For those who are following the twin Maoist movements in India and Nepal, there was a delicious irony May 30 when Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), sent a condolence letter to Indian political boss Sonia Gandhi over the recent attack by Maoist Naxalite guerillas in which 27 were killed, including senior leaders of Gandhi's Congress Party. "Our party UCPN-Maoist is deeply shocked and saddened by the demise of leaders and workers of the Indian National Congress in the recent attack in Chattisgarh...unleashed by Indian Maoists," Prachanda wrote. Zee News notes that among the dead was Mahendra Karma, a notorious paramilitary leader who was accused of atrocities against perceived guerilla sympathists. A like letter from Nepali Congress party leader Sushil Koirala said: "I am extremely shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the death of senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, other leaders and cadres of your party along with other innocent people in the ambush by the Maoists in Chattisgarh."
Naxalite rebels ambushed a convoy in a densely forested area of India's Chhattisgarh state as the Congress party members were returning from a rally May 25, leaving 28 dead and nearly as many injured. Four state party leaders and five police officers were among those killed. Other victims were party supporters. Police identified one of those dead as Mahendra Karma, also known as the "Bastar Tiger," a Congress leader in Chhattisgarh who founded a local militia, the Salwa Judum, to combat the Maoist guerillas. Authorities were forced to rein in the militia after it was accused of atrocities against adivasis—indigenous people on the bottom rungs of India's rigid social ladder. (AP, PTI, Times of India, May 26)
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, an angry May Day march descended on the city center with drums, red flags, and chants of "Hang the killers, Hang the Factory Owners!" In Jakarta, Indonesia, some of the tens of thousands of marchers were dressed as ants—complete with bright red outfits and antennae—to depict the exploitation of workers. In Hong Kong, the ranks of marchers were swollen past 10,000 by striking dockworkers and their supporters. In Greece, transport came to a halt as thousands of public-sector workers walked off the job in a one-day strike. May Day protests in downtown Seattle turned violent, with police using pepper spray to disperse anarchists who pelted them with rocks, bottles, metal pipes, fireworks and a skateboard. (CSM, CNN, AFP, SCMP, May 1)