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Of simplicity and ethereal beauty: Memories of growing up in a different Darjeeling

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Darjeeling GJM Protest
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By Saket Suman 

New Delhi, June 18: “‘When the wind is right and the cloud is gone, you can see down this road as far as Darjeeling,’ I told her. ‘But it is a long and difficult road, full of perils, and if a traveller on foot were to look at the length of it, his spirit would be overcome and he would sit down and refuse to go any further. You must not look to the end of the road, Portia. Look only to the step in front of you. That you can do. Just one step. And you will not make the journey alone,'” Deanna Raybourn famously wrote in “Dark Road to Darjeeling”.

These lines would be read aloud again and again by our headmaster during my childhood in a boarding school in Darjeeling. He was a strict disciplinarian and an avid trekker who would lead a troupe of 50-60 interested students on long treks right up to the mountains and through the most remote hamlets of the hills — the small pristine villages of Chitre, Chimney, Dowhill and Bagora, among others — literally mingling with the fog that played hide and seek with travellers.

Growing up in the hills, surrounded by birds, bees and a hundred different kinds of trees in the midst of a perennial calm that then exemplified Darjeeling, I had come to terms with the serenity of the hills, the composed temperament of being one with nature and, above all, a sense of belonging to a home of lush green tea valleys.

There is much more to Darjeeling than just tourism. The lifestyle and culture in this part of north Bengal is different from most parts of the country, and more so from West Bengal, the state in which this small tourist destination is situated. Another significant aspect of Darjeeling is its many heritage schools that house boarding students from across the country. The small towns of Kurseong, Mirik, Kalimpong and, of course, Darjeeling, are home to some of the most reputed ICSE schools in India.

As one looks at the horrifying images of violent mobs burning public properties and clashing with police personnel amid the growing unrest in the hills, thoughts return to those carefree days in Darjeeling, an everlasting testament to calmness and peace. Violence and protests that have now come to define the Gorkhaland agitation are contrary to my memories of Darjeeling and its ever-warm and humble residents.

When I first arrived in Darjeeling as a young student — away from the comfort of home — its many warm people embraced me with open arms and thus began my tryst with the hills that has continued till today. This was also the period when the Gorkhaland agitation, which was spearheaded in the 1980s by Subhash Ghisingh, a former army soldier and a poet, had faded away and paradise remained undisturbed.

In 2007, the demand for separate state was once again was raised by Bimal Gurung, who broke off from Ghisingh’s Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and floated a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. Repeated protests and agitations marked the next four years but as somebody witnessing it first-hand in the hills, it seemed more a result of the long-standing ethnic and linguistic factors than being politically motivated. Whenever there were strikes or protests, the locals came out in large numbers to support the tourists and help them back safely.

Students like me were guided by our teachers and we took to the streets distributing food to stranded tourists, addressing their queries and even providing shelter to many in the school dormitories, when required. It is these memories that make me refuse to believe that people in Darjeeling, as seen in recent reports, are violent and contemptuous towards tourists.

Darjeeling taught me to respect the “other”, and to respect things that I may not associate myself with. As issues such as beef bans and religious tensions gain prominence today, I am reminded of the many meals that students shared happily at the same table. My friends from Nepal loved pork, while those from Bangladesh preferred beef. I was happy with my chicken drumsticks and just around the corner would be vegetarians who were content with paneer.

Seven days a week — all through the course of our schooling in — we shared meals together, without one offending the other, or the other being offended by another.

One may argue that we were too young at that time to understand or voice opinions on these complex issues, but such habits of mutual respect are inculcated in the lives of almost everybody who grows up in Darjeeling. Imposing Bengali and making it compulsory was thus bound to displease the Nepali-speaking hill communities.

People in Darjeeling are, as they should be, proud of their heritage and culture. They are only as protective about it as their counterparts in the rest of Bengal but the violence that has come to surface does more harm to the ethereal image of Darjeeling than good.

IANS

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Modi deliberately omits to mention ‘rape’, refuses to recognise culpability of BJP men

During his programme ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ Modi cunningly diverted the actual and direct reply regarding the incidents of rapes of minor girls in India, saying, violence against women an evil of not just the individual but also of society.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now trying to give moral advice to Congress President Rahul Gandhi not to politicise the rape cases that has sparked outrage across the country and abroad but he forgets that women’s security is very much a part of governance and he himself reminded the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi during UPA II tenure of ensuring women’s safety.

After four years, Prime minister Narendra Modi is being greeted with protests at home as well as in London due to his wrong policies and the rise of sexual violence against women, particularly two brutal rapes…

Angry people of Indian origin held placards reading “Modi go home”,“we stand against Modi’s agenda of hate and greed”, “Modi stop killing minorities” and “Justice for Kathua rape victim” demonstrated outside Downing Street and British parliament as Modi arrived for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Whenever Modi is on a foreign trip his PR and election management team always prepare an interaction with Indian diaspora, businessmen and students and make it a point to stream it live for the domestic audience back home and is used as a perfect campaigning tool.

PM Modi has done numerous editions of Mann Ki Baat but has never addressed the real problems of the people of India.As people in India and abroad demand action from him particularly on the Kathua and Unnao rape cases, Modi condemned the “incidents” and promised justice to “ Indian daughters” although he refused to use the word “rape” and but has failed to recognise the culpability of his own supporters.

It seems Modi has forgotten the principles of governance. Modi was elected on the basis of his promises of providing
jobs, prosperity, transparent governance, financial well being for the middle class and the most important national security including ensuring the dignity of Indian forces that he made during 2014 Lok sabha elections.

Rather people of India are stunned to witness the type of divisive politics, hatred among the communities, financial emergency by imposing limitations on cash withdrawal from personal savings, increase in rape cases and accused enjoying political power or patronage, higher taxes on Middle-class people and costly education.

In May 2017, two Muslim men suspected of stealing cows died after being attacked by villagers in the northeastern state of Assam, according to local police.

In June, about 20 men beat four Muslims on a train in the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, fatally stabbing a teenager and seriously injuring two others.

Mohammed Akhlaque was beaten to death in Uttar Pradesh in September 2015 over rumours that he had slaughtered a cow.

It appears Narendra Modi has connived with the BJP leaders.Hindu fundamentalists of different Hindutva groups
that Prime Minister will speak good narratives that shows him as secular but BJP leaders and other groups
can pursue the divisive politics to lure voters and fulfill the agenda of RSS.

BJP lawmaker Sanjay Patil in Karnataka has provoked outrage with his comment that the May 12 state election is “not about roads and drinking water but about Hindu-Muslim incidents”.”I am Sanjay Patil, I am Hindu, this is a Hindu Rashtra (nation) and we want to build the Ram temple”. he said.

This is not the first time that a BJP lawmaker has given a statement to polarise the country during election time.
BJP members have been promoting Hindu ideology which led to increase in attacks against Muslims and other minorities according to the Human Rights Watch.

A group of UK based Indian students and alumni Union (NISAU) UK, together with 19 India-related societies at leading UK universities, submitted the letter dated April 14 ahead of the Indian PM’s four-day visit to the UK,asking him to take “extraordinary measures” to ensure justice in rape cases reported in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

The PR team of Modi made it a point that the group of UK based Indian students who asked Modi to act against rising sexual cases against women were denied permission to attend the event of the British Parliament, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented his ‘Bharat ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ in London.

It is significant to mention that the National Indian Students and Alumni The University of Oxford India Society, London School of Economics India Society, University College London Indian Society, Imperial College London Indian Society and University of Birmingham Bharat Parivar are among the 19 signatories of the letter alongside NISAU UK, one of the UK’s largest Indian student organisation

The group claimed on Wednesday its signatories were being ‘pressurised to retract’.

In these four years of his rule, PM Modi has been consistently inaugurating the schemes and projects to lure voters
and not equipping the Army with sophisticated weapons to safeguard the Indian soldiers rather they are being defamed in the name of politics played by the PDP-BJP coalition government and the peaceful Kashmir has been transformed into a volatile state.

During his programme ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ Modi cunningly diverted the actual and direct reply regarding the incidents of rapes of minor girls in India, saying, violence against women an evil of not just the individual but also of society.

He said, “we always ask our daughters about what they are doing, where they are going.We must ask our sons too. The person who is committing these crimes is also someone’s son. He has a mother too in his house.”

Modi deliberately omits to mention the work ‘rape’ and culpability of BJP leaders and members in the heinous crime.

Blog : By Arti Bali,
arti

(Senior Journalist)

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Trump’s tactics in diplomacy: Boosts Pompeo’s image, secures America’s interests

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Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump boosted the caliber of CIA director Mike Pompeo who traveled to North Korea to meet with leader Kim Jong Un, a secret visit undertaken by him to lay the groundwork for the planned upcoming historic summit between the two leaders.

President confirmed on Wednesday that he dispatched Pompeo to Pyongyang last month to meet with Kim to prepare on the denuclearisation agenda of the summit, which Trump hopes to persuade North Korea to abandon nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea since 1948 for three generations and Kim Jong-un has clear and long-term goals of achieving the status of a nuclear state which is a key to their grip on power at home and securing his regime from external threats posed by the United States and its allies.

The main reason behind posting a tweet was to provide an evidence for the Senate that Mike Pompeo is perfect diplomat capable of handling highly sensitive negotiations, which is Trump’s choice to replace the ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Pompeo said his main aim would ensure “an agreement so that the North Korean leadership will step away from its efforts to hold America at risk with the nuclear weapon and Kim should not think of any relaxation on sanctions until he dismantles the nuclear weapons.

Republicans have a narrow Senate majority and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are opposing Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the panel could be forced to take the unusual step of sending the nomination to the full Senate without a favorable recommendation.

The meeting will likely take place in late May or early June but the location is yet to be ascertained.Sites including Washington, Beijing, Seoul and Pyongyang have been ruled out rather the location that is neutral to both sides are being considered and possible locations for the summit include Geneva or any other venues in Europe or Asia.

Trump, currently hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago, said that if he felt that the meeting with Kim Jong-un will not be fruitful, he will cancel or walk out of the meeting.”If I think it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go,” Trump said .”If the meeting, when I’m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.”

Pompeo also raised the case of the three American prisoners with Kim in North Korea. Trump said his administration is working “very diligently” on the release of three Americans and also the unresolved cases of at least 13 Japanese who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, one of Abe’s top priorities and an issue of intense emotional power in Japan.

White House officials said Pompeo’s conversations in Pyongyang has fueled Trump’s belief that productive negotiations were possible.Pompeo’ssecret trip to North Korea was arranged by South Korean intelligence chief Suh Hoon with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, and was intended to assess whether Kim was serious about giving up his nuclear weapons program or not.

Earlier in 2000, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s late father, to discuss strategic issues.and in 2014, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. traveled to Pyongyang to secure the release of two American captives. Prior to Trump-Kim summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to meet Kim Jong-un at Panmunjom on April 27. If the summit goes well, it will be the start of a long process of negotiations that could pave the way for a deal to end the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

The first and foremost priority will be the denuclearisation of North Korea and another agenda will be pushed by South Korea for a more permanent peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula, potentially involving the U.S. and China, to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War.

The 1953 armistice was signed by North Korea, China, and the U.S.-led United Nations forces, of which South Korea was a part.

South Korea’s presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-Seok, who is leading Seoul’s preparatory committee for the inter-Korean summit, has said that South Korea has already arranged the “backbone” of the joint statement which is likely to be signed with North Korea.

South Korea is leaving no stone unturned to make the inter-Korean summit a success and also making an attempt to increase summits including a trilateral summit involving South Korea, North Korea and the US.

Contrary to his predecessors, Trump adopted an aggressive posture of rhetoric and by asking North Korea directly to dismantle nuclear program rather than asking for returning to six-party talks, has been successful in compelling North Korea to first implement actions on denuclearisation rather demanding concessions.

Abe said Trump’s “unwavering conviction, as well as his determination,” have made talks with North Korea possible.
Abe made it clear that Without denuclearisation, no concessions will be given, “Maximum pressure should be maintained, and actual implementation of concrete actions toward denuclearization will be demanded.”

It was the initiative of South Korean President Moon that diplomatic channels were started with Kim Jong-un and the opportunity was wisely utilized during Winter Games, held in PyeongChang in February in which North Korean athletes took part.

A high-ranking South Korean delegation led by Chung Eui-Yong, the head of the presidential national security officials met the North Korean dictator in Pyongyang in March 2018 aimed at reducing nuclear tensions and paved the way for US talks.

“Most of all, I will deliver President Moon Jae-in’s sincere and firm resolution to maintain the dialogue and improvement in relations between the South and the North, which were fostered on the occasion of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula,” Chung said.

Blog : By Arti Bali,
arti

(Senior Journalist)

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US, Russia and the Middle East

Taking into account the current dynamics, the strikes have given a jolt to any political negotiations to end the seven-year conflict in Syria.

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Warning by the Russian President Vladimir Putin that further Western attacks on Syria would bring chaos to the world affairs, it throws light on the prospect of a real possibility of a direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

There are enough factors involved that has led to the return of cold war era and as the UN chief stressed that “also with a vengence” and the world is at risk of ”full-blown military escalation”.

The tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats over the poisoning of a former spy in the UK and the sanctions by the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries and international organisations against Russia over Ukraine and latest sanctions against 24 Russians by US over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election have led to the hostility and the diplomatic channels are not working to reset the relations between Moscow and Washington.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confimed that Moscow is considering to supply its most sophisticated S-300 missile defense system to protect Syria.

The recent intervention by President Donald Trump of halting the plan for new sanctions against Russian companies linked to Syria’s alleged chemical weapons points to the confusion and inconsistent policy of Trump towards Russia and Syria.

This move by Trump assumes importance as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has informed the Security Council that the US troops are “locked and loaded,” ready to launch another military strike if the Syrian government ever uses chemical weapons again,on the contrary, President Trump still wants a White House summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump is also in favour of pulling US troops from Syria within six months and replacing them with troops from Egypt, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. If the troops from Arab countries will be sent to Syria then the already perilously complicated Syria battle will be escalated into a full blown war.

A classified briefing to the Senate by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, suggests that Trump’s determination to withdraw has hardened despite lobbying by French President Emmanuel Macron and other proponents of a longer commitment in the war-torn country. But top Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, said that the decision will enhance Russian influence in the country and set the stage for a conflict between Israel and Saudi on one side and Iran on the other side.

The ongoing conflict in Syria and the intervention by Western powers in the strategic Middle East shows that the crisis will linger on for decades to come. Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the U.S. entered into several ongoing overseas conflicts, beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan. The removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Muammer Gaddafi of Libya unsettled a traditional balance of power in the region.

The US launched military intervention to safeguard its strategic interests and to counter the rise of regional powers. After 2003 Iraq war, Arab power and its influence started diminishing as Iran expanded its influence in Iraq and the Middle East. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran asserted its supremacy in the wider region.

The Arab spring that began in 2011 in Middle East created a fluid situation and US supported pro-democracy movements that led to the removal of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and Muammar Gaddhafi in Libya. Saudi Arabia saw an opportunity for regime change in Syria where the Alawite regime of Basher al Assad had enjoyed Iranian support. US and its allies supported anti Assad forces with arms, imparting training to achieve their strategic interests of curtailing the Shiite Iranian influence and installing the pro-American and pro-Sunni leaders in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Russia started played an active role in challenging traditional domains of US influence and even emerged as a key player in Syria and in September 2015,the Russian military intervened in the Syrian Civil War for supplying military aid against rebel and jihadist groups.

Iraq’s descent into sectarian strife in 2006 reverberated into a number of states in the region, thus stoking social tensions.

Taking into account the current dynamics, the strikes have given a jolt to any political negotiations to end the seven-year conflict in Syria.

Russia is of the view that US must have waited for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspection before military strikes. Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a telephone conversation to stress the importance of thorough and impartial investigation to be conducted by the OPCW mission in Syria.

Thus, the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq should be resolved peacefully otherwise terrorism in the form of ISIS would take recruits from refugees and the regional crisis will be escalated to a full blown global war among the competitive alliances led by US and Russia.

Blog : By Arti Bali,
arti

(Senior Journalist)

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