In Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva, Dhirendra K Jha, a senior journalist, reports on eight groups that are affiliated, in one form or another, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These include the Sanatan Sanstha, a radical group that was suspected of being linked to the murders of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare; the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a youth organisation with a history of violence and arson, whose founder, Yogi Adityanath, was recently appointed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh; and the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, the Sikh arm of the RSS. “Whenever these other bodies create a controversy, the RSS and the BJP promptly label them ‘fringe organizations.’ The fact, however, is that they are active parts of the Sangh Parivar, working as buffer organizations,” Jha writes in the introduction to the book. “The brazen acts required to create polarization in our society are often carried out by these very establishments.”
On 24 April 2017, the Bombay High Court granted bail to Pragya Singh Thakur
, a former national executive member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. On 29 September 2008, two bombs concealed in a motorcycle had exploded
in the Muslim-dominated town of Malegaon in Maharashtra. Four persons were killed in the blast and 79 others injured. The investigation into the blasts was initially conducted by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which filed its chargesheet in January 2009. In it, the ATS named 14 persons, including Thakur. She was arrested in October 2008. The ATS alleged that Thakur
was one of the masterminds behind the blast. It stated that she owned the bike associated with the blast, and had given it to a co-accused Ramchandra Kalsangra, who planted the bomb and placed it at the blast site. The evidence the ATS presented against Thakur included statements from witnesses and co-accused, which placed her at meetings planning the blasts before its execution.
On 23 April 2017, nearly 54 percent
of the registered voters in Delhi participated in the election to its three municipal corporations. The impending result of these municipal polls will reveal the party that will control the 104-ward north and south corporations and the 64-ward east corporation in Delhi. It will also be telling of the future of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting a civic-body election for the first time. In March, the AAP’s national ambitions suffered a daunting setback after it was defeated in the recently-concluded assembly elections in Punjab and Goa. (The party did not secure a single seat
in the Goa assembly and won 20 in the 117-seat Punjab assembly
.) While the AAP’s leadership continues to insist that the results in Punjab were skewed because of faulty electronic voting machines, several among its members
in the state have attributed the loss to a weak campaign. Given this history, the outcome of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election will serve as a litmus test of the party—for both its cadre and the electorate.
On 9 April 2017, the day that recorded one of the lowest voter turnouts
in Kashmir’s electoral history, Farooq Ahmad Dar cast his vote at around 8.30 am. Dar, a 26-year-old resident of Chill Brass village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, was one among the seven percent of the registered voters who voted in the Kashmir by-elections for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Upon returning home, he told me, he had tea with his aging mother who had been waiting for him, worried. Soon afterwards, he left on his Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle to visit a relative.
“Fifty-nine missiles? Why would you use fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles in one place without having a solid plan?” Shadi al-Haj, a 31-year-old Syrian pediatrician, said during a call over WhatsApp, on 9 April 2017. He was referring to a missile strike that took place three days earlier, on the al-Shayrat airfield, a military base controlled by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The strike had been conducted by the United States military, on the direction of the country’s president
, Donald Trump.
On 28 March 2017, security forces in Kashmir conducted an operation in Budgam district’s Chadoora village that resulted in the death of Touseef Wagay, a member of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. Three young men who were civilians—Ishfaq Ahmad Wani, Zahid Rashid Ganaie and Amir Fayaz Waza—were also killed during the forces’ encounter with Wagay. Several news reports of the encounter stated that the three were part of a group of protestors who had surrounded the site, and were pelting stones at the security forces
In 2015, a team of archeologists from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), a body under the culture ministry in the central government, began excavations at a coconut-tree farm at Keezhadi, near Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu. Over the subsequent two years, the archeologists found over 5,500 artefacts. The team found upon investigation that the artefacts were dated to the Sangam era—a period between 400 BCE and 200 CE, which is widely as the crowning point of Tamil art and literature. The discoveries were the first-ever evidence
of an urban civilisation from the Sangam era. But the project has been mired in controversy—at first, a tussle between the ASI and political parties
in the state took place, with the latter demanding that the former not take any objects from the site to Karnataka for observation, as they belonged to the state. Then, in October 2016, when approvals and funding for the upcoming year was expected to be granted, the central government withheld approval for a third season of excavation at the Keezhadi site. This prompted severe criticism
from within Tamil Nadu. Members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam raised the issue in parliament, and G Ramakrishnan, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the state, alleged that
the move was a result of “political design”—that it was in the interest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and favourable to the ideology it espouses to prevent details of an independent Tamil culture from surfacing. The excavation was subsequently given the green light in February 2017.
A professor of Malayalam at the Nehru Arts and Science College Kanhangad, Ambikasutan Mangad has been closely involved in the fight against the use of the pesticide endosulfan. The pesticide’s usage in the cashew plantations in the Kasaragod district of Kerala, run by the Plantation Corporation of India, adversely affected the biodiversity and the health of those in the region. Residents of Kasaragod experienced severe health issues, ranging from sores to respiratory disorders, as well as conditions such as infertility and congenital deformities. Various others died due to the poisonous effects of the pesticide. The Supreme Court banned endosulfan
in 2011, but the struggle against it has continued in the region—both for the recognition of the damage caused and for rehabilitation to the affected. Though several court-appointed commissions of inquiry have looked into extent of the damage and the involvement of the PCI, few have found in favour of the affected residents. In December 2010, the National Human Rights Commission took cognisance of the damage caused by endosulfan, and recommended
that the state government pay compensation to the victims. In January 2017, many of these payments were yet to be made, and the Supreme Court directed
the government of Kerala to compensate those affected within 90 days.
The Brands India Consumer Show—a five-day consumer fair
held at Victoria Park in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh—entered its final day on 10 April 2006. The organisers Lakhan Tomar, Asit Gupta and Siddharth Manohar, had arranged for three centrally air-conditioned halls to be constructed for the fair. At around 5.40 pm that day, 20-year-old Paras Vij was manning his family-owned stall, “Delight Xerox” in Hall A, when he heard people scream “Fire!” He told me he saw people scampering and searching for an exit, but having spent five days at the fair, he knew that there was only one exit—at the end of the third hall. Tickets for the fair were sold at the entrance in Hall A, and “people could only exit from Hall C, after having gone through the entire fair,” Paras said. But, seeing a crowd running towards the entry gate in Hall A, Paras and his brother Puneet joined them. As they made their way out of the gate, the brothers were hit by a blaze of fire, and they fell down. “Both of us were burnt, my brother more badly than I was,” Paras said. He continued, “I used my bare hands to try and put out the fire on my brother.” I met Paras at his printing-and-photocopy shop in Meerut on 9 April 2017—nearly 11 years after the incident. He said it took nearly a year for his injuries to heal. As we spoke, he held up his hands. They were permanently deformed due to the burns. Paras told me that Puneet died in the hospital, three days after the fire.
At close to 10 am on 10 April 2017, thousands of people assembled
on the Srinagar-Leh highway in central Kashmir to offer funeral prayers for Omar Farooq Ganaie. The 21-year-old was killed the previous day, after protests broke out during the by-poll for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Ganaie, a tipper driver, was a resident of a village in the Baroosa area of Ganderbal, one of the three districts in the constituency, located about 30 kilometres from Srinagar city.