“A caricature of ‘Aurangzeb the Bigot’ serves many modern political interests in India”: An interview with the historian Audrey Truschke

By Majid Maqbool | 1 May 2017
Audrey Truschke is an assistant professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Her work focuses on the cultural, imperial, and intellectual history of early modern and modern India. Trushke’s book, Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, released in 2017, is a historical reassessment of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, one of the most prominent figures of seventeenth-century India. Aurangzeb’s historical legacy is widely contested—in public discourse, the Mughal emperor is often seen as a tyrannical Muslim fanatic, who ordered the destruction of Hindu places of worship. However, Truschke is among several scholars who insist that this depiction of Aurangzeb is both misleading and ahistorical. “The historical Aurangzeb fails to live up (or down) to his modern reputation as a Hindu-despising Islamist fanatic,” she said in a recent interview.

The Absence of a Military Head of the DGQA May Have Compromised India’s Ammunition-Inspection Process

By Suman Sharma | 29 April 2017
On 25 March 2017, a fire broke out at the Ordnance Factory Khamaria, or OFK, located in Jabalpur. The factory, which operates under the Ordnance Factory Boards (OFB)—the government’s defence manufacturing division—was established in 1942. It manufactures ammunition for the Indian army, air force and navy. News reports stated that a series of over 20 explosions took place at the factory, the first of which was at around 6.30 pm. The fire was put out by around 9.30 pm, three hours after it had first started. Since most of the workers employed with the factory had left by evening, nobody was injured and no lives were lost. However, had the incident taken place even an hour earlier, the situation would have been drastically different.

How the RSS Became Involved In Running the Bhonsala Military School

By Dhirendra K Jha | 27 April 2017
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.”

How Pragya Singh Thakur, Sunil Joshi and Swami Aseemanand Plotted the Samjhauta Express Blasts

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.

A Defeat in the MCD Election will be more than Just a Loss of Face for the AAP

By Kedar Nagarajan | 26 April 2017
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.

“I’d Given Up Hopes of Being Alive That Day”: Farooq Ahmad Dar Recounts the Human-Shield Incident on Polling-Day in Kashmir

By Majid Maqbool | 24 April 2017
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 after, he left on his Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle to visit a relative.

In Syria, Trump’s “Incomplete” Action Has Instilled Fear of More Bombings

By Kiran Nazish | 22 April 2017
“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.

“It Is Cold-Blooded Murder”: The Families of the Three Civilians Killed During the Chadoora Encounter Respond to Their Deaths

By Moazum Mohammad | 21 April 2017
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.

“Don’t We Need To Know India’s History?”: Archaeologist Amarnath Ramakrishna Discusses His Transfer From A Key Sangam-Era Site

By Saradha V | 17 April 2017
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.

When Children Grow Small Enough: An Excerpt from Swarga, a Novel Based On the Struggle Against Endosulfan

By Ambikasutan Mangad | 16 April 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.
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