Bulldozing Van Gujjars Out Of Their Habitat

While the famous Jim Corbett National Park is legendary for its tigers, its wildlife, bio diversity and flora and fauna, the Rajaji National Park near Dehradun and Rishikesh is still young and growing into a lush green wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve despite a highway and a train line crossing its buffer zone and reasonably big towns in its vicinity. Established in 1983, comprising the rocky terrain of the ancient Shivalik hills, just about on the foot hills of the Himalayas, this 820 km landscape of dense forests has two beautiful rivers flowing: the Ganga and the Song. The Ganga, like a mountain river, in a mysterious move, actually disappears and goes underground near Chilla, only to appear yet again at a distance. The area is marked by a huge canal and several water bodies.

The national park is also home to around 30-plus tigers with many cubs. It also has a wide variety of wildlife and animals, including the elephant which has occasionally attacked people on the highways, the sloth bear, deer species, king cobra, birds, insects, among others. It also has had for decades, stretching before the Independence era, an indigenous community which has lived deep inside the forest in peaceful co-existence with the wildlife: the robust and hardworking Van Gujjars – Gujjars who belong to the forests.

Over the years, there has not been a single instance of a man-animal conflict in this region. This indigenous community used to build huge and strong huts in the thick of the forests, so powerfully built that the incessant rain during monsoon or a storm would never be able to hurt these architectural marvels. These homes of the communities would usually be near a stream or water body, and they would mostly rear cattle, and trade in milk and milk products. Of late, their children have started going to the neighbourhood schools, their women have started to venture out, and the forest community has also established links with the urban market.

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In recent times, their life changed drastically, as has been a phenomenon all over Indian forests and their indigenous communities. As is well-known, be it the tribal interiors in Chhattisgarh’s Abhujmad or the forests of Uttarakhand, the forest department has been notoriously marked since the British times as an oppressive, reckless and brutal force, out to terrorise and exploit the peaceful forest communities. Post-independence, indeed, nothing changed, despite greater environmental consciousness and the gradual recognition of the forest people’s role in sustaining the ecological balance, and generally nourishing the ecological landscape as part of their sacred duty and everyday life.

After the area was declared a tiger reserve and a national park, it became a kind of dictatorship of the forest department, alleged local activists. They would further brutalise and bulldoze the indigenous communities, who just did not know what hit them.

First, they were promised Rs 10 lakh to move away from their traditional habitats in the core area into the buffer zone near the roads, and to urban areas like Pathri, a rocky and dry area, where the Tehri dam oustees were also pushed at one time and which mountain and forest people hated for its barren landscape. Some of them did not get compensation despite moving from the core areas. In many cases, this reporter would find, they were forced to settle near a dry water body, or, where their cattle could not graze, or where they had to literally walk for miles for water. For a peaceful community whose life was so closely intertwined with nature, this was a violent jolt with which they just could not reconcile.

Then arrived the optimistic and forward-looking Forest Rights Act, enacted by the UPA government in December 2006 under the auspices of the National Advisory Committee led by Sonia Gandhi and with eminent social activists in the committee like Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, Farah Naqvi and Harsh Mander, among others. One of the most crucial objective of this path-breaking legislation enacted by the Indian Parliament is to end the “historic injustices” faced by indigenous communities since colonial times. It was meant to resolve and reconcile the prevailing conflicts in forest regions, mainly between Forest Department and communities through effective implementation of the Act at the grassroots.

This was indeed an epistemological rupture in the life of all forest communities, including adivasis in remote and inaccessible areas. It was a big boost to their morale, self-esteem and self-confidence, and a positive sign for social activists and voluntary groups who were working in the area of indigenous collectives and ecological protection, including in the national parks. Hence, for the first time, the people in the forests, started exercising their rights. This did not go down well with the powerful and unilateral forest departments in most forest regions across India.

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At the Rajaji National Park, the domination continued in different forms but with not a similar intensity as politically conscious pastoral and tribal communities started demanding their rights, the right to life and livelihood and compensation if they were forced to move from their homes and habitats.

As per a latest complaint lodged by the Citizens for Justice and Peace and the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), using the pandemic and lockdown, the forest department and police has yet again launched illegal assaults and evictions of certain Van Gujjar families. According to the complaint on June 16 and 17 this year, police and forest officials arrived at the Asharodi forest in the Ramgarh range of the park. Their intention was clear: to destroy a shelter belonging to Noorjahan, daughter of Ghulam Mustafa aka Mustafa Chopra, (75).

Apparently, the community elders were assaulted, dragged and beaten up badly. Women were not spared. Their homes were destroyed.  The attack has been captured on camera by the children of the Van Gujjar community. A false complaint has been lodged against the members of Mustafa’s family. Indeed, he was taken into custody on June 18. Noorjahan has alleged that she was hit on her private parts.

Incidentally, the backdrop is that Mustafa has been relentlessly campaigning for forest rights within the bureaucracy and the administration in Uttarakhand, has mobilized his community, and has also petitioned the courts. It has been a long, two-decade struggle for the old man.

According to activists, the officials violated the stated provisions of the Indian Forest (Uttaranchal Amendment) Act, 2001. A notice has to be apparently given to the occupants before eviction. The complaint states that no such notice was given to Noorjahan or her father Mustafa and the assault was an unauthorized act. The matter has also reached the district administration and the NHRC.

Said veteran activist Ashok Chaudhury, leader of the (AIUFWP), currently based in Saharanpur near the park, “Traditionally, the indigenous forest communities used to remain very ‘obedient’ under the domain of the forest department. But, with the enactment of FRA, like all forest dwellers, Van Gujjars, also felt that they are have become truly independent and so they also started asserting for their rights. Forest officials, because of their feudal culture, could not appreciate this new assertion. So they started creating obstructions in the implementation process of the FRA especially on the vulnerable communities.”

As of now, the stalemate continues even as the local media and human rights groups have taken up the issue. Clearly, post FRA, things are not going to be the same anymore. People who have been subservient and oppressed are asserting their fundamental rights now. Indeed, not only the Rajaji National Park, this has become a phenomena all over forests across the Indian landscape.

After Canada, UK Rejects ‘Punjab Referendum 2020’

Days after the Canadian government discarded the call for ‘Punjab Referendum 2020’, the United Kingdom has now rejected the US-based Khalistani extremist group’s idea of a referendum to seek the separation of Punjab from the rest of India.

According to media reports, a British High Commission spokesperson in response to a question on the referendum said, “This is a matter for the government and people of India, not foreign countries or overseas organisations. While we support the right of anyone to voice their opinion, the UK government is not involved in any way with this unofficial and non-binding referendum,” he said while adding, “We consider the Indian Punjab to be a part of India.”

The development comes days after Canada dismissed support for Khalistani separatism. Last weekend, the Canadian foreign ministry had said, “The Canada-India bilateral relationship is a priority for the government of Canada. We respect the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India.”

When asked about the so-called referendum being organised by Khalistani extremist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), the Canadian foreign ministry said, “Government of Canada will not recognise the referendum.”

The remarks have been welcomed by India, the Indian envoy to Canada Ajay Bisaria said, “Canada continues to show sensitivity to Indian security concerns.”

In a recent interview with ANI, Maninderjeet Singh Bitta, chairman of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front said, “Referendum 2020 — is nothing but propaganda by Pakistan’s ISI, which is backing and funding them.”

He said, “The Sikhs abroad are much closer to their religion and have promoted Sikhism worldwide. If few people speak in favour of Khalistan, it doesn’t mean that the entire Sikh community is supporting them”.

He had also predicted about the UK and the United States opposing the Punjab Referendum 2020 on their soil as such unlawful activities against any country affects bilateral relations.

Bitta had also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making no compromise in dealing with such things. “He has been doing a lot for the Sikh community. Be it the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor or removing the names of Sikhs living abroad who were blacklisted for their alleged involvement in the movement,” he said.

The people in India’s northern state of Punjab suffered immensely during the 1980s and early 1990s because of militancy-led violence. New Delhi blamed Pakistan’s secret agencies for creating a disturbance in Punjab then and now supporting some Sikh separatists settled in the West.

Punjab is a prosperous and peaceful state where people have rejected the so-called Referendum 2020 by calling it a conspiracy of Pakistan. (ANI)

India’s Covid-19 Recovery Rate Stands At 64.5%

India’s COVID-19 recovery rate now stands at 64.54 per cent, said Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan here on Friday.

“In the last 24 hours, we have crossed the 1-million mark of patients who have recovered from COVID-19. Today we have 10, 57,805 who people have now recovered. The total number of cases across the country now stands at 16,38,870 cases,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said at the Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting here.

He added, “Two-third of the cases have recovered and have gone home. The fatality rate is also coming down and today it stands at 2.18 per cent. The recovery rate has improved to 64.54 per cent. The doubling rate is right now standing at 21 days.”

Vardhan said that close to 6,42,588 samples have been tested in the last 24 hours and in the “last one month, close to 1 crore tests have been conducted in the country.

The Union Health Minister said that 0.27 per cent patients were on the ventilator, 1.58 per cent were in ICUs and 2.28 per cent required some form of oxygen support.

A Central Group of Ministers meeting, under the chairmanship of Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, was held at Nirman Bhawan on Friday on the COVID-19 situation in the country.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri were also present. (ANI)

Kashmiri Leader Sajjad Lone Released From Detention

People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone has been released from house detention.

He was detained after Centre abrogated Article 370 last year and was lodged at MLA Hostel for six months. Lone was later shifted to his government accommodation at Church Lane on February 5, 2019.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah reacted: “Good to hear that Sajad Lone has been released from illegal house arrest. I hope others under similar illegal detention will also be released without delay.”

Several leaders were detained after the abrogation of Article 370, which gave special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in August last year, and bifurcated the region into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. (ANI)

US Economy Contract 32.9% In April-June Quarter

The US economy contracted at a record annual rate of 32.9 per cent in the quarter from April to June due to the coronavirus and consequent lockdown.

According to the Washington Post, the drop in the gross domestic product (GDP) was the fastest fall in quarterly rate since modern record-keeping began.

The pandemic resulted in an obvious uncontrolled public health crisis and tens of millions lost their jobs and business were lost.

There is a mounting fear that the economy could be held back even more as the virus forces more states to shut down bars and restaurants again.

On Thursday, the government also reported that jobless claims increased once again last week to 1.4 million, another sign that any recovery is stalling, according to The Washington Post.

GDP shrank at an annual rate of 32.9 per cent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the agency that publishes the statistics on quarterly economic activity.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell warned that the most recent surge in infections has begun to weigh on the economy while reemphasising that recovery cannot be sustained unless the virus is under control.

“We’re still digging out of a hole, a really deep hole,” said Ben Herzon, executive director of IHS Markit. “The second-quarter figure will just tell us the size of the hole we’re digging out of, and it’s a big one.”

Bureau of Economic Analysis, in a report, explains the reasons for the impact on the economy.

The pandemic has triggered a collapse in oil prices. It was exacerbated by lower gasoline sales and reduced transportation services, as Americans stayed home and avoided commutes or basic errands.

Health care fell off as the pandemic pushed people to cancel non-emergency visits and procedures, triggering layoffs within the health-care industry. Restaurant closures fuelled a drop in food services.

With retail stores shuttered and people swapping out their work wardrobes for leisurewear, clothing and footwear sales dropped.

On Wednesday, Powell said some measures of consumer spending, based on debit card and credit card use, have moved down in the past month. Hotel occupancy rates have flattened out, he said, and Americans are not going to restaurants, gas stations and beauty salons as much as they had been earlier in the summer.

“On balance, it looks like the data are pointing to a slowing in the pace of the recovery,” Powell said during a news conference Wednesday. “I want to stress it’s too early to say both how large that is and how sustained it will be.” (ANI)

Janaki Mata Temple in Ayodhya

Priest, 15 Policemen At Ram Temple Site Covid-19 Positive

Pradeep Das, a priest at the Ram temple site in Ayodhya, where the bhoomi pujan (groundbreaking ceremony) for the temple will take place next week, along with 15 policemen on duty at the event site have tested positive for coronavirus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremony on August 5, for which grand preparations are in full swing.

The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust has issued an appeal to all saints across the country to perform puja in their respective temples and Maths from 11.30 am to 12.30 pm on August 5.

Champat Rai, general secretary of the Trust, requested people to watch the live telecast of bhoomi pujan on television and light earthen lamps at home in the evening.

Last week, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath had visited the Ram Janmabhoomi complex to review preparations for the mega

82% Decline In Triple Talaq Cases In One Year: Naqvi

Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Thursday said there has been 82 per cent decline in triple talaq cases since the bill was passed last year and the day will be remembered as Muslim Women’s Rights Day.

Naqvi slammed Congress over its stance on the triple talaq bill on the first anniversary of its passage.

He said the unconstitutional practice concerning Muslim women could have ended in 1985 when Congress had a majority in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha “if they weren’t trying to be a “secular soorma”.

He also thanked Muslim organisations for their support in spreading awareness within the community about the unconstitutional nature of triple talaq.

“The result of their cooperation is that there is a decline of 82 per cent in triple talaq cases in the last one year. The day will be remembered as Muslim Women’s Rights Day,” he said.

Replying to Congress questions about cost and delay in the arrival of Rafael Jets, Naqvi said that the people of the country have faith in the decisions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and they know the county is in the right hands.

Asked about National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, he said it has been designed according to “our traditions and culture” and it’ll prove to be a strong foundation for the coming generation. (ANI)

Covid-19 Herd Immunity Not An Option For India: Govt

Herd immunity developed against coronavirus cannot be a strategic option or choice for a country like India with a huge population, said an official from the Union Health Ministry on Thursday.

Herd immunity is a kind of indirect protection from an infectious disease like COVID-19. Experts say that herd immunity happens only when the population becomes immune either through vaccination or its immunity is developed through a previous infection.

“In a country like India with its size and population, herd immunity cannot be a strategic choice or strategic option. It can only be an outcome and that too, a very high cost. That means, thousands or lakhs of patients get infected, they go to a hospital for treatment, resulting in a large fatality and hence, herd immunity can never be a strategic option,” said Rajesh Bhushan, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at the union health ministry.

“Herd immunity can only be achieved through immunization and that is far in future and it is important that we should follow Covid-19 preventive measures i.e. wear face masks, maintain social distancing and hand hygiene,” said Bhushan.

India witnessed a single-day spike of 52,123 COVID-19 positive cases as the total cases in the country reached 15,83,792, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said on Thursday.

The including 5,28,242 active cases and 10,20,582 cured/discharged cases, the Health Ministry added. A total of 775 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours taking the death toll to 34,968. (ANI)

Donald Trump

Trump Hints At Delay In 2020 Presidential Elections

Amid demand for “Universal Mail-In Voting,” US President Donald Trump has suggested the postponement of the upcoming Presidential elections due in November.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Trump tweeted.

According to media reports, six US states — California, Utah, Hawaii, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — were planning to hold “all-mail” ballot elections. (ANI)

Indian Startup Develops Face Mask That Kills Covid-19

How about a reusable mask that kills coronavirus, kills various bacteria, is breathable, keeps you cool, is environment friendly and is affordable? Yes, Thermaissance’s masks exactly offer these features and much more.

It strives to protect the wearer as well as our environment at a very affordable price. These fabrics are based on nanotechnology and are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal.

Effectiveness against Covid-19 and other bacteria

Tested by a US-based ISO 17025 certified laboratory, a single layer of Thermaissance fabric have been proven to kill >93% coronavirus (human coronavirus) in less than 5 mins, and kill >99.99% in less than an hour. The testing was performed as per the actual ISO-approved standard for testing anti-viral activity (ISO 18184). Since the masks are made of 2-layer fabrics, the actual Covid-19 kill rate of masks in 5 mins is estimated to be much higher than 93%. The fabrics are also anti-bacterial and have been proven to kill over 99% of various bacteria including Staphylococcus and Klebsiella Pneumoniae.

The anti-bacterial effectiveness has already been proven to last for 60+ Industrial Washes (equivalent to 100+ machine washes/ 150+ gentle washes) as per NABL Accredited Labs in India. The MRP of the mask is between Rs. 300 to Rs. 500, making it really affordable. Additionally, being fabric-based, Thermaissance masks do not use any plastic-like melt blown, poly propylene or spunbond, and hence are very environmental friendly.

Thermaissance Masks vs N95 Masks

The existing N95 masks are tested to filter up to 95% of particulate matter with a 0.30 micrometers (300 nanometers) diameter. On the other hand, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is in the size range of 0.06-0.14 microns (60-140 nanometers). There is not much documentary evidence to show that the existing N95 masks have been successful in filtering Covid-19 viruses, which are way smaller in size compared to the size of particulate matter which N95 masks are certified for. Thermaissance masks also have high breathability factor compared to commonly used N95 masks.

Moreover, since the viruses and bacteria are killed on the surface of the Thermaissance mask, the wearer stays protected against risk of contact transmission even while touching the surface of the mask.

Thermaissance Scrubs for Healthcare Professionals & Covid-19 warriors

During this Covid-19 pandemic, Thermaissance has also introduced Medical Scrubs for Healthcare Professionals using their special smart fabrics. In fact, popularly known as Protective Personal Clothing (PPC), several doctors in isolation units, emergency rooms, and outpatient departments are already using Thermaissance’s Medical Scrubs to provide them with protection against infections. They wear these Medical Scrubs beneath their PPE kits. Given that the fabrics has also been proven to be effective against coronavirus, Thermaissance’s Medical Scrubs is expected to be used by more and more healthcare professionals and Covid-19 warriors.

“We have been using Thermaissance’s scrubs since May. It has provided us with the much-needed protection against various bacteria, which is the common source of secondary infection during this pandemic. The smart fabrics used by Thermaissance are of excellent quality and comfortable to wear in the hospital environment for longer hours.”

  • Dr. Rajesh Mehta, Surgeon, Lucknow

Thermaissance’s Other Products

Thermaissance has been one of the innovators in patient clothing. Clothing is worn throughout the treatment and forms an important part in patient experience and patient care. However, it has always been one of the most neglected area with little innovation. Thermaissance is already working on this issue and is supplying functional, protective, and comfortable clothing for various immunocompromised patients. They have specially designed medical suits for dialysis, orthopedic, physiotherapy, chemo, ICU, bedridden, and urine catheter patients. Most of these patients have three common complaints – secondary infections, feeling cold during treatments, and lack of comfortable clothing.

In fact, infections have been one of the leading cause of deaths among immunocompromised patients. Thermaissance’s anti-viral and anti-bacterial suits help to reduce the risk of infections among the patients. Their smart fabrics help to maintain body temperature during the treatments. They have also strategically placed zippers in their medical suits to ensure accessibility to port areas/treatment areas by doctors and healthcare staff, thus limiting the skin exposure of patients.

Thermaissance’s journey so far

Thermaissance was born in 2014 after Manish Raval (Founder & CEO) watched his dad routinely sit through dialysis and chemo treatment being cold and uncomfortable. At that time, Manish was working as a Biomedical Engineer with Siemens North America on futuristic medical devices. He realized the importance of textiles in hospital care and left his high-paying job at Siemens to research on technical textiles. After years of research, Thermaissance was launched in 2016 and has been revolutionizing the medical textiles industry through their smart fabrics. Smart fabrics help to maintain body temperature based on the external environment, thus it helps the wearer to remain cool in this tropical climate. They have filed 3 patents so far.

During its first year of launch, Thermaissance was selected as one of the winners of Economic Times Power of Ideas in 2016 (out of 18000+ ideas) and later incubated at IIM-A. The innovation then was recognized by the Government of India under its Startup India Program. Thermaissance was also awarded as Top 50 Innovative Healthcare companies in 2019 by International Forums on Advancement in Healthcare (IFAH).

BusinessWire India