Myanmar

Who are these blessed people in our Coronavirus world?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Thailand hasn’t reported a new Coronavirus case for seven weeks now. Nobody has died in the Indo-China countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to the pandemic which has tormented our world with millions of cases besides 600,000 dead and counting. Are we talking of two different planets here?

This only gets intriguing if you remember that Thailand was the first country outside China to report the first Coronavirus positive patient. That it’s one the most visited place for people from Wuhan, the villain of this tragic outbreak. That Bangkok for five years now is the most visited city of the world, with 22 million visitors last year. That Thailand was the worst-effected country with HIV/AIDS outside East and Southern Africa. In 2018 alone, 18,000 people died to AIDS-related illness. That around half of those infected are young people between 15-24 years.

Big cities and slums are said to be most susceptible to Coronavirus outbreaks. Experts cite New York, London, Mumbai and Delhi as proof, as they do the instance of slums of Brazil which would soon have 100,000 dead from the pandemic. Both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh account for 20 million living lives. The cities of these countries also abound in slums. We aren’t even counting the visitors. Yet there are no community outbreaks.

Scientists would love to nail down the reason why Coronavirus stands defeated at the doors of these countries. Has it anything to do with the mighty Mekong River, 12th biggest in the world, which passes through all these four countries through its length of 4,350 kms? Another country which is home to Mekong River is Myanmar which too has only six deaths to show thus far. Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province through which Mekong also flows through, has less than 190 cases. All have recovered.

Mekong River, there is little doubt, is the water-road in this part of the world. It’s a safety net during times of crisis. When lockdowns are enforced and economy begins to pinch, a whole lot of unprivileged people—informal workers, labourers, taxi drivers, little traders—go from their rural habitats to cities and back. In times of crisis, it’s nature’s supermarket: the forests, rivers and wetlands which provide food and sustenance to the teeming poor. Then there are fisheries which ensure nobody sleeps hungry.

All this is okay but it doesn’t explain why Coronavirus has stayed away? Should we offer the silly logic that there might be something in the features and physical make-up of these people who look similar and could pass off as locals? I mean if you spot a Vietnamese in Thailand what chances are that you would know he is a foreigner?

The AFP recently ran a story in which it threw wild darts in the darkness to guess the phenomenon. Could be the Thai habit of greeting others with a Wai, another name for Namaste really, which is social distancing by habit? Should one put it to Thailand’s robust health care system? The outdoor lifestyle of many Thais? Is there a genetic component one is missing here?

Thais have a mask-wearing culture. Heavy vehicular traffic and the resultant air pollution, not to forget the emissions from industries and farmers burning fields for plantations, has made masks a way of life over the years. A study informs that during the pandemic, 95 percent of Thais have been wearing masks in public.

Experts are also wondering if this has to do with the immune system. It’s the part of the world where malaria, dengue, cholera etc break out frequently. Has it imbued these people with some sort of immunity in their genetic make-up?

Is Thailand doing things differently than others? Let’s look at the timeline: China reported its outbreak on December 31, 2019. Three days later, Thai airports were screening the visitors. A day later, an emergency operation centre had been set up by the public health ministry. By January 8, the first suspected Coronavirus case had been identified. Within days, people arriving at airports were monitored and quarantined, if necessary. Eventually all visitors from abroad were quarantined.

There was a moment of disquiet for sure. Transmissions had begun to jump by March in Bangkok. A cluster of infected patients developed around nightclubs and a boxing stadium. On March 21, schools and non-essential businesses had been shut. On March 26, public gatherings were banned. International flights had stopped by April 4. Red-light districts were closed. Sex workers rushed back home. Tourists fled.

But at least 58 people have died in Thailand due to the pandemic. What explains the “miracle” of Indo-China? The incredulous immunity of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos?

Besides the routine measures—we all know, masks, social-distancing, sanitizing hands etc—Vietnam has adopted a stringent screening procedure. Thus, be it banks, restaurants, airports or even apartment complexes, all need to have themselves screened at virtually every point of interaction, so to say. In Cambodia, thanks to overwhelming medical aid from around the world, the corona-testing kits are cheap and readily available. No less is said to be the reason that most of Cambodia is rural, as is Laos, and the pandemic has been easy on the village folks so far.

It’s this success against the Corona, that all these countries are now open to foreign visitors. They are not back to normal, for they never went off the rails in the first instance. I know you would bring up economic fallout–there are plenty of whiners in India for me to know their type–but that, some other day, some other time.

 

 

Indian Muslims, next time you hold aloft anti-CAA banner, remember this for your own good

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I guess there is little avoiding the anti-CAA protests once Corona pandemic goes as unannounced as it came in 2020.

A Shaheen Bagh here, a state assembly in ferment there, Jamia and JNU on boil, Cars and buses in leaping flames, narrowed eyes looking for that saffron or skullcap which could comfort or disorient in equal measure.

One morning, European Union is making front page in Muzaffarnagar. The other dawn would acquaint Ferozabad how human rights warriors in the august US Congress are brothers in spirit. Someday Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan would talk of “massacres of Muslims in India.” The other would’ve Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) warning of “serious implications” if India doesn’t look after its Muslims.

And there would always be an Imran Khan, Asaduddin Owaisi, Sitaram Yechury or a Rahul Gandhi who would recall Godse in prime minister Narendra Modi, their bloodied hearts in front of camera an act worthy of Oscars.

Such solidarity aligns a Muslim from Kashmir to Kuwait, Moradabad to Morocco, Shahjahanpur to Saudi Arabia, Lucknow to Lebanon, Hyderabad to Hamedan. Islam binds them; a pact of faith and piety; a soldiering spirit which revisits the pages of history and underlines how Jihad never loses.

It stops them from recoiling when illustrators are gunned down in Paris on seeing a cartoon in Prophet Muhammad; a Salman Rushdie driven to the end of the world on Satanic Verses. Islam pervades the world, overrides governments, the rod of God which spares no one.

But what happens to this global brotherhood when a million Muslims are locked up, their women sterilized, their children snatched from parents and made strangers to Islam in their growing years. What explains the silence of 57 Islamic nations which make up OIC, or EUs and US Congress, the Erdogans and Mahatirs and Imran Khans; the Owaisis and Yechuris who are a Muslim-Left global pact in miniature. Why in this case MuslimLivesDon’tMatter?

I of course am referring to China and its repression of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang province which is one of history’s most evil, heinous, barbaric pogrom a State has carried on its citizens ever. For over a decade, the Uighurs are being kept in suffocating controls, their neighbourhood infested with the influx of Han Chinese and their religion and culture systematically wiped out.

Internal Chinese government documents leaked in late 2019 have revealed that such is the fate of a million Muslims detained without charges or legal access; and 11 million Muslims outside who are made to renounce Islam, learn Mandarin and sing the virtues of Communism. Satellite imagery show that these detention camps are roughly the size of 140 soccer fields.

It goes without saying that if even a millionth of this was to happen in India, the nation would go deaf by noise at home and abroad. It could even be kept hungry or wounded by economic and military actions. Yet not a word comes China’s way by way of criticism on its Uighar pogrom. Not those champions of Islam who sit in Riyadh and Tehran. Who are the Iraq and Egypt of our world. The Islamic State (IS) who are torching the European capitals. Muslim lives suddenly don’t matter to them. Moolah over Mullah zips their lips courtesy the riches which flow through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by the totalitarian China.

The hypocrisy of these champions would become stark to Indian Muslim in coming weeks. It so happens that on Monday, two Uighur exiles groups have gone to International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Beijing’s genocide and crimes against humanity.

This is first-ever global attempt to hold China accountable for its merciless crackdown on Muslim minority of Xinjiang. A team of London-based lawyers are representing East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement. Since China is not a signatory of ICC, these activists have opted for a roundabout way to bring China to heels.

In 2018, ICC had censored Myanmar, even though the latter wasn’t its member, by citing the instance of its member-state Bangladesh who was reeling due to Myanmar’s “deportation” and “crimes” against Rohingya Muslims.

Likewise, in the present case, Beijing is being drawn in ICC ambit through its unlawful actions in Cambodia and Tajikistan who are members of this international body. The petition states that thousands of Uighurs are being unlawfully arrested and deported from Cambodia and Tajikistan. The complaint against Beijing includes evidence of forced deportations and extraterritorial arrests by the Chinese agents.

It may take months before the ICC makes a formal move. But it would be interesting for Indian citizens, more so its Muslim minority, to watch how the developments are hidden from their views by India’s Leftist media. You won’t hear a word in solidarity from Owaisis and Yechurys. Their heart won’t bleed at the plight of Muslims. But once Corona pandemic passes, you would see them clearing their throats and exhorting the protestors on-their-bums. An Arundhati Roy would emerge from her closet.

So use your judgment, my Muslim brethren. Pay heed to what Supreme Court rules on the CAA matter. Modi’s Centre has time and again invited a meeting across the table to clear your doubts and anxieties. Your cause is a contortion by the voices which din in your ears ceaselessly. This is your country, it’s future is your concern. When you don’t come on the negotiating table, you are holding the country to ransom. Sooner or later, the Centre or majority, or both, would push back. You not only are burying the future of your children but are also alienating the majority who view this petulance as inimical to India’s wellbeing.

 

 

 

India’s border woes: A legacy of Colonialism, geography and Pakistan

(A reprint from NewsBred).

India is shouting from the rooftop it has made no transgressions across its eastern borders in neighbouring Nepal but it has made no difference to latter whose prime minister KP Oli  has joined his citizens who hit the streets in protest last week.

Nepal’s bitter political rivals, Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress, are united in anger and so are the students on the streets who are convinced India has swallowed the long-disputed Kalapani area in its latest map which it released in the wake of reconfiguration of Jammu & Kashmir state early this month.

India, meanwhile, has stressed it’s the same map and same boundaries it has depicted all along for over half a century now, including the other disputed territory of Susta in Nepal’s south which for the time being doesn’t get Nepal’s hackles up.

Blame it on geography’s changing moods and the toxicity of colonialism that India finds itself enmeshed in border disputes with not just Nepal but many others in its neighbourhood, including China.

Kalapani, and Susta are territories around Kali and Gandak rivers. After the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816), Nepal and East India Company signed a treaty in March 1816. The two rivers drew the arbitrary borders between these two long-disputed sites. Territories right of Gandak river, including Susta, belonged to Nepal; those on the left were with India. Since then Gandak river has changed course: Now Susta is on the left of Gandak river and hence with India. As for Kalapani, British kept changing the source of Kali river which has led to rival claims of today.

China: Talks after talks

India’s border disputes with China are one of the most protracted ones in the world. Since the first border talks began in 1981 to the latest, the 22nd round, which is due later this year, solutions have eluded the two Asian giants who fight the legacy of British colonialism and are afraid to upset the domestic audience in a give-and-take eventuality.

The two countries share a 3,488-km long unresolved border but two, the Western and Eastern ones, are particularly contentious. China controls 37,000-square km sized Aksai Chin in the West, a virtually uninhabited high-altitude desert; India 84,000 square km-wide populated Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The two fought for a month in 1962 but since a peace deal was struck in 1993, dialogues have been preferred over violence.

Yet, no solution is in sight. Along vast stretches of the borders between the two, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India follows the Johnson Line in the Western sector, proposed by the British in the 1860s, which allocates Aksai Chin to them. China asserts it never agreed to the Johnson Line and thus Aksai Chin is its own. Aksai Chin is between volatile Kashmir and China’s Xinjiang province which are seen troublesome to the two nations. Then there is MacMahon Line in Eastern sector, initiated in 1913-14 between China, India and Tibet which is disputed.

Fortunately, pragmatism has brought about Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two Asian giants. Soldiers patrol their territory but back off when brought face-to-face with each other. Quite often military commanders at the border share a bonhomie, exchange views and sort out local issues.

Pakistan: An intractable issue

The border dispute between India and Pakistan concern Kashmir and are on since their independence in 1947. Pakistan launched a tribal militia in Kashmir on independence and the ruler of Kashmir, Maharja Hari Singh, sought India’s assistance which put a condition on Kashmir first acceding to India. Having duly secured the accession, India airlifted its troops to Srinagar and by the time cease-fire was secured after a year, India controlled two-thirds of the Kashmir while the remaining one-third was possessed by Pakistan. The status-quo has prevailed despite three wars and as many peace agreements (Tashkent, Simla, Lahore) between the two neighbours.

Bangladesh: All quiet at borders

India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) became free from the British empire in 1947 but the two retained thousands of citizens in hundreds of enclaves in each other’s territory. These enclave dwellers lived without any rights or papers, virtually stateless and lacking basics in education, health and security. All this changed for the good when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi signed a historic pact with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in 2015. It allowed these thousands of stateless people an opportunity to choose either of the two countries as their own. Land was also swapped between the two nations. The border dispute between the two is settled for good.

Similarly, India had a small dispute with Sri Lanka over an uninhabited 235-acre island, Katchatheevu, which was satisfactorily solved after India formally gifted it to Sri Lanka in the 70s. India has extremely minor border issues with Myanmar and practically none with Bhutan.

The curse of colonialism has left India with border issues which are non-existent, say in a majority of Europe or even between United States and Canada even though the demarcating line between the two countries is a straight one. With strong governments in place, India and China could settle the mutual issues to a great deal. The one with Pakistan though is another matter.