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Curating consciousness on global canvas of maritime environment

On World Environment Day 2021, it is timely to curate our collective thoughts not just on geopolitical foci but also on the vital call to a sustained, equitable and unhampered blue economy.

Dennard H D’Souza

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The oceans are at the centre of much global attention, while on the cusp of a tectonic shift in geo-economic balances, which are slowly tilting in favour of the eastern hemisphere. In the growing significance of the narrative of Indo-Pacific, the focus is inherently maritime. Unlike some others, India has re-emerged from long self-induced sea blindness to leading the existing world order and displaces economic hegemony of a few on the sea lanes. On World Environment Day 2021, it is timely to curate our collective thoughts not just on geopolitical foci but on the vital call to a sustained, equitable, and unhampered blue economy. 

Manthan: A Maritime Workshop by IMU & MHS.Team Manthan of MHS at NDA.

INDIA AWAKENS TO A NEW MARITIME PERSPECTIVE

The Oceans are 71% of the planet’s surface and the maritime environment forms 95% of our biosphere. The seascape forms a strategically important zone as also the nerve centre of intensive geo-economic activity. Maritime trade concentrated in the Indo-Pacific region constitutes nearly 40% of global trade and 62% of the world’s GDP. Nearly 90% of the maritime trade happens through the blue waters of the world. The nation of the global south has a great potential for enhancing its blue economy by tapping into the unexplored resources of the ocean in a regulated and environmentally sensitive fashion. Blue economy driven policy has the potential to alleviate many families from destitution and abject poverty. Potential areas to enhance the blue economy include fishery, shipping, tourism etc. From this fine assortment of human pursuits Shipping has been historically at the forefront of a booming economy.

In this article, we, of the Maritime History Society research team called “Manthan”, seek to flag the significance of the oceans to the world of contemporary attention at large and focus amongst the Academia. In the past few months, Maritime History Society and its young cohort of researchers conducted two very significant Workshops. The first workshop was a single day lecture series at the National Defence Academy held on the 5 March at the NDA premises Khadakwasla and the second was a two-day online lecture series in collaboration with Indian Maritime University Visakhapatnam dated 21 and 22 April. The research team consisted of Amruta Talawadekar, Aishwarya Devasthali, Dennard H D’Souza, Janhavi Lokegaonkar and was headed by Director Maritime History Society Cmde Odakkal Johnson. The topics covered at this forum were Tangible and Intangible Maritime Heritage, Maritime development through the ages and Maritime Hero, who were stalwarts of the maritime realm.

THE DUAL SPECTRUM OF MARITIME HERITAGE: TANGIBLE AND INTANGIBLE    

The Maritime History Society researchers Aishwarya and Amruta presented their lecture on Tangible and Intangible Maritime heritage. The mainstay of this lecture was shipbuilding at Mandvi, Gujarat, a case study on Intangible Maritime heritage and Coastal forts of Maharashtra as a classic specimen of Tangible Maritime Heritage.

Heritage is both tangible and intangible. It is a combination of inheritance of physical property and intangible qualities that are retained by previous generations and should be bestowed upon future generations. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) convention described intangible cultural heritage as a legacy of the physical property and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from the past generation, maintained by the future and bestowed for the benefit of the future generation.

Maritime heritage and culture is an integral part of the Indian socio-cultural tapestry. Traditional craftsmanship is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage. Ships have often been the catalysts for establishing trade links, following which cultural exchange and human migration became commonplace.

From reed boats to massive vessels, shipbuilding in India has seen its highs and lows with aggressive growth and sharp decline through time. The craft of shipbuilding has historically been rich in terms of its knowledge and practices. The inhabitants across civilisations and ruling periods have understood and adopted various sea tactics and designed and redesigned the vessels and their amenities based on their experiences. This form of intangible cultural heritage is under threat, endangered by globalisation and cultural homogenisation. Today even though this craft lies in an inconspicuous corner of few towns in the country, the rich value of this craft has been an integral part of the past and needs to be conserved for the future.

TRADE, SHIP-BUILDING AND URBANISATION: A CASCADE OF MARITIME DEVELOPMENTS

The Tangible and Intangible Maritime Heritage was soon followed by an interactive lecture on Maritime developments through the ages. This lecture was presented by Dennard H D’Souza and Janhavi Lokegaonkar Researchers Maritime History Society. This lecture recounted the developments on the western sea coast starting with the geographical phenomenon called the Monsoon while gradually narrowing down on the City of Mumbai, which is the epitome of this maritime development. 

The monsoons created an Ideal ecosystem for the evolution of Shipbuilding and the eventual Urbanisation of the coastal fronts, which is very well encapsulated in the rise of the city of Bombay, now Mumbai 

Seafarers have used the monsoon winds to sail across the ocean since ancient times. In the Indian Subcontinent, the Harappans were the earliest in recorded history to have sailed using wind. The Harappans established mercantile relationships with Mesopotamia and the Arab Peninsula, especially the ancient settlement of Magan and Dilmun. Some early Indians have also been noted to establish an expat township in these alien lands. For Example, some Harappans built a large enclave in southern Sumerian called Guabba. This township was a Harappan Transregional settlement which was probably a mercantile township of some sort. Its inhabitants were closely associated with the God Ningirsu, for whose temple they maintained a steady supply of grains from their granary.

Then we come to the early centuries of the Common Era. This is the period when the Indo-Roman trade was at its peak, and the centre of this activity was the Indian Ocean Region. The Roman were very fond of the black peppercorn which they used for flavouring their sauce and meats. Romans also used it to make medications for ailments and diseases. Many of these medical recipes required the infusion of pepper. Thus the pepper was a priced commodity and was worth its price in gold. The author of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, which is a sailor’s digest, maintains that the economic imbalance caused by the pepper trade drained the Roman economy of its gold. 

The Romans did not reach India on the back of their knowledge and innovation. Rather they were helped by an Indian to find the sea route to India which was here before a guarded secret known only to the Arabs and the Indians. We know from a Greek navigator Eudoxus of Cyzicus account that it was an Indian who leaked the secret maritime route of the northern Indian Ocean region.

At the same time when the Romans were trading with the western seaboard of India, the Eastern coast was also an active maritime zone in the early history of the Indian Subcontinent. We see a lot of roman coins and amphorae as far as the coast of Bengal. There were port towns on the eastern seaboard like those of Tamralipti, Palur and Kaveri Poompattinam which in many ways were an active trading hub. These port towns connected the markets of the hinterlands to the transoceanic maritime centres. Emperor Ashoka sent his daughter Theri Sangamitra to Tamraparni (Sri Lanka) from Tamralipti. Most importantly the Kalingans were navigating the water of the Eastern front. 

It was a long-held belief among the British that the English Oak was the best wood to build ships. This long-held belief was shattered when the Brits encountered the Malabar teak. The British on entering India they first established themselves at Surat. Here they managed to build a dock and commissioned English Ships on Indian soil. We are also told that while the English oak reserves in Britain were running dry the Warships that were commissioned in India and made of Indian teak saved England from the threats of Napoleon. This was the period when Europe was under the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars. 

Although Surat had been a major commercial port and centre of trade during the medieval period, due to an increase in the silting of the port, the British who had established themselves at Surat were now planning to shift their headquarters to a new location. The British found a favourable spot close to their headquarters in Surat which lay on the maritime trade route. This spot was the marshy archipelago of Bombay. A collection of seven islands, Bombay was an Ideal location for the constantly silting Surat basin. The Geomorphology of Bombay was as such that although open to the sea the Islands provided an enclosure from the tumultuous sea. Also, the constant problem of siltation which was characteristic of Surat was very unlikely on a site like Bombay which was situated on the open seas. With this potential to harbour Ships, the British shifted their commercial capital to Bombay as it has characteristics of a good natural harbour. 

The foundation of a modern metropolis on the west coast of India was laid by Gerald Aungier, a good four centuries ago. In his short tenure spanning from 1669 to 1677, he managed to transform a sleepy fishing hamlet into a bustling port town throbbing with activity.

The dry-docking facilities in Mumbai that were made during the colonial era helped flourish the Indian shipbuilding industry. Most of the trade and economy that happened then and what happens today is due to the flourishing shipping industry. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Bombay is a by-product of the maritime economy.

CHERISHABLE MEMORIES 

The team was given a grand tour at the overwhelmingly large campus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) on the day after the one-day symposium. The NDA campus is placed in a verdant environment where the wilderness was in total harmony with Human civilisation. The experience at the NDA campus was exhilarating; the calibrated cycling of the young cadets was commendable; they almost all steered their bikes at the precise angle, with paddle geared to clockwork precision. 

The NDA campus is endowed with many water bodies, the largest of which is the Khadakwasla Lake. The team was given a sumptuous boat ride upon the lake. It almost felt as if it was a slice of sea encrusted within the lofty Pune Mountains. Following the boat ride, the team drove to the equestrian unit, where we were stunned to see the noblest of steeds being treated like royalty. The NDA has some fine horses each having a streak of idiosyncrasy. Overall the NDA looked like a world unto itself. Everything was placed in an Apple pie order, something very novel to the civilian eye.

The two-day lecture series with the Indian Maritime University (IMU) Vishakhapatnam was conducted in the wake of the second wave of the Covid pandemic. It was a memorable event that got the MHS closer to the world of Academia, especially that field of academia that is dedicated to the service of the oceans. The IMU is an institute of excellence in the field of maritime studies in India. It has the privilege of owning six sprawling campuses throughout the length and breadth of India. 

The seminars conducted by the MHS took the message of the ocean to the Cradle of Leadership — NDA and the home of future mariners — IMU. We feel delighted to highlight the unsung maritime history of this great nation on every forum. 

EMERGING VOYAGE

It is very noteworthy that the oceanic space is fast emerging as the arena of attention among scholars, state leaders and select strategists. While the pandemic has reined in obvious travel and connectivity, the digital space has enabled an intellectual transcending of territorial confines. In principle that is the core of the maritime medium — the Global Commons. Restrictions on human activity including the tragic economic slowdown have had an alternative positivity. Many have acknowledged that cities breathe easier, pollution levels have declined and even the sea coasts and beaches are cleaner! Is there a subtle message that nature is trying to convey?

In a logical voyage of Indian maritime heritage and nautical practices that have been at the focus of academic enquiry at MHS, there is an awakening to sustainable ocean economic activity. Maritime-related production is an integral part of the Indian economy. While it is crucial for the Indian economy that this sector is promoted further in future, the Indian government has effectively recognised the importance of preserving oceans’ sensitive ecosystems and contributing as well as committing to sustainable use of maritime resources. This is why India is envisaging its way to become one of the largest contributors to the “Blue Growth “ as a part of the long term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole.

In March 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “To me, the Blue chakra or wheel in India’s national flag represents the potential of the Blue Revolution or the Ocean Economy. That is how central the ocean economy is to us.” He endorsed Blue Economy as a new pillar of economic activity in the coastal areas and linked hinterlands through sustainable tapping of oceanic resources and a year later announced his vision for the seas through “Security And Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR). On World Environment Day 2021, it is time to actually see a “Neel Kranti” or Blue Revolution in our collective mindset. Do reach out and stay engaged with the work of Maritime History Society on our website www.mhsindia.org and our various media handles. Let heritage awaken our maritime consciousness.

The author is a Research Associate at Maritime History Society and part of Team Manthan – A Group of Young Maritime Scholars.

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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