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Exploring Unsung Frames in Indian Maritime History

Dr Soni Wadhwa

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Maritime History Society organised the first ever National Maritime Heritage Conclave on 18-19 November 2020 in collaboration with Gujarat Maritime University as the Academic Partner, The Daily Guardian as Media Partner and All India Marine Pilots Association as Professional Partner. Streamed on the digital media it drew a significant online attendance across sessions. As already mentioned in these columns the theme of the Conclave was Unsung Frames in Indian Maritime History. 

In his welcome address, Cmde Odakkal Johnson, Director MHS stressed the need, importance and motivation for maritime consciousness across multiple frames. Vice Adm RB Pandit, Chief of Staff, Western Naval Command and Chairman of Maritime History Society, in the inaugural address pointed out that the maritime history of India deserves the attention of both young and veteran scholars. Going deeper into the theme of the Conclave, he highlighted that the maritime medium remains a mystery due to our ignorance which can be overcome by digging deeper and exploring topics such as the unsung frames of the coastal communities and the contribution of women in the Indian maritime history. He reiterated the need to address a gap in our maritime history and heritage for which the eminent and young scholars must come together and be involved in a copious discourse. With reference to the coastal communities, he observed that the sea facing communities in our country have proven to be extremely helpful as they offer aid and assistance to the Indian Navy in times of disasters and catastrophes.

Need to Demystify the Sea.
Coastal Communities.
Sagara : Tribute to Malams.

Prof (Dr) S Shanthakumar, Director-in-charge of Gujarat Maritime University spoke about the sorry state of representation of women in maritime professions. He said, “In spite of advances in science and technology and in spite of Socio cultural economic developments happening globally, It is extremely disappointing to learn that Maritime sector have been uniquely affected by gender biases over the years. Though historically women have played an important role in advancing a number of issues central to ocean governance as understood today Whether in the context of industrial and small-scale fisheries, or aboard ships and vessels, the gendered life worlds of marine-based societies, have been amply documented, particularly in terms of how sailing, surfing, maritime navigation, and other forms of seafaring have historically been perceived as distinctly “masculinized” practices.”

Prof (Dr) Vasant Shinde, Founding Director-General of the National Maritime Heritage Complex at Lothal delivered the keynote address. He delved into the Harappan civilisation and the later period to talk about evidence of different phases of urbanisation and their connection with the maritime identity of the nation. Arguably, civilisations and coastlines are interconnected and it is now that the Government of India is working towards the preserving the traces of these maritime connections by celebrating its history of maritime trade and contact with the rest of the world with initiatives like the National Maritime Heritage Complex at Lothal. Indeed, the deeper we explore, the more examples we find of unsung frames in Indian maritime history.

The objectives of the conclave were to stimulate discussions on the under explored dimensions of Indian maritime history, especially coastal communities and the role of women in the Indian maritime past and present. It is hoped that thoughts from the various sessions would become starting points for further research in maritime history with coastal communities and women as foci, which would, in turn, influence policy on development, tourism and climate change. The conclave was an attempt towards articulating thoughts and ideas about communities living on the coastline and about women who have contributed to Indian naval power and maritime influences historically and in the present. 

Scholars talking about the coastal communities at the Conclave highlighted the significance of turning to the communities living, currently or previously, on the coastline of India. Dr Radhika Seshan began by setting the theme of the session by raising the question about what the term coastal communities means. Does it refer to those communities that are engaged in fishing? Citing the example of the very famous Koli community of the Maharashtra coast, she highlighted that the Kolis are the only littoral communities that people in general know about. She insisted that the study of coastal communities should involve all more communities: those involved in agriculture too in coastal terrains. 

Prof Ranabir Chakravarti, a renowned maritime historian explained the role of the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta which is the world’s largest delta region that comprises modern Tripura, West Bengal and Bangladesh in fostering human engagement with the seas and the hinterlands. Prof Ranabir Chakravarti touched upon the influence of the sea on the coastal heritage of Bengal. He spoke about fascinating examples of the influence of the delta on the culture – an example includes the music of SD Burman. He spoke about the role of coastal communities from the earliest days up until the late medieval times. He pointed out that although in early Indian Sanskrit  literature the coastal communities do not figure significantly, references to Navikas and Mahanavikas are scattered all across early Indian literary genres. These communities from the area may have been quite affluent too as can be deduced from the study an inscription of a Bengali Mahanavika of Raktamrittika named Buddhagupta found in Malaysia. The delta as a coastal zone fostered a generation of communities that contributed immensely in the history of South Asia.

Cdr Kalesh Mohanan spoke about the specificity of the communities of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as island communities – an apt way of reminding his fellow scholars that no two communities are the same and that the expression “coastal communities” is not enough to talk about the unsung frame of communities that the session was dedicated to. Cdr Mohanan shed light on the nature of these coastal communities as opposed to those from the mainland. The islanders of the Andaman were cocooned from the world at large and this has made them culturally and racially distinct from the mainlanders. Leora Pezarkar discussed her work on the Bene Israeli community and their way of life. She spoke about the identity  and the lifestyle of her community which identifies itself as littoral. She also pointed out that the community adapted to the local customs while also retaining their very idiosyncratic Jewish tradition. 

Dr Andre Baptista presented an example of the way the East Indian community helped in excavating an area on the Konkan coast. He drew attention to the immense possibility of educating the coastal communities and enlisting their support in archaeological and conservation projects. Speaking of the Konkan coast exploration, Dr Andre Baptista made a case for the need to work towards the inclusion of the local coastal communities in the matters pertaining to their heritage. Dennard D’Souza underlined the fact that with the homogenisation of all cultures, the uniqueness as well as the diversity of the peoples living on the coasts are fast eroding. He shared his journey while researching the coastal communities of Ratnagiri. According to him the ancient literary sources were virtually mute on the communities of the western coast, which was pulsating with activity. 

In tribute to the unsung craft and skill of boat builders and boatmen along the coast the conclave had a special audio-visual rendition. Titled, “Sagara” it integrated classic seafaring beauty in three elements. These were maritime emotion in writing, captivating voice of Riddhi Joshi and time-laps doodle by Prathamesh Sawant into an amazing song!

Our vision at the Maritime History Society is to evolve into a body of eminence in the field of maritime history through nurturing of historical research among young mariners and to showcase Indian maritime heritage through the publication of emerging perspectives for a vibrant and resurgent maritime India. Moving ahead towards this vision, a session basedon the theme “Women in the Indian Maritime History” was organised. 

In the session on women in the Indian maritime history, Lt Cdr Rajeshwari Kori, Reshma Nilofer and Sucheta Jadhav spoke about the experience of being at sea as women. The three women spoke about their journey as professionals and left us with thoughts about: what can we do to make our shipping and naval environments inclusive? Is gender parity so difficult to achieve in the 21st century? What can we learn from these women to make more women feel welcomed into the maritime domain? What can we do to inspire more women to join the maritime professions as entrepreneurs, pilots, and naval personnel in several capacities? Like all elements of nature, the seas do not discriminate in terms of gender. We need to take a closer look at the power structures created around the access to the sea and its resources. The three practitioners shared their personal experiences and gave us a glimpse into their journeys. They put forth their stories across in a disarmingly simple way. they made their journey very down-to-earth. Lt Cdr Kori said that she heard Late Vice Adm MP Awati talk about the navy and the defence forces and she got inspired to join the Indian Navy. Ms Jadhav observed that seamanship has got nothing to do with gender. In her words, it does not have anything to do with age either!  Reshma Nilofer again made her journey sound very simple – she saw that no woman was doing much in terms of piloting. She thought someone should start and decided that she should start herself. These stories showcased the simpler side of the journey, drawing the attention to enjoyment, interest, and passion.

Women in Maritime History.
Trans-Oceanic Connectivity.

Women have proved to be avid warriors and brilliant administrators while securing a place in history, be it in fields of warfare, politics, art, literature and business among others. Across time, we have seen women be a part of the social, educational and humanitarian circle in society contributing immensely to every field. The Maritime medium or the sea doesn’t see gender. A number of women have proved themselves in the field of shipping, warfare, aviation and sailing among other fields within the maritime domain. This session thus looks into the contribution of women in the maritime field. We have with us three eminent speakers whose sheer love and dedication for the field has brought them with us today. 

Women in the maritime history of other countries and locations are rare to find. Internationally speaking, the women one hears of is Englishwoman Janet Taylor. Taylor is known for adjusting calculations to identify locations realising that the earth is spheroidal, not spherical. She went on to teach navigation, wrote a lot of books and developed a lot of nautical instruments. Women like the Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, known for her exploration of Algeria, and closer home Rani Abakka and the Pepper Queen Keladi Chennamma are known for having the maritime vision for resisting the influence of the Portuguese. In the modern period of Indian history, we hear of the women’s wing of the Royal Indian Navy, the WRIN. The session examined the ascendancy of women back in history who set a benchmark in the field of shipping and entrepreneurship extensively highlighting the work and contribution of Sumati Morarjee.

Like the other maritime fields, shipping too has predominantly been a male profession. Poorvi Shriyan, Adjunct Research Associate and Amruta Talawadekar, Research Associate at Maritime History Society, spoke about legendary women in Indian maritime history. The former spoke about Queen Abbakka and the latter about women in WRIN (Women’s Royal Indian Navy) and Shrimati Sumati Morarjee, who set a new benchmark in the field of entrepreneurship. Her journey from an ordinary woman to the Executive Director of Scindia Steam Navigation Company Ltd, the biggest Indian Shipping company in the private sector in India is an example of her strength, will and foresight.

Historically, defence was a male dominated field till the twentieth century. India was by then under the British rule and was part of the Queen’s provinces. The maritime security was under the Royal Indian Navy. During World War II, the Royal Indian Navy began inducting Indians including women to fill up shore jobs. The Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) was set up in April 1942. Subsequently the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service that was part of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps was set up in Feb 1944. This became a symbol of the new era and a pioneering step for women aspiring to be in the defence field. 

The session constructively highlighted and envisaged on navigating the role of women in Indian Navy in the 21st Century. Capt. Radhika Menon became the first Indian female captain of a Merchant Navy ship. She led a dangerous mission rescuing seven fishermen who were trapped at the Bay of Bengal in a sinking boat which capsized due to engine failure and breakdown of the boat’s anchor as a result of a sea storm in 2015. With her spirit, dedication and courage she was a proud recipient of the top international bravery award by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2016. In 2017, the Indian Coast Guard became the first Indian force to have inducted women officers for combat and patrolling roles onboard KV Kuber. 

In 2018, six women officers led by Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi successfully circumnavigated around the globe in a sailboat. They displayed their sheer passion, perseverance and unrelenting spirit towards the sea on their 254-day long voyage facing the rough seas, scorching sun and freezing winds. Their boat was named as Tarini or the saving goddess. Sub Lt. Riti Singhand Lt. Kumudini Tyagibecame one of the first women to have joined as an ‘Observer’ (Airborne Tactician) in the Indian Navy’s helicopter stream. Earlier, the entry of women was restricted to the fixed-wing aircraft that took off and landed ashore. In 2019, Sub. Lt. Shubhangi Swaroop was part of the first batch of women pilots inducted in the Indian Navy.

Maritime travel and commerce have conventionally been understood to the primordial connection that human civilisation has had with the oceanic expanses on the planet. Cmde Ajay Agarwal’s study of the dhows sailing between the Gulf of Kachchh and the Persian Gulf reiterated the history of the sailing and trading connection between India and several coasts on the west. The Bhadalas and the Kharvas have been impacted as a result of the sanctions by the United Nations on Iraq in the 1990s. The chain of events and their consequences are a lot more complex than this summary but the key takeaway is that the larger geopolitical contexts have fostered networks and relationships that pan out in smaller narratives. We are yet to see how transoceanic connections are yet to pan out in our times. 

The trade connections belonging to the past have consequences for claims in the present times. The new regionalism perspective presented by Cmde Sanjay D’Cunha focused on the way power politics continues to unravel in the Indian Ocean Region today. His analysis calls for a relook at the support being extended to Project Mausam, a crucial initiative towards the display of India’s historical presence in the Indian Ocean.

While the previous papers talked about the movement of goods, the India-Africa connection highlighted by Aishwarya Devasthali was one instance of talking about movement of people. The presence of the Siddis in the Indian soil can be appreciated from the instances of built heritage they have left behind – the fort of Janjira, the Kokari tombs, and the coins minted under the dominion of the Siddis are examples of the exchange that has materialised over centuries, if not millennia. Thus, there is a need to study the archaeological evidence from the perspective of the communities that have moved across the ocean.

We hope that this national maritime heritage conclave has been able to do its small bit to shape the direction maritime history, as a discipline, in India must consider taking so that it may include areas neglected previously. We shall continue to address many more unsung frames in our research projects and our upcoming initiatives. 

Steering away from traditional narratives is important to gain a holistic understanding of our past. And that is exactly what Maritime History Society set out to do with this National Maritime Heritage Conclave. Historical discourse on a niche topic as Maritime History will open up new interpretations and new learning in the way we have been looking at our history. For a better appreciation of the traditions, heritage and cultural practices of coastal communities and seafaring groups of India, it is important to know their history and develop the historiography that will aid in a better understanding of the communities. Connectivity via the sea with the rest of the world, historically, brought in extended commercial and cultural links with the world. India, especially the coastal belts and the riverine valleys have been a melting pot of culture due to such connectivity that resulted into flourishing.

The discussions in the session on women made it clear, age and gender are social constructs that can be and have been defied by women proving that the chauvinism in the field of seafaring should be kept at bay. The maritime domain is multidimensional. It has the onus of contributing trajectories for a wide connection with its ability for displacement of ships and boats, by the possibility of intermingling of people, as carrier of ideas and assimilator of culture. These are the key take aways from the programme that spanned two days but the substance of which has spanned millennia.

Do continue to support such initiatives by Maritime History Society. The Support page on the website lets anyone and everyone express solidarity with the cause of the awakening Indians’ maritime consciousness through heritage. We have several such programmes to organise to reach the public. We have several research projects to undertake, more narratives to uncover, and more museum and heritage spaces to create. Come, make a difference.

Dr Soni Wadhwa is Joint Director (Research) at Maritime History Research.

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Defence

CADETS OF NCC DIRECTORATE GUJARAT TO BE DEPLOYED AT SURAT IN SUPPORT OF THE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION FOR COMBATING COVID-19 AS PART OF EXERCISE NCC YOGDAN

Ashish Singh

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As the nation is going through the second surge in Covid-19, NCC Cadets of Gujarat Directorate have volunteered to support Civil administration in various activities as part of the Exercise Yogdan II. In response to the requisition from DM Surat, 56 highly motivated Cadets (both boy Cadets and girl Cadets) have volunteered to provide relief efforts and assist in functioning of agencies employed in Covid-19 at Surat. More Cadets of Gujarat Directorate are likely to volunteer as the Exercise Yogdan II commences. Only Senior Division Boys and Senior Wing Girl Cadets of Gujarat Directorate above the age of 18, are being deployed to support the administration as part of NCC Exercise Yogdan II. All the Gujarat Directorate Cadets deployed would be Senior Volunteer Cadets and with proper Covid safety precautions and adequate care. The Cadets have undergone a thorough training on DOs and Dont’s on Covid Protocols before being deployed.

In addition, on announcement of Tika Utsav by the PM , the Cadets of Gujarat Directorate actively participated in spreading awareness about the necessity of getting Vaccinated and following Covid appropriate behaviour, through door to door interaction and circulating a large number of videos and messages on social media. The Directorate General NCC at Delhi has also made provisions to insure the volunteer Cadets adequately. DG NCC at Delhi has been actively involved and focussed in giving the necessary permission for the employment of cadets. Major General Arvind Kapoor ADG, NCC Directorate Gujarat, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu informed that last year during Exercise NCC Yogdan I, Cadets of NCC Directorate Gujarat were deployed in maximum numbers which was highly appreciated by the dignitaries and the people of Gujarat. He further assured that all safety precautions related to Covid -19 will be ensured for the Cadets and staff of Gujarat Directorate employed in Exercise NCC Yogdan II. He also complimented the parents to have come forward and given their consent for the Cadets to be deployed.

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AUSTRALIA ANNOUNCES THE INDO-PACIFIC OCEANS INITIATIVE PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIA

Ashish Singh

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Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell AO, launched the Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) grant program to help support a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific underpinned by the rule of law and respect for sovereignty. “This AUD 1.4 million (INR 8.12 crore) grant program is a practical initiative to advance Australia and India’s shared vision for the Indo-Pacific”, High Commission O’Farrell said. “Through this program, we are seeking new proposals on how Australia, India and other regional partners can advance our shared maritime objectives”, he added.

 

The AIIPOIP grants program will help deliver practical outcomes under the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 14th East Asia Summit in November 2019. “Australia is proud to be co-leading with India the marine ecology pillar of the IPOI”, High Commissioner O’Farrell said. The first phase of this multi-year grant program will encourage proposals from Australian and Indian stakeholders to share expertise and resources, complementing the work under existing regional mechanisms such as ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Pacific Islands Forum. AIIPOIP is an outcome of the Australia-India Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, signed by Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne and India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar in June 2020, as part of the Australia-India Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership Agreement.

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PROTESTS BY TEHREEK-E-LABBAIK & ONGOING SITUATION IN PAKISTAN

Ashish Singh

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Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Pakistan (TLP) which draws its ideology from the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam is a far-right Islamist political party in Pakistan, founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi on 1 August 2015. TLP is known for its countrywide street power and massive protests in opposition to any perceived change to Pakistan’s blasphemy law or disrespect to Allah/Prophet Muhammad. Its first demonstration of street power came to light following the execution of Mumtaz Qadri the bodyguard of Salman Taser, the Governor of Punjab, who killed the Governor for publicly voicing his support for Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen). Qadri was hung on 29 February 2016, after which TLP supporters took to the streets across Pakistan, proclaimed him a martyr, chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with the police. A TLP patron, Pir Abdul Qadri, also called for the killing of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on the case and the Army Chief.

TLP, among other extremist religious outfits, was manoeuvred into mainstream politics by the country’s Army brass as one of its tools of political engineering. It was thought that carving out the far-right fringe from the conservative voter base of the PML-N, would damage it in the 2018 general elections, which proved correct & many PML-N candidates lost to PTI, as the voter base of PML-N gravitated towards PTI. Pak Army’s support for TLP was evident during their protest which took place from 8th November 2017, at Faizabad contesting changes in the Elections Bill 2017, demanding resignation of Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid. DG of Punjab Rangers, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen distributing envelopes containing Rs 1,000 notes to the protesters. The ISI then ‘brokered’ a deal between the TLP and the government. Wrapping up the suo-moto case of Faizabad protests, the two bench judge which included Justice Qazi Faez, directed DG ISPR & ISI amongst others to operate within their mandate. The said Judge is now facing various charges of corruption reportedly on the behest of Pak Army & the ISI.

In October 2020, a teacher, Samuel Paty was beheaded in Paris by an Islamist terrorist reportedly for displaying a cartoon of Muhammad. French President Emmanuel Macron defended freedom of expression and the rights to publish such cartoons, after which widespread protests took place in Pakistan, with calls to boycott French products and sever diplomatic ties with France. In November 2020, activists of TLP demanded the expulsion of French Ambassador from Pakistan. The protests were called off on 16 November 2020 after the Government of Pakistan reached an agreement with TLP by seeking more time to discuss the matter in Parliament.

On 11 April 2021, TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi (son of founder Khadim Rizvi) released a video message asking TLP activists to launch protests across Pakistan if the government did not expel the French Ambassador from the country by 20 April 2021. On 12th April 2021, after Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore, protests broke out across the country, with TLP activists blocking roads and cutting off Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Gujranwala from each other. The protests turned violent with reports of stone pelting; at least two people were killed in the riots on 12 April 2021. In addition, TLP claimed that two protesters were shot dead in Faisalabad and Karachi. On 13th April 2021, one police officer was beaten to death by the rioting mob in Lahore, while 40 others were injured. TLP spokesperson Tayyab Rizvi claimed that the number of TLP workers “martyred” in the protests by the second day had increased to 12. A spokesperson of Punjab Police confirmed that two cops were killed by the protesters who used clubs, bricks and firearms to attack them. Paramilitary forces were brought in to assist the local police across various cities including Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur. On 15th April 2021, the French embassy in Pakistan advised French citizens and companies to temporarily leave Pakistan “due to serious threats”. Pak Government formally banned TLP under Anti-Terrorism Law. On 16 April 2021, Pak government blocked several social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube for around four hours fearing call of protests by TLP. Situation turned extremely violent on 18th April 2021, at Yateem Khana Chowk, Lahore where three people were killed and hundreds of others, including 15 policemen injured in a clash between TLP protestors and police. It was reported that the TLP workers took five policemen, among them a DSP, hostage after an attack on a police station. It has also been reported that the protesters have taken a 50000 litre petrol tanker with them precluding any massive operation against them for fear of collateral damage.

Tanzimat Ahl-e-Sunnat leader Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman has called for a nationwide shutter down strike on 19th April 2021, against the Lahore incident. It has also been reported that that the protesters will march with the dead bodies of their colleagues to Islamabad, demanding expulsion of French Ambassador, release of all TLP members jailed in various parts of Pakistan and action against Pak’s Interior Minister Mr Sheikh Rashid. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also supported Mufti Muneeb’s call for the shutter down strike showing growing collusive support for the protests among other radical Islamic groups in Pak. The protest that started over a cartoon of Muhammad in France has brought the entire nation to a standstill. The Pak social media is replete with hashtags like #CivilWarInPakistan, #Stop_Gov_Terrorism, #Lahore, #LahoreBurning, #iStandWithTLP, etc.

There have been widespread reports of Pak Army and police personnel defecting from the forces and openly coming out in support of the protesters. The military-intelligence establishment’s pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable. While PakistaniEstablishment is trying to enforce writ of the Government& present a positive image to the international audience, given its precarious economic condition, the possibility of the ongoing protest looming into a major crisis for Pak cannot be ruled out.

There have been widespread reports of Pak Army and police personnel defecting from the forces and openly coming out in support of the protesters. The military-intelligence establishment’s pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable.

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INDIAN NAVY SEIZES NARCOTICS WORTH RS 3,000 CRORE

Ashish Singh

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New Delhi: Indian Naval Ship Suvarna, whilst on surveillance patrol in the Arabian Sea, encountered a fishing vessel with suspicious movements. To investigate the vessel, the ship’s team conducted boarding and search operation, which led to the seizure of more than 300 Kgs of narcotics substances. The boat with its crew have been escorted to the nearest Indian Port of Kochi, Kerala for further investigation. The approximate cost the catch in the international market is estimated to be Rs 3,000 crore. This is a major catch not only in terms of the quantity and cost but also from the perspective of disruption of the illegal narcotics smuggling routes, which emanate from the Makran coast and flow towards the Indian, Maldivian and Sri Lankan destinations. Apart from the human costs from drug addiction, the spoils of narcotics trade feed syndicates involved in terrorism, radicalisation and criminal activities.

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RAJNATH SINGH REVIEWS PREPAREDNESS OF MOD AND ARMED FORCES AMID SPIKE IN COVID-19 CASES

The Defence Minister asks them to aid civilian administration to tide over the current coronavirus situation; gives go ahead for emergency procurement of critical medical supplies.

Ashish Singh

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a virtual meeting to review the preparedness of Ministry of Defence and the armed forces to deal with the recent spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Army Staff General M.M. Naravane, Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) Surgeon Vice Admiral Rajat Datta, Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar, Secretary Department of Defence R&D and Chairman Defence Research and Development Organisation Dr G. Satheesh Reddy, Financial Adviser (Defence Services) Sanjiv Mittal and other senior civil & military officers attended the meeting via video conferencing.

Rajnath Singh was briefed about the measures taken by AFMS, DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and other organisations of Ministry of Defence such as National Cadet Corps (NCC) in providing aid to the civil administration in this hour of crisis. The Defence Minister was informed that a COVID care centre established by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is active in Bengaluru assisting the civil administration. He was informed that arrangements are being made by the DPSUs to buy oxygen plants that will help them in production of oxygen cylinders at a faster pace. The Defence Minister asked the DPSUs, OFB and DRDO to work on war footing to provide oxygen cylinders and extra beds to civil administration/state governments at the earliest. Rajnath Singh called upon the Armed Forces to be in close contact with the state governments and be ready to provide any required assistance. In a significant decision, the Defence Minister directed the Armed Forces and other stakeholders to go ahead with procurement of critical medical requirements under emergency powers of procurement.

DRDO Chairman briefed that a Covid-19 facility, developed by DRDO, has again been made functional in New Delhi and efforts are being made to soon increase the number of beds from 250 to 500. Dr Sathish Reddy informed the meeting that the ESIC Hospital, which was converted to Covid hospital in Patna, has started functioning with 500 beds and a Covid hospital will soon be made functional at Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He also informed that work is on at war footing to set up a 450-bed hospital in Lucknow, 750-bed hospital in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and 900-bed hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Rajnath Singh was also informed that based on the On-Board Oxygen Generation Technology developed for LCA Tejas, a 1000 litre/minute capacity oxygen generation plants technology has been given to the industry and the Uttar Pradesh government has placed order of five such plants with the industry. Dr Reddy informed the Defence Minister that more plants can be supplied by the industry to cater to the hospital requirements. He further said SpO2 (Blood Oxygen Saturation) based supplemental oxygen delivery system developed for soldiers posted at extreme high-altitude areas can be used for Covid patients as their conditions become similar. The product will be available soon in the market from the industry as per technology provided by DRDO. The Defence Minister was informed that the AFMS has mobilised its man power and other resources in various military hospitals dealing with Covid patients. To augment the manpower if required, the minister suggested to utilise the services of vaccinated retired Armed Forces personnel to assist the civil administration/state governments to deal with the current situation. During the meeting, Rajnath Singh also discussed ways to contain the spread of Covid-19 among the Armed Forces personnel and the officers/staff working in Ministry of Defence. He focused on Covid-appropriate behaviour at the work place, stressing on the need to strictly follow all the Covid protocols such as wearing of masks at all times and maintaining physical distancing.

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HERITAGE AS LEGACY IN THE EVOLUTION OF INDIA: CASE STUDY OF NAVAL DOCKYARD IN MUMBAI

The Indian terrestrial approach lured us away from the seas which were left almost unprotected.

Janhavi Lokegaonkar

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India is a maritime nation with a rich heritage. History records our oceanic links with other nations of Indian Ocean and beyond from the Harappan civilisation and lasting through the centuries. Indian maritime influence can be seen in all walks of Indian history. Our development is owed to the maritime economy and a gradual advancement of maritime infrastructure along the coastal frontiers. If we are to learn from our history, the biggest lesson is that the Indian terrestrial approach lured us away from the seas which were left almost unprotected. The failure amongst the Indians to perceive the potential threat from the maritime frontiers and percolate a maritime vision and policies among the masses was one of the grave problems that led to the rise of Colonial rule in India. This article highlights one facet as an outcome of “Manthan” or churn of the sea saga of Indian journey.

Under the Company and the Crown, the city of Bombay was developed further taking into consideration of all the physical features it had which gave it an edge. Even with self-gain as the motive, the emerging vision aided colonial officials to analyse the importance of the geography of Bombay and developed it as ‘Urbs Prima in Indis’-the premier city of the Empire.

Today as we traverse the heritage precinct of Fort area in South Mumbai, we are reminded of the lasting legacy that is the built heritage across the city’s waterfront. The Naval Dockyard that stands tall as a custodian of Mumbai’s coastline is a heritage facility in itself. The Wadia Master builders were commissioned to develop this shipbuilding and docking facility (erstwhile Bombay Dockyard) in Bombay in 1735. Today, this is used by the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy that upholds its heritage and continues to maintain its legacy.

With the Industrial revolution in Europe, change was inevitable. In the wake of Industrialisation in England, there was a paradigm shift in the realms of production. Technology took over and since then it has only developed. Ironically, this phase also marks the deindustrialisation in the Indian subcontinent in order to facilitate and furnish the English industries. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the need for better docking and banking facilities at such a juncture is self-explanatory. The undertaking of construction for new dock building and related facilities was deemed necessary and beneficial for improving the efficiency of the maritime trade and commerce.

Bombay Dockyard and nearby facilities made ‘Ships-of-the-Line’ for the Royal Navy that were considered to be of superior quality and craftsmanship. The skills and nautical expertise of the Indian shipbuilders was a legacy in itself. But, the Indian shipbuilding industry that was once sought after met its downfall as the sail ships were replaced with the steam vessels. Despite such setback, this never deterred the Indian shipping industry. Bombay faced economic repercussions but the indomitable spirit of the city as we see today was blazing even then. After an initial slump in the shipbuilding industry, the Dockyard and other facilities gave rise to a number of other associated industries that aligned with the needs of the shipping sector thereby creating a market for economy with wider avenues. Soon, the docking facilities were equipped and gained momentum as a ship repair and refits industry which made a lot of progress.

Built heritage and maritime affairs intermingle with economic matters-thus creating a legacy and building a stronger future of our nation. A gradual progression in the maritime infrastructure and its resultant impact on the economy has played a vital role in the development of the Indian shipping sector. Promotion of our maritime heritage and traditions by a holistic development of the coastal communities by integrating them in the mainstream policies will ensure the promotion of our rich maritime legacy.

The evolution of the Mumbai city is owed to the maritime economy and due to harnessing of its maritime connect and development of the infrastructure. The role and contribution of the maritime sector in developing the city to what it is today must be acknowledged. The mushrooming of allied industries in the shipping industry is a subsequent factor. The economy of Bombay strengthened which led to the creation of an industrial infrastructure. This was the rise of a modern SEZ i.e. Special Economic Zone, a precursor to the modern metropolis that Mumbai has become today.

Shortly after the World Heritage Day commemorated on 18 April 2021 this week sees launch of a multi-stakeholder initiative to revive maritime consciousness in form of a unique workshop titled “Indian Maritime History : A Manthan”. In the two day workshop, 21 – 22 April 2021, Dr Malini Shankar, IAS (Retd), Vice Chancellor, Indian Maritime University will deliver the Keynote Address while Commodore Odakkal Johnson, Director, Maritime History Society will mentor the proceedings and provide the thematic setting. The contents will benefit students, faculty & maritime enthusiasts. The workshop will evolve elements of an approach towards a long-term facility for excellence in Maritime History as envisaged in Maritime India Vision 2030. Maritime History Society and Indian Maritime University invite an enthusiastic response toward the resurgence of Sea Mindedness through participation, promotion and resource infusion into the journey to enhance influence for greater maritime consciousness in India.

Janhavi Lokegaonkar is a Research Associate at Maritime History Society with a focus on modern aspects of Indian Maritime History

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