OPPOSITION MUST FOCUS ON COVID-19 CRISIS, NOT ON PETTY POLITICS - The Daily Guardian
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OPPOSITION MUST FOCUS ON COVID-19 CRISIS, NOT ON PETTY POLITICS

The state of the medical infrastructure in India is a result of previous governments not paying the public health sector enough attention and the Modi-led Union Government is trying its best to fill in the gaps and combat the ongoing pandemic. In such a scenario, Opposition leaders must refrain from playing the blame game and contribute positively to problem-solving.

Dinakar Lanka

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The Union Government under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi has given the utmost priority to the improvement of the health and medical infrastructure in India to provide better living standards to the people of our country. Yet the gap between the requirements and the services available in the medical and health sector has widened since states and the Union paid inadequate attention to it for a long period after Independence. Though our usage of modern medical equipment and practice of advanced systems have been upgraded tremendously for the last two decades, our country’s R&D is not on par with international standards due to the low and almost insignificant budgetary allocations from the state governments and improper attention from the Union Governments since  1947. 

Health is listed as a state subject in our Constitution. Our health infrastructure has not yet reached the minimum standards even after spending lakhs or crores of rupees so far due to corruption in the implementation of medical and health projects and irresponsible behaviour and governance regarding public health. But in case of a situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, the Union Government is responsible to step in and coordinate with the states and Union Territories to issue appropriate directives and assistance with available resources. For the ongoing pandemic, the present Union Government has laid out many initiatives since March 2020. Firstly, lockdown guidelines were issued and implemented successfully with the coordination and support of the state governments, although there were a few problems like the migrant labourer crisis. Secondly, the Union Finance Ministry announced the stagewise rollout of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Package with the coordination of the RBI to cover all sections of the population and all sectors of industry, especially the Garib Kalyan Yojana for families living below the poverty line. Thirdly, a phased ‘Unlock’ was implemented as per the prevailing situation. 

As we know, the global economy has been hampered due to the lockdowns and uncertainty about the behaviour of the novel coronavirus. Despite that, the economy of our country revived slowly in the Fourth Quarter of 2020-21 and was on track to show 12% growth in the current financial year of 2021-22. However, just when we felt that things were beginning to settle, the second wave of the infection hit the country like a tide.

Though we operate in a federal system where both the Centre and states regulate the system, as per the Constitution, the Opposition is always looking to corner PM Narendra Modi on every issue. People have high expectations from such able leadership, but the Opposition always indulges in mud-slinging, whether there is a reason or not. Right now, several political attacks are being launched against the Narendra Modi-led Union Government, alleging they are responsible for a shortage of hospital beds and doctors per 10,000 population ratio, causing a shortage of vaccines by exporting them, removing the Rs. 50 lakh insurance cover for health workers, and for the poor healthcare infrastructure in the country. We should not say that all is well, but it needs to be addressed with facts. The truth will prevail when both the Union and state governments cohesively handle the situation rather than aim at settling political scores, even as people go through such pain. 

As per an article published in a newspaper, our country’s situation is pathetic. For every 10,000 people, there are only 8.6 doctors and 5 beds available. These figures sound pretty unhealthy when compared with other countries, even those smaller than us. We need to question whether this situation emerged all of a sudden in the last six or seven years or is the cumulative result of how India has been governed for the last 74 years. I can’t say that I am happy with the present situation in our country, but we are reasonably better off in managing the situation when compared with even developed countries with high resources. We have the confidence to combat the pandemic. 

Coming to whom to blame for the poor state of our medical infrastructure today, the fact is health is a state subject, but every state still relies on assistance from the Union Government. Even the Union Government prior to 2014 did not take adequate precautions. Former PM AB Vajpayee made the first step to set up advanced medical institutions and six AIIMS across the nation in 2003 when there had been only two established by the Congress since Independence. In 2013, only one was established by the then PM Manmohan Singh in Raebareli. Later, present PM Narendra Modi announced 22 premier advanced medical institutions in the country, 16 out of which have been under implementation at various stages for the last seven years. More than 150 medical colleges have also been announced to be set up in different states, 75 out of which were announced recently. More than 30,000 seats in medical colleges have also been added, taking the country’s total to 80,000 now.

PM Narendra Modi also introduced Ayushman Bharat to provide medical services free of cost to 10.74 crore BPL families, with up to Rs. 5 lakhs of coverage per family, and announced setting up 1.50 lakh Health and Wellness Centres to bring healthcare to the people. Further, he established the PM CARES Fund with an intention to collect money from various sources other than budgetary allocations to spend objectively for the Covid-19 projects and schemes. More than Rs 3,000 crores have been collected and spent on emergency medical and health infrastructure during the financial year 2020-21. Moreover, 50,000 ventilators have been manufactured by Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone and Rs. 2000 crores have been allocated to government hospitals across the country through PM CARES. Rs. 1000 crores have been spent on food, accommodation, transportation and medical treatment for migrant labourers. Rs 100 crores have been allocated for the R&D of indigenous vaccines. Further, in the current financial year, Rs. 2,220 crores has already been spent to bear 82% of the cost of the first phase of the vaccination drive, which was aimed at frontline and health workers. The Union Health Ministry also declared that 100 hospitals in the country will have their own oxygen plants under the PM-CARES Fund as a priority. On the other hand, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had allocated a Rs 2,23,846 crore budget outlay for the health sector for the financial year 2021-22, as compared to the sum of Rs 94,452 crore in the year 2020-21, an increase of 137% which was made keeping in view the uncertain Covid-19 pandemic. Out of that, a proposed Rs 35,000 crore outlay was kept for Covid vaccines. When the Narendra Modi-led Union Government is operating these funds effectively to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, along with budgetary and emergency funds, why are Opposition leaders busy playing cheap politics around PM CARES, instead of appealing for assistance for the people in such an uncertain environment? 

Besides the blame game which began with the second wave of the pandemic, Opposition leaders are also spreading false propaganda that the Union Government removed the Rs. 50 lakh insurance coverage for frontline workers. That is not a fact, because the insurance agreement ceased to be in existence with the insurance agency by 24 April 2021, as was declared under the Garib Kalyan Yojana, to settle all the claims during this period. Now, the Union Government has declared a new scheme for providing insurance cover to frontline workers. In addition to the above, Congress party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have negatively targeted the indigenous vaccine and its performance, even as Narendra Modi stands as the poster boy for the ‘Made in India’ vaccine for the world. Previously, we always depended on imports of vaccines, whereas even under the current circumstances, the entire world is waiting for assistance from India. Those who commented negatively on the indigenous vaccine are now offering suggestions for how to implement a successful vaccination program. But the Union Government has already planned to provide vaccination to all people above 18 years of age and provided Rs 4,500 crores worth of financial assistance through a loan to Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India so they can boost the production of vaccines. The Union has also allowed that 50% of the vaccine production go to state governments straightaway from the manufacturers to speed up the massive vaccination drive in the third phase which starts in May 2021. 

We also need to understand that there are international agreements to provide assistance to other countries with vaccinations, also since financial and technical assistance for R&D and approvals made by international agencies come with a condition to supply to other countries. Hence, the blame game around vaccine exports and the efficiency of vaccine candidates are only ways to divert from the goodwill of our nation and Narendra Modi in and outside our country. But they will fail as the truth always prevails.

Finally, in this second wave of Covid-19, the availability of oxygen is crucial. The Union Government has taken all measures with immediate effect to provide 100 identified hospitals their own oxygen plants under the PM-CARES Fund and a further 50,000 MT of medical oxygen will be imported for smooth availability. At this crucial juncture, we need to address facts in a true and fair manner rather than indulging in cheap politics and settling political scores. 

The writer holds a degree in commerce and works as an FCA. The views expressed are personal.

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CHINA HAS 30 MILLION UNMARRIED MEN; IS IT DUE TO SHORTAGE OF BRIDES?

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A new in China shows that the country has about 30 million unmarried men, triggering speculations about shortage of brides there.

According to China’s seventh population census by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), out of the 12 million babies born last year there were 111.3 boys for every 100 girls. In 2010, the ratio was 118.1 to 100.

“Normally in China, men marry women who are much younger than they are, but as the population ages, there are even more older men, which exaggerates the situation,” ANI quoted Prof Stuart Gieten-Basten as saying.

Bjourn Alpermann, another professor, warned of a huge shortfall in potential brides by the time the babies born reached marriageable age. “Of these 12 million babies that were born last year, 600,000 boys will not be able to find a marriage partner their same age when they grow up,” he said.

China’s one-child policy, implemented in 1979 and withdrawn in 2016, had exacerbated the practice of sex-selective abortion in favour of boys, said Jiang Quanbao, a demography professor.

Meanwhile, SCMP reported citing the NBS that China’s fertility rate was 1.3 children per woman, well below the 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population.

Highlighting that men from lower classes faced the most difficulty in finding brides, Cai Yong, an associate professor of social demography warned that without marriage, they will suffer “poorer physical and psychological health”.

“As long as the preference for boys does not change, it will skew the sex ratio at birth. With such preferences, people still will find a way to select boys over girls and more female fetuses will be aborted,” he said.

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Gates quit board as Microsoft probed his affair with employee

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Resignation of Bill Gates in 2020 from Microsoft’s Board of Directors came after the board hired a law firm to investigate a romantic relationship he had with a Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, people familiar with the matter said.

Quoting Wall Street Journal, CNN reported that some Microsoft Directors began an investigation in 2019 into the woman’s allegations of prior sexual relationship with Bill Gates. During the probe, some board members decided it was no longer suitable for Gates to sit as a Director at the software company he started and led for decades, the people said.

Gates resigned before the Board’s probe was completed and before the full board could make a formal decision on the matter, another person familiar with the matter said, reported Wall Street Journal. “Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

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GASPING FOR OXYGEN, NEPAL ASKS MOUNTAINEERS TO BRING BACK CANISTERS FOR COVID PATIENTS

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Running short of oxygen for patients of Covid-19, Nepal has requested mountain climbers of ongoing Spring Expedition to bring back their canisters so that it can be refilled to supply medical gas (oxygen) to the patients. With Covid-19 surging in the country, patients are gasping for oxygen as there is a dearth of oxygen containers.

Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has requested climbers to bring back their empty or unused cylinders so that it can be used for oxygen refilling.

“We now are facing the second wave of infection which has created grave kind of situation and crisis, matter is going out of hand. Cylinders (oxygen) which arrived back from the expedition can be used at this hour of crisis. We are lending our hands to government, various associations and those who are working on it,” said Santa Bir Lama, president of NMA.

“In the ongoing expedition all the climbers are on base camp, they possess ample number of cylinders. We have requested owners and operators to bring back cylinders immediately after completion of expedition to use it for the benefit of people,” Lama added. ANI

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CHINA’S DEADLY SUICIDE DRONE ARMY IS IN THE WORKS

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The future battlefield belongs to attack drones or flying artillery shells and China is now is looking to buy Kamikaze drones. Michael Peck in an article in The National Interest said that the US ally Israel first taught China about suicide drones. Now Beijing is looking for its own. China got its first taste of suicide drones when Israel sold it the Harpy in the 1990s, to the displeasure of the US government. The Chinese military wants two types of suicide drones, according to an announcement posted on a Chinese military procurement Web site. The desired technical specifications of the drones, or the number to be purchased, are classified, reported The National Interest.

As per Peck, Chinese drone manufacturers do have products that might satisfy the demands of the People’s Liberation Army.

In 2018, China Aerospace unveiled the CH-901, which Chinese media described as being 4 feet long and weighing 20 pounds, with a speed of 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour, a range of 15 kilometers (9 miles), and an endurance of two hours. The larger WS-43 is a 500-pound weapon with a range of 60 kilometers (37 miles) and an endurance of 30 minutes.

Called “loitering munitions” by military customers who are understandably reluctant to refer to them as suicidal, these weapons seek to bridge the gap between artillery shells – which can’t stay up in the air – and strike drones like America’s Reaper and Predator, which are big and expensive unmanned aircraft.

Loitering munitions feature a propeller, wings, a warhead, and a camera. They orbit an area, scanning it with their cameras to identify targets and transmitting the images back to the operator. When the operator sees a worthwhile target, he can command the drone to perform a death-dive on the target, reported The National Interest.

The potential uses of these weapons are numerous. Aerovision’s Switchblade, which the US Marine Corps ordered in 2018, is a handheld 6-pound weapon that fits inside a soldier’s backpack.

Switchblade is designed for situations such as troops encountering a mortar on the reverse slope of a hill that can’t be hit by direct-fire weapons. Instead of waiting for artillery or airstrikes, a rifleman can pluck a Switchblade from his backpack and destroy the target.

Or, if hitting a sniper in a building risks collateral damage to civilians, a Switchblade can be flown through the window. Its warhead is no more powerful than that of a grenade, but that’s still powerful enough to take out a mortar or sniper.

Israel’s Harpy, designed to knock out enemy radar sites, is a much larger weapon. Introduced in 1990 as probably the world’s first suicide drone, the 300-pound Harpy has a range of up to 250 miles and an endurance of two hours. It is similar to a traditional anti-radiation missile that homes in on signals from a radar station.

However, unlike a missile, it can stalk an area for hours, waiting for an unwary operator to switch on radar before it autonomously flies toward the target, reported The National Interest.

For the US military and other potential Chinese adversaries, this is one more advanced weapon that they may encounter in battle. Like drones in general, loitering munitions can be hard to detect and shoot down, especially the smaller models.

Even worse, those Chinese loitering munitions may be popping up outside of China. Beijing may have become the world’s No 2 arms exporter, whose aircraft, tanks, and rifles can be found across the globe. This means that American soldiers could face Chinese-made suicide drones in hotspots such as Africa and the Middle East, said Peck.

WITH ANI INPUTS

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ISRAEL LAUNCHES HEAVY AIR STRIKES AS GAZA FIGHTING ENTERS SECOND WEEK

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Israel launched heavy air strikes in Gaza and the Hamas kept up its rocket attacks on Israeli cities in fighting that spilled into a second week on Monday, with the death toll nearing 200. Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that an end to hostilities was not imminent even as International calls mounted for a ceasefire.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza entered its eighth consecutive day after raids on Sunday killed at least 42 Palestinians, wounded dozens more, and flattened at least two residential buildings. The home of Gaza’s Hamas chief, Yehya al-Sinwar, was also targeted, as reported by Aljazeera news. At least 192 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the latest violence began last Monday. Israel has reported 10 dead.

The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of violence in years in Palestine and Israel. US President Biden conferred with Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, about efforts to broker a ceasefire. While supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas, Biden urged Netanyahu to protect civilians and journalists.

Over the past week, the 15-member UN Security Council met privately at least twice to discuss ways of reducing tensions. But efforts to reach an agreement on a statement or to hold an open meeting had faced resistance from the United States, Israel’s biggest defender on the council.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter: “All parties need to deescalate tensions—the violence must end immediately”, after he spoke with Egypt’s foreign minister about ongoing violence in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

At a meeting on Sunday of the UN Security Council, the United States said that it has made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it is ready to offer support “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s campaign in Gaza was continuing at “full force”, and that deterrence had to be achieved to prevent future conflict with Hamas, which rules Gaza. “We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time,” Netanyahu said in a televised address after his security Cabinet met on Sunday.

US President Biden said his administration is working with all parties towards achieving a sustained calm. “We also believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” he said in a pretaped video aired at an event marking the Muslim Eid holiday on Sunday.

Biden’s envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Israel on Friday for talks, and an official with first-hand knowledge of his meetings said on Sunday that he reiterated “full US support” for Israel’s right to defend itself. He also made clear that Washington understood that “this is clearly not something that can be wrapped up in 24 hours,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that hostilities in Israel and Gaza were “utterly appalling” and called for an immediate end to fighting. He said the United Nations was “actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire” and urged them “to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed.” UN envoys have helped to mediate past truces between Israel and Hamas.

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Maritime Museology as tool for commemorating oceanic legacy

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Museology is a relatively unsung element of our narrative that is critical to gain insight into the history of humankind and learn the triumphs and tragedies of a bygone era. A culture can be recorded for posterity with meticulous documentation and proper artefact preservation. Exhibits have a way of bringing history to life by telling stories on a global as well as a local scale. This includes the journey of a nation through accounts of civilisations and empires along with the narratives of various local communities. Iconic museums like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales), or the CST Railway Heritage Museum and even the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, Dinosaur Museum in Balasinor are a few cases in context.

The subaltern segment of museology and culture presents the tragic saga of maritime museums which ought to otherwise be an important part of our heritage and the journey of nation-building. This often gets neglected. Though the oceanic world envelops our country from three sides, it is still an aspect that is frequently overlooked. The National Maritime Museum was inaugurated on 5 April 1979, due to the efforts of the Indian Maritime Legend — late Vice Admiral M.P. Awati, Founder Chairman of Maritime History Society. This museum has had its heydays and seen longer periods of a comatose existence. The museum came alive when INS Vikrant was converted into a museum ship after its decommissioning in 1997. This museum ship was docked in Mumbai and opened to the public in 2001. The project couldn’t go on for long and was later discontinued in 2012 due to lack of sustainability in a harsh marine environment. The effort to turn INS Godavari or INS Viraat into a maritime museum could not fructify. 

There are a few success stories in maritime museology in India. INS Kursura, after its decommissioning, was turned into a museum ship and is currently housed in Visakhapatnam. Being a submarine museum, it is the first of its kind in South Asia. The Southern Naval Command in Kochi has a maritime museum which houses a collection of various models of ship, weapons used by the Navy, etc. India is gearing towards the making of its first National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC) near the ancient port site of Lothal. It is expected to be open to the public by 2023. The location of the museum is particularly significant with Lothal being one of the earliest port cities in the world.

A maritime nation needs to commemorate its seafaring saga and coastal identity. The Indian Ocean has been a major means of communication from the earliest times when long-distance oceanic navigation between the eastern coast of Africa to the southeast part of Asia bridged by this dominating geographical entity, India, extended even beyond this region to much of Europe for many millennia. It has witnessed extensive maritime trade, naval expeditions and pilgrimages across the ocean routes. Oceanic activity in the region encouraged by the unique feature of monsoons allowed countries to have active participation in maritime trade thus creating a long history covering over five millennia, from the dawn of the Harappan civilisation. Therefore, maritime history and heritage bear testimony to our strong connections and relationships with the sea.

Maritime heritage consists of historical and archaeological evidence revealing human interaction with the ocean and other marine bodies. The subject deals with a multitude of marine and coast related activities such as shipbuilding techniques, seafaring and navigation, ports, lighthouses and coastal communities, tourism, trade and commerce, traditional maritime practices, fishing, etc. The world that we see today is a result of such maritime expeditions combined with human inquisitiveness. The maritime activities of the past and present have led to cultural migration and the resulting assimilation has created global commerce that has influenced and changed the face of cultures all around the globe. For this reason, it is imperative that we honour this maritime legacy and celebrate the accomplishments of those who came before us.

Hidden from the public eye and despite the constraints of the pandemic induced lockdown, the Maritime History Society has sustained a nautical celebration called “Samudra Sindhu” in the form of an Interim Naval Heritage Gallery at the ground floor of the Noorbhoy Building in the Fort area of Mumbai. It has acquired and taken care of over 3000 books and documents of different genres and over 2000 artefacts from decommissioned naval ships. In the past 43 years, under the guidance of our patrons, curators and visionaries, the Maritime History Society has deepened the realms of maritime history and heritage with significant and consistent efforts. A team of young interns are attempting to make a coherent catalogue of an assortment of memorabilia from decommissioned naval ships along with a few collections gathered over time. 

Today as we celebrate International Museum Day, it would have been a good idea to spend the day at a museum, these experiences are sadly thwarted due to the pandemic induced lockdown. A large number of museums have chosen to go the virtual way, making their collection digital and curating virtual exhibitions on a wide array of topics. The National Museum in New Delhi, The British Museum, The Louvre, Van Gogh Museum, etc. are just a few examples of museums offering virtual tours for people to enjoy the feel of a museum from the comfort of their own homes. The virtual realm offers a huge variety of techniques to convert the physical experience of a museum into a virtual one. Following in the footsteps of these museums, Maritime History Society is coming up with a virtual experience as a digital episode of Samudra Sindhu, very soon.

To celebrate International Museum Day, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) releases a new theme each year. This year’s theme “The Future of the Museums: Recover and Reimagine” focuses on rethinking the museum of the future to meet the challenges of the present. Like everything else, the museum and heritage sector has been deeply affected by the ongoing crisis. With the restrictions on social and public places, we need to reimagine the museum spaces. There has been a considerable decrease in revenue generation, and with the budgets and funds redirected to handling the current emergency situation, many museums around the world are suffering huge losses. 

Museums are uniquely equipped to narrate the rich history of civilisation through the objects that are housed within its walls. And reimagining them in this current scenario involves getting these stories and objects out of those walls and into a digital platform or a screen. This is a task, though seemingly easy, requires a lot of theoretical and practical understanding of the digital realm. But, going virtual seems to one of the best ways forward to stay educationally and culturally relevant in this time and age. Investing in and maintaining a digital infrastructure to reach out to our audiences and engaging with them virtually is very important. We at MHS are striving hard to overcome these challenges and we invite you to collaborate and support our cause of preserving maritime consciousness. We invite you to become our brand partners for the projects we undertake regularly to contribute to knowledge and awareness about Indian maritime history based on the resources available with you.

Museology has always needed support and funding by the state despite the few success stories of private initiatives. Care is needed that private efforts, otherwise a welcome support to cultural promotion, do not cause cannibalisation of existing collections or promotion of exclusive agenda of a few. There is a need to have an integrated, research-supported, well patronised, financially sustainable journey to enhance influence to provide maritime consciousness, sea-mindedness and bring better awareness of the larger public into the maritime domain. Maritime History Society, which recently commemorated 43 years of maritime existence, needs to be supported in every way. Do visit the website www.mhsindia.org and reach out with archive support and financial assistance for this national cause.

Maritime History Society is an organisation where we invite enthusiasts in the maritime domain who can contribute to the richness and diversity of Indian maritime history and heritage. In its constant endeavours, we aim to promote outreach activities through our educational programmes, Summer School Programme, Internship Programme, our in-house Library, and MHS collections. MHS provides a plethora of opportunities to experience amazing expressions of creativity and contribute to bringing forth a new breed of intellectuals and scholars driven with a maritime outlook for the advancement of the nation.

Ashwini Nawathe is the Archive and Collections Associate at MHS. Leanne Thothiyil is a Research Assistant at MHS.

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