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TREASURE TROVE OF COASTAL CULTURE

It is time to catch a rising wave of awakening in the maritime sector with collaborative efforts from academics, practitioners and policymakers to strengthen contemporary maritime India. Let heritage awaken our maritime consciousness.

Andre Baptista

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The tapestry of Indian history and indeed any history from around the world comprises an infinite number of threads, each strand representing historical and cultural events that define the collective human experience. The experience of these events contributes towards the building up of identities and constitutes another chapter in the history of a particular culture or community. Contact, either through migrations or dispersals results in cultural diffusion and renders a dynamic tone to the formation and development of socio-cultural spaces. Often, trade and commerce—the key agencies of contact, result in the interaction of indigenous and exogenous entities. The inception of cultural traits into the existing socio-cultural milieu leads to an adoption and incorporation of certain practices while preserving older ones. The resultant amalgamate is an excellent testimony not just to the cultural history of certain communities, but that culture itself should be viewed as dynamic or the becoming of rather than in stasis—or as existing.

Trade along the Silk Route and Spice Route resulted in a form of quasi-globalisation with a certain amount of synergy being established across these trade sites. However, the pace at which trade and exchange takes place in the maritime medium and the cross-cultural interactions thereof has made melting pots of the port-sites, port-cities and by extension, the entirety of the coast. Evidence of over-seas trade in India has been well established since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization—sometime during the 2nd millennium BCE. This trade and influence continued right up to and beyond what has been commonly called the Classical Period with evidence of Greco-Roman contact observed all along the west and east coast of India where ports and ports-of-call were established. In fact, the cultural interplay during this time influenced Roman food and clothing to a large extent with India exporting spices and silks/cotton to the Mediterranean World. On that note, Indian influence from the early-medieval period can be observed in the Southeast Asian archipelago, while Buddhism travelled to lands in the Far East. During the medieval period, Arab merchant settlers along the west coast of India had a huge role in influencing architecture, food, language and other socio-cultural practices of a number of communities on the Malabar and Konkan coast lines. The communities along the coast have been silent observers but active recipients of varied cultural traits and practices that serve as an excellent record of their histories. It is therefore unfortunate that the narratives of these communities are often relegated to the side lines in the overall telling of our country’s history. Their traditions and practices, especially with regard to nautical practices were considered a skill set not worthy of being documented along with the rest of the country’s traditional knowledge. Unable to find feature in mainstream literature, these practices have by and large passed down the generations through oral traditions. With rapid urbanisation and development, these coastal communities are doing what they have always done throughout history—adapt and amalgamate. But in the present urban scenario, there seems to be little to no space for these traditional skill sets that are now starting to escape living memory. Moreover, initiatives like the Blue Economy that aim to revitalise and rejuvenate subsistence strategies related to the sea as well as develop ports to boost economies pose a potential threat to these coastal communities. An overhaul of infrastructure along the coast could result in the dispersal of these communities – condemning their socio-cultural histories by pushing them into obscurity.

Speaking of being pushed into obscurity, the present state of built and cultural heritage along the coast in this regard is another issue of concern. Preservation and conservation of this heritage is more challenging due to environmental nature of the coast. In addition, the fact that coastal heritage and even more so underwater cultural heritage is the recipient of poor guidelines for cultural resource management doesn’t facilitate its cause. It must be noted that members of coastal communities have developed certain sensibilities regarding built heritage as it forms part of the environmental backdrop against which much of their identities have been established. Given this attachment and with a little bit of education, they make the ideal custodians of this build and underwater cultural heritage—at least in the interim while stake holders of this heritage come up with better infrastructure for its protection.

It is important that work, involving simple documentation and surveys be conducted and the overall historical discourse is realigned to incorporate the ‘sub-altern’ voice of coastal communities—their story and historical narrative. It is only when this is addressed that a holistic picture of the development of socio-cultural spaces within our country be produced. The resultant multi-layered and multi-dimensional characteristic of cultural history will bolster the vibrant and pluralistic nature of India.

It is in this spirit that today, the Maritime History Society (MHS) of the Western Naval Command inaugurates its annual seminar—a 41-year-old tradition that has nurtured discourse in the field of maritime studies. This year the ‘National Maritime Heritage Conclave (NMHC)’ will take place over two days online, and will be open to all interested and enthused members of the public. In collaboration with the Gujarat Maritime University, Gandhinagar, the All India Marine Pilots’ Association (AIMPA) and The Daily Guardian, the conclave has incorporated sessions that address some of the lesser known and often overlooked aspects of our country’s maritime journey. This concept has been captured in the conclave’s theme—‘Exploring Unsung Frames of Indian Maritime History’ and includes discussions and presentations by notable scholars. The topics of coastal communities, gender and the sea, and trans-national connectivity in the Indian Ocean Region—all of which are intrinsically woven into our maritime tradition and reflect the depth of our nautical knowledge.

The conclave sets sail today with an inaugural session that includes stalwarts from the navy and the field of maritime studies who will set the tone for the proceedings. Cmde Odakkal Johnson, Director (MHS) will welcome resource scholars and participants by sharing the journey of Maritime History Society and the pivotal role it’ll play in establishing maritime consciousness through the medium of heritage. Vice Admiral RB Pandit, Chief of Staff, Western Naval Command and Chairman MHS, will deliver the Inaugural Address to officially open the conclave. His address is expected to highlight the richness of India’s maritime past and talk about a need for sustained interest in the field. Some light on the theme and sub-themes of the conclave will be then shed by Prof S Shantakumar, Director-in-charge of the Gujarat Maritime University, Gandhinagar. Prof Vasant Shinde, an eminent archaeologist with over 41 years of scholastic experience and presently the Director General of the National Maritime Heritage Complex at Gandhinagar is slated to deliver the key note address. Drawing from his many years of experience in the field, Prof Shinde will be highlighting ideas of maritime traditions that are rooted in Indian culture through examples from excavations at Harappan Sites. After the Inaugural Session, the conclave will launch into its first sub-theme—‘Coastal Communities’. The purpose of this plenary session is to initiate discourse on the coastal communities in India by observing their outlook towards and their connection with all things continental or terrestrial in origin. Prof Radhika Seshan former Head, Department of History, Savitribai Phule Pune University will join Prof Ranabir Chakravarty, Cdr Kalesh Mohana, Ms Leora Pezarkar along with scholars from MHS to discuss historical overview of coastal communities – who have been largely overlooked in the overall historical narrative. The panel will draw attention to the connections that these communities share across both—land and sea, often times serving as key cultural conduits.

The deliberations will include pre-modern coastal communities of Bengal, the socio-cultural and socio-economic practices of some of the lesser known communities of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and one of the smallest diasporas in India – the Bene Israelis.

To conclude proceedings on the first day of the conclave a Special Session has been organised. This session includes the much-awaited musical tribute to the Malams, Boatmen of Kutch-Konkan region. In addition, winners of the Admiral JG Nadkarni Memorial Essay Competition will be announced. The competition drew much interest given the theme—‘Reflections in Indian Nautical Knowledge: Past, Present and Future’.

A number of maritime enthusiasts have registered to be a part of the NMHC 2020. You could join the conclave by visiting https://mhsindia.zohobackstage.in/NationalMaritimeHeritageConclave2020. It is time to catch a rising wave of awakening in the maritime sector with collaborative efforts from academics, practitioners and policy makers to strengthen contemporary Maritime India. Let Heritage Awaken our Maritime Consciousness.

Andre Baptista, an archaeologist, is a Research Consultant with Maritime History Society

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Defence

Defence Ministers of India and Vietnam hold talks to strengthen defence relations

Ashish Singh

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Defence Ministers of India and Vietnam hold talks to strengthen defence relations

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of National Defence of Socialist Republic of Vietnam General Ngo Xuan Lich held bilateral talks via video-conferencing, on Thursday. During the talks, both the ministers reaffirmed the strong India-Vietnam defence cooperation which is a key pillar of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. They discussed various ongoing projects and the future trajectory of bilateral defence engagements. The Defence Ministers expressed satisfaction that despite the Covid-19 situation defence exchanges between both Armed Forces have maintained a positive momentum. Both the Ministers discussed collaboration in defence industry capability building, training and cooperation in UN peacekeeping operations.

Defence Ministers of India and Vietnam hold talks to strengthen defence relations

In a further step towards deeper bilateral cooperation, both sides signed an Implementing Arrangement for cooperation in the field of Hydrography between National Hydrographic Office, India and Vietnam Hydrographic Office in the presence of the two Ministers. The Arrangement will enable sharing of Hydrographic data and assist in production of navigational charts by both sides. Raksha Mantri underlined Prime Minister’s vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat for enhancing self-reliance including defence industries. He outlined that a strong and self-reliant India shall positively contribute to capacity building of friendly partner countries like Vietnam. He urged for closer defence industry cooperation between India and Vietnam by concluding an institutionalised framework Agreement in the near future. Raksha Mantri appreciated Vietnam’s innovative and successful leadership of defence-related events in ASEAN during its presidency of ASEAN despite the COVID-19 pandemic situation.

Defence Ministers of India and Vietnam hold talks to strengthen defence relations

Vietnamese Defence Minister thanked the Raksha Mantri for the assistance by Indian Armed Forces in capacity building of Vietnamese Defence Forces especially in the field of Human Resource development. Rajnath Singh conveyed India’s willingness to enhance the scope and level of training for all three services of Vietnam Defence forces in Indian Defence Institutes. Vietnamese Defence Minister also invited the Singh for ADMM Plus meeting being hosted by Vietnam on 10 December 2020, through virtual mode.

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Defence

PAKISTAN: FOREVER THE BRIDESMAID, NEVER THE BRIDE?

Pakistan would do well to continuously re-evaluate its status in the Chinese calculus and make efforts to reduce potential China-Iran bonhomie.

Ashish Singh

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PAKISTAN - FOREVER THE BRIDESMAID, NEVER THE BRIDE

China and Iran are ostensibly moving towards what is being touted as a “comprehensive partnership”, if a leaked agreement between the two countries is to be believed. This agreement envisages potential Chinese investments of up to $400 billion in Iran. Analysts around the world, including in Pakistan, have already dedicated copious amounts of ink on assessing what impact this agreement would have on various stakeholders. What is confounding is the evident optimism, bordering on gullibility, among some self-professed ‘experts’ of the so-called Pakistani intelligentsia. One would think that history has taught Pakistan a lesson about being circumspect when examining the effects of such international moves on their security and well-being. Alas, they seem to suffer an affliction for self-congratulatory assessments in all facets of life, with breathless acolytes of political affiliations providing ‘expert analyses’ on television about issues from national security to the mundane.

Oft repeated is the maxim that if one does not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. For instance, the disdain with which one-time best friend USA treats Pakistan today is evident from frequent foreign policy utterances by the highest levels of US Government. As recently as 22 September, William Todd, President Trump’s nominee as US Ambassador to Pakistan informed the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “Pakistan must take sustained and irreversible action against terrorism”. Pakistanis never miss an opportunity to highlight that the US professes deep friendship with them when it is expedient and, subsequently drops them like a hot potato. If Pakistani policy makers do not take lessons from their own history, their relationship with China could go down the same road. Chinese investment in CPEC is estimated to be anywhere between $46 billion to $70 billion. This prima facie appears to be a huge amount, and should portend extensive development in Pakistan. It should however also be viewed as an additional tactic to glue Pakistan with iron brother, China. However, Pakistan was recently shocked when a leaked agreement indicated that Chinese investment in Iran under the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (SREB) is in the range of $400 billion, nearly six-fold of the prospective investment in Pakistan. The agreement includes development of the Jask Port in Iran, which is a mere few hundred kilometres from Gwadar. There is also indication of investment in the electricity sector in Iran, to aid it in eventually exporting electricity across the region. What then of Pakistan’s vision of self-sufficiency in power generation through the Thar Coal Project under CPEC? What then of Gwadar becoming a major hub of shipping in the region? What of the insurgents operating with impunity against Pakistan from across the border in Iran?

Optimists such as Dr Muhammad Tayyab Safdar of the University of Virginia tend to see positive outcomes for Pakistan in the China-Iran agreement. He speaks of Pakistan becoming the conduit for Chinese trade and energy in his elucidation for the Diplomat. He also mentions some issues highlighted in this article, but sheds a positive light on them, without specifics as to how the agreement will aid in Pakistan’s power generation, or how Jask will foment growth for Gwadar? Is Pakistan, then, to be a mere conduit or a major partner?

The strategic community in Pakistan is presently finding its feet in the rapidly evolving geo-strategic paradigm, post pandemic. As the world realigns, Pakistan is likely be caught flat-footed. Recent strained relations with Saudi Arabia, traditionally, one of its greatest supporters, followed by a Chinese drift towards Iran could be a precursor to Pakistan’s strategic inconsequentiality in regional dynamics. The Abraham Accords have also isolated Pakistan which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Coupled with their Turkish-leanings, it is very likely that Pakistan will soon be distanced by UAE and other Middle East nations. Saudi Arabia’s new 20 Riyal banknote issued in October this year has removed Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan’s map, a move clearly intended to humiliate Pakistan on the world stage, and particularly in the OIC.

Pakistan would do well to continuously re-evaluate its status in the Chinese calculus and make efforts to reduce potential China-Iran bonhomie, particularly if it comes at their expense. Pakistan’s response would be based on the axiom: ‘There are no permanent friends or enemies—only permanent interests’. Pakistan’s interests, for now, lie in making potential benefits of the CPEC more lucrative to China than the SREB. Else, Pakistan runs the risk of being used… yet again. Maybe it is time for Pakistan to extricate itself from its fool’s paradise and engage in some actual realpolitik, lest it give credence to the adage of forever being a bridesmaid, never the bride.

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Days after successful Malabar 2020, three back-to-back exercises by Indian Navy

Ashish Singh

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Malabar 2020

While the Indian Navy was hosting the most talked about exercise of the maritime domain Malabar 2020 with the Navies of America, Japan and Australia, the multiple ships of the Indian Navy were already preparing to participate in at least three more exercises, in a week.

EXERCISE SIMBEX-20 IN ANDAMAN SEA

Indian Navy (IN) hosted the 27th edition of India-Singapore Bilateral Maritime Exercise SIMBEX-20 from 23 to 25 November 2020 in Andaman Sea. The SIMBEX series of exercises between IN and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), being conducted annually since 1994, are aimed at enhancing mutual inter-operability and imbibing best practices from each other. The scope and complexity of these exercises has increased steadily over the past two decades to include advanced naval drills covering a wide spectrum of maritime operations. The 2020 edition of SIMBEX witnessed participation by Indian Navy ships including destroyer Rana with integral Chetak helicopter and indigenously built corvettes Kamorta and Karmuk. In addition, IN submarine Sindhuraj and P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft also participated in the exercise. RSN was represented by the ‘Formidable’ Class frigates ‘Intrepid’ and ‘Steadfast’ with integral S70B helicopter and ‘Endurance’ Class Landing Ship Tank ‘Endeavour’ in the exercise.

Exercises by Indian Navy

The exercise, conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of Covid-19 pandemic, highlights the high degree of mutual trust and confidence, synergy and cooperation in the maritime domain between the two friendly navies and maritime neighbours. SIMBEX-20 witnessed the two friendly navies participate in advanced surface, anti-air warfare and anti-submarine warfare exercises including weapon firings, over three days of intensive joint operations at sea. SIMBEX series of exercises exemplify the high level of coordination and convergence of views between India and Singapore, particularly in the maritime domain, towards enhancing the overall maritime security in the region and highlight their commitment to a rules-based international order.

EXERCISE SITMEX-20 IN ANDAMAN SEA 

Indian Navy (IN) Ships including indigenously built ASW corvette Kamorta and missile corvette Karmuk participated in the 2nd edition of India, Singapore and Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise SITMEX-20, from 21 to 22 November 20 in Andaman Sea. The first edition of SITMEX, hosted by Indian Navy, was conducted off Port Blair in September 2019. The SITMEX series of exercises are conducted to enhance mutual interoperability and imbibing best practices between IN, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Royal Thai Navy (RTN). The 2020 edition of the exercise was hosted by RSN.

RSN was represented by the ‘Formidable’ Class frigate ‘Intrepid’ and ‘Endurance’ Class Landing Ship Tank ‘Endeavour’ and  RTN by the ‘Chao Phraya’ Class frigate ‘Kraburi’ in the exercise. The exercise conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of COVID-19 pandemic, highlights growing synergy, coordination and cooperation in the maritime domain between the three friendly navies and maritime neighbours. The two days of maritime drills witnessed the three navies participate in a variety of exercises including naval manoeuvres, surface warfare exercises and weapon firings. Besides improving interoperability between the friendly navies, SITMEX series of exercise also aim to strengthen mutual confidence and develop common understanding and procedures towards enhancing the overall maritime security in the region.

30TH INDO-THAI COORDINATED PATROL

The 30th edition of India-Thailand Coordinated Patrol (Indo-Thai CORPAT) between the Indian Navy and the Royal Thai Navy was held from 18-20 November 2020. Indian Naval Ship (INS) Karmuk, an indigenously built Missile Corvette and His Majesty’s Thailand Ship (HTMS) Kraburi, a Chao Phraya Class Frigate along with Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft from both the navies participated in the CORPAT. As part of Government of India’s vision of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region), the Indian Navy has been involved in assisting countries in the Indian Ocean Region with EEZ Surveillance, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), and other capacity building and capability-enhancement activities, on their request. India and Thailand have especially enjoyed a close and friendly relationship covering a wide spectrum of activities and interactions, which have strengthened over the years.

To reinforce maritime links, the two navies have been carrying out CORPAT along their International Maritime Boundary Line twice a year since 2005, with the aim of keeping this vital part of the Indian Ocean safe and secure for commercial shipping and international trade. CORPAT builds up the understanding and interoperability between navies and facilitates institution of measures to prevent and suppress Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing, drug trafficking, maritime terrorism, armed robbery and piracy. It further enhances the operational synergy by exchange of information for prevention of smuggling, illegal immigration and for conduct of SAR operations at sea. The 30th Indo-Thai CORPAT contributed towards Indian Navy’s efforts to consolidate interoperability and forge strong bonds of friendship with the Royal Thai Navy.

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Coast Guard busy handling Cyclone Nivar rescue and relief operations

Ashish Singh

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Indian Coast Guard is ready in all respects to undertake search, rescue and Relief operations in the aftermath of the Cyclone ‘NIVAR’. ICG has deployed about 8-9 ships and two Dornier aircraft every day since 22 Nov 20 on the Eastern Seaboard to issue warnings in vernacular language to the fishermen and mariners at sea of the impending adverse weather condition due to the passage of ‘NIVAR’ and requesting them to return to nearest ports for safety. The ICG has so far escorted about2500 fishing boats operating at sea to nearest ports and all Merchant vessels at Port anchorages were also advised to keep clear from the path of cyclone.

Indian Coast Guard commenced its pre-emptive actions with the issuance of Advisory to the local administration, fisheries and fishermen association about formation of low pressure over the south east Bay of Bengal. In addition, Ports were requested to shift the vessels at anchorage to safer locations well before the arrival of the cyclone. Navtex warnings and International safety Net (ISN) were activated with 6 hourly request to the merchant vessels transiting the area to advise the fishermen to return to harbour.23 Coast Guard Disaster Relief Teams (DRTs) with inflatable boats, Life buoys and lifejackets has been kept standby all along the Tamil Nadu and East Coast for undertaking Disaster response operations. Medical teams & ambulances have also been kept standby for swift mobilisation.ICG ships and aircraft continue to carry out area patrol for Search and rescue operation post passage of the cyclone.The pre-emptive actions initiated by the ICG has ensured ‘No Loss of life and property at sea’ during the cyclone. ICG, true to its motto ‘Vyam Rakshamah” meaning “We Protect” has saved more than 123 lives at sea during and aftermath of cyclone NIVAR.

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1,971-km cycle expedition to celebrate golden jubilee of the 1971 war

Ashish Singh

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To commemorate the golden jubilee victory celebrations and to pay homage to the sacrifices made by the soldiers during the 1971 war, a 1,971 km ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh Cyclothon’ across Gujarat and Rajasthan, is being steered under the aegis of The Konark Corps of Indian Army. The Cyclothon will be undertaken by the relay teams of 20 participants each of the various Army Formations across the two states.The expedition was flagged off on 26 November from anoutpost near Lakhpat by Honorary Captain Gumansinh Jhala, an 87 year old war veteran who had participated in both Indo-Pak wars of 1965 & 1971, then serving with 7 Grenadiers. During this leg, the team traversed through the vast expanse of Kutch, cycling a distance of 200 Kilometers across Hajipir, Khavda and culminated at Bhuj.

Meanwhile as part of commencement of the ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh’ anEx-Servicemen Outreach Program was organized by Bald Eagle Brigade at Bhuj. Medical facilities were extended by the doctors of Bald Eagle Brigade & GKGH-Kutch. Representatives of Zila Sainik Board, Kutch, SBI Bhuj & District Commissioner, Kutch were present to redress grievances of Veterans & Kin of Ex-Servicemen, as also disseminate welfare schemes of Ex Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme.Mrs Sonal M Gadhvi, a Veer Naari from Madhapar, Bhuj presently teaching at Army Public School, wife of Late Naik Mansingh Rajde Gadhvi of Mahar Regiment who made the supreme sacrifice while serving in Operation Rakshak in year 2004, was felicitated during the Outreach Camp by Commander of Bald Eagle Brigade.The commencement of the Swarnim Vijay Varsh Celebrations will foster team spirit, adventurous and bold outlook and improve morale and robustness of all elements of Armed Forces.

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Defence

Indian Navy completes refit of Maldivian ship CGS Huravee

Ashish Singh

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Naval dockyard Visakhapatnam completed the refit of Maldivian Coast Guard Ship MNDF CGS Huravee. Rear Admiral Sreekumar Nair, Admiral Superintendent handed over the ship to the Commanding Officer Major Hussain Rasheed at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. Colonel Ahmed Thohir, Defence Advisor of Maldives to India, attended the ceremony wherein he conveyed the satisfaction of the Maldives Government and also read a message from the Minister of Defence, Government of Maldives on the excellent conduct of refit amidst the pandemic and thanked the Government of India, Indian Navy and HQENC for smooth and safe completion of the refit. 

The ship arrived in Visakhapatnam for its refit on 22 February 2020. Notwithstanding the limitations imposed due to Covid-19 pandemic since 20 March, dedicated efforts and careful planning & execution of works by Naval Dockyard with adequate safety enabled major refurbishment/replacement of main propulsion and auxiliary equipment.

Renewal of ship’s power generation equipment has provided a major fillip to the ship’s endurance and capability. Further, several systems and equipment were overhauled successfully to ensure better performance and sustainability of the ship for service with the Maldives Coast Guard during the upcoming operational cycle. The ship was put through extensive harbour and sea trials, to achieve full operational readiness.MNDF CGS Huravee (originally INS Tillanchang) is an indigenously built Trinkat class patrol vessel constructed at Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata in 2001. Subsequently, it was gifted to Maldives by the Government of India in 2006 to strengthen the partnership between the two nations and to cooperate further for the maritime safety of the Indian Ocean Region.Rear Admiral Sreekumar Nair, Admiral Superintendent of Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam was the Chief Guest and addressed the gathering on the occasion.

He highlighted the stringent measures incorporated during the refit to ensure that the crew and the Yard workforce remained free from Covid-19 infection whilst meeting the refit targets.

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