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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

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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

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

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

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

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Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IAF, he said. 

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Defence

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

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

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

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

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Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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