About: the world this week, 7 November to 13 November 2021, the world flies again, hybrid warfare on the borders, India’s highest civilian awards, floods in Chennai, and a Penguin gets lost.
This week the United States opened its borders to vaccinated international travellers, after nearly twenty months of being under the Covid-19 pandemic covers – with or without masks. And swarms of hugs and kisses stung the Airports. Looked like the old times were back, again. But it’s not over, say Epidemiology Experts and this week we saw a surge of cases in Germany, in Austria, and some other parts of the world. When will the spike break down?
Hybrid Warfare, heard of the term, have you? How about ‘encouraging a migrant crisis’. That’s what Europe’s last-standing Dictator, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko seems to be doing. He has been ruling the country since 1994, and he kept winning election after election with fluent ease in what is considered ‘simple electoral fraud’ by most of the world. Last year’s Presidential Election-the sixth-went the same way, which independent digital exit polls said that Lukashenko might have lost to the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya – who later had to leave Belarus and take refuge in neighbouring Lithuania. The results of the election also led to widespread protests in Belarus.
Numerous countries refused to accept the election results, as did the European Union (EU), which imposed sanctions on Belarus to punish it for violence, repression and election fraud. Subsequently, Lukashenko was accused of hounding political opponents, displaying strong-man tactics, following that story of forced diversion – from Lithuania to Belarus-of a Ryan Air Jet carrying an opposition journalist and his girlfriend. And more sanctions were screwed-in.
On the heels of the such kicking sanctions, Belarus seems to have adopted a different kind of silent, retaliative action, called hybrid warfare by Poland-one of the affected countries. Belarus encouraged migrants mostly ethnic and religious minorities from Iraq, Africa, and Asia to travel to Belarus with easy Tourist Visas and then drove them to the Border of the three neighbouring EU Countries of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia where they simply cross on foot. Funnelling migrants in this manner, over the week, thousands of migrants piled up on the Poland – Belarus Border looking to cross over. They have set up makeshift camps in freezing conditions near the border and the pressure is on Poland to whether to yield to their charms.
This is a new kind of warfare, happening in other parts of the world too, and weapons have to be found beyond the barb-wires, water cannons, tear-gas, and pellet guns!
India’s Highest Civilian Awards
The highest civilian awards in India are, the Bharat Ratna, followed by what is called the Padma Awards: the Padma Vibhushan, the Padma Bhushan, and the Padma Shri, awarded each year about the time of India’s Republic Day, in January. The awards recognise people who have made pioneering contributions across diverse sectors, delivered outstanding service to humanity.
Over the years, I’ve never paid much attention to the Padma Awards: It was a kind of rigmarole, year after year. But this time, I was forced to look-up and take notice: such was the stunning achievements of many of them, who came from extremely humble and variegated backgrounds. It finally showcased a deeper, honest, and vibrant India.
Previously, selected persons recommended the nominations, and departing from tradition India opened-up the nomination process to the public at large, thereby making it a people’s movement. The ‘People’s Padma’ marks a paradigm shift for building a New India recognising India’s unsung heroes – those working quietly at the grass root levels.
This week India’s President presented The Padma Awards to 141 awardees for the year 2020, as the ceremony could not be held last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The list of 141 awardees included 7 Padma Vibhushans, 16 Padma Bhushans and 118 Padma Shri Awards.
And for the first time, in a very long time, I got the feeling that the people who received them, without doubt, truly deserved them. With the Awards being India-centric, I did not expect non-Indian citizens to be accorded the honour. However, not just one or two, but ten foreign nationals, Overseas Citizens of India (OCI), Non-Resident Indians (NRI), Persons Of Indian Origin (PIO) have also been honoured this year.
Here comes some stories, about some of the ‘melange of winners’.
Known as the ‘Tree Goddess’ in her Halakki Tribe, Tulsi Gowda, 77 years old, hailing from Honnali Village in Karnataka, won a Padma Shri. She is an environmentalist who has planted over 30,000 saplings and has been diligently involved in environmental conservation for the past six decades. Tulsi looked after the nurseries of the Karnataka Forest Department where she spent over 50 years, starting-off working as a daily wage earner and later as a permanent employee. She has extensive first-hand knowledge of the trees and plants of the forest, which she learnt by seeing, feeling and smelling, earning her another nickname, ‘Encyclopaedia of the Forest’. That’s hard to beat!
She walked bare-foot in Rashtrapathi Bhavan to receive the award, wearing only a sari-the traditional dress of her tribe-draped to cover-up as a blouse as well, with multiple coils of black beads and corals adorning her neck. It was an image, which will stay green -growing like a tree-in the mind, for time to come.
Another spectacular person, Transgender Manjamma Jogati, theatre actress, singer, and performer of Jogti Nritya – an ancient folk dance form of Karnataka won a Padma Shri for her contribution to Arts. She is also the first transgender President of the Karnataka Janapada Academy, which is the State’s top institution for folk arts.
Born as Manjunath Shetty but aspiring to be a woman, she became a ‘Jogappa’ at age sixteen realising her true sexual identity. Jogappas are an ancient transgender community who dedicate themselves to the service of Goddess Renuka Yellamma – they are considered married to the Goddess and leave their family homes.
She was disowned by parents and took to the streets, begging for a livelihood; was sexually assaulted multiple times and even attempted suicide by drinking poison. Manjamma learnt to perform the traditional folk dance Jogati Nritya for survival and became so good at it that she took the dance to platforms across the nation popularising it, to wide acclaim. Manjamma became a permanent dancer in a Jogati dance troupe called Kaalavva and performed on over 1000 stages. She later took over the troupe, on the death of her mentor, making the dance even more popular.
On walking up to receive her award Manjamma Jogati made those unique gestures, which is a signature tune of her community, to bless and drive away the evil eyes on the President of India.
I shall cut short the long story on the multifaceted winners of the Padma Awards with Dwarf Athlete K J Venkatesh receiving the Padma Shri for excellence in para-sports.
Venkatesh is an Indian para-athlete and shot putter from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. – It’s just a coincidence that there are so many winners from the State of Karnataka. Is there something about the State? – He won his first gold for India in the shot put in 1999 in Australia. Earlier, in 1994, he represented India at the 1st International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships in Berlin, Germany. Venkatesh entered the Limca Book of Records when he made a world record by securing six medals in various sports at the fourth World Dwarf Games in 2005.
Venkatesh suffers from Achondroplasia and stands short at a height of 4 feet 2 inches. In a rare gesture, the President came down to his level when handing over the Award. Achondroplasia is a genetic disorder with dwarfism being a primary feature. In this condition, the arms and legs are short, while the torso is typically of normal length. And the faculties of the brain and intelligence are not reduced in any way.
There are so many other uplifting stories of great resilience, but I’ve decided to ‘stay short’ enjoying this space, and leave the rest for you to delve into. For e.g., the story of a 65 years old, Orange Fruit Vendor, Harekala Hajabba, who saved from his daily sales to build a School in his Village is awfully inspiring. He was recognised with a Padma Shri. And yet again, he’s from Mangalore, Karnataka. Get these stories across to your family and friends so that they learn the lessons of struggle and climb their own ladders.
Floods in Chennai
It was almost ‘deja vu 2015’ for the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu with incessant rains for over ten days, caused by the North-East Monsoon and a depression in the Bay of Bengal, battering the city and water rolling over many floors and unchartered areas. The City was once again caught ill-prepared and the usual blame game muddied the waters further: the previous Govt did this…did not do that…kind of stuff. Whatever, it’s time to stop passing-the-buck, get down to the drawing board, and talk to finding solutions that float or stay well above the water level.
Going beyond the usual, oft-spoken, rain managing infrastructure, my solution is to make the Buckingham Canal, River Adayar, and River Cooum a combined Thames of Chennai- get water to flow in them so that we ‘boat round’ Chennai; establish a well-connected superb storm water drain system; evacuate people from frequently flooding low areas; and designate certain lands – as ‘rain-soak parks’ to absorb the spills… If you can’t get the water out, get it in and learn to live with it!
We ride on the shoulders of those before us and there is no reason why we cannot keep our head above the waters. Pick-up a book – an old story- turn a leaf, find a solution.
A Rare Visitor
This week, Birdlings Flat, a small settlement on New Zealand’s South Island had a rare visitor, an Adelie Penguin. The ‘permanent resident’ of Antarctica had traversed 3,000 kilometres of icy waters to find himself far from home and looking sad and lost on new and puzzling shores: the South-Eastern coastline of New Zealand. Locals immediately found a name for him, ‘Pingu’ – they called.
It’s only the third recorded instance of a live Adelie Penguin – a species that makes its home on the Antarctic Peninsula – making it to New Zealand. Its arrival is a reminder of the threats the birds like Pingu face from warming waters, increased competition over food supplies, and changing habitats.
Pingu wasn’t trying to get back into the waters and fearing he could be vulnerable to dogs, the locals called the Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation Centre, who promptly send an Official to give a look-in and talk to Pingu. ‘Apart from being a bit starving and severely dehydrated, he was actually not too bad, so we gave him some fluids and a fish smoothie’ said the Official. Pingu was then released into the Bay, hoping that he may be able to make the journey home. Must have brought his ‘penguin compass’ with him?
I wish he had come over with his partner. It could have been a dream honeymoon trip, and Jacintha Arden willing, could perhaps have settled-down in New Zealand.
More hybrid stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Stay afloat with World Inthavaaram.