Monday, December 6 2021

Dive In


It really creates a little raft of life.

That’s what scientists are saying about the surprising discovery that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—located halfway between the coast of California and Hawaii—is teeming with marine life. Researchers have identified a host of anemones and other species thriving within an estimated 79,000 tonnes of rubbish—which would otherwise be considered inhospitable. The bad news: they are hitching a ride to new coastal areas where they could turn into invasive species. 


Coming up soon: The guest of our next Ask Me Anything session is wildlife conservationist and photographer Aditya Dicky Singh. He is the best person to talk to about a host of really interesting issues—be it conscious tourism, the state and future of our sanctuaries, human animal conflict and, of course, tigers! Check out an interview with him here. Time/Date: 6:30 pm on Saturday, December 11, via Zoom. Sign up here for one of the limited slots.

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Big Story

Wtf happened in Nagaland?

The TLDR: An army operation went terribly wrong when soldiers shot and killed six civilians—who they mistook for extremists. More people died in a clash with the troops when villagers rose in anger. We look at why this happened—and what is going on in a state that most Indians rarely pay attention to.


Editor’s note: Our big story today is free to read. So if you liked it be sure to share the link widely! It helps splainer find new subscribers:)


Researched by: Sara Varghese


First, tell me what happened with these killings?

The shootings: On Saturday evening, a special unit of the Army was on an operation targeting Naga insurgents—apparently based on “credible intelligence.” They were specifically looking for a Bolero. A group of local men were returning from the mines in a similar looking car. The troops opened fire and killed six of the occupants on the spot. Two were injured and taken to the hospital. 


The violence: Soon after, villagers arrived at the scene and clashed with the soldiers—who again opened fire. Another seven civilians and a soldier were killed. This in turn triggered an angry mob—which attacked and vandalised the Assam Rifles district headquarters. Two more villagers were killed in that confrontation. And two others are still missing—feared dead.


Wait, there are terrorists in Nagaland?

Well, there are separatist groups—some of whom use violence toward their cause. 


Naga separatism: Nagaland is home to 16 major tribes—whose members are spread across several northeastern states and parts of Myanmar. Under the British, their territory was fused into that of Assam. And when they left, the tribal leaders declared independence—but were forcibly integrated into the newly independent India. Nagaland officially became a state in 1963.


Quote to note: The Indian government views those who advocate for Naga independence as secessionist. The tribal leaders disagree:


“Delhi can't ignore the facts of the history of the Nagas, the most important one of which is that they had declared they were not a part of the new map India inherited from the British. For this reason, the Nagas say their movement is not a struggle for secession.”


Naga insurgency: kicked off in 1946 with the formation of the Naga National Congress (NNC)—which soon became militant—and in 1956, the Indian army was called in. In 1958, the government instituted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to quell the rebellion—and gain control over the Northeast.


The AFSPA: basically allows the government to label a region as a “disturbed area”—which then gives the Indian army unlimited powers:


“They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law. If reasonable suspicion exists, the army can also arrest a person without a warrant; enter or search a premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms.”


As of today, AFSPA is effective in all of Nagaland and Assam, most of Manipur, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Kashmir has its own version of the law.


So where are we today?

Successive union governments have tried to negotiate a peace settlement—with limited success. 


  • The most significant was the Shillong Accord in 1975—which quickly fell apart. Factions within the original Naga National Congress rejected the agreement as it forced Nagaland to accept the Indian Constitution—and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in 1980. 
  • Again, differences over whether they should negotiate with the government split the NSCN into multiple factions after 1988.
  • For over a decade—starting in 1997—the government entered into ceasefire agreements with key groups, each time sparking hopes of a settlement.
  • But in 2015, the NSCN (K) unilaterally canceled the agreement—and joined forces with a number of other extremist groups in the Northeast.
  • A faction of this group—headed by Yung Aung and based in Myanmar—has since been implicated in a number of incidents of violence. 
  • In fact, the Army was on the hunt for members of this group—and killed the miners instead.


A new framework: In 2015, the government entered into a “framework agreement” with the NSCN (IM)—which is now the biggest of the Naga groups. And other groups have signed separate agreements as well. All this activity is supposed to pave the way toward a final peace settlement. But that destination is still not in sight. There was friction last year over the main government negotiator and Nagaland governor—who was then removed


The big stumbling block: is the fact that while moderate groups like NSCN (IM) may differ in tactics, their key demands are difficult to concede. They want a separate flag and constitution. And more importantly, they insist on the creation of a Greater Nagalim—a homeland that includes large swathes of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. A demand that is obviously unacceptable to those states.


Quote to note: The government now is rushing to soothe an enraged NSCN (IM) which used the incident to call out “trigger-happy Indian security forces, acting with impunity” under AFSPA:


“Ironically, the fact that the ubiquitous Indian security forces has brought about [a] toxic storm of bloody dust in Nagalim is not a new thing but a repeat of the past to suppress the legitimate Naga political movement.”


Point to note: The killing of the civilians has spurred fresh demands to lift the AFSPA in Nagaland. That is likely to put even greater pressure on the ruling government led by the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), which is a BJP ally.


The bottomline: The killings pose a serious problem for the government—which has just about steadied a wobbly peace process. It can’t afford a fresh round of violence in a border state—not with China breathing down the neck of the Northeast, already making steady incursions via Myanmar into Arunachal Pradesh. FYI: We explained the China problem here.


Reading list

The Hindu and Indian Express have the most details on the shootings. The Hindu also has a good explainer on the recent peace talks and on the AFSPA. Check out Financial Express and Indian Express for the history of Naga insurgency. Deutsche Welle does a good job of explaining why the peace process has repeatedly stalled out.

Headlines that matter

A new streaming war: Spotify vs comedians

The platform has pulled down the work of hundreds of comedians, including John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan and Kevin Hart—due to a war over royalties. Comedians are typically compensated as performers—not as writers of their jokes. But now Spoken Giants—a global copyrights management company—wants to collect royalties for those words—similar to how songwriters are paid for use of their music and lyrics. The negotiations between Spotify and Spoken Words fell apart—hence, the great purge. (Wall Street Journal)

Airbnb’s nasty China connection

An Axios investigation has discovered that the rental platform is selling listings in Xinjiang—the province where the Uighur are subject to hard labour and genocide. Why this matters: There is a US government sanction on any company whose business is connected to human rights violations in China. Also this: Airbnb is one of 14 top-level sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (Axios)

One study of note

Australia is the drunkest country in the world according to a new survey. Its citizens imbibe to the “point of drunkenness” at least 27 times a year. The global average: 15. OTOH, the French drink on average three times a week—compared to Australians who average two nights. Moral of this lesson: It’s not how often but how much? (The Guardian)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • A throwback: Muhammad Ali scathingly calling out racism


Smart & Curious

  • Women are finally, openly… farting
  • The age of ambiverts
  • The origins of the great Indian restaurant buffet
  • The future of faux-meat burgers

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