Friday, August 13, 2010

A scare and a scowl on the Tube

I sat down in the only empty seat in the middle of the compartment, dropped my tote bag near my feet and settled down to read the newspaper on the tube ride home.

I had the paper open, directly in front of my face and was reading quite attentively, when I felt a tap on my left shoulder. It was the guy next to me asking in a concerned tone, “Excuse me, is that your bag?”

I was convinced he was referring to my black tote bag on the floor but I folded the paper to have a look anyway. I became mildly anxious when I found that he was referring instead to a white plastic bag, inside which I could see the top of a black shoe box. Beside it, outside the bag, was another blue shoe box.

Since it wasn’t mine, we asked the two women seated across from us and they both said it wasn’t theirs either. One looked calm while the others face betrayed her nervousness. But at that point, we were all in a state of paralysis, unsure what to do next. The train was barreling through the tunnel, the white bag didn't belong to anyone and we were the four closest to it.

I think we may have all gotten off the train at the next stop if the guy next to me, the one who tapped my shoulder to begin with, hadn’t done a brave and stupid thing. He stuck his hand into the white plastic bag and fully opened the partially open black cardboard box. It was empty. Then he did the same with the blue box and thankfully that too was empty. We all heaved a huge collective sigh of relief and in our heads, cursed out the person who had thoughtlessly left the skeletons of their shopping behind.

With the passing of the crisis, I went back to my newspaper. But this time I found myself reading and re-reading whole paragraphs before they made any sense because my mind was terribly jumpy after the earlier jangling of the nerves. Even so, I persevered, trying to focus and read very consciously. But as if one scare wasn’t enough for one evening, I suddenly experienced, what felt like an someone angrily and violently punching my newspaper, making it fall out of my grasp, to lie crumpled on my lap.

I looked up to find a woman trying to squeeze out of the compartment even while apologizing to me, because it was probably her hand or her bag that hit my paper by mistake. But the suddenness of it, compounded with the earlier scare, had caused my heart to shoot straight into my mouth. I was in no mood to be mollified and gave her the coldest narrow eyes and a deep scowl.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Travel update from the Cumbrian coast

Went to the Lake District recently and on an impulse drove to the Cumbrian coast, to the little village of St.Bees. It was a brief but memorable stop of about two hours. Met two very busy old ladies and also stumbled upon a very moving sight on a promontory on the red sandstone cliffs of St. Bees. Read about it here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Release adivasi leader Lado Sikaka

Sana Sikaka, a leader of the Dongria Kondh indigenous communities who was abducted by gunmen on 9 August, has been released. Another leader is still being held.

Sana Sikaka, one of the Dongria Kondh indigenous community leaders in the eastern Indian state of Orissa who was abducted on the evening on 9 August, was released yesterday evening. 

He has informed journalists that he and Lado Sikaka, (in picture), were stopped at Izrupa at the foothills of Niyamgiri as they were leaving with a group of activists in a van to catch a train to Delhi. About fifteen men in plain clothes, armed with automatic weapons, had parked their two vans nearby and were hiding in a forest. They surrounded Lado and Sana and said they were taking them. They intimidated the other activists, snatching their mobile phones and the van key and forced them to walk towards Lanjigarh, the nearest town. Then the plainclothesmen, along with Lado and Sana, walked to the vans and then made a long drive towards the neighbouring district of Rayagada, stopping at a few places en route. Yesterday evening, when they reached Bijepur town, they pushed Sana Sikaka out of the vehicle, forcing him to commence a long journey back to Niyamgiri. They appear to have taken Lado Sikaka to Rayagada town and detained him there. 

Lado Sikaka and Sana Sikaka are both campaigning against a proposed bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. Research by Amnesty International indicates that the Niyamgiri bauxite mining project, which would be located on the Dongria Kondh's sacred sites, traditional lands and habitats, is likely to result in violations of their rights to water, food, health, work and other rights to protection of their culture and identity. The project is currently awaiting clearance from India's Ministry of Environment and Forests. 

Please write to the Governments of India and Orissa to take all necessary measures to ensure his safe return. Also appeal to them to launch an investigation into the complaint over the abduction of the two Dongria Kondh leaders, in full compliance with the country's obligations under international human rights law. 

You can write to or email the Chief Minister of Orissa - Naveen Patnaik at the following address:

State Secretariat
Sachiyalaya Marg,
Orissa 750 001, India
Tel: +91 674 2536682
Fax: +91 674 2390562

Email: (or)
Salutation: Dear Chief Minister

You can also write to or email the Minister of Home Affairs - P. Chidambaram at the following address:

104, North Block, 
New Delhi 110 001, India
Tel: +91 11 2309 2462
Tel: +91 11 2301 7256
Fax: +91 11 2301 7256

Salutation: Dear Home Minister

(Photo and text courtesy Amnesty International)