India Insight

Rumours trigger panic-buying of salt in northeast India

Rumours of an impending salt shortage led to panic-buying in India’s north-eastern states and parts of West Bengal state on Friday, officials and media reports said, with a kilo of salt being sold for as much as 200 rupees ($3) compared to average retail selling prices of about 20 rupees (around 35 cents).

Witnesses reported people queuing up at grocery stores to stockpile salt packets, with several shops running out of the usually cheap and plentiful product a day after similar rumours surfaced in Bihar state.

On Thursday, the Bihar state government said that there was abundant supply of the condiment after panic-buying in several districts and state capital Patna following rumours of a reduced supply from Gujarat state, India’s biggest producer of salt.

A senior police official in Mizoram state said many stores in the state had run out of salt.

“Since early morning people have been rushing to buy salt, there is nothing left to buy in stores,” P.C. Chunga, the additional superintendent of police in Mizoram’s Mamit district, told Reuters over the phone.

Zubeen Garg: not Assamese enough for separatist group

(Note: paragraph six contains graphic language)

When in Assam, sing like the Assamese do. That was the message from the separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam to singer Zubeen Garg. The 40-year-old singer, born in Jorhat in Assam, irked ULFA last week when he sang Hindi songs at a Bihu festival.

That’s a poke in the eye for the rebel group. Bihu is a major cultural festival in Assam, taking place three times a year. It’s a big deal for the most populous largest state in northeast India, and ULFA didn’t like Garg’s decision to sing in Hindi (check his song “Ya Ali” here) because its leaders consider doing that an erosion of Assamese culture.

“Zubeen is a talented singer but that does not mean he should consider himself an ambassador of Hindi and go all out to promote it. If he continues to do so, we shall not be responsible for any consequences,” the group wrote in a letter to the Press Trust of India wire service.

Military personnel who rape in India’s conflict zones should be prosecuted: committee

The Justice Verma Committee, set up to review India’s legislation following the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi last month, released its recommendations on how to make the country safer for women last week.

Among the issues which the panel addressed was a “neglected area” concerning sexual violence against women in areas of conflict.

The committee recommends stripping security forces of special immunity that they enjoy in conflict areas in cases of sexual assault on women, and bringing them under the purview of ordinary criminal law.

Rhino attacked, tiger killed as floods ravage Northeast

Northeast India is home to several rare and endangered animal species, which means that Northeast India is also home to poachers. With floods ravaging Assam and other northeastern states and displacing some 2 million people, poachers appear to be using the opportunity to murder animals.

Suspected poachers attacked a rare one-horned rhino by shooting it and cutting off its horn, the BBC reported:

The rhino was wounded when shot and had its horn cut off after it wandered out of Kaziranga national park, which has been inundated by flood waters. … The rhino was one of many animals that moved to higher ground to escape the deluge. Guards lost track of it as it approached an elevated highway out of the park, Assam’s Chief Wildlife Warden Suresh Chand told the Associated Press news agency. The rhino was then shot by a group of poachers who afterwards cut off its horn, Mr. Chand said.

Assam ferry tragedy not newsy enough?

On Monday, India’s remote northeastern state of Assam saw probably its biggest tragedy in recent memory, when an overloaded ferry carrying about 300 people sank in the Brahmaputra river, killing at least 103 people.

However, the bigger tragedy perhaps was the minimal coverage it got in the national media. Apart from The Hindu, which had the accident as its top story, none of the leading dailies in the country gave it much coverage beyond a mention on the front page.

Considering that the news first surfaced at around 6 p.m. on Monday, newspapers had ample time to give it more space if they so wished before they went to print, again putting the spotlight on the much-discussed question of whether the northeast is ignored by the national media.

Feared India separatist leader invests millions in Bangladesh

The military leader of a rebel group seeking independence for India’s isolated north-eastern state of Assam earns millions of dollars each year from investments in Bangladesh, a Bangladeshi intelligence report seen by a local news agency revealed.

The news could test warming relations between the south Asian neighbours who for years clashed over the issue of rebels finding shelter in Bangladesh.

Paresh Barua heads a hardline faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and is now believed to operate from camps in Myanmar, which borders Assam. The news of his investments sheds light on how he keeps his unit running. The U.S. State Department in 2006 estimated ULFA had several hundred fighters.

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