BBC News – The Indian tribesmen catching giant snakes in Florida

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 6 February 2017. Every morning, two Indian tribesmen in T-shirts and long trousers, leave their dwellings in southern Florida and head into the Everglades to hunt for some of the world’s biggest snakes.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, members of the once-nomadic Irula tribe, are armed with crowbars and machetes. Wearing fleece jackets and baseball caps, they slash and wade their way through the largest subtropical wilderness in the world to hunt down Burmese pythons.

The non-native snakes, which escaped into the wild in Florida or were released as pets, pose the biggest threat to the small mammal population of the national park. They also eat birds, alligators and deer. In 2005, a Burmese python tried to swallow an alligator and exploded in the park, leaving both the predators dead.

Ever since the pythons were spotted in the wild more than two decades ago, authorities have tried everything to catch the elusive snakes in the marshes, but with limited success.

They have used pythons (called Judas snakes) to find other pythons during the mating season, asked people to turn in their pet snakes, poisoned prey, and even encouraged people to hunt them for a cash prize.

Last year, some 1,000 hunters participated in a competitive month-long Burmese python hunt to rid the wetland of the invasive species, and caught 106 snakes.

By comparison, in the past four weeks, the two 50-something tribesmen from India have caught 27 pythons, including a 16ft-long (5m) female in an abandoned missile base in Key Largo. Pythons that are caught are later put down.

“Masi and Vadivel are doing an incredible job. They excel at determining if pythons are present at a site, locating them if they are, and then catching them when located,” Frank Mazzotti, a biologist at the University of Florida who heads a team of researchers investigating pythons, told me.

“They can see pythons even when they are covered by grass. All they need is a glint of snake and they pounce. The rest of us are usually wondering where the snake is. Next thing we see they are holding it.”

The Miami Herald marvelled at the snake-hunting skills of the Irulas, whom herpetologist Rom Whitaker describes as the “best snake catchers” in the world. The newspaper reported that the Irulas appeared to have “mysterious” tracking techniques.

“They move slowly and rather than focus on roads and levees where snakes have typically been found basking, they head straight for thick brush. The Irulas believe the boulders and high grasses that line the levees are more lucrative hunting grounds.

“And when the going gets slow, everyone must stop to squat for a quick song of prayer – usually an ancient invocation mixed with an ad lib about pythons or the weather, accompanied by a beedi cigarette.”

Writer and filmmaker Janaki Lenin, who is accompanying the tribesmen, has provided a gripping account of the female python they recovered in Key Largo. The two men cut the roots that blocked the entrance to the bunker, pried open a door, went inside, poked the snake, broke through a concrete shaft and hauled out the 75kg (165lb) reptile.

Another time, a eight-foot-long python, according to Ms Lenin, “struggled and emptied its bowels” on Masi, who held the tail. “After the Irula bagged the python, the grinning but impressed Americans held their noses with their fingers, miming how stinky the snake faeces were,” she recounted.

Masi said he was not bothered. “Only if you are covered in it, can you catch snakes.”

For the past month, the two men, who have travelled around the world to catch snakes, have been living in the home of Joe Wasilewski, a well-known herpetologist. Their two months of work is funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

After an oatmeal breakfast, they are driven to work. Sometimes they go out after dark. In the early days, they survived on Trinidadian Indian food, but since then they have tried hotdogs and burgers and watched an NFL game.

“All that they say so far is that they like being in America and want to catch lots of pythons,” Ms Lenin said.

Masi and Vadivel, members of an ancient tribe, have become unlikely globe-trotting snake-catchers. Last July, they went to Thailand to help researchers implant radio transmitters for their study, and ended up catching two king cobras.

Back home, the men are part of a thriving 35-year-old co-operative of community members, who catch snakes and extract and sell their venom for a living. India is home to 50 species of venomous snake and bites kill some 46,000 people a year, accounting for nearly half the snakebite deaths in the world.

The Irulas poached snake and lizard for their skins until the trade was outlawed in 1972. A decade later, they formed a co-operative near the southern city of Chennai and switched to catching poisonous snakes, mainly cobras, kraits and vipers, to extract and sell venom.

The venom is now sold to seven laboratories, who manufacture most of India’s anti-snake venom serum.

Last year, the co-operative’s 370-members, including 122 women, sold snake venom worth 30 million rupees ($446,500; £357,900), up from a mere 6,000 rupees in 1982.

They have a government licence to catch 8,300 snakes every year, each snake is released in the wild after four extractions in a month, but demand they are allowed to catch three times as many.

After all, a gram of cobra venom sells at 23,000 rupees today, nearly eight times as much as the price in 1983. An Irula snake-catcher earns some 8,000 rupees every month, apart from other health and pension benefits.

“We are illiterate and poor. We don’t own land. Snakes have saved our lives,” says K Ravi, an Irula. But most of them say their children want to move to the big cities and get a “company job”. The daughter of an Irula couple is the first collegiate in the co-operative, and is training to become a nurse.

It is not clear whether this will be the last generation of these snake-catchers, a community of 116,000 tribespeople. For many, that would mark the passing away of a traditional hunting skill.

“They are better at the above than any other snake catchers that I have known,” Mr Mazzotti says.

“Think of [the game of] cricket. What is the difference between really good amateurs and professionals? The Irulas are professionals.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38794352

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Sikh24.com – Dal Khalsa questions SGPC panel for Sacha Sauda probe: Junior Akalis cannot take action against their Seniors

Dal Khalsa

Amritsar Sahib, Panjab, 8 February 2017. Dal Khalsa leader H S Dhami took a dig at SGPC president Kirpal Singh Badungar for trying to mislead the Sikh sangat by instructing third rung Akalis to probe against their own top leaders. He said the decision of Prof Bhadungar is tantamount to “an ASI probing against ADGP”.

“What is there to probe? Everything is in black and white,” said Dhami terming the proposed probe as eyewash. He further said Dera Sirsa has declared its support in the presence of Akali leaders and in lieu of that Akalis promised to felicitate Dera’s programmes in Punjab clearly violating the Akal Takht Hukamnama of May 17 and 20, 2007.

Accusing the Akali leadership for taking the community for a ride, party’s former president observes that the SGPC has constituted a committee comprising three of its office bearers to probe Dera Sirsa’s support to Akali Dal only to save the latter from the embarrassment and further damage in the ensuing DSGMC polls slated for 26 February.

Notably, both the SGPC and DSGMC are controlled by Akali Dal in general and Badal family in particular.

He questioned the validity, authenticity and relevance of the probe carried out by junior members against their own party’s senior members. He said all three probe committee members were handpicked by Badals to run SGPC affairs. Only a naive can believe that they would dare to go against their own party leadership’.

After looting, cheating and misleading the Sikhs of Punjab for long, the Akali Dal led by Badals is all set to deceive the Sikhs of Delhi with an aim to strengthen its hold on DSGMC through its protégé Manjit Singh GK and Manjinder Singh Sirsa.

It is in this context that GK was making noises against Akalis who went to seek support from Sirsa cult.

He said the Sikh Sangat has vented their ire against Badals and their coterie for hobnobbing with anti-Gurmat elements and given their verdict in the recently held elections. He termed the role of incumbent Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh in the present crisis, as highly deplorable and disgusting.

http://www.sikh24.com/2017/02/08/dal-khalsa-questions-sgpc-panel-for-sacha-sauda-probe-jr-akalis-cannot-take-action-against-their-seniors/#.WJtxBH_RHY8

De Vooruit – Wintercircus – De Krook – Gent-Zuid

De Vooruit – Wintercircus – De Krook – Gent-Zuid
08 January 2016

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Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat – De Vooruit

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Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat
wall-painting on the new Gent circulation plan

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Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat – De Vooruit

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Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat – De Vooruit

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Lammerstraat

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Lammerstraat – Wintercircus
There will be access through here to the new library

To see all my pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/12445197@N05/

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Human Right Without Frontiers International – The European Union must have the courage to reform the European Arrest Warrant, say several experts at the European Parliament

HRWF, 08 February 2017. “The European Commission should urgently consider a reform of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as for years its implementation has been tarnished by numerous flaws,” a number of experts said during an event at the European Parliament hosted yesterday by MEP Hannu Takkula with the collaboration of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

The invited speakers were:

Jago Russell from Fair Trials, London

Barrister Eeva Heikkila, London

Oliver Pahnecke, a human rights lawyer working closely with the OSCE in Warsaw

Throughout the session, the speakers highlighted the precarious and important future of the EAW as the EU transforms in the coming years. Across the board, the experts paid particular attention towards the pivotal role of human rights in regards to the success of this international tool of justice.

Jago Russell: “I want to support the EU in creating a strong and effective mechanism to fight against cross-border crime and terrorism. The EAW has a crucial role to play in this regard but the EU must have the courage to look at the EAW because if it closes its eyes to the way it is undermining human rights, it will give ammunition to those who criticize it.”

A number of concrete cases pointing at dramatic flaws were mentioned with regard to France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, UK.

Oliver Pahnecke: “Trust about the judicial systems and their independence from external actors is vital for the effectiveness of the EAW but in Romania, the Intelligence Services (SRI) undermine the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

National Union of the Romanian Judges (UNJR) has for some time spearheaded the campaign of Romanian judges against the covert involvement of the Romanian Intelligence Service in the judiciary.

Under the pretext of fighting corruption, the SRI increased its influence to a point where the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law have become questionable. (Full text available on request)

Eeva Heikkila: “The prosecutions of Dan Adamescu and his son Alex are huge and controversial cases in Romania. As you know, Dan Adamescu, aged 68, died during his detention last month because despite his very bad health conditions he was denied an early release or an alternative way of serving his prison sentence.

Some wonder if it is a politically motivated case. There is evidence that the Social Democratic Party and former PM Victor Ponta were instrumental in many things that went wrong. This is widely reported in the media.

Alex has nothing to hide and would be happy to stand trial on the condition that it is fair but there is no guarantee.

Willy Fautré: “The huge demonstrations in the last two weeks in Romania have clearly shown that the people do not believe in a democratic rule of law in their country. Neither does the European Court. In 2015 alone, the ECtHR delivered 72 judgments (each citing at least one violation) against Romania, the highest number of any EU member state[1].

Among the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, Romania ranked the third highest human rights abuser after the Russian Federation (109 judgments) and Turkey (79 judgments).

Worryingly, 27 of those violations in Romania were for inhumane or degrading treatment (Article 3), with many relating to the appalling conditions and treatment in Romanian prisons[2]. In 13 cases, the violations were due to the lack of effective investigation and in 13 other cases to the lack of a fair trial.

Moreover, Bucharest abuses the European Arrest Warrant as well. For example, in 2015-16, there were 1508 requests of extradition addressed by Romania to the UK while London had only addressed six requests to Bucharest[3].

All these reasons should seriously be taken into consideration by the executing countries which are requested to implement extradition to Romania as long as the rule of law and prison conditions fail to meet EU standards.”

There was an echoing conclusion regarding the necessity of the European Commission to come out of its long silence and passivity, and to urgently reform the EAW, as requested by Fair Trials.

[1]European Court of Human Rights, Statistics: “Violations by Article and by State 2015”, echr.coe.int, Accessed 08 November 2016, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Stats_violation_2015_ENG.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] See https://e-justice.europa.eu/content_european_arrest_warrant-90-en.do

See HRWF website:

http://www.hrwf.eu

Dawn – What the seals say

Rafia Zakaria

Op/Ed, 8 February 2017. In the 1870s, Sir Alexander Cunningham, who founded the Archaeological Survey of India, published some findings excavated at Harappa. Among them was a curious object, a one inch by one inch piece of smooth inscribed clay, buried in the ruins.

The piece was not polished and seemed to show the figure of a bull. Cunningham initially thought that the seal was a foreign object.

In the years to follow, however, a vast number of such seals were found; some were believed to be attached to grain stores, showing what was in them; others were engraved with fabric inscription patterns. All of them are believed to belong to the Indus Valley Civilisation, whose beginnings are dated to 8,000 years ago by some.

In recent days, two controversies have brought the Indus Valley seals, forgotten and neglected for sometime by all but archaeologists, back into the public discourse. First, the entrenchment of Hindutva in India, and its sometimes fanciful and politically expeditious reconstruction of Indian history, has redefined the role of the seals.

Adherents of Hindutva are eager to claim the seals as precursors of Vedic/Sanskrit, allowing them to situate themselves, and not the Dravidan/Tamil peoples, as true Indians.

The politics of Hindutva are not the only brand of politics implicated by the Indus seals.

One recent iteration of this squabble took place a few weeks ago, when Tamil nationalists clashed with police over the ban on the sport of jallikattu. Hindutva supporters have argued that one of the seals shows a man and a bull and establishes bullfighting (which was banned by the Indian Supreme Court in 2014) as a Hindu sport.

For their part, rioting Tamil nationalists argue that it shows several men and a bull and establishes the sport as Tamil. To bolster their claim, they point to the supposed depiction of the sport in rock paintings in the region that date back 3,000 years.

The intellectual debate, which expectedly is influenced by the politics surrounding the Indus seals, focuses on whether the script on them constitutes a lost and as yet undeciphered language. With the advent of computers, complex statistical techniques and algorithms are being used to search for patterns in the pictorial depictions on the seals.

Two researchers, Nisha Yadav at the Tata Institute in India and Rajesh Rao at the University of Washington, have run different models that look for just these patterns.

In 2009, Rao published his findings, which revealed that the arrangements of the symbols is not incidental but intentional, suggesting that the symbols may constitute a script, one of the last lost languages.

Rao then moved on to map the position of certain symbols on the seals to create a predictive model. Yadav used a similar technique, which she likens to the suggested searches within search engines like Google. The results revealed that certain symbols recurred in the same places, suggesting the existence of a particular syntax.

They also found that the script varied based on the location where it was found, with seals found in the Mesopotamian region differing from those found in the subcontinent. This, they suggested, might imply that the same script (like alphabet) was being used to write a different language.

Other researchers, notably non-Indian, have been reticent to accept the claims that the inscriptions on the Indus seals constitute an actual language, implying that it may well be the current Indian political climate rather than data that is pushing Rao and Yadav’s findings.

As Melanie Locklear points out in an exhaustive article on the subject, comparative historian Steve Farmer, computational theorist Richard Sproat and philologist Michael Witzel have all argued that the script does not constitute a language at all.

As early as 2004, before Indian historians were scrambling to establish that the seals made up a language, the trio had even taken the unusual step of offering a reward of $10,000 to anyone who would find a lengthy inscription beyond the two or three grouped symbols.

They never had to pay up. Locklear’s article quotes Farmer as holding to that position “to view the Indus symbols as part of an ‘undeciphered script’ isn’t a view anyone outside the highly politicised world of India believes”.

The politics of Hindutva are not the only brand of politics implicated by the seals. With a good number of the around 3,500 seals found in Pakistan, the frayed relationship between the two countries has played a role in the estimation of the seals and of whether they constitute a script.

It is notable that the published volumes depicting the seals are separated into two, not owing to what they say or any characteristic that is peculiar to them, but rather based on whether they were found in Pakistan or India. There is great irony in this, the hatreds of the present determining the flavour and meaning of a very remote past.

Wishful historians, or even just those curious about the character of the country that is now Pakistan, cannot help but hope that Pakistan too would spearhead inquiry into the meaning of the seals. With the story of Pakistan as rife with squabbles and contestation as the battle over jallikattu and the Indus scripts next door, this wish is unlikely to be granted anytime soon.

As for the Indus Valley Civilisation, it went into decline around 1,900 BC. Likely starved by the disappearance of the monsoon for almost two centuries, the population moved elsewhere, diseases proliferated, natural catastrophes eliminated. The people gave up, abandoned the cities and their seals, and what they had sought to say was lost forever.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

http://www.dawn.com/news/1313352/what-the-seals-say