Thursday 12 May 2016

Is the search for MH370 in the wrong location? 
It is more than two years since MH 370 disappeared in the most mysterious aviation disappearance to date in aviation history. 239 innocent lives were lost. Many conspiracy theories have floated since then torturing the families and next of kin of those of who disappeared. 

Questions remain unanswered.
  •      Could the GPS have gone wrong?
  •          Could the CIA have bumped off the plane as it was reported that a Chinese Spy was on board?
  •      Could the plane have developed a technical snag and started burning up considering it was carrying hazardous material in its belly?
  •         Could it have been terrorism / hijack?
  •          Could it have been pilot suicide?

Australia, Malaysia USA, and China have mounted an infinitely desperate search in the middle of the third biggest ocean to search for answers or trace of the aircraft. MH 370’s debris are gradually washing up on the Islands off the south-eastern coast of Africa like in Reunion Island, Rodrigues Island (of Mauritius,) as well as on the coast of Mozambique and South Africa. ( It is terribly disheartening, demotivating and cruel to the families and next of kin of those who perished on the plane   that the search will soon be given up. Wouldn’t they be cheated by fate?

On 8th March 2014, - it was a Saturday – I was in a place called Campbell Bay in Great Nicobar Island of Andaman Nicobar Islands in Bay of Bengal. I was there to complete my field research for my book “Preparing for the Day After”. I was seated on the steps in the patio of the APWD Inspection Bungalow when my mother called from Bangalore and told me about the tragic breaking news. Without asking her any further questions, I told Mamma immediately that the plane has gone through the straits of separating Nicobar Islands from Sumatra, it has gone past Sri Lanka heading straight to Diego Garcia … which is part of British Indian Ocean Territory. I told Mom that the pilot has gone there to claim asylum. “Malaysia” – Mamma – “was a former colony of the UK and as a pilot he will very well know the rules of asylum law and it is easy for him to throw his passport somewhere over the ocean and land in Diego Garcia and claim UK citizenship” I told her. Mom asked me to keep my voice low and to be discrete in politically sensitive areas just so that I do not get into trouble.

I honestly do not know what made me conclude so intuitively, so firmly. But what I had said about the plane travelling between Banda Aceh and Indira Point in Great Nicobar Island turned out to be true. 

I just am a very keen student of Geography and Geology with passionate interest in environmental communications. None of the passengers on the plane were even acquainted to me although I eventually heard that among the five Indians on board was one renowned fisheries activist, whose name I had heard as a potential interviewee for my book. But it troubled me enough to mentally pour over possible reasons for the plane’s disappearance.

I came back to Bangalore on 25th March 2014 and by then I think the Malaysian Government had announced that the plane had disappeared over the south-eastern Indian Ocean. Further by 8th April based on beacon messages from the Black Box the Inmarsat readings concluded that the plane was lost somewhere in a curving path over north-western or southwestern Australia. That is when I looked hard at Google Earth and realised that the flight path from the Straits of Malacca to Diego Garcia cannot possibly veer off to the left towards the north-western or southwestern shores of Australia, it should much rather go through 2°33'49.20"S  80° 8'54.58"E; 7°19'47.66"S  86°13'33.64"E; 1°51'47.31"N  76°15'5.64"E; 2°13'26.22"N  87°10'56.80"E; 6° 6'16.27"S  75° 1'29.11"E enroute to Diego Garcia. The region where Australian Transportation Safety Board has been searching  based on Inmarsat readings is nearer to `18033’37.09”S – 103055’52.79 E

It is – logical then that the plane ran out of fuel and crashed somewhere east of Maldives directly east of Male instead of west of Perth / NW of Australia; Another possibility that occurred to me was that the GPS reading pointed 380 S instead of 380 N where Beijing is located. But people say GPS cannot go wrong, they sound as if the machine is so perfectly fool proof…

Given that the Australian Transportation Safety Board has been making all out efforts to trace the plane under the ocean … I pray that they search the coordinates (2°33'49.20"S  80° 8'54.58"E; 7°19'47.66"S  86°13'33.64"E; 1°51'47.31"N  76°15'5.64"E; 2°13'26.22"N  87°10'56.80"E; 6° 6'16.27"S  75° 1'29.11"E) on the sea floor before giving up the search for MH 370 in mid 2016.  

 Malini Shankar

Malini Shankar is a freelance photojournalist radio broadcaster, blogger, author and documentary filmmaker based in Bangalore, India. 

Thursday 7 April 2016

The bedrock of integration includes language, food and clothing

Molenbeek's gangster jihadis ran a BBC news item on its website. While it captures in essence the genesis of terrorism in Europe, it missed out on the message. Neither have the wounds of the 1st or 2nd World Wars healed, nor have the arbitrary imposition of borders by colonial powers been effective. Obviously George Trevelyan’s “those who forget history are condemned to repeat it”, is all the more significant.

Indeed it’s a global village we live in. The consequences of our actions do not have to necessarily be played out in a longitudinally opposite part of the world, or for that matter in the near term, it can mirror our thinking and misdeeds as some mischief mongering states of the West have triggered in peaceful, prosperous Europe.

Regime change did not work for US forces in the Middle East; much less will it work for Britain with its disembowelled political worldview and an undemocratic backing of Arab Spring overseas. Arab Spring was the launch pad of the Syrian civil war and it has only ended up creating millions of refugees burdening Europe’s economic powerhouse – Germany. UK’s vain attempts at rocking a unipolar world for its own  neo colonial ambitions has burdened Europe with a Middle Eastern socio economic invasion which threatens the political foundations of Liberty, Equality and Solidarity.

Why doesn’t Britain learn from the mistake committed by the US in its endeavour of seeking regime change? UK’s national power – neither economically nor militarily can support Arab Spring’s fruition of democratic goals and aspirations in the Arab world.

US President Obama’s veiled criticism of UK’s foreign policy misadventures which sought regime change in Syria, and Britain’s Euro-scepticism mirrors the US’s lessons learnt and political maturity. A US led “illegal invasion” of Iraq in 2003 according to former UNSG Kofi Annan that sought and effected regime change was undone by President Obama to some extent.

But the cancerous legacies of war mongering in the Middle East is not letting the US withdraw gracefully or to close the door on the Middle East chapter of US history.

Former President of US George Bush’s “War on Terror”, much as it was sorely needed, lacked political strategy and ended up as recruitment fields for spawning and cloning terrorist cells world over: today no country is spared the hazard of terrorism. ISIS is the result of US’s lack of political strategy in the second Gulf War. The violent dispensation of ISIS will dig its own grave. But how long that transition will last and at what human cost is what causes concerns.

In contrast, after the unfortunate and utterly condemnable November 13 2015 Paris attacks, French President Francois Hollande affirmed his commitment to eradication of terrorism and sought political and UN support, not faulting on military aggression without the UN’s resolution.

Withdrawal of US troops in Iraq did leave a political vacuum accounting for the rise of IS, but it paved the way for administration and security in the hands of Iraqi nationals albeit fraught with risk of violence in the short term. Iraqi forces have started recapturing IS held territories like Mosul; here’s hoping that the re-establishment of Iraqi sovereignty will not have bloody consequences within or without Iraq.  

The fratricidal wars in the Middle East centred on Oil politics and mismanagement of resources coupled with dictatorships have ruined the backbone of Arabian societies...  Societies that nevertheless need strong leadership to sustain. Strong leadership and centralised administration is often confused in the Arab Nation for dictatorship much to the chagrin of the UK. 

An interesting opinion piece in the Washington Post syndicated on the website of NDTV highlights what is the challenge for Europe and begs the question what is left of and for NATO?

Political statesmanship that commits to the electorate - rural economic development, livelihood and food security, a higher human development quotient, water, sanitation, health care, environmental conservation and education – mysteriously missing in prosperous Gulf States - is the sure fire formula for eradication of terrorism because development strides on inclusive growth heightening national power internationally.

Economic infrastructure and economic progress will follow. It is enough of a challenge for any incumbent government anywhere in the world. Unnecessary meddling in foreign countries - that too without a UN mandate - is utterly uncalled for, for any country.

Mitigating internal conflict nevertheless needs political statesmanship, for it is the best way to contain spawning terrorism. Immigrants on their part must “integrate” more effectively.

Integration on counts of clothing, language and food is quintessential to inclusive growth and progress. Food and clothing are indeed agro-meteorological foundation stones for integration. Universal integration is also the bedrock of collective psychological healing of the wounds wrought by the bloody wars of the 20th century.

The BBC report highlights another grave lacuna… European jihadis are leaving peaceful Europe for the battle fronts of Syria because they are disgusted and disillusioned with the noveau riche classes and castes of Europe.

It’s a case of my enemy’s enemy is your friend as Turkish President Erdogan’s remark clearly highlights. Erdogan mentioned that the Brussels bomber Brahim el-Bakraoui was referred to in Turkish intelligence inputs but it was not acted upon by Belgium.

Universal peace initiative needs defence forces to unite against terrorism, not against other countries. Thus countries must stop fighting against each other and instead unite to defeat terrorism… achieving this economically is even more difficult than with weapons.

That was the one credible point former US President George W Bush tried to make but was lost in the emotional tirade post 9/ 11. There are also all kinds of natural and man-made disasters to fight against unitedly.

Here Gandhi’s worldview without violence – Ahimsa - is most relevant weapon in today’s terrorism-torn world.

Malini Shankar

The author is a photojournalist, radio broadcaster, blogger author and documentary filmmaker based in Bangalore, India. 

Tuesday 19 January 2016

An open letter to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo
With the Indonesian Advocate General M Prasetyo announcing on Christmas Eve 2015 in Jakarta that more executions of death row convicts is slated for 2016 ( blood curdling, bone chilling anxiety has gripped the families and near ones of the death row convicts worldwide, for among the death row convicts in Indonesia’s Kerobokan Prison in Bali there are many foreigners. Obviously they cannot look forward to the New Year. Observers often criticise that Kangaroo justice is meted out in Indonesia’s courts for drug offenders. Aspersions cast on corruption in the Indonesian Judiciary have not been cleared. News reports have emerged that terrosts incarcerated in the Kerobaken and Nusa Kambangan prisons are not only receiving visitors but the terrorists are preaching sermons.

Corrupt police officers too are incarcerated in Kerobaken. Meting death penalty to state officers would not just bespeak of human rights violations but genocide too.

It is now opportune to question the wisdom of executions. 2015 saw the execution of more than a dozen (mostly foreign) death row convicts – 14 to be precise – after lifting the moratorium on death penalty in Indonesia. In the second round of executions on 29th April 2015 the Republic of Indonesia executed two reformed prisoners who might well have been engaged in vanquishing the narcotic trade in the SE Asian archipelago if they were not executed. Another mentally unsound person – suffering from Schizophrenia was executed in a clear case of mens rea. The bitterness triggered by the executions cannot possibly mollify the families of the drug addicts and traders. Nor are they being reformed by the State. 

Worse, the executioners themselves are drug addicts as this video depicts, chillingly (

The futility of death penalty in drug offences is borne out by the lack of solution to the narcotics menace in the months after the reformed prisoners – Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan among eight others were gunned down in vicious spree of colonial vendetta. The amount of drugs seized in Indonesia in 2015 has increased by 14%. Following this vindictive killing in April 2015 martyred Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan have become the very face of the campaign against death penalty. Their ring leaders were never found nor arrested, not even by the Australian Federal Police, whose intelligence sharing was the trigger for arresting two Australians of Asian descent.

AGO Prestyo had told a newspaper back in February 2015 “The law in Indonesia is clear, it allows death sentences. Once it becomes inkracht (permanent law), [sic], well, we must execute it. It needs time [to take effect]. Drug syndicates will always find new ways to sell their products, because there's a big demand for them. In Southeast Asia, the demand for narcotics is biggest - 43 percent - in Indonesia. So long as the legislation is in place, we will carry them out.” Given that the AGO himself admits that the drug mafia will find new ways to trade in drugs, will it mean that the AGO’s pronunciations will increase the killing spree ad infinitum?  

Even if there was an Ivy League legal luminary holding the office of Advocate General instead of the present political incumbent, the onus of reforming the law lies in the legislature and needs political will Mr. President. The courts can only uphold the legal recourse.

“He is basically saying that as long as it is the law, his job will be to carry out the law. He fails to see that not all laws are 'carried' out. Lots of countries still have the Death Penalty on their books but they don't implement it- many are wiping it off the books as it makes them look better in the eyes of the world. All Indonesians, Saudi and the USA etc do, by carrying out the Death Penalty is show how backward, ignorant and vicious they are. A big sign that screams ' psychopath'” says Jo Bond an anti-death penalty activist in Sydney Australia talking to this writer. Death penalty has never served the cause of deterrence historically.

“The Executions in 2015 have been totally useless at reducing drugs in Indonesia” says Steve Rowley in Swadlincote in the United Kingdom.

Mr. President Widodo, you had claimed that nearly 18000 Indonesians die miserably and in appalling state of neglect because of drug addiction to justify the executions. It bespoke not only the state of challenge of medical interventions in the sprawling archipelago of 17408 islands, but also of turning a blind eye to corruption.

Worse, the amount of drugs (heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana etc) seized in Indonesian airports in the few months after the executions shows that the executions were only an alibi for blood thirst and neither drug menace nor the illegal trade has stopped after the executions.

According to Press reports, drug lords transferred to the Nusa Kambangan prison (notorious for executions of condemned prisoners) houses ring leaders who continue to supply drugs to prisoners which points fingers at corruption in the guard system.

·         Trends in drug seizures and offences, narcotics crime has not decreased  Laurens Dami | on 4:37 PM August 19, 2015 Serang, Banten. A soldier suspected of dealing drugs has evaded capture by the police after an hours-long standoff during which he threatened to detonate a grenade. The dog day afternoon began much earlier, at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, when anti-narcotics officers in Serang, Banten province, assisted by six soldiers, tracked down the suspected dealer at his boarding house in the city. However, they made no attempt to try to break in and arrest him, after he claimed to have a grenade and threatened to detonate it if they tried to capture him.
·         By: Jakarta Globe | on 10:40 AM August 27, 2015 Jakarta. Police in Indonesia have arrested four Chinese nationals and seized 94 kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 100,000 ecstasy pills in the latest incident highlighting that the death penalty for drug offenses is having little deterrent effect.
·         By : Jakarta Globe | on 4:20 PM September 09, 2015 In May, a police officer in East Java was charged with trafficking 13 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. Also in May, two prison guards were arrested in separate cases for trafficking crystal meth. In June, another prison guard from Central Jakarta’s Cipinang Penitentiary, was dismissed for allegedly aiding in the trafficking of crystal meth by Freddy, the drug kingpin, who was held at the prison awaiting his execution. Freddy was subsequently moved to Nusakambangan Prison Island, where he is reportedly still running his trafficking ring.
·         06:20 AM September 10, 2015 Jakarta Police: Drug Cases Up 14 Percent So Far This Year ... "We confiscated a total 803 drugs this year, especially crystal methamphetamine.... Jakarta Police: Drug Cases Up 14 Percent So Far This Year
·         BeritaSatu English | on 4:25 PM September 15, 2015 Category : Multimedia, Indonesia Highlights, National News, BeritaSatu English, TV Authorities Bust Meth Smuggling Attempt in Lampung Bandar Lampung Customs and Excise and the National Narcotics Agency have foiled an attempt to smuggle more than 57 kilograms of methamphetamine and arrested 15 people.
·         BeritaSatu English | on 4:50 PM October 09, 2015 Category : Multimedia, Indonesia Highlights, National News, BeritaSatu English, TV Jakarta Police Destroy Massive Drugs Haul From Raids Police have destroyed Rp 1.2 trillion of narcotics, including over 670 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, 637,000 ecstasy pills, 18.5 kilograms of marijuana and 2.5 kilograms of ketamine. All of it was netted in raids in the capital from July to September.
·         Arnold Sianturi | on 12:33 PM October 18, 2015 Category : News, Crime Medan. Authorities in North Sumatra have seized 300 kilograms of methamphetamine believed to be destined for Jakarta and elsewhere in Java, in what marks the biggest recorded haul of the drug there to date.
·         Priska Sari Pratiwi | on 5:03 PM October 22, 2015 Category : News, Crime In July, BNN uncovered a drug ring operating out of Cipinang Penitentiary, seizing 42 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, known locally as shabu-shabu, that had a street value of Rp 84 billion ($6.17 million)

“Globally, UNODC estimates that of total of 246 million people, or 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used an illicit drug in 2013. That represents an increase of 3 million over the previous year but, because of the increase in the global population, illicit drug use has in fact remained stable.” according to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime: (
The seizures of drugs at the various ports and airports of the world’s largest archipelago have only been increasing; so killing drug lords will not solve the problem; addressing the roots of the drug menace is not just vital, but urgent and necessary.

Corrupt customs officials are hand in glove with smugglers the world over. Solutions lie not in decriminalising laws nor in handing out death penalties (for – like Mahatma Gandhi said “an eye for an eye will leave the entire world blind”) but in rooting out the drug menace and other ills that bring bans and legislation. This is the “art of the possible” in realpolitik… Please commence reforms constructively Mr. President and you have the whole world’s goodwill and support with you …  

Sure there are no easy solutions, but getting to the root – the factors contributing to the narcotics menace is the sure fire start.

All drug traffickers as well as consumers hail from wretched socio economic backgrounds of broken homes, childhood scars of emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, lack of employment opportunities, inadequate infrastructure support, instances of school and college drop outs who all become victims and members of neighbour cliques and gangs … who for economic survival pursue criminal activities. If they have bona fide financial security, crime can be eradicated.

One solid and sure fire start to eradicating the narcotics menace is creating employment opportunities in every village in every South East Asian country. Allied infrastructure like agricultural support, educational infrastructure, medical infrastructure, will be able to spawn agriculture and food security, culture, cuisine, handicrafts – tourism, economic opportunities, health and educational benefits; thereafter social order will automatically fall in place. This conforms to ancient and modern political thought thus any suggestions of political naiveté can and ought to be summarily dismissed.  

Given that Indonesia’s record of drug smuggling and narcotics trade has not diminished after the uncalled for killings of 2015, how many people have to be executed to make Indonesia Shangri La? 

If you do want to eradicate all social evils how would the government of the Republic of Indonesia try to deal with prostitution then?  Similarly weeding out corruption calls for decreasing and sustaining societies’ consumption patterns… it lessens greed automatically.

If you do wish to punish the offenders please request the UNO and ICRC to lease land in the French administered Island of Reunion Islands or Tahiti / French Polynesia and contribute to construction of a prison there to house all drug offenders and death row convicts penalised and convicted under national law of Indonesia. Any other uninhabited Island in the Indonesian archipelago under the aegis of UN – ICRC will also serve the purpose.

Alternatively, if the much publicised prison-Island-Indonesian initiative with crocodile and shark infested moats will be created sure, please go ahead. The wild animals will not unnecessarily prey on humans on dry land. However please desist from introducing native South American fresh water species like Piranhas to the Java Sea. That is eco detrimental and will have very long term negative impact on both the native fish in the Java Sea and the introduced Fish in the long term. The seas around Surabaya are teeming with sharks and estuarine crocodiles, preventing anyone from escaping.
Life terms instead of execution is a sustainable initiative and you as President of a growth oriented, ‘progressive?’ and largest Islamic country in the world may wish to consider employment of indigenous people to guard and cook for the death row convicts. By doing so you might set a precedent for the Islamic world and also will assume the vanguard of human rights protection. It is a mutually beneficial solution and you will thus protect the human rights of convicts as well as offer sustainable employment of indigenous people with possible funding from the UN too.

India’s Cellular Jail in Port Blair Andamans too was the site of the most heinous atrocities on the political prisoners during the British Rule. But thanks to Mahatma Gandhi’s vision the concept of historical vendetta was wiped out of mainstream political thought and polity in India. It is not possible for humanity to undo historical mistakes. Today the Cellular Jail is illuminated in the nights and an enthralling but engaging and sensitive Light and Sound Show offers tribute to those who perished to give us Freedom from colonialism.

We the undersigned plead with you the Head of State of the Republic of Indonesia not to nurture historical hatred. … for firing squads are no more than an ill perceived opportunity for colonial vendetta. Mr. President you are at the crossroads of destiny … and in a very a historically distinct and unique position to usher statesman like change in the polity of Indonesia.

Please undertake the responsibility of amending the death penalty legislation and replace it with life term sentences, - if you wish - with crocodiles and Great White sharks infesting the moats of the prison island as announced by a cabinet minister. It will be a great start to the New Year and a great way to reform. The New Year gives us all a fresh chance to get it right.

The United States has succeeded in preventing terrorist attacks on US soil thanks to better intelligence inputs and actionable enforcement, not by its War on Terror. 

You will be hailed universally as the Hero who overturned History by abolishing death penalty in Indonesia. In the process you may wish to consider making the Nusakambangan prison a peace park … I will be happy to come over and plant a thousand tree saplings in honour of the legal Watershed. Since we live in the same biome, it is in the natural scheme of things and it will be an honour for me graft new saplings come over to Nusa Kambangan and plant trees, orchids, ferns lotus gardens and the like.  

We the undersigned plead with you to make peace with your country’s history, see reason, abolish death penalty, and introduce life terms instead. Please also consider converting Nusa Kambangan into a peace park with orchids and rainforest trees, wildlife rehabilitation centres etc… enlist the prison there and apply for UNESCO World Heritage status by unlocking the prison doors.
As a well-wisher of Indonesia I do hope that the constructive suggestions in this article will be adopted by the political elite of Indonesia.

Malini Shankar
Malini Shankar is a photojournalist radio broadcaster,  author, blogger, documentary filmmaker and activist, based in Bangalore, India. 

Thursday 17 December 2015

The geological perspective of climate change 
By Malini Shankar

Dr. M.N. Rajeevan the Director of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology ( in Pune tells this writer exclusively by email “The Chennai flood was caused due to continuous rainfall activity concentrated over coastal Tamil Nadu, around Chennai between 28th Nov – and 3rd December.

“However, rainfall during 01-02 December at Chennai (around 35 Cm) was an extraordinary event; Recent studies suggest that such heavy rainfall spells are increasing and may increase in future due to global warming. The Chennai flood is caused due to above normal rainfall activity during the northeast monsoon season (October to December). The above normal rainfall during the season was expected as this year is an El Nino year and we can expect above normal NE Monsoon rainfall during El Nino periods” adds Dr. Rajeevan.

El Nino or climate change, the third dimension of the Chennai floods is encroachment of water bodies (courtesy the political class) that act as natural drainage in coastal ecosystems. “T Nagar is an affluent residential suburb in Chennai today but it is built on ponds that were clogged by developers and builders between 1978 and 1981”.

“After the Mumbai flood of July 2005 a committee of which I was a member, recommended that water weirs have to be redesigned and constructed to drain high tide water that lashes the city. But this water continues to remain in the city’s cemented environment; - clogged and unable to discharge into the sea; no action seems to have been taken to mitigate such future disasters” said Dr. Arun Bapat noted geologist, speaking exclusively to this writer.

El Nino is a term that refers to the reversal of the normally anticlockwise cold Humboldt Current that hugs the Chilean coast in the South Pacific Ocean and coursing instead in a clockwise motion, thus reversing seasons corresponding to a latitude-longitude calibration right across the whole world.

El Nino is notorious for exacerbating weather systems bringing unseasonal weather almost around the whole world and in places where there is no unseasonal weather, the weather heaves gargantuan impacts. Thorough documentation is the first step towards preparedness.

El Nino exacerbates all hydrometeorological calamities - Avalanches, Blizzards, Cloudbursts, Coastal Incursion, Cyclones, Droughts, Desertification, (differential impact of) El Niño Southern Oscillation, Epidemics, Floods, Flash Floods, Famine, Forest Fires, Fog, Hailstorm Landslides, Mudslides, sand storm, Sea surge, Storms, squalls, thunderstorms and urban floods. Tsunamis triggered by ice berg melt and seamount explosions may also construe hydrometeorological disasters by definition atleast. Overground peat emissions in Indonesia spawn forest fires; and fog in Indonesia being exacerbated by El Nino events of 1998 and 2015 has been documented.

Understanding geological phenomena like El Nino helps documentation so we know better in the future. Sea level rise corresponds to the sinking of riparian deltas thanks to the deposition of silt say the purists.

Quantifying the Subterranean peat emissions of methane from deep underground by source will strengthen the case for reduction in emissions. The melting permafrost formed in Siberia 11,000 years ago is developing massive sinkholes with one being recorded as 70 metres deep and 600 metres in diametre. Hydrometeorological disasters will have increasingly debilitating impact on vulnerable communities and Island States in the decades ahead if emission targets are not met.

That the geological perspective of climate change is significant ( was also supported by a study of the Earth and Environment, University of Leeds which quantified the emissions from Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcanic eruption of summer 2014 @ 120,000 tons of sulphur dioxide gas per day at the onset of its eruption completely outdoing the industrial emissions in Europe. According to the NASA website on volcanoes’ connection to Climate change (( this is because sulphur dioxide is cooling in comparison to CO and CO2 emissions that obtain from industrialisation and vehicular emissions.

According to a new study on the subject -- published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres -- the volcano's toxic emissions bested the average amount of sulphur dioxide produced by European industry, by a large margin.

“The eruption discharged lava at a rate of more than 200 cubic metres per second. In the study, we were concerned with the quantity of sulphur dioxide emissions, with numbers that are equally astonishing: In the beginning, the eruption emitted about eight times more sulphur dioxide per day than is emitted from all man-made sources in Europe per day” Dr Anja Schmidt School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds said in a press release ( Its significance lies in emphasising the natural, benign sources of global cooling like volcanic emissions.

So does it mean that man-made emissions can be overwhelmed by volcanic emissions? Climate scientists aver and with good reason that anthropocentric emissions of CO2 is hundred times more than volcanic emissions on a year to year basis. It is a thin line of distinction that differentiates the emissions from steam and water vapour in the atmosphere. While volcanic emissions of SO2 cools the atmosphere, <1% of CO2 from volcanic emissions warm the atmosphere according to a NASA website article (

There are many other examples of volcanological perspective of climate change. Lake Toba’s super volcanic eruption 74000 years ago robbed the earth of sun rays triggering the Ice Age.

Krakatau super volcanic eruption in the Java Straits in August 1883 triggered a short term climate change globally, inducing spectacular sunsets on the Chesapeake Bay near Washington DC on the East Coast of the United States for months after the super volcanic eruption of 1883.

In Bengal in India the Sun could not be sighted for a decade. “But a decade after the Krakatau super volcanic explosion”, - seismologists – like Dr. Arun Bapat allude to the transient nature of short term climate change – “wherever the ash of Krakatau had fallen, the agricultural lands became very fertile for six to eight years following the volcanic eruption”.

The Tambora super volcanic eruption in Sumbawa in Indonesia triggered the Year Without a Summer in Canadian Eastern Sea Board in 1815 - 16. It took a decade for the global climate to stabilise after Tambora’s eruption.

Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in the Philippines in October 1991 cooled the planet by a significant  10 C, clearly establishing the link between global weather and volcanism. “During the 1900s there were three large eruptions that caused the entire planet to cool down by as much as 1°C. Volcanic cooling persist for only 2 to 3 years because the aerosols ultimately fall out of the stratosphere and enter the lower atmosphere where rain and wind quickly disperse them”. (

Climate scientists worry at the rapid pace of glacial retreats triggered by fossil fuel emissions and anthropocentric triggers like vehicular emissions. It only underscores the need for planned development - a challenge to the political elites in the current World Order. But geologists are sceptical of glacial retreat being triggered by anthropocentric emissions.

 “Last Glacial Maximum Period is also a matter for study. It has been observed that most of the glaciation – there is evidence to suggest that major glacial advancement happened 50 – 55000 years ago, but it is still being worked out, but after that period there have been 3 – 4 periods of glaciations and de-glaciation. Glacial advancement and recession is a climate change cycle. It is not happening for the first time, we have those records. There is a geological cycle to it…” says Professor Rameshwar Bali Associate Professor of Geology at the Centre of Advanced Studies in Geology, Lucknow University.  

“…For us in the Indian subcontinent global warming is not as bad as global cooling because then the monsoons and economy will be severely affected. Monsoons happen because of summer warming but if the summer temperatures cool, monsoons are affected, impairing our economy and the whole cycle of seasons in Asia. So global cooling is more dangerous to tropical countries as the entire economic cycle will be affected by global cooling and inadequate monsoons. Entire Indian Ocean rim countries will be affected” says Professor Bali during a discussion with this writer for my book research: “Preparing for the Day After” (

Retired Dean of Institute of Socio Economic Change ( Professor R. S. Deshpande says “modelling micro climate for long period average is difficult given that micro climate itself is affected by terrain, waterscape, landscape, humidity, precipitation (rainfall / snowfall) wind speeds etc. Lat long calibration of long term global climate is correspondingly diverse and challenging. Climate change has over the millennia shaped climate change adaptation - change in cropping patterns and consumption of agricultural produce”.  

The earth’s axis varies between 220 and 24.50 according to the Milankovitch Cycle  Milutin Milankovitch, a prisoner of Stalinist Russia in Siberia during the 2nd World War hypothesized that the speed of the earth’s revolution on its elliptical orbit is altered by the velocity of the earth’s rotation on its axis once in about 41000 years triggering a change in the angle of the earth’s tilt from an elliptical to circular orbit… thus making climate change inevitable. 

This change in the tilt of its axis alters the amount of Sun’s radiation falling on earth – accounts for change in seasons drastically in the middle and higher latitudes (Our Changing Climate Fall 1994 – Volume 4 by Dennis Hartmann, University of Washington. Such changes inevitably have impact on zoological and biological diversity.

Zoological perspective of climate change and its impact in South Asia
Speaking exclusively to this writer, Professor R. Sukumar of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the premier Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, said “Climate change is an ongoing phenomenon over the past millions of years.  Between the Pleistocene Era (around 2.6 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago) which marks the beginning of the Holocene era there were about 25 periods of glaciation and inter glaciation with warmer climes lasting shorter periods.

The Last Glacial Maximum being the coldest period of glaciation occurred about 20,000 years ago. The cooling trend would have started much before that. Cold periods were also arid periods as rainfall declined. During such cold periods the tropical moist forests would have shrunk or contracted to small areas. … These places are referred to as Pleistocene Refugia. In India only two such shrunk places were there … in the extreme southwest and northeast of the subcontinent. Elephants were confined to these refugia during extremely cold periods.

The rest of India was arid scrub land or savanna ecosystems supporting fauna such as ostriches that can thrive in such ecosystems … (incidentally, giraffes were found in the subcontinent during the early Pleistocene while tigers entered the subcontinent from the Far East only after the climate warmed up after the Last Glacial Maximum - … somewhere between 20000 to 10000 years ago). This global warming would have facilitated an expansion of tropical moist forests on account of strengthening of the monsoon, and thus these more productive ranges of habitats would have supported a somewhat different faunal diversity.”

Mammals like apes, antelopes, bats, cheetahs, wild dogs, elephants,  rhinos, wild dogs, hippos, giraffe, birds like ostriches, reptiles like snakes, crocodiles, etc have all been documented by studies of Kurnool Caves by G.L. Badam et al ( Interestingly Asian Elephants started moving out of Pleistocene Refugia in extreme southwest (Southern Western Ghats) only when the climate became warmer supporting tropical broad leaved forests.

It seems like the fauna found in Africa today were all once endemic to the Indian subcontinent too, but have gone locally extinct … as a geomorphological adaptation of climate change.

What is not so easy to comprehend is the cyclical pattern of El Nino. The pattern of the notorious El Nino cycles desperately needs to be studied accurately, if only to be prepared for the catastrophic impact the geological cycle has on agriculture, fishing, food security and global economy. Given its varying cycles and its differential impacts on micro climate right across the world, modelling El Nino triggered extreme weather globally has become the greatest challenge of our times.

Could it be that volcanic eruptions in the South Pacific Ocean plausibly determine the course of currents accounting for reversing the normally anticlockwise course of the Humboldt Current on the west coast of Chile in the South Pacific? It thus alters the normal course of hydrometeorological cycles right across the world offsetting the hydrology and currents in each Latitude and Longitude… accounting for the variations in agro meteorology, fisheries, shipping, and global economy.

The role of seamounts in the South Pacific Ocean in warming the waters of the South Pacific Ocean  and also in reversing the normally anti clockwise cold Humboldt Current to a clockwise course / rotation demands credible attention too (

It is only when we understand the geological perspective of climate change can we do accurate justice to mitigation.

© Pictures courtesy Global Volcanism Programme of the Smithsonian Institutions, and Text by 
Malini Shankar

Sunday 30 August 2015

Finally some legal solution to death penalty

India’s Law Commission report is expected to oppose death penalty

The Law Commission report pending submission of  (on 31.08.2015) and acceptance / by the Government of India is reported to have recommended abolition of capital punishment except in cases of terrorism. Though it does not require graphic definitions, legally, it helps to define classes and tenor of tenor.  Given the shades of state sponsored terrorism and non-state actors, the lines between nationalism economic exploitation and traitor-ship / martyrdom blur. Thus definitions certainly help; even if such definitions need period reviews and improvisations.

Given that death penalty has never been an effective deterrent, instead abrogates human rights and justice, it serves the purpose to explore alternative means to serve deterrence. When a person has committed a cognisable offence and is convicted, the rule of law is indeed upheld.  Society is secured, democratic principles are put to robust practise. But death penalty takes away the right to life of the convict. That is not justice, rather vendetta.

So that brings us to the argument what about the life / lives of those that the convict damaged / killed? Even in the case of a premeditated murder the victim is unaware of the fate awaiting him / her. In the most unfortunate twist of fate the victim / deceased survivor bore the brunt of the perpetrator’s vicious behaviour. But will putting him / her – that is the perpetrator - to death serve the purpose of deterrence or justice? No, not really, death penalty is only vindictive emotional knee jerk reaction guaranteed to ensure that the ills plaguing the society will never be cured.

Pardon me, I am not justifying any such condemnable behaviour but am sincerely trying to understand what causes deviant behaviour in some people. If the causes are not addressed the symptomatic manifestation will sustain and in turn that may only sustain death penalty.  I am aware that those opposed to abolition of death penalty will spew venom at me and question me why I shouldn’t subject myself to rape or if I have felt the anger and helplessness felt by the family members of someone who has been murdered. But here, I am trying to address the emptiness of vengeance.

What prompted the criminal to do what he / she did? In the case of drug peddling - broken homes invariably lead to drug addiction and then drug peddling. In the case of rape, gender verbal abuse and emotional abuse in the tender years of childhood trigger violent behaviour. Drug peddlers feed on and are fed by drug addicts. So that is a vicious cycle.  By putting to death the convicts does the victim get justice? No: Only a sense of emptiness without purpose permeates the soul.

Closure? Getting closure is significantly connected to cultural norms. The Hindus and the Buddhists often ascribe their fate to Karma. Christians forgive conscientiously the Muslims inherit the law “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” from the Civilisation of Mesopotamia in Babylon where Islam took root in a later day and age.

Child rearing was never easy. Parenting skills are all the more challenged in an unequal world order prevalent in society. Building emotional resilience through inculcation of ideals, yet making the child aware of the pitfalls of perfection is the challenge for parents.

So now let us address the needs of the innocent victims. Victims must get state support –emotional counselling, rehabilitation, economic assistance to victims of violent crime including policy support for job reservations, medical treatment reintegration assistance, and insurance.

Convicts must be allowed to see the treatment and reintegration of the victims while they – the convicts are punished. That way justice is done.

Death penalty is only vindictive, appropriate for emotional reactions and serves no purpose, but at the same time, the convict’s right to life is suspended. Yes what about the right to life of the victim? Yes it is unpardonable that anyone’s life with dreams and hopes can be snatched away at the will of a crook or demented soul. It is unfair to the family of the victim too. But neither the victim nor the family of the victim can get closure out of vendetta. But the perpetrator must be “taught” to value life of fellow human beings and animals. For this atleast he / she must be allowed to live and reform.

It is practical to deport all death row convicts from all countries to a life in prison in any uninhabited Island where a UN / ICRC monitored penal colony / settlement can be established. Local fishermen and indigenous people can be given opportunities to ward, feed and securely monitor the convicts. Convicts must have rights to visitation and medical treatment, food, clothing, reading material and visits by family without any further indulgence whatsoever; but should be punished without recourse to further legal aid / appeal. The death row convicts should be allowed access to basic / simple food, communication and clothing. The time spent in such isolation is guaranteed to bring remorse. It’s a greater punishment than death penalty.

Social entrepreneurs, counsellors, human rights activists, the Gandhi Peace Foundation are the most appropriate resource people for such sustainable engagement. One reformed prisoner can substitute an army’s intelligence networks effectively in mitigating crime… for death penalty is and always will be a miscarriage of justice. 

Malini Shankar

Wednesday 22 July 2015

What are the alternatives to death penalty?

What are the alternatives to death penalty?

Earlier this year Indonesia shocked the world with a nasty manifestation of lifting the moratorium on death penalty. Bali Nine’s 8 members were mercilessly executed in April, and some more were executed in January 2015. “There is something nice about final justice but justice is far better” goes the legal adage.

The world was shocked to hear and witness mass murder in the name of justice. I am haunted by the melancholic, helpless eyes of one convicted death row prisoner: Myuran Sukumaran, an Australian citizen of Sri Lankan origin who had reformed by spawning his talent and held immense promise for constructive engagement.

His reformation was an inspiration to the world that watched so helplessly his mother’s pleas for mercy in the days and hours before he was executed. Advocate General Prasetyo actually said “this time the executions were well planned so it went off smoothly without glitches”.

What offends observers is that political will to exemplify deterrence has failed miserably. Drug hauls continue unabated in Indonesia and the world over even as many states in the United States are legalising usage of “medical marijuana”; So obviously – Mr. President Widodo, the deterrent was futile.

In my first appeal on a blog ( on 27th April 2015 I had argued about the futility of death penalty especially in the case of reformed convicts. In my follow up on Bali Nine executions ( I questioned again the reasons for executions:
  •         The world would like to know if drug peddling has decreased in Bali Indonesia, in the days since the execution of the Bali Nine (Eight)?
  • ·Have there been any arrests of drug peddlers anywhere in Indonesia? If yes the world would like to know of these developments with as much transparency and publicity that was given to the trophy hunting in the execution of the Bali Nine / Eight. 
  • Is there any quantifiable seizures of psychotropic substances in the days since the execution of the Bali Eight? Is this more than usual or less than usual? 
  • ·How does the seizures compare to those before the Wendepunkt ( the watershed event) of mass executions of 29.04.2015?
  • ·       Has there been a decrease of drug related violence or mortalities since the execution of the Bali Eight? President Widodo was quoted as saying that more than 1800 people die due to drug related violence in all of Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago put together every single day.
  • ·      Has Indonesia succeeded in decreasing the drug menace to some extent atleast? 
  • ·      Has Indonesia been able to identify those in the Enforcement Agencies in Bali’s notorious Kuta district or customs officials in Denpasar International Airport who may have connived with the two Australian “ring leaders”?
  • ·         Has there been any investigation into allegations that some judges in the case of the Bali Nine asked for bribe in exchange for a lighter sentence?

Military personnel in battle gear descended from military trucks to mobilise the handcuffed death row convicts Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan to Nusa Kambangan with much publicity bordering on schizophrenic trophy hunting. We have some answers to the questions raised in my follow up blog:
  1. ·         Indonesian authorities seized 352 kg of heroin in Jakarta reported Jakarta Post on 16th July 2015.
  2.         Earlier on 24.06.2015 South Seberang Prai police seized 42kg of drugs worth more than RM 4 million and detained three people, including a Vietnamese woman as site cites.
  3.         One of the biggest hauls of drugs (about 360 kg of methamphetamines from China on 15th July 2015) was reported by Coconuts Jakarta (

So Mr. President Widodo death penalty to reformed regretting convicts was the easy blood thirsty ploy for political brownie points; nothing else. 

In United States, China Iran, India, Afghanistan Pakistan Saudi Arabia, Singapore Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, executions are frequent in varying degrees; statistics are hard to come by in states like China and Iran.

Media today affords us a space to engage constructively to arrive at plausible solutions instead of emotional breast beating. We need to make use of the space to find solutions, not just to the crimes like drug peddling, terrorism, gender based violence and heinous, violent crimes, but to find alternatives to death penalty. The need for abolition of death penalty arises because:
  1. None has the right to take away another human being’s life because all are born equal.
  2. 2None, not even the parents of the condemned prisoner can give him or her - their lives back to them. So the State has no business to execute someone. 
  3. 3.      On the other hand keeping them alive with life terms allows psychologists, sociologists, and human rights practitioners - opportunities for research, investigations and evolution of political thought in this context.
  4. Prisoners are certainly not fodder for researchers but they are not cannon fodder either.  Sparing their lives offers opportunities for the condemned prisoners to regret their crimes…. The worst possible psychological punishment to offenders. This should satiate those seeking vengeance in the name of justice…? 
  5. 5.      Death penalty has never solved any of the problems that brought these convicts to their hapless hopeless positions.

6.  Attempts must be made by the mainstream majority to solve factors that lead to such crimes: economic disparities, alienation, suppression corruption exploitation etc.

This is not to condone any crime. But death penalty neither serves as a deterrence against crimes nor does it prevent recurrence of crimes… much as it is so unfortunate.

We in the media need to engage in introspection to investigate the causes for such crimes so we can then try to solve them. Naïveté maybe, but better than mass murder of the Indonesian variety of justice!
©Malini Shankar 

Another doable alternative takes us back to history. The British colonised India’s Andaman Nicobar Islands to establish a penal colony. Is it not possible for the United Nations officially to ask Republic of France / United Kingdom / Portugal to lease out land on the safe side of the volcano in either French Southern Indian Ocean’s Antarctic Lands / Reunion Islands / British Indian Ocean Territory /  Cae Verde to establish under the aegies of the Geneva Convention a universal penal colony in their Island territories for the world’s death row convicts?

Of course nation states’ will argue that their justice will not be served. But a UN managed penal colony can certainly allow for legal systems of Nation States to execute sentences without manifesting as death penalty because it is a gross violation of human rights, it is a guarantee that only the United Nations can assure, guarantee and monitor.  All death row convicts from all countries ought to be moved to such a penal colony without future legal reprieve and sentenced to life sentences, rigorous imprisonment or something similar, stopping short of death penalty. Till appeals are exhausted democratic nations can imprison their convicts in their national jails before mobilising them to a UN managed penal colony maybe…?

Infact Indonesia’s geography would qualify it best for the archipelago nation to offer any uninhabited Island to the United Nations for the establishment of such a penal colony. But the country’s recent history casts doubts for the safety, security, and credibility of such a penal colony in its territory.

Or maybe Indonesia can as a gesture of remorse dedicate the prison facilities at Nusa Kambangan to such a penal colony in memory of those who were recently unjustly killed? Hopefully change will not be resisted in the future…? I know unfortunately that I am being naïve in thinking of the country’s remorse…

Malini Shankar, photojournalist, Bangalore, India