India year in review: Journey to Mars to return of Red menace

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 23, 2014 18:30 IST

The Indian democracy witnessed several watersheds in 2014. While some of them marked opportunities for a new beginning, others pointed a finger at the challenges India was faced with. Here are the achievements that held our head high and also the challenges that cry for quick solutions.

1) Mangalyaan

Full disc image of Mars, taken by the Mars Orbiter, from an altitude of 66,543 km. (ISRO)

India scripted history on September 24 by becoming the first country to succeed on its first Mars mission when Isro's Mangalyaan slipped into Martian orbit after a few nail-biting moments.

The country joined the United States, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers with the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately called MOM.

Mangalyaan, which relies on homegrown technology, is a remarkably low-budget mission of about $75 million. Nasa's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or Maven, which reached its position around the Red Planet has a price tag of $671 million -- nearly nine times that of MOM's.

Mangalyaan's scientific goals include using five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.

2) Nobel man Satyarthi

Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai pose with their medals during the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo, Norway. (AFP Photo)

India's Kailash Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, along with Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai in what is being seen as a highly symbolic push to end a decades-old rivalry between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Satyarthi has been heading a more than three-decade long campaign for child rights, pushing for their education and fighting against child trafficking and bonded labour.

Satyarthi's organisation, the New Delhi-based Bachpan Bachao Andolan, has created domestic and international consumer resistance to products made by bonded children as well as with direct legal and advocacy work. The father-of-two, who is an electrical engineer by training, has rescued some 80,000 children sold to pay their parents' debts, and helped them find new lives.

3) Third gender: Transgenders, ridiculed for their different sexual identity and orientation, were granted the status of third gender by the Supreme Court in April, in a landmark ruling that will entitle them to benefits of the Centre and state government welfare schemes.

Upholding their right to decide their self-identified gender, a bench of justice KS Radhakrishnan and justice AK Sikri directed the Centre and the state governments to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and provide them reservation in admissions in educational institutions and government jobs.

About 2 million transgenders live in India, where the term hijra is commonly used to describe eunuchs, transgender people, transsexuals, cross-dressers and transvestites. Most of them face discrimination and abuse in the society.

The court, however, clarified its verdict pertained only to eunuchs and not other sections of the society such as gays, lesbians and bisexuals, who are also considered under the umbrella term, transgender.

4) Black money list: In October-end, the government submitted a list of 627 Indians holding accounts in HSBC Bank, Geneva, to the Supreme Court, which directed its special investigating team (SIT) to examine them and take appropriate action.

Earlier, the Centre had disclosed eight names in an affidavit - including those of Dabur India promoter Pradip Burman, a bullion trader and the directors of a Goa mining company, all facing prosecution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had set up the SIT comprising regulators and ex-judges to identify illicit fund-holders and repatriate money on the first day in office, as part of a wider clampdown on corruption that he promised during his election campaign.

While there are no official estimates, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based think-tank, has estimated that Indians had salted away $462 billion (about Rs 28 lakh crore in current exchange rates) in overseas tax havens between 1948 and 2008.

5) Coal block verdict

In a major verdict, the Supreme Court in September cancelled all but four of the 218 coal blocks that it declared illegal.

The court said all coal block allocations between 1993 and 2010 were done in an unfair, arbitrary and non-transparent manner without following any objective criteria. The coal blocks allocated to private companies between 2004 and March 2010 are situated in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.

The top court has been monitoring the CBI probe into the scam. Following the ruling, the government promulgated an ordinance to allow for e-auctions of coal blocks.

6) Kashmir on the boil

damaged cycle lying on a ground after mortar shell firing from the Pakistan side into a residential area at Masha da kothe village, in Arnia Sector.(Nitin Kanotra /HT Photo)

Twenty-one people, including 11 security men, were killed in a string of militant strikes in Kashmir on December 5, days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to campaign for the assembly elections. In the deadliest attack, heavily armed militants stormed an army camp in the border town of Uri, killing three policemen and eight army men, including a lieutenant colonel.

In 2014, India also saw repeated crossfire violations by Pakistan on the International Border and LoC, and the tension between the two nuclear-armed rivals escalating.

7) Red rage: At least 14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and about a dozen wounded in an encounter with Maoists near Chintagufa in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district on December 1, resulting in the biggest loss of lives in anti-Maoist operations after the NDA government assumed charge in May.

Earlier in March, a large group of Maoist rebels ambushed a team of security forces in Sukma, leaving 11 CRPF jawans, four district policemen and a civilian dead. During the Lok Sabha elections, Maoists ambushed a Cobra squad, killing three of its personnel in Sukma. Despite being on the back foot, Maoists gave a tough time to security forces in Bihar and Jharkhand as well.

In April, three polling officials and five policemen returning from election duty were killed by suspected Maoists in Jharkhand. Security personnel have fallen prey to Maoist ambush in Bihar as well.

8) Crimes against women: A 25-year-old woman was allegedly raped by an Uber cab driver in north Delhi's Sarai Rohilla in the first week of December, underlining the Capital is not a safe place for women despite tough anti-rape laws that came into being after the 16/12 gang rape of a woman on a moving bus.

India reported several shocking sex crimes in 2014. Protests gripped Bangalore in December after the alleged rape of a nursery student in a city school. The incident was a grim reminder of the alleged rape of a six-year-old girl in an upscale city school in July and cast a shadow on security arrangements in such institutions in the Karnataka capital.

In August, reports of an eight year-old girl being allegedly sexually assaulted by her 63-year-old teacher inside her school premises -- again in Bangalore -- had triggered a flutter as well.

9) Racist India: An 18-year-old college student died in January-end after being allegedly beaten up mercilessly at a marketplace in Delhi, triggering widespread protests in the Capital. Nido Tania, the son of Arunachal Pradesh Congress legislator Nido Pavitra, was attacked after an altercation broke out between him and a shopkeeper over his hair colour.

The incident pronounced the fears of the 30,000-odd students from the northeast in Delhi who face harassment almost every day.
Tania's death underlined breaking out of certain stereotypes was proving next to impossible for a section of India. In October, Bengaluru police arrested three men who reportedly assaulted a Manipuri student with rocks for not speaking the local language. The incident once again triggered a storm across the country.

But, in an indication that no lesson was learnt, the 34-year-old daughter of former police commissioner of Bengaluru and ex-MP HT Sangliana was allegedly racially abused in December by two women who told her to 'go back to China' at a mall in Bangalore in December.

10) Shadow of terror

A screengrab of the now-deactivated Twitter account operated by a Bangalore techie.

When 46 Indian nurses returned from ISIS (also known as IS) captivity in Iraq, little did India know some of its own will travel to West Asia to join the Sunni militants. Areeb Majeed and three other young men - Fahad Shaikh, Saheem Tanki and Amaan Tandel - from Kalyan in Maharashtra's Thane district went to Iraq in May to join the jihadi group. Six months later, 22-year-old Majeed returned from West Asia and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency(NIA). In December, a young engineer behind a popular pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter account was arrested at his one-room rented accommodation in an upscale Bengaluru neighbourhood, triggering pledges to free him by those subscribing to the terror group's alarming agenda.

In another major challenge, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced of launching a new branch of the global Islamist extremist movement in September to reinvigorate and expand its struggle in the Indian sub-continent.

In a video spotted in online jihadist forums by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, Zawahiri said the new force would "crush the artificial borders" dividing Muslim populations in the region. He added "Qaedat al-Jihad" would take the fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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