Kashmiri women break the harissa glass ceiling

News Desk, Barta24.com
Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

  • Font increase
  • Font Decrease

For centuries, it was men who monopolised the culinary skills required to make harissa, a mutton dish which is a sought-after winter breakfast delicacy in Kashmir, copied from a popular Armenian dish. Prepared overnight using the slow heat of firewood in a utensil buried in a tandoor or clay oven, the dish required muscle power, night-long patience and knowledge of spices.

However, women in Kashmir are giving a tough competition to the harissa-goaer or special harissa cooks this winter, with online platforms emerging as a game changer.

Sheikh Hirra is an engineering graduate and a mother from Srinagar’s Hyderpora area. She started the trend of capturing the otherwise male-dominated market for harissa. “Earlier, people would stand outside harissa shops in queues very early in the morning in the old city. My idea was to make harissa available just a click away. The idea did pick up and the sales are going up,” said Ms. Hirra, who now sells in all major districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

NRI orders

Using the internet power of online platforms such as Gatoes and FastBettle, Ms. Hirra has even been able to ship harissa beyond J&K. “It’s getting popular outside. I receive orders from all corners of the country. In Kashmir, harissa is also an emotion. Many Non-Resident Indians place orders for their old parents in Srinagar, so that they don’t have to come out early in the cold mornings to buy. Customer reviews have helped a lot,” said Ms. Hirra, who owns the Fall Winter Harissa brand.

Harissa is a breakfast dish only available in the peak winter months of November to February in Kashmir. People queue up at the crack of dawn to buy harissa in the city, as it finishes fast due to growing demand. This high-protein diet keeps people warm and helps them brave the sub-zero temperatures of Valley winters. Until a few years ago, only men dominated the cooking of harissa at a small number of outlets in the city as it required overnight cooking and constant grinding with a huge wooden pestle.

Armed with technology, women are equal competitors now. Shahida Fazili, 58, a former school principal from the Pampore area, said that her annual shipments of home-made harissa to her two sons in Dubai became a runaway hit among their friends and colleagues.

“Earlier only relatives and friends would approach me. This year, I received an order for 15 kg of harissa from Delhi. People are liking it outside. I am energetic and ensure that my harissa has all the qualities of a professional harissa-maker,” Ms. Fazili said.

Blurring class distinctions

She sees the harissa market fast expanding in Kashmir. “It was a dish meant for upper classes earlier. However, Kashmir is witnessing affluence and harissa demand has also gone up. People want authentic and hygienic harissa, as all in the family eat it. We ensure that the texture is not lost. The grind has to be by a pestle and not a machine. People prefer home-made harissa now over harissa outlets for their meat quality also,” Ms. Fazili said.

Harissa requires at least four to six hours of oversight by the cook. Being laborious to make, Ms. Fazili believes that most working women prefer to buy the home-made dish rather than cook it at home themselves.

Ms. Fazili, who owns the Kashmir Temptations brand, aims to widen her customer base. “So far, I was popular in WhatsApp groups. I plan to move to social media like Facebook and Instagram. I have already prepared 40 kg of harissa this winter,” said Ms. Fazili, who has partnered with her cousin.

Cottage industries

Harissa is fast turning into a cottage industry in Kashmir’s upmarket colonies. As it does not require women to come out or be a face of the enterprise, they find it comfortable to take up cooking dishes, especially harissa, as online startups.

Rehana Khan, a housewife from Srinagar’s Bemina area, only delivers harissa in her own locality and among relatives. “My home-made harissa was popular among my relatives. The word spread and people came for harissa. I take orders only from the neighbourhood. I have already prepared 15 orders this winter,” she said.

In the coming days, harissa sales are likely to go up further for Ms. Khan. With the day temperature dipping fast in Kashmir and night temperature already below zero degrees Celsius, harissa remains a sought-after dish to battle the freezing weather in the Valley.


Uniqueness of Liberal Studies at BML Munjal University

Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Associate Editor, Barta24.com
Uniqueness of Liberal Studies at BML Munjal University (BMU), India

Uniqueness of Liberal Studies at BML Munjal University (BMU), India

  • Font increase
  • Font Decrease

BML Munjal University is a fully residential and co-educational private university located towards northern boundary of Indian capital Delhi NCR in Sidhrawali, Gurgaon district, Haryana, India. The University was founded by the promoters of the Hero Group, and is named after the group's chairman and founder Brij Mohan Lall Munjal.

BML Munjal University (BMU), an ideal place for the students of South Asian countries, seeks to transform higher education of international standard by creating a world-class, innovation-led, teaching, learning and research environment.

Established in 2014 by the founders of the Hero Group and mentored by Imperial College London, BMU provides inter-disciplinary learning and transformative education that empowers students to become innovators, risk-takers and leaders who can take on the future.

Named after the chairman and founder of the Hero Group, Dr. Brijmohan Lall Munjal, BML Munjal University is engaged in creating, preserving and imparting internationally benchmarked knowledge and skills to a diverse community of students from across the world.

BMU’s aim is to nurture ethical leaders who are skilled, knowledgeable and have the life skills needed to lead organisations to success. Meanwhile, newly established the School of Liberal Studies (SoLS) at BMU offers a four-year B.A. (Hons) degree with a third-year exit option. In SoLS programme, students are expected to take charge of their own academic path, working with the support of faculty mentors and career counselors to choose a major that makes sense for their professional, personal, and civic goals. Successful applicants will be able to choose from any of the six majors the university offer, and students will not be required to declare their major until the middle of the second year.

During their first three semesters, students will complete required foundational courses while exploring their intellectual interests through electives. The second and third years will be devoted to major and minor coursework, while fourth and final year will focus on individual research, internships, and vocational training. All students, regardless of major, will have the option of pursuing electives through any of BMU’s other fours schools (Engineering and Technology, Commerce and Economics, Management, and Law).

A Liberal Studies education trains students to think critically, creatively, and compassionately about the world and themselves. The most pressing issues of our time–climate change, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, social inequality, public health, urban growth, rural development, and challenges to democratic institutions–cannot be addressed by any one discipline alone.

That is why a Liberal Studies programme aims to equip students with disciplinary training as well as a rigorous, interdisciplinary foundation that spans the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. This emphasis on depth and breadth prepares graduates to think creatively about real-world problems from multiple angles and to communicate their ideas effectively to diverse audiences.


Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

Claudia Chia
Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

  • Font increase
  • Font Decrease

On December 9, 2022, armed forces from India and China clashed near Tawang in the eastern sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), resulting in injuries on both sides. After the two sides disengaged, local commanders held a flag meeting two days later.

Only on December 13 were official statements released, in which Beijing indicated that the border situation remained "generally stable" and New Delhi stated that the issue had been taken up “through diplomatic channels.”

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides gave different accounts of what caused the incident: China’s Western Theatre Command claimed that its soldiers came across Indian troops "illegally crossing" the border during a routine patrol, whereas the Indian Army claimed that it was Chinese troops that had “tried to transgress the LAC…and unilaterally change the status quo."

Considering the longstanding disagreement over the alignment of the LAC and the deep mistrust that afflicts India-China relations, the latest border clash in December hardly comes as a surprise to observers. Notably, the LAC, albeit known as the de facto border between India and China, has not been delineated or mapped. Bilateral discussions in the early 2000s came close to an exchange of maps, but the talks were abruptly halted.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed resuming the process of LAC clarification during a lecture to students at Tsinghua University, but this was not accepted by China. Both countries continue to harbour different perceptions of the LAC’s position in thirteen locations along the border. The absence of a formal agreement on the exact location of the line has naturally led security patrols on both sides to come into frequent contact in grey areas.

Further, there has been an upsurge in the level of military activity and tensions along the LAC ever since the lethal Galwan Valley crisis in June 2020, which saw fatal casualties on both sides.

Reportedly, there has been sporadic minor border troubles, occurring on an average two to three times per month. In the western sector, there are still ongoing talks on troop disengagements post Galwan. The most recent round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting—its 17th edition—took place after the Tawang clash on December 22 and failed to produce any breakthroughs. In other words, the disengagement negotiations have not been followed by a de-escalation of border tensions.

In addition, both India and China have continuously strengthened their infrastructure-building activities in the border areas. China’s border infrastructure development can be traced back to the 1990s in Tibet. More recently, satellite images, echoed by US intelligence reports, continue to occasionally reveal Chinese construction of new roads and villages, as well as upgrading of existent infrastructures in disputed areas.

In order to catch up, India has begun to accelerate its own border infrastructure construction. India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently inaugurated the new Siyom bridge in Arunachal Pradesh as part of a series of infrastructure projects by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Of the 6,000 km of roads built across India over the past five years, 2,100 km have been along the country’s northern borders. India has also increased its number of troops along the LAC and deployed US-made weaponry to boost its defence capabilities.

Concurrently, China has stepped up its recruiting efforts for personnel to join local militias and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stationed along the border. Fortunately, despite the volatile situation, both parties have continued to adhere to the prohibition of guns and explosives within 2 km of the LAC as stipulated in their 1996 agreement. Any fighting that has taken place has been hand-to-hand, occasionally accompanied by clubs, sticks and rocks.

In Indian and Western media, several analysts have suggested the recent clash was triggered by the India-US military exercise in the nearby northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, about 100 km from the LAC, in late November. The joint exercise was condemned by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for being inconducive to mutual trust between the two countries and violating the "spirit" of India-China bilateral agreements. China’s state-owned English-language newspaper, Global Times, labelled it as an American effort to “strengthen military cooperation with India to embolden India to provoke China in a more aggressive manner.” In a similar vein, Chinese analysts cautioned India of being bamboozled by the US.

There is relatively scant attention on the December border clash in China’s media. Global Times published only two brief articles directly addressing the incident. It did feature an op-ed by Qian Feng, Director of the Research Department at the National Strategy Institute in Tsinghua University, who wrote that India has perpetuated the “victim mentality” despite being the perpetuator of the border tensions. Other Chinese news outlets also framed the December incident as an Indian provocation, urged India to restrain its front-line troops and stressed China’s call for peace.

Within the Indian media landscape, there are ubiquitous reports highlighting "Chinese aggression" and India’s efforts to bolster security along the LAC. Interestingly, there appears to be internal divisions within the India’s policy circles and political class regarding India-China dynamics and how to deal with China. The opposition criticised the Modi administration for being a "mute spectator" to increased Chinese pressures, and staged several walkouts in the parliament to protest the government's refusal to discuss India-China boundary issues in the Indian legislature.

Another potential irritant could be the maiden visit of Penpa Tsering, President of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, to Tawang in early November. He interacted with the Tibetan community as well as Arunachal Pradesh officials, where he spoke of Tibetan grievances under Beijing. Following the December clash, he publicly criticised Chinese actions and stated his recognition of Tawang (and the entire Arunachal Pradesh) as an integral part of India.

The Tawang region is of particular geographical significance and political salience to Beijing. It is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and home to Tawang Monastery, the second largest monastery in the world, built by the fifth Dalai Lama and where the current Dalai Lama sought shelter after fleeing Tibet in 1959.

According to official Chinese rhetoric, Tawang is a part of South Tibet, also known as Zangnan; it is an inherently Chinese territory and under the Chinese Communist Party’s governance. From China’s standpoint, India has long been providing sanctuary to Tibetan troublemakers and threatening Chinese national security on its southwestern frontier. Dai Bingguo, former State Councillor and China’s Special Representative for the boundary talks with India in the early 2000s, once highlighted that the "disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China's Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.” The visit to the region by US ambassadors in 2016 and 2019, and by the Dalai Lama in 2017, had been met with strong objections from China. Since Beijing does not accept the term "Arunachal Pradesh," it has made efforts in 2017 and 2021 to “standardise” the names of localities in Zangnan.

In parallel, Indian counterparts also engage in the act of “restoring” names to places within Tawang. Over the last decade, New Delhi has come to regard Beijing as a serious security threat in its neighbourhood. Due to the repeated border skirmishes, India’s initial assumption that trust-building through robust confidence building measures along the border and closer economic cooperation with China would help resolve bilateral differences have fallen through.

From the Chinese perspective, the underlying boundary dispute is only a minor part of the overall India-China relationship and should not harm the development of bilateral ties. During his visit to New Delhi in March 2022, then-Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi posited that "China and India pose no threat but offer development opportunities to each other" and urged India to put border differences “in a proper place.”

This approach is unacceptable to India, which believes that only when the border situation is stable and peaceful can bilateral relations normalise and improve. In a recent interview with Austrian state broadcaster ORF, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar claimed that China had violated bilateral agreements not to mass forces in border areas.

It is abundantly clear that China and India have fundamentally different approaches to their bilateral ties. Unless and until there is a reconciliation of the two approaches, as well as an easing of the infrastructure race, their bilateral relationship will remain tense, and the LAC will continue to slip deeper into the cyclical pattern of clash-disengage-talk.

Aside from the boundary dispute, both China and India have challenged each other in the maritime realm. The curious case of the first China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation, held in Kunming on November 21, 2022, saw the conspicuous absence of India, which is a prominent player in the Indian Ocean.

According to its official statement, Beijing invited over nineteen countries, fourteen of which, were members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). India was not apparently invited. Given that China is an IORA dialogue partner—not a member—this initiative highlights China’s efforts to further strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean, by consolidating friends and partnerships in the region to counter the influence of the Quad and the US-led Indo-Pacific framework.

The increasing participation of India in the Quad initiatives and growing strategic convergence between India and the US have stemmed largely from concerns about the rise of China. India’s drive to forge deeper relations with like-minded Indo-Pacific powers who are equally concerned with Chinese assertiveness could constitute an ‘external-balancing-for-security strategy.’ Additionally, over the last few years, India has devoted substantial resources to develop its indigenous defence industry to build self-reliance. On dealings with China, Jaishankar noted that he hoped India occupied more of China’s foreign policy “mind space” and asked Beijing to recognise India’s aspirations and equivalent status as a rising power.

Both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi made initial efforts to improve relations as evidenced by the two informal summits in April 2018 and October 2019, the latter being the last bilateral summit-level meeting. Post-Galwan however, there has not been any meaningful interaction between the two leaders. In 2022, their encounters at various international summits like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in September 2022, the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 2022, have witnessed either zero or minimal interactions. At the G20 and APEC summits, Xi spoke separately with each of the Quad leaders (Australia, the US and Japan) except Modi. Moving forward in 2023, with India serving the presidencies of the G20 and the SCO, officials from both sides are bound to have opportunities to meet, but minimal interaction is expected. In its presidential role, India would certainly have the chance to shape the global agenda; it remains to be seen what New Delhi will make of this opportunity. The new year also marks the tenth anniversary of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a timely opportunity to take stock of how far China has come in its grand foreign policy endeavours.


NATO and Turkey

News Desk, Barta24.com
ছবি: সংগৃহীত

ছবি: সংগৃহীত

  • Font increase
  • Font Decrease

According to the latest analysis of the 'Foreign Policy' journal on global situation, there was so much emerging hope in the conflicting context of the the world, particularly regarding NATO.

When Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership last May, abandoning decades of neutrality in Helsinki and more than a century of nonalignment in Stockholm, U.S. and European officials celebrated the historic step as a major strategic defeat for Russia, stemming from its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The only thing NATO leaders needed to do to lock this in was get their house in order to admit them.

Cut to eight months later, and 29 of NATO’s 30 members have signed off on expanding the alliance, but there’s still one holdout blocking the whole thing: Turkey. (Hungary, the other holdout, has said it will ratify Sweden and Finland’s bids in February.)

Sweden and Finland, backed by NATO powers, have carefully tried to court Turkey to agree to greenlight NATO expansion through a painstaking, monthslong diplomatic campaign that appears to have run aground. Turkey, Finland, and Sweden signed a memorandum at the NATO summit in Madrid last June signaling there’d be an end to the impasse, but no one spoils otherwise routine NATO business better than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has dug his heels in—amid a critical election season in Turkey—over claims that Sweden harbors militants from a separatist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated as terrorists by the United States and European Union that Turkey has been fighting for more than 30 years.

In the early months of the NATO expansion process, Finland and Sweden vowed to move in lockstep with each other and coordinate entering NATO at the same time. Now, after eight months of impasse, Finland is reportedly considering going for a membership bid alone. And the prospect of expanding the alliance to 32 members—once seen as a foregone conclusion—now appears more remote than ever.

Turkey had already been stalling on a parliamentary vote needed to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership for months by the time the clock rolled around to 2023, looking for a variety of concessions—such as deportations of people from Nordic countries viewed by Erdogan as terrorists—that seemed like nonstarters.

But the prospect of Swedish membership, which was first jeopardized by the past government’s ties to Kurdish parties (which their successors distanced themselves from), now appears much more remote after a far-right politician in Sweden burned a Quran at a protest early in January, a move that directly angered Erdogan. That led to Turkey canceling a meeting to hunker down with Swedish and Finnish officials to talk about their NATO membership—indefinitely.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “meaningless” to hold a trilateral meeting to clear the air this month in Stockholm.

Finland is now considering moving ahead with a solo effort for NATO membership if Turkey continues to balk at Sweden’s bid, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.

But on the other hand, Turkey’s gambit may be time sensitive. Turkey’s elections are set for May 14, and Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades, faces his toughest test yet, with critics calling out the 68-year-old leader for presiding over a severe economic downturn and the erosion of democratic freedoms. (The six-party opposition group opposing Erdogan has yet to put forward a candidate.)

Months ago, when your trusty SitRep writer was in Finland reporting on NATO issues and asking how Sweden and Finland were preparing for a new era of showdowns against Russia, a Finnish official joked to him that “the Swedes are prepared to fight to the last Finn.”

A good natured joke between two neighbors, but the underlying point stands. Finland shares one of the longest borders with Russia in Europe, and friend or not, it acts as a giant, country-sized buffer between Sweden and Russia. So while many U.S. and NATO officials are quietly fuming over what they see as Turkey’s intransigence, they also concede that from a purely geopolitical or defense planning perspective, it may be better to get Finland—the “front-line” country—into NATO as soon as possible.


Natural gas runs short in China

News Dask, Barta24.com
Natural gas runs short in China

Natural gas runs short in China

  • Font increase
  • Font Decrease

China is the latest country to be affected by the global energy disruptions that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But after spending on costly “zero Covid” measures, local governments have few resources to to buy expensive natural gas.

According to news agencies, China’s national government has told local governments to provide heat, but it has not given them money to pay for it. Mass-testing campaigns in the final days of “zero Covid” drained their coffers. As a result, provincial and municipal governments have reduced customary subsidies for natural gas, which used to keep a lid on heating bills.

Now, gas is effectively being rationed, with households receiving the minimum needed for cooking food but very little for heat. Tens of millions of people are angry, and their frustration has spilled over to social media. “Nothing seems to be working, partly because nobody seems to have much cash,” one expert said.

China, like Europe, has long relied on Russia for some of its gas. But Europe has had an unusually warm winter, which has pushed gas prices lower there and helped countries get through the squeeze. In China, by contrast, unusually bitter temperatures have pushed gas prices higher. Climate change may usher in an era of trade wars.

It’s in the best interest of the U.S. to help China develop new treatments to blunt Covid’s spread, Michael V. Callahan, an expart argues.