India

More soldiers killed by avalanches in the Himalayas

The Siachen Glacier is the world’s highest battleground, where Indian and Pakistani troops face each in the bitter cold, 6,000 metres above sea-level at the northern end of their border.

Soldiers have died in combat there, but their common enemy – the hostile environment – is proving increasingly deadly.

The two countries’ mechanised units affect the region’s vulnerable ecology, not least because of the large amount of rubbish they generate. Climate warming is adding to the problems, the biggest of which is avalanches.

Avalanches killed 140 Pakistani soldiers on the lower part of the 47-mile glacier in 2012 and 10 Indian soldiers in 2016. This year, avalanches killed  four soldiers and two Sherpas on 18 November and less than two weeks later another two people.

Shrinking glaciers and more avalanches in the Himalayas were predicted as ”highly likely” by the UN intergovernmental panel’s 2014-5 report on climate change.

A former Indian defence ministry scientist says that the frequency of avalanches has steadily increased in Siachen since 1984, when Indian troops were first stationed there and scientists began studying the area.

The scientist says that temperatures fluctuate on the glacier but that both the lowest and highest winter temperatures are on an upward trend – an important factor behind the avalanches.

Thukjay Lotus, a Sherpa who works in Siachen and who I met in the village of Panamik close to the base camp, says he sees avalanches as the biggest threat in the area.

”We’re always worried about avalanches. In the last 10 years a number of avalanches have occurred and many people have been killed. Two years ago, I just made it out alive.”

/Athar Parvaiz, Kashmir

The postcards made by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Nine Indian women bag a world record

Nine visually impaired Indian women have sewn themselves into the Guinness Book of Records by making the world’s biggest jute bag: 20 metres long, 11.5 metres wide and weighing 300kg.  

India’s prime minister has encouraged people to cut down on the use of plastics and S. Sasikala, the chair of the Indian foundation that is co-organiser of the big bag project, says that it is a way of creating awareness of the potential of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic.

Jute is a vegetable fibre that for centuries has been spun into strong threads and, until the rise of synthetics about 50 years ago, was known as “the golden fibre” because of its colour and high value.

But for the women in the southernmost state of Tamil Nadu, the jute project has a more personal significance: because of their visual handicap and poverty they are part of a disadvantaged group that is otherwise at risk of ending up living on the streets or begging and suffering all kinds of prejudice. The project helps them acquire skills and raise their standing in the community.

“Wherever we go, people speak to us as if we don’t know anything,” says Maarathal Ranganathan, one of the bag makers. “So it feels extra good to be able to do something like this.”

The bag is currently on display at the textile school that co-sponsored the project and helped raise the skills of the nine record-breakers.

/Sharada Balasubramanian, Indien

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.