Many chapters of 2018

From the most devastating floods in Kerala in a century to the great rescue of the Thai boys it was year that had us spellbound

By Author  |  Published: 30th Dec 2018  12:17 amUpdated: 29th Dec 2018  9:59 pm

A year of discord in Europe

Europe is no closer to knowing the final outcome of Brexit, while Russia’s ties with the West show no sign of improvement. Officials in Britain and the EU, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, are looking at their watches as the clock ticks down to March 29, when Britain is due to officially exit the bloc.

The streets of France saw violent protests as ‘yellow vest’ demonstrations morphed from anger at a fuel tax hike to general discontent with President Emmanuel Macron’s government. Protesters in Paris torched cars, set fire to barricades and even vandalised one of the country’s most sacred monuments, the Arc de Triomphe.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she wouldn’t be a candidate in the country’s next election, which is due in 2021 but could come earlier.

Europe has witnessed another year of migrants making dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean to try to reach EU nations. Images of rescue boats packed with exhausted migrants in orange life vests have done little to unite EU nations, with many arguing among themselves over which country should take them in.

The Russian government, which denies any involvement in the nerve agent attack, went on to display its military might by hosting major exercises in September that included China.

Castro era ends in Cuba

Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency to a 57-year-old successor Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a plan that would place the State the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island. After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet.

Hope for Yemen but peace elusive

A cease-fire halted months of heavy fighting in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida, raising hopes that the UN-led peace efforts can end the civil war and alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the truce in the Red Sea city remains fragile, and it’s unclear if the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels can reach a wider peace agreement. Some 70% of Yemen’s food imports and humanitarian aid enter through Hodeida.

Yemen’s four-year conflict pits the internationally recognised government, backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, against Shiite rebels known as Houthis. Iran supports the rebels but denies allegations that it is arming them.

China bows to tariff

China announced a 90-day suspension of tariff hikes on US cars, trucks and auto parts following its cease-fire in a trade battle with Washington that threatens global economic growth. The suspension is China’s first step in response to President Donald Trump’s Dec 1 agreement to suspend US tariff hikes for a similar 90-day period while the two sides negotiate over American complaints about Beijing’s technology policy and trade surplus. China is the world’s biggest auto market but most US-branded vehicles sold here are manufactured in Chinese factories.

A confidence-building summit

The summit in Singapore marked a reduction in tensions when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests and Trump and Kim were trading threats and insults that stoked fears of war. Trump talked up the outcome of what was the first meeting between a US and North Korean leader in six decades of hostility. Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un Kim made concrete moves of their own to reduce tensions on their border. The Panmunjom declaration, named after the truce village that hosted the talks, stated: “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.”

Cup of shocks & surprises

Right from the qualifiers that saw the exit of Italy and Netherlands, the beautiful game’s unpredictability added to its aura in this World Cup. After a month-long duel among the top 32 teams in the world, Croatia made it to their first ever final. It was supposed to be the World Cup of the greats like Messi and Ronaldo. It was supposed to settle the debate on who is the greatest footballer on the planet with either of them standing atop the world. As it turned out, they had to end their careers without the coveted trophy and to the next edition in Qatar. France lifted the trophy for the second time.

Thai boys’ tryst with cave

Trapped in a treacherous water-filled cave with dwindling oxygen, 13 youngsters valiantly fight for their lives. The 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, along with their 25-year-old football coach went sightseeing to the popular Tham Luang Cave on June 23. Despite sign boards alerting visitors not to enter the cave in the rainy season – the team along with the coach ventured into the cave, only to get stranded for days.

Rohingyas – At Sea

The Burmese government claims they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Subjected to rapes, massacres and landmines, the Rohingya Muslims have been systematically victimised by the Burmese for decades now. Burma’s powerful Buddhist monks do not want them and the Burmese military wants the land inhabited by them to further their economic interests. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has put Myanmar “at the top of global concerns,” along with North Korea.

Iran Sanctions

On May 2, President Donald Trump, withdrew the US from the landmark nuclear accord with Iran, abruptly restoring harsh sanctions in the most consequential foreign policy action of his presidency. The 2015 agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama regime and included Germany, France and Britain, had lifted most US and international economic sanctions against Iran. Trump said in a televised address from the White House that it was “defective at its core.”

Climate challenge doubles

Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, warned a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report details how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1°C).

Our Monsters, Ourselves

Frankenstein — one of the most unforgettable fictional creatures in literature — turned 200 this year. Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, the world’s second most famous monster (the first place must go to Bram Stoker’s creation, Dracula, appearing in 1897) has seen innumerable adaptations across all media — from movies to plays. Today, ‘Frankenstein’, like the creature and the book, is part of a global cultural vocabulary and imagination.

Biggest Wildfire

Firefighters struggled against rugged terrain, high winds and an August heat wave to slow the spread of the biggest wildfire ever recorded in California, an inferno that exploded to be nearly the size of Los Angeles in just 11 days. The 1,165-square-kilometer blaze, centered near the community of Upper Lake, about 160 km north of San Francisco, spread fast because of what officials said was a perfect combination of weather, topography and abundant vegetation turned into highly flammable fuel by years of drought.

100 years since World War I

One hundred years ago – on November 11 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – millions of men laid down their guns. This was Armistice Day, the end of the First World War. World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as “the war to end all wars”, it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, making it one of the largest wars in history. One of the deadliest conflicts in history, an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

India

Devastating floods

From August 9, 2018, severe floods affected the State of Kerala, due to unusually high rainfall during the monsoon season. It was the worst flood in Kerala in nearly a century. Over 483 people died, and about a million people were evacuated from their homes. All 14 districts in the State were placed on red alert. According to the Kerala government, one-sixth of the total population of Kerala had been directly affected by the floods and related incidents. On August 20, the Indian government had declared it a Level 3 Calamity, or ‘calamity of a severe nature’. Thirty-five out of the fifty-four dams within the State were opened, for the first time in history.

New Maoist captain may go aggressive

Muppala Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathy stepped down as the general secretary of CPI (Maoist) and Namballa Kesava Rao known as Baswaraj was elected to head the revolutionary party on November 10. The CPI (Maoist), which continues to wage a protracted armed struggle to achieve New Democratic Revolution (NDR), maintains utmost secrecy, apparently to hoodwink the tech-assisted spy agencies and the well-equipped security forces and save its leadership.

Will Kashmir be normal again?

Violence gripped the Kashmir Valley after the killing of 13 militants in the multiple ‘coordinated’ attacks by security forces could as well go down in the recent history of militancy as a milestone, in view of the groundswell of support from all sections of Kashmiri society. In addition to 13 militants of the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, four civilians and three personnel of the Indian Army were also killed in the April 1 coordinated operations taken up in Anantnag and Shopian areas of J&K.

Farm distress

India’s agricultural sector is in deep crisis and reports of farmers committing suicide and resorting to persistent protests have become increasingly recurrent. In a country, where agriculture and related activities still provide nearly
60% of the total employment, agriculture has simply not been getting the required attention, especially after the days of Green Revolution. There were frequent protests by farmers at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar and the usual loan waiver by governments.

RBI, Rupee and bleeding banks

Reserve Bank Governor Urjit Patel unexpectedly resigned, four days ahead of a crucial meeting of the board of the central bank that could have discussed issues of simmering differences with the government. Patel was the first governor since 1990 to step down before his term was to end in September 2019. Meanwhile, rupee continued its free fall led by a slew of domestic and external factors. And banks continued to see deterioration in their non-performing assets.

Kartarpur corridor

The Kartarpur Corridor is a proposed border corridor between the neighbouring India and Pakistan, connecting the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur (in Punjab, Pakistan). Currently under planning, the corridor is intended to allow religious devotees from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometres from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa. On 26 November 2018, the foundation stone for the Kartarpur corridor was laid down on the Indian side. Two days later the foundation stone for the corridor was laid down on the Pakistani side. The corridor will reportedly be completed before the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019.

Supreme mess in apex court

In a first-of-its-kind in independent India, four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court after the Chief Justice of India (CJI), decided to go the people’s court by addressing an unprecedented press conference on January 12. The press meet came after all the four judges “failed to persuade the CJI that certain things are not in order and, therefore, he should take remedial measures.” Justice Jasti Chelameswar , who called it an “extraordinary event in the history of any nation”, along with Justices Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph, said “…Unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country.” With the four judges speaking out, India’s sanctum sanctorum suddenly came under serious scrutiny.

SC judgments

Entry of Women to Sabarimala temple

The Supreme Court in September removed restrictions on the entry of women between the age group of 10 to 50 imposed by Sabarimala Temple. The then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, delivering the order, said that the ban violated Constitutional principles and that women’s rights cannot be subverted as they are in no way less than men.

Section 377 decriminalised

A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court junked, albeit partially, Section 377 of the IPC. Taking up the cause of the LGBT community, the Bench said that though they had four different judgements, they were unanimous in the decision. Speaking for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, the then CJI Dipak Misra said, “The Court must try to protect the dignity of every individual of the society including people from the LGBT community. The sexual orientation is natural and people have no control on it.” He said denial of self-expression was akin to inviting death.

Decriminalising adultery

The Supreme Court on September 27 unanimously decriminalised adultery after striking down a British era law, Section 497 of the IPC, terming it as unconstitutional, archaic and manifestly arbitrary, with one judge saying women cannot be treated as ‘chattel’.

Passive euthanasia permissible

The Supreme recognised the right to die with dignity ruling that passive euthanasia or passive mercy killing is permissible with guidelines. Passive euthanasia can be defined as an act of hastening the death of a terminally-ill patient by suspending medical treatment. “Human beings have the right to die with dignity,” the apex court observed on March 9.

Live streaming of SC proceedings

The Supreme Court allowed the live streaming of its proceedings in the cases that hold constitutional importance. Rendering the judgement, the Bench said, “It (live streaming) will start from the Supreme Court. Rules have to be followed for this. Live streaming of court proceedings will bring accountability into the judicial system.” The order came on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising in her personal capacity in January 2018.