India releases ‘Pakistani spy’ pigeon

India releases ‘Pakistani spy’ pigeon
In this file photo, a Pakistani caretaker releases racing pigeons from their cage on the final day of the pigeon race national championship in Islamabad on May 31, 2016. (AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2020

India releases ‘Pakistani spy’ pigeon

India releases ‘Pakistani spy’ pigeon
  • Indian police not sure if the bird flew back to Pakistan or traveled deep inside their country
  • Pakistani owner of the bird says he is happy his pigeon is no longer being interrogated by Indian authorities

NEW DELHI / KARACHI: The government of the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir freed a pigeon on Thursday, that had been captured by locals on suspicion of being a “Pakistani spy.”

On Monday, villagers in the Manyari area located on the Indian side of the Working Boundary with Pakistan in the Kathua district of Jammu caught the pigeon, that had been painted pink, with a ring on its left leg that had a “coded” number inscribed on it.

“We set the pigeon free on Thursday from the same spot where it was found,” Kathua’s senior police superintendent, Shailendra Mishra, told Arab News on Friday.

“On Monday, the villagers caught a pigeon who had a ring on one of its legs with a number written on it. The villagers found the pigeon suspicious and informed the police. We took the pigeon to a veterinarian, and then set it free,” Mishra added.

He blamed the media for creating over-inflating the story.

“The media created hype by calling it a spy pigeon,” the police chief said. “I don’t know whether the pigeon went back to Pakistan or traveled deep inside India. However, we released it from the same spot where we had found it.”

Local journalist and Manyari resident, Saravjit Shunty, said such incidents were not new.

“The Manyari area is close to the international border and the villagers have a habit of reporting every incident to the Border Security Force. Since the pigeon was colored and it had a suspicious looking ring with a number inscribed on it, the villagers reported the matter to the force after catching the bird,” Shunty explained.

“I informed the local police chief that a video from the Sakkargarh area from across the border had emerged in which a person was claiming to be the owner of the pigeon,” he said. “The police chief then told us that he had verified all the details and the bird would soon be released.

“Such episodes show the paranoia that defines the relationship between India and Pakistan. It’s really funny that a bird which cannot be confined within traditional international boundaries can become an object of suspicion,” Shunty continued.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani owner of the bird, named Habibullah, told Arab News he was happy that his pigeon was no longer in Indian custody.

“I am very excited that my bird has been released by India. But I will be happier once it flies back and I get to see it. I am also thankful to those who spoke up in my favor,” he said.

Habibullah said that he had released the bird on Eid Al-Fitr, hoping that it would fly around a little before returning to its loft.

However, he inscribed his contact number on the ring around the bird’s leg to make sure that it did not go missing.

“When two days went by and the bird did not return, I knew it was captured by someone who did not want to return it to me,” he told Arab News from his village of Bagga-Shakargarh, located on the Working Boundary with India.

He added that his precautionary measure had worked in the past and his pigeons had been returned each time. However, it was shocking for him to discover that his bird was held by Indians on the other side of the border who were “trying to debrief him as a Pakistani spy.”

Commenting on the development, Dr. Hasan Askari, a Lahore-based security analyst, described the Indian claim as “a very childish act of a narrow-minded ideological government.”

“There is an ultra-nationalist government in place in India which is driven by a narrow-minded ideology,” he said. “Such governments manage to find conspiracy theories in everything.”


Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the north central railway hospital in Allahabad on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2021

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • Only half of the government’s target has been inoculated

NEW DELHI: The world’s biggest vaccination drive to inoculate 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus is slowing down in India as concerns over safety fuel vaccine hesitancy, especially among health workers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the campaign on Jan. 16, with 30 million frontline health care workers the first to get the jab. A week into the drive, however, Health Ministry data suggest that on average only 150,000 people have been inoculated a day — half of the government’s target.
“There is a general hesitancy among healthcare workers, particularly doctors, about the efficacy of the vaccines,” Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors Association of the premier Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told Arab News on Friday.
Two coronavirus vaccines have been approved for emergency use in India: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced domestically as Covishield by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, and a locally developed vaccine called Covaxin, produced by Indian company Bharat Biotech, which is still in its trial stage and has no final data on its efficacy.
“Lack of transparency is at the core of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Nirmalya Mohapatra of Delhi-based Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, told Arab News.
“We doctors should have jointly taken up the issue and asked the government to demonstrate more transparency in introducing the vaccine,” he said.
Mohapatra was one of the doctors who on Jan. 16 refused to take a Covaxin shot at his hospital.
Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF) president, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhattialso, says that the absence of data is fueling “fear about the vaccination” among members of the medical community.
 Concerns also exist about the Covishield vaccine.

FASTFACT

Instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.

“Even there is hesitancy about Covishied. There is no enthusiasm for it. However, people will prefer Covishied over Covaxin,” Bhatti said.
In response to vaccine hesitancy, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Thursday launched an information campaign to address what he said were “rumors and misinformation.”
“We have launched a digital media package with impactful messages from key technical experts from the country who have taken COVID-19 vaccine,” Vardhan told reporters.
The messages, he said, are that “vaccines are safe and efficacious,” and cover the “critical role of vaccines in controlling the pandemic.”
But instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.
“If the Indian PM Narendra Modi and other political high-ups take the vaccine then it will have a huge impact,” Singh said. “There is a lack of political consensus on vaccines. To inspire confidence all the state chief ministers should also take the shot.”
According to media reports, Modi may get vaccinated in the second phase of the campaign, in March or April, when 270 million people above the age of 50 will be inoculated.
Other health experts argue, however, that vaccinating leaders is not a substitute for scientific processes.
“Leadership taking the vaccine is more of a tokenism than coming out clean on the efficacy and the actual and effective profile of the vaccine,” said Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based health expert and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.
“What is tragic is that our PM might be ready to take the risk of vaccination (but) he is not ready to offend the companies, which are sitting on the data. Why can’t they make the data public? This is what the doctors are asking for,” he told Arab News.
In the absence of scientific data, he argued, people with underlying health problems would be hesitant to get vaccinated when the immunization campaign reaches the general public.
“When you are not transparent today, then tomorrow comorbid people will be hesitant and then the general population will be reluctant,” he said.