IAMC Weekly News Roundup – January 30th, 2012

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Announcements

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Announcements

Narendra Modi’s fast in Godhra an exercise in political chicanery, says Indian American group

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Indian American Muslim Council (http://www.iamc.com) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos has decried Mr. Narendra Modi’s attempts to project himself as a champion of peace and harmony, while being complicit in the mass murder and displacement of thousands during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, and engaging in continued harassment of social activists like Shabnam Hashmi.

Mr. Modi recently announced a “sadbhavna mission” fast to Godhra, the city where the Sabarmati train carnage in February 2002 became a pretext for the organized genocide of Muslims in Gujarat. Although the fast’s stated objective is to “promote peace, harmony and brotherhood”, the actions of Mr. Modi’s administration, in detaining social activist Shabnam Hashmi and five others of NGO Anhad, belie this claim. Ms. Hashmi and her colleagues were detained for organizing a convention titled “In Search of Justice.”

Ms. Shabnam Hashmi is a well known human rights and social activist who has worked tirelessly for the cause of social justice and communal harmony. On the other hand, several independent studies as well as the testimony of whistleblowers like IPS Officer Sanjiv Bhatt and the “Tehelka” publication report on the Gujarat riots, clearly point to Mr. Modi’s active connivance in the mass pogrom.

“There is mounting evidence that Mr. Modi has blood on his hands and it cannot be washed away through exercises in political chicanery such as the fast in Godhra,” said Mr. Shaheen Khateeb (President, IAMC). “While Mr. Modi has the right to fast whenever he wishes, his administration’s continued harassment of those that are genuinely seeking to help the victims exposes the hollowness of his newfound sensitivity to the human condition,” added Mr. Khateeb.

IAMC has called upon Mr. Modi to drop the pretensions of false empathy for the Gujarat victims, desist from the harassment of whistleblowers and social activists, and allow justice to take its course.

Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation.

For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com.

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Mahatma Gandhi’s Death Anniversary should be an occasion for National Introspection says Indian American group

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – http://www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of his death anniversary today. IAMC has called upon the Government of India, the institutions of civil society and all citizens to engage in collective introspection over the state of the nation and the ideals for which the Mahatma struggled and ultimately sacrificed his life. On January 30, 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, on the steps of a building where a prayer meeting was going to take place. Although India had won its independence from the British on August 15, 1947, Gandhiji continued his struggle for social justice and against sectarian hate that threatened the social fabric of the nation, until the last breath of his life.

“Mahatma Gandhi’s life was an inspiration not only to those struggling for India’s freedom, but continues to inspire all people of conscience the world over that are struggling for freedom, social justice and genuine democracy,” said Mr. Shaheen Khateeb, President of IAMC. “His death anniversary is a reminder that the struggle against the hate-filled ideologies that claimed his life is as urgent as ever.”

Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation.

For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com.

Contact:
Khalid Azam
phone/fax: 1-800-839-7270
email: info@iamc.com

Address:
6321 W Dempster St. Suite 295
Morton Grove, IL 60053
phone/fax: 1-800-839-7270
email: info@iamc.com

Forward email

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Communal Harmony

They spring a unique approach to harmony (Jan 29, 2012, Times of India)

Unlike Dhar district where tension brews over Basant Panchmi celebrations every year, inmates of a hostel of Barkatullah University have set an example in communal harmony worth emulating. They hold celebrations on the day without fail. Wherever they are, former and present inmates of Sanjay Gandhi hostel in the university never miss their date with the Basant Panchmi celebration for over two decades. Like every year, over 100 students and alumni gathered this year to celebrate. A small tableau of Goddess Saraswati was decorated where celebrations took place.

“I passed out and left the hostel in 2008. However, I never miss this celebration. Even today, I have come to participate in the celebration from Kerala,” a former student, Riyaz said. He also helped hostel inmates to collect money for celebrations. There are many, who take time off their schedule to take part in came to participate in the one-day celebration. “I have been participating in the celebration for the past many years. I will keep on coming in future also,” Chering Namgyal, another former student of BU said.

A teacher in an institute in Laddakah, Namgyal said students never bother about religion while participating in celebrations. “In our festivals, hostellers of other religions also participate with enthusiasm. This is what we teach to others,” he added. Every year, hostellers come together to chip Rs one lakh for the celebration. “We collect money from students of our hostel and other students who wish to make the celebrations successful. No student of Sanjay Gandhi hostel has ever missed the celebration,” a hosteller, Dharmendra Singh Gaur, said.

Another hosteller, Sanjay Raghuvanshi said that students have never been forced to participate, but they join the celebration voluntarily. Pritam Singh, who hails from Jammu, said the objective of such celebration is to send a message of harmony in the society. “This celebration is an example for people who do not believe in harmony. I am lucky to be a part of the celebration,” Pritam said.

Saluting the spirit of students, citizens from nearby colonies also visited the hostel and participated in the celebration. “This is a praiseworthy effort from students. Hats off to students for celebrating ,” an 80 year old, Suresh Malviya said. Interestingly, university authorities keep themselves away from such activity of students. “The university has nothing to do with their activities. We participate in their celebrations only when students invite us,” BU officiating vice-chancellor Prof DC Gupta said.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-01-29/bhopal/30675558_1_hostel-inmates-celebration-communal-harmony

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Prosecute CM or not? SIT seeks legal advice (Jan 25, 2012, Times of India)

The Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by Supreme Court to probe the post-Godhra riots of Gujarat, has sought legal opinion on whether to prosecute five persons, including chief minister Narendra Modi, given the evidence they have. The officials have written to SIT’s legal adviser in this connection. Besides Modi, the list includes former director general of police PC Pande, former additional DGP MK Tandon, inspector general of police, PB Gondiya and deputy superintendent of police KK Mysorewala.

Zakia Jafri, key witness in the Gulbarg Society massacre of 2002, had filed a complaint before the SIT against 62 persons including Modi, other politicians, top IAS and IPS officers for negligence. SIT has recorded the statements of all the 62 accused. Based on this, five of the 62 were arrested, including former state minister Mayaben Kodnani, former VHP leaders Jaideep Patel and Babu Bajrangi, BJP corporator Bipin Panchal and police inspector K G Erda.

“We have now sought legal opinion on whether the prima facie evidences collected against Modi and the four others are prosecutable,” said an SIT officer. Modi has been accused of provoking the 2002 communal riots while the cops have been accused of negligence. SIT has also asked their legal adviser on whether the cops’ negligence should be treated as criminal in nature.

The SIT is likely to file a closure report for the remaining 48 accused. This means that the SIT has not been able to collect any evidence to suggest their complicity in the 2002 communal riots. SIT sources said this was the last stage before their final report is submitted. Once the legal adviser replies to the queries, the SIT members will file a final report on their findings. During the investigation, Jafri had filed an application seeking to drop charges against three IPS officers – Satish Verma, Kuldip Sharma and Rahul Sharma. One of the accused, former Gujarat minister and speaker of state assembly Ashok Bhatt, died in 2011.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/11622185.cms

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SIT yet to probe Bhatt’s presence at Modi’s house (Jan 29, 2012, Times of India)

The Supreme Court-mandated special investigation team (SIT) has not questioned any cop from the State intelligence Bureau (SIB) to cross-check suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s claim that he was present in the meeting held on February 27, 2002, at chief minister Narendra Modi’ residence. During the probe, the most sensational of revelations has come from Bhatt when he accused Modi of issuing illegal instructions to permit Hindus to vent their anger against Muslims following Godhra carnage.

SIT seemed to have disregarded the evidence, which prompted the cop to file an affidavit before SC. He also accused SIT of being involved in major a cover-up operation. Bhatt experienced first hindrance in his much-delayed campaign, when his confidante K D Panth backed out and got the IPS officer booked instead. Bhatt had to remain behind bars for 20-odd days, and finally a charge sheet was filed against him and his lawyer and Congressman V H Kanara.

On the other hand, SIT has remained a silent observer, though Bhatt has repeatedly requested the probe agency to verify his claims regarding his presence in the alleged meeting. He has often written to SIT chief to record statements of cops who were posted at the control room and with SIB. Panth, along with half a dozen other constables, received appreciation letters and rewards very often from July 2001 to April 2002 for the extra work they put in for different tasks assigned to them.

The assignments varied from VIP security arrangement to manning control rooms and sending field reports during the riots in 2002. Police officials with SIB and control room like police inspector M K Sharma, intelligence officers N P Bihola, M J Waghela, B R Gilatar, S R Multani, E L Krishan and many more besides Panth had been appreciated and rewarded for their services. Bhatt has been claiming that SIT could dig out more facts by examining these cops. Moreover, they could also throw light on Panth’s changing stand regarding his presence on February 27, 2002.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/11669650.cms

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Probe all 22 fake encounters between 2002 and 2006, SC tells Gujarat panel (Jan 25, 2012, Indian Express)

The Supreme Court today gave a fresh boost to a committee set up by the Narendra Modi government to monitor investigation into “fake” encounters by the Gujarat Police, giving it blanket authority to select investigators, if necessary from outside the state, to “thoroughly look into and reveal the truth” behind 22 shootout deaths between 2002 and 2006. In April 2011, the Gujarat government had set up a Special Task Force as well as a monitoring authority under Justice M B Shah, a former Supreme Court judge, following allegations that the local police was deliberately letting the trail go cold.

Noting that there has hardly been any results from the investigations conducted so far, a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and C K Prasad gave Justice M B Shah Committee with “ample powers” to select men for the Special Task Force investigating team, hear the victims or their representatives, call for records from both the local police as well as the human rights commission and also “grant interim or final relief” with regard to compensation awards to the victims. The Bench has asked the monitoring authority to submit a report on its findings in three months.

The order, passed after a brief hearing, was based on two separate petitions, one by eminent journalist B G Verghese and another by lyricist Javed Akhtar and social activist Shabnam Hashmi, seeking an independent and fair probe into a total of 22 killings by the state police between 2003 and 2006. “Prayers are made for independent investigations by CBI/ SIT alleging fake encounters and cover up into killings in cold blood. The matter has been pending for years without any substantive orders passed… the monitoring authority should look into all these cases (a total of 22 between 2002 and 2006) thoroughly so that the truth is revealed,” the Bench observed in the written order.

The 22 cases will, however, not include those already under investigation by the CBI or SIT as per Supreme Court or High Court orders, the court said on Wednesday. This means the Sohrabuddin-Kauser Bi, Tulsiram Prajapati and Ishrat Jahan cases are outside the purview of the order. In his petition filed in 2007 in the Supreme Court, Verghese raised suspicions about 21 encounter deaths between 2003 and 2006. He produced on record before the court the very list that the Gujarat government had furnished to the State Legislative Assembly on the details of the encounters.

The list, he alleged, showed that the “encounter killings span a range of persons that includes workmen who have come in from outside the state to suspected terrorists. The ages of those killed are in the range between 22 and 37. It is not clear if the families of those killed are even aware of the fate of these young persons.” “There is a need to investigate this pattern and there must be a system in place to ensure that armed personnel do not easily do away with lives of citizens,” he submitted. Akhtar in his written submissions before the Bench highlighted one case – the killing of one Sameer Khan – and alleged that in all these cases the police version was invariably that the “victims” were terrorists from Jaish-e-Mohammed on a mission to assassinate Modi.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/903979/

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Terror Error: Breakthrough in 13/7 Mumbai blast exposed (Jan 23, 2012, Twocircles.net)

Hours after the Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria on Monday claimed to get a breakthrough in the July 13, 2011 Mumbai serial blasts by arresting three culprits, the Union Home Ministry said the Maharashtra ATS caught wrong men. Six months after the triple blast ripped off South Mumbai, Maharashtra ATS claimed to have nabbed the culprits on Monday. Three culprits were arrested and three including Yaseen Bhatkal and two other Pakistanis were declared absconding, by ATS chief Rakesh Maria. The triple blast on July 13 last year killed 27 and wounded over 130. Mohammed Naquee Ahmed (22), Nadeem AKhtar (23) both from Darbhanga, Bihar and Harun Rashid Naik (33) from Mumbra, near Mumbai were arrested in connection with the blasts at Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Dadar Kabutar Khana. Rakesh Maria in a press conference on 23rd January 2012 claimed, “Naquee Ahmed and Nadeem Akhtar had stolen scooters, one of which was used at Zaveri Bazaar to plant the bomb. Harun Rasheed Naik, who was arrested in fake currency case in August 2011 and the ATS would seek his transfer for his alleged involvement in the financial aspects of the blast.” However, the claim was exposed by the home ministry within hours. Media reports have quoted the ministry sources as saying that one of the three was in fact Intelligence Bureau informer and was cooperating with Special Cell of Delhi Police in a terror case.

Monday’s claimed breakthrough has come amidst several media reports in last two weeks about the context in which Naquee Ahmed was arrested by Mumbai ATS on 10th January in Mumbai itself when he was taken there by the Special Cell of Delhi Police in connection with a probe. Civil rights groups last week had already written to Union Home Ministry and Delhi Police chief about the arrest of Ahmed. Ahmed’s brother Taquee Ahmed had held a press conference also on 18th Jan in Delhi. Not only this, two days back Taquee had met the National Commission for Minorities chief Wajahat Habibullah. The NCM chief had forwarded his case to KN Daruwala, NCM Member who looks into cases from Maharashtra. Daruwala on Sunday (22nd Jan. 2012) tried to contact Maha ATS chief regarding the detention of Naquee Ahmed but in vain. “I tried to speak to Mumbai Police Commissioner Arun Patnaik and Maharashtra ATS Chief Rakesh Maria. I also sent them messages through SMS. But nobody has bothered to get back to me,” On Sunday, Daruwalla had told The Tribune on Sunday. While Union Home Ministry sources on Monday told Naqueee was an IB informer and was cooperating with the Special Cell of Delhi Police, his brother Taquee Ahmed at a press conference at ANHAD’s office in New Delhi on 18th January had said Naquee was cooperating with the Delhi Police since 9th December 2011 in connection with some terror cases for which the Special Cell had picked about half a dozen youths from Bihar, mostly from Madhubani and Darbhanga – the hometown of Naquee. Some media reports say Special Cell had reached him after the arrest of one Gayur Jamali from Darbhanga. Taquee gave date wise details about the contacts/interrogation of Naquee by the Special Cell.

Taquee and Naquee Ahmed live in Abul Fazal, New Delhi. Taquee runs a shop, Luggage Mart, on the Kalindi Kunj-Sarita Vihar road. Their two elder brothers live in Mumbai, where they run a workshop to produce trolley bags. They hail from Darbhanga, where their parents still live. Chronology of events: 9th December: Razi Ahmed, resident of Mumbai, arrived in Delhi from Kolkata. He was visiting his brothers, Naquee and Taquee Ahmed, who live in Abul Fazal. He went to the parking and took an auto when two men forced themselves into the auto, sitting on each side. Razi panicked but the two men told him that they belonged to the Intelligence. They went to Shaheen Bagh bus stop. Taquee came to the bus stop and the two Intelligence men demanded that they produce Naquee before them. Taquee demanded to see their ID. After much haggling, they showed their IDs. Their names were Lalit Mohan Negi and Hriday Bhushan (belonging to Special Cell). Naquee was called to the bus stop after that. Lalit and Bhushan asked him about one Gayur Jamali (he was arrested in November 2011). Naquee said that he had social relations with him from the time they lived in Darbhanga (Bihar). They asked him if he had helped two men get accommodation in Bombay. Naquee said yes, that he had. He did not know about Gayur’s activities or intentions—knowing him socially he had helped him by outing him in touch with a broker in Bombay. The two men then asked him to cooperate with their investigation and Naquee agreed. Naquee and his two brothers went to the Special Cell office in Lodhi Colony, where Naquee was made to talk to Gayur.

10th December: Naquee was taken to Bombay by the 10:30 Go Air flight. Naquee helped them identify the locality in which the house had been rented. It also turned out that the Special Cell had rented a place in the area to keep a watch. They returned on 13th December. Over the next few days, between 15th December and 7th January, Taquee and Naquee visited Special Cell office several times. They wanted to check their mobile details so both brothers left their phones in the office. Naquee went to retrieve the phones. They were both tired of the daily harassment and tension owing to these enquiries. 7th January: Naquee received a call saying that both occupants of the rented flat in Mumbai had returned and Naquee was needed for identifying them. 8th January: Naquee was taken to Mumbai on the 4.30 Rajdhani train. 9th January: They reached Mumbai. Naquee called in the evening and said that most of the work had been completed and that he would return tomorrow. In the night, at about 11:30, the Maharashtra ATS came to Naquee’s brother’s workshop and picked up his elder brother Rafi. When Naquee came to know of this, he called up the Special Cell officer and asked why his brother was being picked up when it was known to the Special Cell that he was not involved in any criminal or terror activity.

The Special Cell officer informed him that it was the ATS and not the Special Cell, which had picked up his brother. There was nothing they could do about it as the two agencies did not get along well. They asked him to come over to the house the Special Cell had rented in the ‘target area’. Naquee then called up Nadeem, who used to live in the workshop to get an update about the situation in the workshop. Nadeem told him to come to hotel Sagar. Unknown to Naquee, the ATS had nabbed Nadeem and had laid a trap for Naquee through him. When Naquee reached the hotel, he too was nabbed. At about 1.30 in the morning, ATS returned to the workshop and picked up Razi bhai and a worker. 11th January: Razi and Rafi were released. 13th January: Rafi picked up by ATS again. 17th January: The Ahmad’s residence in Darbhanga (village Deora Bandauli) was visited by the Maharashtra ATS late at night. A motorcycle belonging to his elder brother was seized by the ATS saying that it was stolen. The elderly parents of the Ahmads are fear struck. Sections 419, 420 have been slapped on Naquee. Rafi has been released this evening. In effect this has been an illegal detention.

http://twocircles.net/2012jan23/terror_error_breakthrough_137_mumbai_blast_exposed.html

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Bid to make an “Ayodhya” out of Bhojshala foiled (Jan 29, 2012, The Hindu)

The Madhya Pradesh police on Saturday foiled the plans of a Hindu right wing group that had vowed to take out a “palki yatra” on the occasion of Basant Panchmi to the controversial Bhojshala archaeological structure in the Dhar district. “Over 50 arrests were made and the palki yatra bid was foiled peacefully,” Anuradha Shankar, Inspector General of Police, Indore, told The Hindu . “We had been making preventive arrests for the last few days and situation had largely been under control,” said Ms. Shankar. Dhar had been virtually transformed into a police protected fortress to prevent the yatra, planned by Hindu Jagaran Manch (JHM), a splinter group of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, led by former Sangh pracharak Naval Kishore Sharma.

The situation in Dhar was a curious one as several Hindu right wing groups accused Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan of betraying “the Hindu cause” after the CM had refused to allow the yatra and had ordered the police to ensure law and order at all costs. Dhar, home to the love-legend of Baaz Bahadur and Roopmati, has been under the cloud of communal politics over the Bhojshala for decades now. And ironically so on Basant Panchmi, which is regarded as the festival of love according to Hindu tradition. Once a seat of learning, the Bhojshala, currently under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India, currently follows a curious “modern tradition” whereby Hindus are allowed to offer prayers every Tuesday while Muslims are allowed to pray every Friday. Dhar has often been considered the “Ayodhya” of Madhya Pradesh on account of the controversy surrounding the Bhojshala, a 11th century structure built by Dhar’s great architect – king Bhoj – who unfortunately and wrongly has been used by the ruling BJP government to communalise the state capital Bhopal by renaming it to Bhojpal.

The structure later, around the 13th century and since, became a mosque named after Muslim saint Kamaluddin Chisti, a disciple of the famous Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. Since then, Hindu right wing groups have maintained that the structure has been wrongfully “converted” to a mosque and the idol of Vagdevi Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of knowledge) removed by Muslim invaders and later taken by the British to London. The groups have been demanding the bringing back of the Vagdevi Saraswati idol from London and have tried to make their point by unsuccessfully attempting to install a replica at the site last year. R.S. Garg, former deputy director of the Madhya Pradesh archaeological department, who authored a two-volume authoritatively researched work on the structure, had maintained that the structure was already in ruins when Kamaluddin Chisti came and began preaching Islam.

“The Bhojshala was destroyed due to infighting between Hindu rulers and when Kamal Chisti came to Dhar, there was no Bhojshala, only the ruins of it,” says Chinmaya Mishra, an Indore-based historian who assisted Mr. Garg in his research. The issue has seen violent riots in 2003, which was also an election year in Madhya Pradesh. The then Congress government under Chief Minister Digvijay Singh had even considered banning the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other saffron outfits rallying around the cause. At this point, the issue has brought to the fore an internal “moderate-extremist” divide within the state’s Hindu right with the RSS backed BJP government not allowing the protests while local BJP leader Vikram Verma (former Rajya Sabha member and union minister in the NDA government) backing the proesters. According to informed sources, Mr. Verma has been at odds with CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan since their BJYM (Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha) days.

Following the arrest and hospitalisation of ex-Sangh pracharak Naval Kishore Sharma, who was on an indefinite hunger strike at Dhar’s Rajwada Chowk demanding the bringing back of the Saraswati idol and the right to take out the palki yatra, the HJM activists had lashed out at Mr. Chauhan during a press conference. And so, according to official sources, the situation could take the form of a more serious showdown next year, when Madhya Pradesh will be facing assembly elections and Basant Panchmi will fall on a Friday, the weekly Muslim prayer day. Whether or not the Bhojshala will become an election issue next year is a point of speculation especially since the current police action has hinted at it not being backed by the ruling BJP government in the State.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/article2841415.ece

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14 years in jail, acquitted but still scared of police witch-hunt (Jan 29, 2012, Twocircles.net)

This is the second part of the three part series on the case of Md. Amir Khan who spent 14 years in jail in 20 fabricated cases of bomb blasts. New Delhi: This was not how Maimuna Bi had thought she would meet her son Amir after fourteen years of endless wait when Delhi police allegedly picked him illegally on February 20, 1998. When she finally met him on January 9, 2012, she was unable to speak because of the brain haemorrhage and paralysis she suffered. Only broken words were coming out after her continuous efforts to express her happiness. Md. Amir Khan, a resident of Azad Market in Old Delhi, was charged in 20 cases of bomb blasts in and around Delhi. He had already been acquitted by the trial court in 17 out of 20 cases. He walked out of jail free only this month. Of the three remaining cases the Delhi High Court had overturned his conviction for life in one case. The remaining two are scheduled to come up for appeal.

The first thing Amir did after his release on January 9, 2012, was to go to the roof top and see the stars in an open sky. “I hadn’t seen stars in the sky since last fourteen years because I was in the high security cell where prisoners were locked before the advent of nights. So I wanted to see stars and feel my freedom,” said Amir who was picked up by police when he was 18. After the third degree torture in jail and after spending 14 long years of his life in high security solitary prison cell, Amir is a changed man now, but it will take several months or maybe years to become normal. He is yet to reconcile with the fact that he is finally out of jail, free in most cases, of terror charges. Thanks to the number of cases which were put on him and on top of that, the slow judicial process, he had almost lost hope that he will ever be free. “The fact that police put one by one, more than 20 odd cases on me, a tragedy which was all the more heightened because of slow judicial process,” said Amir who forgets thing while talking about his past probably due to the trauma he sustained.

“What adds to my mental anxiety is the fact that in the last 14 years the world has changed upside down. I don’t have any idea how to use the mobile which I saw first time in my life when I was out,” adds Amir who did Bachelor Preparatory Program, a course for those who have not done higher secondary, and then he got enrolled in B.A. at IGNOU while he was in Tihar jail. Ironically the “terrorist” who was portrayed as the dreaded mastermind of 20 blasts won in 2011 the Best Essay Award on Mahatma Gandhi and Non-Violence Movement in “Karagaar Bandi Jeevan” a national prison magazine. Amir broke down while talking about how nearly all of his relatives abandoned and boycotted the family of a “terrorist.” What had hurt him most, was the attitude of Muslim leaders and groups. He claimed that during this period of hardship, no community leader approached his parents for the sake of extending their support, let alone financial or legal help. “There was just no body on our side. Right from our neighbors to relatives, everyone thought that I am a terrorist.

I was quite hurt when my parents informed me in jail that even my own community and my relatives had deserted us when we needed them most,” added Amir who didn’t have even sufficient money to give to the lawyers who took up his case on humanitarian grounds. Without any support from the community, relatives or the larger civil society, the old and ailing parents of this terror accused had to fight the tough legal battle with the Indian state, completely on their own. But even that pillar of strength collapsed when his father died of heart attack in August 2001. After that it was his sister, mother and a distant cousin who showed faith in his innocence and continued to fight for him. He is happy that now after his release his relatives are coming back one by one. Amir says that even though he is alive today but his life, family have been destroyed. After his continued fight against police for the wrongful arrest of his son, Hashim Khan died of heart attack. The family invested whatever it had to get the only son out and at present, just the ailing and paralytic mother is left in the family. With nobody left to earn, the erstwhile lower middle class family is literally on the road. At present he is quite scared of talking to people or media and it took lots of pursuance and convincing before he talked to TwoCircles.net. The two big challenges for Amir now are his safety and rehabilitation.

Amir is quite scared of the fact that Delhi police might harass him all the more now because he is out, defeating their attempts to prove him a terrorist, and is talking to media about what had happened to him. Out of this fear only he hasn’t gone out of his house since he has been released early this month, “What am I going to do if they (police) again decide to harass me and put me behind bars?” asks Amir. The other problem is that of his rehabilitation. At present he is so much traumatised that he has no idea about what he wants to do and what are the potential areas he can work. Amir only hopes that Muslim civil society groups will help him in his fight for a normal life. At present his two appeals are pending in Delhi HC but he doesn’t have even the money to make two ends meet, let alone paying lawyers for their minimal charges. Even at the risk of making generalizations, one can say that Amir’s tragedy is not his alone. At various levels, it’s the tragedy of all those who dreamt of the idea of India, an equitable India where every marginalised and minority has equal place.

http://twocircles.net/2012jan29/amir_khan_14_years_jail_acquitted_still_scared_police_witchhunt.html

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Need to relook at AFSPA-like laws, says Kamal Nath (Jan 23, 2012, Hindustan Times)

In a significant statement, urban development minister Kamal Nath has voiced his support for a relook at certain controversial and prevailing laws in the Northeast like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). “We need to look at these laws again. What purpose they are serving? Whether there are any oppressive tendencies? What was okay some years back may not be relevant now,” Nath said. “There needs to be an one-time bold policy of political and administrative reorganisation and consolidation,” the minister said while responding to journalist Sanjoy Hazarika’s assertion that while some prevailing laws may be legal they may not be just.

Nath’s statement is significant in the backdrop of the Jan 28 assembly polls in Manipur. AFSPA is a controversial law that enables security forces to shoot at sight and arrest anybody without a warrant in ‘disturbed’ areas of Northeast India and Jammu and Kashmir. In J and K, chief minister Omar Abdullah has been raising the issue of partial withdrawal of the AFSPA citing return of normalcy, a move which has seen some support from the home ministry. However the defence ministry has been strongly opposing the move.

There are serious differences between the army and the CBI over the AFSPA in relation to the Pathribal encounter in 2000 in South Kashmir where seven people were gunned down for allegedly being Lashker-e-Toiba terrorists. While the army has claimed immunity for its five officials including a serving major general under the AFSPA, the CBI contends that the officers had allegedly committed murder of civilians for which the immunity could not be provided.

In Manipur, Noted activist Irom Sharmila has been fasting for the last 11 years demanding scrapping of this law. Nath, speaking at a function to celebrate the 115th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, also expressed concern about the ‘end use’ of development funds allotted to the Northeast. “Funds are earmarked but what is the end-use? Are we deriving the maximum benefits from the funds allotted? It is a fact and a matter of concern,” he said.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/801238.aspx

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Environmentalist quits Olympics ethics panel over Dow’s Bhopal links (Jan 26, 2012, The Hindu)

There were fresh calls on Thursday for an independent inquiry into Dow Chemical’s controversial sponsorship of the London Olympics after Meredith Alexander, a leading environmentalist, resigned from the Games’ ethics committee – the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 – protesting against Dow’s links with the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster and accusing the organisers of “toeing” the company’s line. “I feel that the Commission and the London Games organisers are in danger of becoming apologists for Dow Chemicals. They are repeating and falsely legitimising Dow’s assertion that they have no responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy,” she told The Hindu, indicating that other members could follow suit.

Terming the deal “ill-judged,” Ms. Alexander said: “I share Amnesty International’s view that Olympic bodies are culpable of entering into an ill-judged relationship with Dow, the company that carries the responsibility for the catastrophic gas leak, a responsibility they have repeatedly absconded from.” She decided to quit after the Commission failed to address the concerns. She felt that continuing to be part of a body that publicly endorsed Dow was “untenable.” Ms. Alexander, a seasoned campaigner who works for the charity ActionAid, said Dow’s involvement had “hurt” the victims’ families and “tainted” the Games. “I felt it was absolutely essential for me to stand up and be counted on this.”

She also wanted to highlight the “toxic legacy” of the Bhopal tragedy. “It’s one of the worst abuses of human rights in my generation, and I just could not stand idly by.” The Commission is an official watchdog set up to monitor and ensure that the London Olympics meets its commitment to deliver the most sustainable Games ever. Besides a £7-million deal under which Dow is funding a fabric wrap for the Olympic stadium in east London, the company has a 10-year sponsorship arrangement with the International Olympic Committee estimated to be worth at least £100 million.

The deal has sparked protests. Noam Chomsky is among high-profile international figures, including British MPs and former Olympians, who have written to Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), urging him to scrap the deal. Barry Gardiner, senior Labour MP and chairman of the Labour Friends of India, demanded a parliamentary inquiry. Dow, which bought the Bhopal plant from Union Carbide after the gas tragedy, denies any liability. The Games’ organisers have defended the decision to award the contract to Dow, saying it was taken after all the issues were “very carefully” considered.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2834523.ece

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Salman Rushdie shadow on Jaipur Literature Festival: 4 authors who read from ‘The Satanic Verses’ sent packing (Jan 23, 2012, Times of India)

Salman Rushdie’s shadow over the Jaipur literature festival grew longer on Sunday with four participating authors who had read out excerpts from Rushdie’s banned novel, The Satanic Verses, being “advised” by the organizers to leave the city. The four authors – Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar – left the city abruptly on Saturday and Sunday. JLF producer Sanjoy Roy, while denying that he had asked the authors to leave, said the Jaipur police had sought the tapes of the session in which the four had read out the banned book. Roy said the organizers had met the authors on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday to “apprise them of the issues”.

The Jaipur police, meanwhile, said they had not given any advice suggesting that any of the above authors should leave the festival. “There was a possibility of our arrest… so the organizers advised us to leave the festival,” Jeet Thayil told TOI while preparing to leave. Jeet Thayil said he was not protesting against their decision as it was their festival. “They (organizers) are intelligent people and probably they took a right decision,” Jeet said. Asked who exactly told them to go back, Jeet said, “I am sorry, I can’t speak any more on the issue. It’s a delicate matter and I don’t want to add fuel to the fire.”

Hari Kunzru, who hurriedly left the festival on Saturday and took a flight out of the country on Sunday, said in a statement, “I risked arrest and might well find myself unable to return home to New York until any resulting cases had been resolved. The festival organizers later informed me that they had been advised that it was unsafe for me to stay in Jaipur, and my continued presence at the festival would only inflame an already volatile situation.” Kunzru refused to blame the organizers for the turn of events. “I consider William Dalrymple and Sanjoy Roy close friends, and I feel that they acted honourably in difficult circumstances which were not of their making. I am relieved that the JLF was not shut down, which appeared to be a possibility on Friday night,” the statement said. Jeet, however, had no regrets about reading from ‘The Satanic Verses’. “It was not right, the way Rushdie was not allowed to come for whatever reasons…shame that entire thing happened,” Jeet said.

The cops maintained they had no role to play in the affair. “The organizers should know why the authors went back,” said Bhagwan Lal Soni, the Jaipur police commissioner. He said they had received a complaint about the four authors but they had no plans to arrest them immediately. Asked if any of the organizers asked the writers to leave, Sanjoy Roy said, “No one asked them. I certainly did not request them to leave.” However, he said he thought the authors had spoken to “legal people” in the city. One of the festival directors, Namita Gokhale, took a similar stance. “They had to leave. We haven’t asked anyone,” she said.

Gokhale had sent out a text message to a large number of authors on Saturday, saying, “The Jaipur Literature Festival continues to uphold the right to free speech and expression and the right to dissent within a constitutional framework. We hope all authors express their personal views in an appropriate and responsible manner. Please refrain from actions or readings that might cause incitement to public violence and endanger the festival and the spirit of harmony in which it is conceived. This is to advise you that ‘Satanic Verses’ is banned in India and reading from it may make you liable to prosecution and arrest.” Rushdie has also been told that the four authors could have been arrested. On Sunday, he tweeted, “Don’t know who gave orders. And yes I guess the same police who want to arrest Hari, Amitava, Jeet and Ruchir.” He had tweeted on Friday asking why the organizers had stopped the four authors from reading his book.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/11595228.cms

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Pipili rape: Cop sacked, SP shifted (Jan 25, 2012, Indian Express)

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Tuesday ordered the dismissal of the inspector of the police station who had refused to lodge an FIR in the Pipili Dalit girl gangrape case. The three-tier panchayat polls are scheduled next month and the move is being seen as an effort to ensure that the government does not suffer a dent in its image.

Orissa DGP Manmohan Praharaj said he had ordered dismissal of suspended Inspector Amulya Chmpatiray. Earlier in the day, he shifted SP Amitendra Nath Sinha out of Puri and brought in Koraput SP Anup Kumar Sahoo in his place.

Sinha had come under fire over the lackadaisical manner in which he dealt with the gangrape case that now threatens to sully the Naveen government’s women-friendly image.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/903642/

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Opinions and Editorials

Gujarat pogrom: SIT shielding the accused – By Sayema Sahar (Jan 27, 2012, TwoCircles.net)

Despite the availability of direct circumstantial evidence against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others, SIT still needs legal help to conclude whether the evidences collected so far are prosecutable. It is important to note that the accused figuring in Zakia Jafri FIR includes the Chief Minister, other Ministers, Assembly Speaker, and some serving and retired Senior officers. In the Gulberg Society incident in 2002, some 69 persons including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri were killed. Mrs Zakia Jafri stands an eyewitness to this gruesome act. Records show that Ehsan Jaffri made nearly 200 calls for assistance; some of these were to the police control room. At that time cabinet ministers Ashok Bhatt and IK Jadeja were in the control room, yet Jaffri was killed. Some 69 Muslims were burnt or hacked to death over a period of 11 hours at Gulbarg Society. There are witnesses, hours and hours of phone call records for help but no help came for the residents of Gulbarg Society.

Officers like Sanjiv Bhatt kept informing the CM, the commissioner of police about the attack but it went unheard. The SIT wholly failed to inquire into/investigate the circumstances in which repeated calls for police assistance went unheeded. SIT is on its last lap of finalizing its report on the 2002 carnage. In one of the last ditch efforts the whistle blower cop Sanjiv Bhatt on Wednesday urged SIT chief Dr. Raghvan through his letter that the SIT should seek to prosecute Narendra Modi in the Gulbarg Society case. Further in his letter Mr. Bhatt also advised SIT that acts of commission and omission on part of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Gulberg Society case tantamount to abetment of gruesome carnage, thereby he should be charged under provisions of Section 107 (abetment to crime) of IPC.

Officer Bhatt in his previous communication to the investigating agencies has shared fax messages which he had sent to the CM, and the commissioner of police informing them of the mob mobilization outside the Gulbarg Society and requesting them for help. Officer Bhatt also suggested that Modi would be liable to be charged under sections 109, 112, 115, 117, 118 and 119 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC). Reiterating what he had already told to SIT and the Amicus Curiae Raju Ramachandran, Bhatt stated in his letter, by the time of second meeting that he claimed to have had with the Chief Minister on February 28, 2002, the carnage at Gulbarg Society had begun in full view of the police personnel who were deployed there for bandobust duties.

Excerpts from Sanjiv Bhatt’s letter: “The Gujarat CM was accordingly briefed about the police inaction and complicity. He was informed about the threat to the life of ex-MP Ehsan Jafri and his family,” said officer Bhatt in the letter. Surprisingly, on conclusion of second meeting, the Chief Minister instructed me to find out details regarding the past instances wherein Ehsan Jafri had supposedly opened fire on Hindus, during earlier communal riots in Ahmedabad City,” Bhatt claimed in the letter. I was informed by control room and other State Intelligence Bureau sources stationed at Gulbarg Society, that a few minutes ago Ehsan Jafri had opened fire on a riotous mobs,” Bhatt stated. “This makes it clear that the Chief Minister was fully aware of the on-going carnage and was independently getting real-time information updates on the developments taking place at Gulbarg Society”, he stated.

“Later, I was told to collect details regarding past offences registered against Ehsan Jafri, which was followed by a similar telephonic request from cabinet minister Ashok Bhatt who was stationed at Ahmedabad City Control Room, by the Chief Minister,” Bhatt stated. “All this, absolutely makes it clear that the Chief Minister Narendra Modi was not interested in directing the police to act with firmness to protect the life and property of helpless citizens. Instead, at the time of gory carnage, he (CM) sought to condone the police inaction,” he stated. The Supreme Court of India had ordered the SIT “to take steps as required in Law”, yet SIT is perplexed whether or not to prosecute the perpetrators of the bloodbath of 2002. The fact that this can happen even with the apex court keeping a sharp eye on these investigations speaks volumes about the Gujarat state’s adherence to constitutional governance or lack thereof.

http://twocircles.net/2012jan27/gujarat_pogrom_sit_shielding_accused.html

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Brutality on the border – Editorial (Jan 24, 2012, The Hindu)

New Delhi needs to make an unreserved apology to Bangladesh for the brutal conduct of its Border Security Force personnel who were seen in a recent video torturing a Bangladeshi man. Not surprisingly, the telltale video has caused widespread outrage in Bangladesh. A remark by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the incident must not be hyped, echoed by a Bangladeshi Minister, seems only to have provoked more anger and fuelled opposition allegations against the Sheikh Hasina government for being “pro-India”. With the Bangladesh Army claiming the other day that it averted a coup against the government by an “anti-India” section of officers, New Delhi needs to guard against becoming an unwitting cause for political instability in its eastern neighbour.

Anti-India sentiment has been high in Bangladesh since the killing of three of its nationals by the BSF in two separate incidents on the border last month. A March 2011 agreement between the two countries not to use firearms in dealing with illegal activities on the border has brought down the number of such incidents, but the video is evidence that the guards feel free to use other forms of violence. It underlines the fact that such bilateral agreements on the management of their complex boundary are worth nothing unless accompanied by a change in the mindset of those responsible for it on the ground.

The distressing 11.56 minute footage, circulated through YouTube, is quite evidently a trophy video, the guards happy to pose as they strip their victim, tie his hands and feet, and beat him mercilessly while discussing among themselves other severe options of dealing with him. The man was a suspected rustler – the border is notorious for cattle smuggling – and it has been alleged by rights activists in Bangladesh that the guards were punishing him for not paying them a bribe. The guards appear to have such an entrenched sense of impunity that the thought of being found out and punished does not seem to cross their minds as they participate in the abuse.

The BSF has suspended the eight guards involved in the distressing episode and ordered an investigation. While it may be convenient for the paramilitary to treat this as an isolated incident of “rogue” personnel, the enquiry needs to focus on the overall climate of impunity that makes such incidents possible. The BSF must also reflect if there is something missing in the training of its recruits that some of them are capable of such brutality. This is important because their conduct not only brings disrepute to the organisation but also risks jeopardising India’s relations with an important neighbour.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article2826161.ece

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War on terror: If you can’t find the terrorist, make one – By Md. Ali (Jan 26, 2012, TwoCircles.net)

Don’t get surprised by the title of this story, which, at several levels encapsulates the discourse of war on terror. As a series of court judgments in cases related to several blasts in and around Delhi will show, more often than not, method of terror investigation has its own pattern which defies logic, rule of law and sense of justice. In the post-blast scenario police and investigative agencies face a tough time dealing with the pressure of clamoring voices which call for bringing the culprits to book. Interestingly, even when just to deal with the pressure police picks up a few misidentified suspects, their arrest is not seen as wrong and illegal, but as something which fulfills the “collective conscience” of the society, which in turn justifies it as a balancing act and a compensation for the injustice done to the terror victims. In some cases, even the liberal voices of the influential and strongly opinionated Indian middle class, see it as an unavoidable collateral damage occurred in the “war against terror.” Now the question one asks is, what happens, when the same youths, who were arrested under terror charges, are later acquitted mainly because the prosecution could not produce an iota of evidence which could prove their involvement into the respective terror cases?

It’s in this context that one presents the case of Md. Amir Khan, who was charged with more than 19 cases of bomb blasts, which had taken place in 1997 in and around Delhi. His release in January this year after 14 continuous years in jail holds an important place in the series of acquittals in famous cases, whether it is Godhra 2002, the Delhi blasts of 2005 and 2008, the Mumbai train attacks of 2006, Mecca Masjid cases of 2007 or men and boys routinely picked up and charged with terrorism. The only difference with Amir’s case here is that these bomb blasts happened when there was no Indian Mujahidin (IM) in picture and when at least officially, there was no official confirmation on the existence of home grown terror in India. Amir, who had already been acquitted by the trial in 17 out of 20 cases, walked out free on January 9, 2012. Of the three remaining cases the Delhi High Court has overturned his conviction for life in one case. The remaining two are scheduled to come up for appeal. …

In the year 1997 there were more than 20 major and minor bomb blasts in and around Delhi and the NCR. Delhi police arrested Md. Amir Khan, who was in 10th standard at the time of his arrest in February 1998. He was initially arrested under the Explosive Substances Act but later, made the main accused in almost all the cases and charged under Sections 302, 435, 34, 121, 121A, 122, 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for murder and conspiracy. Minor and major bomb blasts with which Amir was gradually charged including those that happened under police jurisdiction of Karol Bagh, Chandni Chowk, Saraswati Vihar, Kotwali, Roop Nagar, Lahori Gate, Daryaganj, Mukharjee nagar and Sabzi Mandi police stations. After Amir was charge sheeted as the main accused and officially at least, all the bomb blasts in Delhi were “solved” the boy was also charged with bomb blasts outside in Sonepat and Rohtak in Haryana (1997)and with Frontier Mail bomb blasts in Ghaziabad (1997). Importantly one Shakeel Ahmad, a poor hawker from Ghaziabad, who was co-accused in most of the case, was poisoned by the Dasna jail authorities in Ghazaibad when he was an under-trial in the 1996 Frontier Mail bomb blast.

Shakeel was found hanging from the ceiling of his high-security barrack in Dasna Jail on June 19, 2009, and the then jail superintendent V K Singh had claimed that the accused had committed suicide. But an NHRC ordered magisterial enquiry found it to be a case of poisoning, after which the Session court, Ghaziabad ordered an FIR against former jail superintendent V K Singh. Shakeel was arrested in 1999 for carrying out the blast in which two persons were killed. The story which the Delhi police had made and which, later turned out to be a concocted one, was that Md. Amir Khan along with Shakeel Ahmad used to make bombs in the clothe printing factory at Pilakhua in Ghaziabad. According to the police story, the bombs made from this factory were used by Amir in all the bomb blasts he was charged with. To substantiate its claim police had shown several Kgs of RDX and other explosives seized from the factory, which was very strong evidence against Amir and Shakeel. Police had made Chandra Bhan the main seizure witness who as per the police story, had volunteered to be a witness, when they went to raid the factory. But the police and prosecution case against Amir collapsed like a pack of cards when Chandra Bhan, who was the only seizure witness, told the court that the police story was a concocted one and he never went with the police for seizure of alleged explosives in a factory in Pilakhua.

He also said that it was police who had taken him to the Chanakyapuri police station and had taken his signatures. “I don’t know from where and by whom those articles were recovered. I do not know any Amir Khan and Md. Shakeel. I saw them only in the court. I had not accompanied the police party to Pilakhuwa. I was taken (by police) to police station Chanakya Puri where I was asked to sign some documents,” Bhan said in his statement. “It is wrong to suggest that police had recovered the chemicals and other materials as mentioned in recovery memo. It is also wrong to suggest that I had witnessed the recovery from Pilakhua…,” Bhan said in the court. Besides the police story being concocted, another reason why prosecution’s case against Amir was rejected by the courts in most of the cases, was that prosecution didn’t have even a single strong witness or evidence which could either connect or identify Amir with the bomb blasts. Judgments after judgments by the High Court and Session Courts in Delhi, Session Courts in Rohtak, Ghaziabad and Sonepat, highlight just one and one point only. “From the record it is thus evident that there is absolutely no incriminating evidences against the accused person as none of the witnesses stated anything against the accused,” says Sabharwal while acquitting Amir in the Sabzi Mandi bomb blast case which occurred on February 25, 1997. The judgments repeatedly noted that no witness was able to identify the accused. &hellip

http://twocircles.net/2012jan26/war_terror_if_you_can%E2%80%99t_find_terrorist_make_one.html

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Where The Trail Stops – By Chandrani Banerjee (Jan 23, 2012, Outlook)

There’s now a new twist to the sensational Aarushi double murder case. On January 6, the Supreme Court upheld the CBI special court ruling that Aarushi’s parents, the dentist couple – Nupur and Rajesh Talwar – should be tried for the murder of their daughter and domestic help Hemraj Banjade. Aarushi, 14, the only child of the Talwars, was killed in mysterious circumstances in her bedroom at their flat in Noida near Delhi on the night of May 15-16, 2008. The next day Hemraj’s body was found on the terrace of the building. Rajesh was arrested on May 23, ’08, for the murder but was later granted bail on July 11. From then on, the case threw up several surprises – the domestic help and employees of the friends of the Talwars and even one of their neighbours were picked up as suspects. Krishna (Rajesh Talwar’s assistant), Rajkumar (domestic help of the Durranis, family friends of the Talwars) and a neighbour’s help, Vijay Mandal, were picked up as suspects, subjected to intense interrogation and later released after about three months in custody.

As the case dragged on, the CBI, which was handed the case on May 29, ’08, filed a closure report on December 29, ’10, before the special court after two-and-a-half years of investigation. Its plea was that there was insufficient evidence against all the suspects, including Rajesh Talwar. However, the CBI court, after going through the case papers, ordered a trial on February 9, 2011, of the parents and ruled that Nupur, who had till then not been a suspect, be also charged as an accomplice for dressing up the scene of the crime. Some evidence, perhaps, of this was the CBI’s comments in its closure report, points like how the bed and bedsheet where Aarushi’s body was found remained undisturbed despite the obvious use of violent force. The Talwars contested the special court’s order, but the SC upheld it last week. The Talwars have been given interim bail till February 4 when their trial begins. After Rajesh Talwar’s arrest, a campaign had been launched by friends and well-wishers of the Talwars to prove the couple’s innocence. The jury is still out on their plea that Aarushi’s parents were being victimised and that there is no conclusive evidence. The truth, hopefully, will come out in the trial. Interestingly, while the Talwars had considerable public sympathy and media support, the lesser set of accused (read Krishna & co), who had to go through the trauma of being labelled “prime murder suspects”, were largely ignored.

The life of the trio and their families have not been the same since. According to their lawyers and relatives they still live in fear of being arrested again. Two of them, Krishna and Rajkumar, who are Nepalese nationals, have fled to their home country. And no one knows the whereabouts of Mandal, who apparently went back to Jharkhand. He seems to have vanished without a trace. Krishna’s niece Sunita, who works at a travel agency, recalls what her maternal uncle had told after being released from custody. “He told me that during interrogation, he was beaten incessantly. Many nights, the investigators did not let him sleep. Third-degree methods were used to pressurise him to confess. At one point, they even announced to the world that Krishna had admitted to the crime. We had no access to him. It was frightening. We always believed in the judiciary. Krishna is out currently but is struggling to get by.”

She also speaks of how other members of the family suffered and the price they had to pay. “My father Bheem Bahadur Thapa was employed with a factory in Noida then. As soon as Krishna was taken into custody by the CBI, my father lost his job. Obviously, they didn’t want to employ a murder suspect’s relative. He still doesn’t have a job. My other maternal uncle, Mohan, also suddenly became unemployed. Once Krishna was released, Krishna and Mohan uncle tried to set up a makeshift momo stall in south Delhi. They got space before a big shop. The business was going well till the shopkeeper got to know that they were related to someone who was a suspect in the Aarushi murder case. The shopkeeper refused to rent them space.” She says other family members have been subjected to similar discrimination. As for Krishna, he went into a deep depression after the series of failures on every front. According to Sunita, he is still jobless, even in far away Nepal. Rajkumar has a relative in Noida – his brother-in-law Jeevan. But he is too scared to talk to the press.

Rajkumar’s lawyer D.S. Yadav says there was never any evidence against his client. As he puts it, “It’s all part of the court records that all three were ill-treated during the interrogation. They were grilled, subjected to narco-analysis and polygraph tests. Apparently, they confessed to the crime during the tests. However, it became difficult to corroborate the investigators’ claims about their involvement without any material evidence or witnesses. They had a traumatic time in custody.” S.C. Sharma, Krishna’s lawyer, adds, “The damage has been done but getting compensation is a long-drawn process. It’s a sorry state of affairs for Krishna and his family. We’ll surely be applying for compensation but….” The CBI says their case against the three was based on the narco-analysis and lie detector tests. The agency still has to find corroborative evidence. Which is why the CBI investigations had earlier exonerated the trio as well as Rajesh Talwar. Also, there are several grey areas with much of the material evidence lost in the initial round of investigations carried out by the UP police. In the final analysis, if the Talwars are innocent, they should be given justice. But then there’s also the big question – who killed Aarushi and Hemraj?

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?279555

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Unpalatable truths – By T.K. Rajalakshmi (Jan 28, 2012, Frontline)

One area that has always bothered policymakers in a growth-obsessed economy is the state of the social sector, in particular figures indicating the numbers of people going hungry or are homeless and children who are out of school, the poor nutritional status of women and children, and the high infant and maternal mortality rates. Recent government surveys such as the National Family Health Survey (NHFS) – 3 and the District Level Household Survey (DLHS-2 in 2002-04) have repeatedly underscored several unpalatable facts relating to the well-being of the majority of the population. The HUNGaMA (Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition) report, a brain child of the Citizens’ Alliance against Malnutrition, a broad coalition of young Members of Parliament and non-governmental organisations and coordinated by the Naandi Foundation, is one such effort that has captured, albeit incompletely in a holistic sense, the state of hunger and malnutrition in the country. The report, which claims to cover 20 per cent of India’s children from 73,670 families in 112 rural districts in nine States, received a lot of prominence and media coverage not only because of its catchy title but also because it was released by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It claims to be the next best source of information after the publication of the DLHS-2, the last survey to have collected data on the nutritional status of children in the 0-71 months category. According to the report, the number of underweight children in 100 focus districts has decreased to 42.3 per cent from 53.1 per cent at the time of DLHS-2. The product of a collaboration with some corporate partners, the survey for the report was done in 100 districts categorised as high-focus from the “Bimaru” States (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh). Twelve more districts were added, the six best from the Bimaru States and six from the high-performing States. The report points out that the food crisis and the global economic downturn could have contributed to the deterioration in the state of affairs. Whether subsequent government data and surveys are going to corroborate the findings of the report needs to be seen. At the moment, the marginal improvement seems to suit one and all. But it is far from adequate. The Prime Minister’s Council on Nutrition Challenges, constituted in October 2008, has met only once – in November 2010.

The report has come up with many interesting facets, which need to be analysed in order to make meaningful interventions. It partially busts the myth that people do not access services. In the 100 high-focus districts surveyed, it was found that the immunisation facility for children through anganwadis was accessed by 85.8 per cent of the mothers interviewed; food for the 3-6 age group was also well patronised. In the better districts surveyed, the most accessed service was food. These districts also saw high attendance in the pre-school education for three- to six-year-olds. The report, however, does not venture to analyse these trends. What these figures essentially mean is that services are accessed by people, provided they are made available and information about them is disseminated aggressively. Immunisation is one such campaign that has grabbed the attention of people in general. And what is more, people access services based on their needs. Food being a primary need, the availability of the same in the anganwadis is a godsend to many impoverished families that may or may not have access to the public distribution system (PDS). The section on mothers highlights dominant feeding practices, issues relating to diet, hygiene, health care and the use of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). The section looks at some of the issues from the perspective of mothers. It may be path-breaking as an idea, though the responses that have emerged are not exactly something that policymakers have not known for some time. Even journalists have encountered similar responses in their own limited ways. The section begins with the level of education of the mothers surveyed to highlight one fact: the higher the educational attainment of the woman of the house, the higher the likelihood of her accessing the services. In the 100 focus districts, 66.3 per cent of the mothers had never been to school, though 68.1 per cent said that they had a strong say in decision-making regarding their children. A small percentage reported that they were able to play a similar role in major household purchases.

The report does not elaborate what exactly the decisions that the mothers were allowed to make for their children. What remains a sad reality is that the majority of women in India today, including educated women, do not have the right to decide who they want to marry, when they can marry and the number of children they will have. Even the sex of their unborn offspring is often predetermined. Therefore, to say that almost 70 per cent of women have the right of decision-making may not be reflecting the true picture. The problem is that the priorities regarding the kind of services that are required to be disseminated have been lopsided and skewed. For instance, there is no reason why the campaign for immunisation should not be accompanied by an equally aggressive campaign to promote breastfeeding or to provide access to health care and a universal PDS. But it is precisely here that government policy on these issues comes to play. The report fails to underpin the systemic causes behind the indicators so elaborately studied. Arun Gupta, the regional coordinator of the International Baby Food Action Network-Asia, pointed out that despite all the discussion in the media and other platforms on the low rates of breastfeeding, as evidenced in the HUNGaMA report, there has barely been any improvement in the existing figures in the past two decades. “The ball is in the government’s court. Skilled counsellors trained in health and nutrition are needed to advise working women in both the organised and unorganised sector about the benefits of breastfeeding. Simultaneously, the aggressive promotion tactics of the baby food industry has to be strictly dealt with. If they do these things with the help of sufficient funds, breastfeeding rates will go up,” he said. The reasons why women did not breastfeed their children soon after birth ranged from ignorance to poor milk supply. Nearly 58 per cent of mothers in the high-focus districts fed water instead of breast milk to their infants until six months. Fewer than 20 per cent of mothers had heard the word malnutrition in their local language, which also was not surprising.

When larger survival issues are at stake and basic nutrition itself is a challenge, it is not surprising that people remain uninformed about malnutrition. While on an assignment on food security in Haryana, this correspondent was told by an anganwadi worker that it was pointless telling the women what to give their newborn and young children. They knew it all, she said; they just could not afford it. The HUNGaMA report has found that around 70 per cent of women feed solids and semi-solids to their infants in the six to eight month group while a small percentage begin earlier. When mothers were asked why they delayed non-cereal foods such as vegetables, dairy products and fruits, 93.7 per cent of them in the high-focus districts said that those foods were expensive. On using soap, a criterion for hygiene, almost all women in the three district clusters admitted having it at home though its use seemed to be very frugal. Only 19 per cent in the high-focus districts admitted to using soap after toilet use; the percentage was higher at 49.5 per cent in the better districts. Now this indicates that soap comes under the category of avoidable expenditure. The survey did not enquire what alternatives to soap people used. It is known that soil or ash is commonly used in place of soap. The availability of soap is not the question; it is its affordability. But the report does not explore this issue any further. The best districts from the best States showed higher usage of soap. Similarly, the usage of health-care facilities was also restricted to those who could afford them. The three main reasons cited by mothers for not taking their children to trained doctors were that it was expensive, it was time-consuming, and that the services were not perceived as useful. Girls, the report says, started off with a nutritional advantage only to fall behind after reaching four years of age. The pattern was common among children of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Muslim families. As a rule, children from richer families were found to have a better nutritional base. In the chapter “Demographics and Nutrition Status”, the authors Abhijit Banerjee and Ariel Zucker note that household socio-economic status is by far the most robust predictor of nutritional well-being in the focus States. The effect of village infrastructure on health outcomes was not very poignant.

In the section on anganwadi services, the survey revealed that only 41.7 per cent of anganwadi workers in the 100 high-focus districts said that their payments were up to date; over 20 per cent said they had been paid three months ago or even earlier. The report underscores the poor working conditions of ICDS workers and helpers. In all the three district clusters, the survey found that the number of anganwadi centres with functioning handpumps was low. Dry rations were available only to 61 per cent of the anganwadis in the 100 focus districts. The report is interesting, well-produced and replete with easy-to-understand graphs and district-level data. However, it should lead to something more productive than vague discussions aimed at raising the existing knowledge levels of mothers about malnutrition or providing better training for the anganwadi worker. It is not correct to pin the prime responsibility for the infant’s health and survival on the mother. The state does not seem to have any role here, barring the release of the report. The assertion that “the first and primary custodian and protector of a child’s health is her mother… she does the best she can, with information and resources available to her, to nurture her child” and that the mother’s poor knowledge of what is good for her baby and her poor decision-making skills are responsible for child malnutrition speaks very poorly of the otherwise rich findings of the report. Equally problematic and limited is the understanding that “social and economic backwardness is aggravated by inequality in access to information”. The report says that mothers, village-level service providers, panchayat members and village communities have poor access to information on the best practices in childbearing and child-rearing. It recommends an aggressive education-communication campaign using multiple media and formats in order to reach out to rural populations. Herein lies the limitation of this report. It is not enough to have 24×7 information blitzes as suggested in the report; what is needed is information backed by access and affordability.

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2902/stories/20120210290210000.htm

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Battles within – By Purnima S. Tripathi (Jan 28, 2012, Frontline)

At this time of the year in the tiny hill State of Uttarakhand, inclement weather can upset any plan. It is spoiling the road shows of the major political parties. But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, the two main contenders for power, have one more serious factor to contend with as they prepare for the January 30 elections to the 70-member Assembly: internal squabbles. For the BJP, anti-incumbency, along with the prospect of party rebels entering the fray, is causing a lot of distress. The Congress is harping on the theme that the BJP has been changing its Chief Ministers ever since it came to power in 2007 to “mask” its “dishonesty” and the scams dogging its government. The BJP leadership had replaced Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank as Chief Minister in September 2011 and installed B.C. Khanduri, for the second time (he resigned in 2009 to pave the way for Nishank to become Chief Minister), keeping the Assembly elections in mind. The frequent change of leadership since 2007 coupled with a lack of cohesion between the three power centres in the State party – Khanduri, Nishank and Bhagat Singh Koshyari, also a former Chief Minister – had posed a big challenge for the BJP national leadership in mid-2011 in planning a strategy for the elections. Now, more than a dozen sitting MLAs, who have been denied the ticket, are in the fray as rebel candidates. The Congress is in a slightly better mood because of the party’s good performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. For the first time it won all the five seats from the State, a region considered to be a BJP stronghold. In 2007, the BJP was elected to power with 34 seats in a direct fight with the Congress. The Congress, which had won the 2002 elections and formed the government under party veteran N.D. Tiwari, won only 21 seats. But the BJP soon frittered away the support it had earned. Moreover, factions led by Koshyari, a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, and Nishank started working against the government. The result was the disastrous performance of the party in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in the State. An inquiry held at that time hinted at sabotage by the rivals of Khanduri, who was then Chief Minister. Koshyari even threatened to resign his Rajya Sabha seat. He could be placated only after Khanduri offered to step down as Chief Minister. The party leadership readily accepted his resignation and replaced him with Nishank.

But the Nishank government came under fire following allegations of corruption and scams. Although Nishank himself was not named in any of the corruption scandals, his close associates figured in a number of scams and it became the bane of his government. The general impression at that time was that nothing moved in the government without money changing hands. The Congress issued a list of 419 scams, which related to mismanagement of the Kumbh mela, shoddy disaster management, the Sturdia land use scam (involving arbitrary change of land use policy) and corruption in the purchase of medicines. None of these charges, however, was proved. The BJP national leadership was embarrassed as it was keen to harness the wave of anti-corruption sentiment against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and the State elections were just six months away. In September 2011, faced with the daunting task of putting the party back on the rails, the BJP brought back Khanduri. Khanduri went about his job ruthlessly though he admitted to this correspondent that he was indeed faced with a challenge. Given the fact that he took over the reins just a few months away from the scheduled elections, he has, no doubt, put the party back into fighting mode. Although he has as yet no concrete results to show on the ground, several initiatives taken by him have been appreciated by people at large. Among them are the legislative measures against the red tape. The most significant of the initiatives taken by the Khanduri government is the passage of the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill, 2011, to establish an independent authority to investigate offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, bringing into its ambit the Chief Minister, Ministers and MLAs. This is seen as a major achievement of the BJP as the Lokpal Bill has been stalled in Parliament. The State Bill is waiting for the Centre’s approval. The Khanduri government also passed the Uttarakhand Right to Service Act, bringing under its purview 80 basic services which are mandated to be provided within a prescribed time which is extendable twice under appeal. It passed the Uttarakhand Special Courts Act, 2011, to enable the setting up of special courts to deal with cases relating to corruption on a day-to-day basis, without adjournment. In these courts, a case is expected to be disposed of within a year. In order to deal with the issue of frequent transfers of government officials, which seriously hamper their performance, the government passed the Uttarakhand Transfer for Public Servants Act.

Besides, this time Khanduri is seen to be making a conscious effort to keep party workers happy and is taking other leaders along in decision-making, something which was missing during his previous stint. “We are absolutely confident of victory as we have worked for all sections of people and have taken effective steps to improve governance. We have taken measures to provide relief to people from spiralling prices by reducing VAT. Our vote percentage is going to increase by 2-4 per cent,” Naresh Bansal, BJP national executive member who is in charge of party affairs in the State, said. About the corruption charges against the Nishank government, he said they were only allegations. “Nothing was ever proved. Besides, we have shown our intent to curb corruption by passing the Lokayukta Bill, which brings even the Chief Minister in its ambit. What else can you ask for?” he said. The Congress hopes to revive the factors that gave it an impressive victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. It also banks on the obvious non-performance of the BJP government in the last five years. “We have a list of 419 scams that happened during the BJP regime. It has been a totally non-performing government. Whatever work the previous Congress government [2002-07] had started, this government stopped. For example, work on the medical college at Rishikesh on the lines of the AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences], which was started by the Tiwari government, has been abandoned. The BJP has brought back Khanduri who presided over the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, and nothing has changed since then,” Surinder Agrawal, a Congress spokesperson, said in Dehradun. He is confident that the Congress will form the government with a clear majority. Adding to the Congress’ high hopes is the presence of the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha (URM), which is in the fray for the first time. That party is headed by Lt. Gen. (retd) T.P.S. Rawat, a Minister in the Tiwari government. Rawat, who had joined the BJP, vacated the Dhumakot Assembly seat in 2007 to enable Khanduri, who had become Chief Minister, to contest from there. Disgusted with the corruption in the State and the BJP high command’s unsympathetic attitude towards his complaints in this regard, Rawat left the BJP in August 2011 to form the new party.

According to Rawat, the URM, which is attracting a number of educated and employed people, besides a substantial number of retired and serving defence personnel who form a major part of Uttarakhand’s population, will act as a “catalyst” to force the two main parties to talk about “real issues” like good governance, transparent administration and good leadership. “What we are saying is that despite the creation of a separate State, the quality of life has not really improved, the basic problems remain. We need good leadership to bring about change,” he said. If the URM remains in the fray, it could dent the BJP’s vote bank as the section of voters Rawat is targeting has been mainly BJP supporters. This has given the Congress an edge. “The URM will take away the BJP’s votes and in a State where candidates win with very thin margins, even a few hundred votes this way or that way can make a difference,” the Congress spokesman said. While the main contest is between the Congress and the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won eight seats and 12 per cent of the votes in 2007, is making its presence felt in the plains of Uttarakhand, especially in Haridwar and Udhamsingh Nagar districts. A triangular contest is on the cards in these constituencies, with the BSP in a comfortable position. Internal feuds, which are at times spilling over to the streets, are a serious problem facing both the Congress and the BJP. However, the BJP, having denied the ticket to some of its sitting MLAs, is the bigger victim of dissent. Kedar Singh Fonia, a BJP Minister who has been denied renomination, is contesting from Badrinath on the URM ticket. “The BJP is a party of bhai-bhatijawad [nepotism],” he told this correspondent. Other probable rebel candidates are former Ministers Khajan Das and Govind Singh Bisht. Khanduri himself may face trouble in Kotdwara, from where he is contesting, as the sitting MLA, Shailendra Singh Rawat, who has been denied the ticket, could jeopardise his prospects. In the Congress, N.D. Tiwari is known to be unhappy as several of his nominees have been denied the ticket and he is not likely to campaign for the party. Tiwari continues to be a force to reckon with in the Kumaon region, but even he had to face the ire of Congress workers in the Gadarpur area of Udhamsingh Nagar district from where his nephew, Manish Tiwari, is contesting. Congress workers were so unhappy that they attacked him when he went to file his nomination papers. N.D. Tiwari camped in the neighbouring Pantnagar area to “manage” the rebels. He held a three-hour-long meeting with them.

The Congress is also in trouble in the Haldwani seat from where Indira Hridayesh, number two in the Tiwari government, is the official candidate but is facing Renu Adhikari, who recently shifted allegiance to the BJP on being denied the Congress ticket. Since the difference in vote percentage between the BJP and the Congress was only 2 per cent last time, the contest becomes an interesting one as even a marginal shift can make a huge difference. The Congress had got 30 per cent of the votes and the BJP 32 per cent. It is interesting to note that the real issues, which affect the day-to-day lives of people, get buried in the hurly burly of politics as the election approaches. The basic needs such as roads, drinking water, health services and employment remain a pipe dream for the vast majority in the State, despite promises galore. “Nobody listens to the poor,” says Sohan Singh Rawat of Kaudia village in Rishikesh, summing up the despondency of the common man. “The aspirations of the people are high. They have realised that their lives have not improved despite the creation of the State and this is exactly what we are saying. We need change and we need good leadership to bring about that change,” says T.P.S. Rawat. It would be interesting to watch the impact of Team Anna on the elections. Members of the civil society movement are scheduled to campaign in the State as it has adopted the Lokayukta Bill.

http://www.flonnet.com/fl2902/stories/20120210290212400.htm

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