Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Three Indian Muslims killed in fresh Muzaffarnagar communal violence

Communal violence in UP (File photo: Anadolu Agency)

NEW DELHI (AA) – At least three Muslims were killed late Wednesday in a fresh outbreak of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in the Muzaffarnagar city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
The three victims - Afroze (20), Meherban (21), and Ajmal - were beaten to death in clashes in the Muhammad Purraisingh village, the Press Trust of India quoted district magistrate Kaushal Raj as saying.
They were residents of a makeshift relief camp set up in the aftermath of a communal riot which killed at least 60 people and displaced 45,000 others last month.
Sources told Anadolu Agency that the clashes started with a verbal spat between members of two communities.
In a bout of violence that broke out on September 7, at least 60 people were killed in Muzaffarnagar and neighboring towns and villages after a Muslim man was killed by the brother and cousin of a Hindu girl for allegedly harassing her.
The two killers - from the Hindu Jat community - were reportedly lynched by the family of the slain Muslim.
The riot came high on the agenda of the National Integration Council (NIC), a government’s advisory body headed by the Prime Minister of India, during its annual meeting on September 23.
"The Muzaffarnagar violence led to a huge loss of lives and property," Premier Manmohan Singh had told the 148-member NIC.
Three UP lawmakers, including two from the right-wing opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been arrested on charges of making "inflammatory" speeches.
One lawmaker allegedly shared a fabricated video on YouTube that served stoke communal tension.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blasts hit Indian state before opposition rally

Gandhi Ground in Patna (Pic:

NEW DELHI (AA) – A series of low-intensity bombs hit Patna, the capital city of the northern state of Bihar, killing one and injuring 20 others minutes before the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) premiership candidate Narendra Modi arrived to address the party’s supporters.
Bihar DGP (Director General of Police) GP Abhyanand has confirmed 8 explosions in Patna.

Eight blasts took place in and around Gandhi Ground, the venue of the BJP's biggest rally in the northern state.

The first blast exploded at Patna railway station, critically injuring one person who later died of his injuries.

A series of low-intensity explosions followed near the rally’s venue.

Fear and panic struck thousands of BJP members and supporters when the fifth low-intensity blast rocked the Gandhi Ground itself.

The blast was caught on camera by the English-language news channel NDTV.
Several unexploded bombs were reportedly defused by the police at the venue, said Upendra Kumar Sinha, railway superintendent of police.

He had one police official was injured while defusing a bomb.

One suspect was detained at the rally by the police for questioning.

The federal government has immediately dispatched an elite team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and explosive experts to Patna to assist state police in their investigation.

BJP, India's main opposition party, condemned the blasts that seem to target its rally.

"Investigation as to who is behind this must happen," BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters.

BJP’s planned rally went ahead at the venue where Modi slammed the Bihar State's ruling Janata Dal United (JDU) party.
In June, JDU chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ended a 17-yearl political alliance with the BJP when it became clear that Modi would be the right-wing Hindu party's prime ministerial candidate.

Friday, October 25, 2013

India arrests ex-Rajasthan minister for alleged rape

Babulal Nagar, former Food minister of Rajasthan (Pic: NDTV)

NEW DELHI (AA) –India’s federal investigating agency on Friday arrested former top official Babulal Nagar for allegedly raping and beating a 35-year-old woman last month at his official residence in the historic city of Jaipur.
Earlier in the day, the CBI grilled Nagar -- who once served as minister of state for dairy and rural industries (food) in the western Rajasthan State -- at a government rest house before formally arresting him.
Talking to reporters before entering the rest house, Nagar said he had given a statement to the CBI in writing in which he had denied the charges leveled against him.
Rajasthan police summoned Nagar for allegedly raping and beating the victim on September 11 after calling her to his official residence in state capital Jaipur, luring her with promises of employment.
The victim filed a lawsuit five days later, forcing the official to tender his resignation after charges were officially brought against him.
"This is my reply to those who have apprehended that as a minister I can influence [the ongoing] investigation," he said.
"I am being framed in a political conspiracy," he asserted. "Through media reports I was told that a woman has alleged that on September 11 she was called by me at my official residence."
He added: "Let me tell you that my house was full of people on that day on which the woman alleged that she was raped."
Nagar also stressed that the ruling Congress Party should not be implicated in the case.
The Congress Party, for its part, has already suspended Nagar's membership until his name is cleared of the allegations.
The case is the second such embarrassment in as many years for the ruling party, which is currently preparing to contest state polls in November.
In 2011, Congress State Cabinet Minister Mahipal Maderna and Congress legislator Malkhan Singh Bishnoi were both accused of the rape and murder of a government nurse.
The case is still being heard in court, while the two accused men remain in police custody.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

India mourns passing of music legend

Manna Dey: The legendary singer (Pic: Mid-Day)

MUMBAI (AA) – Legendary singer Manna Dey, whose melodious voice reigned over Bollywood for five decades, breathed his last on Thursday morning at a hospital in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. He was 94 years old.
Dey died from a cardiac arrest following a prolonged illness that saw him in and out of the hospital for the last five months.
Dey had been a symbol of India's cinematic golden age, with his inimitable style that distinguished his songs from those of other legendary crooners like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore and Mukesh.
But it was Dey's "unique" voice that stood out most of all.
He has been credited with infusing pop music with classical influences.
Dey sang more than 3,500 songs in several different Indian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada and Assamese.
He was perhaps the only Indian singer to sing in so many different languages.
Born in 1919 in Kolkata, Dey came to Mumbai in 1942 with his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey, a music composer.
He began working as an assistant music director under his uncle and music composer SD Burman before launching his singing career in 1943.
In 1971, Dey won the National Film Award for best male playback singer for Bengali film 'Nishi Padma' and Hindi film 'Mera Naam Joker.'
In the same year, Dey was awarded India's fourth most prestigious civilian award – the Padma Shri – for his contributions to the arts.
In 2005, Dey was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third most prestigious civilian award, in recognition of his "distinguished service of a high order to the nation."
Legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan tweeted: "Manna Dey, stalwart of the music world, passes away."
Bachchan went on to praise the departed musician's vast corpus of songs.
"Strange how we connect events of our life with his songs," the actor said, going on to offer his prayers and condolences to Dey's family and loved ones.
"At work but shall keep a minute's silence, in Manna Dey's memory on set before we start," he added.
Filmmaker Pritish Nandy, too, mourned Dey's passing.
"Even when you know someone will soon go, when he actually does, it breaks your heart," he tweeted.
Bollywood producer/director Madhur Bhandarkar described Dey as "a legendary singer with a golden voice that ruled our hearts for decades."
Social activist and actress Shabana Azmi, meanwhile, said she would remember Dey's one-of-a-kind voice.
"He will live on through his songs," Azmi tweeted.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

'Shahid': Bollywood portrays life, death of real-life hero

A poster of the film 'Shahid' on the late lawyer Shahid Azmi

MUMBAI (AA) - New Bollywood movie "Shahid" is a fictionalized biopic, the true story of gritty Mumbai lawyer Shahid Azmi, who rose to prominence defending young Muslims wrongly-accused of terrorism.
The film depicts his struggles, achievements, triumphs and humiliations during his short, 32-year life before he was gunned down by unknown assailants on February 11, 2010 in his small office in Kurla, a Mumbai suburb.
Directed by Hansal Mehta, the film is a plain and realistic look at a legal system that often makes mistakes, arresting poor and helpless youngsters and throwing them in jail for years without any shred of evidence.
The movie opens in Govandi, a narrow and dingy suburban Mumbai ghetto, amid the raging communal riots of 1993 that followed the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in northern India.
The 15-year-old Azmi witnesses one of the worst bouts of communal rioting between Hindus and Muslims in India's post-independence history.
Outraged by the excesses of the State and the communalism of the majority-Hindu community, he crosses into Pakistan-held Kashmir to become a "jihadi" who can answer State injustice with his Kalashnikov rifle.
Disillusioned by the violent streak that characterized most self-styled "jihadis", Azmi flees the training camp only to be arrested by Indian authorities and charged under draconian anti-terror legislation.
Azmi meets two sets of people during his seven-year under-trial detention in Delhi's Tihar Prison, where he shuffles smoothly between militant fundamentalists and secular moderates.
A Kashmiri Muslim businessman and a Hindu professor eventually gain influence over Azmi, persuading him to educate himself.
Thus a non-compromising lawyer with a steely resolve is born inside India's largest jail, destined to eventually take on the State itself.
The movie gets off to a slow start but takes a quick turn when Azmi is acquitted on the basis of "natural justice".
Azmi, the victim, now becomes the hero, launching a formidable defense in a series of terrorism cases.
As he begins taking on high-profile terror-related cases, Azmi starts receiving death threats on his mobile phone.
The movie features only two such high-profile cases: the 2006 Mumbai train blast and the 26/11 terror attack in 2008.
In the train blast case, the accused – one Zaheer Shaikh – is denied bail ten times in the span of two and half years, even though prosecutors have failed to produce any substantive evidence implicating him.
A prosecution lawyer employs delay tactics, stalling the case without any apparent remorse or guilt. The judiciary, meanwhile, swallows the lies – couched in terms such as "terrorism" and "national security" – fed to it by prosecutors.
It is only after Azmi's insistence on seeing tangible evidence that Zaheer is finally acquitted.
Azmi, the truth-seeker, comes to life in a scene in which he tells Shaikh: "Tell me everything truthfully. If I later come to know something you hid from me or lied, then I will leave this case."
In the 2008 attacks case, a suspect named Fahim Ansari is accused of passing "hand-drawn" maps to "Pakistani terrorists" who went on to kill 164 civilians in Mumbai.
A deliberate attempt by a lady prosecution lawyer to produce "tutored" witnesses falls flat when an aggressive Azmi asks who – in this age of Google Maps – still needs to rely on "hand-drawn" maps?
Azmi's cross-examination of the witness eventually exposes the prosecution's lies.
The movie delivers a message against community-profiling when Azmi says, "If this man's name was Donald or Suresh or Matthew, would he have been standing here? He is in jail just because of his name."
He goes on to argue that being in jail does not automatically mean that someone is a criminal or – worse still – a "terrorist".
"Hindu King Shivaji was jailed. Does that make him a terrorist?" Azmi asks rhetorically.
When he emerges from the courthouse, his face is blackened by members of the Shiv Sena, a Mumbai-based right-wing political party.
Here Mehta, the movie director, is revisiting his past, when his own face was blackened in 2000 by Shiv Sena members for "insulting" Hindu King Shivaji.
Mehta subtly hints at the rise of right-wing Hindu intolerance and the recent arrest of right-wing Hindus in a number of terror cases. But he stops there.
As the movie enters its last leg, the paradox of Azmi's life is marvelously depicted.
On one hand, there is his solidarity with his wrongly-accused clients. On the other, there is intense maternal pressure on Azmi to rejoin his family and abandon his separate residence.
Azmi's wife feels neglected, calling on him to leave his risky and "life-threatening profession."
Azmi, however, remains unperturbed by his familial obligations and remains committed to his cause, even when his wife finally walks out on him.
Three months before Ansari's acquittal, Azmi is shot dead by unknown assailants who, posing as clients, barge into his office in the middle of the night.
Actor Raj Kumar Yadav worked extremely hard to get into the skin of the celebrated lawyer.
There is an interrogation scene in the film in which Azmi is humiliated and forced to stand naked before his inquisitors.
To understand and portray the pain and embarrassment of physical and mental torture, Yadav insisted on performing the scene naked himself.
He reportedly cried for three hours after shooting the scene, which left him emotionally drained.
Yadav has left an indelible mark with his fine acting in the movie.
The perfectly-chiseled Urdu dialogue, meanwhile, has come in for praise by moviegoers.
Unlike other Bollywood films – in which courtrooms are always clean and polished and legal arguments sound like a drama – "Shahid" departs from such unrealistic flourishes.
It depicts the courtroom as it really is: dilapidated with cracking walls, plastic chairs and a rickety fan. Arguments between lawyers are well-crafted and don't feel staged.
Renowned critic and filmmaker Khalid Mohamed, for one, was deeply moved by the film's human aspect.
"That rare quality – humanism – is its calling card," he told the Anadolu Agency.
"Whatever its political ramifications or accuracy to reality may be, here's a re-enactment which makes the viewer's heart bleed over the abrupt end of a man's life," he said.
"Hansal Mehta makes sure that he [Azmi] will be missed and admired," the critic added. "They don't make crusaders like Shahid anymore, and the eponymously-titled film does complete justice to the man driven by a cause."
The film is currently playing before packed theaters.
One trade-analyst told the AA that, despite its low budget, "Shahid" was doing better than other big-banner films with star-studded casts.
"Shahid has redefined the very idea of a film's success. A true story sells better than a film writer's imagination," he said.
Lawyer Khalid Azmi, Shahid Azmi's real-life brother, said the family had become very emotional when watching the film.
"It was quite emotional to see him on screen," Khalid told the AA.
"We as family members are with Hansal Mehta," he said. "We are happy with the fact that there is someone who is telling the story of my brother through the medium of film."
Khalid went on to say that the family was pleased with the depiction of Shahid, vouching for the film's authenticity.
"Almost 95 percent of the film is accurate," he asserted.
"We wanted people to know him and his story," the late lawyer's brother explained. "People should be aware of the work he did."
"His spirit to help the poor and the needy who [are] falsely implicated on the wrong side of the law must be known."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Indian opposition kickstarts 2014 parliament polls campaign

Narendra Modi at Kanpur rally (Pic: Economic Times)

NEW DELHI (AA) - India's main opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday kickstarted its campaign for the 2014 parliamentary election from Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s biggest state which elects 80 lawmakers to the 552-member national assembly.
"Those born with silver spoon can’t understand the pain of poverty," Narendra Modi, the three-time Chief Minister of the western Gujarat state and the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, told a roaring crowd in Kanpur City, 500kms east of the capital New Delhi.
He bitterly attacked the ruling Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
"Listen to Congress’ language. The 'prince' says there is no such thing as poverty, that it is a 'state of mind'," Modi mocked the scion of the prominent Gandhi family, without naming him.
He also lambasted the Planning Commission (PC) headed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
In one of its report on the definition of poverty, the PC argued that if an Indian earns 32 rupees a day he/she will not be categorized as "poor."
The PC later rescinded this position after mass protests.
Modi said he understands and sympathizes with India’s poor because he himself comes from a modest family.
The 62-year-old politician once sold tea in a Gujarat railway station.
Modi thanked the thousands of BJP workers and supporters for the huge election gathering.
"Today this crowd at Kanpur has won me over," he told the cheering audience. "I sense affection in every corner of the country."
The BJP parliamentary board has decided to name Modi its general, meaning that he automatically becomes its candidate for the premiership should the party win the 2014 polls.
The decision triggered euphoria among members of India's main opposition party, which has been out of power since its stunning loss in 2004 parliamentary elections.
Modi started his North Indian election tour with today's rally in UP, India’s biggest state.
He is scheduled to address 8 more public rallies in the state which sends 80 MPs to the 552-member Lok Sabha ("the House of the People"), the lower house of India's parliament.
Modi lashed out at the federal government over its Pakistan policy.
"Our neighbors taunt us with incursions and the government in Delhi serves chicken biryani meals," he said.
In a bold and clear message to neighboring Pakistan, Indian Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid recently expressed optimism about the ongoing peace process and dialogue between the nuclear arch rivals.
He said his government has confidence in Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was elected in May 2013 on a "clear mandate" of better relations with India.
Singh recently met Sharif in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meetings.
Modi, meanwhile, accused the ruling Congress of "wasting" 60 years since India’s independence.
"Divide and rule is in the blood and DNA of Congress party," he claimed.
"Wherever they went, they have followed this principle which they have learned from the British."
The controversial politician claimed that his BJP party wants to unite people.
"We have come here to unite people."
In an apparent reference to Muslims, Modi accused the Congress of indulging in vote-bank politics with India's single largest minority.
"Whenever Congress comes into power, it sticks to one mantra of secularism and vote-bank politics. Congress divides people to rule over them," he argued.
Modi claimed that his party, which many accuse of defining Indian nationality in terms of Hindu religious ideology, treats all communities equally.
"We should all work together to develop mother India," he said, suggesting that the religion of the government should be "India first".
A three-time chief minister, Modi has been seen as a divisive figure since the 2002 Gujarat violence triggered by the killing of 59 Hindu devotees in an attack on an express train. The attack was blamed on a Muslim mob.
Subsequent communal violence claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, and damaged hundreds of places of worship, mostly mosques.
Modi, as chief minister, is accused by federal authorities of failing to protect Muslims and their interests, while Muslims accuse him of inciting violence against them.
He has been accused of complicity in the riots by a number of human rights groups and the case against him remains in court.
Modi exhorted the Indian people to vote for change in the coming 2014 general election.
"Do you want your children to suffer the same hardships you have suffered? Do you want to safeguard the future of the children? If you want a bright future for you children, decide today you won't allow the people who have ruined you lives to ruin the lives of your children," he said.
"It is time to uproot this government and bring the BJP in to give India new hope," he added.
Modi accused the Congress and its government of ruining the Indian economy and that they have failed to stem rising inflation.
"Have they (Congress party) said they have tried to bring down inflation but failed? This is because of their arrogance. They do not want to listen to the people," he said.
"Should you care about those who don't care about you? Teach them a lesson so that no one has the courage to betray the people's trust for years to come," he told his audience.
Modi has led the BJP to three consecutive electoral victories in Gujarat, virtually decimating the ruling Congress in that state.
While conveying the image of a hardliner, Modi is also seen by many – including business leaders – as the chief minister who put Gujarat on the path to sustained development.
His supporters argue that he is a decisive leader who would be useful in countering the ruling coalition, seen by detractors as indecisive and largely responsible for India's current economic mess.
At the same time, Modi's critics see him as a dictatorial personality who does not tolerate dissent and discourages progress by other leaders.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Eid al-Adha tough time for Indian cattle traders

Cattle for Muslim festival of sacrifice

MALEGAON, India (AA) – Rafique Ansari, a 38-year-old small-time textile trader, is not a happy man.
For the past four years, he has worked as a seasonal cattle trader for one month before the Eid al-Adha, a Muslim religious feast that marks the climax of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
This year, however, it's been especially hard for him to sustain his small business.
"Local police have seized four bulls, along with the transportation vehicle I hired," Ansari told Anadolu Agency in Malegaon, a Muslim-majority textile town some 300km north of Mumbai.
He added that police had accused him of flouting cattle-protection regulations.
As a rule, Indian cattle traders must fulfill three criteria for buying cattle for sacrifice. They must procure a receipt from a government-approved cattle agency, a medical certificate stating the cattle is unfit for farming, and a vehicle license for transporting the cattle.
Ansari bought his four bulls from a Hindu farmer in Zahirabad, a municipality in the Medak district of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
He failed, however, to produce the receipt or the medical certificate.
"Since I bought the cattle from an individual it was difficult to produce the required documents," Ansari explained.
The farmer, he said, had not been willing to go through the "painful" and "lengthy" bureaucratic procedures required to obtain the needed documents.
"The farmer sold me the cattle at a discount," admitted an embarrassed Ansari. "Now I'm paying the price of that discount."
Malegaon has a population of about 700,000, of which at least 70 percent are Muslim.
So far this year, police have seized at least 150 bulls and 22 vehicles for allegedly transporting the cattle illegally.
The estimated combined worth of the seized cattle and vehicles stands at close to 5 million rupees (roughly $84,000).
The seized cattle have been kept at the premises of the local Gao Raksha Samiti (Cow Protection Organization), a right-wing Hindu organization devoted to cow protection.
A trader, wishing not to be named, questioned the choice of the venue for the impounded cattle.
"The Gao Raksha Samiti is an extended arm of the police," he fumed.
According to a top police official, however, the arrangement is only temporary.
"Malegaon Corporation does not have any such facility, so we are forced to keep the cattle there," he told AA, requesting anonymity.
Religious Hindus, for whom cows are sacred, are opposed to the slaughter of the animals.
There is no federal law forbidding cow-slaughter in India, but most Indian states have state laws prohibiting the practice.
Political commentator Mustafa Khan questioned the rationale behind rules that only not-so-healthy cattle could be sacrificed for Eid al-Adha.
"I am personally of the opinion that only healthy bulls should be sacrificed on Eid, as Islam commands," he told AA.
-Greasing palms-
Dozens of Indian Muslims have been lured by the potential profits to be made from seasonal cattle trading.
Irfan Shaikh, a small-time businessman who deals in sweets, has been in the seasonal cattle trading business for a decade.
To avoid any inconvenience, Shaikh always buys his cattle in advance.
"Every year, the police step up the vigil, so it's always wise to buy at least two months in advance," he told AA.
When asked whether this meant he was not fulfilling the government's criteria for purchasing cattle, he answered with a smile.
"Law-enforcement agencies only check the documents during this season," he replied.
Shaikh is a free market advocate, believing that no one should intervene in business between two private individuals.
"The agencies should enforce the rules throughout the year if they really care for the law," he argued.
Unlike seasonal cattle traders, professional cattle traders know how to survive in this cutthroat business.
Mustaqeem Khan, a former butcher, now works as a fulltime cattle trader.
According to Khan, one must build a network extending from the point of purchase to the point of sale.
"It's a matter of good networking and a little knowledge of geography," he told AA.
The distance between Zahirabad and Malegaon is at least 600km.
Khan claims there is rampant corruption in the cattle trade; that it is almost impossible to transport cattle without "greasing the palms" of law-enforcement agencies.
"At every check-post, one has to loosen the purse strings to avoid any trouble," he said.
Khan said that such corruption usually spikes during the Eid al-Adha.
"With so much demand for healthy bulls and limited supply during the season, corruption is bound to rise," he explained.
The senior police official, for his part, denied the allegation.
"We are very actively cooperating with cattle traders to make sure that Eid passes smoothly," he told AA. "Don't you see the number of bulls being brought to Malegaon?"
Prices for the sacrificial animals have risen sharply with the recent police seizures. A mid-sized bull, for example, is currently priced at 24,000 rupees (roughly $400).
Cattle traders, meanwhile, are capitalizing on the price hike to realize quick profits.
Ansari, whose four seized bulls will be released after Eid, expects to incur major losses this year.
"There is no other option but to face the loss this year," he lamented. "Next year, I will be careful about the required documents."