Policemen batter women in Senari
Russian Purulia amnesia at G8 upsets Delhi
Principal lines up school army to fight corporator
Toys replace diamonds in Sierra shops
Watch Olympics, for a price

 
 
POLICEMEN BATTER WOMEN IN SENARI 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Jehanabad, July 29 
For the battle-scarred women of Senari, life has become an unending nightmare. Caught between Naxalites’ bullets and police action, over 40 upper caste women were subjected to brutal violence yesterday when Jehanabad police combed Senari along with Bihar military police jawans to flush out the Mianpur assailants.

The excesses committed by the police have destroyed the modicum of credibility they were able to establish by intervening in the Mianpur carnage in time and managing to check the toll.

Politicians of all hues have condemned the atrocities and threatened to move the National Human Rights Commission. Chief minister Rabri Devi has ordered a CID probe. Patna High Court chief justice R.S. Dhawan passed a suo motu order asking the Jehanabad district judge to probe the incident and report to the high court before August 7.

Yesterday around 2 pm, a large contingent of paramilitary forces and state armed police stormed Senari. The village was virtually empty except for the women and children who were resting. The village had lost 34 men in last year’s carnage. The rest were either hiding after the Mianpur carnage or had left the village for good. The remaining few, mostly the old and the infirm, were away at work. As a result, the women bore the brunt of police ire.

The team, led by deputy superintendent Sanjay Ranjan Singh, raided the village apparently to nab the cronies of Ranvijay Sharma, who made a confession following his arrest yesterday.

The police barged straight into the houses, searched the women and ransacked their belongings. Unable to find anything relevant, they began to grill the women.

There was no escape either way. Those who kept quiet were kicked around by the cops. Those who argued that the police could not interrogate them in the absence of male family members were hurled to the ground before being thrashed with batons.

“First they came and surrounded the village with a massive force. When the menfolk saw them from their paddy fields, they ran away,” said Manorama Devi, a victim. “At the sight of the police entering the houses, the women locked themselves in. But the police broke the doors and dragged the women out,” she added.

Manorama also said there was no woman police officer accompanying the search party.

The team wanted to know where the Ranbir Sena men were hiding. The women said they had never heard about the Sena workers.

“When Naxalites came here last year in March, they also asked where the Ranbir Sena men were. We pleaded ignorance. The MCC cadre separated the husbands from their wives and butchered them in our presence. This time it was the police. They did not exactly kill us, but they bashed up the women for four hours,” said Hridaya Devi, a 45-year-old housewife who lost her husband last year.

The signs of police brutality on the women were difficult to hide. Some had swollen faces, some had broken and bandaged limbs.

Thirty women were admitted to the Jehanabad district hospital. Hospital doctor Ranjan Yadav said at least 15 had fractured limbs. Others were bruised all over. Even a 65-year-old widow, Ramgarhi Devi, was not spared.

When Ramgarhi told the police there was no one in her house, she was dragged out by the hair. “As I cried and pleaded for release, they laughed,” she said at the hospital.

State home commissioner U.N. Panjiyar said the police had information that eight Mianpur assassins were hiding in the village. He said the police were attacked as soon as they entered the village, despite which they carried on the raids and were accused of torture.

However, he could not say why there was no woman officer in the team. Neither did he comment on the medical reports of the women.    


 
 
RUSSIAN PURULIA AMNESIA AT G8 UPSETS DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 29 
South Block mandarins are disappointed with Russia for not coming to India’s defence at the recently-concluded G-8 Summit in Okinawa, Japan.

India’s “time-tested” ally sat silently even as Canada and Britain badgered the Group of Eight leaders to issue a strong statement over continuing tension between India and Pakistan, particularly their failure to resume the stalled dialogue and reluctance to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The only defence came from the French who not only blunted the statement’s sharp edges but also managed to have the disparaging remarks deleted from the main communiqué.

Foreign ministry officials are not willing to go public on the Russian stand. But in private, they cannot hide their disappointment, more so as it comes in the wake of the Presidential pardon to the five Latvians involved in the Purulia armsdrop case.

France’s defence comes days before the visit of Gerard Errera, President Jacques Chirac’s special envoy, who is reaching here on Monday to start the next round of strategic dialogue with national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

According to information available, it was Canada which wanted the G-8 to come out with a strong statement against the South Asian twins for not complying with the UN Security Council resolution 1172.

The resolution, passed after the May 1998 nuclear tests, calls for immediate dismantling of Delhi and Islamabad’s nuclear programmes. It also urges the two sides to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the CTBT.

But France, supported to an extent by the US, cited the series of steps taken by India since the explosions and succeeded in blocking the move. While host Japan was keen to get the resolution passed, it was Russia’s silence that came as a surprise.

Russia’s stand on the nuclear tests has been ambiguous, mainly because it believes that the tit-for-tat explosions which could lead to destability in its own region.

Already engaged in armed conflict with some Islamic republics, Russia is worried that rebels in Chechnya and Dagestan could lay their hands on some of these weapons of mass destruction.

Still, foreign ministry sources said, this doesn’t fully explain Moscow’s silence when it could have stood up for Delhi.

Though it is not clear if Errera will highlight Paris’ role in defending India, South Block sources said he would definitely take the opportunity to brief Mishra how things went at the summit.

Monday’s strategic dialogue could also see the two sides apprise each other of important bilateral, regional and global issues.    


 
 
PRINCIPAL LINES UP SCHOOL ARMY TO FIGHT CORPORATOR 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, July 29 
Fifty-six schoolchildren are caught in a crossfire between a corporator and a principal-cum-failed candidate.

On July 14, the children — all between three and 10 — and their teachers, led by their principal, squatted for two hours before the office of the State Human Rights Commission to protest the lady corporator’s alleged encroachment on their school premises.

They later submitted a complaint to the commission chairman.

According to the complaint, the corporator and her husband had dug deep trenches in the playground, the assembly lawn and just outside the main entrance of the Maharajah Ajmirah Convent, a privately-owned primary school in old Bhopal. School authorities claimed the corporator, Ruksana Mujib, was trying to settle scores with the convent’s proprietor-cum-principal, Kamala Swarnakar, who had filed a petition challenging her identity and election to the municipal corporation.

Ruksana contested as an Independent, defeating both the Congress and BJP-backed candidates. Swarnakar, too, had contested as an Independent from the constituency, which was reserved for women. “No one knew the true identity of Ruksana Mujib. She was always in a burqah and all people got to see of her were her eyes. It was only after the elections when she removed her veil that people were aghast. She was none other than Rukmini, daughter of Prem Narayan Nai, a local barber,” Swarnakar said.

According to Swarnakar, Rukmini was kidnapped by Mujib Khan, a local anti-social in 1986. “She later married Mujib,” she added.

Police confirmed that a case under Section 376 (rape) was filed at the Hanumangunj police station against Mujib. But the girl’s father withdrew the charge when Rukmini was married off to Mujib. Ruksana, however, refused to comment when contacted.

Swarnakar claimed that Rukmini did not legally change her name to Ruksana Mujib. “There is no official document which can claim that Rukmini Nai has changed her original name, religion and status to Ruksana Mujib,” she said, and therefore “simply had no right to enter politics and contest elections as an imposter”.

So after Ruksana was sworn in as an Independent corporator aligned to the Congress in the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, Swarnakar dragged her to court. Ruksana retaliated by sending some corporation employees and her husband’s henchmen to dig up the school premises and teach her a lesson.    


 
 
TOYS REPLACE DIAMONDS IN SIERRA SHOPS 
 
 
FROM PRAMIT PAL CHAUDHURI
 
Kenema (Sierra Leone), July 29 
With a generous waist, a store filled with Japanese music systems and tricycles, and a cheerful disposition, Musa Moue is a man of plenty in the dusty, one-street town of Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone.

But Moue is getting out of his main line of business: diamonds. This sounds heretical in a town surrounded by some of the world’s richest diamond fields.

However, these gems finance the brutal rebel forces in this West African state’s civil war. The Sierra Leone government and the international community have launched a campaign to deny these “conflict diamonds’’ access to the world market. Which is why Moue says he is sticking to stereo systems and toys in a town whose single road is paved with carats.

The rebel Revolutionary United Front holds Sierra Leone’s main diamond fields. The RUF’s brutality, its love for chopping off children’s arms and scorched-earth policies, have led to a worldwide call for an end to trade in conflict diamonds.

Emboldened, the Freetown government now insists traders like Moue must buy diamonds only from licensed miners. This puts him and his fellow Lebanese businessmen in a spot.

“Ninety per cent of the miners in this country are unlicensed. Even in government-held territory, only 70 per cent have licences. People come to my shop with diamonds all the time now. I can no longer buy,” he says.

Moue has his doubts about international sanctions.

“I will not buy illegal diamonds. Nor will the next trader, or the next. But someone will take the risk. And it takes only one person to break the embargo.’’

He also believes certificates of origin and the like will only mean anything to the Western buyer. For him, the crux of the matter is the nearby border with neighbouring Liberia. “Ninety per cent of the diamonds from here go to Liberia. You have to seal this border.’’

But the border is mountainous tropical rain forest, infested with rebels. Not even the most optimistic United Nations soldier in this country believes the border can be sealed. Diamonds are Sierra Leone’s worst friends.

“They are our blessing and our curse,’’ admits one government official in Freetown. Before the civil war and even now, the country mines several hundred thousand carats a year. In 1998, Sierra Leone’s official books recorded exports of only 8,500 carats.

On the other hand, according to the Belgian-based Diamond High Council, Liberia exported 2.6 million carats in 1998 even though most estimates put its domestic production at a mere 1,50,000 carats. Sierra Leone’s diamonds are obviously almost all sent to Liberia for re-export. The reasons are political — Sierra Leone’s diamonds are largely controlled by the RUF. And the rebels’ main and only supporter is the present regime in Liberia.

There is also about 80 to 90,000 carats that leave Freetown each year but never pass through the government’s or the rebels’ hands. Presumably, it is this grey market upon which Moue and his community make their living that the Sierra Leone government is now trying to throttle.

This means fewer Mercedes Benz coupes for the Lebanese. But it may lead to these diamonds being diverted to rebel hands. It does not help that Sierra Leonian diamonds are absurdly easy to mine. They are found in alluvial deposits – embedded in the surface soil — in a 500-square-kilometre expanse in the east.

Asked how plentiful are the diamonds, an officer of the Indian contingent of the UN peacekeeping force simply looks around. After a 30-second search he picks up a small pink stone from the side of the road. “This is probably a diamond,” he says. “Not a good one, but it can be used by industry. You can find them as easily as this.’’

Flying over the dense, verdant canopy of trees that covers this area, it is easy to see the bald patches of brown soil and water where miners have been panning for the gems.

Thousands of such diamond pickers roam the region, unconcerned about borders on military maps in Freetown separating rebel-held and UN-held territory. Indian UN soldiers say RUF fighters often shed their arms and sneak into Kenema to sell the odd diamond. “We run into them all the time. But between the problem of identifying rebel and UN regulations, we can’t do much about them.’’

A recent World Bank report on the economic causes of civil conflict argues civil wars are more likely in a resource rich country where the resource is easy to plunder. And there can be few things as easy to steal than Sierra Leonian diamonds. The UN Mission in Sierra Leone and the Freetown government puts the growing call for diamond sanctions in the most positive light.

The special representative of the UN secretary-general and overall head of the mission, Oluyemi Adeniji, says the Belgian diamond industry this week announced that any dealer who dealt in conflict diamonds would be ostracised and “his picture would be published at all trading centres.’’

But Unamsil force commander Major General V.K. Jetley and other Indian army officers here clearly believe that physically driving the RUF from the diamond fields is the only real way to stop Sierra Leone’s production of blood red carats.    


 
 
WATCH OLYMPICS, FOR A PRICE 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, July 29 
Pay to watch the Sydney Olympics.

Come September 1, Doordarshan will encrypt its satellite sports channel which means that viewers will have to shell out more to watch the extravaganza. And surfing won’t help: DD has bagged the exclusive telecast rights for the Games beginning September 15.

Aware of the shoddy publicity for Euro 2000, DD — possibly for the first time — is allocating a budget for hardselling the Games. Around Rs 50 to 60 lakh has been set aside for an outdoor campaign and a publicity blitz in the print and audio-visual media. An action still shows the DD logo on a ball and underneath it the catchline: Or else, go to Sydney.

DD chief executive Rajiva Ratna Shah admitted that they hadn’t anticipated the success of Euro 2000. “It is a learning process,” he said.

A host of other changes are on the cards, indicating that the usually late-to-wake-up government behemoth is getting money-wise.

DD News is also being encrypted and will piggyback on the sports channel. The channels will be offered to cable operators as a package: two for the price of one and will cost Rs 5.50 per connection.

Shah claims this is less than what ESPN and others charge. DD has signed on Modi Entertainment Network under a one-year contract to manage the distribution of decoder boxes. The bids for marketing the DD Sports coverage of Sydney Olympics will begin on Monday.

Besides uninterrupted Olympic coverage on DD Sports, there will be terrestrial support as well. DD 1 will show highlights from 4 to 7 pm daily. There will also be excerpts of India-specific games on DD 2 from 11 pm to 6 am.

After the Olympics, DD Sports will bank on cricket to keep the viewers glued. But to make DD Sports a strong channel contentwise, Mandi House is negotiating for a partner to form a joint venture. The negotiations are expected to be finalised by the end of August.

   

 

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