Bhutan lobs back body-dumping barb
Mahanta refutes army claim on attack
Dalmia claims no role for court in Ayodhya
Digvijay targets Sangh monopoly
Rejected girls join hands to fight for justice
Heartland Ripper in net

Guwahati, Dec. 23: 
Bhutan today locked horns with the Assam government over the killing of 10 Bhutanese citizens on Thursday, refuting chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s claim that the incident had taken place inside the Himalayan kingdom and the bodies later dumped in Indian territory.

Thimphu also dismissed the state government’s claims of the National Democratic Front of Boroland’s involvement in the killing of its citizens and insisted that the massacres have been perpetrated by the Bodo Liberation Tigers even as Mahanta squarely blamed the kingdom for allowing matters to come to such a pass.

Mahanta told The Telegraph here this morning that the killing of Bhutanese people was a result of the continued presence of NDFB rebels in the Himalayan kingdom. “It is very easy for the militants to cross over to Indian territory, commit crimes and then go back to their camps in the jungles of Bhutan,” Mahanta said, as he shifted the blame to the neighbouring country for not taking any action against the rebels.

The chief minister also claimed that the killing of 10 people in Barpeta district on Thursday “took place inside Bhutan, after which the militants dumped the bodies in Indian territory.” Lobbing the ball back to Bhutan’s court, he said: “In view of this, the Bhutan government should take steps to protect its own citizens.”

However, Thinlay Penzor, councillor at the Royal Bhutanese embassy in New Delhi, differed with the state government over the site of Thursday’s incident, claiming that the 10 persons were killed inside Indian territory. He also rubbished the state government’s claim that the banned NDFB was behind the killings and said “Bhutan police have definite information and concrete proof that all these attacks were carried out by the Bodo Liberation Tigers.”

Penzor said Bhutan has lodged a formal complaint with New Delhi over the killings and also asked the Union government to safeguard the lives and property of its citizens.

The Bhutan government’s claim added a new dimension to the incidents of the last few days as it indirectly hinted that the pro-talks BLT may have been used by “certain forces” to target the Bhutanese people and thereby prompt Bhutan to initiate steps for evicting the NDFB and Ulfa rebels from the Himalayan kingdom.

So far, 14 Bhutanese people, including a teenage girl, have been killed in the spate of attacks on the people of the kingdom since Thursday. Nearly 20 others have been injured.

Mahanta said the NDFB was targeting Bhutanese citizens “to put pressure on the royal government not to take any steps against its cadre staying in camps inside the kingdom.” Asked about the other attacks on Bhutanese citizens, Mahanta said “they took place just near the international border.” But he felt that Bhutan was making matters worse by not taking any steps to drive out the NDFB and Ulfa rebels who have set up well-stocked camps in the jungles in southern Bhutan, close to the Indian border.

He was, however, quick to add that the state government was ready to provide security to Bhutanese vehicles and citizens provided they gave prior information of their travel plans. Regarding Bhutan’s decision to stop plying of its vehicles in Assam till “proper security arrangements are made,” Mahanta said it would only affect Bhutan adversely.

In a faxed press note, the Royal Bhutanese embassy gave specific details of the incidents and said two of its citizens have been “missing” since Wednesday although state police feigned ignorance about them.

The Bhutanese version of Thursday’s incident was also totally different from what the Assam police said yesterday.


Guwahati, Dec. 23: 
Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today broke his “silence” over the alleged attempt on the life of Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua to dismiss the Assam Rifles’ claim that the banned outfit’s top boss was injured in a group clash in Bangladesh.

Exactly a week after the “attack” took place, Mahanta said Barua had escaped an attack on his convoy in Bangladesh. The chief minister’s statement was in sharp contrast to the Ulfa chief’s claim that there was no attack on him.

Last Sunday, the Assam Rifles had issued a press release in Agartala, claiming that Barua was injured and his deputy, sharpshooter Raju Baruah, killed in a “group clash” in the Chittagong hill tracts on Saturday. The next day, a person identifying himself as Barua, called up newspaper offices and broadcasting agencies from an undisclosed location to rubbish the army’s claims as mere “propaganda of the Indian government against our movement”.

He added that there was no shootout and that “nothing has happened to Raju Baruah”. The Assam Rifles stuck to its statement and refused to issue another official statement after Barua’s denial.

Mahanta gave a different version of the incident, saying Barua’s convoy, which included his white land rover, was “attacked by a rival group” of the militant outfit. “However, Barua escaped unhurt as he was not in the vehicle,” he said.

The chief minister claimed that Barua was in a ship at Chittagong dock awaiting the arrival of an arms consignment when the incident took place. “We have information that Barua’s ship was marked with the same number as that of his satellite phone,” Mahanta claimed.

However, the state government has no information about the presence of Raju Baruah in Bangladesh at the time of the incident, he added.

Accusing the Ulfa chief of standing in the way of the peace process, the chief minister said: “Barua went back on his commitment to have informal dialogue with the state government’s mediators even in a foreign country on several occasions in the past.”

“Once he had sent a feeler seeking an informal discussion with us in London. Accordingly our representatives went to London. But Barua did not turn up. At the last moment, he sent a message that he would be represented by one Mukul Hazarika, which we could not agree to,” Mahanta said.

The chief minister also claimed that on another occasion, the Ulfa chief had agreed to talk to a satradhikar in Delhi. But when the satradhikar went to Delhi, Barua sent a message, asking him to go to Kathmandu. Although the satradhikar took the trouble of travelling all the way from Delhi to Kathmandu, Barua failed to turn up there too and just sought the satradhikar’s blessings over the phone.

“Barua ditched every time the state government made a sincere attempt. He would either send Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa or someone else. Rajkhowa, on the other hand, had told us that though he was interested to start the negotiation, he could not do so as Barua was strongly opposed,” Mahanta added.


Ahmedabad, Dec. 23: 
Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Vishnu Hari Dalmia today asserted that neither the court nor the government has any role to play in resolving the Ayodhya issue.

Those who want the court to resolve the issue are unaware that there is no court case relating to the Ram temple as it’s a matter of faith, Dalmia said. “How can the court give a verdict in this matter, when there is no case pending in the court?” the VHP president asked.

Dalmia was speaking to newsmen after the inauguration of the two-day VHP International Coordination meet that was attended by VHP representatives from more than 50 countries.

Amid chanting of Vedic mantras and Hindu, Jain and Buddhist prayers, the meet began with a resolve to reconstruct all temples destroyed during the Mughal period and a call to unite Hindus all over the world. Dual citizenship for non-resident Indians, on the lines of China and Pakistan, was among the other issues discussed.

VHP external working president B.K. Modi in his inaugural address said India is destined to lead the world in the new millennium. “Our spiritual leaders have come together, our political leaders are today guided by a thought process which is based on our spiritual heritage. Our business leaders are emerging as global players,” he said.

Underlining India’s spiritual strength, Jitatmananda of Ramkrishna Mission said: “Hindus are born to be universal. Only Hindu ideas which are universal, rational can bring world peace.” He called for the reconstruction of temples that had been destroyed without hatred against any community.

Modi expressed hope that with the US recognising Ekal Vidyalaya Trust, it would be easier to raise funds to set up one lakh schools by 2010 in tribal areas in the country to ensure free non-formal education to all children.

Setting up Ekal Vidyalayas in these villages, where there are no government schools, is part of the VHP’s agenda to inculcate “Hindu ethos among poor tribals” who get “lured by missionaries”.


New Delhi, Dec. 23: 
Pro-reforms and Sonia Gandhi’s favourite chief minister Digvijay Singh now plans to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh parivar on the contentious Ayodhya issue by staking claim to construct the Ram temple.

The Madhya Pradesh chief minister said the Ram temple in Ayodhya should be built by the Ramanand sect headed by his guru Swami Ramnareshacharya and not by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Ramjanambhoomi Nyas Trust led by Mahant Ram Chandra Paramhans. “Diggy Raja” made the observations while felicitating Swami Ramnareshacharya on his 75th birthday.

The Congress leader’s stand on the Ayodhya dispute is at variance with the cautious approach of the Congress, which is silent on who should built the temple in case the courts give the go-ahead or an out-of-court settlement is reached in favour of the temple.

The main Opposition party is defensive about the Ayodhya issue. Every time it is asked about the dispute, the party responds with two statements — the Congress will abide by the court verdict and it is in favour of an out-of-court settlement provided the two communities accept mutual adjudication. The Congress is also guarded on the Rajiv Gandhi government’s move to hold shilanyas (laying of the foundation stone) in 1989.

Digvijay, a self-confessed practising and devout Hindu, however, made no reference to the site on which the Ramanand sect intends to construct the temple. His detractors accuse him of crossing the laxmanrekha of party discipline claiming that his remarks will evoke an adverse reaction from the minorities.

But the chief minister is unfazed. Sources close to him said he was against the construction of the temple at the disputed site without a court verdict or an out-of-court settlement. They said Digvijay is among the few Congress leaders who favour a categorical sta-nd on the Ayodhya issue, which involves religious sentiments.

He also plans to challenge the BJP-VHP’s claim that they are the sole representatives of the majority community. “The Ramanand sect led by Ramnareshacharya does not get along with the VHP and the Sangh parivar. If Diggy Raja’s line gains credence, the BJP and its allies will lose political mileage,” an AICC functionary said.

Digvijay’s supporters said the Congress should shed its reticent approach towards the Ayodhya issue and take a firm stand to counter the BJP and its allies. “Every time the issue is raised, we run for cover. It is high time that we say that we are for temple if the courts prove that there existed a temple,” a Congress MP from Punjab said.

Digvijay’s initiative on Ayodhya comes at a time when the jagatguru shankaracharya of Prayag peeth, Swami Madhavanand Saraswati, has already engaged in a dialogue with Muslim organisations for an out-of-court settlement.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had told the Rajya Sabha that talks between religious leaders had begun. Vajpayee was hinting at the initiative taken by John Joseph, a member of the National Minorities Commission to work out an out-of-court settlement.


Kathmandu, Dec. 23: 
Rescued from the dark underbelly of Mumbai, they returned home only to be turned out by their families. But rejection has steeled the resolve and courage of a group of young girls who were lured from Nepal to the brothels of Mumbai.

Today Pooja, Aruna and Goma are the founding members of Shakti Samooh, an organisation fighting for justice that has been denied not just to them but hundreds of others who have been lured into a trail of deception in their quest for survival.

“I am Pooja, a member of Shakti Samooh, one of the girls rescued in 1996,” the 20-year-old addresses a conference on the security of livelihood and trafficking in women and children, organised by the Saarc People’s Forum in Kathmandu.

Dazed and disbelieving at the sudden turn of events, the girls, many in their early teens, tried hard to come to terms with the sudden media attention.

“We were hiding our faces but the cameramen took photographs that were splashed all over newspapers the next day,” says Pooja.

Nearly two million children are abused and trafficked globally every year. The trade is rampant in South-East Asia and South Asia.

Four years ago, police had swooped down on Mumbai’s red light area and rescued many girls, more than 200 of whom were trafficked from Nepal. “It was because of a dedicated commissioner that the rescue could take place,” says Jyoti Sanghera, member of Global Alliance Against Trafficking of Women and a participant at the conference.

The meet has given girls like Pooja a platform to share their experiences with participants from the Saarc countries.

The harrowing journey to Mumbai and the tortuous months in the brothels were only the beginning of a more traumatic story: ostracisation by family and friends once they went back home.

“When we reached Kathmandu airport, we thought our families would be there to receive us. But there were only photographers and the media,” says 17-year-old Aruna. Questions were hurled and the cameras clicked while the girls, huddled together, squirmed.

The assault there was relentless and so was the agony at home. “Our families refused to take us back. Some of the non governmental organisations started counselling our parents. But nothing worked,” narrates Pooja.

The first hurdle came in the form of the Nepal government’s refusal to take them back. “It was the fear of AIDS. The government’s response was: why bring them back here? Let them die there,” says Pooja.

Eventually the government relented. The girls were flown back to Kathmandu, this time to face the hostility of family and friends. “Society regards us as ‘bad women’. We have no respect,” says Pooja.

She was underage when she was smuggled out of Nepal. When Pooja returned she needed a citizenship certificate but her father refused to endorse it. “I had to pay my father to make him sign the necessary documents,” the girl says. Pooja’s father charged her Rs 100 daily for five days before she could get the citizenship certificate.

Out of the 240 girls who retu-rned home, 15 got together and fo-unded Shakti Samooh. It gave them shelter and emotional support that was denied to them at home. “I do not know how to deal with the images of violence that I have seen in the brothels,” says Aruna.

At the conference, they presented their cases with confidence. In a straight forward narration of the violence they had experienced, they spoke about their journey, their days spent in the tacky rooms of the brothels and then their return to a civil society that turned its back not on trafficking but its victims.

“There is demand from the other side. And supply from this side. Can’t the civil society stop it by acting collectively?” asks Aruna.


Lucknow, Dec. 23: 
Police have finally caught up with the “Ripper” of Allahabad.

Termed as “a modern, more terrifying version of Jack the Ripper”, Raj Kalandher, a class four employee of the defence ordinance department is charged with the murder of 14 people, including a senior journalist of the Hindi daily, Aaj.

Police dug up two skeletons from his piggery in Allahabad and four skulls from under a tree in his trans-Yamuna residence. A diary in which he kept a detailed record of how and when his victims were killed was also recovered.

Kalandher would lure his victims, kill them, behead them and then dismember their bodies, taking care to bury their genitals in a separate place.

However, his undoing was the stringent electronic surveillance undertaken by Uttar Pradesh police. Kalandher was not aware of this when he called up the family of Dhirendra Singh, the Aaj journalist, killed three days ago, to tell them that “Dhirendra will not be coming home in a hurry”.

A shocked Pramod Tiwari, SSP, Allahabad, said: “We can’t believe someone can be so ruthless. Kalandher’s diary tells a bloody and sordid tale and the police is relieved to have succeeded in putting an end to it. He is our biggest catch in recent times.”

Kalandher, who smilingly posed with a skull for photographers, told a crowded press conference that he had to kill his “journalist friend” because he was blackmailing him.

“He knew about the Tata Sumo I had stolen after killing its owner. He threatened to expose me when I asked him for some money that he owed me. I couldn’t help it. His time had come,” he said.

Kalandher took Singh on some pretence to Rewa, shot him with the help of an accomplice and threw his head in a pond after cutting it off. He also cut off Singh’s genitals and buried it on his way back home.

Kalandher also talked about his “personal adalat”. “I was the jury and I was the judge of the court. Once I decided to kill someone, there was no turning back,” he said.

He has the right political connections. His wife, Phoolan Devi, is a zilla panchayat member in Allahabad, while his brother is a gram pradhan.

While police are dismissing his being a hired hitman, they cannot explain how a motiveless killer could own a piggery, a house and two cars. Tiwari said: “The way he went about killing people is obvious that he is a crazed killer, though we are also looking into other possible angles.”


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