Social worker raped, killed
3 feared dead in boat capsize
Locked gates shut out temple pillars
Atal rebuilds bridges with peace plea
Advani set for delayed trip
Shaken leaders shun talks
Babri crusader’s seal on Ayodhya amity
Stalin steps in for Jaya swearing-in
Molestation prompts dress code for girls

Burdwan, March 2: 
A 25-year-old employee of the Integrated Child Development Scheme under the social welfare department was allegedly gangraped and murdered yesterday at Paschim Kharampur in the Manteswar police station area on her way home from work.

Police have started a case but no one has been arrested so far.

Villagers gheraoed sub-divisional police officer, Kalna, Shankar Chakraborty, when he went to Paschim Kharampur to investigate the incident. They were protesting against “police inaction”.

The gherao was lifted only when Chakraborty promised that sniffer dogs would be requisitioned from Burdwan town and pressed into service.

He also said raids are being conducted in the neighbouring districts to find the culprits.

Sex-workers’ rights

A seven-day long Shanti Utsab begins on Sunday at the Salt Lake stadium, organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, reports a staff reporter. Over 5,000 delegates, including those from south-east Asia, Europe, the US and South America, will take part in the festival, the central theme of which is promotion of sex-workers’ rights.

The meet comes soon after an incident in Nippani near Belgaum in Karnataka in which 30 members of VAMP, an organisation of sex-workers trying to control the spread of HIV, were thrown out of a building they had legally bought.

The slogan adopted by the festival’s organisers is “a space for all and all for peace”. Several new issues will be taken up, said Salma Kartini, secretary of the Asia-Pacific Sex workers’ Network.


Gosaba, March 2: 
Three people could not be traced after the boat, in which a bridegroom and his family members were travelling, capsized in the river.

The incident occurred at Gosaba in South 24-Parganas this morning. The boat was carrying nearly 45 people, including women and children. Those missing have been identified as Gopal Kahar, Rabin Das and Kokhan Das from Shyambazar in Calcutta. However, 42 people, including the boatman, were later rescued by villagers.


Ayodhya, March 2: 
Checkmated by the administration, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is fast running out of ideas and options to retain the temple tempo that it had so painstakingly whipped up over the last few months.

In a bold initiative today, the district administration locked the gates of the mandir workshop at Karsevakpuram, shrugging off vociferous protests from the VHP activists and kar sevaks assembled here.

Though artisans and stone masons continued work inside the premises for the proposed temple, the locked gates would mean that the VHP’s plans of transporting huge stone pillars to the disputed site on March 15 will now have to be rescheduled.

Top police and administrative officials visiting Karsevakpuram, besides barring entry to the workshop — a popular tourist site, of late — have also posted security guards to monitor the movement of men and materials.

Chief engineer of the workshop Anoobhai Sompura sounded disappointed when he said it would now be impossible to cart the pillars to the Ram temple construction site now that the main gate had been closed.

VHP activists plan innovative counter strategies to foil the administration’s efforts to curb the organisation’s activities.

“We will have to devise new ways to beat the administration,” said BJP MLA from Ayodhya Laloo Singh, hinting at the battle of wits between the VHP and the central government.

“The whole idea of taking pillars to the site was to mark a symbolic start to the temple construction process. Now we will take smaller stones that can be carried by one, or at the most two men. We won’t let them corner us,” said a senior VHP activist.

The VHP is also trying hard to devise ways of bringing kar sevaks stranded in towns beyond Ayodhya to Karsevakpuram. As the railways bypass trains and buses coming in to Ayodhya to stop the inflow of kar sevaks, the VHP has given a call to its activists in nearby places like Gonda, Barabanki, Sultanpur, even Lucknow and Kanpur, to trek to Ayodhya.

No train carrying kar sevaks arrived in Ayodhya or Faizabad today. There were only trains ready to take them back to where they had come from.

A few thousand kar sevaks have been stranded in Sultanpur and Gonda, where they were stopped by police.

VHP activist Sharad Sharma said he and some other VHP leaders would also visit these places in an effort to motivate these kar sevaks to start walking to Ayodhya.

Both Gonda and Sultanpur are roughly 60 km from Ayodhya. Police sources in Sultanpur said that while some of these kar sevaks were hitching rides, other had resorted to a Pad Yatra.

Angry at the state government’s attempts to thwart the entry of kar sevaks, senior VHP leader Purushottam Narain said that the March 15 plan would not be affected at any cost.

“So what if people coming from other states have been banned entry? Kar sevaks from nearby places and other cities of Lucknow can always stand in for them,” he said.

But not every one spoke in the same voice. Singh criticised home minister L.K. Advani’s statement. “It is not right to stop kar sevaks from coming to Ayodhya,” said the four time MLA.

Embarrassing the central leadership further, the BJP legislator demanded that the “undisputed” land surrounding the contentious 40 feet by 80 feet area in Ayodhya should be handed over to the VHP.

“I’m with the sadhus,” Singh said. “It is with their blessings that I have succeeded in becoming an MLA from here four times. I will do everything to help them.’’

With Singh egging them on, the local unit of the BJP has also decided to take up the matter of the locked workshop gates with the state administration.


New Delhi, March 2: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said the Gujarat killings were a “blot on the nation’s forehead” which had gravely damaged India’s image but emphasised that the country would pull out of the crisis.

“There are times in the life of any nation when every citizen is put to test,” Vajpayee said in a peace appeal to the nation. “The present situation in Gujarat is the making of the rioters and arsonists,” he added but underlined that “once again an atmosphere of goodwill and trust would be restored”.

In a bid to rebuild bridges with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as well as BJP hardliners, Vajpayee was careful to place the Godhra station carnage and the mayhem in Ahmedabad on a par in today’s appeal. “From Godhra to Ahmedabad, in so many places there were so many incidents of people being burnt alive, including helpless women and children. This in a blot on the nation’s forehead and has grievously harmed India’s image in the eyes of the world,” he said.

The mention of Godhra and Ahmedabad in the same breath was meant to pacify those who felt his first appeal was more of a warning to the VHP that it would not be allowed to disturb the status quo in Ayodhya. Vajpayee had asked the VHP to call off its temple construction programme — scheduled to start from March 15 — in view of the Gujarat violence.

The VHP and a large section of the BJP have been bristling at what they privately described as the Prime Minister’s “anti-Hindu” stance. They accused Vajpayee of trying to give the impression that the Ahmedabad violence was a direct response to the congregation of kar sevaks in Ayodhya and their relay puja.

BJP hardliners had demanded that he should say something to delink Ayodhya from the Godhra massacre in which 58 kar sevaks returning from the temple town were charred to death after a mob torched the train they were travelling in.

“Why does the government want to fall into the Opposition’s trap and use Gujarat to cow down the kar sevaks?” asked BJP sources. They also objected to the “restrictions” placed on the movement of the kar sevaks to and from Ayodhya.

The sources claimed that the Godhra massacre had nothing to do with the Ram temple movement. Rather, it was comparable to the December 13 attack on Parliament, the Mumbai and the Coimbatore blasts and the hit-and-run strikes in Kashmir, all of which, they said, were ISI-instigated. It is believed that the BJP had conveyed its “unhappiness” to Vajpayee and had urged him to make “amends”.

“Today’s appeal is a good one,” said BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra.

The overweening opinion within the BJP is that the party would lose its only USP — its Hindutva appeal — if it took on the VHP. The sources also hoped that Vajpayee would make some “major” concessions to the VHP to restore the BJP’s “image and confidence”.


New Delhi, March 2: 
L.K. Advani has finally decided to go to Gujarat tomorrow. But, perhaps, he is nearly 100 hours too late. The home minister will be in Ahmedabad when the bloodletting is gradually subsiding.

Ironically, it was not Advani, in charge of law and order and internal security, but defence minister George Fernandes who rushed to Gujarat when the state was in flames.

The first senior Cabinet minister to reach Ahmedabad, Fernandes was at hand to ensure that the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security to call in the army is followed through by a bungling state administration.

Though the Gujarat government delayed it as long as possible, Fernandes’ presence on the spot led to the army deployment.

Advani, who represents Gandhinagar constituency, was among the first senior members of the Cabinet to reach the state when the killer earthquake devastated it last year. He personally supervised relief work.

After the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly last October, Advani was in Srinagar for an on-the-spot survey. Since September 11, and more so after the Parliament strike last December, Advani has been on the forefront of the anti-terror campaign. But faced with a full-blown domestic crisis triggered by the Gujarat carnage, he has been strangely reticent.

Apart from issuing a strong statement to the VHP on the day of the massacre, the home minister has not been seen as the man in charge.

Though he is working behind the scenes, political compulsions have, perhaps, persuaded him to hold his tongue. While the Prime Minister has appealed for peace at least thrice, the home minister has been silent.

Officials in North Block say when the Prime Minister is appealing to the nation, there is no need for Advani to do so. Yet, Advani had never hesitated to step in when A.B. Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh talked of terrorism.

Home ministry officials say that Advani did not go to Gujarat earlier because he had to be here to make a statement on the situation in the burning state in Parliament.

But he was unable to do so because the uproar in the House forced the Speaker to adjourn proceedings till Monday.

BJP insiders say Advani’s reluctance to speak about the Gujarat situation is understandable as chief minister Narendra Modi, his protege, has let down the government miserably.

They also say it would be a major embarrassment for Advani, the man responsible for igniting the Hindutva flame through his rath yatra, to take a tough public posture against his right nationalist vote bank. So the best option for him was to remain silent.


New Delhi, March 2: 
Shaken by the orgy of violence in Gujarat, Muslim leaders connected with the Babri Masjid agitation are unwilling to enter into fresh negotiations to resolve the temple-mosque dispute.

Leaders belonging to the All-India Muslim Personal Law, Milli Council, Babri Masjid Action Committee and Muslim Mushawarat are also reluctant to take to the streets, fearing that such a course may further vitiate the atmosphere.

“We are shell-shocked. It is not the time to sit across the table and solve a vexed issue like Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi. Let the situation normalise first,” a member of the personal law board said.

The Muslim Mushawarat committee is meeting here tomorrow to demand a ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Maulana Israr-ul-Haq Qasmi, who is also a member of the personal law board, said Gujarat should be declared a disturbed area and handed over to the army. “We have full faith in the army. Its presence is needed to restore confidence,” Qasmi said.

Members of the Milli Council and other prominent Muslim leaders said they were aware of the VHP’s demand for the land around the disputed site as part of a compromise formula to defer its temple agitation. “But we do not want to make a big issue unless we get to know exactly what the government intends to do,” Muslim leaders said, pointing out that they were watching the power struggle within the Sangh parivar.

Representatives of these Muslim bodies said it was not the right time to discuss the Ayodhya issue. The need of the hour was to restore normality in Gujarat. Syed Shahabuddin of Majlis-e-Mushawarat demanded imposition of President’s rule in Gujarat as the Narendra Modi government had failed to maintain law and order.

Muslim leaders, while admitting that dispute over the Babri land was causing a lot of bloodspill, ruled out the possibility of the community giving up its “legitimate” claim.

The dominant feeling is to fight a legal battle even if the disputed area is taken away forcibly. They believe such a course would turn public opinion against hardliners and protect other disputed shrines.

Two fringe groups associated with the Babri Masjid movement proposed that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee take steps for tripartite talks involving “real leaders” of the two communities and the government to resolve the decades-old dispute. Kahlid Ahmad Khan, a Muslim leader from Ayodhya-Faizabad, said there could be a solution if religious figures like the Sankaracharyas and Muslim organisations hold talks.


Ayodhya, March 2: 
For 50 years, Hashim Ansari has been a constant thorn in the VHP’s flesh. Today he is helping Ram Murthi Pandey, a Brahmin neighbour who supports the Ram mandir movement, get his daughter married off.

Agitating for the Babri Masjid since 1949, Ansari is not only the main plaintiff in the original Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case filed in Allahabad High Court in 1961, he is also state convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee.

“Why are you surprised I am going to Pandeyji’s house? It’s always been like that in Ayodhya. Muslims have never been safer in any other place,’’ the 82-year-old patriarch said, almost making light of a supreme irony.

“All through the painful and emotionally-charged struggle for mandir and masjid, Hindus in Ayodhya have never touched their Muslim brothers. In fact, many times they have come to our rescue. The real threat comes from somewhere else,” says Ansari.

“The actual threat is from those who come from other places. In Ayodhya, we feel quite safe,” underlined 22-year-old Mohammad Hasaan, a student. It was the fear of the thousands of kar sevaks converging on Ayodhya that had forced Ansari and other Muslim leaders to ask the women and children to move to safer places. But now the tension is easing. Satisfied with the security in and around their town, Muslims families are getting on with their lives.

One of the most quoted and interviewed Muslim leaders in the state, Ansari displays nothing of the fire and venom associated with him. “It (the acid criticism) is only reserved for Hindu leaders who want to cut the nation into a million pieces,” he says with a toothless grin.

Everyone knows Ansari in the Hanumangarhi area and places surrounding Karsevakpuram. Sadhus offer him tea as they sit together discussing the intricacies of the controversy that has wracked the nation. Many of the Hindu shopkeepers often don’t take money from the man who has spent his entire life opposing the mandir. Ansari himself claims, rather proudly, that every mahant in the 7,000-odd temples of Ayodhya knows him personally.

Pandit Hari Shankar Tripathi, a strong believer in the mandir cause, says Ansari should not be faulted. “He loves his religion as much as we do. Ideally, the two places of worship should exist side by side. In Ayodhya, not many will have problems with that.”

Interestingly, many of the mahants in the Hanumangarhi area opposed the VHP bandh on Friday. By evening, most of the shops owned by Hindus had opened.

Though Ansari doesn’t want “a communal explosion in his beloved Ayodhya”, he has threatened to read namaaz with his supporters at the disputed site the day VHP leaders storm the complex with materials to be used in the construction of a Ram temple there. “Otherwise, it will be a victory of fundamentalist forces and my entire life’s struggle will go to waste,’’ Ansari says.

Ansari’s anger is directed as much towards Muslim leaders as it is towards the VHP and RSS. “Even Muslims are using the agitation for their personal gains. Every leader has a vested interest,” he says.

Shripal Verma, a local businessman, seconds Ansari. “The Congress used ulemas, the BJP is using sadhus. Everyone has profited from the mandir-masjid confrontation. Mera baas chale to desh ke saare mandir aur masjid par taala lagwadun. Pooja karna hain to apne ghar me,” he fumes.


Chennai, March 2: 
For one emotional moment, Jayalalithaa choked over the words.

“I do not find words to express myself adequately at this moment of joy and triumph which was made possible by the people of Tamil Nadu, of Andipatti in particular, who helped me to cross all the hurdles,” she told a packed gathering come to witness her swearing-in at the Madras University auditorium.

The crowd broke into raptures. “Puratchi thalaivai vaazga, (Long live the revolutionary leader),” they shouted.

In the jam-packed hall were several MPs, including a few from the Congress and the TMC, legislators, captains of industry and civil servants besides a large number of film personalities.

But what many saw with disbelief — and perhaps marked a sharp difference in the state’s political culture — was the entry of DMK leader of Opposition K. Anbazhagan and Chennai mayor M.K. Stalin. Jayalaithaa’s close friend and confidante, Sasikala, walked in casually a few minutes before the former arrived, greeting friends and partymen alike. The imperious air of old was replaced by that I-am-one-of-you attitude.

Jayalalithaa arrived at 10.50 sharp — in deference to the number gods. Six happens to be one of her lucky numbers and 10.50 adds up to that magic figure.

Wearing a henna-green sari and clutching a large, colourful bouquet, Jayalalithaa was all smiles as she climbed up the dais to be sworn in as chief minister for the third time in her 20-year political career.

At 11.07 sharp — which adds up to nine, another of Jayalalithaa’s lucky numbers — Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao administered the oath of office.

After her, other ministers followed. Among them were O. Panneerselvam, who resigned to make room for Jayalalithaa. He was rewarded for his loyalty by being given the number two position in the Cabinet and the portfolio of PWD minister. C. Ponnaiyan got finance and planning, M. Thambidurai got education, and D. Jayakumar law.

The ceremony over, the Governor given a warm send-off, Jayalalithaa personally greeted the invitees as she stepped down from the dais and walked through the aisle to the main door.

A smiling Jayalalithaa acknowledged in particular the greetings of Stalin and Ambazhagan. In a moment fraught with emotion, she hugged veteran Tamil film comedienne, Manorama, and flashed the V sign to her supporters.


Patna, March 2: 
The Rabri Devi government has imposed a rigid dress code in schools and colleges in the wake of a spate of eve-teasing and a recent daring attempt to molest a girl in a school in Patna.

The code has been imposed even in the most high-profile women’s institutions “to save our girls from the ogling men”. Patna Women’s College has banned sleeveless salwar kameez, jeans and mini skirts.

However, this has irked girl students, who criticise “punishment to the women college students” when gangsters and “street waifs teasing us should be behind bars”.

College principals have also sought extra vigilance at the institutions.

“It is the state government’s responsibility to stop anti-social elements from entering women’s colleges. Why should we be barred from making a fashion statement and exercising our freedom by wearing clothes of our choice,” said Anisha Joshi a student of Patna Women’s College.

“It is a tragedy that a breakdown of law and order is being linked to how women are dressing. Implicitly, we are being blamed for the police failure to control hooligans,” said Joshi.

The Bihar government’s attempt to impose the dress-code is a knee-jerk reaction to the molestation attempt at a government girls’ school in Patna on February 22.

Around 11 am, four men had allegedly entered the school compound and molested a 15-year-old student of Class VIII. When the girl protested, she was beaten black and blue, following which she fainted.

In a belated crackdown on the eve-teasers, the police arrested one Sanjeev Kumar. The school principal, had later complained that there was no security for the girls as the police turned a blind eye. The victim admitted to the police that these four men used to stalk her but she did not tell her parents out of fear.

Bihar minister for secondary and higher education Ramlakhan Raman later visited the school and announced that the state government was in favour of making a dress code mandatory for women’s schools and colleges. The minister also urged greater police vigilance around the institutions.

In the wake of molestation, the police in Patna rounded up some miscreants from near the college yesterday. However, college authorities feel this will not prevent recurrence of chaos.

College authorities and the state government are under the impression that fashionable dresses create a security risk.

Magadh Mahila College principal Asha Singh said her college administration did not believe in encouraging the students into “an undue craze for fashionable dresses for they might risk their own security”.

But the students do not share this anxiety. “While gangsters ooze bravado, why should we discard our favourite dresses. Are jeans more provocative than salwar kameez,” asks Nira Jha of third-year English honours of a girls’ college in Patna. “To say that is to apply a rustic perception of dress sense,” she added.


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