Teachers’ strike called off
Guardian batters truant teacher
Labour link whiff in mill murder
Home for Keshpur orphans
Hospital by people, for people
Delhi junks Rocca restraint sermon
CPM doubts terror law teeth
Soft target raises fear of pre-planned hit
Govt sniffs plot to scuttle poll process
Atal turns away women riot-crusaders

Calcutta, May 14: 
Two influential teachers’ lobbies today called off the statewide teachers’ strike scheduled for Friday even as the government began releasing the withheld salaries of teachers.

The SUCI-controlled Secondary Teachers’ and Employees’ Association (STEA) and the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association (BPTA) announced the decision minutes after a meeting with minister for school education Kanti Biswas.

STEA general secretary Ratan Laskar said the strike was withdrawn to give more time to the government to reconsider its decision of seeking a declaration against private tuition. “But we have decided to organise a day-long dharna at Rani Rashmoni Avenue on the same day to demand scrapping of the draconian circular, asking teachers to give the undertaking,” he added.

The government today started disbursing the blocked salaries of the teachers working in government-assisted secondary and primary institutions across Bengal, ending a fortnight of uncertainty. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta had passed the order yesterday.

It is believed that Writers’ Buildings has also given a month’s extension to teachers who are yet to send in the undertaking. Officials said declarations from Darjeeling district are yet to reach the education department.

Besides Laskar, Kartic Saha, BPTA general secretary, and Prithwish Basu, president from West Bengal Headmasters’ Association that had supported Friday’s strike, had called on Biswas.

Laskar said he lodged a protest with the minister for forcing teachers to give an undertaking on private tuition once every year. “Submission of any such undertaking to the government is humiliating and we shall go for a more intensive movement if this is not scrapped forthwith,” he added.

Saha said primary teachers had not received any such circular. He argued that the minister was not correct in saying that primary teachers had also sent in the declaration.

Basu demanded scrapping of the proposed “penal action” against teachers mentioned in the circular. He questioned the minister on why college and university teachers were not being asked to submit the undertaking.

Welcoming the decision to call off the strike, leaders from the eight Left associations of teachers said they would see to it that salary cheques reach teachers in time.

Amal Banerjee, general secretary of the CPM-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA), said nearly 3.35 lakh teachers, including primary teachers, will start receiving salary cheques from tomorrow. He said payment of cheques will, however, be delayed for teachers in the hills of Darjeeling as their declarations have not yet reached the education department.


Malda, May 14: 
An inebriated man was arrested today for severely beating up the headmaster of a primary school in Habibpur. The teacher is battling death at Malda Sadar Hospital.

Suren Baske, whose sons attend the Kutkutipara Niamatpur Krishnapur Primary School, assaulted Badal Saha after accusing him of regularly bunking school. The incident occurred when a drunken Baske spotted Saha leaving the school premises this morning. Baske accosted Saha and said: “Why don’t you come to school every day? My sons are studying in your school and most of the days they return home as the school remains closed.”

Realising that Baske was drunk, the headmaster refused to answer and tried to walk away. But Baske blocked his way and soon an altercation ensued. The headmaster reportedly told him that he was under no compulsion to answer Baske. Already under the influence of alcohol, Baske lost his temper and started beating Saha with a bamboo pole. Some of the blows landed on Saha’s head and he collapsed.

Villagers rushed to the headmaster’s rescue and took him to the Bulbulchandi primary health centre. He was later shifted to Malda Sadar Hospital, where his condition is stated to be critical.

The officer-in-charge of Habibpur police station, Uday Majumder, confirmed that Baske was drunk when he was arrested.

The school building in the tribal-dominated Niamatpur Krishnapur village doesn’t have a roof. So classes are held under a tree for all the 72 students. Apart from the headmaster, there is another teacher, Sabita Sinha.

But villagers complained that both teachers don’t attend school regularly. Students return home almost every day without attending a single class.

The villagers are not supporting Baske’s violence, but they felt his anger was not out of place.


Bhadreswar, May 14: 
Dalhousie Jute Mill personnel manager Suresh Prasad was shot dead by two unidentified assailants outside the mill compound here as he was returning to his quarters after work.

The seriously injured officer was first rushed to the nearby Gourhati ESI hospital. He was transferred to the Chandannagar sub-divisional hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds.

Prasad, 45, who had occupied the post for over five years, had just come out of the gate when two men, their faces masked with mufflers, rode up on a motorcycle and shot at him thrice from close range. The incident occurred around 7.45 pm, officer-in-charge of Bhadreswar police station Debashis Chakraborty said.

No arrests have been made and police are yet to identify the weapon used.

Police are on the lookout for Raju Jaiswal, leader of IFTU, a Naxalite-affiliated trade union. He was showcaused for holding a gate-meeting on May 4 and instigating workers to start an agitation at the mill over the suspension of three workers found sleeping on duty. There are about 4,500 workers at the mill, affiliated to as many as 14 trade unions.

Six other workers were fired the next day and the management had put up a notice of temporary suspension of work. Police believe the killing is likely to be connected with the disciplinary action taken against the workers. The mill resumed production soon after, but an atmosphere of discontent prevailed.

A force led by additional superintendent of police (headquarters) H.K. Kusumakar and SDPO, Chandnannagar, Ashesh Biswas is carrying out raids in the area to track down the culprits.


Keshpur (Paschim Midnapore), May 14: 
A local NGO in association with the state government has taken up a project to build a home here for the children who lost their parents during the bloody political clashes in the run-up to the Assembly elections last year.

The NGO, Kishalaya Kalyan Abas, will bear most of the cost of the home that will come up at Mahisda in the Keshpur police station area.

Laying the foundation stone of the building on Monday, minister and local MLA Nandarani Dal promised a fund of Rs 6.7 lakh for the shelter and a grant of Rs 570 for each child.

Keshpur-Garbeta hit the headlines after a series of clashes between CPM and Trinamul Congress supporters over control of the territory from January to May 2001. At least 76 activists from both parties were killed in the bloody struggle. The clashes stopped after the Assembly polls in May.

“Many children have become orphans and many have lost their houses and belongings. Our move is to provide the orphans with shelter and education. We have appealed to all to come forward to protect the future of the innocent children,’’ said Shakti Adhikari, secretary of another NGO, Bhagabati Siksha Kendra.

He said children who have lost their fathers will be kept in the home and the NGO will look after their basic needs and education.

Dal called on the people to maintain peace in the area and resist any attempt otherwise. “We have restored peace here after a lot of effort and at the cost of so many lives. Some people have been trying to trigger violence to block development activities. We have asked the administration to restrain them,’’ Dal said.


Gosaba (South 24-Parganas), May 14: 
Villagers in the Sundarbans realised one of their most cherished dreams when a hospital for which they had donated money opened its doors on Sunday.

Apart from donations from the villagers, the Sunderban Sramajibi Hospital has been built with financial assistance from the Ramakrishna Mission and the Sarberia Krishi Samabay Samity.

The hospital was inaugurated by two daily wage earners of the area, Ramani Sardar and Kalipada Sardar.

The hospital will benefit five lakh villagers, primarily residents in the 14 islands of Gosaba and its adjoining areas.

Built on a two-bigha plot donated by Reba Sen, a villager, the hospital will initially have three rooms with facilities for ECG, X-ray and minor operations.

District chief medical officer Bhaskar Bhattacharya said the hospital was not built at the health department’s initiative. Such enterprises should always be welcomed, he added.

“Only a month ago, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee inaugurated a hospital at Rudra Nagar on Sagar Island. But it was not accessible to the villagers who live on the different islands of Gosaba. Undoubtedly this hospital will help them a lot,” said Trinamul Congress MLA from Sagar Island Mantu Pakhira.

He said there was no healthcare network in Sagar Island and the entire Sundarbans. A few hospitals had been started with World Bank assistance, but they could not be sustained for the want of doctors.

The Sunderbans has a few health centres but they are quite ill-equipped. The healthcare needs of 45 lakh villagers of the Sunderbans are served by three non-government agencies. And even then, it is impossible for these NGOs to reach the far corners of the various islands of Gosaba.

“We have made fervent appeal to the Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly to look into the matter so that the suffering of the villagers can be mitigated,” said Pakhira.

“Basically the Sunderbans is a riverine area. Here we need mechanised boats to reach the villagers. I have personally requested the health minister and the Sunderbans development minister to look into the matter,” he added.


New Delhi, May 14: 
India today told the US that its troops will remain deployed along the border with Pakistan, hardening its position after the morning attack in Jammu on the families of army personnel.

US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca, who is in Delhi, was told in no uncertain terms that the onus of reducing tension in the region is directly linked with Islamabad’s sincerity in reining in jihadis operating from its soil.

Delhi believes that it is through cross-border terrorism that Pakistan perpetrates violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the Pervez Musharraf regime in Islamabad is doing nothing to give up its hostile policy towards India.

Rocca, who is here to urge India not to break its restraint, was told that it is not India but Pakistan to whom she should deliver her message. It was also made clear to her that the heavy deployment of troops along the western border was done with “certain objectives in mind” and so far those objectives have not been fulfilled.

It is clear that India has refused to accept any suggestions for withdrawing troops and returning to the dialogue table with Pakistan. India would like Islamabad to take “urgent, sincere and visible” steps to stop cross-border terrorism before it can even think of a dialogue.

Rocca is scheduled to leave tomorrow for Islamabad, where she is expected to have similar dialogues with the Pakistani leadership over steps that could bring down the temperature in volatile South Asia.

Delhi’s concerns about Islamabad were strengthened by today’s terrorist attack in Jammu in which more than 30 people were killed. Rocca described it as “barbaric”. Later in the evening, British foreign secretary Jack Straw called up foreign minister Jaswant Singh to condemn the attack and convey his condolences to the families of the victims.

During the day, Rocca met Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. Later, she also called on leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. But her main interactions were with officials like Jayant Prasad, joint secretary (Americas), and Arun Singh, joint secretary (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) in the foreign ministry. She also held consultations with India’s special envoy on Afghanistan Sati Lambah and foreign secretary-designate Kanwal Sibal.

Earlier, she delivered a lecture at the Confederation of Indian Industry on “Transforming US-India Relations” where she drew a general outline of the interactions between the two countries in the last three years at all levels. “The US-India relationship is entering an exciting phase, a period of transformation which, if properly managed, can bring great benefits to both our countries,” Rocca said.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said the meetings that Rocca had with the Indian leadership were “detailed, in-depth and mutually satisfying”. She added that bilateral and international issues were discussed and India’s assessment over “some of the regional developments and its concerns were conveyed in ample measures”.

Rao pointed out that India has always advocated peace and stability in the region. “But after the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 13, we made certain demands of Pakistan. The US is fully cognisant of them and fully understands these legitimate demands,” she said.

Rao said the key to peace in the region lies with Pakistan. “The Musharraf regime has to take steps to change the climate of mistrust. Unless that is done there can be no dialogue between the two sides,” she said.


New Delhi, May 14: 
The killings in Jammu sent shockwaves across political lines. The Congress condemned the terrorist attack in Jammu, saying this was another illustration of “Pakistan-sponsored atrocity” and urged the Vajpayee regime to do “everything possible” to prevent recurrence of such acts.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, however, took a dig at the government, wondering the efficacy of the newly passed Bill against terrorism. “This government has completely failed in protecting the people. What was the point of bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act if incidents like this continue?”

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said: “The attack is part of Pakistan’s strategy to internationalise the Kashmir issue.” He said the attack had assumed a new dimension as terrorists had not even spared family members of army jawans.

Unlike the CPM, the Congress refrained from attacking the Vajpayee regime. Asked who is to be blamed for the incident, Reddy said it was not the time to indulge in a blame game, but added: “We do expect the Centre to do everything at its command to prevent recurrence of such ghastly acts.”

Reddy said the government should consult all parties and come out with a “comprehensive strategy” to tackle terrorism.

The Congress spokesman, however, admitted that the government should have been more alert when US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca was visiting India.


New Delhi, May 14: 
This morning’s attack in Jammu is just about the perfect example of a fifth column operation. Needless to say, the army, gritting its teeth, is maintaining a disciplined quietude but the import of the incident is easily grasped.

At the defence ministry headquarters in New Delhi, information reaching till the afternoon had not yet led to conclusive evidence that the attack on Kaluchak was pre-planned.

Defence minister George Fernandes is off the Goa coast, witnessing an India-French naval exercise and is expected to return only late tonight. The army chief, General S. Padmanabhan, is in Kathmandu on a four-day visit. Official reactions from them have not yet been received.

But the manner in which the attack was carried out — the fact that the bus was stopped at the army base in Kaluchak, a few kilometres from Jammu — is a possible indication that the militants had prior information of what they thought was a soft target.

Kaluchak and neighbouring Ratnachak are bases of an army division whose units are now deployed under Operation Parakram. Kaluchak is home to many personnel of an armoured brigade and Ratnachak, personnel of artillery, apart from other army units.

When the militants stopped the Himachal Roadways’ bus at Kaluchak, killed seven passengers, and ran into the family quarters, and wired up some of the houses of junior commissioned officers and other ranks with the intent to detonate explosives, few soldiers were at home. Their wives and children were.

Officers — even those who have retired — do not want to go on record on what the reaction in the ranks can be. “I have served there (in the Jammu area) for years. In Jammu and Kashmir, we, in the army, live with the threat of death every day but this is still different because of the situation,” said a recently retired colonel.

“I just worry over what a pathetic situation it is that we should send our soldiers to the borders and their families are exposed to such danger.”

The few soldiers in station were a skeletal force for security duty and for duties of the quick reaction team comprising personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir police and special services.

The attack comes in the middle of a series of manoeuvres by the forces over and above its deployment under Operation Parakram. The official reason given for the exercises is that “troops have to be kept fighting fit”.

Strategic thinkers would say that the successive exercises are also intended to send out the message that America’s Operation Enduring Freedom cannot afford to dispense with Indian co-operation. Indian army movements can easily force Pakistan into making matching deployments and throw into disarray Islamabad’s participation in the coalition’s “war on terrorism”. There are indications that it may already be happening, making the US even more anxious to de-escalate the tension between Pakistan and India.

Attacks like today’s will increase the pressure on the Centre to retaliate against militants in Pakistan because India believes Pervez Musharraf has done precious little to rein them in.


New Delhi, May 14: 
The militant strike on the Kaluchak army camp in Jammu this morning was primarily an attempt to scuttle the ongoing dialogue between the Majid Dar faction of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen and the Union government, home ministry sources believe.

They claim that the militants and their backers want to ensure that terrorism is stepped up in Jammu and Kashmir so that the state remains on the boil.

According to the sources, another motive could be to demoralise the troops as an attack on family members of Indian armymen at a time when they are deployed along the Line of Control and the international border could undermine their morale. More such strikes are likely, they say, blaming Pakistan’s support for terrorism in Kashmir for today’s early-morning attack.

Ten children and eight women were killed when the terrorists entered the army camp and began firing indiscriminately. Altogether 23 people died, including three soldiers.

What India has to decide is its tolerance level, home ministry officials feel. “We have to decide how many such deaths we can take — 30, 300 or more — before we decide to act. Pakistan should be made to realise that there will be a cost to pay on the other side of the LoC for such acts or else these attacks will continue,” a senior official said.

From India’s point of view, the attack merely vindicates its stand that Pakistan has done little to rein in terrorists.

However, the timing of the strike — on the day Christina Rocca is in India — seems all wrong from Pakistan’s point of view, though home minister L.K. Advani had a different explanation. He said the strike was “timed to demonstrate to the world that despite the global coalition against terrorism, the terrorists are not likely to be cowed down”.

Advani also said it was not a coincidence that the incident had occurred at a time when a senior US state department official is visiting the country.

When Bill Clinton was in India in March 2000, there was a similar massacre in which nearly 37 sleeping Sikhs were killed by terrorists. The attack brought home the horror of terrorist strikes to the former President.

Advani sent I.D. Swamy, the junior home minister, and secretary A.K. Bhandari to Jammu for an on-the-spot assessment. They are likely to return late this evening or tomorrow morning.

Most senior officials, however, doubt whether mere exchange of notes between various ministries can minimise such incidents. “There is nothing one can do when terrorists are so committed that they are willing to be killed or blown up. No country in the world, including Israel, which has the best security set-up, can stop these suicide attacks,” said a home ministry official.

“What is lacking in India is the political will to make the backers of the terrorists pay for such attacks in kind,” he added.


New Delhi, May 14: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is too busy to grant women’s organisations an audience on Gujarat violence. His office cancelled an appointment today with women’s organisations which wanted to bring to his notice specific cases of violence against women in Gujarat and demand proper intervention by the authorities.

The women’s groups did not have much luck with Telugu Desam chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu either. Naidu left the capital without meeting them.

“The Prime Minister’s Office informed us that the PM had some urgent business to attend to and will not be able to meet us. I called them up for another date. So far we have heard nothing,” said Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association.

“We sought a meeting with Chandrababu Naidu, hoping to tell him about the situation women in Gujarat are facing. But his office never got back to us,” she said.

Nearly a dozen women’s groups have teamed up and drafted a memorandum on the Gujarat violence to be presented to the Prime Minister. The memorandum demands that FIRs be immediately lodged and the Gujarat government follow internationally recognised laws while dealing with victims of violence. “We have the facts of each case,” Karat said.

The organisations include, among others, the AIDWA, the Guild of Service, the Muslim Women’s Forum, the Joint Women’s Programme, the National Federation of Indian Women, the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Saheli and Jagori.

The government’s own National Commission for Women (NCW), which recently brought out a completely washed-out fact-finding report on Gujarat, was absent from the delegation.

“It is possible that the Prime Minister is busy with other agendas — after all, he has a lot on his hands. There is also an impending Cabinet reshuffle. But he must hear the women’s delegations,” said Mohini Giri.

“In fact, the Prime Minister should make it a point of calling women’s organisations from time to time,” she added.

Till now, women’s organisations had confined themselves to organising news conferences and street protests. This is the first time these groups have sought meetings with political leaders. One of the greater horrors of the Gujarat riots has been the brutality unleashed on Muslim women.

When defence minister George Fernandes recently told the Lok Sabha there was “nothing new” about women being raped in riots, the women’s organisations had marched to the doorstep of North Block to register their protest.

The NCW, however, has scrupulously kept out of protests and meetings on Gujarat. Other women’s organisations are wary of this apathy and returning the cold vibes. “There is no point asking them,” said Karat.

Giri wants the NCW to sponsor a tour of Gujarat by the Guild of Service. “I have sent them a letter. Let’s see how they respond. Rehabilitation of war widows has been my main arena of activity, so I can help in Gujarat,” said Giri.


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