Sati in Panna, shielded by the faithful & witnessed by sons
Kettle leaks pot’s list
Pilgrims massacred in strike on polls
Big-bang carnival in Calcutta
Sikh shot in US ignored father’s advice to return home
Fusion fashion hits catwalk
No-win battle on pilgrims’ trail
‘We thought it was safe’
High court blow to rail split protest
Calcutta Weather

Aug. 6: 
Fifteen years after Roop Kanwar was forced to commit sati in Rajasthan’s Deorala, Guttu Bai plunged into the leaping flames of her husband’s pyre as an entire village in Madhya Pradesh erupted in celebration and her two sons stood as spectators.

Moments into the incident, the village of timid onlookers in Panna district, about 300 km from Bhopal, worked up a frenzy, dancing, chanting hymns celebrating sati and virtually converting the faceless crematorium into a makeshift temple.

After Mallu Nayya, 70, a backward class member of Patnatamoli village, died last night, his widow Guttu declared she would commit sati. A section of villagers from another caste informed Saleha police station, about 8 km away.

Deputy superintendent of police S.H. Ghose reached the village with his team even as the pyre was being lit amid beating drums and kirtans.

Ghose tried to stop Guttu as she lunged for the pyre after certain rituals. But a couple of hundred villagers helped her wriggle out. The policemen were treated to a shower of stones and brickbats, and Ghose fell unconscious. Guttu Bai’s sons did nothing to save their mother.

Jaalpur range commissioner B.R. Naidu reached Panna this afternoon. By then, hordes of villagers from neighbouring areas were making a beeline to offer prayers at the “holy site”, shouting “Sati mata ki jai (Long live goddess Sati)”.

“It is now very difficult for the police or the district administration to take any action. We have cordoned off the area to maintain peace,” the commissioner said.

Like Roop Kanwar’s Deorala, Patnatamoli was on its way to resembling a fair ground with an air of triumph in the 65-year-old widow’s “sacrifice”. At Deorala in 1987, pictures of Kanwar’s wedding and hastily-sketched scenes of her burning did brisk business. The temple built on the pyre flourished, too.

But today, amid the stream of outsiders, Patnatamoli wore a deserted look with most residents having fled to escape police action.

Additional director-general of police (intelligence) Swaraj Puri admitted that the administration was caught off guard. An incident like this in Panna is unexpected, Puri said.

The incident has dealt a blow to the Congress-led state government, headed by Digvijay Singh, considered one of the most “development-oriented” chief ministers of the party.

The chief minister did not make a statement today. The Congress will send a delegation tomorrow for an on-the-spot study.


New Delhi, Aug 6: 
‘Operation strikeback’ has trickled out from the political pipeline.

Sources close to the BJP government today hurriedly compiled and selectively leaked out a list of Congress leaders who had managed to get petroleum dealerships when Congress Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, a close friend of current Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, reigned.

Leading the list is Mahua Mandal, daughter of former Congress minister and estranged Trinamul leader Ajit Panja, who got a licence sometime between 1990 and 1995 to set up Jaya Service Station near Salt Lake.

An Akhilesh Kumar Shukla, who is described on the list as Vidya Charan Shukla’s nephew, also figures on the list. The list claims that Akhilesh was given Balaji Highway Fuel in Jabalpur. However, with the list leak coming late in the day, none of those named could be contacted for comments.

Another prominent name on the list is that of Kaushal Service Station in Chandigarh, owned by a member of former law minister Jagannath Kaushal’s family.

A.R. Krishnamurthy, a Congress MLA listed as the son of B. Rachiah, former governor of Kerala, got an outlet in Karnataka. Hema Latha Ramesh, wife of Ramesh, a minister in the Karantaka Congress government, was allotted Yasush Petro Services in Bangalore.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik had reminded reporters of the case of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s private secretary Vincent George’s wife being awarded a petrol dealership on compassionate grounds as she was unemployed. However, George’s wife had later refused the dealership, according to BJP sources, because the case became public knowledge.

Painting the situation as one in which the pot is calling the kettle black, BJP MPs argued today that the Congress had no right to call them names as they had eaten all the “malai” (cream).

But Congress leaders have been claiming that any favours granted during their party’s regime cannot be compared to those being doled out now as the BJP was doing it after masking their actions by appointing a so-called independent oil selection board. The Congress had “openly” used the petroleum minister’s “discretionary quota”, which was later struck down by the Supreme Court.


Srinagar, Aug. 6: 
Breaching the biggest-ever security shield for the Amarnath yatra, militants crept up on pilgrims sleeping in a camp near Pahalgam this dawn and mowed down nine.

The Centre said the attack, which also left more than 30 injured, was aimed at disrupting the yatra and next month’s Assembly polls, but vowed to press ahead with both.

In Delhi, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said a group called Al Mansuriyawas responsible for the strike. “This organisation is the new name of the Lashkar-e-Toiba,” he said but asserted that the pilgrimage would continue. Fresh batches of yatris left for the shrine after a brief suspension in the 46-km trek.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee went into a huddle with Advani, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and colleagues George Fernandes and Jaswant Singh. Vajpayee sent a team headed by two ministers of state to Pahalgam for an on-the-spot study. Asked how many militants could be involved, Advani said: “There could be three to four terrorists as this kind of firing cannot be done by one person.”

Several of the dead are from northern India. A pilgrim form Bengal, Manjookar Singh, is among the injured.

The attack, which came despite the 12,000-strong force deployed along the yatra route, failed to dampen poll preparations as the Election Commission sent its first batch of special observers to the state. Advani also said there would be no “rethinking on the election schedule”.

Minister of state for home I.D. Swami virtually blamed Pakistan. Asked if he believed it was behind the carnage, Swami said: “No one has to think twice or doubt about that.”

Pakistan rejected the charge. A foreign office spokesman said the “government of Pakistan has condemned the terrorist attack” and rejected “with contempt” the remarks made by the Indian minister. But Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said the attack showed Pakistan’s continued support to militants. The US said such assaults were aimed at scuttling efforts for a “political resolution of the Kashmir conflict”.

Officials said the militants emerged from a dense forest, lobbed grenades and sprayed automatic fire. “They ran to the camp firing as they went,” a police officer told Reuters. “The firing lasted for an hour,” a survivor said from his hospital bed.

Security forces retaliated, killing one attacker whose body was found with an AK-47, bullets and a grenade, the police officer said. He was identified as Abu Qasim. The Pakistani national, dressed as a Gujjar tribal, launched the surprise assault.

“It was around 5.15 am. We were preparing for our onward journey and were standing outside when bullets started raining,” said Savita, a survivor. There were about 3,000 pilgrims at the camp. Fourteen of the seriously injured have been hospitalised in Srinagar while the others have been taken to hospitals in Anantnag.

Jamna, a villager from Gujarat, said her dream of visiting the shrine has been shattered. But some remained undeterred. “I’m not scared. We will continue the holy trek,” said Chaman Lal.


Calcutta, Aug. 6: 
Take this. Bono, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Pete ‘Who’ Townshend sharing the stage with Calcutta group-theatre artistes at an open-air world music carnival in winter.

This dream magnum opus — also featuring the likes of Steve Vai, David Byrne and Steve Porcaro — could soon become a reality if Grammy-winning double-violinist Shankar (formerly L. Shankar of Shakti fame) has his way. In town with LA-born companion Gingger, the only other double-violinist in the world, the virtuoso musician unveiled plans for a grandiose mixed-form extravaganza he is working on that will “definitely” touch Calcutta.

“This is one of the greatest cities when it comes to appreciation of music and arts and the project I have in mind can showcase the local talent in various genres in the presence of western legends I have collaborated with,” Shankar told The Telegraph on Tuesday.

The Across The River man, who was largely instrumental in bringing Sting, Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen to the capital for the famous Amnesty International concert, is hoping to juxtapose various elements in an experimental cocktail to “liberate” arts and break barriers.

“I want it to be an open-air event with three giant stages alongside each other to house opera, theatre, poetry and a fusion of jazz, rock, pop and classical music. The broad canvas must also include a big children’s square to create an aura of freedom and creativity,” explains Shankar, who won the Grammy with Gabriel for co-writing 13 tracks on the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ album.

The maestro’s multi-genre theme draws inspiration from The Who’s failed mass-participation project, Lifehouse. Who frontman Townshend had attempted an ambitious opera-rock blend at London’s Little Vic Theatre in the Sixties, with the audience lending a creative hand.

Although the project failed to take off in its original avatar, it translated into one of the group’s most critically-acclaimed albums, Who’s Next.

Shankar, who has played with Townshend and worked in various musical idioms with artistes like Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, Stewart Copeland and Ginger Baker, is confident he can pull off this project.

“I’m sure my friends in the West will be excited about playing in India,” he said.

A great admirer of Pandit V.G. Jog — “the godfather of violinists” — Shankar admits to be hugely influenced by Uday Shankar and his family. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is how he describes creating the 10-string stereophonic double violin, whose “amazing range” enables him to pursue both classical and fusion forms.

One in a Million, his pop DVD with Gingger, the only other double-violinist in the world, was top of the US Soundscan/Billboard charts for four weeks.


Washington, Aug. 6: 
Jaswant Singh Sodhi, whose son Sukhpal lost his life in a fatal shooting at his cab in San Francisco on Sunday, had asked all his six sons living in the US to return home to Punjab’s Kapurthala district in the wake of hate crimes against Sikhs following the terrorist attacks against America on September 11.

Yesterday, the Sodhi family, which has more than 50 members in the US, was regretting that the old man’s wise advice was not heeded.

On Sunday, Sukhpal became the second of Jaswant’s sons to be murdered in America in less than a year.

His elder brother Balbir was the first person to be killed at the petrol station he owned in Mesa, Arizona, in a wave of hate crimes against Asians and Arabs following September 11.

Balbir’s alleged killer, who now faces death penalty, told the police that “I stand for America” and that the Sikh was targeted because he was “dark-skinned, bearded and wore a turban”: his murder was clearly a hate crime. But police in San Francisco doubt whether race or ethnicity had anything to do with Sunday’s shooting.

Inspector Joe Toomey of the local police told the media: “I don’t know what happened — I don’t think he was the intended target”. But Toomey’s investigators so far have no suspects.

Sukhpal was killed a day after he turned 50. He was planning to celebrate his birthday with friends and relatives on Sunday because it was his off-day from work as a cabbie.

Sukhpal was killed at 3.50 am as he was returning home from his shift on the cab. As the shots hit Sukhpal, his taxi careened down a street in the heart of San Francisco and collided with a parked car, which burst into flames when it crashed into another car.

His taxi then uprooted an electrical pole, dispersing high-voltage power lines into the street. The accident cut off power for 3,600 residents in the neighbourhood.

It was not until a day later that electric supply was fully restored.

The cabbie’s murder, even if it may not be a hate crime, has stirred the Indian community in the US because of the coincidence of his brother’s death less than a year ago.

Sukhpal came to the US about 12 years ago and, like his deceased brother in his early years in America, worked as a taxi driver. His four remaining brothers live in Arizona.

Passiwal village, home to the family, is known in Punjab as an “NRI village” because many of its sons and daughters have become non-resident Indians, Sikh community sources in the West Coast said.

With more than 50 members of his extended clan in the US, Jaswant, the family patriarch, has been active in social work and public service, they said.

The family was well-to-do and so Jaswant had asked his remaining four sons to return to India after the murder of the eldest son. The sons, however, preferred to stay on in the US, calling it their adopted home.

One of Sukhpal’s surviving brothers, Lakhwinder, fearfully told a San Francisco newspaper yesterday that four young men had recently called him “Bin Laden” because of his beard and turban.

Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force, a Sikh advocacy group in the US, has urged the Federal Bureau of Investigation to immediately take charge of the Sukhpal murder case.


Aug. 6: 
The image of designer as dictator springs to mind every time the fashion press declares that pink is the colour of the season, or that denim is the fabric of the future.

These fashion forecasts seem the brainchildren of power-hungry designers determined to make you chuck out your wardrobe every season so that they can rake it in.

Not so; apparently these predictions are based on the desires of the consumer — even if he hasn’t articulated them as yet.

Speaking at a seminar at Lakme India Fashion Week, Anchal Jain of Promostyl, a Paris-based company that predicts future trends for the fashion industry, explained how this process works.

Researchers work with consumer groups, closely cataloguing their tastes, desires and changing lifestyles. This information is then used to predict what the consumer will want in the shops a year or two from now.

The boom in the sportswear segment, for instance, was predicted in this manner. The idea is to give you something you want even before you know that you want it.

But while this is how fashion works at the global level, what we have had in India so far is fashion anarchy, where every designer works in isolation to present his own fashion statement for the season.

While this is great in terms of creativity, the lack of a discernable trend leaves the consumer confused — and less inclined to buy.

Hence, the initiative of the Fashion Design Council of India to release a trend book for Indian fashion, released by its executive director, Vinod Kaul, today.

The idea is to adapt global trends to suit the Indian market and tastes, while using Indian textiles and crafts to create contemporary clothing.

With Indians increasingly seeing themselves as global citizens, the time is ripe to tweak traditional clothing to give it contemporary appeal.

Some designers are already doing this to great effect. Rina Dhaka’s T-shirts with yoga photo-prints and motifs were hotsellers at the Selfridges fashion promotion earlier this year, and are a mainstay of her collection this time around.

Ranna Gill’s short tunics with animal prints, tribal motifs and Parsi gara embroidery point in the direction Indian ready-to-wear is taking: relaxed, everyday clothing built around Indian textiles and treatments, with a strong international element.

Thus, at Fashion Week 2002 the traditional art of bandhni is used on everything from bustiers to skirts; mirrorwork is used to embellish jeans; tribal motifs sit happily along animal prints; Victorian lacing is used alongside kantha stitching; jungle foliage prints are fashioned into both cropped tops and short kurtas.

In fact, the boundary lines between Indian and Westernwear are increasingly getting blurred as corsets merge into cholis and lehengas are modernised as crinkled skirts.

Kurtas are rapidly becoming the Indian equivalent of T-shirts with graffiti and visual imagery being used to great effect on them.

But while these trends are all too apparent in the designer ready-to-wear segment, they need to become more visible on the high street as well as in the media to really make a difference.

That is already happening in a small way, with the pea- sant blouse and sand-blasted jeans selling at both desig- ner stores and on Indian street stalls.

High fashion and street styles are starting to collide and feed off each other, crea- ting wearable clothes with a strong design element in the process.


New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
Tuesday morning’s attack on the Amarnath pilgrims has come after repeated warnings by the army that a militant strike is imminent.

For the last month, the army brass has been stating at every briefing that the Amarnath yatra, August 15 and the Jammu and Kashmir polls are litmus tests of the level and intensity of cross-border infiltration.

In preparation for the Amarnath yatra, security forces had planned out a cordon for the pilgrims. The route and its environs were divided into zones and all the forces involved — the CRPF, the BSF and the army — were given clear-cut responsibilities. The Nunwan camp itself was treated as “high security”.

A little blame-game could easily be playing itself out now with one security agency blaming the other for its lapse.

But officers monitoring the arrangements said there is little that can be done to prevent an attack of this nature. It took just one militant to cause mayhem at Nunwan, which is guarded round its perimeter by the CRPF and on the heights, by the army.

“There is little we can do in such circumstances,” a senior army source said. “Apart from the desperation of the militants, we also have to contend with the panic that such an attack causes, which in turn takes the toll up. A militant can throw a grenade, spread panic, making people run helter-skelter. This will even freeze the security guards momentarily because they would be trying to avoid shooting one of their own accidentally.”

Army sources said the counter-insurgency grid is being strengthened further. However, unlike the attack on the Kaluchak army camp that triggered a ratcheting up of the tension on the borders, the army is not returning to the heightened state of alert that it was on just before Pervez Musharraf’s May 27 speech.

The sources said though leave to soldiers was granted through June, the troop-level required for counter-insurgency operations was not reduced. In addition, the army is hastening the creation of a fifth division of about 12,000 men of the Rashtriya Rifles.

A paramilitary force, the Rashtriya Rifles is staffed by officers and men of the army. It currently has four divisions in Jammu and Kashmir. The fifth division is likely to be put in place and deployed in Jammu and Doda in time for the elections. Even if this means a stretching of the army’s resources for the front lines, it is deemed necessary for counter-insurgency operations.

The sources said there is little doubt that today’s suicide strike was carried out by a front of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Unlike the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Lashkar had stated its intention to attack the pilgrims. The Hizb had said it would let the pilgrims pass.

In hindsight, officers also said the yatra route is too long to provide foolproof security in the terrain at all times. Besides, pilgrims cannot be expected to behave like personnel of a uniformed service and there will inevitably be a lowering of the guard.


Srinagar, Aug. 6: 
For K.C. Soni, it was a nightmare that will give him sleepless nights for many years to come.

Within a matter of minutes, a disaster had struck and left behind a trail of eight bodies at this south Kashmir base camp for pilgrims. Among the dead was Soni’s father-in-law and among the more than 24 injured was his brother-in-law, Reshb Dabar, admitted in the SMHS hospital here. For the Sonis, a hail of terrorist bullets had shattered their dreams of a peaceful pilgrimage.

As another peaceful morning broke its first light, the camp seemed like a wonderland where nothing could go wrong.

Thousands of army and paramilitary troops and police personnel had taken position all along the route to the cave shrine and that was good enough to make the Sonis feel complacent.

“We waited for 15 days and when the yatra was continuing peacefully, we thought it was safe to proceed to Kashmir. Our relatives, who recently returned after darshan at the holy cave, also told us about the tight security arrangements made by the administration. Finally, we left Ratlam (in Madhya Pradesh) for Jammu on August 3 and reached Pahalgam late yesterday. We were happy and ready to leave for the holy cave shrine this morning,” said Soni. “We were provided accommodation in a big tent and 20 of us slept comfortably,” Soni said, adding: “I had just woken up when I heard a big explosion and seconds later, heavy firing started all over.

“The Central Reserve Police Force soldiers guarding the camp told us to lie down and we did. Suddenly a sharp burst hit our tent and as I turned, I saw my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and another pilgrim crying for help. The three had received serious bullet wounds. They needed medical help. But we could not move out. Soldiers told us to remain inside the tents. The security forces were also firing from their automatics. The firing exchange ended after nearly 40 minutes,” he said.

“I saw my father-in-law dying along with another pilgrim. As we tried to lift them after the firing had stopped, they had already succumbed to their injuries. I gathered enough courage and shouted for help. An ambulance shifted my brother-in-law, Reshb, to a hospital. As his condition deteriorated, we shifted him to SMHS Hospital. Doctors operated upon him and Dabar is improving.”

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who paid the injured a visit at the Pahalgam hospital, said: “We had made elaborate security arrangements yet militants have an edge, as they choose the place of their attack and then sneak in.”


New Delhi, Aug. 6: 
In a judicial decision that may have a political bearing vis-a-vis the Trinamul Congress’ stand on the railway bifurcation, Delhi High Court today dismissed a petition challenging the creation of new zones.

A division bench of Chief Justice S.B. Singh and Justice A.K. Sikri dismissed the petition opposing the creation of railway zones at Hajipur, Allahabad, Jabalpur, Hubli, Bilaspur, Jaipur and Bhubaneswar in particular.

The PIL was filed by the Federation of Railway Officers Associations, the All-India Railwaymen’s Federation, the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen, former railway board chairmen M.S. Gujral and M.N. Prasad and former railways financial commissioner A.V. Paulose.

The high court dismissed the petition on the ground that the judiciary did not interfere in policy matters unless they threatened to harm public interest.

The court cited an earlier Supreme Court order in the Balco privatisation case that courts should not intervene in policy matters of the government aimed at promoting public interest.

The PIL contended that the decision to create new zones was arbitrary, unreasonable and malafide as it was not backed by any expert body of the government or the railway, or of Parliament.

Earlier, four expert committees and the present railway board had opposed the bifurcation as it would ruin the railway financially, operationally and administratively, the PIL contended. Counsel for the petitioner Prashant Bhushan argued that the creation of new zones through notifications in June and July violated the Railways Act, which allows constitution and reconstitution of the existing zones only for the purpose of “efficient administration” of the railways.

“The decision has not been taken on the recommendation of any expert committee or based on any advice of any apex body. On the contrary, the Railway Convention Committee of Parliament, the Fifth Pay Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the Rakesh Mohan Committee had all opposed the creation of new railway zones at one point or the other and the railway board in its full meeting sent a note to the railway minister recommending a total review of the decision,” he argued.

The decision was also political as the Hajipur zone was created within two months of a new railway minister (Ram Vilas Paswan) assuming office. Hajipur is Paswan’s constituency.

The Prime Minister, too, “suddenly” announced the creation of a zone at Bilaspur during an election rally there, clearly bearing testimony to the fact that there was a political link, the counsel said.

Appearing for the Union government, solicitor general Harish Salve contended that the government was entitled make its own policy decisions in national interest.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has threatened to quit the ruling NDA government on August 13 if the railway bifurcation move is not stalled.




Maximum: 34.2°C (+2)
Minimum: 25.7°C (0)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 64%


Sunrise: 5.13 am
Sunset: 6.13 pm

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of one or two showers or thundershowers


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