Panel blames ‘foreigners’ for women’s lot
Masood outfit leads Kashmir terror race
Pranab fails to impress on Day 1
Tame party echoes Vajpayee
Congress slams saffron ‘stunt’
Manch thrust on small sector
BJP call for democracy in Bengal
Bonded child workers rescued

New Delhi, Aug. 28 
The National Commission for Women has stirred a hornets’ nest with its report on rape.

According to the report women were treated as “queens” in ancient India and their position deteriorated with invasions by “foreign elements” from the 8th century.

Poornima Advani, an NCW member who has authored the report, is now desperately looking for an escape hatch that could clear her name as well as that of the commission. She has been meeting leaders of women’s organisations seeking their suggestion on how to find an honourable solution to the controversy.

The women’s organisations however, have made their stand clear: Either the controversial portions of the report should be dropped or the report should be withdrawn.

Last week, the NCW members stayed closeted for an entire day to discuss the situation but failed to come to a conclusion. “We have still not taken a decision,” said NCW chairperson Vibha Parthasarathy. She added the commission will make its position known as soon as it reaches a decision.

Members of the NCW have hinted that a deletion of the controversial sections of the report will raise the hackles of “certain groups” which want the report to be circulated as it is. “The references to the changing status of women in society will be to the liking of the RSS, which blames everything on the Muslim invasion,” says Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme.

Advani, however, has gone out of her way to say that she does not subscribe to the Sangh ideology and had just picked up these references from stray textbooks.

But historians specialising in gender and ancient history say the NCW has no business to make such “sweeping generalisations” which are “rubbish”.

In the chapter on historical evaluation of rape, the report says: “The Indian woman’s vulnerability to abuse by the invading hordes bestowed upon man a responsibility to protect her and from thence developed the inherent dominant role of the male within the family.”

Tracing the genesis of Indian patriarchy to Muslim invasions, the report states: “Long years of invasion and infliction of crime on the Indian woman led to the protective measures.”

The invasions, the report says, pushed the Indian woman behind the purdah, bred illiteracy and “domestic captivity”, and made them economically dependent.

“The strong lobby of Brahmins stepped in to create regulatory norms, superimposed by superstitions, to guide the indigenous Hindu society,” goes on the report.

Furious with the “distortions” gender historians like Kumkum Roy are rebutting these references word by word, sentence by sentence.

“Even before the 8th century there were constant wars. And the position of women in ancient India was not all that glorious,” says Roy, who teaches history in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

She quotes Vedic literature where there are references to women being burnt. “The punishment laid down in the Manusmriti varies according to caste and gender,” stresses Roy.

A Brahmin rapist was let off with a light sentence while a rapist of a lower caste was burnt to death. Vedic literature also refers to the gifting of women which means they were treated as “property”. Roy mentions 6th century inscriptions corroborating the existence of sati.

Krishna Shrimali, professor of ancient history in Delhi University, backs Roy’s arguments. “You cannot make a blanket generalisation that all was fine for women in ancient India. In every society there are tiers and society in ancient India was not monolithic,” says Shrimali.

It is not just the prologue with the historical references which is causing a ripple: the report’s epilogue has also come in for flak.

“Some have said that India must ensure a high status of women — a position of honour and dignity they enjoyed in ancient India. As the texts clarify, women held an honoured position as the ardhangini, grihlaxmi and dharmapatni,” says the report.

Contesting this position, Roy says: “Most of us would not like to revert to being grihlakshmis.”    

New Delhi, Aug. 28 
The Jaish-e-Mohammad, a militant outfit floated by released militant Maulana Masood Azhar, is emerging as the most powerful foreign mercenary group operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Jaish was launched in Pakistan in February after hundreds of militants belonging to Masood’s former outfit Harkat-ul Mujahideen joined the organisation. Masood was one of three militants freed by India in exchange for the hijacked Indian Airlines hostages.

Top sources in the home ministry said the Jaish has been able to sneak into Jammu and Kashmir around 400 hardcore and well-armed foreign mercenaries over the past two-and-a-half months. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, another powerful Pakistan-based militant group, is believed to have around 300 militants in Jammu and Kashmir.

“‘The Jaish-e-Mohammad began infiltrating into the state around June and since then several groups have crossed successfully. Infiltration and exfiltration have been quite regular. They are using their old hideouts which the former Harkat-ul Mujahideen militants made use of,” a senior official said.

“Intelligence inputs suggest that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is propping up the Jaish-e-Mohammad by not only pumping enough money, but also by supplying weapons,” he added.

Referring to one particular input, another official said even Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin had “complained” to ISI operatives that his organisation was no longer being funded properly and all attention was being paid to foreign mercenary groups.

Home ministry officials admit that the influx of Jaish militants was a “major development” as it indicated a possible breach in the security grid, especially around the north and south of the Pir Panjal ranges and Kupwara and in Udhampur, Rajouri, Poonch and Doda areas of Jammu.

These continue to be the main points of infiltration which the security forces are yet to plug. The Jammu and Kashmir government as well as the Unified Headquarters in Srinagar have been alerted to this “alarming” situation, especially after the violence unleashed by militants following the Hizbul’s ceasefire call.

Home ministry officials said though infiltration by other militant groups, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI) and even the Hizbul Mujahideen, “is continuing”, there has been an influx of militants owing allegiance to the Jaish.

Officials believe the outfit is yet to engineer any major violence in the state because it is still “regrouping” and “trying to energise” the links that the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen made use of before its merger with Masood Azhar’s new group.

Even the army has reported that the Jaish is fast emerging as the main jihadi force in Jammu and Kashmir. Till as late as July this year, military intelligence reported that around 98,000 militants were undergoing arms training at seven special camps in occupied Kashmir.

The army’s input suggested that foreign mercenary groups had opened up new channels for infiltration both in the Valley and along the Line of Control in Jammu, besides identifying certain areas where militants have plans to strike.    

Calcutta, Aug. 28 
Having taken over the reins of the troubled state Congress, Pranab Mukherjee failed to cut much ice with the dissidents on the first day.

Disgruntled MLAs Abdul Mannan and Shankar Singh, who belong to the pro-mahajot lobby, complained about the new chief’s lack of firmness to curb the CPM onslaught.

“In his first meeting with us, Pranabbabu failed to speak firmly against the CPM. What he said was traditional. There was no talk of building agitational movements specifically against the CPM ... People of Bengal want an anti-CPM movement ... There is no point denying it,” a dissident MLA said after a closed-door meeting Mukherjee had with legislators at the Assembly.

Aware that strengthening the state unit was an uphill task, he reportedly compared his situation with that of Mao Ze Dong. “He (Mao) too did not have many followers behind him when he began the long march,” Mukherjee told the MLAs.

Altogether 43 MLAs, including a sizeable chunk of dissidents, and MP Adhir Chowdhury attended the meeting. Fifteen legislators, including Somen Mitra, Sultan Ahmed, Paresh Pal, Abul Basar Laskar, Sital Sardar, Tapas Banerjee, Anupam Sen, Deokinandan Poddar and Rajesh Khaitan, stayed away.

A former state Congress chief, Mitra was, however, present at the PCC office to greet Mukherjee.

Some of the MLAs who were absent, like Ahmed and Laskar, have almost made up their minds to join the Trinamul Congress.

Others like Poddar and Khaitan received the intimation regarding the meeting late.

Dissidents also accused Mukherjee of being ambiguous about the rise of the Trinamul in West Bengal.

“Pranabbabu accepted that Mamata Banerjee’s party was the major anti-Left force and even said she could become the next chief minister. But, at the same time, he questioned the stability of such a government,” said a dissident.

Speaking to reporters, Mukherjee said it was natural to have dissidents in a big party like the Congress. “If there is no dissension in a party like the Congress, then it tends to lack uniformity,” he said.

Replying to a question, he said that the CPM government had failed to tackle the “reign of terror” in the state.

Asked what he felt about the imposition of Article 365 in West Bengal, Mukherjee indicated that it would be difficult for the Centre to do so. “How can one try for reservation of a train which will not arrive at all ?” he asked.

Mukherjee will meet leaders from 12 districts during the next two days. On August 31, he will meet the secretariat.    

Nagpur, Aug. 28 
The absence of the Prime Minister probably weighed heavily, as the national council meeting of the BJP ended on a tame note today, with the party toeing the government line on almost all important issues.

The meeting, however, brought to the fore the differences between home minister L.K. Advani and newly-anointed party president Bangaru Laxman.

Laxman, hand-picked by Atal Behari Vajpayee, had said yesterday that the BJP was not yet the preferred party of governance in the eyes of the people and had to work hard to expand its social base.

But Advani today countered that, citing the party’s impressive growth in the last ten years.

Wrapping up the meeting, he said sustained and dedicated work by its cadre had helped the BJP end years of political isolation.

“We were first a small Opposition party. Then we became the principal Opposition party, while the Congress was considered a natural party of governance. Today, the BJP has become a party of natural governance. From that, we made the BJP a party of good governance,” Advani said at the concluding session of the two-day meeting.

“The 20th century belonged to the US, the 21st century belongs to the BJP,” he added, lauding the achievements of both the party and the Vajpayee government. He, however, admitted that the party had not been able to consolidate its base among Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs.

In his presidential address, Laxman outlined a ten-point agenda for social justice to woo the Dalits and called for an action plan to remove suspicion from the minds of Muslims.

As the Prime Minister had done yesterday, the home minister also came down heavily on the disgruntled leaders, warning them against voicing their ire in public.

Being an Opposition party for over 40 years, it was “old habit” to criticise the government, he said. “Today, we cannot afford it. Nobody is saying that we should not remedy defects. If there is any shortcomings... take up the matter with responsible leaders. One should not even discuss such matters in big party fora,” he said.

Advani said he was not against election to party posts, but stressed that it would be ideal if candidates were elected on the basis of consensus. He added that the failure to avoid election of state chiefs in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh had “sent across the message that the party was plagued by groupism”.

Disagreeing with some analysts who felt the BJP’s growth was because of Hindutva, Advani said though the party had not shed its basic ideology, its parliamentary tally had increased because of corruption within the Congress.

Advani pointed out that unlike other non-Congress Prime Ministers, Vajpayee had received a positive mandate, as both Morarji Desai and V.P. Singh came to power after the Emergency and the Bofors scandal respectively. “Vajpayee is the first Prime Minister in several years to win on a positive mandate,” he said.

Praising the 18-month-old government, he said when Vajpayee had assumed office, the government had four major challenges before it: political instability, administrative corruption, economic uncertainty and internal insecurity.

That the government had succeeded on these fronts, he said, was evident from the economic and political resolutions adopted by the national council.

Refuting allegations of mishandling the Kashmir issue, he denied that there was any lowering of guard.

The home minister reeled off statistics to underscore his ministry’s efficiency. In 1998, he said security forces raided 30 ISI bases in the country and arrested 80 militants. In 1999, 25 bases were raided and 10 militants were killed, while, by August this year, seven ISI bases were searched and 20 operatives arrested.


New Delhi, Aug. 28 
Surprised by BJP chief Bangaru Laxman’s call to remove the “distance between the BJP and the Muslims”, an angry Congress today accused the ruling party of being “hypocrite and communal” even as the Muslim community viewed the development with scepticism.

Within the Muslim community, Laxman’s declaration that “Muslims are the blood of our blood” evoked mixed response. While the Muslim elite viewed it as a positive development, ordinary Muslims were sceptical and felt that the offer would have been “more real” if it was backed by “some sort of gesture”.

Coming from Nagpur, the BJP’s offer is seen as a “political stunt” to cement ties within the NDA, improve Vajpayee government’s image on the eve of the Prime Minister’s US visit and to enhance the NDA’s prospects in the ensuing Assembly polls in West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The Muslim young generation, tired with the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party for branding the community as a “votebank”, said the BJP would have sounded more sincere if it had come up with an action plan to draft them into the “national mainstream” instead of resorting to tokenism.

A former president of the Aligarh Muslim university’s student union pointed at the deplorable socio-economic indicators to assert that the country’s largest minority had missed the bus where the infotech revolution or the middle-class boom was concerned. “It is not whether the BJP appoints a Muslim Cabinet minister or a Governor. The community’s unemployed youth want to be a part of the armed forces, clerical staff, stock exchanges, information technology and private enterprises. With falling literacy and drop-out rates, Indian Muslims are worse off than the weaker sections or what they were on the eve of 1947,” he said.

Muslim youth are wary of the BJP’s “hand of friendship” fearing that it will be grabbed by “unscrupulous vested interests among the Muslim elite”. “The opportunity may be grabbed by about two dozen Muslim leaders who keep shifting their loyalties between the Congress, the Janata constituents and now the BJP. They will make no difference to the millions trying to keep body and soul together,” a teacher of Jamia Milia Islamia university said.

The Congress, wary of losing support of some its “Muslim leaders”, chose to go all out against the ruling coalition. Spokesman Anand Sharma said the BJP, which had claimed to be a party with a difference is now reduced to a party with differences.

Sharma mocked the Prime Minister and the BJP chief for asking its rank and file not to cross the “Laxmanrekha”. He said in Ramayana, the Laxmanrekha was drawn to keep Ravana at bay. “Will Vajpayee please identify the Ravanas in the BJP and the Sangh parivar?” Sharma asked.    

New Delhi, Aug. 28 
Two days before the government is to unveil a package for small scale industries, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch has set up a fact-finding committee to highlight the problems faced by this sector.

The objectives of the committee were formulated at a meeting of the Manch’s steering group held in Bhopal on August 26 and 27. BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, a member of the steering group, was not present at the meeting as he was attending the BJP’s Nagpur council session.

Ashwini Mahajan, the convenor of the Delhi chapter of the Manch, said the committee would hold 20 hearings in the major industrial towns to assess the impact of globalisation on small scale industries. Mahajan said this had become imperative after India signed the WTO agreement which led to the removal of quantitative restrictions on several imported items, including vegetables, fruits and poultry. “The government, it seems, is feeling helpless under the WTO onslaught,” said Mahajan.

Manch sources, however, claimed that the Bhopal session did not discuss the Centre’s economic and agriculture policies, although the latter was originally on its agenda. But after the stink raised by an anti-Vajpayee article in a recent issue of the Manch mouthpiece, Swadeshi Patrika, leading to an apology to the Prime Minister by the editor, the outfit reportedly decided to steer clear of such controversies. A discussion on the agriculture policy has been deferred.    

Nagpur, Aug. 28 
Expressing concern at the increasing political violence in West Bengal, the BJP national council today demanded that the Centre take adequate measures to ensure that “democracy prevailed” in the state.

Though some partymen and ally Trinamul Congress had demanded the dismissal of the Jyoti Basu government, the council only sought action to ensure the survival of democracy in the state.

The council also rapped the CPM for attacks on media persons by its cadre in the state. The party accused the CPM-led governments in West Bengal and Kerala of misusing the state administrative machinery and the muscle power of their “hoodlum brigade” to suppress the Opposition.

The council also called upon party workers to stand firm in the face of the Left’s assault and work towards the victory of the BJP-Trinamul alliance in the Assembly elections due next year.

Apart from Jammu and Kashmir, the political resolution adopted by the council referred to the violence in West Bengal, Kerala, and Laloo’s Bihar. The rest of the resolution was devoted to complimenting the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. “We express deep concern over increasing political violence in Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala. The manner in which the Left Front governments of West Bengal and Kerala have been misusing the administrative machinery to influence electoral results, shows their desperation and their disregard for democratic norms,” it said.    

Patna, Aug. 28 
Nine children working as bonded labourers in Uttar Pradesh were freed on Saturday and returned to their villages in Buxar today under heavy police escort.

Produced before the Buxar sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court, the children narrated their nightmares of working in a carpet factory in Jaunpur for five years.

Their faces were bruised and their hands had lost their softness. “Look at the hard corns on the fingers, the result of hours of hard labour on intricate carpet textures,” said Rishi Lal, one of the children.

Another boy, Ranti Das, pointing at the bruises on his legs which had aggravated due to infection, said: “We would have languished in hell had the police not raided the factory.”

In a late evening swoop, a team of policemen drawn from Buxar and Jaunpur raided the carpet factory employing over 200 labourers, most of them children. These labourers were hired by contractors five years ago. But once lured to Jaunpur from neighbouring Bihar, they soon found themselves enslaved.

Two people were arrested, including the factory owner.

Jaiprakash Singh, district president of Bachpan Bachao movement in Buxar, had filed a petition in the court alleging that the carpet factory had violated the law and employed child labourers.

According to Neeraj Sinha, Buxar superintendent of police, the district provides at least 50 per cent of the child labourers employed in carpet factories at Obra, Jaunpur and Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.

“Normally, they migrate through contractors who get the orders from the carpet industry owners to hire labourers. Once they land up there, they tend to become bonded labourers,” Sinha said.

Surendra Pratap Singh, director of the Bihar social security department, has asked the Buxar district magistrate to submit a report on child labourers working in various places.

Singh told The Telegraph that 49,000 labourers migrate annually from Bihar and work as “prabasi shramik” (outstation labourers) in UP, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. In many cases, their children are hired by the companies and due to lack of monitoring facility of working conditions, soon become bonded labourers.

He said the district magistrate has often sent reports contradicting the presence of bonded labourers in their jurisdiction. However, labour department officers have a different story to tell. In many cases, they have found bonded labourers at various places.

The Bihar labour department has sent letters to the governments of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh to inform them about the menace of child labourers from Bihar in their states. The three states are yet to reply in this regard.

According to state government sources, 30 districts are considered “sensitive”, with Bettiah topping the list. One village in the district is flooded with bonded labourers employed for agriculture work. “No one dares to enter the village due to fear of the mafia who stand guard over the remote area,” said an officer.    


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