Wanted: VHP vow to honour court verdict
Godhra can�t wait, burnt Gujarat can
Mosque plan on table
Lonely search for way back to life
US rights report goes soft on anti-terror ally
Bhattal harnessed with No. 2 crown
Green-carpet start to MLA Jaya run
Patna eunuchs in power play
Bad blood clogs life of 20 kids
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 5: 
The Sankaracharya of Kanchi, who has emerged as the Prime Minister�s key Ayodhya negotiator, today went half way to placate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) by insisting that it should be allowed to perform a symbolic bhoomi pujan in the �undisputed� area on March 15.

The Kanchi seer demanded that the government hand over the �undisputed� land it had acquired through a central Act in 1993 to the VHP-sponsored Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas �well before� June 3 to enable it to start constructing the Ram temple.

He also endorsed the BJP line on the Gujarat killings � that the riot was a reaction to the Godhra carnage.

But the Sankaracharya gave an undertaking on the VHP�s behalf that status quo ante would be maintained on the disputed site in Ayodhya pending a court verdict. He read out a statement, issued by Nyas head Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans, that until a decision was given by the court, the VHP would neither tamper with the disputed site nor demand it should be given to it.

The Sankaracharya, who was mandated by the Prime Minister to hammer out a solution which would be acceptable to Muslim representatives as well as the VHP, is meeting Atal Bihari Vajpayee again to discuss the contours of a proposal he has formulated after a meeting with members of the Muslim Personal Law Board today.

While the board members indicated that they would keep their part of the bargain by agreeing to hand over the �undisputed� land to the VHP, the Parishad has reneged on its word to the seer.

He had reportedly asked the VHP to give a written assurance to the board that it would abide by the court verdict on the ownership of the disputed 80x40-ft plot � which used to house the Babri mosque and, after its demolition, the makeshift Ram temple.

But the VHP refused to play ball. �Paramhans� letter only talks about maintaining status quo ante but the minority board was given to understand that the VHP would also accept the court�s verdict even if it went against them. This has created a lacuna which has to be somehow sorted out,� said sources close to the Sankaracharya.

The VHP�s general secretary, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, told reporters today: �We have not taken any decision on it (accepting the court ruling). The dharmacharyas will decide on it, if the proposal comes.�

Sources close to the Kanchi seer said the issue would be used as a bargaining chip. If the VHP gives a written undertaking to accept a court verdict, the Centre will consider allowing it to perform bhoomi pujan at the same spot where the Parishad had done the shilanyas (laying the first brick) in 1989 or somewhere in the proximity.

�But even this is subject to the approval of the Muslims, Parliament and the NDA allies,� a source said.

So far, only Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress has opposed the formula, saying it would aggravate the tension between the two communities. Other allies have adopted a wait-and-watch stand.

The Sankaracharya told reporters that the Prime Minister would make an announcement on the floor of the House where the VHP would conduct its March 15 ritual.

Government sources, however, sounded confident of the VHP being brought around. �They cannot afford to antagonise the Sankaracharya because it would be a loss of face for him. He has committed things on their behalf in a live televised press conference,� the sources said.

On handing over the land acquired by the Centre through a legislation, the Sankaracharya said: �The government will think about it and can give it to them.� He said that to secure the disputed spot, a high wall could be erected around it.

VHP sources claimed this proposal would serve their purpose. �If it fructifies, it means things have worked out according to our script. We can start construction from the periphery and encircle the inner portions. Ownership of the disputed site doesn�t matter because the idol of Ram Lalla is permanently installed in a makeshift temple where puja goes on regularly. So it�s as good as a sanctum sanctorum,� a source stressed.


Ahmedabad, March 5: 
Over 3,500 people have taken shelter in Sahibaug Saraswati School. In the six days since riots broke out in Ahmedabad, no one from BJP chief minister Narendra Modi�s government or party has visited them to see how they were getting by.

�No one has come here, neither government officials nor local MLA,� said M. Khan Raza who set up the camp for riot victims.

About 17 such relief camps have sprouted in the city. Neither the chief minister nor any of the six ministers who represent constituencies in Ahmedabad has visited even a single relief camp. They have not visited their constituencies either.

Facing charges of inaction � even allowing rioters free play � Modi�s government is showing little sign that it intends to restore people�s faith in the rule of law or of even being interested in shepherding people displaced by the violence back to their pre-violence way of life.

The failure � or the decision � of ministers and officials to stay away from relief camps is seen by riot victims, bitter about the police role, as another sign of the government�s two-faced attitude.

While the chief minister has not visited the riot�torn areas of Ahmedabad till today, he went to Godhra the day the incident took place. Politicians are rarely ever late in reaching disaster sites and questions are asked when they are.

The reason for Modi to follow two sets of rules could lie in the government making a distinction between the torching of the train compartments in Godhra and the retaliatory riots in its aftermath. Condemning the backlash, the government here � and even home minister L.K. Advani � has described it as a natural response. Modi said today the one-member judicial commission probing the Godhra incident will also look into the riots.

This distinction is also evident in the decision to pay the Godhra victims Rs 2 lakh as compensation and half of that to the families of those who died in the riots.

Asked why Modi had not visited the riot-affected areas, urban development minister Indervijaysing Jadeja said: �At the moment, our priority is to restore law and order. We want peace and communal harmony to be restored.�

�Had any minister or chief minister visited sensitive areas during the violence, the situation would have flared up,� Jadeja said, adding that the chief minister would make his visits soon.

Khan Raza, who set up the camp in the school when the violence started, said: �We have been managing on our own. Till this morning, we had not received any cash from the government. Just this morning the district collector sent 50 bags (25 kg each) of rice and flour, which is not enough to feed more than 700 families.�

Most of the victims here do not want to go back to what remains of their homes, some having lost their families. �My house has been torched. This time I managed to save my life, I do not want take a risk by going back,� says Ruksana Bano, a resident of Naroda.

Many others, like Ruksana, are prepared to stay on in the relief camp.

Even Khan Raza does not know if he will be able to send them back to rebuild their lives. �If they want to go back, we will see to it that they get protection. But if they do not want, we will have to work out something for them,� he said.

He will have to bear in mind the different sets of rules. Under one set, the wife of former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri, who was burnt alive by a mob in his home, is entitled to Rs 1 lakh compensation, while the chief minister announced Rs 2 lakh for family members of Godhra victims the day Sabarmati Express was torched.

Relief commissioner C.K. Koshi said the decision was based on the Rs 1 lakh compensation paid by the Congress government in 1992 after the violence following the Babri masjid demolition.

�We cannot do any thing about it. We are following the precedent,� said Indervijaysing Jadeja.

Why two yardsticks? �The victims of Godhra cannot be equated with those killed in the communal violence. The Godhra killing was of a different nature.�


New Delhi, March 5: 
If moderates in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have their way, there will be a mosque around the Ram temple in Ayodhya as part of a negotiated settlement.

In protracted talks with the Sankaracharya of Kanchi, the board team promised to explore the possibility of an amicable settlement, pleading for a mosque near the disputed area as a �symbolic gesture� of tolerance and peace in exchange for paving the way for a Ram temple.

The Muslim delegation confirmed that a proposal to build a mosque was made to the Sankarachaya on behalf of ailing board chief Qazi Mujahid-ul-Islam. The board team told the Sankaracharya it was prepared for a settlement in �national interest� and expressed full confidence in his �good offices�.

Caught unawares, hardliners and political leaders on the board and outside reacted strongly. Syed Abdullah Bukhari, Syed Shahabuddin and Zafaryab Jeelani and others said they were not ready to accept a compromise.

The next few days will see a war of attrition between hardliners and moderates among Muslims, culminating in a meeting on Sunday of the board�s general body. Almost all Muslim sects are represented on the board and it will be an uphill task for Bukhari (who is not even a member), Jeelani and Shahabuddin to successfully oppose plans for a negotiated settlement.

Board chairman Qazi Islam favours one. He is even prepared to take on the likes of Bukhari. Islam feels this is an opportunity to tie the VHP down to a commitment to abide by a court verdict on the disputed land. Moderates on the board said the Gujarat riots should serve as an eye-opener as communal conflicts tend to hurt Muslims more.

The hardliners are unwilling to resolve the issue under what they see as duress. They feel the Sankaracharya�s proposals are a trap, a script written by the Sangh parivar. According to them, the VHP and the BJP have made Muslims a party to a dispute that essentially involved the government and the VHP.

The moderates countered the argument, asserting that the board should not get mixed up in politics.

�We are concerned about the safety and security of millions of Muslims in India. That is our top priority. What happens in the political arena is beyond our realm,� said Kamal Farooqui, who was part of the board�s negotiating team.

The last time the board witnessed a showdown was over reform of laws pertaining to women.

In Bangalore that time, the hardliners had won, but Qazi Islam had vowed to continue the fight. A similar test awaits him on Sunday, though much would also depend on how the VHP and the Sangh parivar react to the board�s proposal for a mosque.


Ahmedabad, March 5: 
Miraben, stepping out gingerly from her charred house, is the one sign of life flickering. Otherwise, nothing remains even to burn in Patia, a sprawling Muslim neighbourhood in Naroda on the outskirts of the city where the count of death by fire exceeded the 58 people burnt alive in the Godhra train.

The only noise is of a plastic bag fluttering in the wind; then it settles down �like the obstinate burning smell that stays on even after five days.

Miraben, who works as a domestic help like many of her neighbours, has nowhere to go. So she has come back when no one else has. She tried a relative�s place; it didn�t work out. Her husband is physically impaired; her son is not old enough to work. She couldn�t stay on with such �liabilities�.

She hasn�t even had a proper bath in five days. Her face is covered with the ash that is flying out of the charred furniture; her saree caked with dust.

Her home is a burnt one-room concrete structure with an asbestos sheet on top. There are about 500 houses like that in the colony, where some 4,000 people lived. Only the structures remain like gaping black holes.

According to unofficial estimates, more than a 100 were burnt alive here last Friday. The official toll is 67. The rest have fled or are at relief camps.

Some of Miraben�s neighbours did return, but only for half-an-hour or so, to see if anything remained of their houses.

Miraben could return with bigger plans because, �after all, like the 20-odd families in the neighbourhood, I am a Hindu�. �They thought I was a Muslim too. I didn�t have photographs of gods or goddesses inside my house as I had just taken them out for cleaning,� says Miraben.

�But then I shouted �Jai Sri Ram� as the crowds started to set fire to everything.�

�My Muslim neighbours who were clever also shouted �Jai Sri Ram�. That saved their lives. But those who were stubborn would only cry �allah�. Even small children would only say �allah�. So they slit their throats first with usthras (razors), then doused them with kerosene and set them on fire,� says Miraben.

�Sometimes they set fire to a family and closed the door from outside,� says Miraben.

�Those who came to kill were all from outside. We didn�t know any one of them,� she said.

She doesn�t know whether she will last the night, though. From the remains of a chicken shop, a few feathers blow out. The birds, after the shop was set aflame, were burnt inside the two huge cages.

Just after the shop, there are two khatiyas. They are the dividing line: �Muslim territory� ends there. But the �Hindu territory� also looks deserted � except for a huddle of people gathered in a courtyard.

There�s no certainty these people can be trusted, for the handful of policemen are convinced that they have remained to rob the houses.

Miraben�s house has been swept clean. �I was saving for my son�s marriage. There were a few ornaments and some money. Nothing remains,� she says.

�I didn�t look when they were on the killing spree. I would have to see so many of my friends with whom I have lived for more than 30 years die. I don�t know which of my friends is alive or who is dead.�


Washington, March 5: 
Caught between the pressure to treat its dictator-allies in the anti-terror war with kid gloves and the statutory requirement of measuring human rights in countries around the world, the Bush administration has been forced to pay a price.

Yesterday, it released the state department�s annual human rights report, which has been ridiculed around the world as an exercise in double standards and expediency.

The introduction to the report, which lists the credits and debits in human rights, last year hauled up Pakistan for its blasphemy law, its treatment of Christians, Ahmadiyas and other minorities.

With General Pervez Musharraf becoming an American ally against the Taliban and the al Qaida, this paragraph has been quietly dropped from this year�s introduction, penned by the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, Lorne Craner.

At a briefing to release the report yesterday, Craner faced a barrage of questions which exposed the hypocrisy behind this year�s exercise.

On the defensive, he claimed credit for Musharraf�s decision in January to do away with separate electorates for religious minorities in Pakistan. �It is something that we had asked them for for a long time that they have now decided to do,� Craner said.

Replying to another question, Craner said in Pakistan, �the people have no right to change their national government. That said, there does seem to be a plan, and Mr Musharraf appears to be sticking to it because of the... demonstrated by the local elections this year, to work towards again having national elections so that people can choose their own government there�.

The report�s chapter on Pakistan, however, rates the country�s human rights record as �poor�, which Craner pointed out �is not obviously our highest rating�. It accuses Pakistani police of having �committed numerous extra-judicial killings and engaged in the rape and abuse of citizens. No officer has been convicted and very few have been arrested. Prison conditions remained extremely poor and life threatening, and police arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens�.

Craner said: �There are a number of issues with the police forces, about how aggressive they are. There is the issue of child labour, and they don�t do very well at all on trafficking issues�.

The administration�s problem is that with big tranches of American aid to Pakistan in the pipeline, it has to paint as good a picture as possible of the human rights situation under Musharraf�s junta.

At the same time, the administration cannot strain credulity beyond a point. Besides, it will be criticised domestically and abroad if it is seen as co-habiting with dictators who trample upon human rights.

The annual report is mandated under America�s Foreign Assistance Act and the Trade Assistance Act. So, when proposals for aid go to the US Congress for clearance, human rights advocates will cite the report to cut back assistance to countries which figure unfavourably in the document.

For several years between Operation Blue Star in Punjab and the height of separatist violence in Kashmir, Congressmen with an anti-India bias used references in the report about India�s human rights record to attempt cutbacks in aid.

These attempts were given up only two years ago after the India Caucus on Capitol Hill emerged as a force strong enough to carry through aid proposals.


Chandigarh, March 5: 
In a political masterstroke, Punjab chief minister Amrinder Singh today inducted arch-rival Rajinder Kaur Bhattal into his Cabinet.

Bhattal, who had gone public saying she would not accept any post other than the chief minister�s, today took oath as the No. 2 in the ministry under the watchful eyes of AICC observers Ambika Soni and Motilal Vora.

Amrinder, who was sworn in chief minister on February 27, today expanded his ministry, inducting 13 Cabinet ministers and six ministers of state. Two parliamentary secretaries were also sworn in.

The inclusion of the former chief minister was apparently dictated by Congress president Sonia Gandhi under advice from Amrinder who wanted all party factions to find representation in his ministry.

Bhattal has got the key portfolios of agriculture, rural development and panchayats and development of women and children, in effect, the whole of rural Punjab, the Akali stronghold.

A pensive-looking Bhattal had emerged from a room, flanked by Soni, Vora and Amrinder, to head straight for the Raj Bhavan where the new ministers were being sworn in, indicating that the four were locked in a serious meeting. She did not speak to the media after the ceremony, giving rise to speculation of bargaining.

�We intend to provide a clean and transparent government to the people of Punjab. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government has left the state in a mess. The financial situation is much worse than what we had anticipated. The actual situation of the state will be placed before the people soon,� Amrinder said.

The chief minister lamented that the Akalis had �not left any resources for the new government to build upon�. He hinted at �strict steps� to tide over the financial crisis.

�We have to reconstruct Punjab. I am going to Delhi tomorrow to talk to the finance minister and other dignitaries,� he said, adding that the question of imposing fresh taxes had not yet been discussed. �But whatever we do, will be for the good of Punjab.�

Amrinder said that after taking over as chief minister he had ordered mass transfers of officials as �we want to get back to work. We don�t want to waste time�. Today�s Cabinet expansion was preceded by the shuffling of over 50 police officers yesterday.

Referring to the charges of the ministry becoming a male bastion with Bhattal the only woman in it, Amrinder said the other women MLAs had no Assembly experience.

�I will induct first-timers later. I want them to have some experience on how the Assembly functions before they are made ministers. But I can assure everyone that there will be more women in the Cabinet later,� he said.

Asked whether the six districts of Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot, Moga, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala will go unrepresented in the Cabinet, the new chief minister said though he wanted ministers from all districts, it was not possible.

�But I can assure the people that the districts where we have not been able to win a seat or have not done well in the polls will not feel discriminated.�

Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala skipped today�s ceremony. He had earlier not attended the function where Amrinder was sworn in.


Chennai, March 5: 
Jayalalithaa today strode into a �green carpet� welcome at Fort St George, the seat of power, when she entered to take oath as member of the Assembly in Speaker K. Kalimuthu�s chamber.

Though the usual red carpet was laid out at the Assembly doorway for the Tamil Nadu chief minister, extending its perimeter was another carpet in green, a colour Amma considers lucky these days.

With two days of �rapid action� already behind her since she assumed office on Saturday, Jayalalithaa, sources close to her said, means serious business this time.

The first file she signed that evening after taking over the reins was to clear a massive combined water supply project for a host of habitations in Madurai and Theni, which includes Andipatti. The rural constituency had voted her to the Assembly with a thumping margin.

The project will be implemented with a Rs 158-crore aid from the Life Insurance Corporation. The Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board issued tender notifications in the morning papers today, inviting bids on a turnkey basis.

Amma sanctioned another Rs 63.11-crore project to make Tamil Nadu a �malnutrition free state� � the second file she signed on Saturday evening.

But it was the water supply project that delighted her. �In my very first decision as chief minister, I have given effect to a proposal to fulfil one of my main campaign promises,� she said.

A combative Amma slammed DMK chief and her predecessor M. Karunanidhi for saying that his party MLAs had not been invited to her swearing-in.

Asserting that invitations had been sent to all MLAs, Jayalalithaa said his remarks were �uncivil and perverse� and aimed at �vitiating� a congenial atmosphere, more so because DMK leaders K. Anbazhagan Stalin attended the function.

�My top priority is to make Tamil Nadu the best state in all spheres,� she said, making it clear she would no longer be drawn into responding to such charges.

�If at all a rejoinder is to be issued to Mr Karunanidhi, it will be done by my colleagues in the ministry. I have decided, once and for all, not to waste any time replying to Mr Karunanidhi any more and there is no necessity to reply to his statements which contain nothing but prevarication, falsehood and lies.�


Patna, March 5: 
Their community leaders in Bhopal, Gorakhpur and Lucknow have done it. Now eunuchs in Patna are gearing up to fight the municipal and corporation polls, due here next month.

They have been approaching traders and householders, offering to clean up the municipal boards with �incorruptible eunuchs�.

Near the Harinivas market in downtown Patna, the air smelt of cheap perfume. As onlookers curled their lips in derision, 12 eunuchs broke into a raucous song and dance. The most dressed up among them went up to the shopkeepers, asking for money. �Win we will, we will take over Patna Municipality,� they chorused to the beat of drums.

After filing of nominations began on February 28, chiefs of the community held a series of meetings to chalk out strategies and how they would go about their campaign to focus on the �inaction of municipal councillors, corruption and other vices of which we are accused�.

There will be no public meetings but door-to-door canvassing. Aware that they may be confronted by hired musclemen of politicians, the eunuchs have decided to arm themselves with long broomsticks. �We don�t need any weapon, our hands and broomsticks are enough to chase the evil away,� said Panna Hijra.

Rajkumari alias Lalan Hijra, chief of Patna�s over 300-strong hijra community, is contesting from the Gaighat ward. �I have read about Shabnam Mausi in Bhopal and Asha Devi of Gorakhpur. Asha Devi is deputy mayor in Gorakhpur. These hijras are performing well and their good work would expose those who claim that hijras cannot perform or deliver,� says Rajkumari.

Rajkumari believes the condition of Patna city with its mounting garbage dumps has deteriorated over the last 10 years, while non-availability of clean drinking water and total breakdown of the civic system had aggravated the situation.

Like Rajkumari, at least 70 others have decided to contest. Their only complaint is that some municipal wards have been declared reserved for backward-caste candidates. �We are neither backward nor forward, but caught in the middle,� says Sashi Hijra, who is planning to contest from Patna East.

The Bihar government decided to hold the municipal elections, suspended for over 20 years because of a dispute over reservation, following a high court order. Elections will be held for 210 corporations, 866 parishads and 1,100 nagar panchayats.

The eunuch community will field over 100 candidates. �In the entire state, we have over 1,000 members. We have now begun an exercise to educate and train them on how to file nominations. Some of our delegates have already visited Bhopal, Gorakhpur to get an idea how our fellow community members are working,� says Kajal Hijra.

The hijras have also been inspired by the success of some community members in the districts. Bela Mausi, is a ward member of a panchayat in Motihari. �I work for a dance training school at Calcutta. Whatever money I manage to earn there, I spend on villagers in Motihari, specially on the poor and backward caste dwellers,� says Bela Mausi.


Calcutta, March. 5: 
Three-year-old Anupam (name changed on request) was born with the thalassaemia major gene. He would undergo frequent blood transfusion to maintain a minimum level of haemoglobin. Now, his lifeline has turned life-threatening � he has recently tested HIV-positive.

Anupam�s parents came to know about his condition from the School of Tropical Medicine STM), where he had been referred by the family physician supervising his treatment.

�The child has been infected through the impure blood transfusion route. One of the blood units he was transfused with was donated by an infected person,� confirmed doctors.

There are two possibilities. One is that the impure unit was donated within four weeks of the donor himself becoming infected. In such cases, the HIV antibodies do not show up in the ELISA or spot tests that blood banks conduct on units collected from donation camps.

The second possibility is that the blood banks were not following procedure while collecting and processing the blood.

Anupam, unfortunately, is not alone. Some months ago, Metro had written about eight children being infected with HIV after repeated blood transfusions. Today, there are 20 kids whose life span has been cut cruelly by a disease they had not acquired by birth or for any fault of theirs.

The STM has conducted the confirmatory Western Blot test on Anupam and 19 other children infected with HIV through blood transfusion. All of them are between four and six years old. Some children are haemophiliacs. All of them receive transfusion regularly for their survival.

Central Blood Bank director A.K. Bhowmik denies that the impure blood came from a government-run blood bank. �It could not have been due to the negligence of the staff at any of our blood banks� But we must go in for other tests, like the P24 antigen, which detects the virus in the blood directly and within eight days of a person being infected.�

According to Bhowmik, before the mandatory testing started in blood banks in 1995, the chance of HIV transmission through transfusion was 25 per cent. �Today, it has come down to 2.7 per cent among those who have repeated transfusions, and that too, because of the window period.�

Anupam finds himself in this category. �Our son is a thalassaemia patient and has to be given blood once a month for his survival. This life-saving blood has become his greatest enemy and his days are numbered... We don�t know what to do,� said his parents.




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