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Archive for March 2010

A murder riddled with holes

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The irony is that slain lawyer Shahid Azmi came to fame exposing police lapses, says Rana Ayyub

The basic rule of a criminal investigation is that if there is a witness to a crime, in this case murder, he is the first person police should contact to identify the culprits. But during the investigations into the murder of Shahid Azmi, the human rights and criminal lawyer who was shot dead in his Mumbai office on February 11, police seem to have forgotten that most basic, mandatory practice. The key witness to Azmi’s murder – his peon Inder, who saw three assailants fire at the lawyer – was not even called for identification after police arrested the accused. In a news conference four days after the murder, police produced three men who they said were Azmi’s killers and said they planned to invoke the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (mcoca) against them. But the manner in which police have handled the case and the glaring loopholes in investigation have raised a number of questions, with Azmi’s family, human rights organisations and fellow lawyers calling for a judicial or cbi probe.

Ironically, Azmi first came to note as a lawyer by bringing justice to those falsely accused of terrorism by pointing out investigative and other lapses in prosecution cases. He was particularly active in probing the abuse of mcoca and other draconian laws.

Police claim to have all but solved the murder by arresting three of the hitmen – Devendra Jagtap alias JD, Pintu Dagale and Vinod Vichare – just three days after the attack. One assailant is absconding.

Azmi’s elder brother Arif is extremely critical of the investigations. “The office peon Inder… witnessed the entire incident while one of the hitmen kept him at gunpoint. Why was he not called in to identify the four men who have been arrested? They have not even bothered to communicate with us?” he says. It was on the basis of Inder’s confession that police were able to understand the sequence of events and make sketches of the suspects. Police may eventually call on Inder for questioning but they have blundered from the outset.

The three hitmen arrested had been chargesheeted earlier and were wanted for other crimes. Police had been looking out for them for some years. Jagtap, the alleged kingpin who earlier worked for Chhota Rajan, was wanted in many cases. Not only does their arrest within three days of the crime, after being on the run for so long, appear unusual, most of the killers were arrested close to the same area where Azmi was killed.

Even more unusual is the police claim that the killers have confessed to the crime but have not revealed the murder motive. The Mumbai Crime Branch displayed the murder weapons at a news conference, but there was no mention of a forensic test on them. Police are not coming up with any answers, claiming, as they do, that the case has already been “solved”. In the meantime, public pressure for a judicial or cbi probe into the murder is gathering steam.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 31, 2010 at 8:21 am

Indian tennis’s Mirza to wed Pakistani cricketer Malik

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Indian tennis star Sania Mirza is to marry Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, the family of India’s most successful woman tennis player confirmed.

Sania Mirza is ranked 92 in world women’s tennis

Mirza’s father said Malik, the former cricket captain of Pakistan, and his daughter would move to Dubai after the marriage, expected next month.

He added that she planned to continue playing tennis once she had recovered fully from a wrist injury.

Reports say the wedding celebrations will be held in both countries.

Receptions are expected in the Indian city of Hyderabad, where Mirza lives, and the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Broken engagement

Mirza, 23, said she hoped to be fully fit to represent India in the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

Malik is serving a ban on playing cricket for Pakistan

In a career often hit by injuries, Mirza touched a high of 34 in world rankings and is currently placed at 92.

Malik, 28, is among seven leading Pakistani players who are serving a one-year ban imposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board on various charges during a recent tour of Australia.

Pakistan lost all three Tests, five ODIs and the only Twenty20 match on the tour which ended in February.

Earlier his month, the Pakistan Cricket Board gave permission to Malik to play in a domestic Twenty20 league in Bangladesh.

Mirza was officially betrothed to a family friend, Sohrab Mirza, last July in a lavish ceremony but broke off the engagement in January, saying that they had “found ourselves incompatible”.

Just before that betrothal, two men allegedly tried to barge into Mirza’s home, demanding that she marry them.

Both allegedly claimed to be smitten by her beauty and said they had fallen in love with her.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 30, 2010 at 9:51 am

17 Indians get death for killing Pakistani in UAE

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DUBAI: Seventeen Indian nationals have been sentenced to death for killing a Pakistani man in a turf dispute between bootleg liquor gangs in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, local media reported on Monday.
The Pakistani man was beaten to death with metal bars in January 2009, while three others were injured in the attack, The National newspaper reported.
It said the dispute was between members of rival gangs vying to sell illegal liquor to labourers in the Al-Sajaa area of Sharjah.
The sentences marked the highest number of death penalties handed down at one time in the emirate, The National cited court officials as saying.
Local media said that up to 50 people were involved in the attack, but those sentenced to death were found to have been the leaders. Death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison in Sharjah.
Alcohol is banned in the emirate, which lies north of Dubai, where liquor can be sold by bars and restaurants with special permits. However, Dubai has also witnessed bootlegging violence.
The National reported in February that 13 members of an alleged bootlegging gang from the Jebel Ali area were accused of kidnapping two rivals, raping them and burying them alive.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 30, 2010 at 7:29 am

U.S. hopes to give Pakistan drones within a year

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The Pentagon aims to deliver a fleet of surveillance drones to Pakistan within a year, but weaponized versions of the unmanned aircraft are still off-limits, a U.S. military official said on Monday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans in January to provide Islamabad with what aides said at the time were 12 Shadow drones, aiming to boost its ability to track insurgents.

But a senior U.S. military official, briefing reporters at the Pentagon on the condition of anonymity, said Islamabad was still weighing whether Shadow drones were the model of unmanned aircraft best suited to its needs.

“We looked at Shadows. We looked at Scan Eagles and other tactical UAVs that are out and about and what we want to do is try to find out” which model is best, the official said, referring to drones as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

Shadows are manufactured by AAI Corporation, a unit of Textron Systems, while Scan Eagles are manufactured by Boeing Co.

Islamabad has also pressed for weaponized drones, like the ones the CIA is covertly using in Pakistan to track and kill al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.

The official, asked about that request, said general U.S. policy was not to export weaponized capabilities of any drone aircraft. Washington has been reluctant to share sensitive technology so far.

The number of surveillance drones that the United States would eventually provide to Pakistan depends on the cost of the model selected, the official said.

“A key factor will be how quickly we can get the capabilities to them,” the official said.

Pressed on timing, the official said: “I would like to think that we would get them there within a year.”

Pakistan is already using some non-U.S., imported drone technology and has modified a C-130 military transport aircraft to allow some surveillance activities, the official said.

Drones have proven to be a crucial technological advantage for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, allowing it to remotely track militants and giving commanders battleground imagery in real time.

Gates told a Senate hearing last week it was in the U.S. interest to try to help close allies get drone technology, despite limitations on exports imposed by an international pact, known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The MTCR is a pact among at least 34 countries aimed at curbing the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Modi And The Ghosts Of Gujarat 2002

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By Dr. Shah Alam Khan,

I don’t believe in ghosts. I think they are the folly of a fearful mind. But yet I find ghosts to be funny characters. They hound you at the most awkward of hours and at the most awkward of places. Having said this, some ghosts are not funny, they can make life miserable. Ask Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi is alleged to have mastermind or rather orchestrated the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots. It was this orchestration of communal massacre which earned him the title of modern day Nero by the Supreme Court of India. The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 keep returning to him. The more he tries to ostracize these nefarious characters, the more they return with new force and vigor. Ghosts of young men & women, small children, pregnant mothers and even the little Caspers, the fetuses who were torn out of the cozy comfort of their mothers’ bellies and thrown into soaring infernos. All are back. Some ghosts are obstinate, pigheaded to get justice for getting them into this indiscernible state by Mr. Modi and his riot manufacturing machine which runs on human blood.

I am sure these ghosts will accompany Mr. Modi on March 27th 2010, when we are made to believe,

that he presents himself to be questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India to probe the Gujarat carnage. It is important to note that Mr. Modi will be testifying only in the case of Mr. Ehsan Jafri who was murdered, sorry, dismembered, in the Gulbarg society carnage in Feb 2002. I am amused to imagine that as Mr. Modi will sit in the big leather chair in front of a tight lipped committee of polished bureaucrats, there would be a thousand eyes popping over his shoulder, jostling to get space, pushing and elbowing each other to make their presence felt. The SIT interrogation room will be full of ghosts. Frail elderly ghosts, who will be pushed further back in the chaos, the naughty little ones who will dodge their mothers to go and pee on Modi’s white starched kurta and the pregnant ghosts, the most difficult to control; they start cursing and bellowing at the top of their voices whenever they see Mr. Modi. Probably they were too much in love with their babies-to-be the day they were raped and cut opened. Then there would be those who are unnamed, unidentified – the faceless ghosts. These are the ones who resided in bodies which were charred beyond recognition in the spring of 2002 across different locations of Gujarat. Bodies scorched so badly that even their spirits are now faceless.

It will be interesting to note how these ghosts will react as Mr. Modi is put through what I feel will be scratchy questions. Well surely uncomfortable for people with a heart and soul! I had always felt that Mr. Modi should be invited to an episode of Sach ka Samna, the popular Hindi version of a more suave Moment of Truth. Seeing him answer moral (and immoral) questions in a true or false pattern would be fun. In fact it might be much easier for him as well; at least he will not have to give bizarre and whacky explanations which make us judgmental on his intelligence and astuteness. So, if the host asks, “Mr. Modi you ordered the best bakery carnage – True or False?” he, with all the straightness of face (resembling the election face mask he distributed in 2007) will answer, “False”. The not so always accurate lie detector machine says: False. No more explanations, no more shame. Well, no more shame particularly for Mr. Modi and no more shame for us, Indians, in general.

History has a peculiar knack of catching up with its characters. On March 27th India’s history will catch up with its most pernicious of politicians. In the company of three thousand invisible yet tangible ghosts, Narendra Modi will undergo a scrutiny of his deeds. His acts of commission and importantly his impotence of omission, everything will go under the scanner. And all this in the presence of those to whom he owes an explanation. He owes an explanation to all of us. To me, to you, to those who love our freedom and our country. To those who bow before the god a bit differently and also to those who bow in the same way as he does. He owes an explanation to the nameless ghosts who wander through the land of Gandhi awaiting their moksha and to those who were left alive and mourn the dead.

I am sure Mr. Modi will perspire as the SIT questions get difficult and will sigh as the easier ones follow. Watching him quietly in the room with three thousand ghosts will be a smiling Ehsan Jafri in white kurta-pyjama; still soaked in blood. His body was dismembered, but his spirit is cohesive. He has identified his killers. He has recognized the perpetrators. His death has not gone waste. His wailing from that fateful day in Gulbarg society haven’t gone unanswered. The Day of Judgment is closing in. He does not want to blink. He wants to capture each and every second of this hearing into his fluid state. The pain of getting dismembered by a crowd of assassins must surely be not greater than the pleasure of seeing Narendra Modi in the spot light. The spot light of shame and ignominy.

Narendra bhai Modi, as he is popularly called, has a task cut out. Either he faces the SIT to answer questions he has been evading since February 2002 or he continues to live in the shadow of ghosts. His party feels that he is a popular chief minister who always respects law. It makes me laugh – law and Modi in the same voice? A sarcastic oxymoron for those who saw law raped in Gujarat in the 2002 carnage. An ironic antithesis for those who saw their children thrown in fire in the February of 2002. An iron-cold apathy for those who saw policemen betray their trust.

Mr. Modi, it’s not easy to live with ghosts. They create ruckus, they can be hysterical. They don’t let you sleep peacefully and above all they do not forget or forgive.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 29, 2010 at 9:15 am

Mastermind behind Mastermind behind Sahil Naqash’s abduction arrested

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ONLINE International News

RAWALPINDI: Regional Police Officer (RPO) Aslam Tareen said that master mind behind the kidnapping for ransom of British born Pakistani boy has been arrested while Rs 15 million and heavy cache of weapons have also been recovered from their possession.

Addressing in a press conference, Aslam Tareen said that SSP Security and SSP CIA Rana Shahid Aziz in collaboration with law enforcement agencies raided in Jhelum and Gujrat and arrested Mastermind Imran and his friend Sagheer.

They said that two key accused Imran and Safeer have been arrested in Jhelum. He said that both culprits are in police custody and during their arrest four Klashinkoves, eight hand grenades, land mines, rocket launchers, bullets and looted equipment have been recovered.

RPO further told that Imran belongs to Rawalpindi and demanded by police in different cases of murder, robberies, and kidnappings for ransom.

He said that culprits are handed over to the police while two of their friends are remaining which would be arrested soon.

He also thanked the British and French police for their assistance in the arrest of culprits.

Answering to a question about details of the foreign culprits, RPO told that a Romanian woman is also involved in the kidnapping and ransom money, which was 0.11 ponds, paid in a park of France.

He said that safe recovery of Sahil Naqash was our top priority and we were in contact with French, British and Spanish police to arrest them.

He added that law enforcement through their effective actions arrested culprits in short time and no family member are said to be involved in it.

Sahil Saeed, of Oldham, Greater Manchester, was snatched from a house in the Punjab region of the country on 4 March, after robbers held his family hostage at gunpoint.

We can’t allow anyone to do this

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by: Afshain Afzal

Some Indians, in order to prove that they are liberal and open-minded, often cross all limits. The Meghalaya Police on February 18, seized around 120 books with blasphemous pictures of Jesus Christ from a distributor in Bara Bazar and the principal of Christian missionary School. The offensive picture was found in a cursive writing exercise book used by Class I students of St. Joseph Girls Higher Secondary School in Shillong, capital of Meghalaya.

The cursive writing book meant for Class I is a spelling tutor, where ‘Idol’ is used for ‘I’. Against this word, a picture of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette and a beer can was shown. The picture was also printed in cursive writing books of Class II, III and IV. The publication not only deeply hurt sentiments of Christian but Muslims were also shocked and their feelings hurt. According to the details, some evil minded persons in India published pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in the other. Jesus Christ, also known as Hazrat Eassa (Alhe Salam), was prophet of Islam whose followers include present day Christians. All the Muslims originations condemned the publication and demanded action against all those involved. National Council of Churches in India also condemned the publication and said that it will demand from Meghalaya government to install a mechanism to scan all school books. The Indian Catholic Youth Movement (ICYM), Shillong Archdiocese, condemned the publication and demanded strict action against all those involved. The ICYM issued a press release in which it said “The publication of the despicable picture has deeply hurt our religious sentiments, and its publisher has manifestly breached the provisions of the Constitution of India.’

Although, the Meghalaya Police has registered a case against the publisher, Skyline Publication, under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but one wonders if this is sufficient for such sick persons. In the past, a number of times religious sentiments of the Indian minorities were badly injured but no stick action was taken against the culprits. The Indian newspaper Statesman’s Editor Ravindra Kumar and publisher Anand Sinha were also guilty of reproducing an article from the UK’s Independent daily in its February 5, 2009 edition. The article was entitled: “Why should I respect these oppressive religions?” The author, Johann Hari, writes: “I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a ‘Prophet’ who … ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him.” Although the newspaper committed an offence under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code which is non-bailable but court granted bail to Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha as if nothing has happened. Regrettably, when Muslims carried out protest demonstration in front of the offices of the Statesman, Indian Police used baton charges several times to disperse the crowd. The western media gave a lot of projection to the incident if some wonder has been done by the newspaper. In an interview to BBC, Ravindra Kumar instead to apologizing said “I admit it was an editorial misjudgment but it was never intentional.” India is also guilty of proving asylum to Bengali writer Taslima Nasreen who is guilty of writing blasphemous book Lajja, which has been banned by the Bangladesh Government.

In the instant case of publishing blasphemous material regarding Jesus Christ, the evil minded Delhi based publisher was quick enough to apologize but the question arises, is this sufficient. We need to punish such extremist so that in future no one dares to commit such grave crime again. In fact, it is a conspiracy to play with the sentiments of Christian and Muslims. It is not only the writer and publisher who are responsible for such criminal blunder but Indian Ministry of Education is equally involved. Indian Union Education Minister Kapil Sibal has ordered a probe into the incident but so far no one from Ministry of Education has been arrested. It is a general observation that countries in order to prove themselves a free and secular society trespass others beliefs and sentiments. India has right to give complete liberty to its people but no civilized nation can allow people to play with the sentiments of others in the name of secularism. It is not the first case of such a sinful attempt but due to the leniency of the Indian government such people have gained strength. If an exemplary punishment was awarded to all those involved in the past, no one could have dared to repeat such a satanic attempt again.

It is a test for India that what action is taken against those responsible for such blasphemous publication. One wonders what if India fails to respect the sentiments of all those hurt. No doubt, it was a conspiracy to put a scanner on Indian text books but one is shocked to see that the western agents can go so low to achieve their objectives. India has still time to preserve its culture and traditions of communal harmony and come out of the western conspiracy. We need to understand that there is hell of bloody difference between the western and eastern values. Though, the west is not that bad as good people also exist there but no one can deny the fact that presently the reins of the governments are mostly controlled by evil powers. India is a subcontinent of many nationalities and its government must respect all schools of thought. It is ironical that not only the minorities of India are suppressed class but Hindus too do not enjoy their complete rights. In order to pave way for western values, Hindus and other communities, who believe in vigilance of society, are considered extremists and are subject to criticism. Where all communities should be allowed to propagate their views freely, as they have the right to follow any school of thought, nevertheless, no one should be allowed to hurt the religious sentiments of others. In order to achieve this objective, India should abide by its constitution as well as the agreement between India and Pakistan over minorities.

Three legislators resign for holding fake degrees

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By Sohail Khan

ISLAMABAD: Two MNAs and one MPA of the Punjab Assembly on Thursday tendered their resignations before the Supreme Court (SC) to avoid disqualification in three different cases of holding fake degrees.

A six-member larger bench of the SC, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Ch Ijaz Ahmed, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Rahmat Hussain Jafferi, Justice Tariq Pervez, and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, was hearing their fake-degree cases.

Jamshaid Dasti of the PPP and Nazir Jatt of the PML-Q submitted their resignations before the court. The court directed the Election Commission to arrange by-election in NA-167, Vehari-I; NA-178, Muzzafargarh-III; and PP-63, Faisalabad; in accordance with the law, besides directing the National Assembly secretary to issue a notification of vacant seat of NA-178, Muzzafargarh; within three days.

During the course of hearing, Dasti, who is also the chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Sports, failed to answer a volley of questions by the court.He told the court that he had done a course of Dars-e-Nizami. He, however, remained unable to tell the court even about the duration of the course.

The PPP MNA failed to answer the questions of the court about the total number of Surahs in the Holy Qur’aan, including the names of any of the five Surahs. Justice Ramday questioned Dasti: “How you did the Dars-e-Nizami course, as you even don’t know the names of five Surahs?”

The chief justice remarked that it was impossible for the court to let Dasti scot-free, as he represented parliament, adding: “I think your membership should be suspended.” Justice Khilji Arif Hussain observed that his replies have become shame for parliament. The court, before announcing the verdict, asked him to resign himself, otherwise, the court decision would create difficulties for him, as he would not be able to contest the by-elections.

Meanwhile, Abdul Rauf, the counsel for Dasti, told the court that his client had opted to resign. Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed Jatt of the PML-Q, the MNA from NA-167, Vehari-I, did not appear before the court. However, his counsel told the court that his client had sent his resignation to the National Assembly Secretariat on Wednesday.

He said his client did not resign due to holding of a fake degree, but that he wanted to join the PML-N. Muhammad Ajmal, MPA, from PP-63 (Faisalabad-XIII) also resigned on Thursday due to holding a fake degree. Rana Aftab of the PPP had challenged the election of Ajmal on the grounds that Ajmal had obtained a fake degree from Darul Uloom Mehmoodia, Bannu.

The petitioner submitted that the Wifaqul Madaris had already stated that the Darul Uloom in question was not a recognised institution and the certificate possessed by the respondent was bogus.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 26, 2010 at 6:05 am

In child death capital India 5,000 die every day

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By: Kavita Chowdhury

India has unofficially become the world’s child death capital, with a study claiming that over 5,000 children die in the country every day of “totally preventable causes”. According to the study, Child Health Now, by the NGO World Vision, India accounts for the highest number of child deaths (under five years of age) in the world at 1.95 million per year.

The study revealed that the majority of the deaths occur in the child’s first year itself. The causes included diarrhoea, pneumonia and neo- natal problems.> Simple life- saving measures such as oral rehydration solutions, basic vaccinations, breastfeeding and using mosquito nets could bring down the dismal number by more than two thirds, the report said.

Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo follow India in the list. Together, the three nations account for 40 per cent of the total child deaths in the world. It was also found that the three countries allocated the least share of funding – less than three per cent – to maternal and child heath in the health sector allocation.

Reni Jacob, the advocacy director for World Vision India, said, “When hundreds die in a disaster, it is considered an emergency. But when 5,000 children die every day, it is not considered one. This is the biggest human rights and child rights violation of all times.” The fact that simple interventions can go a long way in preventing child deaths is evident from the disparities that exist within India itself. While states like Orissa have a high infant mortality rate of 10 per cent, in others like Kerala, the rate is just a little over 1 per cent. And that is primarily because of initiatives in child care and maternal health services.

Indeed, the report found that children in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are more vulnerable than those in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Bihar, less than one- third infants are breast- fed and 50 per cent of children are stunted because of malnutrition. The state has a high infant mortality rate of 85 deaths per 1,000 live births.

World Vision has launched a five- year campaign in India to address the alarming situation. It has also urged the government to revamp the National Rural Health Mission and widen the focus of the Integrated Child Development Scheme to less than three- year- olds.

Reproduced From Mail Today. Copyright 2010. MTNPL. All rights reserved.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 25, 2010 at 8:07 am

First The Sorrow Now The Shame

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Fast track courts. 123 cases. 89 convictions and 303 acquittals. SANJANA travels to Kandhamal to find the wounds of an anti-Christian violence still festering

Debris The church at Beheraga village, which was destroyed in 2008, lies untouched

THE FIRST look is deceptive – Pira Digal seems unusually calm as she walks the dusty road, her bright blue sari primly tucked in place. There is no frown on her face despite the blazing sun. A second later, she offers to take us to her colony. In the colony, amid scattered rags and pitched plastic tents, she introduces herself as the widow of Kanteshwar Digal who was hacked to death in August 2008 during the communal violence that ravaged Orissa’s Kandhamal district.

“I am no longer angry because I lost my husband. I have come to terms with his death. But how can I forget that the court set the men who killed my husband free? Will someone tell me what the word ‘justice’ means?” asks Pira. As her composure crumbles, giving way to angry tears, Pira flings a file of papers to the ground. Among the papers that fall out are copies of the First Information Report (FIR) relating to Kanteshwar’s death, court affidavits and death certificates – clear indicators of Pira’s engagement with the courts and the police as she fought to bring her husband’s killers to book.

Solemn prayers Worshippers at Divya Jyothy’s chapel at K Nuagaon. The centre was burnt down in 2008

On March 2, 2010, when the news broke that fast track courts had acquitted 52 people accused of involvement in the Kandhamal anti-Christian violence, nobody was surprised. A quick glance at the figures explains why. The two fast track courts were set up in 2008 to look into 123 cases. Sixty-three cases have been disposed of since, with 89 people being convicted. As many as 303 people have been acquitted of charges like murder, rape and burning down houses. Against this figure, news of 52 people going home – cleared of all charges – understandably evoked little interest.

Moving on A volunteer cleans up at Jana Vikas head office 18 months after it was burnt down

Among those acquitted were key district BJP leaders, including Manoj Pradhan – Kandhamal’s elected representative to the Legislative Assembly. A first time MLA, Pradhan was the primary accused in eight cases with charges of murder, abetting murder and arson against him. But he was acquitted in all of them by the fast track court which pointed to the lack of conclusive evidence against him. Even if the extraordinarily high rate of acquittals triggers no alarm bells, the fact that nothing could be found to nail the district’s elected representative in eight cases makes one wonder if justice is coming undone in Kandhamal. TEHELKA travelled to the region to take a closer look at the judgements and to speak to the various stakeholders. The journey raised far more questions than expected.

Consider Pira’s account. Her husband Kanteshwar was found dead on September 16, 2008 – 14 days after he was dragged off the bus he and Pira were travelling in. The post-mortem report recorded grievous injuries to Kanteshwar’s body as well as severe internal bleeding – he had been hacked to death and strangled by a rope. Police registered a case of homicide and, during the course of investigations, recorded Pira’s statement where she said Pradhan and his associate, Mannu Ganda, had dragged her husband off the bus. The police chargesheet named Pradhan, Ganda and six others as prime accused in the case. Almost a year later, the fast track court acquitted Pradhan and Ganda of all charges by “extending the benefit of doubt”. It said there was no credible witness to the murder, and nothing to conclusively establish that the accused had committed the murder, since there was a 14-day delay between Kanteshwar’s disappearance and the discovery of his decomposed body.

Ask Pira about the judgement and why Pradhan and Ganda were released and she minces no words. “Right from the time the FIR was filed, I knew that Pradhan would get away scot free. Neither the police nor the courts are blind to the power he wields in this region. Not everyone can withstand the harassment,” she says.

Pira should know. For a year now, Pira and her family have been harassed and threatened with dire consequences by Pradhan’s associates if they proceeded with the case. She stood her ground – only to have the judge dismiss her testimony as questionable. Pira adds that the police investigation has been shoddy and incomplete. When she approached police, hours after Kanteshwar was dragged off the bus, Pira was packed off and told to return if her husband did not return home. Five days later, when her brotherin- law went to the police station, police recorded Kanteshwar as “missing”, even though Pira and others insisted that he had been dragged off the bus and killed. In his judgement, Judge CR Dash pointedly referred to this “change” in the witness’ statement. He also cast doubt over Pira’s ability to identify Pradhan in the crowd since she had never met him previously. Pira responds in a tone that barely conceals her anger: “Do I have to meet Rahul Gandhi to recognise him?”

Pira’s case is not an isolated one. Of the eight cases that TEHELKA tracked, the judgments in each cast doubt over the witnesses’ statements and the shoddy police investigation. In another case against Pradhan, the MLA was acquitted on charges of rioting and setting Butia Digal’s house ablaze after the judge, SK Dash, questioned the credibility of Butia’s testimonies and that of seven other witnesses. The judge found it incredible that the witnesses had recognised Pradhan, even though the incident took place “during the dark night and in an area without electricity”. The homes, in this case, were completely burnt down – they were doused with kerosene before being set alight. The fact that the witnesses could see the faces of the people because of the flames went unquestioned.’How can I forget that the court set my husband’s killers free,’ says Pira, a widow

ANOTHER FACT that Justice Dash brought up to cast doubt about the police investigation was Butia’s age. At the time of recording statements, the investigating officer at Raikia police station noted Butia’s age as 35 when he was actually 60. The judge added that the investigating officer did not mark the exact location of the bush behind which the witnesses hid and watched their homes being burnt down. These facts were sufficient for the judge to give Pradhan the benefit of doubt and acquit him of all charges.

These acquittals come amid several instances where witnesses filed affidavits before the same courts alleging threats to withdraw their cases or to give false testimonies during cross-examination. In the affidavits that TEHELKA accessed, the witnesses clearly name the case accused as the ones issuing the threats. In Bodimunda village that falls under Tikabali police station, the threats went a step further. Last month, Hindus attacked Christians who continued to attend court hearings, unmindful of the threats they had been issued. The plastic tents that the Christians had pitched just outside the village were torn apart and a series of cases filed against them. The police registered five cases – three against Christians and two against Hindus in the village. Fearing for their lives, the Christian residents of Bodimunda fled to Bhubaneswar.Witnesses have been threatened to withdraw their cases or to give false testimony

When TEHELKA approached Pradipta Panigrahy, the police inspector in charge of Tikabali police station, she admitted on record that the situation in the village had gotten out of hand since “there were four or five Hindus – members of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) – who paid no heed to the police or the district administration reconciliation efforts”. She added: “The police have no control over them and in any case, bail is accorded to them in all the cases we register against them.” (A month after the violence broke out, the case in which the Bodimunda villagers were appearing as witnesses was disposed of by the fast track court. All the accused were acquitted.)

In November 2009, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik filed a written admission in the Assembly where he said “85 persons of RSS, 321 persons of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and 118 persons of Bajrang Dal had been arrested for their involvement in the Kandhamal riots”. The question is: will the fast track courts set up by Patnaik’s government deliver the justice due to those affected by the violence? On last count, there were 71 cases waiting for that justice to be delivered.