Archive for ‘religion’

23/02/2019

Rakbar Khan: Did cow vigilantes lynch a Muslim farmer?

Members of Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gang pictured in 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionCow vigilantes in Ramgarh in 2015
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A Muslim dairy farmer was stopped late one night last July as he led two cows down a track in rural Rajasthan, south of the Indian capital, Delhi. Within hours he was dead, but who killed him, asks the BBC’s James Clayton – the “cow vigilantes” he met on the road, or the police?

It’s 4am and Dr Hassan Khan, the duty doctor at Ramgarh hospital, is notified of something unusual.

The police have brought in a dead man, a man they claim not to know.

“What were the police like when they brought him in? Were they calm?” I ask him.

“Not calm,” he says. “They were anxious.”

“Are they usually anxious?” I ask.

“Not usually,” he says, laughing nervously.

The dead man is later identified by his father as local farmer Rakbar Khan.

This was not a random murder. The story illustrates some of the social tensions bubbling away under the surface in India, and particularly in the north of the country.

And his case raises questions for the authorities – including the governing Hindu nationalist BJP party.

Cow-related violence – 2012-2019

IndiaSpend map of cow violenceImage copyrightINDIASPEND
Rakbar Khan was a family man. He had seven children.

He kept cows and he also happened to be a Muslim. That can be a dangerous mix in India.

“We have always reared cows, and we are dependent on their milk for our livelihood,” says Rakbar’s father, Suleiman.

“No-one used to say anything when you transported a cow.”

That has changed. Several men have been killed in recent years while transporting cows in the mainly Muslim region of Mewat, not far from Delhi, where Rakbar lived.

“People are afraid. If we go to get a cow they will kill us. They surround our vehicle. So everyone is too scared to get these animals,” says Suleiman.

Everyone I speak to in the village where the Khans live is afraid of gau rakshaks – cow protection gangs.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gangImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma’s cow protection group in 2015
Presentational white spaceThe gangs often consist of young, hardline Hindus, who believe passionately in defending India’s holy animal.

They believe that laws to protect cows, such as a ban on slaughtering the animals, are not being fully enforced – and they hunt for “cow smugglers”, who they believe are taking cows to be killed for meat.

Often armed, they have been responsible for dozens of attacks on farmers in India over the last five years, according to data analysis organisation IndiaSpend, which monitors reports of hate crimes in the media.

On 21 July 2018, Rakbar Khan met the local gau rakshak.

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There are some things we know for certain about what happened that night.

Rakbar was walking down a small road with two cows. It was late and it was raining heavily.

Then, out of the dark, came the lights of motorbikes. We know this, because Rakbar was with a friend, who survived.

Cow vigilantes on motorbikes in Yadavnagar, RajasthanImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
At this point the details become a little sketchier. There are three versions of the story.

The gang managed to catch Rakbar, but his friend, Aslam, slipped away. He lay on the ground, in the mud and prayed he wouldn’t be found.

“There was so much fear inside me, my heart was hurting,” he says.

“From there I heard the screams. They were beating him. There wasn’t a single part of his body that wasn’t broken. He was beaten very badly.”

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Find out more

Watch James Clayton’s report for Newsnight, on BBC Two

The documentary India’s Cow Vigilantes can be seen on Our World on BBC World Newsand on the BBC News Channel (click for transmission times)

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Aslam says that Rakbar was killed then and there.

But there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

Much of what happened next focuses around the leader of the local cow vigilante group, Nawal Kishore Sharma.

Aslam claims he heard the gang address him by name that night, but when I speak to Sharma, he denies he was there at all.

Nawal Kishore Sharma
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma

“It was about 00:30 in the morning and I was sleeping in my house… Some of my group phoned me to say they’d caught some cow smugglers,” he says.

According to Nawal Kishore Sharma, he then drove with the police to the spot. “He was alive and he was fine,” he says.

But that’s not what the police say.

In their “first incident report” they say that Rakbar was indeed alive when they found him.

“Nawal Kishore Sharma informed the police at about 00:41 that some men were smuggling two cows on foot,” the report says.

“Then the police met Nawal Kishore outside the police station and they all went to the location.

“There was a man who was injured and covered in mud.

“He told the police his name, his father’s name, his age (28) and the village he was from.

“And as he finished these sentences, he almost immediately passed out. Then he was put in the police vehicle and they left for Ramgarh.

“Then the police reached Ramgarh with Rakbar where the available doctor declared him dead.”

Ramgarh at nightImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionRamgarh at night
But this version of events is highly dubious.

I go to the hospital in Ramgarh, where Rakbar was taken. Hospital staff are busily going through bound books of hospital records – looking for Rakbar’s admission entry.

And then, there it is. “Unknown dead body” brought in at 04:00 on 21 July 2018.

Hospital record of unknown dead body

It’s not a long entry, but it contradicts the police’s story, and raises some serious questions.

For a start, Rakbar was found about 12 minutes’ drive away from the hospital. Why did it take more than three hours for them to take him there?

And if the police say Rakbar gave them his name, why did they tell the hospital they didn’t know who he was?

Nawal Kishore Sharma claims to know why. He paints a very different picture of what happened to Rakbar.

He tells me that after picking up Rakbar, they changed his clothes.

He then claims to have taken two photos of Rakbar – who at this point was with the police.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan
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Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan

Sharma says that he went to the police station with the police. He claims that’s when the beating really began.

“The police injured him badly. They even beat him with their shoes,” he says.

“They kicked him powerfully on the left side of his body four times. Then they beat him with sticks. They beat him here (pointing at his ribs) and even on his neck.”

At about 03:00 Nawal Kishore Sharma says he went with some police officers to take the two cows to a local cow shelter. When he returned, he says, the police told him that Rakbar had died.

Rakbar’s death certificate shows that his leg and hand had been broken. He’d been badly beaten and had broken his ribs, which had punctured his lungs.

According to his death certificate he died of “shock… as a result of injuries sustained over body”.

I ask the duty doctor at the hospital whether he remembers what Rakbar’s body was like when the police brought it in.

“It was cold,” he says.

I ask him how long it would take for a body to become cold after death.

“A couple of hours,” he replies.

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“I don’t want to talk about Rakbar’s case,” says Rejendra Singh, chief of police of Alwar district, which includes Ramgarh.

Since Rakbar’s murder several police officers have been suspended. I want to know why.

He looks uneasily at me.

“There were lapses on the police side,” he says.

I ask him what those lapses were.

“They had not followed the regular police procedure, which they were supposed to do,” he says. “It was one big lapse.”

Three men from Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilante group have been charged with Rakbar’s murder. Sharma himself remains under investigation.

The vigilante group and the police blame each other for Rakbar’s death, but neither denies working together that night.

The way Sharma describes it, the police cannot be everywhere, so the vigilantes help them out. But it’s the police that “take all the action” he says.

Nawal Kishore Sharma investigates a lorry outside Bilaspur, near Ramgarh, in 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma inspects a lorry transporting cows (October 2015)
Much police activity in Rajasthan is focused on stopping cow slaughter.

Across the state there are dozens of formal cow checkpoints, where police stop vehicles looking for smugglers who are taking cows to be killed.

I visited one of the checkpoints. Sure enough police were patiently stopping vehicles and looking for cows.

The night before officers had had a gun battle with a group of men after a truck failed to stop.

These checkpoints have become common in some parts of India. Sometimes they are run by the police, sometimes by the vigilantes, and sometimes by both.

This gets to the heart of Rakbar’s case.

Human rights groups argue that his murder – and others like his – show that in some areas the police have got too close to the gangs.

Cow vigilantes in Ramgarh check a suspicious load in November 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionThe vigilantes find what they are looking for (November 2015)
“Unfortunately what we’re finding too often is that the police are complicit,” says Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, which published a 104-page report on cow-related violence in India this week.

In some areas, police have been reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of violence – and much faster to prosecute people accused of either consuming or trading in beef, he says.

Human Rights Watch has looked into 12 cases where it claims police have been complicit in the death of a suspected cow smuggler or have covered it up. Rakbar’s is one of them.

But this case doesn’t just illustrate police failings. Some would argue that it also illustrates how parts of the governing BJP party have inflamed the problem.

Gyandev Ahuja is a larger-than-life character. As the local member of parliament in Ramgarh at the time when Rakbar was killed he’s an important local figure.

He has also made a series of controversial statements about “cow smugglers”.

After a man was badly beaten in December 2017 Ahuja told local media: “To be straightforward, I will say that if anyone is indulging in cow smuggling, then this is how you will die.”

After Rakbar’s death he said that cow smuggling was worse than terrorism.

Nails used by cow vigilantes to force lorries to stopImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionNails used by the vigilantes to force lorries to stop
Gyandev Ahuja is just one of several BJP politicians who have made statements that are supportive of the accused in so-called “cow lynchings”.

One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers was even photographed garlanding the accused murderers in a cow vigilante case. He has since apologised.

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch says it is “terrifying” that elected officials have defended attackers.

“It is really, at this point of time, something that is a great concern, because it is changing a belief into a political narrative, and a violent one,” he says.

The worry is that supportive messages from some of the governing party’s politicians have emboldened the vigilantes.

No official figures are kept on cow violence, but the data collected by IndiaSpend suggests that it started ramping up in 2015, the year after Narendra Modi was elected.

IndiaSpend says that since then there have been 250 injuries and 46 deaths related to cow violence. This is likely to be an underestimate because farmers who have been beaten may be afraid to go to the police – and when a body is found it may not be clear what spurred the attack. The vast majority of the victims are Muslims.

A cow shelter in RamgarhImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionA cow shelter in Ramgarh
A BJP spokesman, Nalin Kohli, emphatically rejects any connection between his party and cow violence.

“To say the BJP is responsible is perverse, inaccurate and absolutely false,” he tells me.

“Many people have an interest in building a statement that the BJP is behind it. We won’t tolerate it.”

I ask him about Gyandev Ahuja’s inflammatory statements.

“Firstly that is not the party’s point of view and we have very clearly and unequivocally always said an individual’s point of view is theirs, the point of view of the party is articulated by the party.

“Has the BJP promoted him or protected him? No.”

But a month after this interview, Ahuja was made vice-president of the party in Rajasthan.

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rajasthan – publicly slapping Ahuja on the back and waving together at crowds of BJP supporters.

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In Mewat I speak to Rakbar’s wife, Asmina.

“Show me how you raise seven children without a husband. How will I be able to raise them?” she says, wiping away tears.

“My youngest daughter says that my father went to God. If you ask her, ‘How did he go to God?’ she says, ‘My father was bringing a cow and people killed him.’

“The life of an animal is so important but that of a human is not.”

The trial of the three men accused of his murder has yet to take place, but perhaps we will never know what really happened to Rakbar.

In November 2015, photographer Allison Joyce spent a night following Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilantes in the countryside near Ramgarh. One of her photographs shows a police officer embracing Sharma after a shootout between the vigilantes and a suspected cow smuggler.

Though the police now accuse the cow vigilantes of killing Rakbar Khan, and the vigilantes accuse the police, the photograph illustrates just how closely they worked together.

A policeman embraces Nawal Kishore Sharma after his group chases down a lorry in November 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
In the Indian media there have been claims that the police took the two cows that Rakbar had been transporting to a cow shelter, as Rakbar lay dead or dying in a police vehicle.

There are also claims that the police stopped and drank tea instead of taking Rakbar to hospital.

Whatever they did, they did not take Rakbar to hospital immediately.

Source: The BBC

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19/02/2019

Viewpoint: Should Britain apologise for Amritsar massacre?

Indian visitors look at the bullet ridden wall at the historical site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 12, 2011Image copyrightAFP
Image captionVisitors can inspect a bullet-ridden wall at the site of the massacre

Hundreds of Indians attending a public meeting were shot dead by British troops in the northern Indian city of Amritsar in 1919. Historian Kim Wagner sifts fact from fiction as the UK House of Lords prepares to debate the massacre, including if Britain should apologise.

On 13 April 1919, Sergeant WJ Anderson witnessed first-hand the brutal massacre of hundreds of Indian civilians at Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar city.

“When fire was opened the whole crowd seemed to sink to the ground, a whole flutter of white garments, with however a spreading out towards the main gateway, and some individuals could be seen climbing the high wall,” Anderson later recalled.

“There was little movement, except for the climbers. The gateway would soon be jammed. I saw no sign of a rush towards the troops.”

He had served as the bodyguard of Brigadier General RH Dyer, who had rushed to Amritsar a few days earlier to quell what he believed to be a major uprising.

The crowd of more than 20,000 people, however, were not armed rebels. They were local residents and villagers from the surrounding countryside who had come to listen to political speeches or simply to spend a few hours in the gardens.

It was also the day of the Baisakhi festival, which marked the anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa, or Sikh community, and annually attracted thousands of visitors and pilgrims.

The crowd comprised Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Most were men and young boys, including some infants; only a few women were present.

British Brigadier General R.E.H. DyerImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionBrigadier General Dyer rushed to Amritsar to quell what he believed to be a major uprising

When Gen Dyer ordered his troops to cease firing, Jallianwala Bagh resembled a battlefield strewn with corpses. Between 500 and 600 people were killed, and probably three times as many wounded. The exact numbers will never be known for certain but the official death count, reached months later, was just 379.

In recent years, much of the public debate has focused on calls for a formal British apology – the demand has been led by, among others, Indian politician and author Shashi Tharoor.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the memorial at Jallianwala Bagh in 1997 and then Prime Minister David Cameron visited in 2013 – both showed their respect yet carefully avoided making an actual apology.

In December 2017, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, nevertheless urged the British government to make just such a gesture during his own visit to Amritsar.

“I am clear that the government should now apologise, especially as we reach the centenary of the massacre. This is about properly acknowledging what happened here and giving the people of Amritsar and India the closure they need through a formal apology,” he said.

ritish Prime Minister David Cameron (C) along with Punjab State Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (2L), and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) President Avtar Singh Makkar (2R) visit the Sikh Shrine Golden temple in Amritsar on February 20, 2013Image copyrightAFP
Image captionOn his 2013 visit, Cameron avoided making an actual apology but said the massacre was “deeply shameful”

Exactly what happened at Jallianwala Bagh, however, remains unclear, and a century later, the actual circumstances of the massacre are still shrouded in myth and misconceptions.

There are, for instance, people, often with a nostalgic attachment to the Empire, who still insist that Gen Dyer only opened fire as a final resort when the crowd ignored his warning to disperse – even though the general himself was quite clear that he gave no such warning.

Similarly, the idea that the shooting was necessary and prevented much worse violence conveniently ignores the fact that Indian riots in April 1919 were in each and every case precipitated by British actions.

Factual inaccuracies are also to be found at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial today. Among other things, a sign claims that 120 bodies of the victims of the massacre were recovered from what has become known as the Martyrs’ Well. It’s believed that many people jumped into the well to escape the bullets.

But there is no evidence for this story, which appears to be based on a mix-up with the infamous well at Kanpur city, where the bodies of British women and children were disposed after a massacre in 1857.

Visual depictions of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre also show machine guns being used, when the historical record is quite clear that the shooting was carried out by 50 Gurkha and Baluchi troops armed with rifles.

Gen Dyer also did not orchestrate the massacre, and deliberately trap the crowd inside the gardens, as some popular accounts have it.

An Indian man takes a photograph of a painting depicting the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 12, 2011. The Amritsar massacre, also known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, took place on April 13, 1919 when British Indian Army soldiers on the direct orders of their British officers opened fire on an unarmed gathering killing at least 379 men, women and children, according to official records. AFP PHOTO /NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe crowd were not armed rebels but local residents and villagers

In fact, it was British panic and misreading of the political turmoil in India that was at the root of the violence.

While Indian nationalists were looking forward to political reforms and greater self-determination after the end of World War One, the British were still haunted by the spectre of the 1857 “mutiny”, an uprising that is often referred to as India’s first war of independence.

So, when riots broke out in Amritsar on 10 April – and five Europeans and dozens of Indians were killed – the authorities responded with immediate and indiscriminate force. Three days later, Gen Dyer entered what he mistakenly perceived to be a war zone.

Where popular depictions show a peaceful crowd of locals quietly listening to a political speech, Gen Dyer instead perceived a defiant and murderous mob, which had only days before run rampant through Amritsar. When he ordered his troops to open fire, it was an act of fear, spurred on by a disastrously flawed threat assessment.

None of this exonerates Gen Dyer or detracts from the sheer brutality of the massacre – nor does it justify the subsequent torture and humiliation of Indians under martial law. The indisputable violence of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre hardly requires any embellishment. Nevertheless, facts matter if we are to pay our respect to those who died rather than simply perpetuate politically convenient fiction. And to understand is not the same as to condone.

A visitor looking at the bullet marks on a wall on the eve of 95th anniversary of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh on 12 April 2014 in Amritsar.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThere are bullet marks on a wall in the garden

Apologies and centenaries, which are essentially about the present rather than the past, are rarely conducive to an honest and nuanced reckoning with history.

An apology from a British government in the throes of Brexit, at the moment, seems highly unlikely. It it indeed doubtful whether an official acknowledgement of the massacre would be construed as more than an act of political expediency.

The question thus remains whether an apology without a genuine understanding of the past can ever provide the “closure” that so many seek.

Source: The BBC

18/02/2019

Pulwama attack: Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir gun battle

Four soldiers have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir in a gun battle with militants, police say.

The clash occurred in Pulwama district, where more than 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a suicide attack on Thursday, raising tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

A civilian and two alleged militants were also killed as Indian troops searched for suspects.

Meanwhile Pakistan recalled its ambassador for consultations.

India had already recalled its top diplomat from Pakistan in the wake of Thursday’s attack – in which it said the Pakistani state was complicit.

Pakistan denies any role in the bombing, which was claimed by a group based on its soil – Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM)

What’s happening in Pulwama?

Police say two militants who were trapped in Pinglena village were killed in Monday’s operation. Both are JeM members and one is a Pakistani national, authorities said.

Heavy gunfire has been heard, and Indian security officials are appealing to villagers to stay indoors.

Police told BBC Urdu that when they fired “warning shots” at the house where the alleged militants were hiding, they fired back. One officer critically injured was taken to hospital.

The owner of the house was killed during the exchange of fire, police added.

Indian security forces have been hunting for militants with suspected links to JeM following Thursday’s bombing, which saw a vehicle packed with explosives ram a convoy of 78 buses carrying Indian security forces.

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The suicide bomber was identified as a local Kashmiri aged between 19 and 21.

More than 20 people were detained on Sunday, according to police.

How high are tensions?

Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since independence.

Both countries claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir but control only parts of it. They have fought two wars and a limited conflict in the region.

Thursday’s attack was the deadliest attack against Indian forces since an Islamist-led insurgency began in 1989. It sparked anti-Pakistan protests in some Indian cities and angry mobs targeted Kashmiri students and businessmen.

Mobile internet services in Indian-administered Kashmir were cut over the weekend and the Indian government has pulled security normally provided to at least five Kashmiri separatist leaders.

Isolated incidents of students from Kashmir being beaten up or evicted from their accommodation in northern Indian states have also been reported.

India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) offered help to students in need, but also warned of false reports.

In broader terms, there has has been a spike in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir since Indian forces killed a popular militant in 2016. Significant numbers of young men have joined the insurgency in recent years and the funerals of well-known militants draw huge crowds who want to pay respects to “martyrs”.

India has been accused of using excessive force to control protests with thousands of people suffering eye injuries or being blinded by pellet guns.

How might India retaliate?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing an election later this year, has vowed a strong response and says he will give the military free rein.

The last time an attack on Indian forces close to this magnitude occurred in Kashmir was in 2016, when 19 soldiers were killed at a base. In response to that, India carried out “surgical strikes” which involved Indian soldiers crossing the de facto border to hit Pakistani posts.

This time analysts say heavy snow in the region could make that kind of limited ground response impossible. But there are fears that going further, for example with air strikes, could lead to Pakistani retaliation and a significant escalation.

So far India has focused on retaliation by economic and diplomatic means. It has revoked Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation trading status, raised customs duties to 200% and vowed to isolate it in the international community.

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Despite tensions Pakistan is calm

By Secunder Kermani, BBC Pakistan correspondent

The threat of Indian military action has not provoked widespread concern amongst the general public in Pakistan. Previous attacks by militants like JeM, believed to have close links to the intelligence services, have been seen as attempts by the Pakistani military to prevent the civilian government developing too friendly a relationship with India.

However, since Imran Khan was elected as prime minister here, many have begun to believe both the army and his administration were united in wanting to improve cross border ties.

Whether Pakistan was involved in the attack or not, it seems unlikely concerted action will now be taken against JeM. Its leader has been in “protective custody” since another attack in 2016, but still regularly releases audio messages to followers.

The group has in the past been a useful tool for Pakistan’s intelligence services wanting to foment unrest across the border, and authorities may now be reluctant to confront them, in case they turn against the Pakistani state as some of their members have done in the past.

Source: The BBC

15/02/2019

Pulwama attack: India will ‘completely isolate’ Pakistan

India has said it will ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 46 soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Federal Minister Arun Jaitley said India would take “all possible diplomatic steps” to cut Pakistan off from the international community.

India accuses Pakistan of failing to act against the militant group which said it carried out the attack.

This is the deadliest attack to hit the disputed region in decades.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir but only control parts of it.

An insurgency has been ongoing in Indian-administered Kashmir since the late 1980s and there has been an uptick in violence in recent years.

How will India ‘punish’ Pakistan?

India says that Jaish-e-Mohammad, the group behind the attack, has long had sanctuary in Pakistan and accuses its neighbour of failing to crack down on it.

It has called for global sanctions against the group and has said it wants its leader, Masood Azhar, to be listed as a terrorist by the UN security council.

Although India has tried to do this several times in the past, its attempts were repeatedly blocked by China, an ally of Pakistan.

Mr Jaitley set out India’s determination to hold Pakistan to account when speaking to reporters after attending a security meeting early on Friday.

He also confirmed that India would revoke Most Favoured Nation status from Pakistan, a special trading privilege granted in 1996.

Pakistan said it was gravely concerned by the bombing but rejected allegations that it was in any way responsible.

But after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech that those behind the attack would pay a “heavy price”, many analysts expect more action from Delhi.

After a 2016 attack on an Indian army base that killed 19 soldiers, Delhi said it carried out a campaign of “surgical strikes” in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, across the de facto border. But a BBC investigation found little evidence militants had been hit.

However analysts say that even if the Indian government wants to go further this time, at the moment its options appear limited due to heavy snow across the region.

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How did the attack unfold?

The bomber used a vehicle packed with explosives to ram into a convoy of 78 buses carrying Indian security forces on the heavily guarded Srinagar-Jammu highway about 20km (12 miles) from the capital, Srinagar.

“A car overtook the convoy and rammed into a bus,” a senior police official told BBC Urdu.

It stands as the deadliest militant attack on Indian forces in Kashmir since the insurgency began in 1989.

The bomber is reported to be Adil Dar, a high school dropout who left home in March 2018. He is believed to be between the ages of 19 and 21.

Soon after the attack Jaish-e-Mohammad released a video, which was then aired on the India Today TV channel. In it, a young man identified as Adil Dar spoke about what he described as atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims. He said he joined the banned group in 2018 and was eventually “assigned” the task of carrying out the attack in Pulwama.

He also said that by the time the video was released he would be in jannat (heaven).

Dar is one of many young Kashmiri men who have been radicalised in recent years. On Thursday, main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said that the number of Kashmiri men joining militancy had risen from 88 in 2016 to 191 in 2018.

India has been accused of using brutal tactics to put down protests in Kashmir – with thousands of people sustaining eye injuries from pellet guns used by security forces.

What’s the reaction?

“We will give a befitting reply, our neighbour will not be allowed to de-stabilise us,” said Prime Minister Modi.

Mr Gandhi and two former Indian chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir all condemned the attack and expressed their condolences.

The attack has also been widely condemned around the world, including by the US and the UN Secretary General.

The White House called on Pakistan to “end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”.

Pakistan said it strongly rejected any attempts “to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations”.

What’s the background?

There have been at least 10 suicide attacks since 1989 but this is only the second suicide attack to use a car.

Prior to Thursday’s bombing, the deadliest attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir this century came in 2002, when militants killed at least 31 people at an army base in Kaluchak near Jammu, most of them civilians and relatives of soldiers.

At least 19 Indian soldiers were killed when militants stormed a base in Uri in 2016. Delhi blamed that attack on the Pakistani state, which denied any involvement.

The latest attack also follows a spike in violence in Kashmir that came about after Indian forces killed a popular militant, 22-year-old Burhan Wani, in 2016.

More than 500 people were killed in 2018 – including civilians, security forces and militants – the highest such toll in a decade.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars and a limited conflict since independence from Britain in 1947 – all but one were over Kashmir.

Who are Jaish-e-Mohammad?

Started by cleric Masood Azhar in 2000, the group has been blamed for attacks on Indian soil in the past, including one in 2001 on the parliament in Delhi which took India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Most recently, the group was blamed for attacking an Indian air force base in 2016 near the border in Punjab state. Seven Indian security personnel and six militants were killed.

It has been designated a “terrorist” organisation by India, the UK, US and UN and has been banned in Pakistan since 2002.

However Masood Azhar remains at large and is reportedly based in the Bahawalpur area in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

India has demanded his extradition from Pakistan but Islamabad has refused, citing a lack of proof.

Source: The BBC

09/02/2019

India court hands 7 Muslim men life sentences for killings that sparked 2013 riots

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An Indian court on Friday sentenced seven Muslim men to life in prison for the murder of two Hindu men in 2013 in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, an incident that had sparked religious riots killing about 65 people and displacing thousands.

The riots began in the district of Muzaffarnagar, 130 km (81 miles) northeast of New Delhi, and spread to other areas in the country’s most populous state months before the 2014 election won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.

A court in Muzaffarnagar sentenced the men after they were found guilty of killing the two Hindus in the village of Kawal on Aug. 27, 2013, prosecutor Rajeev Sharma told Reuters.

Reuters could not immediately contact the families of the convicted men.

Nearly all the victims here of the riots were Muslims, including about 12,000 people who were made temporarily homeless due to the unrest that polarised western Uttar Pradesh on religious lines.

Source: Reuters

06/02/2019

Hindu right-winger arrested for re-enacting Gandhi assassination

Pooja Pandey, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, shooting at an effigy of Gandhi with an air pistolImage copyrightSCREENGRAB
Image captionPooja Pandey, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, shooting an effigy of Gandhi with an air pistol

A leader of a fringe Hindu right-wing group in India has been arrested after a video of her shooting an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi went viral.

The Hindu Mahasabha had organised an event to “celebrate” the 71st anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination.

In the video, Pooja Pandey shoots the effigy with an air pistol after garlanding a picture of Nathuram Godse, who shot the independence leader.

Gandhi has long been seen as too moderate by some right-wing Hindus.

Police had been seeking Ms Pandey’s arrest since the video, believed to have been released by her group, emerged last week.

Two police teams were deployed to track her and her husband, who also features prominently in the footage.

Circa 1935: Indian spiritual and political leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionNathuram Godse shot Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January 1948

They had already made several other arrests in connection with the video which was shot on 30 January – the day Gandhi was killed.

“We arrested nine people within a week and are searching for two more suspects in the case,” police officer Neeraj Jadaun told the BBC.

Godse, who shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range on 30 January 1948, was an activist with nationalist right-wing groups, including the Hindu Mahasabha.

Hindu hardliners in India accuse Gandhi of having betrayed Hindus by being too pro-Muslim, and even for the division of India and the bloodshed that marked Partition, which saw India and Pakistan created after independence from Britain in 1947.

This is not the first time the controversial fringe group has tried to glorify Godse and celebrate Gandhi’s assassination.

In 2015, the group announced plans to install statues of Godse across six districts in the southern state of Karnataka, sparking protests across the state.

Source: The BBC

25/01/2019

Exclusive: Hindu group RSS urges India’s Modi to resist U.S. push to ease e-commerce curbs

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A Hindu nationalist group close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has urged him to resist pressure from the United States and not defer new regulations for the e-commerce sector, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The economic wing of the group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the fountainhead of the ruling party, has written to Modi saying that changing the policy implementation date, under pressure from Washington, will hurt 130 million small Indian entrepreneurs.

“There is no need to buckle under these pressures. India must continue to chart the way best for itself and the entrepreneurs,” the Swadeshi Jagran Manch said in its letter, which was reviewed by Reuters.

The new rules, to be implemented from Feb. 1, will deal a blow to Walmart Inc and Amazon.com’s ambitions in the country. They mandate that e-commerce companies will not be allowed to sell products from firms in which they have an equity interest.

Reuters reported on Thursday the United States government had told Indian officials the new rules will hinder the investment plans of the two companies.

The rules, which will force the companies to change their business structures and raise operational costs, have sparked an extensive lobbying effort from both Amazon and Walmart, which last year invested $16 billion in Indian e-commerce company Flipkart.

Both Amazon and Walmart have sought an extension of the Feb. 1 deadline, but government sources have said that was unlikely to happen as Modi needs millions of traders by his side in an upcoming national election due by May.

On Friday, the Confederation of All India Traders, which has supported tougher scrutiny of large e-commerce players, said “the entire trading community will vote against the government if they extend the deadline”.

The e-commerce spat is the latest in a number of disputes over trade and investment relations between India and the United States.

Walmart spokesman Greg Hitt told Reuters this week the company had “engaged the (United States) administration on this issue”.

The RSS has long advocated self-reliance and opposed the opening up of the Indian economy to foreign players.

Small Indian retailers have alleged that e-commerce companies use their control over inventory from their affiliates to create an unfair marketplace that allows them to sell some products at lower prices, which hurts the businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers. Such arrangements would be barred under the new policy.

In front-page advertisements in newspapers last week, Walmart-owned Flipkart highlighted how the platform had helped transform local struggling businesses selling badminton racquets and sarees, a traditional dress.

Source: Reuters

17/12/2018

Narendra Modi: Is hardline Hindu politics failing India’s PM?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the election campaign rally ahead the state assembly polls , in Jaipur , Rajasthan, India , Dec 04,2018.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Last week’s electoral losses in five states for India’s ruling party has led to speculation that its agenda of promoting hardline Hindu politics has backfired. The BBC’s Priyanka Pathak reports.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost to the main opposition Congress party in the Hindi-speaking heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, all of which they previously governed. Local parties swept up the other two states – Telangana and Mizoram – putting the BJP in a tough place ahead of general elections next year.

It appears that after winning no less than 13 state elections since coming to power in 2014, the BJP’s seemingly invincible electoral juggernaut is losing steam.

There is a great deal of introspection within and outside the party. And the main question is: has the BJP’s recent pursuit of a hardline Hindu agenda – known locally as Hindutva – backfired? Will a departure from an inclusive, development agenda to a polarising, communal one cost the BJP general election too?

These are legitimate questions because the party deployed the chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, as its star campaigner in the five states that went to polls.

Mr Adityanath is widely considered a controversial figure because of his well-publicised anti-Muslim comments.

He addressed 74 election rallies while Mr Modi, who is usually his party’s star campaigner, addressed just 31.

Adityanath victoryImage copyrightAFP
Image captionYogi Adityanath is seen as a “poster child” for a hardline Hindu agenda

Mr Adityanath also spent the past few months courting the Sangh Parivar – a “family” of Hindu nationalist organisations including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline Hindu organisation with umbilical ties to the BJP.

The Sangh Parivar also includes the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been at the forefront of a movement demanding the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a 16th Century mosque that was torn down by Hindu mobs in 1992, provoking widespread riots that left thousands dead.

Hindus believe Ayodhya, situated in Mr Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh state, is the birthplace of their revered deity Lord Ram, and say an older temple existed at the site before the mosque was constructed.

Mr Adityanath has announced the construction of a giant statue of Ram in the state, and changed the name of the historical city of Allahabad to the more “Hindu” sounding Prayagraj ahead of the forthcoming Ardh Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

But if Mr Adityanath was hoping to prove to the VHP leadership that he is a more willing pursuer of the Hindutva agenda and, therefore, a potential alternative to Mr Modi, the recent electoral defeats do not advance his case.

Many observers believe that the BJP’s defeats are because the party deviated from the development agenda that swept them to power in 2014. The pursuit of Hindutva has backfired, they say.

Supporters of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organisation, shout religious slogansImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionHindus believe the disputed religious site of Ayodhya is the birthplace of one of their most revered deities

But some in the Sangh Parivar disagree, insisting that it is actually the opposite that is true. “Just the way people feel disenchanted with the economic policies of the government, the people have also lost faith in this government’s commitment to build the Ram temple. If the VHP and RSS have to come to the street to warn the government about it, what does it tell you? What does it tell the electorate?” one of them said.

Last week, tens of thousands of Hindus gathered in the capital, Delhi, to demand the expedited construction of the temple and criticised the government for failing to do so.

They chanted a striking slogan directly targeting Mr Modi’s stated development-first agenda: “Pehle Ram ko aasan do, phir humko sushasan do (First give Ram a throne, then give us good governance)”.

But it must be noted that while Mr Modi has never openly supported these hardline elements, his silence on issues such as an increasing number of attacks on Muslims over various issues like eating beef – cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and their slaughter is banned in many Indian states – is interpreted as a tacit approval for muscular Hindu politics.

But he now faces pressure to do more.

His government already leads a lacklustre economy. And this renewed pressure to recommit to Hindutva, despite its apparent failure as an electoral agenda, puts Mr Modi’s government in a difficult place.

There is also the fact that the RSS played a vital role in the BJP’s 2014 election victory by mobilising and galvanising voters. They are also credited for Mr Modi’s rise from state chief minister to a national figure. Apart from spearheading a sophisticated online and digital campaign in his favour, cadres also held 600 district-level meetings across the country to make Mr Modi a familiar name among the rural population.

Clearly, they cannot be ignored or offended.

So even as the liberals suggest that Hindutva has backfired and demand that the government refocus on the economy, there are voices within the BJP which are demanding a more strident return to the party’s “core” agenda – including the construction of the Ram temple and renewed focus on efforts to protect cows – to reassure their base that the BJP has not abandoned them.

The less-than-satisfactory economic performance will also make the Hindutva agenda more important, they say.

09/12/2018

As election nears, religious tensions surge in an Indian village

NAYABANS, India (Reuters) – Nayabans isn’t remarkable as northern Indian villages go. Sugar cane grows in surrounding fields, women carry animal feed in bullock carts through narrow lanes, people chatter outside a store, and cows loiter.

But this week, the village in Uttar Pradesh state became a symbol of the deepening communal divide in India as some Hindu men from the area complained they had seen a group of Muslims slaughtering cows in a mango orchard a couple of miles away.

That infuriated Hindus, who regard the cow as a sacred animal. Anger against Muslims turned into outrage that police had not stopped an illegal practise, and a Hindu mob blocked a highway, threw stones, burned vehicles and eventually two people were shot and killed – including a police officer.

The events throw a spotlight on the religious strains in places like Nayabans since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the national level in 2014 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Tensions are ratcheting up ahead of the next general election, due to be held by May.

The BJP said it was “bizarre” to assume the party would benefit from any religious disharmony, dismissing suggestions that its supporters were largely responsible for the tensions.

“In a large country like India nobody can ensure that nothing will go wrong, but it’s our responsibility to maintain law and order and we understand that,” party spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said. “But people are trying to politicize these issues.”

SPONSORED

Nayabans, just about three hour’s drive from Delhi, has about 400 Muslims out of a population of 4,000, the rest are Hindu. Relations between the communities began deteriorating around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year when Hindus in the village demanded that loudspeakers used to call for prayer at a makeshift mosque be removed, local Muslims said.

“For 40 years mikes were used in the mosque, calls for prayer were made five times a day, but no one objected,” said Waseem Khan, a 28-year-old Muslim community leader in Nayabans.

“We resisted initially but then we thought it’s better to live in peace then create a dispute over a mike,” he said. “We don’t want to give them a chance to fan communal tensions.”

Reuters spoke with more than a dozen Muslims from the village but except for Khan, no one else wanted to be named for fear of angering the Hindu population.

Several among a group of Muslim women and girls standing outside the mosque said they have been living in fear since the BJP came to power in the state in 2017.

They said that Hindu groups now hold provocative processions through the village during every Hindu festival, loudspeakers blaring, something that used to happen rarely before. They said they felt “terrorised” by Hindu activists.

“While passing through our areas during their religious rallies, they chant ‘Pakistan murdabad’ (down with Pakistan) as if we have some connection to Pakistan just because we are Muslims,” Khan said.

HINDU PRIEST CHIEF MINISTER

The subcontinent was divided into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India at the time of independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

During the violence on Monday, many Muslims in Nayabans locked themselves in their homes fearing attacks. Some who had attended a three-day Muslim religious congregation some miles away stayed outside the area that night to avoid making themselves targets for the mob.

Muslim villagers say they are particularly fearful of the top elected official in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is a Hindu priest and senior BJP figure. Hindu hardliners started asserting themselves more in the village after he was elected, they say.

Uttar Pradesh sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, the largest of any state in the country.

Considered the county’s political crucible, it has also been the scene for spiralling Hindu-Muslim tensions.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Adityanath said the lead up to the rioting in Nayabans was a “big conspiracy”, but did not elaborate.

In the only statement from his office on the incident, Adityanath ordered police to arrest those directly or indirectly involved in the slaughter of cows and made no mention of the death of the police inspector. He announced 1 million rupees ($14,110) as compensation for the family of the other dead man, a local who is among those accused by police for the violence.

Both men were Hindus and died of bullet wounds, although police said it was not yet clear who shot whom.

Police say they have arrested up to five people for the cow slaughter but have not given their religion. Locals say all the arrested people are Muslims. Four Hindu men have been arrested for the violence leading to the deaths.

“All invidious elements who may have conspired to vitiate the situation will be exposed through a fair and transparent investigation,” Anand Kumar, the second highest police official in Uttar Pradesh, told Reuters.

Asked if there was any bias against Muslims, Uttar Pradesh government spokesman Sidharth Nath Singh – who is also the state’s health minister – told Reuters: “We believe in equality and our motto is sabka saath, sabka vikas”, using a Hindi phrase often used by Modi that means “collective effort, inclusive growth”.

RELATIVE HARMONY

The two communities in Nayabans have lived in relative harmony for years, residents from both groups said.

But now Hindus in the village, who mostly say they support Yogi, accuse the Muslims of trying to turn themselves into the victims when they weren’t.

“Can’t believe they are raising our processions with journalists!” said Daulat, a Hindu daily wage labourer who goes by one name. “They are making it a Hindu-Muslim issue, we are not. Their people have been accused of killing cows, so they are playing the victim.”

At a middle school, metres from the police outpost near where the two men got killed, two women teachers, sitting on a veranda soaking in the winter sun, said its 66 students stopped coming for classes in the first few days after the violence.

“We worship cows and their slaughter can’t be accepted,” said one of the teachers, Uma Rani. “Two Hindus died here but nothing happened to the cow killers.”

Both teachers were Hindus.

Political analysts say relations between the two communities are likely to stay tense ahead of the national vote, particularly in polarised states such as Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP made a near-clean sweep in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, helping Modi win the country’s biggest parliamentary mandate in three decades, but pollsters predict a tighter contest next year because of a lack of jobs and low farm prices.

“Facing economic headwinds and lacklustre job growth, Modi will rally his conservative base by selectively resorting to Hindu nationalism,” global security consultancy Stratfor said last month.

Muslims say they increasingly feel like second-class citizens in their own country.

“The BJP will definitely benefit from such incidents,” said Tahir Saifi, a Muslim community leader a few miles from the area of violence who supports a regional opposition party in Uttar Pradesh. “They want all Hindus to unite, and when religion comes into the picture, other issues like development take a back seat.”

05/12/2018

Two killed in violence over cow slaughter in north India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A senior police officer and another man were killed on Monday in violent protests over reports of a slaughtered cow, an animal sacred in Hindu culture, in India’s Uttar Pradesh state.

A crowd angered over what they believed was the slaughter of the cow threw stones and torched vehicles outside a police station. The officer died from gunshot wounds, district magistrate Anuj Jha told Reuters.

Earlier, police had said the officer was stoned to death and the other man died from gunshot wounds.

“Villagers complained after they found a dead cow, and took to the streets to protest. They blocked a road with a tractor and pelted stones,” he said.

So-called cow vigilantes from India’s Hindu majority have attacked and killed a number of Muslims involved in transporting cattle to slaughterhouses in recent years. However, the exact circumstances of Monday’s protests were not clear.

Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan, Himani Singh and Amit Ganguly; Edited by Mark Heinrich

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