India jails three for life after shocking child rape and murder

Sanji Ram, one of the convicted in the case of rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, leaves the court in Pathankot, in the northern state of Punjab, India, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

By Manoj Kumar

PATHANKOT, India (Reuters) – A court in north India jailed three men for life on Monday over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl that stirred nationwide outrage and religious rivalries.

The case illustrated India’s appalling record on violence against women and children, and drew criticism of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after some members criticized police for pressing charges.

“This is a victory of truth,” said prosecution lawyer M Farooqi after the convictions.

“The girl and her family have got justice today.”

The girl, from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.

The prosecution had sought the death penalty for the three men – including a Hindu priest – who received life sentences.

Three other men, all police officers, received five-year terms for destroying evidence.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.

APPEAL PLANNED

In a 432-page judgment, the court also levied fines of 150,000 rupees ($2,150) on the three men given life terms – priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar.

The policemen – Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta – were also fined 50,000 rupees ($718) each.

Defense lawyer Vikram Mahajan said all six would appeal.

The case shocked India and prompted parliament to adopt the death penalty for rapists of girls younger than 12.

The trial began in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir state more than a year ago, but India’s Supreme Court shifted it to Pathankot in neighboring Punjab state after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats.

Lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling BJP, had also held protests against the charges.

Women and children in India have long been subjected to violence. Reported rapes climbed 60 percent to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, government figures show, which officials attribute to more women coming forward due to greater public awareness.

However, many more cases still go unreported, especially in rural areas, because of the fear of social consequences and lack of trust in police.

Of eight people accused in the girl’s case, one man identified only as Vishal was to be freed after being found not guilty, defense lawyers said.

The last, a juvenile, awaits trial.

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Writing by Alasdair Pal and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Andrew Cawthorne)

India aims for law that could jail Muslim men who instantly divorce wives

Television journalists report from the premises of India's Parliament in New Delhi, India, February 13, 2014.

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Thursday aimed at prosecuting Muslim men who divorce their wives through the “triple talaq”, or instant divorce.

The bill now moves to the upper house of parliament, where it is likely to be approved.

In August, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional a law which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word “talaq”, which means divorce in Arabic, three times.

Muslim women had petitioned the court, arguing the practice of husbands divorcing them through triple talaq not only violated their rights but left many women destitute.

“Only a law can explicitly ban triple talaq, we have to enforce legal procedures to provide for allowances and protect custody of children,” said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The bill would make the practice a non-bailable offense with a possible three-year jail term.

Muslims are the biggest religious minority in Hindu-majority India and relations between the communities have sometimes been strained since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a 2014 election.

India is one of the few countries where the practice of instant divorce has survived in law, and while some Muslim groups have said it is wrong, they believe it should be reviewed by the community itself.

Members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said the government had no right to outlaw instant triple talaq, as it was directly interfering with Muslim personal law.

India’s civil codes are designed to protect the independence of religious communities. Unlike most Hindu civil laws, which have been codified and reformed, Muslim personal laws have largely been left untouched.

Zakia Soman, founder of a Muslim women’s group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said that once triple talaq became a legal offense, victims could approach the police and the legal system to initiate action against offenders.

(Reporting by Nigam Prusty, Rupam Jain; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Malini Menon, Robert Birsel and Andrew Bolton)

Indian police arrest Christian priest after complaint by Hindu group

Three Crosses

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian police arrested a Christian priest and were questioning members of a seminary after a hardline Hindu group accused them of trying to convert villagers to Christianity by distributing Bibles and singing carols, police said on Saturday.

The priest was arrested on Friday after a member of the Bajrang Dal, a powerful Hindu group associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, accused 50 members of a seminary of distributing the Bible, photos of Jesus Christ and singing carols in a village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

“Our members have registered a criminal case because we have proof to show how Christian priests were forcibly converting poor Hindus,” said Abhay Kumar Dhar, a senior member of the Bajrang Dal in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh.

The Bajrang Dal has direct links with Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Madhya Pradesh, governed by the BJP, has strict religious conversion laws. People must give formal notice to local administrators in order to change religion.

“We have arrested the priest but have not booked him under the anti-conversion law because the probe into the allegations is still on,” said Rajesh Hingankar, the investigating official in Satna district, where the incident occurred.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India said they were “shocked, and pained at the unprovoked violence against Catholic priests and seminarians”.

“We were only singing carols, but the hardline Hindus attacked us and said we were on a mission to make India a Christian nation … that’s not true,” said Anish Emmanuel, a member of the St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna.

Two senior police officials in Bhopal said they had detained six members of the Bajrang Dal who had allegedly torched a car owned by a Christian priest in Satna, 480 km (300 miles) northeast of Bhopal.

Religious conversion is a sensitive issue in India, with Hindu groups often accusing Christian missionaries of using cash, kind and marriage to lure poor villagers to convert to their faith.

Modi’s government has been criticized for failing to do enough to stop attacks on minority Christians and Muslims by hardline Hindu groups.

The government rejects the allegation and denies any bias against Christians or Muslims.

(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Paul Tait)

Nearly 400 die as Myanmar army steps up crackdown on Rohingya militants

Rohingya refugees stands in an open place during heavy rain, as they are hold by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, August 31, 2017.

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Nearly 400 people have died in fighting that has rocked Myanmar’s northwest for a week, new official data show, making it probably the deadliest bout of violence to engulf the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority in decades.

Around 38,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar, United Nations sources said, a week after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in Rakhine state, prompting clashes and a military counteroffensive.

“As of August 31, 38,000 people are estimated to have crossed the border into Bangladesh,” the officials said on Friday, in their latest estimate.

The army says it is conducting clearance operations against “extremist terrorists” and security forces have been told to protect civilians. But Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say a campaign of arson and killings aims to force them out.

The treatment of Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accused by some Western critics of not speaking out for a minority that has long complained of persecution.

Police officers guard near a house that was burnt down in recent violence in Maungdaw, Myanmar August 31, 2017.

Police officers guard near a house that was burnt down in recent violence in Maungdaw, Myanmar August 31, 2017. RETUERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The clashes and ensuing army crackdown have killed about 370 Rohingya insurgents, but also 13 security forces, two government officials and 14 civilians, the Myanmar military said on Thursday.

By comparison, communal violence in 2012 in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, led to the killing of nearly 200 people and the displacement of about 140,000, most of them Rohingya.

The fighting is a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since October, when similar but much smaller Rohingya attacks on security posts prompted a brutal military response dogged by allegations of rights abuses.

Myanmar evacuated more than 11,700 “ethnic residents” from the area affected by fighting, the army said, referring to the non-Muslim population of northern Rakhine.

More than 150 Rohingya insurgents staged fresh attacks on security forces on Thursday near villages occupied by Hindus, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said, adding that about 700 members of such families had been evacuated.

“Four of the terrorists were arrested, including one 13-year-old boy,” it said, adding that security forces had arrested two more men near a Maungdaw police outpost on suspicion of involvement in the attacks.

About 20,000 more Rohingya trying to flee are stuck in no man’s land at the border, the U.N. sources said, as aid workers in Bangladesh struggle to alleviate the sufferings of a sudden influx of thousands of hungry and traumatized people.

While some Rohingya try to cross by land, others attempt a perilous boat journey across the Naf River separating the two countries.

Bangladesh border guards found the bodies of 15 Rohingya Muslims, 11 children among them, floating in the river on Friday, area commander Lt. Col. Ariful Islam told Reuters.

That takes to about 40 the total of Rohingya known to have died by drowning.

 

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

 

Afghan refugees in Pakistan feel heat of rising regional tensions

Afghan women sit with their children after arriving at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

By James Mackenzie and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) – For Samihullah, a tailor from a family of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the first indication that it might be time to leave the country was the insults leveled at him in the bazaar.

Born to refugee parents in the northern Pakistani town of Mansehra, he never gained citizenship but was always considered an Afghan, something which began to count against him as local resentment grew over Afghanistan’s deepening ties with India.

Many Pakistanis view India as their enemy at the best of times, and that attitude has hardened in recent months as tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals have risen.

“Afghans used to be called ‘Kabuli’ in Pakistan, but now Pakistanis call them ‘Hindus’ because we signed economic agreements with India,” said Samihullah, who, like many Afghans, goes by one name.

Married with two wives, one Afghan and one Pakistani, the 32-year-old is among thousands of people who have gone to Afghanistan and are housed temporarily in a refugee center near Kabul.

Even before the latest clashes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region, the climate was more hostile.

“They were telling us, we chose India’s friendship so we should go to India. We were hiding in our shops and homes to avoid being arrested,” Samihullah said.

After almost 40 years of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has some 1.5 million registered refugees, one of the largest such populations in the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency. More than a million others are estimated to live there unregistered.

Islamabad, which announced new repatriation plans last year, has stepped up pressure to send people back and numbers have risen sharply in recent months as Afghan-Indian relations strengthened and those between India and Pakistan soured.

“These people were our guests, we kept them in our house. Afghanistan should be grateful to us,” said a Pakistani army official based in the southern city of Quetta.

“Instead it … has become buddies with India, it’s like stabbing us in the back.”

The treatment Samihullah and others at the reception center complain of reflects how quickly diplomatic tensions can affect refugees, many of whom must start again from scratch.

“These returnees are coming back after more than three decades in exile,” said Maya Ameratunga, director of UNHCR’s Country office in Kabul. “It will take a big adjustment.”

The United Nations provides $400 a person in emergency help as well as medical and other assistance, but international funds are drying up in the face of a series of global crises.

Longer term reintegration into a country many never knew as home may be difficult.

“Some people are able to go to live with relatives, but others may not have that possibility. So unfortunately what we are seeing is people becoming displaced,” Ameratunga said.

“HONOR AND DIGNITY”

Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have long been clouded by mutual accusations that militant extremists find shelter on the other side of the border.

But Pakistani officials deny there has been systematic harassment of Afghans living in Pakistan and say their country has demonstrated great generosity to the refugee population, despite severe economic problems of its own.

“We want them to return home in peace with honor and dignity,” said Akhtar Munir, spokesman at the Pakistani embassy in Kabul, adding that there was no connection between the repatriation of Afghan refugees and India.

He said Pakistani police had clear instructions not to harass registered refugees, but added that some Afghans living illegally in Pakistan were involved in crime, and action against criminals should not be seen as mistreatment of refugees.

The spike in the number of returnees has, however, moved in step with escalating friction between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which flared into brief clashes at the Torkham border crossing in June.

A series of economic and political accords with India in recent months and the fanfare around the completion of the Indian-financed Salma dam in western Afghanistan in June has also weighed on relations.

According to UNHCR figures, the number of assisted returns jumped from 1,433 in June to 11,416 in July and 60,743 in August. More than 90,000 have been returned to Afghanistan so far this year, almost all from Pakistan, and the number is expected to pass 220,000 for the year.

Although repatriation is not compulsory, many Afghans say life in Pakistan has become so uncomfortable they feel they have little choice.

Even in areas like Baluchistan in the south, where authorities have long taken a more lenient view of refugees than in the northwest frontier areas, attitudes have changed, particularly in the wake of recent attacks.

“My son was stopped at a checkpoint and an officer tore up his Afghan citizenship card,” said Bibi Shireen, who moved to Quetta from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar 30 years ago.

“Now he has no identification and we’re scared he could get picked up any day now and sent away because he isn’t registered,” she said.

Previously, Afghan refugees did not need visas or passports to cross the porous frontier. This has now changed, a step Pakistan says is needed to ensure control of militant extremists on both sides of the border.

Despite the problems, many returnees say they are not unhappy to be back, though they need help with food and shelter as harsh winter months approach.

“We did our best over the past 20 years but could not make a living,” said Sheer Banu Ahmadzai, a burqa-veiled mother who left her home in the northern province of Baghlan as a child. “I hope we have the chance to make a living in our own country.”

(Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in QUETTA; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Ban On Christianity In India Causing Increased Violence

Local officials are teaming with Hindu extremists to attack Christians in India.

Christians in Madota, Bastar District, were summoned to a meeting by local officials to discuss issues related to problems with non-Hindu religions worshipping in the region.  When the Christians arrived, no local officials were there, but a mob of Hindu extremists showed up to beat the Christians.

“Some of the injured Christians were admitted in a hospital in Jagdalpur, and some local Christians have also been forced to go into hiding due to the constant threats they received from the right-wing groups,” Bhupendra Kohra told Morning Star News.

The government has banned missionaries and Christians from worshipping in the region.

“The district authorities, along with some right-wing elements, are also pressuring us to withdraw the petition filed in the high court against the ban on the entry of non-Hindu missionaries in Bastar,” said Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum. “Now our writ is pending in the high court. We see this latest attack as a pressure tactic.”

Local officials have said their goal is to stop Chrsitians from being able to discuss their faith with Hindus.