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India Watch





Latest News 2003


Girl weds dog to break 'evil spell'

A nine-year-old tribal girl in eastern India has married a stray dog as part of a ritual to ward off an "evil spell" on her, Indian newspapers have reported.

The girl promised to "take care of the dog"
The girl, Karnamoni Handsa, had to be married quickly because she had a tooth rooted to her upper gum, which is considered a bad omen by her Santhal tribe in the remote village of Khanyhan, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Calcutta.

"Members of the village jury asked us to get her married to a dog or to face the bad omen," the girl's father was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The tribe elders said the marriage would not affect the girl's life, and that she would be free to marry again later and did not need to divorce the dog.

"It will not spoil her future. We will marry her off to eligible bachelor when she grows up," the girl's mother told AFP.

'No regret'

The wedding - which took place on 11 June - was attended by more than 100 guests, who danced to the beating of drums and drank home-made liquor.

"I have no regret in marrying the dog Bacchan. I am fond of the dog who moves around our locality," the girl told the AFP.

"Bacchan is a stray dog who survives on left-overs. I will take care of the dog," she added.

Indian newspapers reported that local police officials had ordered an inquiry into the incident.

The Santhals - most of whom are sharecroppers - are a large tribe living in the states of West Bengal and neighbouring Bihar and Jharkhand.

'No sign' of Ayodhya temple

By Adam Mynott
BBC South Asia correspondent

Hindu hardliners want to build a temple in Ayodhya
There have been widespread reports across the Indian media that the excavation of a disputed holy site in India has produced no evidence of a Hindu temple, according to archaeologists' progress reports.
Independent archaeologists have been employed to try to determine whether the site at Ayodhya in northern Uttar Pradesh state belongs to Hindus or Muslims.

Archaeologists have spent the past three months tunnelling and digging and scraping away at earth beneath the site of a former mosque at Ayodhya.

In an interim report, the Archaeological Survey of India says it has not found any evidence of ruins of a Hindu temple.

The site in the northern Indian town has been at the centre of an angry dispute between Hindus and Muslims for decades.

'Vote winner'

Babri mosque: Pulled down in 1992

In 1992 Hindu fanatics tore down the 16th century Babri mosque, claiming that it had been built on the exact spot where the Hindu God Ram had been born.

This resulted in riots in which about 3,000 people were killed.

More archaeological research is to be done at the site, but the interim results will come as a big disappointment to hardline Hindu groups in India.

It will also be a setback to the BJP party which leads the ruling coalition government in India.

Ayodhya has been seen as a potential vote-winner nationally and in state elections in Uttar Pradesh.



India heat wave kills 430
Tuesday, May 27, 2003 Posted: 1020 GMT ( 6:20 PM HKT)


HYDERABAD, India (AP) -- A heat wave in a southern Indian state has killed at least 430 people in the past two weeks, a relief official said Tuesday.

The death toll from dehydration and sunstroke, caused by high temperatures and shortages of drinking water, may increase further, said D.C. Roshaiah, chief of relief operations in Andhra Pradesh state.

Roshaiah said hundreds of people were bring treated at hospitals in several parts of state, which has experienced temperatures as high as 47 degrees Celsius (116.60 Fahrenheit).

Seven out of the state's 23 districts accounted for most of the deaths. The highest death toll, 85, has been reported from the coastal district of East Godavari, where temperatures touched 47.5 C (117.50 F) last week.

Last year, a heat wave killed more than 1,000 people in the state, most of them older and unable to bear temperatures that reached up to 50 C (122 F).

Tin-roofed shanties were like ovens for hundreds of thousands of poor people. The state is battling its worst drought in 40 years due to lack of rain last year.

Roshaiah said the death toll was much lower this year, so far, because of the government's precautionary steps which involved crisis monitoring, food-for-work schemes in drought-hit areas and other relief measures.

Weather officials expect the situation to improve as monsoon rains advance toward the southern Indian coast. The rains are expected to the reach Andhra Pradesh state next week.

Teachers caught cheating in Bihar

Manuwant Chaudhary

Watch story

Sunday, April 20, 2003 (Patna):

For many people in Bihar cheating during exams is considered a right and till now the Bihar School Examination Board caught only students cheating during exams.

But the cheating doesn't stop there. Anxious parents have been bribing examiners to evaluate answer papers and pay for every extra 10 marks.

This year for the first time the board has set-up two flying squads to catch teachers fiddling the evaluations.

"We found that 28 teachers had chits that had roll codes of certain examinees," said Subhash Sharma, Chairman, Bihar School Exam Board.

The teachers who were handed over to the police have been fined up to Rs 2,000. But the exam board is not just tracking the decline in moral standards it is also looking at teaching abilities in a first time survey of high schools across Bihar.

"So far we have inspected 60 high schools and we have found that in many of them teaching work is in a very bad shape. Teachers are physically present but are not able to teach in a qualitative manner," added Sharma.

And the findings are shocking, as an estimated 40 per cent teachers cannot teach while an equal number choose not to teach. To add to that there are 8,000 teacher vacancies in high schools across the state.

This goes some way to understand what prompts students to cheat at exams but the board also says cheating reflects the desperation of students in a job scarce market.

MiG-23 crash: But for lunch...


LUDHIANA: Call it ill fate or destiny. Deewan Chand's family, who died on Friday when a MiG-23 BN crashed into their house, could have been saved if time was on their side. The family members were in the process of shifting to their new residence and had stayed back for lunch when death came calling.

Chand's son Raju had found a house for his family at Mullanpur village and most of the luggage had been shifted. Chand said when he left for the store in the morning, Raju had suggested that they should have their lunch before moving as setting up the kitchen in the new house would take time.

The destiny again played a cruel joke, as the pilot, Flt Lft BS Gill, had turned the aircraft towards the fields way beyond Mullanpur city, but eucalyptus trees came in the way. Wg Cdr DS Punni said the pilot ejected over Gujjarwal village and fell in the nearby Chamanda village. He said some of the teachers in Gujjarwal school had seen him bale out, and followed him on their scooters. They took him to Halwara air base later. Punni said the pilot had stated that he had directed the aircraft towards the fields beyond the city, but it collided with eucalyptus trees and crashed into the houses beyond. Tragic human behaviour At times it is the human behaviour that is tragic.

Raju's mother-in-law and his sister-in-law had more important things on hand, other than coping with the human loss. While Chand was plunged in grief, they both could be spotted fighting over the jewellery that was dug out of the debris. Both of them were seen lashing out at the old man, asserting that the jewellery given to Pammi as a wedding present was rightfully theirs. This all happened even before the ashes of the victims were collected.

India becoming a leader in illicit opium production: US

By Ela Dutt

WASHINGTON: India is becoming a growing producer of illicit heroin even as it is the world’s largest producer of legal opium, says a US report.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2002, prepared by the US Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, singles out Afghanistan as the largest opium poppy producer. It also says despite being the largest licit opium producer and the only country authorised to produce licit opium gum, “India’s strategic location, between Southeast and Southwest Asia, the two main sources of illicit opium, makes it a heroin transhipment area”.

“India is a modest but growing producer of heroin for the illicit market,” according to the bureau. The Indian government “continually tightens controls to curtail diversion of licit opium, but an unknown quantity of licit opium finds its way to illicit markets”.

India, with US assistance, is rigorously studying opium gum yields from legally cultivated opium. The objective of this effort is to develop as accurate an estimate of legally mandated minimum yields as possible, notes the report. India anticipates that requiring farmers to deliver to the government all the opium they are likely to produce is the best way to avoid diversion to the illicit market.

The US has a close and cooperative relationship with India on counter-narcotics issues. Drug control cooperation expanded in 2001, building on several new initiatives launched in 2000.

The State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement provided increased commodities and training assistance to Indian drug enforcement agencies, with a $200,000 project signed with the finance ministry in September 2000. There is some evidence of growing international criminal interest in hashish production in Himachal Pradesh, though New Delhi does not believe this is a major problem, the report says.

India historically has been an important transit area for Southwest Asia heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan and, to a much lesser degree, from Southeast Asia — Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, and most heroin transiting India appears bound for Europe, according to the report.. “While there appears to be no significant level of increase in heroin trafficking directly to the US from India, both US and Indian authorities continue to target organisations involved in this activity.”

Indian-produced methaqualone (mandrax) trafficking to southern and eastern Africa continues. Although South Africa is rapidly becoming a larger competitor, India is still believed to be among the world’s largest known clandestine producers of methaqualone, says the report. As for Afghanistan, despite strong statements by President Hamid Karzai in January 2002 and a reduction during the Taliban rule of Afghanistan, that country has returned to being the world’s largest producer of illicit opium, notes the bureau. —IANS

Delhi police report on 'militants' killing

Security was increased around Delhi after the shooting

The police in the Indian capital Delhi will give within a week a full account of the shooting incident which left two alleged militants dead on Sunday.
This follows a directive by the country's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Either they had not slept for several days or had taken a heavy dose of sleeping pills

Dr H Krishna

The commission had sought the police version of the shoot-out after a member of parliament along with a journalist filed a petition saying the alleged militants were unarmed when they were shot dead on Sunday.

The authorities say the two militants were killed by police following an encounter in a busy shopping complex in Delhi.

They also claimed that both the alleged militants were Pakistanis.


However, serious doubts have been raised about whether the police killed the militants following a shoot-out or not.

A member of parliament, Kuldip Nayar, who filed a petition before the NHRC along with a journalist, told the BBC they had requested protection for a doctor who claimed to have witnessed the incident.

Families were shopping for Diwali when the shootings occurred

According to newspaper reports, the eyewitness, Dr H Krishna, said there was no shoot-out between the police and the alleged militants.

He was quoted in one newspaper as saying he saw two men in their early 20s coming out of a car while he was in the basement of a shopping complex along with his family.

Shot dead

The two men were unable to walk properly and he said: "Either they had not slept for several days or had taken a heavy dose of sleeping pills".

He claimed the two men were shot dead before his eyes.

He denied the police claim that the alleged militants were carrying two bags containing ammunition.

A senior police officer, Neeraj Kumar, said: "We will provide security to the person who claims to be the eyewitness to the incident".

Mr Kumar told the BBC that police would reply to the NHRC within a week.

Christmas Attacks In India Kill 2

GAUHATI, India, Dec. 25, 2002


Police declined to comment on whether Wednesday's rocket attacks were linked to Christmas celebrations, but a police official said there were big crowds out on the street at the time of the attack.

(AP) Two rocket attacks marred Christmas celebrations in a northeastern Indian city Wednesday, leaving two people dead and 20 others wounded, police said.

The two rockets, fired in the span of 10 minutes, were aimed at a crowded market in Gauhati city, capital of northeastern Assam state, police said.

The first rocket fell on a cluster of houses of railroad employees, killing a woman and a child, Inspector General of Police Khagen Sharma said.

The second rocket hit two cars on a busy street of the Ambari market area, wounding at least 17 people, including those inside the cars.

Two of the people wounded in the second attack were in critical condition, Sharma said. One of them was a former member of the Indian parliament, he said.

The attacks in Gauhati came after a gang armed with crude bombs attacked a packed church on Christmas Eve in the neighboring state of West Bengal, wounding six people. The assailants grabbed valuables from hundreds in the congregation and raided a church safe before fleeing. Police said robbery appeared to be the sole motive in that attack.

Police declined to comment on whether Wednesday's rocket attacks were linked to Christmas celebrations, but Sharma said there were big crowds out on the street at the time of the attack.

In mostly Hindu India, it is common for many Hindus to go shopping, visit restaurants and theaters, and hold festivities on Christmas Day.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Separatist guerrillas have been usual suspects for such attacks in the past, but Sharma said he was not sure if they were behind Wednesday's attacks.

Rebels of the United Liberation Front of Asom have been fighting for more than a decade for an independent homeland in Assam state.

They accuse the federal government of excluding local residents from the benefits of the state's rich mineral and forest resources.

Earlier this year, police in Assam had it had intelligence reports suggesting Islamic insurgents could trigger attacks during a Hindu festival in October.

By Wasbir Hussain
© MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Drunken Elephants in India Kill Six

A herd of wild elephants that drank homemade rice beer while searching for food trampled at least six people in Assam, India, the BBC reported Dec. 17.

"They smashed huts and plundered granaries and broke open casks to drink rice beer. The herd then went berserk, killing six people," a forestry official said.

According to police, four of the six killed were children.

It is common for wild elephants to emerge from Assam's forests in search of food. In the past two years, 150 people have been killed by elephants.

"It has been noticed that elephants have developed a taste for rice beer and local liquor and they always look for it when they invade villages," an elephant expert in Guwahati said.

Officials said the growing elephant population and the devastation of the animal's natural habitat are contributing to the problem.

Twenty-years ago, the Assam government implemented a ban on elephant hunting to protect the animals. As a result, the number of wild elephants in the area has increased to about 5,500.

Leaks at India's nuclear-power plants: cause for concern?

Even the country's safest reactors don't meet international standards, according to its atomic regulations agency

By V. K. Shashikumar | Special to The Christian Science Monitor

NEW DELHI – Kakrapara Atomic Power Station (KAPS), in the western city of Surat, is India's well-groomed nuclear workhorse. Huge concrete domes enclose its two reactors, which generate a surplus of power for the country. And when it comes to controlling radiation leakage, KAPS is "our best station," says S.P. Sukhatme, chairman of India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).
That, it turns out, is bad news. KAPS may be India's prized nuclear plant, but radiation emitted from its reactors is three times as much as the international norm, says Mr. Sukhatme.

It's a shocking admission that puts the rest of the country's nuclear-power plants in grave perspective. "The main implication is that other nuclear-power plants are much worse than even Kakrapar," says Suren Gadekar, considered to be India's top antinuclear activist.

Four months ago, world leaders fretted about the possibility of two nuclear-weapons rivals, India and Pakistan, approaching the brink of war. That problem apparently on hold, India's nuclear scientists say the country could still face an equally devastating nuclear catastrophe – without a shot being fired.

This time, the threat is not Pakistan or terrorists, but India's power plants themselves. Some scientists say that the plants are so poorly built and maintained, a Chernobyl-style disaster may be just a matter of time.

"The fact that India's nuclear regulator acknowledges that reactors in India are not operated to the standards of reactors in the US and Europe is not much of a surprise," says Christopher Sherry, research director of the Safe Energy Communication Council in Washington. "But it is very disturbing."

India tested its first nuclear device in May 1974. In 1998, the country successfully conducted five underground nuclear tests, heralding its entry into ga select group of countries capable of waging nuclear war.

Today, the country has 14 nuclear power reactors including two at KAPS. Most are modeled after a design first built in Shippingport, Penn. in 1957, and considered by experts to be the most cost-effective way to produce electricity through nuclear energy.

However only three of those nuclear reactors fall under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. The rest – which were built with local technology – are accountable only to national standards set by the AERB.

This February, Sukhatme asked the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd – a government-owned manufacturer of nuclear plants – to plug leakage of water contaminated with tritium, a highly radioactive substance, from reactors. "There is a clear need for reducing the exposure to workers," he says.

Also earlier this year, the AERB ordered the closure of India's first nuclear plant in the state of Rajasthan. The reactor that put India on the nuclear world map developed a series of defects, starting with "turbine-blade failures." Gradually the reactor was wrecked by "cracks in the end-shields, a leak in the calandria overpressure relief device, a leak in many tubes in the moderator heat exchanger."

While the government releases no information about leaks or accidents at its nuclear power plants, Dhirendra Sharma, a scientist who has written extensively on India's atomic-power projects, has compiled figures based on his own reporting. "An estimated 300 incidents of a serious nature have occurred, causing radiation leaks and physical damage to workers," he says. "These have so far remained official secrets."

According to critics like Mr. Gadekar, India's nuclear-power program has always been secretive because politicians use it as a cover for the country's weapons program. "Right from Jawaharlal Nehru [India's first prime minister] onward, our leaders have always claimed that the nuclear-power program is a 'peaceful' program, whereas the weapons implications were always there in the background," says Gadekar. "As a result, secrecy has become a way of life for these people."

The chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar, has repeatedly asserted that his group is doing what it can to ensure that the country's power plants are safe. Still, leaks continues to raise serious questions about safety.

Part of the problem, says N.M. Sampathkumar Iyangar, a former manufacturer of nuclear reactor components, is that well-connected manufacturers are able to cut deals with politicians in India's Department of Energy, often selling defective parts, which are then used to build reactors.

But others, like Dr. Kakodkar, say the real problem is that new technology designed to upgrade safety at power plants is too expensive for developing countries like India. According to Kakodkar, India should not be held accountable to international standards until the international community helps make such technology available to developing countries.

"Safety and technology cannot be divorced," he says.