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EDITORIALS

Chief Justice acts
Justice Nirmal Yadav asked to explain conduct
C
hief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan’s show-cause notice to Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking why action should not be taken against her for alleged involvement in the cash-at-doorstep scam demonstrates that the CJI is determined to root out corruption in the judiciary.

Pakistan must deliver
World knows about its involvement in terror attack
While India’s impatience is growing by the day, Pakistan continues to deny its involvement in the November 26 terrorist strike on Mumbai. After providing information to prove Pakistan’s complicity India has now categorically stated that an attack of such a big scale could not have been carried out without the involvement of the Pakistan Establishment.


EARLIER STORIES

Fund of goodwill
January 6, 2009
Painkillers, not a cure
January 5, 2009
Fight against terrorism
January 4, 2009
Warning from Assam
January 3, 2009
LeT’s admission
January 2, 2009
Hasina returns to power
January 1, 2009
Generational change
December 31, 2008
Sonrise
December 30, 2008
Voters’ victory
December 29, 2008
Transformation of polity
December 28, 2008
Abandoned by Pakistan
December 27, 2008
Triumph of democracy
December 26, 2008
Guillotine at work
December 25, 2008


Govern or quit
Help Orissa minorities rebuild their lives
I
T is the exasperation of the Supreme Court that found expression in the obiter dicta of Justice Markandey Katju that the Orissa government should quit if it could not provide security to the Christians in Kandhamal district. Ordinarily, law and order issues do not crop up in the court.

ARTICLE

Hasina’s sweep and after
Time for Delhi, Dhaka to improve relations
by Hiranmay Karlekar
Commenting on the results of the general election in Bangladesh on December 29, 2008, The Daily Star, the country’s leading English-language daily, wrote the next day, “Not since the mandate given to Bangabandhu in the 1973 election has the AL been handed such a resounding victory by the people of Bangladesh.”

MIDDLE

Forgetfulness
by Harish Dhillon
Forgetfulness is packaged in many forms. There is the tragic forgetfulness that comes with Alzheimer’s: a 70-year-old father looks up at his 40-year-old daughter and says: “I think I have seen you before.  Do I know you?”

OPED

Restoring peace in Gaza
It’s not as easy as it sounds
by Robert Fisk
D
O I hear the braying of the UN donkey in Gaza? On his Middle East tour, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, may well be mentioning that well-known Eeyore figure on the East River, always so willing to send its peacekeepers on Mission Impossible. The Palestinians have been trying to internationalise their conflict with the Israelis ever since Yasser Arafat pleaded for UN forces to protect the Palestinians after the failure of the Oslo agreement.

China’s opaque legal system, consumer culture clash
by Barbara Demick
I
NSIDE a courthouse cordoned off by yellow tape and a phalanx of police, the alleged perpetrators of China’s tainted-milk scandal are being brought to trial here. But the sensational consumer safety case has been shrouded in so much secrecy, it is hard to say whether justice is in fact being done.

Kashmiri women fight for peace
by Anuja Khushu
W
HEN boys masqueraded openly in the bylanes of downtown Srinagar in mid-90s, their guns slung on their shoulders, firing in the air, crowds cheered them on. There was unabashed heroism attached to being a militant and guns were the symbol of power and honour.

 


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Chief Justice acts
Justice Nirmal Yadav asked to explain conduct

Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan’s show-cause notice to Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking why action should not be taken against her for alleged involvement in the cash-at-doorstep scam demonstrates that the CJI is determined to root out corruption in the judiciary.

The CJI’s notice is based on the findings of a three-judge committee consisting of Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Hemant Laxman Gokhale, Jammu and Kashmir High Court Chief Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Madan B. Lokur of the Delhi High Court. This committee is believed to have prima facie found substance in the allegations against Justice Yadav.

The judiciary’s image received a beating when Justice Nirmaljit Kaur lodged an FIR on August 13, 2008, that an accomplice of Sanjeev Bansal, Haryana’s former Additional Advocate-General, had brought Rs 15 lakh to her house. According to the police, the money, meant for Justice Yadav, was mistakenly delivered at Justice Kaur’s residence. Five persons, including Mr Bansal, were arrested. Ever since the scam came to light, the CJI has been following up the case step by step. Justice Yadav had to recuse herself from the court work and go on long leave. The CJI, then, appointed the three-judge panel which examined many witnesses as also the two judges. Simultaneously, he had also ordered a CBI probe into the scandal.

It remains to be seen what is the next step the CJI will take on the issue that has rocked the Punjab and Haryana High Court. However, the three-judge panel’s report is believed to be a prelude to her “indictment” in the context of her violation of the apex court’s code of conduct for judges. Under the in-house procedure, the CJI is empowered to advice Justice Yadav to quit, retire, or alternatively recommend her impeachment. Much will depend on her explanation to the CJI’s show-cause notice.

The CJI had followed recently a similar procedure in the case of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. After a three-judge panel had found him guilty of depositing Rs 32 lakh he had got as court receiver in his personal account, the CJI wrote to the Prime Minister, recommending his impeachment.

Justice Sen had refused to resign or seek voluntary retirement. Apparently, the CJI is sharing the concern of the nation over allegations of corruption in the judiciary. He seems to be rightly keen to do something about these two errant judges so that others get the message.

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Pakistan must deliver
World knows about its involvement in terror attack

While India’s impatience is growing by the day, Pakistan continues to deny its involvement in the November 26 terrorist strike on Mumbai. After providing information to prove Pakistan’s complicity India has now categorically stated that an attack of such a big scale could not have been carried out without the involvement of the Pakistan Establishment.

The dossier provided by New Delhi to Islamabad and other world capitals clearly proves the links between the terrorists who came all the way from Karachi to Mumbai to do what they did with the help of Pakistan’s agencies and their handlers in Pakistan. The proof provided by India is based not only on the confessions of arrested terrorist Ajmal Qasab but also the intercepts of communication between the terrorists and their masters in Pakistan as also reports from other sources. They were in constant touch with each other. The details in the dossier tally with the intercepts the US and the UK have collected, proving Pakistan’s hand in the attack launched from its territory.

Thus, Pakistan must hand over to India terrorist masterminds like Z. R. Lakhvi, Zarar Shah, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and other wanted men as demanded by New Delhi. India has every right to try them under the SAARC convention on terrorism and many other international instruments.

Pakistan now has no excuse for not taking action against those who planned and carried out the terrorist attack. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s communication to his counterparts in different countries is obviously aimed at keeping the world informed about all this.

The world must not forget that Pakistan has continued to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out while addressing chief ministers on Tuesday, “some countries like Pakistan have in the past encouraged and given sanctuary to terrorists and other forces who are antagonistic to India.”

India and the international community have to take steps to force Pakistan to give up this policy and take action against the terrorist monster threatening the peace in the region. The world is interested in concrete action, not just denials by Islamabad. Prevarication on any pretext will not be acceptable.

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Govern or quit
Help Orissa minorities rebuild their lives

IT is the exasperation of the Supreme Court that found expression in the obiter dicta of Justice Markandey Katju that the Orissa government should quit if it could not provide security to the Christians in Kandhamal district. Ordinarily, law and order issues do not crop up in the court.

In the instant case, the petitioner had to knock on the doors of the apex court because of the fear of the minorities. It is now four months since Christians in the district came under the fire of the Hindutva bodies protesting against the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Dozens of churches and prayer halls were destroyed and thousands of Christians forced to flee their villages and take shelter in jungles and camps.

Yet, the Orissa government has been pretending that everything is honky dory in the state. The minorities fear that if the Central security forces are withdrawn from the region, they would again come under attack. They do not see the decision of the Hindutva organisations not to observe a bandh on the Christmas Day last as a sign of normalcy.

What is important is for the state government to instill a sense of confidence in the minds of the minorities. In fact, if a government is unable to manage law and order, it has no right to stay in office, a point subtly made by Justice Katju on Monday.

Nobody is against investigation of the murder of the Swami and arrest and trial of the accused, howsoever high he or she may be. But the state government’s failure should not become a ruse for the Hindutvavadis to mount another attack on the Christians.

Similarly, when a state fails in its elementary duty to protect the life and property of citizens, it is duty bound to compensate them for losses, though no amount will be sufficient to compensate those who lost their dear ones. In such situations, the government should be liberal and not like the Orissa government, which is stingy when it comes to helping the victims of violence to recoup their losses and make a fresh start in life.

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Thought for the Day

Any stigma, as the old saying is, will serve to beat a dogma. — Philip Guedalla

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Hasina’s sweep and after
Time for Delhi, Dhaka to improve relations
by Hiranmay Karlekar

Commenting on the results of the general election in Bangladesh on December 29, 2008, The Daily Star, the country’s leading English-language daily, wrote the next day, “Not since the mandate given to Bangabandhu in the 1973 election has the AL been handed such a resounding victory by the people of Bangladesh.”

Entitled “After Awami League’s massive mandate: Early positive signals vital”, it went on to add, “We congratulate Sheikh Hasina and her grand alliance on their exceptional success. Massive victory imposes massive responsibility, and, needless to say, the colossal victory has imposed a huge burden of responsibility on the victors, particularly Sheikh Hasina.”

The Awami League has won 230 of the 299 seats (out of a total of 300 seats in the Jatiya Sangsad or National Parliament) for which the elections were held, and received 49.2 per cent of the votes polled. While this marked a major improvement compared to its total of 62 seats won and 40.13 per cent of the votes polled in the 2001 election, it was significantly short of the 293 out of the 300 seats won and 73.2 per cent votes polled in the elections held on March 7, 1973. Even the 262 seats won by the 14-party Grand Alliance it spearheaded in the December election fell short of the 1973 achievement.

There are, however, one count on which the 2008 and 1973 outcomes can be compared. Both anointed the Awami League as Bangladesh’s pre-eminent political party. In 1973, apart from it, the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (National Socialist Party) and the Bangladesh Jatiya League (Bangladesh National League) won one seat each. Each of the other parties drew a blank. In the recent election, the Awami League’s ally, former President H. M. Ershad’s Jatiya Dal or National Party won 27 seats, and other allies five.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won 27 seats and its principal ally in the four-party alliance it headed, the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (Jamaat), won only two. Also, the BNP, which has polled 32.74 per cent of the votes against 40.97 per cent in 2001 retains a substantial following in the country though the number of its seats has declined sharply from 193 in the last Parliament. The Jamaat has got 4.55 per cent of the votes polled against 4.28 per cent in 2001.

Though not as sweeping as in March 1973, the Awami League’s mandate this time, with 30 more than two-thirds of the total seats in its bag, is awesome. Its achievement is all the more significant because in 1973 it was led by none other than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, still riding the crest of his popularity as the architect of Bangladesh’s liberation.

Sheikh Hasina has doubtless gained considerably in stature and maturity over the years. She has also shown tremendous physical and political courage during 2001 and 2006 when the BNP-led four-party alliance had declared open season on her and the Awami League.

Yet she is not the iconic figure her father was. Her triumph is due both to her own ability to hold the party together through a period of acute trials and tribulations when, for spells, no light was visible at the end of the tunnel, and the horrible record of the BNP-led alliance when it was in power between 2001 and 2006.

All her skills will now be required to the huge task she faces, which in some ways provides yet another point of comparison between her and her father. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had inherited a country devastated and traumatised by the nightmare of savage repression by the Pakistani Army, which killed three million people and raped 4,25,000 women during the liberation war. The economy was a shambles and the administration paralysed by purges of Bengali officers and the departure of Pakistani ones. The army and the police had to be rebuilt virtually from scratch.

Sheikh Hasina resumes her second innings as Prime Minister when Bangladesh has to contend with spiralling prices and the shadow of a severe economic crisis in the wake of the economic meltdown in the United States and its tsunami effect on Europe. Both are bound to affect the export of readymade garments, a major sustaining factor in the country’s economy. It is also liable to affect remittances by non-resident Bangladeshis which constitutes another important source of economic stimulus.

Accelerated economic cooperation with, and assistance from, India, which is unlikely to be as badly hit by the meltdown as many other countries, will help. But then Bangladesh must also be prepared to help itself. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the grant of transit facilities to goods from the West Bengal border to north-eastern Indian states through Bangladesh will yield the latter revenue in the form of handling and transhipment charges which can greatly redress Bangladesh’s adverse balance of trade with India.

Unfortunately, opposition from within Bangladesh on the completely spurious ground that the grant of the facility would adversely affect the country’s security, has held up progress! In the present situation, the project’s implementation may give Bangladesh precisely the elbow room that it will badly need as the global economic crisis worsens before getting better.

Bangladesh needs to sort out this and other outstanding issues with India like its aid to this country’s north-eastern secessionist insurgent groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, illegal migration of its nationals to India and the use of its soil by terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HUJIB) for mounting terrorist attacks on this side of the border.

The process must begin with Dhaka ending the assistance and sanctuary that it has been extending to the rebels of north-eastern India in the teeth of India’s process. This, again, will be conducive to having a favourable climate for discussing the question of illegal migration, which has acquired an intensely bitter edge because of its use as cover by organisations like the HUJIB and Jamaat-ul- Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which continue to be active despite being banned, and which use infiltration routes to send terrorists, money and arms into this country. Also ghettos of illegal migrants often house sleeper cells of the DGFI and terrorist dens.

It will, doubtless, not be easy to find a solution. The issue of illegal migration has many complex ramifications. The huge reservoir of goodwill that exists for Sheikh Hasina in India, however, holds out some promise of a successful outcome. It is time both countries walked that extra mile to realise the full potential of India-Bangladesh cordial relations, which will also be a major factor for peace and stability in Asia.

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Forgetfulness
by Harish Dhillon

Forgetfulness is packaged in many forms. There is the tragic forgetfulness that comes with Alzheimer’s: a 70-year-old father looks up at his 40-year-old daughter and says: “I think I have seen you before.  Do I know you?”

Then there is the irritating forgetfulness of senile dementia: I dial a number and when I hear the voice at the other end, I have forgotten what it is that I am calling about. There is the forgetfulness of temporary amnesia: the subject of countless Bollywood films. Finally there is the amusing, ordinary forgetfulness that all of us are prone to.

A friend, keen to get back to Calcutta in time for the festive season, booked himself on the Kalka-Howrah Mail for 21 December.  Imagine his surprise when he reached the Chandigarh station and was told that his reservation was for the day before.  He forgot that the train reached Chandigarh shortly after midnight, so he should have reserved his seat for 22 December.

There was an even more hilarious situation, connected once again with trains. I was returning from Pune after visiting my daughter.  As the train began to move and I stood at the door waving goodbye to my daughter and my grandchildren, a stout gentleman came running alongside.

I held out my hand and pulled him up. He followed me to my compartment and sat down on the seat opposite, still terribly out of breath.  Then he looked at the ticket he was clutching in his hand and looked up in dismay I realised that he was holding a platform ticket.

“Don’t worry,” I said reassuringly. “Last year  I forgot my ticket at home. All you’ll need is some proof of identity — a passport, a driving license or even a credit card.”  The gentleman shook his head sadly.  “It is not the ticket that has been forgotten but the passenger. You see it was not I who was supposed to be boarding the train, but my brother who was running behind me.”

The incident that takes the cake is also connected with reservations, but this time with cinema reservation. It was a new thriller and 10 minutes into the show a deep hush had descended over the audience. Then suddenly all hell broke loose. A loud and prolonged altercation had broken out,  laced, as is usual in this part of the country, with the choicest abuses.

“You keep sitting,” we heard a deep authoritative voice. “I’ll get the manager to throw them out.” The poor movie whirred on, unheeded, as all attention was focused on the outcome of this colourful altercation.

The suspense would have turned Hitchcock green with envy. At last, after an eternity, we heard that deep voice boom out loud and clear from the exit. “Oi ajayo, ajayo — our tickets are for tomorrow’s show.”

The audience dissolved into laughter. I am sure, for all of us who were present at that screening that was really the most entertaining moment of the show.

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Restoring peace in Gaza
It’s not as easy as it sounds
by Robert Fisk

DO I hear the braying of the UN donkey in Gaza? On his Middle East tour, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, may well be mentioning that well-known Eeyore figure on the East River, always so willing to send its peacekeepers on Mission Impossible. The Palestinians have been trying to internationalise their conflict with the Israelis ever since Yasser Arafat pleaded for UN forces to protect the Palestinians after the failure of the Oslo agreement.

Always the Israelis have refused. The very odd observer force which the EU installed in Hebron after Baruch Golstein had massacred Palestinians at the mosque – its patrols regularly interrupted by the Jewish settlers of this very odd city – simply faded away.

And the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has been throwing tents and food and school classes at the slums of Palestinian refugee camps for generations. Can it be that yet another Israeli failure in Gaza will change the dynamics of “peacekeeping” in the Middle East, that at last the ghost of Arafat will watch the “internationalisation” of the Israeli-Palestinian war?

The cliché, in both senses of the word – both the tired phrase and the matrix for any future UN force – is, of course, UNIFIL, the so-called United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. It arrived in southern Lebanon in 1978 after Israel’s hopeless “Operation Litani”, which was supposed to “destroy” the Palestinian guerrilla forces north of the Israeli border.

The UN mandate insisted that the Israelis retreat to their international frontier – which they refused to do – eventually leaving the UN with an Israeli occupation force to the south of them and Palestinian units with bases inside the UN force and to the north of them.

When Israel staged another hopeless invasion in 1982 – like its unrealistic Hamas operation in Gaza as well as the 1978 Lebanon invasion, it was supposed to “destroy” their Palestinian enemies – the UN found itself operating entirely within an Israeli occupation zone, even allowing Israel’s intelligence officers to travel through UN checkpoints to arrest or assassinate members of the latest Lebanese militia to oppose the occupation in the south.

Only when Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, 22 years after the UN’s first arrival, did the peacekeeping force – now largely from poorer African and Asian countries – operate independently, albeit with Hizbollah now installed in their midst.

The 2006 Israeli-Hizbollah war ended with a larger UN force in southern Lebanon, this time commanded by Nato generals who patrolled an area free of Hizbollah weapons – but only because Hizballah’s newer long-range rockets could be fired from north of the UN’s area of operations.

The UN force, it should be added, was constantly abused by Israel. It was accused of being “pro-Palestinian” (whatever that is), in league with “terrorists” (it was never explained how), weak, anti-Israeli and – of course – anti-Semitic. Israelis even accused a local UN Fijian commander of spreading Aids. So could there be yet another UN force in the region? Originally, there was a UN observer force on the Lebanese-Israeli border.

It arrived in 1948 and still exists – unarmed, on the frontier to this day, within the UNIFIL zone – and this, in reality, could be the framework of a new UN force in Palestine.

In other words, an unarmed observer group rather than a peacekeeping force, which could add an international voice to ceasefire violations between Israel and Hamas. But be sure, the Palestinians would then ask for the same institution to be placed on the West Bank-Israeli border – and therein lies the problem for both Israel and the UN.

For which “frontier” would the UN then patrol? The UN border of the 1940s, the pre-1967 ceasefire lines – in which a pre-annexed East Jerusalem belonged to the Arabs – or the post-1967 border in which Israel claimed “annexed” Jerusalem, or the massive walled “frontier” which now bites deeply into yet more Palestinian territory – illegally in international law? And would the UN also have to “observe” the equally illegal Jewish settlements built on Arab land within the West Bank?

Gaza sounds an easy option. The UN could place some international troops around Gaza. But it would only be a matter of time before they would be required around the West Bank. That would be a Palestinian dream – and, for those Israelis who wish to continue their expansion into Palestinian land – a nightmare.

Keeping out reporters

What is Israel afraid of? Using the old “enclosed military area” excuse to prevent coverage of its occupation of Palestinian land has been going on for years. But the last time Israel played this game – in Jenin in 2000 – it was a disaster. Prevented from seeing the truth with their own eyes, reporters quoted Palestinians who claimed there had been a massacre by Israeli soldiers – and Israel spent years denying it. In fact, there was a massacre, but not on the scale that it was originally reported.

Now the Israeli army is trying the same doomed tactic again. Ban the press. Keep the cameras out. By yesterday morning, only hours after the Israeli army went clanking into Gaza to kill more Hamas members – and, of course, more civilians – Hamas was reporting the capture of two Israeli soldiers. Reporters on the ground could have sorted out the truth or the lie about that. But without a single Western journalist in Gaza, the Israelis were left to tell the world that they didn’t know if the story was true.

On the other hand, the Israelis are so ruthless that the reasons for the ban on journalism may be quite easily explained: that so many Israeli soldiers are going to kill so many innocents – more than three score by last night, and that’s only the ones we know about – that images of the slaughter would be too much to tolerate. Not that the Palestinians have done much to help. The kidnapping by a Palestinian mafia family of the BBC’s man in Gaza – finally released by Hamas, although that’s not being recalled right now – put paid to any permanent Western television presence in Gaza months ago. Yet the results are the same.

There is also a darker side. Israel’s version of events has been given so much credence by the dying Bush administration that the ban on journalists entering Gaza may simply be of little importance to the Israeli army. By the time we investigate, whatever they are trying to hide will have been overtaken by another crisis in which they can claim to be in the “front line” in the “war on terror”.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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China’s opaque legal system, consumer culture clash
by Barbara Demick

INSIDE a courthouse cordoned off by yellow tape and a phalanx of police, the alleged perpetrators of China’s tainted-milk scandal are being brought to trial here. But the sensational consumer safety case has been shrouded in so much secrecy, it is hard to say whether justice is in fact being done.

On Wednesday, the most significant defendant, Tian Wenhua, chairwoman of the now-bankrupt Sanlu Group, admitted that her company had delayed for months reporting that their baby formula contained the additive melamine, which causes kidney stones. The tainted formula killed at least six babies and sickened about 300,000 others.

China has made a big show of the trial, allowing video from inside the courtroom of the defendants in the yellow-and-black prison garb paraded before the judges. But the public has only seen snippets and images, and all but a few carefully screened journalists from government-owned media have been excluded.

Parents and their lawyers, many of whom traveled from across the country in hopes of seeing the trial, are also persona non grata at the well-secured courthouse here in Shijiazhuang, 189 miles south of Beijing.

“There is no transparency in the process. They are behaving like there is something to hide,” said Teng Biao, a Beijing lawyer who has been trying to bring a lawsuit on behalf of 111 parents. “They are completely excluding the victims.”

The case is turning into a showdown between the Chinese government’s opaque legal system and a consumer culture that increasing clamors for information and accountability.

Around China, parents whose babies were sickened by the addition of melamine have formed their own Web sites (one is called jieshibaobao.com, which translates into “rockbabies.com”) and trade text messages about the latest developments.

Although they have been shut out of the courthouse, privately owned Chinese news outlets have stationed dozens of reporters behind the police lines, trying to interview people as they come in and out.

“This is a case that the whole country is watching, actually all the world,” said Zhang Chen, senior editor for an online news service and one of the journalists in the scrum Tuesday.

Courts throughout China have so far refused even to hear the parents’ lawsuits, and lawyers who have tried to file them have been threatened with disbarment, lawyer Teng said.

In its haste to wrap up the case before the end of the year, which under the traditional Chinese lunar calendar falls on Jan. 25, the government is pressing parents to accept a $160 million settlement from a consortium of dairies that was announced earlier this week.

“It is not that I want vengeance. I don’t care about people getting the death penalty. I only want what is right for the children,” said Li Yanfang, one of the mothers who was refused entry to the courthouse here.

Li complained that the government is forcing an inadequate and confusing settlement on the parents.

The 28-year-old mother was called to a municipal office here in Shijiazhuang, where she lives, and asked to sign a letter in which she would forfeit her right to further claims in return for $300 and a promise of free medical treatment for her 17-month-old daughter.

She wasn’t permitted to take the letter with her or make a photocopy, although she insisted on copying the letter by hand. When she was about to leave the municipal office, an official told her she would have to sign another letter acknowledging that she was forgoing the money. Li refused to sign anything.

Three babies in Li’s apartment compound have the same kidney problems as a result of drinking Sanlu’s baby formula, which was heavily marketed as a quality local brand. The company is headquartered in downtown Shijiazhuang in a huge factory with giant lettering on top of its roof reading, “Manufacture Quality Dairy Serve the People.”

Without an opportunity actually to hear the testimony, it is impossible to know much of what has been said at the court proceedings here. For example, the daughter of Tian Wenhua, the Sanlu chairwoman, has alleged that officials from Shijiazhuang and surrounding Hebei province were part of a cover-up.

China’s top product quality supervisor resigned in September after the milk scandal broke, as did several Shijiazhuang officials, including the city’s Communist Party secretary. But no government officials have been arrested in the case.

Among the 17 people who have stood trial are other Sanlu employees and various small-town businessmen who sold melamine under the name of “protein powder” to dairy farmers, to be added to watered-down milk to make it appear more nutritious. The official press has reported that some could face the death penalty.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Kashmiri women fight for peace
by Anuja Khushu

WHEN boys masqueraded openly in the bylanes of downtown Srinagar in mid-90s, their guns slung on their shoulders, firing in the air, crowds cheered them on. There was unabashed heroism attached to being a militant and guns were the symbol of power and honour.

Songs were written and sung for them. Young girls were attracted to them, to the magnetism and machismo they seemed to exude. When those boys got married, girls proudly accepted them with the gun which they took as gifts or dowry.

Sadly, as most of these girls admit in private, little did the young brides realise that the guns, which they took as gifts, would become a burden and songs of heroism, which the women so passionately sang, would be sung as dirges.

Setting the tone for moral policing, militants barged into classrooms and forced young girls to cover their heads. The Hizbul Mujahideen outfit prevented women from visiting restaurants, hotels and parks.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba went a step further issuing diktat: “Wear burkha or face bullets.” Several militant groups opposed sterilisation and abortion, believing that a woman’s primary function is reproduction.

The flip side of militancy touted as heroic in those times was the shattered lives of these women. The proliferation of small arms like AK series rifles machine guns, sniper rifles and light weapons, small rocket launchers, hand grenades, 5.45 Krinkov and SMGs detonators fed the culture of violence in the valley.

Women caught in its vortex were left to fend for themselves and children, after the death and torture of husbands, sons or fathers.

Women have emerged from this situation in ways that have been unprecedented in the region.

Some have waged fierce struggles in their personal spheres while others have taken up arms for a diametrically opposite cause: to build peace.

Mariam Bano of Manoh village in district Doda in Jammu was abducted by terrorists, kept in custody and repeatedly raped for “being instrumental in motivating her brother Hamid to leave militancy and surrender his arms to security forces”.

“Frustrated, they chopped my nose and ears”, recalls Bano. Today when she sees her brother Hamid playing with his kids, Bano smiles and says, the pain she went through is too little a price she paid to transform her trigger-happy militant brother into a family man.

Channa’s is a similar story but unlike Bano, not a happy ending. Last year her love, Farid, a dreaded Harkat-ul-Ansar militant who reigned supreme in the mountains of Doda, shunned the path of violence.

Gun-toting militants meted out a violent punishment by barging into their house in Kishtwar, killing her husband, Farid on the spot and seriously injuring Channa.

Channa, who was instrumental in transforming Farid, rues: “I wanted him to leave the gun to save his life. But I had never thought that this will become the cause of his death.”

The next moment, however, her face lights up when she gazes at her toddler: “At least no one will tell him that his father was a militant who died in an encounter with security forces.”

Women like Bano and Channa symbolise rare courage and resilience in the face of a dehumanising and devastating violence. They dared to dream of a peaceful and happy life with their loved ones at a place where guns outnumber roses.

Khatun Begum (23) of Surankote, Poonch, was devastated when militants killed her husband for refusing them permission to enter their house. She suffered the trauma of being raped by the very militants who killed her husband.

Emerging from the trauma, she learnt to use arms with the help of the Army and vowed to protect the entire village rather than be a mute witness to the brutality of militants. Khatun Begum became the first woman Village Defence Committee (VDC) member in the state to operate an AK rifle.

Today there are many young girls in the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri, areas disturbed by militancy, who hold Khatun Begum as their role model. Sonia and Moniya, two sisters from a village on the LoC in the Nowshera sector in Jammu, were among the first batch of 27 women in the district to join the Village Defence Committee.

When the Army announced to impart arms training, both Sonia and Moniya saw in it an opportunity to keep militant forces at bay. “We picked guns for peace, not to kill someone,” says Sonia, who has now completed her schooling and now helps her mother in her day-to-day chores.

“The boundaries of our hamlet serve as a ‘Lakshman-Rekha’ to the militants, who hardly dare to cross it now,” she adds with a sparkle in her eyes.

Several women all over Jammu and Kashmir have constituted VDCs for self-protection. Army officials vouch for their competence and dedication.

Spreading a circle of light midst the darkness, the lives of these women have made a resounding statement of actionable peace in the centre of violence.

—Charkha Features

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