FaithWorld

Indian court sentences 11 to death for fiery attack on Hindu pilgrims

godhra

(Smoke pours from the burning train in Godhra, February 27, 2002/Stringer)

A special Indian court on Tuesday sentenced to death 11 people for setting fire to a train in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, killing 59 people in an act that led to some of the worst religious riots in the country since independence in 1947. The Sabarmati Express was carrying Hindu devotees returning from the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

More than 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the subsequent riots in Gujarat. Critics say the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Gujarat, did little to stop the violence and many believe the riots led to the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 general elections.

The court last week found the 31 defendants on trial guilty of conspiracy to torch the train, a judgment that seemed to back the BJP’s stand that the train was deliberately set on fire to provoke the riots. Opponents say the fire was accidental and was used as an excuse for the violence. The death sentences must be confirmed by a higher court.

The 20 not sentenced to death received life sentences, prosecutor J.M. Panchal told reporters outside the courtroom.

SRead the full story by C. J. Kuncheria here. See also comments on our Indian debate page at The Godhra verdict: Will there be closure?

Nepal Christians threaten ‘corpse’ protest in burial row

pashupatinathChristians in Nepal have threatened to parade corpses in the capital to press the government into finding them alternative burial grounds after burials near the country’s holiest Hindu shrine were banned.

Christians account for less than two percent of Hindu-majority Nepal’s 28 million people. Authorities barred them this month from burying their dead in the forested graveyard at Sleshmantak saying the land belonged to the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, a U.N. heritage site in Kathmandu. (Photo: Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu September 2, 2008/Shruti Shrestha)

“Burial after death is a fundamental human right and the government is violating this by not giving us any place to bury the dead,” C.B.Gahatraj, a senior official of the Committee for Christian Recommendation for New Constitution told Reuters.

from India Insight:

A Republic Day to forget for India’s opposition party

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched India’s 61st Republic Day parade in the New Delhi sunshine on Wednesday morning, senior opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were in a Jammu prison, where they had spent a night under arrest.

Detained for attempting to lead thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers into India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir to provocatively raise the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule, Swaraj and Jaitley’s politically-driven mission had ended in failure.

Workers of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold national flags and shout slogans during a protest on a bridge at Madhopur, in the northern Indian state of Punjab January 25, 2011. Thousands of Indian Hindu-nationalist opposition supporters massed on a bridge to the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as officials sought to stop a flag-raising ceremony that could spark violence. Police faced off with flag-waving BJP workers as authorities sealed routes into Kashmir to thwart the planned raising of the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

The BJP appear to have thought that the nationalism-drenched plan to hoist the flag in the centre of Srinagar, the state capital, would galvanize their Hindu support base, and show the ruling Congress party as ineffective in defending the disputed state from separatists who rile against New Delhi’s rule.

100 pilgrims killed in stampede at Hindu festival in India

sabarimalaA stampede sparked by a night-time road accident in dense forest has killed more than 100 Hindu pilgrims in the southern state of Kerala in India. Kerala’s deputy general of police told reporters that 102 people who visited the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers to the Hindu deity Ayappa had been killed on Friday night. Officials at a Hindu temple estimated the death toll at around 100, Kerala Temple Affairs Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally said by telephone. (Photo: Pilgrims at Sabarimala Temple, January 15, 2003/Dipak Kumar)

Hundreds of thousands had gathered at the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala on Friday evening, the last day of an annual two-month religious festival. A bus carrying pilgrims back to the neighbouring state of Karnataka collided with a jeep and went out of control, crushing people walking nearby, Kadannappally said. Panicked pilgrims rushed forward, triggering a stampede.

“They came down the hillside… this happened primarily because the area was totally dark,” Jacob Punnoose, Kerala Deputy General of Police told Times Now TV channel.

India Congress scion Rahul Gandhi says radical Hindus a threat

gandhis (Photo: Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia Gandhi, in New Delhi May 21, 2009/B Mathur)

Rahul Gandhi, seen as an India prime minister in waiting, told the U.S. ambassador radical Hindu groups could posed a bigger threat to the country than the Islamists who attacked Mumbai in 2008, a leaked cable showed. The comments made to Timothy Roemer last year were immediately criticised by the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adding to political sparring that has deadlocked parliament and pushed policymaking into limbo.

Gandhi’s comments, made in response to a question from Roemers on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, referred to religious tension created by more extreme BJP leaders, according to the cable dated August 3, 2009. It was released by WikiLeaks and published on Friday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the LeT among Indian Muslims, the ambassador wrote, according to the cable.  “However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” Roemer wrote. The ambassador added a comment that “Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”

India says local Islamists bombed Hindu pilgrim city Varanasi

varanasi 1 (Photo: After the blast in Varanasi December 7, 2010/Stringer)

India said Wednesday a home-grown Islamist group with ties to Pakistani militants was behind a bomb attack in one of its holiest cities, Varanasi, and local media reported two people were questioned over the attack. Home Secretary Gopal Pillai said traces of explosives were found at the site of Tuesday evening’s blast in the northern city that killed a two-year old girl and injured 37 Hindu worshippers and foreign tourists.

Pillai said the crude bomb was set off by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a local group India says has been trained by militants based in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The IM claimed responsibility for the attack in an email to local media, police said. That email was traced to a Mumbai suburb and two people were questioned over it, local media said.

“The main players of Indian Mujahideen are based in Pakistan and they are definitely running the game from there,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjeev Dayal told a press conference. Pillai has said it was “too premature” to say if individuals or groups operating from Pakistan were involved.

Conservation, religion join to save Ganges dolphin

gangesAs the sun sets over a serene stretch of the mighty Ganges, a pair of smooth, grey dolphins arch gracefully out of the water, bringing hope that wildlife can again call India’s great river home. (Photo: Ganges sunset in Allahabad,  31 Dec 2008/Jitendra Prakash)

Millions of Indians along the banks of the 2,500 km (1,550 mile)-long Ganges depend on the river, but unchecked levels of agricultural, industrial and domestic waste have poured in over the past decades, threatening the wildlife.

In Karnabas, a small village just upstream from Narora, a local drama troupe performs for more than 150 villagers. “Humans are polluting our river!” an actor playing a Hindu god declared. “The life of our Mother Ganga is endangered! Please do something!”

Indian Muslims are angry with Ayodhya verdict, but the country remains calm

ayodhya 1 (Photo: A Hindu priest walks past a mosque during Friday prayers in Ayodhya, October 1, 2010/Mukesh Gupta)

Indian Muslim clerics and leaders rallied on Friday against a court ruling over the disputed Ayodhya site that largely favoured Hindus, raising fears of further alienation of the minority community. The decision has been met with calm throughout India, despite fears the ruling could spark religious riots.

A court in Uttar Pradesh said in a judgment on Thursday that the site of a demolished mosque should be split between Hindus and Muslims. The court ruled Hindus would get two-thirds of the land and be allowed to keep a makeshift temple that was built over the razed mosque’s central dome.

In Delhi’s Jama Mosque, one of India’s largest, the chief cleric rejected the verdict.  “If we do not get our rights we will never be able to walk in this country with our heads held high,” said Shahi Imam Bukhari to shouts of “Allahu Akhbar”, or “god is greatest” by thousands of Muslims after Friday prayers. “It is our responsibility to maintain the peace, but we will not be broken, we cannot be broken. If the Supreme Court endorses the High Court’s decision, I will urge all Muslims to consider the matter with all seriousness and concern.”

Indian court says Ayodhya dispute site to be split between Hindus and Muslims

ayodhya 1An Indian court ruled on Thursday that the site of a demolished mosque in Ayodhya would be divided between Hindus and Muslims, in a ruling that could appease both groups in one of the country’s most divisive cases. (Photo: Hindu priests cheer after verdict was announced, 30 Sept 2010/Mukesh Gupta)

The court in Uttar Pradesh also ruled that Hindu idols could stay on the disputed land, lawyers added. The demolition of the 16th century mosque by Hindu mobs in 1992 triggered some of India’s worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. More than 200,000 police fanned out in India on Thursday to guard against any communal violence.

Times Now TV editor Arnab Goswami called it “nobody’s verdict, nobody’s solution,” referring to the fact there was not one clear winner. There were no immediate reports of violence after the ruling.

Security alert in India ahead of verdict in Hindu-Muslim dispute over mosque

india 1India has put tens of thousands of police on the streets and the air force on high alert ahead of possible violence when a court on Thursday rules on a century-old religious dispute between Hindus and Muslims.

The issue is haunting the ruling Congress Party, a left-of-centre party with secular roots, which will have to stand by a verdict that is likely to upset one or other major voter bloc. (Photo: Rapid Action Force personnel patrol in Allahabad,  September 28, 2010/Jitendra Prakash)

“My humble request is that whatever be the decision, please accept it in the highest tradition of magnanimity,” Sonia Gandhi, Congress party chief and the country’s most powerful politician, said in a statement. Read the full story here.