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A year on, India Dalit rape victim’s family waits for justice | News

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Hathras, India – The gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in a village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh last September had caused a public outcry and weeks of protests.

But a year on, the family of the victim has told Al Jazeera that their hopes for justice are fading as the case has dragged on. Of the 104 witnesses only 15 have deposed in the court so far, said Seema Kushwaha, the victim’s lawyer.

The case made it to global media headlines after the body of the girl was cremated in Hathras, about 200km (125 miles) from the national capital, New Delhi, in the early hours of September 30 last year without the family’s consent.

The police were also accused of initially refusing to register the first information report (FIR or police compliant) and did little to support the vulnerable family.

The family say they will not immerse the victim’s ashes until the perpetrators are punished. “We will not perform the last rites before justice is served,” the victim’s mother, Rama Devi, 50, told Al Jazeera. Immersion of the ashes completes the Hindu funeral ritual.

The slow pace of the legal proceedings has concerned the family belonging to the Dalit community – the lowest in India’s Hindu caste hierarchy.

“We are poor but we will fight this till the end. It’s the least we have to do for our child,” the father of the victim, Om Prakash, 53, told Al Jazeera.

Slow pace of the case

The four accused – Sandeep, Luvkush, Ravi, and Ramu – are on trial. They are all upper-caste men from the Thakur community and belong to Boolgarhi, the same village where the victim’s family lives. Three of the accused are also extended relatives.

The already slow legal process has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Security officials at the entrance of the victim’s house [Amitoj Singh/Al Jazeera]

The prosecution is yet to conduct its proceedings – a sign that little has changed despite the unprecedented national and global outrage after the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case. That case caused countrywide protests and forced the government to enact stringent rape laws.

The case of the Hathras rape victim is still being heard in the regular district court known for delays. An astounding 40 million cases are pending in India’s lower courts as of September 2021.

The victim’s family lives in fear of retribution as all the accused belong to the dominant upper-caste Hindus, and they have tried to convince the villagers, most of whom are upper-caste Hindus, that this case was an honour killing.

Of nearly 250 homes in Boolgarhi village, only four belong to Dalits, who face social ostracisation.

“What do you want to do? Get those kids hanged?” said an elder male in the accused’s house located opposite to the victim’s family.

“It’s the media that has put them in jail. Please leave,” he said angrily, refusing to share his name.

‘Home has become a jail’

The district court has ordered round-the-clock security for the victim’s family. Entry to and exit from the victim’s house is monitored by more than 30 personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force posted there and security cameras installed inside and outside the house.

The victim’s family members have to seek permission even to buy groceries, while anyone entering the house, including journalists, has to register themselves.

“We live at home, but home has become a jail,” said the victim’s elder brother, Satyendra Kumar, 30, who represents the family in court hearings.

blankThe accused belonging to the upper caste are from the same village as the victim [Amitoj Singh/Al Jazeera]

During a hearing in March, the victim’s brother and the lawyer, Kushwaha, were heckled on court premises by lawyers sympathetic to the accused. This happened despite Kushwaha and Kumar being provided with police protection.

“They were trying to intimidate us,” Kushwaha said.

“The defence argues that this was an honour killing, not rape. If proven, this would implicate the younger brother and potentially the mother too,” she said, adding that by accusing the victim’s family of honour killing, “the brother has become an accused too”.

Five policemen involved in the burning of the victim’s pyre in the dead of the night were suspended. Authorities justified the burning of the pyre saying delaying the funeral could have caused violence and societal tension. The district magistrate claimed they had the consent of the family. However, the family denies the claim.

Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh which is governed by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had announced a compensation of Rs 25 lakh ($33,685), a job to a member of the victim’s family, and the allotment of a house.

“We got the money but not the job or the house,” the elder brother said.

‘Historic caste-based carcerality’

The victim’s lawyer pointed out that the government promise to fast-track the case was not followed through.

“The law in cases involving Dalits says justice should be served in a fast-tracked manner,” said Kushwaha.

“But in reality, this does not happen. There is no fear for law and order because time-bound justice is just not delivered. While we were promised hearings in a fast track court, this has been a normal pace proceeding, which as we know in India, can be gruesome for justice,” she said.

Nikita Sonavane, a lawyer who researches on policing in marginalised communities, said despite the egregious nature of the case and the outrage it generated “nothing has changed” and this is “historic caste-based carcerality”.

“I have no hope for speedy justice in the case either. If justice is served it will be an aberration and not the norm. I don’t know if five years later people will remember this. The only people who remember are those communities at the receiving end of such violence,” said Sonavane, who is a co-founder of the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project.

But BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli defended the government’s handling of the case.

“We must recognise that the courts are overburdened with a large backlog especially during the pandemic,” Kohli, who is also a lawyer at the Supreme Court, said.

“And from the perspective of every victim they all deserve a fast trial,” he told Al Jazeera.

Dalit activists point out that sexual violence against the community is part of caste oppression. It is not just an instance of violence against women but also a crime against a woman from an oppressed caste group, they say.

Between 2016 and 2019 for which data (PDF) is available, crime against women went up by 66.7 percent in Uttar Pradesh – the highest increase in any state of the country – while rape cases against women from the Scheduled Castes – the legal designation given to Dalits – went up (PDF) by 20.67 percent in the same period.

Dalits, who still live on the margins of society, say they continue to be discriminated against and treated as “untouchables” – a practice outlawed after India’s independence in 1947.

“Violence, including rape and gang rape, have been systematically utilised as weapons by dominant castes to oppress Dalit women and girls and reinforce structural gender and caste hierarchies,” said a report by Equality Now, which works on women’s rights, and Swabhiman Society, a Dalit-led grassroots organisation in India.

In India, the caste system is such that “sexual violence is encrypted against women from oppressed caste groups”. “The perpetrators, in this case, wouldn’t view it as an act of violence but as a way of exercising their right over the body of a Dalit woman,” said Sonavane.

blankMetal detectors outside the house of the victim’s family [Amitoj Singh/Al Jazeera]


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A Pakistan Photographer Rushes to Save the Past

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LAHORE, Pakistan — Before Shahid Zaidi was born, before his home was an independent country, his father opened a portrait studio and captured the nation’s emerging history.

His father, Syed Mohammad Ali Zaidi, captured a Hindu couple in 1939. The man wore a conservative double-breasted suit, hair slicked, while the woman sported a sari, with earrings dangling and bangles on her wrists, the exact colors eluding the black-and-white negative.

The next year he captured a Muslim couple, listed as Mr. and Mrs. Mohammad Abbas, the bride in a shimmer-trimmed shalwar kameez and a matha patti, an ornamental headpiece, and the groom resplendent in a qulla, a wedding turban.

Word spread about his studio, and Syed Mohammed Ali Zaidi’s customers began to include the elite of the new nation of Pakistan. He photographed Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the lawyer turned separatist who became the modern country’s founder. He photographed Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, who was cut down by an assassin’s bullets in 1951.

Shahid Zaidi, 79, wants to preserve that history. He has assembled a small team to create digital versions of the images his father began capturing at his studio in Lahore 91 years ago. He aims to put the complete collection online so that families can find their ancestors and explore Pakistan’s coming-of-age.

“It’s my responsibility,” said Mr. Zaidi. “We have images that belong to somebody. They may want them or never want them. That’s beside the point. As far as I’m concerned, I owe them something.”

It won’t be easy. The studio, called Zaidis Photographers, houses an extensive archive of around half a million negatives. Though he won some financial support from the United States Institute of Peace, which promotes conflict resolution, he is funding the rest himself.

The elder Zaidi opened the studio in 1930, when he rented a piece of prime real estate on The Mall, a British-era thoroughfare in Pakistan’s second-largest city. Despite its sought-after location, the studio struggled to find customers in a tough economy.

The elder Zaidi “had the courage, the commitment, and the wisdom to do this when he had nothing else,” said Mr. Zaidi, who grew up in the studio.

Mr. Zaidi left for London as a young man to study film. He returned for a stint to Pakistan with his wife, Farida, in a Volkswagen bus, almost bartering his Leica camera in Tehran in exchange for gas. The pair later moved to Reno, Nev., where Mr. Zaidi worked as a director of photography for a studio portraiture company.

When his cousin, who had been running the studio, called Mr. Zaidi in the 1980s to ask him to take over the business, he felt he had to return. “There was something in me telling me, ‘You’ve got to go back,’” he said. “‘That’s your father’s work.’”

Mr. Zaidi and two young colleagues photograph each negative with a digital camera and add names, dates and watermarks to the files, drawing from stacks of notebooks where customers wrote their personal information by hand.

When he travels around Pakistan, Mr. Zaidi said, he meets people whose family histories are connected to the studio. “There’s always some kind of a story relating to some photographs that were taken by us,” he said.

Today the studio is flanked by chain restaurants and a luxury watch shop. The studio’s archival effort has progressed in fits and starts, depending on the amount of funding available. Keeping a portrait business open in an era of ubiquitous selfies isn’t easy, Mr. Zaidi said. He admits he hasn’t fully kept up with the times because changes in photography and Pakistani society don’t sit right with him. He shoots with a digital camera but prefers the style and format of his old, analog setup.

If he doesn’t finish preserving the photos, Mr. Zaidi said, he fears history will be lost. To his knowledge, few of his father’s contemporaries preserved their archives.

“Every day that I spend over here,” Mr. Zaidi said, “I learn something of what he went through to achieve what he did.”


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We can be bridge between India, Latin America: Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez | World News

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New Delhi: Colombian Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, Marta Lucia Ramirez paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 152nd birth anniversary at Raj Ghat in New Delhi. Speaking on the occasion, Ramirez offered Colombia as a bridge for India in all the Latin American countries.

“We would like to offer Colombia as a bridge for India to be active in all the Latin American countries and economies. We admire how Indian entrepreneurship, technologies and Indian values are going to be really important in order to bring success in surpassing COVID-19 consequences and to have better conditions of life for all human beings, ” said Ramirez.

She also emphasised on strengthening ties between India and Colombia.”We came as a delegation from the Colombian government, in order to strengthen the relations, to know each other better, in order to use democracy as a strong linkage between India and Latin America,” she said.

While referring to the values of Mahatma Gandhi, Ramirez said, “Today on the International Day of Non-Violence, we want to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi`s life, and how he taught the entire humanity about values of Democracy, respect, for dignity for everyone in the entire world. We know that he was the person who made India move forward as a united nation.”

ALSO READ: Killing of Sikh doctor in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa triggers panic among Pakistan’s minorities

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British Military to Help Fuel Deliveries Amid Supply Shortage

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Almost 200 military tanker personnel will be deployed from Monday to provide temporary support to address the long queues at petrol stations across the UK due to supply shortages, the government announced on Saturday. The shortage has been caused by a severe insufficiency of truck drivers, especially heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers required to supply fuel.

The government said that military personnel are currently undertaking their training at haulier sites across the country and will be on the road delivering fuel supplies from Monday. Across the weekend over 200 military personnel will have been mobilised as part of Operation Escalin, said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

While the situation is stabilising, our Armed Forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts, he said. The government claimed that demand for fuel has stabilised through the week and more fuel is now being delivered than is being sold, however some parts of the country still face challenges.

Thanks to the immense efforts of industry over the past week, we are seeing continued signs that the situation at the pumps is slowly improving, said UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. UK forecourt stock levels are trending up, deliveries of fuel to forecourts are above normal levels, and fuel demand is stabilising. It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal. The sooner we return to our normal buying habits, the sooner we can return to normal, he said.

The military intervention comes alongside a range of measures to ease temporary supply chain pressures in food haulage industries, which the UK government says has been brought on by the pandemic and the global economy rebounding around the world. Further measures include a bespoke scheme allowing up to 300 fuel tanker drivers to the UK on a temporary basis.

The UK Home Office is allowing a number of fuel haulage drivers to work in the UK immediately as an emergency measure to address the crisis. It follows an earlier announcement of further time-limited visa measures to get 4,700 food haulage drivers from late October and leave by February 2022. The government has stressed that visas are only a short-term fix and that it wants to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour to build a high-wage, high-skill economy.

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