TIME India

India Has Destroyed Only 30% of the Illegal Drugs It Seized in 10 Years, Study Reveals

The country's apex court suspects many of them are smuggled back into the black market

India has destroyed only about 30% of illicit narcotics seized over the past decade, results of the country’s first-ever official drug survey revealed on Monday.

The Indian government has impounded about 5.1 million kg of drugs in the past 10 years but successfully destroyed only 1.6 million, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

The total amount of drugs confiscated by police in various states, the country’s Narcotics Control Bureau, and the Central Board for Excise and Customs comprises 1.9 million kg of marijuana, 29,000 kg of heroin, 22,000 kg of charas (a handmade form of cannabis), 15,000 kg of opium and about 2 million kg of “other contraband.”

The findings were revealed by advocate Ajit Kumar Sinha, who was appointed to oversee the study by the country’s Supreme Court during an appeal hearing in 2012. The appeal was against the acquittal of an accused drug trafficker, who was exonerated because of the prosecutors’ inability to show that the opium he was caught with was destroyed.

The court expressed concern that the procedural lapse in destroying drugs increased the risk that they would be smuggled back into public circulation.

[Indian Express]

TIME India

India’s Supreme Court Permits Jains, a Prominent Religious Group, to Fast to Death

INDIA-RELIGION-JAIN
STR—AFP/Getty Images Members of the Indian Jain community participate in a rally after a march protesting the Rajasthan State High Court ruling against Santhara, a Jain practice of fasting unto death, in Jaipur on August 24, 2015.

A lower court had earlier banned the religious practice

The Jains — practitioners of one of India’s most ancient religions — on Monday won back the right to fast until death after the country’s Supreme Court suspended an order that deemed the practice illegal.

The top court said it would consider the matter in greater detail but refused to uphold an earlier ban, the BBC reported.

The practice of preparing for death by giving up food and water — known as santhara or sallekhana — was pronounced illegal earlier this month by a high court in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, which deemed it equivalent to suicide.

Jains rose up in protest against the ruling, saying santhara — termed a “social evil” by some human rights groups — was a religious practice as opposed to the “sin” of suicide. The practice was fairly common only amongst terminally ill or very old Jains as a way to purge their bodies and prepare for inevitable death.

[BBC]

TIME India

Indian Scholar Who Spoke Out Against Idol Worship Is Shot Dead

Devotees walk past an Hanuman idol on the banks of Godavari river during "Kumbh Mela" or the Pitcher Festival in Nashik
Danish Siddiqui—Reuters Devotees walk past an idol of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman on the banks of Godavari River in Nashik, India, on Aug. 26, 2015

Hindu nationalists were angered by his criticism of idol worship

An outspoken Indian rationalist scholar and college professor who had drawn the ire of religious groups for denouncing superstition and idol worship was shot dead by two unidentified assailants at his home in the southern state of Karnataka over the weekend.

M.M. Kalburgi, who was 77 years old, was killed when he was visited by two young men at his residence in the small town of Dharward early on Sunday morning. One of the visitors waited on a motorcycle while the other went up to ring the doorbell, the Indian Express reports, citing eyewitness accounts of the killing. When Kalburgi’s wife appeared at the door, the visitor asked for Kalburgi claiming to be one of his students. “Dr. Kalburgi’s wife left the youth in the hall of the house with her husband and went to the kitchen, when she heard shots fired,” police told the newspaper. The assailants then fled on the motorbike.

While the motive remains unclear, Kalburgi had in the past received threats to his life after criticizing idol worship as a “meaningless ritual” during a seminar in 2014. Angering right-wing Hindu groups, he also said that “one can even urinate on idols,” the Telegraph reports.

“There was a threat to my father from groups that couldn’t digest his views on caste and communalism. The role of these groups should be probed,” Kalburgi’s daughter Roopadarshi told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Kalburgi’s killing has led to comparisons with the 2013 murder of Narendra Dabholkar, a former doctor turned campaigner against superstition who was shot dead by unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants while out on a morning walk in Pune in the western state of Maharashtra. More recently, in February 2015, a veteran communist leader and rationalist called Govind Pansare was killed in similar circumstances in the same state.

Reacting to Kalburgi’s killing, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the state’s top elected official, acknowledged that there had been threats to the slain professor’s life. “It is true that there was threat to Professor Kalburgi’s life from some groups,” he told the Hindustan Times. “No effort will be spared to find the killers.”

TIME India

Two Indian Sisters Ordered to Be Raped by Village Council Beg Supreme Court for Help

They are being punished by the unelected council because their brother eloped with a married woman from a higher caste

A petition to save two sisters in India from being raped and publicly humiliated for their brother’s actions, a punishment handed down by an unofficial village council, has gathered considerable support for its demand that authorities intervene and stop the “disgusting ruling” from being enforced.

The petition by human-rights organization Amnesty International has garnered over 16,000 signatures thus far, and calls for law enforcement to stop the council-sanctioned rape of 23-year-old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15-year-old sister in Baghpat village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The unelected council of elders ordered that Kumari and her sister — both members of the low Dalit caste — be raped and paraded naked with blackened faces, after their brother eloped with a married woman of a higher caste. He and the woman, who belongs to the dominant Jat caste, were in love and eloped after she was forced to marry someone from her own caste, according to reports.

Kumari also approached India’s Supreme Court herself last week, saying that police have been harassing her and her family instead of protecting them.

In a plea to the court Kumari said she and her family “cannot return back to her village and have been rendered homeless.”

The court has asked for a response from the Uttar Pradesh government.

“Nothing could justify this abhorrent punishment,” the Amnesty petition reads. “It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s against the law. Demand that the local authorities intervene immediately.”

Village councils in northern India, known as khap panchayats, are generally comprised of senior male members of the community’s high castes. Although the councils have been declared illegal by the courts, their edicts are still observed in many parts of rural India.

Read next: Riots Break Out in India Over a Dominant Caste’s Attempt to Gain ‘Backward’ Status

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME India

Several Dead as Caste-Related Violence Wracks India’s Gujarat State

The armed forces have been called in to restore order

Correction appended, Aug. 27

Violent clashes in the western Indian state of Gujarat left at least six people dead late Wednesday, with the army being sent in to restore order after a protest by one of the state’s most dominant communities spiraled out of control.

Three people died in the state’s largest city Ahmedabad after hundreds of the estimated half a million attendees began throwing stones and set cars, buses and police stations ablaze, a local police official told Agence France-Presse. Two others were reportedly killed when police opened fire in another part of the state, with a sixth victim also falling to police action in a third district.

By Thursday morning, local newspapers reported that the death toll had risen to nine including a police officer.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from Gujarat and previously served as the state’s chief minister for more than a decade, appealed for calm in a televised address. “Violence has never done good for anyone,” he said. “All issues can be resolved peacefully through talks.”

The government also imposed a curfew in parts of the state before calling in the armed forces, the first time this has been done in Gujarat since the communal riots that claimed more than a thousand lives in 2002 when Modi ran the state.

The clashes began late Tuesday following a huge rally by the affluent Patidar community, during which protest leader Hardik Patel, 22, was briefly placed under arrest. The Patidars, or Patels as they are more commonly known, have been agitating since June to be included in India’s caste-based quota system aimed at uplifting India’s former “untouchables” and other traditionally disadvantaged social groups through affirmative action. However, the Patidars are relatively well-to-do as a result of their work in India’s burgeoning diamond trade and other successful businesses.

The state government currently led by another Patidar, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, has ruled out including the community in the Other Backward Classes category, but Hardik Patel has said he will continue his movement until their demands are met.

“This is a fight for our rights,” the young firebrand said in a televised interview on Wednesday. “We will continue our campaign on the roads and the streets.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the capital of Gujarat. It is Gandhinagar.

TIME India

Riots Break Out in India Over a Dominant Caste’s Attempt to Gain ‘Backward’ Status

hardik-patel-gujarat-arrest
Shailesh Raval—India Today Group/Getty Images Hardik Patel, center, and others at the Maha Kranti rally at GMDC ground in Ahmedabad on Aug. 25, 2015. The Maha Kranti rally comes after a monthlong agitation by the Patel community for their demand of reservation

Hardik Patel has taken Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state by storm

Correction appended, Aug. 27

Hardik Patel helps his father run a small business selling submersible pumps in rural areas surrounding Ahmedabad, the largest city in India’s prosperous western state of Gujarat. The 22-year-old has a bachelor’s degree in commerce and belongs to a middle-class family.

On Tuesday, however, he was arrested, sparking violent protests from the tens of thousands of people who had gathered to hear him speak. In response, the state government imposed a curfew and shuttered schools in several parts of the state.

Three police stations were set ablaze by the mob, which also attacked the homes of three state ministers, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

Patel is at the helm of a protest movement aimed at declaring the Patidar community he belongs to — an affluent and politically dominant section of Gujarati society — as “backward” under India’s quota system for its historically lower castes, legally termed as Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC). This would give the Patidars access to the 50% of government jobs and places in educational institutions currently reserved for such “backward” castes under a form of affirmative action.

The Patels (or Patidars) run several small and medium businesses not just in India but also in the U.S., Europe and Africa. They are also key players in India’s diamond trade, and have been major supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to since the late 1980s.

But as Patel warned during his rally on Tuesday, referencing the party’s election symbol, “the lotus will not bloom” if his community’s demands are not met.

“If you do not give us our right, we will snatch it,” he said, before declaring an indefinite hunger strike, following which he was briefly arrested and then released. “Whoever will talk of Patel interests will rule over Patels.”

The Gujarat government led by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel — who also happens to belong to the same community — has rejected Hardik Patel’s demands, saying that the 50% cap on reservations for lower castes has already been met in Gujarat. This means that including the Patidars could only be done by reducing access for more-needy castes. The protest leader counters that the government quota, which ensures a portion of college admissions and government jobs are reserved for lower castes and classes that have traditionally faced discrimination, puts the Patel community at a disadvantage since they are denied access to those positions despite being eligible on merit.

“It’s always the socially and economically better off within each state, the dominant castes of that region [that make such arguments],” Yagati Chinna Rao, chairman of the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, tells TIME. He cites examples like the Gujjar community in Gujarat’s neighboring state of Rajasthan, and the land-owning Jat community in the northern part of the country, among others, whose similar agitations have met with mixed success.

“Basically, it’s middle-class intelligentsia aggression, since you have the financial resources and education and facilities but you are not able to put your foot into the remaining half of the box, which is sealed,” Rao says.

In terms of actually attaining their goal, though, Hardik Patel and his followers have a long way to go.

“It is in the hands of the government only initially, but this demand will go to a committee and that committee has to do academic studies on whether the community is socially and educationally backward,” Colin Gonsalves, director of New Delhi–based Human Rights Law Network, tells TIME. “Ultimately this is going to the courts, because the expansion of the OBC list is something that the courts are looking at very closely now.”

Gonsalves, like Rao, compares it to the “ambitious and unconstitutional” recent agitation for the Jats of Haryana to be included in the backward classes. Although he says it is too early to write off the Patels for similar reasons, the Gujarat clan “may suffer the same fate.”

“The entire community may be behind Hardik Patel, and I congratulate him for his political movement,” he says. “But a political movement — even a wide-based political movement — may not necessarily result in constitutional recognition.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the capital of Gujarat. It is Gandhinagar.

TIME India

Indian Religious Group Asks for the Right to Fast to Death

India Protest jain ritual santhara
Rafiq Maqbool—AP Members of the Jain community shout slogans during a protest of the recent Rajasthan High Court order banning the religious practice of Santhara, a practice of fasting unto death, in Mumbai on Aug. 24, 2015.

The Jain ritual of Santhara involves voluntarily starving one's self to death

Followers of a prominent Indian religion have petitioned the Indian Supreme Court to legalize a religious ritual that involves fasting until death.

Members of the Jain religion, which has a following of over 4 million in India, has historically observed a ritual called “Santhara” wherein members voluntarily starve themselves to death. Last month, a high court in the Indian state of Rajasthan declared the ritual a punishable offense, holding it akin to assisted suicide.

NDTV reports members of the community filed a petition Thursday arguing that the practice is “an integral part of the Jain religion and the court can’t interfere with its customs.”

The ritual is generally undertaken by older members of the community who need to seek the permission of their family, friends and religious leader before gradually giving up on food and liquids. The ritual is undertaken to attain freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

[NDTV]

TIME India

Indian Markets Remain Volatile as Prime Minister Modi Vows Confidence in Economy

India's currency, the rupee, slumped to its lowest in nearly two years on Monday

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains confident that the country’s economy will remain stable despite a global financial decline triggered by China that caused the South Asian nation’s stock market to crash on Monday, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.

Jaitley said Modi planned to continue his reform agenda and increase public spending, saying in a meeting between top officials that the problem was “external and not internal,” the Press Trust of India reported.

India’s benchmark Sensex bourse plummeted 1,624.51 points — almost 6% — Monday to its lowest level since August 2014 at 25,741.56, while the country’s rupee currency fell to its lowest in 23 months at 66.64 against the U.S. dollar.

Jaitley’s statement earlier in the day that the crash was only “transient and temporary” appeared to hold true early Tuesday, with a gain of 1.48% bringing the Sensex to 26,124.83 in opening trade. The rupee was marginally bolstered as well, improving to 66.39 against the dollar. However, another slump in China’s Shanghai Composite all but erased those gains by midday local time.

Except for China, where the Shanghai Composite Index saw a massive drop of 8.5% on Monday followed by a 7.6% decline by close Tuesday, most other Asian markets began to bounce back from heavy losses.

“Although we are affected being a global economy, all our parameters are strong,” Jaitley said to reporters Monday evening, adding that currency volatility remains the only area of concern. “Our growth will be maintained.”

Yogin Sabnis, CEO of Mumbai-based VSK Financial Consultancy Services, tells TIME that Indian stock markets tend to “overreact” to global events.

“You see the 2008 [global financial crisis] to cite as an example; our markets declined two-thirds for a crisis which was happening in the U.S., where even their markets had not gone down so much,” Sabnis says. “I see the same pattern today also, this is a bit of an overreaction which is happening. I don’t think this is going to be a long-term effect for us.”

The decline of the rupee, he says, is a “real factor” even though it was a long-anticipated occurrence.

“People had been talking about it for quite some time, the only thing is that it has happened a little faster than was anticipated,” he says. “The extent to which it has fallen — I think that’s an overreaction.”

TIME India

India, Pakistan to Proceed With Border Talks Despite Breakdown of Dialogue, Officials Say

SCO Summit in Ufa
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (L) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) meet during Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Ufa on July 10, 2015.

A meeting between the National Security Advisors of both countries was nixed over a disagreement on the agenda

India and Pakistan will proceed with bilateral border talks as scheduled despite the latter calling off a meeting between the two countries’ National Security Advisors over the weekend, official sources said Monday.

The meeting between the head of India’s Border Security Force and his Pakistani counterpart of the Rangers paramilitary force in order to discuss the international boundary between the two countries could take place as early as Sept. 6, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

A scheduled meeting between the adversarial neighbors broke down on Sunday after an impasse over the agenda of the talks, with India saying that cross-border terrorism should be the only item included and Pakistan insisting that the fate of the disputed Kashmir region, which is claimed by both countries, would have to be included.

Pakistani officials had also expressed an intention of meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders in the Indian capital New Delhi, prompting India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to serve an ultimatum saying the talks would not proceed if separatist groups were involved. A separatist leader who landed in New Delhi to meet Pakistan’s NSA Sartaj Aziz was detained at the airport.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Swaraj’s ultimatum by calling off the talks, saying the “preconditions” set by India were not acceptable and the meeting between the officials “would not serve any purpose,” the New York Times reported.

This is the second time since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power last year that scheduled dialogue has been derailed between the two countries, which have fought three wars since they were first formed in 1947 — two of them over the Kashmir dispute. Modi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the SCO Summit in Ufa, Russia, last month, where Sunday’s scheduled talks were decided, was hailed as a success but soon came under pressure due to an escalation in the perennial cross-border skirmishes that each country accuses the other of initiating.

The separatist leaders, meanwhile, blamed India for the breakdown of the talks and said no dialogue could proceed without taking into account the viewpoint of the people of Kashmir.

“A message has gone to the world that Kashmir issue is not a bilateral territorial dispute between India and Pakistan and that people of Jammu & Kashmir are the principal party to it,” Ayaz Akbar, the spokesman for the hardline Hurriyat Conference separatist group, told the Times of India newspaper. “The fanatic approach adopted by government is not practicable. How long will New Delhi pursue this policy?”

India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh, however, pointed out that it was Pakistan and not India that had canceled the talks.

“Pakistan should not have deviated from the agenda decided during the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [in Ufa in July],” he said.

TIME India

At Least 6 Dead as Runaway Truck Rams Into Train in India

Frequent mishaps highlight the lack of adequate infrastructure in India's rail network

Six people, including a state legislator, were killed in India early Monday morning after a truck transporting granite collided with a train.

The crash took place at a railway crossing in the southern town of Anantpur, the Indian Express newspaper reports.

The truck was unable to stop at the crossing because of a brake failure, local police said, and crashed through the gate into a carriage of the Bengaluru-Nanded Express. Three other carriages were derailed and five people inside the compartment — including Venkatesh Naik, a lawmaker from the southern state of Karnataka — were killed as a result of the impact. A passenger in the truck also died, while the driver narrowly escaped with his life.

“The truck driver jumped out seconds before the impact and fell unconscious but survived and he has been questioned,” a police official told reporters.

Monday’s incident is the third railway mishap in as many years at Anantpur as well as the second involving the Bengaluru-Nanded Express — a fire broke out on the train in December 2013, killing 26 people, while 25 passengers of another train called the Hampi Express died in 2012 when it jumped a signal and crashed into a freight locomotive.

It is also the second Indian railway disaster in two days, after three carriages of a goods train derailed in the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir. The derailment took place due to a “technical snag,” a local official told the Press Trust of India news agency.

One of the largest transportation networks in the world, the Indian railway system spans the length and breadth of the country and is a vital mode of connectivity. In the absence of modernization and adequate safety measures, however, tragedies like the twin train derailment that killed at least two dozen people earlier this month have become all too common.

Enhancing the structure and quality of India’s ailing rail network has been one of the main priorities of the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which announced in its rail budget earlier this year that it would invest $137 billion over the next five years to improve passenger safety and track quality, among other things.

India’s Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu called Monday’s crash an “unfortunate accident” in a post on Twitter, and announced that families of the victims and other injured passengers would be compensated.

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