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India's Supreme Court strikes down triple talaq

NEW DELHI, Aug 22: The Supreme Court banned on Tuesday a controversial Islamic practice of instant divorce as arbitrary and unconstitutional, in a landmark verdict for gender justice that will stop Muslim men calling off a marriage on a whim.

In a split verdict, three of the five all-male judges on the case said the practice of saying “talaq”, or divorce, three times in one go – sometimes even over email and WhatsApp – violated women’s right to equality and was not integral to Islam.

The dissenting note came from Chief Justice of India JS Khehar and justice S Abdul Nazeer, who argued instant talaq should be suspended and the government asked to bring a law to regulate the practice within six months. The majority verdict overrides the minority view.

“What is bad in theology is bad in law as well,” said justice Kurian Joseph who was part of the majority view.

Debate over the law had pitted an unlikely coalition of Muslim women, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP which wanted the practice quashed, against some Muslim groups which contended the state had no right to interfere in religious matters.

Tuesday’s verdict comes as a shot in the arm of the BJP, which can showcase it to moderate voters as a vindication of the party’s stand on gender justice, as well as to counter accusations of Muslim groups that it was backing the issue only to malign Islam.

“This is a historic day for Muslim women. No Muslim women will have to go through the harassment that I suffered,” said Shayara Bano, a 35-year-old divorced Muslim woman whose petition two years ago helped end instant talaq.

“I am happy that my 11-year-old daughter will not have to face such regressive practice when she grows up.”

Muslim men in India can still divorce using two other forms of talaq that have a three-month cooling off period. Muslim women usually divorce using a practice called Khula. Instant talaq, or “talaq-e-biddat”, is banned in 22 Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, for being sinful and arbitrary.

Tuesday’s bench of five judges were from India’s major faiths -- Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.

In rare agreement, top political and religious groups welcomed Tuesday’s verdict, which was described by Prime Minister Modi as historic and a “powerful measure for women empowerment”.

The opposition Congress called it “a progressive, secular judgment for equal rights of Muslim women in India”.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a non-governmental body that lobbies for the application of Islamic civil laws and opposes any ban on triple talaq, also welcomed the verdict, saying it “accords protection to Muslim personal laws”.

“As far as talaq-e-biddat is concerned we had already submitted to the court that the practice, though has basis in religious texts and belief, is not the best way of pronouncing talaq,” the board said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court verdict cannot be misused by the government to try to interfere with personal laws through legislation”.

Congress asks Rail Minister to resign for Utkal Express derailment

NEW DELHI, Aug 21: The Congress on Monday demanded the resignation of railway minister Suresh Prabhu taking moral responsibility for the Utkal Express derailment in Muzaffarnagar in which 23 people were killed.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said Prabhu should introspect and reflect on what has happened and that sending some officials on leave "mocks" the unfortunate deaths.

He also urged him to take a cue from Lal Bahadur Shastri and Madhavrao Scindia who put in their papers as railway minister and aviation minister, respectively, owing moral responsibility of such tragedies.

"The Congress demands that Suresh Prabhu, railway minister, should immediately resign from his position," he told reporters.

Tewari alleged that the present BJP government, ever since it assumed office in May 2014, underscored its complete insensitivity to railway safety and security.

Another party spokesperson Ajay Kumar said the BJP government has "completely failed" on providing safety and security to passengers, which should be the government's top priority.

Kumar also dubbed railway coaches as "death coaches", saying people were getting killed in the absence of safety and security.

He demanded compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the next of kin of those killed and Rs 5 lakh to the seriously injured.

Tewari targeted the railway minister, alleging that functioning of the Railways suffered immensely under Prabhu and over 300 lives were lost in 27 rail accidents in the last three years.

"We would like Prabhu to reflect, we would like him to introspect that after all that has happened, does he have the moral right to continue in office. Should Suresh Prabhu remain the railway minister of India?

"We would like to demand, not that this government has an iota of morality in it, but we would still like to demand that in the wake of what has happened, in the latest railway tragedy which is entirely man-made, a tragedy of enormous proportions and as nobody has the right to play with innocent human lives," he said.

The government has already taken action, sending on leave its three top officials, including a secretary-level official, suspended four and transfered one in the wake of Saturday's accident.

The Congress spokesperson said there is something which is called the modicum of moral responsibility and politicians need to take moral responsibility without going too much into the past.

Kumar also said this government's priority has been to provide a "pizza to train passengers" and not their safety. He also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Gujarat model of governance.

He said that the hallmark of this government was "event management and managing news cycles" but losing human lives was far more serious.

Tewari said the tradition in public life in the Congress was that when such grave tragedies took place, ministers took moral responsibility.

He also said when Prabhu was brought in, he was touted as the "messiah" and the "magic bullet" who would transform the Railways and there was talk about bullet trains being introduced.

"All that was, of course, another myth like the Rs 15 lakh into the bank accounts of people but what has happened is something which is of extreme worry," he said, adding that the day to day functioning of Railways has suffered tremendously which is reflected in repeated accidents and tragedies of innocent human lives.

"We saw what happened in Gorakhpur. We saw the brazen response of the BJP. We saw finger pointing at the Opposition rather than introspecting and taking responsibility for what had happened, the death of innocent children because of lack of oxygen.

"Not a tear was shed by either the chief minister or the health minister of Uttar Pradesh who claims to be the inheritor of Lal Bahadur Shastri legacy and of course, the prime minister who tweets about everything in the world, but not a word of sympathy, not a word of empathy for the families of those who died in that tragedy," he said.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha on Monday said there would be unprecedented action against those found guilty in the inquiry report of the Kalinga Utkal Express derailment.

The derailment in Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar district on Saturday evening killed 23 people and injured 156, 26 of whom are in a critical condition.

23 killed as train derails in Uttar Pradesh

LUCKNOW, Aug 19: At least 23 people were killed and 40 injured when 14 coaches of the Kalinga Utkal Express derailed in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district on Saturday, sending coaches ramming into each other as well as a house close to the tracks.

The train from Puri in Odisha was on its way to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. It derailed near Khatauli station around 5.45pm.

UP principal secretary (home), Arvind Kumar, said the train got derailed as the driver slammed the brakes suddenly. “There was (repair) work on the tracks but no flagging was done,” he added.

Railway sources denied the charge.

The driver “felt a jerk and realised that the derailment had happened. He couldn’t apply the brakes”, one of the sources said.

“According to him, either the soil beneath the tracks was loose because of the rain or the railways didn’t do periodic ultrasonic fault detection on the tracks,” the source added.

The train was travelling at 106kmph. It normally covers the distance between Puri and Haridwar in 36 hours.

The engine and five bogies apparently crossed the spot where the train derailed.

A team of UP’s anti-terrorist squad was sent to the site to investigate if it was a case of sabotage or not.

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an inquiry and directed railway board chairman and other officials to oversee rescue and relief operations. “I am personally monitoring the situation,” he tweeted.

He also announced an ex gratia of Rs 3.5 lakh for the dead and Rs 50,000 for those with serious injuries.

Modi vows to build 'new India'

ModiNEW DELHI, Aug 15: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged in his Independence Day speech Tuesday to wipe out corruption and usher in good governance, urging people to help him build a prosperous and united "new India".

In an hour-long speech to mark the anniversary of India's independence from British rule, Modi pledged to bring in transparency to end decades of graft.

"We may have grown up in despair, but now we have to move ahead with confidence," he said as he addressed the nation from the Red Fort, a sprawling 17th century fortress in the heart of New Delhi.

Modi hailed his government efforts in recent months to cut graft, including the surprise decision to withdraw large currency notes and an overhaul of taxes on goods and services that he said had brought billions of dollars of unaccounted money into the mainstream economy.

The prime minister's annual speech outlined his government's agenda in tackling the many problems faced by this country of 1.3 billion people.

Although his government has been pursuing a tough line in the Indian-controlled part of disputed Kashmir, Modi urged a more conciliatory approach toward Kashmiri people, saying rather than resort to abuse or bullets, efforts should be made to "embrace" the people and bring them into the mainstream of the country.

Referring to external threats to the country, he declared that India was capable of defending itself from all threats. Without naming its hostile neighbors, China and Pakistan, Modi said the country's security was a priority for his government.

"Internal security is our priority. Be it sea or borders, be it cyber or space, India is capable of tackling every security challenge," he said.

Modi also referred to internal threats to the country's unity, condemning the use of violence in the name of faith.

Since Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, fringe Hindu groups have carried out deadly attacks on Muslims accused of eating beef.

Many Hindus consider cows sacred and slaughtering cows or eating beef is illegal or restricted in much of the Hindu-majority country.

A large part of Modi's speech dealt with his government's efforts to end corruption and bureaucratic lethargy and cut red tape.

He said the withdrawal of large currency notes had hauled around $47 billion of illegal money into the formal banking system, although the currency transition caused difficulty for many people. Similarly, the mammoth task of overhauling the country's taxes on goods had been nothing short of "a technological miracle," he said.

Create an India that does not discriminate: President

NEW DELHI, Aug 14: President Ram Nath Kovind, in his first address to the nation on the eve of the 71st Independence Day, called for a partnership between citizens and the government to create a new India “that does not discriminate on gender or religious background.”

Spelling out his vision, President Kovind said when India completes 75 years of Independence by 2022, it should have a compassionate society.

“New India must include that integral humanist component that is in our DNA, and which has defined our country and our civilisation,” he said.

The President said the goal of creating a new India can be achieved only when disadvantaged sections like the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Other Backward Classes are part of the national development process.

President Kovind said senior citizens, the differently-abled, the poor and underprivileged should always be part of a compassionate “society’s thought and not an after thought”.

The President recalled the contribution made by the freedom fighters including Jawahar Lal Nehru and urged citizens to draw inspiration from them and invoke the same spirit for the task of nation building.

“The stress on the moral basis of policy and action, belief in unity and discipline, faith in a synthesis of heritage and science, and promotion of the rule of law and of education — all of it was located in a partnership between citizen and government,” said the President.

Praising initiatives like the Swach Bharat Mission, demonetisation, introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, President Kovind pointed out that the success of many of the flagship programmes depend on the citizen’s participation.

“The government is promoting the idea of Beti Bachao–Beti Padhao — but it is for each of us to ensure that our daughters are not discriminated against and get the best education. The government can frame laws and strengthen law enforcement – but it is for each of us to be a law-abiding citizen. And to build a law-abiding society,” he said.

Calling demonetization as a boost towards creating an honest society, the President praised citizens for their support.

“Your immense patience and understanding in the days following demonetisation — and your whole-hearted support in the battle against corruption and black money— reflected a responsible and enlightened society,” Mr. Kovind said.

Asserting that India occupies an admirable place on the global stage, President Kovind said, “the country is seen as a responsible global citizen, a growing economy, and a solution provider to various international challenges — such as climate change, disasters, conflicts, humanitarian crises, radicalism and terrorism.”

Urging citizens to display an ‘extra degree of selflessness” like soldiers, farmers or people who handle natural disasters, President Kovind said every citizen should help, at least, one underprivileged child to acquire education as “equipping the future generation is the single most critical factor in national building.”

Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Yasin Ittoo Among 3 Militants Killed in Shopian Encounter

SRINAGAR, Aug 13: Top Hizbul Mujahideeen commander Yasin Ittoo was among the three terrorists gunned down by the security forces in an overnight operation in Shopian district in south Kashmir.

Two Army men had lost their lives in the gunfight that started on Saturday evening and stretched till Sunday morning. Three soldiers had also been injured in the encounter.

Ittoo was on top of a list of militant targets released by the Army earlier this year. A resident of Nagam Chadoora in Budgam, he was famous as Mehmood Gaznavi. The news of his death was confirmed by the official handle of J&K Police's twitter handle.

Police said Ittoo, who was from Budgam district of central Kashmir, had a long association with Hizbul Mujahideen and was involved in keeping alive the prolonged unrest of 2016 following the killing of group's commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces, besides recruiting several young men into the outfit.

He was identified by his family members who were brought to the scene of the encounter by police from their residence in Budgam.

Often called a 'vintage militant' as he joined Hizbul Mujahideen in 1996, Ittoo had surrendered in 2007 and later released on parole in 2014. He joined the militant group again and was its self-styled chief operations commander.

In a video message posted online last month, Ittoo had warned of several attacks on the security forces. He was also believed to be behind the wave of bank robberies in Kashmir in the last few months as HM looked to ramp up its operations and induct more men for its attacks. The HM commander had also urged Kashmir policemen to join the terror outfit and offered support for stone-pelters.

Giving details about the encounter, a defence spokesman said that security forces had launched a cordon and search operation after receiving information about the presence of militants in Avneera village in Zainapora area of the district on Saturday.

As the forces were conducting searches, the militants opened fire on them which was retaliated by the law enforcement personnel, triggering a gunfight. Five soldiers were injured in the gunfight on Saturday and were evacuated to 92 Base Hospital of the Army for treatment. Two soldiers among them succumbed to their injuries on Saturday night.

The operation was halted for the night but the forces maintained cordon of the area to stop the militants from fleeing. The gunfight resumed on Sunday morning and the three militants were killed. The two other militants killed were identified as Irfan, a tech-savvy militant involved in online propaganda for the HM, and Umar, who was personal security man of Ittoo.

A defence spokesman identified the slain Army men as Sepoy Ilayaraja P, a resident of Tamil Nadu, and Sepoy Gawai Sumedh Waman, a resident of Maharashtra.

At least 46 dead in Himachal landslide

SHIMLA: A massive landslide buried two Himachal Pradesh roadways buses, killing at least 46 people and injuring several others at Kotpuri near Padhar on the Mandi-Pathankot national highway on Sunday, officials said.

Huge chunk of debris sliding down the hill washed away the two HRTC buses, some other vehicles and few houses besides a 250-meter stretch of Pathankot-Mandi national highway. Five people who were injured in the incident were shifted to a local hospital.

Officials fear that the toll could rise further as over 50 passengers were travelling in the two buses hit by the landslide, which was triggered by a cloud burst.

"Forty-six bodies have been recovered, and of these 23 have been identified," an official said.

30 children die in 48 hours in Gorakhpur hospital

GORAKHPUR, Aug 12: At least 30 children died in the state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College here during the last 48 hours, district magistrate Rajeev Rautela said on Friday, but gave no reasons for such a large number of deaths. Rautela said that 17 children died in the neo-natal ward, five in the AES (acute encephalitis syndrome) ward and eight in the general ward.

Two more deaths were recorded in the hospital on Saturday morning.

State health minister Siddharth Nath Singh and minister for technical and medical education Ashutosh Tandon will meet chief minister Yogi Adityanath today in the wake of the incident. They will visit the hospital after their meeting.

An inquiry committee has been set up to ascertain the exact causes of the deaths and it has been asked to submit its report by tomorrow evening. Sources said the supply of oxygen to the hospital was stopped on Thursday night due to non-payment of dues to the firm engaged in supplying oxygen to the hospital. But officials said there was nothing extraordinary about the outstanding amount and the hospital, the biggest in Purvanchal, is not facing any fiancial crunch.

UP director general, medical education, K K Gupta said "Prima facie, the deaths did not take place due to problem in oxygen supply. Back up cylinders were available. The BRD Medical College is the biggest in Purvanchal, and six-seven deaths a day are normal during the peak encephalitis season, when the casualty rates are normally high."

When asked about the dues to the firm, he said, "Such dues are normal. There is no shortage of funds."

Minister for medical education Ashutosh Tandon ruled out disruption in oxygen supply as the reason behind the deaths. He said he had announced a magisterial probe into the deaths.

But, as per hospital sources unwilling to be named, there was a sudden drop in the oxygen supply pressure around 8pm on Thursday, and the situation worsened by 11.30pm same day. Around 1.30am Friday, the oxygen supply was resumed with the help of cylinders but it proved inadequate.

BJP picks Venkaiah Naidu to face Oppn candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi

NEW DELHI, July 17: Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu is set to become India’s next vice president, having been named by the Bharatiya Janata Party as the ruling alliance’s candidate on Monday.

He will go into the August 5 election with a clear advantage over the opposition’s candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

The vice president is selected by an electoral college of 790 parliamentarians from both houses, where the National Democratic Alliance — the BJP and its partners — form a majority with 410 members.

“He is one of the most senior and experienced leaders across party lines,” BJP chief Amit Shah said after a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board that cleared his name. “He has more than 25 years of experience in public life.”

Late on Monday night, Naidu resigned from the urban development, housing and poverty alleviation, and information & broadcasting ministries in the Union government. He will also have to resign from the Upper House to run for the post of vice president.

“The BJP is my mother. I feel like I am leaving my mother,” said Naidu.

According to sources, Modi spoke to JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar, Telugu Desam Party president Chandrababu Naidu and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar for support. Kumar has already pledged support to Gandhi.

Two sets of nomination papers in support of Naidu’s candidature will be filed tomorrow — the last day of nomination. Prime Minister Modi, Union home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will propose Naidu’s name.

In addition to Naidu’s long legislative experience – he is a four-term member of Rajya Sabha –it is the BJP’s expansion plans for the Southern India that is understood to have influenced the decision in favour of the Andhra politician.

Opposition parties have managed to block several bills in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority. The ruling alliance was, therefore, keen on nominating someone with experience who can help steer bills by building consensus in the Upper House.

The NDA’s relationship with current chairman Hamid Ansari was never warm.

The BJP will become the single largest party in Rajya Sabha next year when elections for 58 RS berths, including 10 from Uttar Pradesh, are held in May.

Before Monday’s meeting, Naidu met Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Shah in the morning and they communicated to him the party’s decision. A formal announcement was made after the BJP’s parliamentary board meeting.

The PM, sources said, told Naidu that letting him go was a personal loss, but the party wanted to benefit from his long legislative experience in the upper house of which he will become the chairman after being elected as the vice president.

The Andhra politician, sources said, was reluctant to take up the job that will mean an end to his active political career. But Modi eventually persuaded him, they said.

Naidu was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. A student of law in college, Naidu is the second BJP leader, after Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, to occupy the post of the vice president. He became the BJP’s president in 2003 at an early age of 54.

Naidu was associated with the RSS’s student wing in his early days, and served as the president of Andhra University Student’s Union. He was elected to the legislative assembly of Andhra Pradesh in 1978 and, again, in 1983.

Two Pakistanis among 4 terrorists involved in attack on Amarnath pilgrims: Government

NEW DELHI, July 12: Four terrorists, two of them Pakistanis, are suspected to have been involved in the attack on Amarnath pilgrims in which seven devotees were killed, home ministry officials said on Wednesday.

Quoting intelligence inputs, the officials said Pakistani national and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Abu Ismail was the mastermind of Monday's attack and he was assisted by another Pakistani and two local militants.

A massive manhunt has been launched for the four terrorists, who are also believed to have used two motorcycles to escape from the scene after attacking the pilgrims bus, officials said.

They said the Gujarat-registered bus, which was attacked, reached Jammu on July 7 and got registered at Amarnath shrine facilitation centre.

Initially, the bus was part of the regular convoy of the pilgrims and travelled together till Baltal.

The pilgrims in the bus paid their obeisance at the cave shrine on July 8 and returned. On the way back, the pilgrims left the convoy and drove to Srinagar.
The Gujarati pilgrims stayed in Srinagar for two days as tourists. On July 10, around 4:30pm, they left Srinagar for Katra.

The vehicle got punctured at a place 10km away from Khanabal around 6:30pm. Then the passengers went down and had food at a roadside eatery.

When the bus resumed its journey, it came under attack from the terrorists at Khanabal around 8.17pm.

Facing the bullets, the driver of the bus, Salim Sheikh, charged past the area but had to face another group of terrorists after crossing just 75 metres.

The driver again did not stop the bus despite facing the terrorist attack for the second time in quick succession.

The bus was finally stopped at a police point after a few kilometres and the policemen on duty took the pilgrims to the Anantnag police line where the injured were given first aid before being shifted to a hospital, officials said.

Terrorists kill 7 Amarnath pilgrims in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, July 11: At least seven pilgrims returning from the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath were shot dead and several wounded when militants fired on their bus as well as a security vehicle in Anantnag district of Kashmir on Monday, police said.

All the victims were from Gujarat, state chief minister Vijay Rupani told reporters, pointing to a possible targeted strike against a chartered bus from that state. Five of the dead were women.

The attack occurred at Batengoo at about 8.20pm when 60-70 pilgrims were returning from Baltal, one of the base camps of the pilgrimage, to Jammu. Batengoo is 65 km south of Srinagar.

Officials said the bus was neither registered with the Amarnath shrine board nor part of a convoy. It was moving after sunset, which is not allowed because of security restrictions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack as cowardly, saying “India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks and evil designs of hate”.

In a series of tweets, he also said: “The attack deserves strongest condemnation from everyone.”

Just weeks ago, intelligence agencies had warned that militants were planning to target 100 policemen and as many Amarnath pilgrims to trigger communal violence, prompting the authorities to deploy more than 40,000 troops to protect the twin routes of the 40-day pilgrimage.

Police said the militants attacked a security check post before moving to target the pilgrims’ bus. They said the toll could rise as some of the 18 wounded were critical. The injured also included several policemen.

SDS Jamwal, inspector general of police in Jammu, said no decision has been taken yet to suspend the yatra from Jammu.

Reacting to the attack, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “This is a grave & unacceptable security lapse. The PM needs to accept responsibility and never allow it to happen again”.

State chief minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed deep shock and anguish over the killings. “It is a gruesome attack not only on unsuspecting guests but a brazen attack on Kashmir and Kashmiriyat and all of us shall have to rise against this scourge of violence..,” she said.

Kashmiri separatist leaders also condemned the killing. In a joint statement, they said the incident went against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “The one thing we had all feared this year during the yatra. In spite of recent successes against militants and unprecedented force presence.”

This year, police used drone-mounted surveillance cameras, jammers, dog squads, bullet-proof bunkers, satellite tracking devices and other gadgets to secure the pilgrimage in view of increased militancy and violence in Kashmir.

The base camps in Pahalgam and Baltal are in Anantnag and Ganderbal districts. Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath shrine stands at 3,888 metres, 46km from Pahalgam and 14km from Baltal.

The Amarnath pilgrimage has come under attack by militants three times in the past, including the massacre of 30 people in Pahalgam on August 1, 2000. The government had held the Lashkar-e-Taiba responsible for that attack.


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