BBC News – Pakistan hit by deadly suicide attacks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017. At least seven people have been killed and several more injured in two separate suicide attacks in north-western Pakistan.

In the first, six people died when two suicide bombers targeted a government compound in the Mohmand tribal region.

Three of the dead belonged to a tribal police force, two were civilians and one a paramilitary soldier.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, said it was behind the bloodshed.

In the second attack on Wednesday, a bomber on a motorbike rammed a government van carrying four judges in the city of Peshawar.

The driver was killed, and the four judges were injured. They have been transferred to a nearby hospital.

Peshawar police chief Tahir Khan told media at the scene that the judges appeared to be the bomber’s target.

Pakistan has seen an upswing in militant attacks of late, after a period of relative calm.

On Monday, a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 100, most of whom are still being treated in hospitals.

The blast occurred when owners of medical shops were demonstrating against amendments to a law governing drug sales in Punjab province.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said it had carried out the attack, as well as two gun assaults in Karachi on 12 February.

BBC News – The Indian tribesmen catching giant snakes in Florida

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 6 February 2017. Every morning, two Indian tribesmen in T-shirts and long trousers, leave their dwellings in southern Florida and head into the Everglades to hunt for some of the world’s biggest snakes.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, members of the once-nomadic Irula tribe, are armed with crowbars and machetes. Wearing fleece jackets and baseball caps, they slash and wade their way through the largest subtropical wilderness in the world to hunt down Burmese pythons.

The non-native snakes, which escaped into the wild in Florida or were released as pets, pose the biggest threat to the small mammal population of the national park. They also eat birds, alligators and deer. In 2005, a Burmese python tried to swallow an alligator and exploded in the park, leaving both the predators dead.

Ever since the pythons were spotted in the wild more than two decades ago, authorities have tried everything to catch the elusive snakes in the marshes, but with limited success.

They have used pythons (called Judas snakes) to find other pythons during the mating season, asked people to turn in their pet snakes, poisoned prey, and even encouraged people to hunt them for a cash prize.

Last year, some 1,000 hunters participated in a competitive month-long Burmese python hunt to rid the wetland of the invasive species, and caught 106 snakes.

By comparison, in the past four weeks, the two 50-something tribesmen from India have caught 27 pythons, including a 16ft-long (5m) female in an abandoned missile base in Key Largo. Pythons that are caught are later put down.

“Masi and Vadivel are doing an incredible job. They excel at determining if pythons are present at a site, locating them if they are, and then catching them when located,” Frank Mazzotti, a biologist at the University of Florida who heads a team of researchers investigating pythons, told me.

“They can see pythons even when they are covered by grass. All they need is a glint of snake and they pounce. The rest of us are usually wondering where the snake is. Next thing we see they are holding it.”

The Miami Herald marvelled at the snake-hunting skills of the Irulas, whom herpetologist Rom Whitaker describes as the “best snake catchers” in the world. The newspaper reported that the Irulas appeared to have “mysterious” tracking techniques.

“They move slowly and rather than focus on roads and levees where snakes have typically been found basking, they head straight for thick brush. The Irulas believe the boulders and high grasses that line the levees are more lucrative hunting grounds.

“And when the going gets slow, everyone must stop to squat for a quick song of prayer – usually an ancient invocation mixed with an ad lib about pythons or the weather, accompanied by a beedi cigarette.”

Writer and filmmaker Janaki Lenin, who is accompanying the tribesmen, has provided a gripping account of the female python they recovered in Key Largo. The two men cut the roots that blocked the entrance to the bunker, pried open a door, went inside, poked the snake, broke through a concrete shaft and hauled out the 75kg (165lb) reptile.

Another time, a eight-foot-long python, according to Ms Lenin, “struggled and emptied its bowels” on Masi, who held the tail. “After the Irula bagged the python, the grinning but impressed Americans held their noses with their fingers, miming how stinky the snake faeces were,” she recounted.

Masi said he was not bothered. “Only if you are covered in it, can you catch snakes.”

For the past month, the two men, who have travelled around the world to catch snakes, have been living in the home of Joe Wasilewski, a well-known herpetologist. Their two months of work is funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

After an oatmeal breakfast, they are driven to work. Sometimes they go out after dark. In the early days, they survived on Trinidadian Indian food, but since then they have tried hotdogs and burgers and watched an NFL game.

“All that they say so far is that they like being in America and want to catch lots of pythons,” Ms Lenin said.

Masi and Vadivel, members of an ancient tribe, have become unlikely globe-trotting snake-catchers. Last July, they went to Thailand to help researchers implant radio transmitters for their study, and ended up catching two king cobras.

Back home, the men are part of a thriving 35-year-old co-operative of community members, who catch snakes and extract and sell their venom for a living. India is home to 50 species of venomous snake and bites kill some 46,000 people a year, accounting for nearly half the snakebite deaths in the world.

The Irulas poached snake and lizard for their skins until the trade was outlawed in 1972. A decade later, they formed a co-operative near the southern city of Chennai and switched to catching poisonous snakes, mainly cobras, kraits and vipers, to extract and sell venom.

The venom is now sold to seven laboratories, who manufacture most of India’s anti-snake venom serum.

Last year, the co-operative’s 370-members, including 122 women, sold snake venom worth 30 million rupees ($446,500; £357,900), up from a mere 6,000 rupees in 1982.

They have a government licence to catch 8,300 snakes every year, each snake is released in the wild after four extractions in a month, but demand they are allowed to catch three times as many.

After all, a gram of cobra venom sells at 23,000 rupees today, nearly eight times as much as the price in 1983. An Irula snake-catcher earns some 8,000 rupees every month, apart from other health and pension benefits.

“We are illiterate and poor. We don’t own land. Snakes have saved our lives,” says K Ravi, an Irula. But most of them say their children want to move to the big cities and get a “company job”. The daughter of an Irula couple is the first collegiate in the co-operative, and is training to become a nurse.

It is not clear whether this will be the last generation of these snake-catchers, a community of 116,000 tribespeople. For many, that would mark the passing away of a traditional hunting skill.

“They are better at the above than any other snake catchers that I have known,” Mr Mazzotti says.

“Think of [the game of] cricket. What is the difference between really good amateurs and professionals? The Irulas are professionals.”

BBC News – Why has India’s Punjab fallen into the grip of drug abuse?

The northern Indian state of Punjab votes on Saturday for a new government. But the biggest issue confronting voters is not jobs or corruption, but a drugs epidemic that is sweeping the state.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder travelled there to find out why one of India’s most prosperous states is in danger of losing an entire generation to drug abuse.

Panjab, 2 February 2017. “This is him when he was in his first grade. He had just won a school competition.”

Mukhtiar Singh smiles wistfully as he shows me a faded picture of his son Manjit, from a family album.

“In my wildest dreams I could not imagine what was to happen to him.”

Manjit, 28, died in June last year because of a drug overdose. His father, a worker in the government’s power department, marched through the streets of his village carrying his son’s body, and then addressed a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I told the prime minister he needed to step in to save Punjab’s youth from drugs. Our children are dying and nothing is being done.”

Seven months later, Mr Singh is battling to highlight Punjab’s alarming drugs problem.

A recent government study suggests that more than 860,000 young men in the state, between the ages of 15-35, take some form of drugs.

Heroin is the most preferred, used by 53% of all addicts. But opium and synthetic drugs such as crystal methamphetamine are also common.

“My mission is to save Punjab’s youth,” Mr Singh tells me as we sit on the roof of his modest two-room home. “I have carried my son’s body on my shoulders. It’s something I don’t want any other parent to experience.”

Easily available

It is astonishing how widespread the problem is. One estimate says that more than two-thirds of Punjab’s households have at least one addict in the family.

Across the state, from villages in the lush green countryside to bustling towns and cities, young men huddle together in cemeteries, abandoned buildings or plain fields, smoking, snorting or shooting up.

Tarn Taran, a district located along the border with Pakistan is one of the worst affected.

In the main town’s civil hospital, which also serves as a centre to fight addiction, young men with glazed eyes hang around.

In the space of 20 minutes, I see a number of transactions unfold in full public view. They are approached by peddlers, money swiftly exchanges hands before a little packet is handed over.

The men then slink away behind a wall.

Beyond it is a derelict building, surrounded by rubbish and reeking of urine. Strewn all around are used syringes and broken bottles of prescription medicines.

“It’s ridiculously easily available,” Jasprit Singh tells me.

Jasprit, who is from Tarn Taran, used to be an addict, but says that he has been clean for the past four years.

“Heroin, synthetic drugs, you name it, I’ve done it all. When I scored for the first time, I felt as if I was experiencing something wonderful,” he says.

“I felt like something had been missing from my life until then.”

He now works at the same rehab centre where he underwent his recovery programme, counselling drug addicts.

“I tell them that if I can give up drugs, anyone can.”

The Hermitage rehab centre is housed in an impressive two-storey building set amid lush green lawns. Inmates, called students not patients, receive counselling, psychiatric and medical treatment here.

It’s one of hundreds of rehab centres that have sprung up across the state in the past few years.

The inmates come from a variety of backgrounds. They include judges, police officials, pop musicians, students and quite a few women.

“The women are the most difficult to treat,” the institute’s director, J P S Bhatia, says.

“Many of them are abandoned by their families. Most have been sexually molested when they try and seek help, by unscrupulous counsellors and doctors, even the police.”

Punjab’s proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with which it shares a border, has meant that it’s a major transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade. That’s one reason why heroin is so readily available.

But why are its youth so susceptible? Drug consumption in Punjab is three times the national average.

Agriculture, which brought the state its wealth, is stagnating and with little industrialisation there is high unemployment.

And in the 1980s, Punjab was in the grip of a violent separatist militancy which has now ebbed but has left its scars.

“We got rid of terrorism only for it to be replaced with narcotics-terrorism,” says Dr Bhatia.

“And we just have not been prepared to deal with it or even come to terms with the problems faced by our youth.”

BBC News – Man in court over Derby Sikh temple [Gurdwara] murder

Derby, 31 January 2017. An elderly man found dead near a Sikh temple [Gurdwara] had been beaten so badly police believed he had been hit by a car, a court heard.

Sukhraj Singh Atwal has gone on trial for the murder of Satnam Singh, 74, the father of his mother’s ex-husband, in Derby in July 2015.

The prosecution at Nottingham Crown Court alleged he repeatedly stamped and jumped on Mr Singh.

The 29-year-old, of Pear Tree Crescent, Derby, denies murder.

Mr Singh had been walking to the temple where he volunteered in the early hours of 23 July when he was attacked on the corner of Coronation Street.

He was found with 41 fractures to his ribs, lacerations to his heart and blunt force injuries to his head and face.

Mr Atwal’s car appeared several times on local CCTV at the time of the attack.

The beating itself was not caught on camera but the vehicle was seen entering the spot where Mr Singh died immediately before the attack and leaving four minutes later.

Disposed of trousers

Footage from a garage forecourt showed Mr Atwal appearing to inspect his light-coloured trousers.

He also returned to the scene several times “to observe what was happening”, the prosecution alleged, wearing different trousers.

Mr Atwal was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving four days later, giving no comment at interview, save that police should “check the forensics” on his car.

He was arrested in April 2016 on suspicion of murder after tests determined Mr Singh had not been hit by a car.

Examination of Mr Atwal’s phone revealed he had travelled to a remote location near Carsington Water, near the Peak District, later that day where the prosecution alleges he disposed of his trousers.

A text message on his phone said he had not hit Mr Singh “with my car” and he even taunted police in a letter from custody saying they “couldn’t even get the cause of death right”.

BBC News – Pakistan student: ‘I was tortured by hardline Islamists’

Lahore, 18 January 2017. A Pakistani student has said he was abducted and badly beaten by hardline Islamist students after posting tweets in support of five liberal bloggers who have gone missing.

The student said he needed hospital treatment after he was blindfolded for several hours and tortured.

No-one at Punjab University responded to his cries for help, he said.

The five bloggers disappeared after they condemned extremism and the role of the military in Pakistan.

The university authorities say they are investigating the latest incident.

The Pakistan Herald Tribune said that Suhail Ahmad was abducted by more than 14 members of the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami group who forced their way into his Lahore hostel room on Monday evening.

The student told the newspaper that a blanket was put over his head throughout his ordeal and that no security guards responded to his pleas for help.

He said he was only released when senior Jamaat-e-Islami members intervened on his behalf.

Last week hundreds of people held protests across the country to demand the authorities trace the activists, who disappeared earlier in January.

No group has said it is holding them.

Pakistan’s parliament has expressed grave concern over their fates.

The government says it is investigating the case of one of the four, Salman Haider, who has campaigned against enforced disappearances in Balochistan.

Supporters of the men accuse the security services of having secretly arrested them.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that the disappearances have alarmed liberals in Pakistan, where the military has long promoted a hardline Islamist narrative as a bulwark to protect its financial and security interests.

Salman Haider, a well-known poet and university professor, was last seen in Islamabad on Friday, two days after bloggers Waqas Goraya and his cousin Asim Saeed went missing in Lahore.

Two other bloggers, one named as polio sufferer Ahmed Raza Naseer, are also reported to have disappeared in or near Lahore.

Pakistan is one of the the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters and human rights activists, and critics of the powerful military have been detained, beaten or killed.

BBC News – Trafficked babies, black money and India’s values

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent

New Delhi, 9 December 2016. We all know that the price of something doesn’t always indicate its true value, but prices can still be very revealing.

Two very different sets of prices demonstrate that in India this week.

One lays bare with ice-cold precision the profound prejudices that still exist here, the other is powerful evidence that the government’s dramatic attempt to root out tax evasion by cancelling the nation’s cash will not work.

Let’s take the most shocking first, the price of babies.

Last week I travelled to Kolkata (Calcutta) to report on a child-trafficking ring the police in West Bengal have just cracked.

The illegal adoption racket included doctors, nurses and charity workers.

The gang would persuade young women with unwanted pregnancies to sell them their babies. They would then sell them on to childless couples.

Allegedly they also stole babies. We met one of a number of couples that say they gave birth to seemingly healthy children, only to be told later that their children had died.

Ananya Chakraborti, of the West Bengal Commission for Child Rights, the state body charged with child protection, is working with the police on the investigation.

She says the scam could have been running for as long as 20 years and may have involved as many as 2,000 babies.

But in amongst all the horrific details of the case, the prices the traffickers charged stood out, so eloquent are they of the deep prejudices that still exist in some parts of Indian society.

The full picture of what happened is still emerging and estimates of prices vary wildly, but what is clear is that there was a hierarchy.

Fair-skinned boys were most expensive.

Prospective parents might pay as much as Rs 700,000 (£8,200), according to the police.

Meanwhile, a boy with a dark complexion would fetch maybe half that.

Press reports suggest that the gang would charge about Rs 150,000 (£1,760) for a fair-skinned girl.

The price of a baby girl with a dark complexion was reportedly up to Rs 100,000 (£1,170).

However, in a room above a small mental hospital in a scruffy Kolkata suburb, police found 10 infants aged between one month and 10 months.

Many had bedsores and terrible coughs. Most were malnourished.

All of them were dark-skinned and female.

“Those were the babies they couldn’t sell,” says Ananya Chakraborti.

The second price has less unpleasant implications, but carries an important message too: it is the price of money.

A month ago, the Indian prime minister gave four hours’ notice that he was cancelling 86% of the country’s cash.

Narendra Modi announced that from midnight on 8 November the two biggest notes in the country, the Rs500 (£6) and the Rs1000 (£12), would be worthless.

He issued a new Rs500 and a Rs2000 (£24) note and gave the country 50 days to change their old money, warning if you deposit more than Rs250,000 (£3,000) in your account you should expect a visit from the tax authorities.

His target is what Indians call “black money” – cash on which no tax has been paid.

I’ve argued that it is a bold attempt to tackle tax evasion, but now I’m not so sure it is going to work.

There is little doubt Mr Modi has been winning the political battle.

Last week, a few thousand protestors turned out for what the opposition had initially billed as a “bandh” – a shutdown of the entire country.

Whether he will make a substantial dent in India’s stocks of black money is another matter.

According to most estimates, black money makes up about a fifth of the Indian economy.

The government has taken some Rs 14.7trillion (£170bn) out of circulation and at first estimated that as much as Rs 3trillion (£40bn) would not be returned.

That is now looking like a dramatic overestimate.

Which is where the price of money comes in.

The current cost of laundering black money to white is reckoned to be about Rs300 (£4) in every Rs1000 – 30% of face value.

It seems gangs have been recruiting people with “Jan Dhan” accounts – bank accounts designed for poor people – and getting them to change the cash.

The 30% charge represents a substantial “tax” on black money but implies that most people will find a way to launder their illegal cash.

And it suggests the bulk of the demonetised notes will be returned – as the country’s revenue secretary conceded this week.

That is a real problem for Mr Modi because if that happens it will be hard to claim that much black money has been wiped out – the key objective of what has been an incredibly disruptive policy.

These two different prices tell us very different things about India, but they both confirm that markets can often deliver uncomfortable truths.

BBC News – Myanmar says ‘no evidence’ of Rohingya genocide

Myamar, 4 January 2017. A commission set up by Myanmar’s government says it has so far found no evidence of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

In its interim report, the commission also said there was not enough evidence to support widespread rape allegations.

It did not mention claims that security forces had been killing people.

There have been repeated allegations of abuses of Rohingya people since a military counter-insurgency campaign was launched in Rakhine in October.

Some have even said the state’s actions amount to ethnic cleansing, and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has faced international criticism.

The commission, set up by the Myanmar government and led by a former general, Myint Swe, is due to make its final conclusions before the end of January.

But, in its interim findings, it dismissed allegations of genocide on the basis that there are still Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine and that Islamic religious buildings have not been destroyed.

It said it had so far found “insufficient evidence” that anyone had been raped by security forces, despite widespread claims. Accusations of arson, arbitrary arrest and torture are still being investigated.

Strangely, the commission made no mention of the most serious claim – that Burmese security forces have been killing civilians as collective punishment for attacks by Rohingya militants, the BBC’s Myanmar correspondent Jonah Fisher reports.

Three months since this crisis began, little progress appears to have been made to solve it, he notes. The report says hundreds of Rohingya have been arrested but armed militants are still moving around easily and that looted weapons have yet to be recovered.

Earlier in the week, several police were detained after a video surfaced appearing to show officers beating Rohingya Muslims during a security operation in November.

The admission that security forces may have carried out abuses is an unusual development, as leaders have previously insisted they are following the rule of law.

Rakhine state is closed to journalists and investigators, making it difficult to independently verify any allegations.

Who are the Rohingya?

The estimated one million Muslim Rohingya are seen by many in mainly Buddhist Myanmar as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship by the government despite tracing their ancestry back generations.

Communal violence in Rakhine state in 2012 left scores dead and displaced more than 100,000 people, with many Rohingya still remaining in decrepit camps.

They face widespread discrimination and mistreatment.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingya are estimated to live in Bangladesh, having fled Myanmar over decades.

Bangladesh says around 50,000 Rohingya have crossed its border over the past two months.

The situation has drawn global condemnation. Over a dozen Nobel laureates wrote to the UN Security Council demanding action to stop the “human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in northern Rakhine.

BBC News – Tracing the life of a woman ‘killed for honour’

28 December 2016. Did Sarakat Bibi finally fall into a trap? M Ilyas Khan pieces together the life, love and mysterious last movements of a Pakistani woman who it’s feared was killed for “honour”.

Sarakat Bibi spent years on the run. She was last heard of a year ago, aged 37, when she rang home.

But her problems began many years before when, aged 14, she refused a marriage with her cousin, arranged by her father.

The ‘marriage from hell’

“She didn’t like her cousin and his entire family,” said her mother, Husanzadgai. “And she was brave, so she went to her father’s elder brother and told him so. It sent shockwaves through the family.”

As elsewhere in South Asia, the Pashtun tribes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in the north-west follow a strict patriarchal code in which all decisions for women are made by men.

Sarakat’s father was furious and left her with little choice – he picked up a gun and told her to agree to the proposal or prepare to die.

On the day she was taken as a bride to her husband’s house in Barawal Bandi village, in mountainous Dir district, her mother-in-law taunted her for having refused the match and threatened to fix her.

Over the next 20 years, Sarakat “lived through hell,” Husanzadgai said. “She faced verbal abuse and physical violence.”

Sarakat, the eldest of seven, four brothers and three sisters, bore five sons, but that didn’t earn her respect.

“She was getting hardened too,” her mother said. “When things got really ugly, she would come over to our house. I would then plead with her to go back home as it could taint her father’s good name.”

A wrong number and an escape

But one day in April 2012, when her husband Roghan Shah was away on business, Sarakat disappeared, leaving behind her children, the youngest just four years old. She travelled first to Peshawar and then south, far from her family.

Seven months earlier she had taken a call that would change her life. The man on the other end of the phone was hundreds of miles away, in Sindh province, and he had rung a wrong number.

“That was my first encounter with Sarakat,” said Mohammad Somar. “She said hello, and then something in Pashto which I couldn’t understand. I spoke back in Urdu, and she disconnected.”

Mohammad, 34, lives in Warwalo, a village 1,100km (680 miles) south of Barawal Bandi, along the fertile Indus River plains.

His father married him off when he was just 12 and later put him in charge of the four-acre family farm where wheat, cotton and sugarcane grew.

Farming was good and Mohammad bought shares in a motorcycle dealership, boosting his income. But there was a void in his life. He said he never felt any real love for his wife, with whom he had eight children.

When he heard Sarakat’s voice in September 2011 he became desperate to meet her. He had always admired Pashtun women for their courage and good looks, he said.

So even though Sarakat hung up the first time, he persisted and over the following days and weeks she gradually came round to talking with him.

Life on the run

Seven months later, Sarakat left her home in the mountains.

“I went to Peshawar to pick her up,” said Mohammad. “We drove in a bus to Sindh, and went straight to a court in [the nearby town of] Ghotki where we got married.”

“I wanted to keep the marriage secret from my family and put her up at a house in Ghotki, but she was afraid I might take advantage of her and then abandon her. She wanted to go to my house.”

Over the next month, his first wife left him, his in-laws turned into his enemies and Sarakat’s continued use of her mobile phone gave away her location to the police, allowing her father and husband to track the couple down.

They were arrested on an abduction charge and then released after they produced proof of their marriage. But their troubles were only just beginning.

Soon afterwards, Mohammad was named by the police in a criminal investigation. His house was raided in October 2012 but he was alerted by a friend in the police and the couple escaped.

They fled to Hyderabad, 400km to the south, where they lived in hiding for the next two years.

“We survived on money we had saved from the farmland, the money I got by selling my share in the motorcycle business, and occasional handouts from Sarakat’s mother and sister, who knew we were in trouble,” Mohammad said.

But things got worse. Mohammad developed a kidney stone and was bed-ridden for months. Sarakat had a miscarriage.

“She had wanted a child so badly,” Mohammad said, his voice choking. He sobbed for a minute or so. “She wanted someone of her own in a strange land. She cried for weeks.”

Return to court

Driven by hunger and isolation, the couple finally decided to go back to Mohammad’s village. He had persuaded some old political contacts to stop the police from arresting him until he had arranged bail.

But by that time, he had been named in as many as 16 criminal cases, he said. Back home, Mohammad spent most of the next year attending court hearings, trying to run his farm and fighting failing health.

Then on 3 December 2015, disaster struck. Sarakat was arrested.

How that happened is not fully explained, but it appears she may have approached the authorities for protection after falling out with one of Mohammad’s relatives at a market which she had visited unaccompanied.

Whether she wanted to leave her life in Sindh is not clear – nor is her apparent decision to contact the police, given all the reasons she had to mistrust them.

“I went to the court to see her but she refused to come with me,” Mohammad said. “She didn’t even talk to me, she just waved goodbye from afar. She was crying.”

He believes her relatives paid the police to have her taken back to Peshawar so they could redeem their honour.

No one can say for sure if he is right, but we know what happened next.

The final phone calls

“On 5 December, my phone rang and when I picked up, it was Sarakat,” said Husanzadgai, her mother. “She said she was in Peshawar with a policeman from Sindh who needed to hand her over to a blood relation. I was in shock.”

Her husband and three elder sons were working in Saudi Arabia so she asked her fourth son, Khalid Mehmood, then aged about 19, to go instead.

He later told a court in Peshawar that he had found his sister in a cheap hotel room with a Sindhi policeman in plain clothes, and a local man, Mohammad Ismail, in whose name the room had been booked.

Khalid Mehmood signed the papers, sending the policeman away, but his sister refused to go with him, telling him that her former husband’s family would kill her if she set foot in her village. She persuaded him to go back alone.

Later that day, she called her mother again, who says she told her of another man in her life: Abdur Rahman.

He was, she told her mother, a businessman who had a comfortable house in Peshawar and wanted to marry her. How and when she came into touch with him remains unclear.

But the next day, she told her mother that she had been brought to a huge compound where several women put henna on her hands and feet and gave her a wedding dress to wear.

“She sounded satisfied and relieved. But that evening her phone went dead,” her mother recalls.
‘I knew then she was trapped’

The day after, Sarakat’s father called her mother from Saudi Arabia. He said that a brother of Roghan Shah, Sarakat’s first husband, had rung up from Pakistan to pass him the message that Sarakat was in their possession and they would now redeem their honour.

Sarakat’s father wanted Husanzadgai to go to the police.

“I knew then that she had walked into a trap,” Husanzadgai said.

Police investigations later showed that, after Sarakat’s brother left the hotel, Mohammad Ismail, an employee of the local tribal Levies force, took her to a residential compound in the Shahkas area of Khyber tribal region, just west of Peshawar.

Ismail confessed in court that he did this as a personal favour to a colleague, Habibur Rahman, who used the fake name Abdur, it is alleged, to contact Sarakat.

Mohammad Somar believes Sarakat’s first husband somehow trapped her via a fake Facebook account and may have passed details of the account to Rahman.

Rahman was later arrested, and it transpired that he was a distant cousin of Roghan Shah. Police also arrested Shah’s brother, Falak Niaz, who had been outside the compound where Sarakat was taken.

Mobile phone data for all three men corroborated Ismail’s statement that they were present in the area at the time Sarakat was delivered there.

A search for love

So did she really walk into an elaborate trap sprung by her former husband’s family?

The telephone calls seem to suggest that she did.

But a number of elements in Sarakat’s story remain unexplained to this day.

Assuming it was a trap, she had first to be lured with a false promise of marriage. Others must also have been taken in, including presumably the women who hennaed her and made her ready for the wedding day itself.

But seeking retribution in this way is not unthinkable in Pakistan’s “honour culture”.

Then there remains the unanswered question of how long she had known the man she called Abdur Rahman, if he was the real reason for leaving Sindh.

Mohammad Somar, who is living at his farm with two of his children, says Sarakat had tried to leave several months before she ended up in police custody. Did she spend months making plans with Rahman, lured into believing he was her way out?

And how much did her mother and sister, with whom she’d remained in touch, know of her plans? Had her young brother been primed to leave her in the Peshawar hotel room so she could make a new life?

Answers may come out in court. The three men are in custody, awaiting trial.

But what is clear is Sarakat Bibi spent her life looking for a man she could love and trust. Forced into a marriage and a life she never wanted, she managed to escape and reinvent herself once.

Her mother believes the final attempt to find love once again, and lasting happiness, was just a cruel trick that resulted in her death.

But with no body, no murder weapon and all three men denying charges of kidnapping or murder, proving that will be difficult.

BBC News – ‘Hundreds die’ in India police custody, says rights group report

New Delhi, 19 December 2016. Nearly 600 people died in police custody in India between 2010 and 2015, says the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a new report.

The rights group said no policeman was convicted for a prisoner’s death in custody during this period.

India’s police routinely attributes deaths in custody to illness, attempted escape, suicide and accidents.

But rights groups say a large number of such deaths happen because of torture in custody, claims officials reject.

On Monday, the rights group released a a 114-page report which examines “police disregard for arrest regulations, custodial deaths from torture, and impunity for those responsible”.

India’s disturbing Oscar entry takes on police torture

The report draws on “in-depth investigations” into 17 deaths in custody that occurred between 2009 and 2015, including more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts and police officials.

In each of the 17 cases, the report says, the police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse.

“Police in India will learn that beating suspects to confess is unacceptable only after officers are prosecuted for torture,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Our research shows that too often, the police officers investigating deaths in custody are more concerned about shielding their colleagues than bringing those responsible to justice.”

By law, every person taken into custody must be medically examined and produced before a magistrate within 24 hours.

Human Rights Watch said the government data revealed that in 67 of 97 deaths in custody in 2015, the police either failed to produce the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours or the suspect died within 24 hours of being arrested.

The rights group said official investigations to examine wrongdoing rarely find police culpable, and the police also delay or resist filing complaints against implicated police officers.

BBC News – Why are Indians being arrested for sitting during the national anthem?

Soutik Biswas India correspondent

Twelve people were arrested on Monday evening at a cinema in India, after they remained seated while the national anthem played.

The cinemagoers, who were attending an international film festival in the city of Trivandrum in Kerala, were later freed but they face charges of “failure to obey an order issued by a public servant, thereby causing obstruction or annoyance to others”.

And at a cinema in Chennai on Sunday, eight people who did not stand for the anthem were assaulted and abused, police said. The eight were later charged with showing disrespect to the anthem.

The arrests and reports of assault follow last month’s Supreme Court ruling that the national anthem be played before every film and that audiences stand while it is played – and they make it clear that authorities are taking the ruling seriously.

“If we did not sit on chairs, I thought we would lose the seats,” one detainee told the Indian Express.

The controversial ruling, cheered by the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, comes at a time of routine demands on Indians to display patriotism, and this is not the first time people have been targeted for not respecting the national song.

In October, a disabled man who had been carried from his wheelchair to a seat, described how he was assaulted by other members of the audience for not standing for the anthem.

In the past three years, people have been thrown out cinemas and even charged with sedition for not standing up for the anthem.

A 1971 law makes any obstruction to the singing of the song “or causing disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing” punishable by a three-year prison term and/or a fine.

But October’s Supreme Court ruling gives national authority to what was previously a rash of loosely-followed, state-specific laws.

The ruling says that the anthem must be played in all cinemas, accompanied by an image of the Indian flag, and everyone must stand. It also stated that the doors must remain closed to prevent people from entering or leaving. The court later amended the ruling to exempt disabled people.

Critics of the Supreme Court ruling have called it a case of judicial overreach and an attack on freedom of expression.

Political scientist Suhas Palshikar said the ruling threatened to turn “citizens into subjects”. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former diplomat, wrote: “The national anthem is not a traffic signal that has to be respected. It is not a tax that requires compliance. It is not a test that has to be submitted to.”

National anthems are seen as tests of patriotism around the world. In Japan, school teachers have been warned for not standing up during the anthem. In Mexico, a woman was fined for mixing up the words.

And in the US, the Star-Spangled Banner has a long-standing association with protest. In September, American football player Colin Kaepernick said he had received death threats over his refusal to stand for the anthem in protest against the treatment of black people by police.

“Some of the right, committed to nationalistic politics, naturally see the anthem as a vital issue,” Kevin Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University, told me. “This has been true in past moments too, especially in times of war – the anthem being politicised during the Vietnam era, for instance, leading to the 1968 Olympics protest.”

But what is unsettling in India, said political scientist Suhas Palshikar, is that state-ministered patriotism “often tends to give way to unruly vigilantism or authoritarian state machinery, or both”.