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NEW DELHI – A 70-year-old Catholic nun was gang raped by a group of robbers in the Indian state of West Bengal, officials said Saturday.

Officials from a local convent school said the attackers broke in after midnight and three or four of them raped the woman after gagging her, reported CNN sister network CNN-IBN.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a criminal investigation into the incident in Gangnapur in Nadia district, CNN-IBN said.

“It is a very, very shameful act, first of all, to rape any woman, any female,” Father Dominic Emmanuel of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said in televised comments. “But this one becomes even worse because, first of all, she is an old lady and then on top of it, she is a nun. She is a religious [and] has consecrated her life to God and all her life she has remained a virgin.”

A series of rape cases involving girls, foreign tourists and a physiology student who died following a brutal gang rape in 2012 has hurt India’s international reputation.

The nation’s lawmakers introduced tougher laws and punishments for sexual crimes and harassment. Despite such action, India continues to see episodes of sexual violence.

For instance, five men were arrested in Kolkata in January and charged with raping a Japanese tourist. Police said the men operated as a gang and targeted single, Japanese tourists. In December, an Uber driver was charged with sexually assaulting a passenger.

The incident that grabbed the world’s attention was the rape of a woman by five men on a bus in 2012. She later died of her injuries.

Anti-rape activists complained when the Indian government restricted the showing of a BBC documentary about rape that included comments from one of those men. He provoked outrage around the world by blaming the victim and saying the woman “should just be silent and allow the rape.”

Official data in India show that rape cases have jumped almost 875% over the past 40 years — from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011. But campaigners say sexual assaults are underreported because of stigma and cultural factors.

Experts say the causes of the high number of rapes include the nation’s patriarchy, widespread poverty and lack of law enforcement in rural areas. – CNN


LONDON – The British filmmaker behind the controversial BBC Delhi gangrape documentary said India committed “international suicide” by banning the film from being screened in the country.

Director of ‘India’s Daughter’ Leslee Udwin said it was ironical that her purpose of “giving a gift of gratitude” to India had been misinterpreted as “pointing fingers at India”, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

“My whole purpose was to actually praise India, to single India out as a country that was exemplary in its response to this rape, as a country where one could actually see change beginning,” she said.

“The irony is that they are now accusing me of having wanted to point fingers at India, defame India and it is they who have committed international suicide by banning this film.”

Udwin said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would see similar thoughts echoed in the film as his ‘Beti Bachao’ (girl rights) campaign.

“If (Modi) spent one hour seeing this documentary, he would see his own statements since he got into power reflected in this film.

“The film is saying exactly what he’s saying with his ‘Beti Bachao’ campaign,” she said over the weekend.

The documentary – available online in the UK via BBC’s iplayer tool – features an interview of one of four men sentenced to death, Mukesh Singh, for rape, torture and murder of 23-year-old ‘Nirbhaya’ on a moving bus on Dec 16, 2012.

The Indian government last week banned broadcast of the documentary and asked YouTube to remove all links to the film. – Bernama


COIMBATORE – A 19-year-old student shortlisted for a one-way trip to Mars in 2024 is confident of making it to the red planet, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

“I feel proud and happy for being chosen from over 200,000 applicants. My parents are very happy after hearing about the selection,” said Shraddha Prasad, a mechanical engineering student at Amrita University.

Prasad along with Indians 29-year-old Taranjeet Singh Bhatia and Dubai-based Ritika Singh, 29, are among 100 hopefuls who will move on to the next round of an ambitious mission to send four people on a permanent basis to Mars.

Their names were made public on Monday by Netherlands-based non-profit organisation Mars One which aims to set up the first human colony on Mars.

Prasad, who hails from Kerala, said she came to know about her selection a few days ago.

“I am optimistic of winning the fourth and final round of the interview,” she said.

“I am fully confident of making it to the final list. I will land and settle down in Mars,” she added.

The date for the fourth and final interview is yet to be fixed.

The next rounds of selection will focus on composing teams that can endure all hardships of a permanent settlement on the red planet.

Candidates will receive their first shot at training and live in a copy of the Mars outpost on Earth.

The 100 applicants comprise 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa and 7 from Oceania. – Bernama


A city in central India has elected the country’s first transgender mayor, nine months after a court ruled that transgender be recognized as a legal third gender, local media reported.

Madhu Kinnar, 35, won the mayoral election in Raigarh a city of about 150,000 in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh on Sunday, beating her opponent from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by more than 4,500 votes, the Press Trust of India reported in a story published.

Television images showed a sari-clad Kinnar, with a large red bindi on her forehead, greeting supporters who placed marigold garlands around her neck.

Kinnar, who is from the Dalit community and used to earn a living singing and dancing in trains, said that she was overwhelmed by her election.

“People have shown faith in me. I consider this win as love and blessings of people for me. I’ll put in my best efforts to accomplish their dreams,” Kinnar was quoted as saying.

“It was the public support that encouraged me to enter the … fray for the first time and because of their support only, I emerged as the winner.”

Activists say there are hundreds of thousands of transgender people in India, but because they were not legally recognized, they faced ostracism, discrimination, abuse and forced prostitution.

Last April, India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender as a legal third gender and called on the government to ensure their equal treatment.

While the landmark judgement was welcomed by human rights campaigners, many say it contradicts the court’s reinstatement of a gay sex ban that has resulted in an increase in the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, forcing many to conceal their sexual identity.-Reuters


GUWAHATI, India – Indian police have arrested a 36-year-old woman suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate the prime minister of Bangladesh and carry out a coup, police said on Saturday.

The arrest comes days after Indian security officials said they had uncovered a plot by members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, accused of carrying out scores of attacks in Bangladesh, targeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The group also planned to assassinate the country’s main opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, Indian officials said. Hasina and Zia have dominated Bangladeshi politics for more than a decade.

Pallab Bhattacharjee, additional director general of police in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, said the woman had been also charged with collecting arms with an intention of waging war against India.

“She has been arrested by the special operations unit of the Assam Police and will be produced in court today,” he said.

The alleged assassination conspiracy was discovered after two members of the outlawed group were killed in an explosion while building homemade bombs at a house in West Bengal in eastern India last month.

Indian police say the militants were Bangladeshis and were using India as a safe haven to plan the attacks.

Mainly-Muslim Bangladesh has suffered three major army coups and two dozen smaller rebellions since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971. -Reuters


NEW DELHI – Malaysia’s Consul-General in Chennai, Tamil Nadu has been in touch with all Malaysian students in the southern Indian state directly, via student leaders as well as social media with regards to safety issues amid the riots that erupted there on Saturday.

“When it comes to safety, it’s the students we inform first as well as other Malaysians,” Malaysia’s Consul General in Chennai, Chitra Devi Ramiah said.

Protests and riots erupted immediately after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J.Jayalalithaa, 66, was convicted for owning disproportionate assets on Saturday. She was sentenced to four years jail and fined Rs100 crore (US$16.30 million).

Coincidently, the same day there was a gathering of Malaysians, which was attended by students and student leaders and they were informed immediately on the situation.

“The Malaysian consulate (in Chennai) packed food for them as well as ensured their safe return to the respective colleges,” she told Bernama when contacted on news of a student claiming of not getting any help from the consulate.

A news report quoted a students from Meenakshi Ammal Dental College in Chennai, as saying that the situation was bad and they might run out of food.

The student also claimed that they were not being kept informed of the situation by the Malaysian Students Association.

“Everyone was informed via the official channel that we have for the association. I was at the gathering on Saturday and we got first hand information from the Consul-General,” the association’s president for the Chennai Chapter, Priya Dharshini Palasuperamaniam, 23, said.

The Consul-General even offered the Consulate as well as her own house for students to take shelter in case the situation turned worse, she added.

However, the situation in Chennai is not as bad as reported back in Malaysia.

“In Chennai, life was back to normal on Sunday itself,” Priya said.

Asked on the availability of food, the intern student from Sri Ramachandra University, Porur, which is 12km from Chennai, said all the colleges have their own canteens.

“Colleges have hostel food and canteens. They were operating as normal and there is no way students will run out of food,” said Priya.

Consul (Education & Training) in Chennai, Annie Sabrina Lasumin also announced through official channels and social media that situation in Tamil Nadu, especially in Chennai was calm.

“Shopping complexes and business premises have opened since yesterday.

“However, it is advisable to be cautious at all times and avoid unnecessary commuting or visiting risky places,” she said.

There are about 5,000 Malaysian students in southern India, with some 900 in in Tamil Nadu. – Bernama