NYT on Jama Masjid Bombings

NYT has two stories about the Bomb Strikes at Jama Masjid

Bombs Strike Revered Indian Mosque and City in Kashmir

A pair of homemade bombs exploded in the courtyard of the capital’s most important mosque on Friday evening, injuring 13 worshipers but not inflicting the kind of carnage and chaos that have accompanied previous attacks in this country.

The mosque bombing coincided with a far bloodier incident on Friday in disputed Kashmir, where apparently coordinated grenade attacks killed 5 civilians and injured 17 people, including members of the Indian paramilitary forces. The grenades were lobbed at crowded business and tourist districts in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Deadly Fire Exposes Old Perils in New India

The exhibition was brightly billed as the Brand India Consumer Show. It was to be a family fair, with food stalls and lottery prizes. Washing machines and microwaves, desktops and laptops, television sets and DVD players were to be found at bargain prices, all under a cluster of giant air-conditioned tents.

At least 37 people were killed and 100 were injured Monday in an electrical fire at a consumer goods show in Meerut, India. There was only one exit available for the guests, and victims’ relatives complained to government officials about what they described as a lack of other safety measures at the site.

An 11-year-old boy whose mother died in the blaze took part in a ceremony for her with his father’s help on Tuesday in Meerut.

The Agarwals were among the Indian families there on Monday afternoon, on the last day of the five-day electronic goods flea market. They had two computers on their shopping list. They also wanted to experience shopping under the tents and paid the admission price of a bit more than $2 each

April 15, 2006 By HARI KUMAR and SOMINI SENGUPTA

Bombs Strike Revered Indian Mosque and City in Kashmir

NEW DELHI, April 14 — A pair of homemade bombs exploded in the courtyard of the capital’s most important mosque on Friday evening, injuring 13 worshipers but not inflicting the kind of carnage and chaos that have accompanied previous attacks in this country.

The mosque bombing coincided with a far bloodier incident on Friday in disputed Kashmir, where apparently coordinated grenade attacks killed 5 civilians and injured 17 people, including members of the Indian paramilitary forces. The grenades were lobbed at crowded business and tourist districts in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

The police said the bombs in New Delhi at the 17th-century Jama Masjid, in one of the most densely packed quarters of the city, were “low intensity” explosive devices. Most of the injuries were minor.

The mosque’s head cleric quashed the attempts of some who had gathered before the TV news cameras to shout political slogans. “This is the time to stay calm and let the police do their work,” the cleric, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, told the private CNN-IBN television network.

The twin blasts come five weeks after more intense, better-coordinated explosions in eastern Varanasi, the holiest city in Hindu cosmology. The Varanasi bombs left a death toll of 14 and rattled a nation that has suffered numerous paroxysms of Hindu-Muslim strife. On Friday evening, Mr. Bukhari blamed both bombing incidents on forces bent on sowing strife between Indian Hindus and Muslims.

For the last few months, he said, an effort had been made to stir violence in India, adding, “The people who do these things, they do not belong to any religion.”

The bombs were in two shopping bags, both placed in the courtyard of the mosque. The late afternoon prayers had just finished, witnesses said, when they heard a loud bang followed by smoke. The first bomb went off around 5:30, when 500 worshipers were at the mosque and less than two hours before evening prayers, which went ahead as scheduled. The second blast came about 10 minutes later. The police offered no clues about who was responsible for the explosions.

Indian officials in Srinagar blamed militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir for the grenade attacks there. Some militant groups issued statements condemning the attacks, which they described as attempts to undermine their campaign.

There was no evidence of links between the New Delhi and Srinagar attacks. Since 1989 Kashmir has been in the grip of a separatist insurgency, which India says is backed by Pakistan. Peace talks between India and Pakistan, which both claim the territory, have reduced violence.

Yusuf Jameel contributed reporting from Srinagar for this article.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

April 13, 2006 Meerut Journal By HARI KUMAR

Deadly Fire Exposes Old Perils in New India

MEERUT, India, April 12 — The exhibition was brightly billed as the Brand India Consumer Show. It was to be a family fair, with food stalls and lottery prizes. Washing machines and microwaves, desktops and laptops, television sets and DVD players were to be found at bargain prices, all under a cluster of giant air-conditioned tents.

The Agarwals were among the Indian families there on Monday afternoon, on the last day of the five-day electronic goods flea market. They had two computers on their shopping list. They also wanted to experience shopping under the tents and paid the admission price of a bit more than $2 each.

For the residents of this run-of-the-mill city in Uttar Pradesh, a northern state, the promise of a new India would come crashing down against the perils of the old on Monday. An electrical fire that began inside a tent spread quickly. Flames licked at the plastic tops, and shards of burning plastic rained down on shoppers and workers below. The investigation is continuing, but officials are looking into whether it was a short circuit in the wiring for the air-conditioning system.

Prachi Agarwal, 23, heard people screaming and, in front of her, saw four women who were on fire.

“Their clothes were burning, their hair was burning and they were crying for help,” she said on Tuesday night as she described her experience. “But no help was available.”

Ms. Agarwal suffered burns on her hands. Her mother, Rani, 43, was treated for burns on her back. Her father, Rakesh Agarwal, a jeweler, managed to break through the tent wall. He helped his family to safety and then helped pull out four other women with serious burns.

By Wednesday evening, the official death toll stood at 37, with at least 100 injured and as many as 11 people still unaccounted for. The death toll was expected to rise, considering the seriousness of some of the injuries, the police said. On the first day, officials estimated that 45 people had died.

There was only one entrance and one exit for the three tents, interconnected in a Y shape. Food stalls, equipped with gas stoves, had been erected very close to the tents.

The exhibition’s local organizers had received authorization from city officials to operate this way, but those officials apparently did not obtain the required clearance from the city’s Fire Department. When a Fire Department official showed up to check the site on the first day of Brand India, he was rebuffed and shown the authorization papers.

“Organizers said, ‘We have the clearance from the district magistrate, so who are you?’ ” said Arun Chaturvedi, the city’s fire chief.

Arrest warrants on charges of criminal negligence have been issued for the three organizers of the exhibition. But they fled after the fire.

On Tuesday, victims’ relatives ambushed the state’s chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, pelting him with rocks. Why, they demanded, had basic safety standards been so callously flouted?

The fire in this bustling but entirely provincial city, roughly 50 miles northeast of the capital, New Delhi, is now seen as an example of the painful paradox of India’s economic miracle. The hunger for brand-name goods — a Toshiba television, a Whirlpool washing machine, an LG air-conditioning unit — has spread to middle India. But that hunger has only exposed the raw and yawning gaps that remain: a disregard for health and safety measures in many places, combined with a deep public suspicion that corrupt officials turn a blind eye to the need to enforce standards in these areas.

“Attendees to the Brand India fair paid good money for an evening’s entertainment,” said an outraged editorial Wednesday in the English-language newspaper The Indian Express. “On the admission price they were denied an essential return: safety. That denial confirms an old suspicion — that mindless governance continues to hold India back.”

Satya Prakash, a law professor who attended the trade fair on Sunday, said it was obvious to him that the tents and other structures for the event had been erected without regard for safety, and that while it was a sparkling exhibition it was also “a tinderbox.”

“This is an India in transition,” he said.

The Agarwals had spent roughly a half-hour admiring the various appliances being offered at Brand India. But they were hoping to buy only two items. Prachi Agarwal, who is studying business administration through a correspondence course, needed a desktop computer at home. Her 20-year-old brother, Shivang, a college student majoring in engineering, needed a laptop. The prices at Brand India were a bargain, compared with prices at the local mall.

When the flames leapt around her, Rani Agarwal said, all she remembered was that she threw her arms around her daughter. She closed her eyes, thinking that both of them were about to die. “I still can’t believe that my daughter and I are alive today,” Mrs. Agarwal said.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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