Thursday, September 30, 2004

Sex trials against Pitcairn men begin

Thu Sep 30, 3:41 AM ET

By SUE INGRAM, For The Associated Press

PITCAIRN ISLAND - A series of sex abuse trials opened on Pitcairn Island, the isolated British territory in the Pacific that is home to descendants of the 18th-century Bounty mutineers. The first alleged victim said she was raped as a young girl by the island's mayor.

The unprecedented trials of seven men — more than half the island's adult male population — on 55 charges began on Wednesday in the island's community hall, which has been converted into courts staffed by judges and lawyers from New Zealand but operating under British law.

Some of the island's 47 permanent residents accuse Britain of using the case, involving abuse allegations dating back up to 40 years, to depopulate Pitcairn. British authorities have denied that and said they are pumping millions of dollars into the island to improve life there.

There are only 12 adult men among the population and those who are young and fit enough must crew a longboat to get essential supplies from passing freight and cruise ships. The island has no port, airstrip or paved roads.

Convictions for the seven men, who are to be tried separately in two court rooms, could make it virtually impossible to man the boat, islanders claim.
Prosecutors called their highest profile defendant first — island mayor Steve Christian. He faces six charges of rape and four of indecent assault on four women from 1964-75.
Christian, 53, pleaded innocent to the charges.

Public prosecutor Simon Moore alleged that Christian committed the offenses when he was between 13 and 24 years old. In testimony given via a video link between the island and northern New Zealand city of Auckland, more than 3,100 miles away, the first prosecution witness described how as a young girl of 11 or 12 years she was taunted on the island for being a "half-caste" and that she had been targeted and raped by Christian on 4 occasions.

The cases appear certain to draw new attention to the sexual habits of the tiny community that ekes out an existence on the rocky volcanic island midway between New Zealand and Peru.

Dea Birkett, a British journalist whose 1997 book "Serpent in Paradise" described her several months' living on the island, has written: "Starved of real choices, Pitcairners develop relationships considered unacceptable elsewhere. Sisters share a husband. Teenage girls have affairs with older men. Women have children by more than one partner, often starting as young as 15."

Later Wednesday the cases of two other men were expected to open — Len Brown, the oldest defendant at 78, and his son, Dave. Len Brown faces two charges of raping one woman, and his son faces 15 charges relating to five women. These charges date to 1969.

The cases are expected to last six weeks and the defendants could be sentenced to lengthy prison terms if convicted. Investigations into the sex attacks were launched in 1999 when an islander told a visiting British policewoman she had been sexually abused.

On Tuesday, a group of women residents on the island came to the defense of the seven accused men, claiming the cases had been blown out of proportion and that the victims may have been coerced into testifying. Speaking to reporters on the island, some of the women said underage sex was normal in the community.

Island resident Carol Warren told New Zealand television on Wednesday that as far as she knew, "There's never been a rape on the island." She added that she had sex at age 12, but added, "I went in fully knowing what I was doing and I wasn't forced."

At earlier hearings, suspects' lawyers argued the inhabitants of Pitcairn long ago severed their ties with Britain by burning the boat that carried them to their isolated island after the Bounty mutiny. That argument was rejected.
In January 1790, five months after setting Capt. William Bligh and 18 of his crew adrift in an open boat, the Bounty mutineers landed on Pitcairn Island.

Their leader, Fletcher Christian, exploited some sloppy map making to set up a hide-out on an island they knew was located in the wrong place on British admiralty charts.

More than 20 years earlier, British sailors had spotted the island but incorrectly charted it 188 nautical miles West of its true location, according to a history of the island published on the Web site of the Pitcairn Islands Study Center.
The mutineers choice of Pitcairn was an inspired one that led to the establishment of one of the world's most isolated communities. On Jan. 23, 1790, the Bounty caught fire and sank, stranding the mutineers.

Sue Ingram is a Radio New Zealand correspondent who is also covering the Pitcairn trials for The Associated Press.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Pitcairn sex trial -- Women back their men

This is one extraordinary trial, in an extraordinary island, where some extraordinary group of 47 people live. This is an amazing story. Read the report.

Pitcairn Women Back Their Men Ahead of Sex Trial

Wed Sep 29, 8:14 AM ET

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A group of women on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific are standing by their men, who face underage sex charges, saying having sex at age 12 is a tradition dating back to 18th century mutineers who settled on the island.
A handful of Pitcairn women have told reporters on the eve of a trial that sex with young pubescent girls is always consensual and that the sex charges against their men is an attempt by Britain to close their island, home to a few dozen people.

Seven men, half of Pitcairn's male population and descendants of 18th century mutineers who rebelled against Captain William Bligh aboard the Bounty, face a total of 96 sex charges, some dating back more than 40 years.

"I was 13 ... I felt like a big lady. I wanted it," Darralyn Griffiths, 26, told reporters on Tuesday on Pitcairn, which lies east of the international dateline and is the last British territory in the Pacific. She was quoted in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday.

But one Pitcairn mother, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being ostracized, disagreed.

"The implication all girls are sexually active at 10 or 12 .. that's nonsense!" she told Television New Zealand in a report from Pitcairn, a rocky island of 5 square km (2 square miles) lying about halfway between New Zealand and Panama.

The seven men, including the mayor, are charged with having sex with underage girls. British law forbids having sex with a girl under 16. A group of eight former Pitcairn women, now living in New Zealand, will give evidence via video for the prosecution.

However, some of the island women who first gave evidence against the men have since withdrawn the charges, saying they were misled by police. Charlene Griffiths, 22 and a mother of four, is one of two women on the island who have withdrawn her charges.

She said she was offered victim's compensation if she gave evidence. "I was offered some good money for each person that I could name," she said.

The trial on Pitcairn, with a population of just 47, is due to start on Wednesday, Sept. 29, Pitcairn time. The British government has shipped in judges, police, a jail, court officials and reporters for the trial, which is expected to last for about six weeks.

Judges, wearing the traditional black robes of the British judicial system, declined comment as they walked toward the community hall on the island where the trial will be held.

Pitcairn islanders say they have a tradition dating back to Fletcher Christian and his mutineers, who had numerous Tahitian wives, whereby they had consensual sex with island girls. "It was just the way it was. It goes way back. It's been happening for generations," said Nadine Christian, 32.

Some Pitcairn women believe if the seven men, who comprise half the island's adult male population, are jailed then this could force the closure of Pitcairn. "The men who have been charged, they are all viable men, the ones who run the longboats," said Nadine Christian.

"Who is going to do that if they go to jail?" Pitcairn's longboats are the islanders' lifeline since no larger boats can reach Pitcairn through the surf and rocks that surround it.

Besides its remoteness, Pitcairn was chosen as a hideout by the mutineers because it is a rocky outcrop without a safe landing for ships. Supply ships must anchor offshore and wait for the ocean swells to subside for longboats to be launched from a rocky cove to pick up essential goods.

The charges against the Pitcairn men follow a report by a British police woman stationed on the island.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Raja Ramanna's death

Work on the News Desk is often very hectic. Successive reports of rapidly developing events can pose a major challenge, as one has to quickly replace the outdated items with updated ones. Deadline is so sacrosanct that nothing matters after that.

What happens if a piece of very important news breaks out just around the deadline? Few instances in the recent past have created as much confusion as the death of the architect of India's nuclear programme, Raja Ramanna, last night.

At 9.50 pm, we received a phone call from a colleague. "I heard that Raja Ramanna is dead. His nephew will give the details," she said. One of the reporters was immediately put on the job. As the deadline is 10.15 pm for early editions, immediately some space was created for this breaking news on page one. Meanwhile, the reporter quickly typed out a few lines and we carried it.

Then, for the last edition, we carried detailed news of the passing away of the scientist, who hails from Karnataka. We also ran an obit.

Then, suddenly around 1 am -- when many thousands of copies had already been printed -- PTI (leading news agency, Press Trust of India) moved an advisory recalling earlier stories on Ramanna. It moved a fresh series on a press conference addressed well after midnight by Dr B.K. Goyal, director of Bombay Hospital. He said, Ramanna was alive, sustained by a ventilator. The newsroom was thrown into chaos.

There was further confusion. On hearing Ramanna's death, President Abdul Kalam who was in Aurangabad (Maharashtra state), rushed to Mumbai, "to pay respects to the departed soul". This copy too was revised, saying the President was rushing to wish Ramanna "a speedy recovery". By the way, Ramanna was a senior colleague of Kalam, who was a space scientist.

But, how could we carry a news item saying Ramanna had died, when possibly he was on way to full recovery? We had to quickly get into action and undo the damage. Fresh copies were flowed in. Earlier copies were abandoned. And fresh copies printed. None of the readers today morning must have got an inkling of the confusion and chaos in the newsroom.

But Ramanna wasn't lucky. He passed away early in the morning. In retrospect, even if the earlier news had been carried, it wouldn't have been so much of an error. But if he had survived...

Today we were left wondering how it all happened. His personal assistant Ramakrishna in Bangalore had said Ramanna had died. His daughter-in-law too had spoken of his death. How could they be wrong?

One speculation is that a decision to put him on ventilator must not have been communicated properly. He might have been already clinically dead. Or, did the President's visit got to do something with it? Did someone think Kalam's visit would create protocol problems, and decided to delay the announcement? It remains a mystery.

Anyway, this incident brings to mind some earlier instances. The most quoted is Mark Twain's obituary in 1897, which he himself got to read. There are many versions of how he reacted. One of them is, "Reports of my illness grew out of his (my cousin's) illness, the report of my death was an exaggeration."

In the 1970s, AIR broadcast the news of freedom fighter and socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan's death in its 2 pm bulletin. But later corrected after doctors managed to revive his heart. JP managed to live for many more days if I remember correctly.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Fined for sleeping in train in the US

Here is a very interesting story carried by IANS about how an Indian student was fined for "sleeping dangerously" in a train.

Indian sleeps on Chicago train, wakes to fame

By Ashok Easwaran, Indo-Asian News Service

Chicago, Sep 19 (IANS) When a 25-year-old Indian student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) dozed off in a Chicago subway train, he did not realise his predicament would quickly become a cause celebre.

Gaurav Bhatia unwittingly got caught in a controversy over Chicago's bureaucracy after he was given a $50 ticket for sleeping on the train.

The incident occurred when Bhatia, who does not own a car and resides on the IIT campus, fell asleep while riding to work.

Local TV and radio channels have highlighted Bhatia's experience, but Chicago Transport Authority (CTA) and police officials say he was penalised for "sleeping dangerously".

"How dare they?" asked an outraged Bhatia. "If the police officer had written those words on the ticket I would have told him to lock me up because I won't accept the ticket."

Explaining how the incident had occurred, Bhatia said: "My work starts at 8 a.m., so I leave the house at 7 a.m. I usually sleep on the train. "A lot of people sleep on the train. I mean, I don't put up my feet and lie down. I just sit there and sometimes I fall asleep, because there is nothing to do.

"So the other day, I was coming to my workplace and I fell asleep on the train. I was tired. The night before, I was with my parents who were here on a visit. I was showing them around and it was a bit late, so I was a bit sleepy the next morning."

As his station approached, people started to get down, but Bhatia didn't realise it. A police officer came in. "He did not have to shake me up or anything like that. My body is programmed. Every day I take the same train, so my eyes just open up at the same time," Bhatia said.

The police officer then gave a very surprised Bhatia a ticket with a fine for $50. Bhatia said the officer was friendly and polite and warned him about criminals, saying that he could have his wallet stolen.

But Bhatia found it ridiculous. "I told my friends and they all started laughing. How can you give someone a ticket for sleeping on the train? There are so many people sleeping on the train every day.

"I wasn't like homeless people. I was just sitting there. The police officer told me I could mail in the $50. I refused. They want revenue, surely. But not from me."

Officials said Bhatia had "violated a CTA ordinance by obstructing the operation of a train". After local television and radio channels interviewed Bhatia, CTA officials gave their explanation a new spin, saying he was "sleeping dangerously".

Chicago police spokesman David Bayless, who affirmed Bhatia was "sleeping dangerously", said: "I am told his legs were blocking the aisle."

When told that all passengers had got off, the spokesman said: "That does not mean there wouldn't be other people getting on who could trip over him. We were trying to prevent that."

CTA spokesperson Robyn Ziegler conceded: "Napping is one of the advantages of taking public transit instead of driving." But she said there was a CTA rule that prohibited sleeping or dozing "where such activity may be hazardous to such persons or others, or where such activity may interfere with the operation of CTA".

Bhatia has decided not to take the citation lying down. He will contest it and has a court date scheduled for Oct 1. He does not accept the police version either.

Bhatia explained he had his face against the train window, so he could not possibly have stretched into the aisle. "It would have been physically impossible," he said, "Even Keanu Reeves from Matrix could not do it."

Indo-Asian News Service
For clarifications/queries, please contact IANS NEWS DESK at 2616-5778/8546, 2617-3369 or mail us at

Saturday, September 18, 2004

BBC documentary on Beslan

At 5.45 pm I saw this moving documentary on BBC on the Beslan school siege. The survivors' story retold the entire episode with interviews from those lucky to surive the trauma. It spoke about the terror the sequence of events had struck in women and children. Three children were interviewed.

There was also this mother who was released with her five-month-old daughter, but had to leave his seven-year-old son behind. When she asked if she could hand over the baby to someone and come back to join the son, terrorists told her there was nothing to worry and she need not return. The boy was died. The mother still can't get over this feeling that had she rejoined him, probably she may have survived.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

US poll

Why can't the whole world vote in US poll

Today's Times of India has an intersting edit. It poses the question: why not allow citizens around the world to vote in the US election. Reason: The days of multipolar world are over. The US is the only super power. One way or the other, US policies, its economy and social changes impact the whole world. So, shouldn't the whole world have a stake in who should run the US?

Saturday, September 11, 2004

3 years since 9/11

Time for introspection

It's three years since 9/11. I don't know if the world is a safer place today, after all that George Bush did. Of course he has good intentions, that's what I honestly believe. But is his method working towards its end?

This is not like World War I or World War II scenario. The enemy is so scatttered all over the world. Does Bush really know who is he fighting against? He says it's a global war against terror. And he wants all to join him.

Actually one must look at it the other way round. And it is actually Bush who has joined others! Many nations, including India, were already fighting their war on terror even prior to 9/11. Only that since 9/11 the US joined them. But the way Bush is going about it all, it doesn't look like it.

Bombs and bullets, especially when it comes from the US, will definitely win the battle. Citizens all around the world who want peace will be grateful to the US for the power they are unleashing. But is it enough to win only the battle? Isn't there a war to be won?

For that the US and every country fighting terrorism has to look beyond bombs and bullets as weapons. It is not easy. It will take time to turn enemies into friends. But statesmen across the world must start thinking on those lines, before it is too late.