Curbing Freedom of Press: The Karnataka Way
A 10-member group allegedly assaulted a staff member of Kannada daily Karavali Ale at Kulai here on Wednesday night.According to B.V. Seetaram, director and chairman of Chitra Publications, which publishes the paper, Harish Putran (36), office assistant, was attacked when he was waiting near Vishnumurthy temple to catch a bus back home.He was hit with iron rods and wickets and chased by the attackers, Mr. Seetaram said. Mr. Putran managed to save himself by hiding behind a shop.
Mr. Seetaram suspected the involvement of a rightwing group in the attack. He said Karavali Ale published a report on Wednesday alleging the rightwing group’s involvement in the sale of narcotics in the city. Copies of the newspaper were burnt and some vendors were threatened against selling the Wednesday’s edition, he said.Mr. Putran has been admitted to a private hospital. A complaint has been filed with the Surathkal police.
(Karavali Ale employee attacked : Staff Correspondent, The Hindu – Mangalore, February 7, 2013)
It has been a ‘happening’ week. Celebrations around one billion rising held in different parts of the world.Soni Sori acquitted in four cases. Dr Sunilam and two of his associates getting bail from Jabalpur high court after spending three months in Bhopal jail. More than two hundred intellectuals, activists writing to President of India about the manner in which Afzal Guru was hanged. Interestingly in the melee of news certain troubling developments in south of Vindhyas have not got enough attention they deserve. And they concern the curbing of media by majoritarian elements with due connivance of the people in power.
A letter from B. V. Seetaram, editor of ‘Karavali Ale’ to the Press Council of India (PCI) explains the state of affairs. It talks about how ‘..[t]here is no let up in the attack on the circulation network of Karavali Ale and its staff.For the fifth day in succession, the newspaper bundles carried by vehicles were forcibly taken away today by the same gang of thugs and for the third time in a row our colleagues had to suffer physical attack at the hands of the parivar hoodlums.’ (11 Feb 2013)
It is a second letter to PCI after a gap of mere four days as ‘there is no relief provided to us by the law and order agencies’. It requests the PCI to ask the police to take remedial steps to enable its normal working. It ends with a line that if such steps were not taken “..[w]e are afraid we will be forced to stop the publication of the 22 year old newspaper.”
The first letter had explained in detail why Karavali Ale, coastal Karnataka’s popular Kannada daily, well known for its secular and progressive outlook, has been “..[t]arget of attack several times by the communal outfits like the Hindu Jagaran Vedike, ..and the like, faces now another threat to its two-decade existence as goondas belonging to these outfits, during the past couple of days, have let lose a reign of terror by way of obstructing the circulation of the newspaper in the city of Mangalore and physically attacking the newspaper staff. A senior staffer of the newspaper is lying in the hospital bed, fighting for life following a physical attack on him by men of Hindu Jagaran Vedike, deadly weapons like clubs and iron rods.”
One does not know whether Press Council of India (PCI), which is especially pro-active as far as communal elements is concerned has taken cognisance of this SOS of a different kind and asked the Karnataka government to take necessary action or not ? The urgency of the unfolding situation can be gauged from the fact that the staff of the publication is receiving threat calls and its attendance has dwindled and it is a real possibility that these extremist elements would ultimately force a twenty two year old paper to shut down.
It may be added here that Karavali Ale, which was founded by Seetaram and his wife Rohini, way back in 1991, is published as a six page Kannada broadsheet from Mangalore and Karwar. They also run three other publications in the region – an English weekly called Canara Times and two Kannada dailies Sanje Ale and Kannada Janantaranga. Karavali Ale happened to be a leading midday newspaper in the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada – with an estimated sales of more than 50,000 copies – before December 2008 when a series of attacks on its distribution network dented its circulation.
One may agree to differ with the style of journalism of the paper which is ‘no-holds-barred kind’ but is a fairly respected newspaper for the bold stands it takes. Apart from its consistent struggle against majoritarian communal elements who have been trying to transform this region into Hindutva lab of a different kind, it has not shied away from writing about fundamentalist elements in Islamic and Christian faiths in the region as well. Commenting on his arrest by the Karnataka police three years back in a case of defamation filed some time ago ‘Frontline’ (Silencing act, January 17-30, 2009, VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED) said :
The real estate mafia in the region also came under Karavali Ale’s scanner. It criticised atrocities of large builders while questioning the indiscriminate development being encouraged by the Urban Development Authority in Mangalore. Another powerful group that the newspaper has taken on was the private transport lobby. According to Seetaram, a third group that the paper has offended is the ‘‘religious mafia’’, many of whom he described as ‘‘fake priests’’. In the original story that the newspaper carried on a Swami in February 2008, it accused him of being involved in child trafficking.
It may be added here that Karnataka High Court had come down heavily on the government for arresting the Chief of Karavali Ale, namely, B V Seetaram and found his arrests illegal and slapped a fine on the Home department officials later.
The attack on Karavali Ale this time can be said to be a continuation of efforts of the vested interests in the region to silence this voice which has refused to ‘mend its ways’ as per their diktats. Perhaps it would be opportune here to browse through the said report on drug mafia in Mangalore which appeared in the paper (Hindu Jagarana Vedike leader is a drugs dealer in Suratkal , Feb 6, 2013) which has sort of unleashed their fury this time :
MANGALORE : The recent suicide of 17 year old student of a prestigious college in city Sneha who was addicted to drugs, has forced the police department to throw its might against the drugs mafia. What has been gathered of late is that a Hindu Jagarana Vedike leader was the kingpin of a drugs racket operative in Suratkal.
However, during a recent raid in Suratkal, the so called leader Keshav was successful in giving the cops a slip, though the police seized ganja weighing 650 grams from a Maruti van in the area. It is said the racket was operative targeting the Govinda Dasa College, NITK students and MRPL workers.
The case of Sneha who ended her life after being severely addicted to drugs owing to bad company and the lure of DJ parties, pubs and malls, is now taking political overtones. The Hindu Jagarana Vedike which has lost its face in the homestay attack, is now using this incident as a tool to defend its immoral policing and goondaism. Satyajith Suratkal, the Hindu Jagarna Vedike leader of Suratkal area is in the lead and is enjoying free publicity in local TV channels and newspapers.
These so called leades who failed to offer even lip service in case of Sowjanya of Dharmasthala, Prithvi of Brahmavar and Deepika of Kotepura who were raped and murdered, are hoping to gain mileage through their statements regarding the suicide of a girl who studied in Sharada College….(Translated from Kannada)
It need be noted that the newspaper has been carrying a public interest campaign against drug abuse by young men and women and exposed the moral policing agents for peddling in the drug. It is also worth emphasising that saner elements in Mangalore led by number of progressive and pro-people organisations like PUCL, Communal Harmony Forum, DYFI protested before the District Magistrate’s office in Mangalore and demanded immediate arrest of the attackers and also invoking of ‘[c]lauses 307 and 326 of IPC relating to attempt to murder and grievous injury (non-bailable claues) whereas the police have washed off their hands by registering the case under lighter 143, 147, 148, 321, 324, 149 of the IPC to facilitate the accused get bail easily in the event of the arrest. “
It is difficult to predict how things would unfold in Mangalore now ? Whether people in power in the state would rise up from their deep slumber and take concrete steps to protect freedom of press as envisaged in the constitution ? In fact, their earlier record does not inspire confidence.
The Naveen Soorinje episode has been an eyeopener for many. (See : Free Naveen Soorinje, JANUARY 30, 2013, http://www.kafila.org) This young journalist had recorded the manner in which a group of Hindu Jagran Vedike activists attacked boys and girls celebrating a party at Padil alleging that they were indulging in a rave party. (23 rd July 2012) The live recording of the whole attack became such a cause of embarassment to the state government that it was forced to arrest 43 of the miscreants involved in the attack. But what happened later was unthinkable and unbelievable. Instead of listing as a witness Naveen himself was made an accused and charged under the very same sections of the IPC as the attackers. This journalist still remains in jail despite the fact that the state government was forced to withdraw charges against him because of constant public pressure.
First Naveen Soorinje, now ‘Karavali Ale’ . It appears that the people in power in the state who have lost all legitimacy to rule with n number of corruption charges against them and ongoing infighting for power have decided to stick to power by shooting the messengers themselves. They rather want to declare from rooftops that under their jurisdiction Press freedom has to R.I.P.