The Karnataka government’s war on journalists continues | Imran Khan

The Karnataka government’s war on journalists continues

The Karnataka BJP has chosen to hit back at the journalist who reported the infamous homestay attack where a few partying girls and boys were roughed up by more than 50 Hindutva goons. The images of the brutal attack captured by Kasturi channel reporter Naveen Soorinje created an outrage at the national level forcing the BJP government to invoke the Goonda act against them. A vengeful district administration and police responded by including Naveen in the charge sheet, alleging that he orchestrated the attack collaborating with the Hindu Jagaran Vedike (HJV) activists. A magistrate court, which is hearing the homestay attack case, has given a warrant for his arrest.

On July 28, around 50 activists of the HJV barged into the Morning Mist homestay located on the outskirts of Mangalore, and attacked a few boys and girls who were celebrating their friend’s birthday. The activists of the HJV not only beat up the boys but also stripped and molested the girls for not adhering to ‘Indian Culture’. While instances like these are an everyday affair in Mangalore – considering the hindutva factory in Karnataka; the presence of Kasturi TV Channel reporter Naveen Soorinje, however made the issue a national headline.

The BJP government stung by the exposé, initially, made claims to go hard on the perpetrators of the crime by invoking the Goonda Act which specifies harsh treatment and gives police the power to shoot on sight. However, in the recently filed charge sheet, no such act has been invoked. In 2008 too, during the infamous Mangalore pub attack case, the state administration had claimed they would come down hard on the Sri Ram Sene activists. However, even after three years, the trial hasn’t started in the case. In fact, one of the attackers in the July 2012 attack, Subhash Padil had also taken part in the 2008 incident.

Since the beginning of the investigation, Naveen Soorinje held that the local administration and the cops were doing their best to protect the perpetrators. And he cites the recently filed charge sheet as proof of their collaboration which contradicts the events which took place on that day.

According to the charge sheet, the police received the information of the attack around 9PM that day. However, the camera recordings show that, Ravish Nayak and Manikantha Neelswany of the Mangalore rural police were with the attackers while the attack was taking place. Tearing apart the police version, images captured on that day, even show, investigation officer TR Jagannath arriving at the spot at 19:28 and taking a local corporator into custody “which means the police before hand had the Information; not as claimed in the charge sheet. There is even video evidence of the assaulters being escorted to a safe place by the police,” says Naveen.

Even though, there were other reporters including those from channel TV 9, Sahaya Tv (local right-wing channel in Managlore) and a reporter from the newspaper Jaya Kirana, the police have registered cases against only Naveen (accused number 44) and Sharan of Sahaya TV. This despite the fact that Naveen did not film the incident (as their camera man was sick that day), and had obtained the video from the other news reporters. However, he was the first to relay it on Kasturi New channel under the headline “Taliban Culture”. So far the police have arrested 27 persons in the case out of the 50 accused. They have been booked under section 120 (b), 143, 147, 148, 447, 448, 114, 341, 323, 324, 325, 504, 506, 509, 354 and 358 of the Indian Penal Code. The police have not yet arrested Naveen.

Local civil society groups are of the opinion that due to Naveen’s consistent reportage on the activities of the communal forces in the district and his regular reports on human rights violations on the part of the police, he had come under their scanner. “In the last two and a half years with Kasturi News 24, some of my reports have brought shame and legal actions to the police and communal forces. Hence I was made the target,” claims Naveen.

Corroborating Naveen’s statement, TV 9 reporter Rajesh Rao says, “former Mangalore Police Commissioner Seemanth Kumar had called him in the middle of the night and had told him that he was angry with Naveen and he would see to it that he is booked under stringent laws.” Rajesh however said that he doesn’t know why his name didn’t crop up in the charge sheet.

Local civil society groups however are angry over the fact that Naveen is being punished for just doing his job; and a prime witness to this case is being eliminated. Says Vidya Dinker- coordinator of Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development “they have added an additional charge of indecent display of women on him, whereas, he was displaying the indecency of the Hindu Jagran Vedike and the state BJP government which was stripped due to the exposé. By targeting him, they are shooting the messenger.”

It’s not the first time that the Karnataka BJP government has targeted journalists. In the past four years, the state administration has intimidated reporters who went out of their way to report a story. In 2009, a reporter of Prajavani (a local kannada daily) did an interview of the commander of the banned Maoist party. Immediately, the police issued a notice to him to depose before the jurisdictional station C and reprimanded him for reporting on such issues. Though the reporter was objective in his reporting, his organisation, buckling under police pressure, transferred him to a desk job and later asked him to move out of the Bangalore bureau.

Noted political writer and columnist TK Thyagaraj has been harassed and cases have been filed against him for writing an article on The Gita. A similar fate has been meted out to another famous social commentator Sanath Kumar Belagali.

In Tehelka’s case too, a former reporter of this organisation Shahina KK was not only intimidated by the Karnataka police for writing an article on Kerala PDP leader Abdul Nasir Maudany, but cases were filed against her, due to which, once in every 15 days, she has to be present in Bangalore to depose before the state CID. She has been doing this for the past one year.

While the above cases do not reflect the extreme fate of some other journalists who had to pay with their lives in order to bear witness to a truth or report a story, it shows an increasing trend of intolerance on the part of the state against those who refuse to toe the official line.

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

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