Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Investigative journalist re-visits Varkala – this time to protest

Tehelka’s Editor-at-Large Ajit Sahi was the first – and so far the only -- media person to visit Varkala and provide a first-hand account of the activities of the Dalit Human Rights Movement, which the local police has accused of complicity in a murder.

While the entire Kerala media, including local editions of The Hindu and New Indian Express of Chennai, have been lapping up police handouts about DHRM’s alleged links with terrorism, Ajit Sahi had made a quick visit to the state in October and gathered information at first hand and presented it to his readers. (His report, which appeared in Tehelka’s edition dated October 24, 2009, can be read here: “Ambedkar’s Lost Boys? A Dalit organization is accused of terrorist links.”)

Sahi, who has been crisscrossing the country and bringing to light material which the mainstream media suppresses, was back in Varkala on Tuesday, this time to raise his voice against the atrocities against Dalits there.
He came at the invitation of the Solidarity Youth Front and delivered the keynote address at the protest meeting organized by it.

Sahi mentioned how a brief report, which he saw on the Internet, had persuaded him to fly from New Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram to investigate police allegations about the terrorist links of Dalit Human Rights Movement.

Drawing from his experience as an investigative journalist, he spoke of the gross human rights violations taking place in different parts of the country in the name of suppressing terrorism. He pointed out that the victims of such atrocities were minorities and marginalized sections like Dalits and Adivasis.

With my knowledge of the working of the Malayalam media, I am not at all surprised that they are not interested in going beyond what the police has to say on the Varkala developments. The two fronts which alternate in power in the state appear to have reached a consensus that DHRM, which has been asking Dalits to stop being chattel of the mainline political parties, deserves no mercy.

In Kerala, all journalistic curiosity ends when the two fronts are on the same side. From the Silent Valley campaign to the ISRO espionage case, there are many issues on which the local media became a willing accomplice of the Establishment. Now the local editions of the Chennai newspapers also have joined this consortium. (I am deliberately avoiding the much abused term ‘syndicate’).

Thirty years ago, when I was working in Chennai as regional manager of United News of India, a massive police hunt was in North Arcot and Salem districts of Tamil Nadu where Naxalites were active. The police regularly reported killing of Naxalites in encounters, and information reaching Chennai indicated that some of them were probably fake encounters. The Chennai newspapers which have wide network of correspondents were silent on the subject.

Three of us, S. Rajappa of The Statesman, V.G.Prasada Rao of the Times of India and I, decided to go to the spot. Information we gathered confirmed that there had been fake encounters. On our return to Chennai, we filed reports to that effect.

The next day almost the entire country knew of the fake encounters—readers of The Statesman and the Times of India from the reports of their special correspondents and readers of other newspapers from the UNI report. I said “almost” because one big newspaper had no report on the subject. That newspaper was The Hindu. It did not carry the UNI report presumably because it was not willing to trust a news agency on a sensitive subject like fake encounters. However, two weeks later it made up by carrying long reports from its own correspondents in Salem and Vellore, which said there had been fake encounters.

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