Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mukundan C Menon: Tribute to a Fighter

Mukundan C. Menon, who died of a massive heart attack in a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram on December 12, 2005, was a rare specimen of a journalist-turned- activist who defied the rules of the game to make his pen a powerful tool to fight for the causes he held close to his heart. He was an activist among journalists and a journalist among activists, combining the synergy of both the professions into his 57 years of active life.

It was early November in 2005 when we were busy with the training programme for new journalists at the offices of Thejas, a start-up Malayalam newspaper in Kozhikode, Kerala, where we both were working, that Mukundan collapsed of a massive heart attack just in front of me. We took him to the nearby hospital where he spent more than a month in coma, then was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram where he finally succumbed.

I had known Mukundan for many years but we were working together in the same newspaper office for the first time, since August that year. He was one of the major forces behind Thejas, a newspaper that seeks to address the minorities, backwards, dalits and other sections of Malayalee population. What brought us together was our firm commitment to the idea of journalism as a socially relevant and responsible calling unlike the newspaper-is-a-product-like-toothpaste gang who had converted the media profession into a kind of Augean stable. We were also firm that while commitment counts, quality and credibility was our first priority. While recruiting and training young journalists for our paper, we discovered each other and in the course of a few months developed a rare intimacy as we both operated from the same room.

Mukundan’s professional life can be divided into three stages: the first , his days in Delhi in the most turbulent period of Emergency and its aftermath; then his life in Andhra Pradesh when the state was the inferno of Indian left extremist movement and the third, his final years in Kerala, his home state where he was known more as a human rights activist and campaigner.

Born at Vadakkancherry in Trissur district of Kerala in November 1948, Mukundan lived in Delhi as a journalist during 1969 -1981, an eventful period in the history of Indian political life. He had raised his voice against the repressive measures against Naxalites and other political prisoners even before Emergency and had organized a number of protest meetings in Delhi as secretary of the newly formed Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) in the early seventies. He took up the cause of two Naxalite tribal prisoners, Xista Gowd and Bhoomaiah, who were condemned to death, but the demand for commutation of their death sentence fell on deaf ears as both were hanged to death during the Emergency. Mukundan himself was arrested as the Emergency was declared in June 1975 and was held as a MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) prisoner in Tihar, Rohtak and Ambala jails, for two years. He used to joke about the innovative ways in which he smuggled out small notes describing the life within the jails where eminent political leaders like Jaiprakash Narain, Morarji Desai and Chandrasekhar were lodged. He used to insert these pieces among the laundry, which his wife carried home to be leaked out to his friends and comrades, thus developing his own version of a Prison Notebook.

From 1978 to 80 he edited a journal known as Third World Unity, which had been widely read among the left-wing intellectuals all over the country. During this period he was also involved with the documentary on political prisoners, Political Prisoners of India (1977) by Anand Patwardhan and the Chattisgarh Mukthi Morcha, a militant trade union led by Shankar Guha Niyogi in the Chattisgarh area in Madhya Pradesh. He cooperated with a number of fact-finding committees which inquired into human rights violations in various parts of India and was even beaten up by police in Tamil Nadu when they were probing the fake encounter killings of 14 Naxalites in Dharmapuri district. When Jaiprakash Narain launched the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in 1978, he was elected as secretary of its Delhi unit.

Mukundan C Menon shifted to Hyderabad in 1981 where he continued till 1993. He was actively associated with newspapers like Udayam (Telugu), and Mathrubhhumi (Malayalam) besides a few English publications. It was from Hyderabad that he reported the speech made by one of the Shankaracharyas defending the practice of sati, which engulfed the country in a huge controversy. Andhra those days was described as a hotbed of terror as the state forces were involved in a bloody pursuit of the Naxalites and other radicals. He was one of the few journalists who consistently exposed the truth about several encounter killings in North Telengana and Coastal Andhra districts as a reporter as well as a member of the fact-finding committees set up by the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC).

Mukundan C Menon returned to Kerala in 1993 and was busy as a journalist and campaigner in the state where he was a key figure in the alternate media which worked along with civil liberties and human rights groups such as the Kerala Civil Liberties Committee and the Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, both of which he headed. In Kerala he was mainly focused on issues relating to the rights violations of the dalits, minorities and other oppressed sections and was responsible for campaigns like the protests against Tribal Land Amendment Bill 1996, which sought to legitimize the illegal sale of tribal land holdings in Kerala. The movement later on developed into a full-grown aDIVasi movement with leaders like C K Janu taking up the issue of alienation of tribal land holdings.

When Abdul Nazar Madani, a Muslim politician in the state was arrested under charges of complicity in the Coimbatore serial bomb blasts, Mukundan C Menon was the first journalist to come out with a detailed report which exposed the hollowness of the case. Madani after languishing in Coimbatore jail for nine years, was released recently as he was found not guilty by the court.

In his last few years Mukundan C Menon was more of an activist than a journalist though he continued to be associated with Thejas fortnightly, as a consulting editor and as contributor to media organizations such as Al-Jazeera in West Asia, Indian Currents and Milli Gazette in Delhi and Rediffnews from Mumbai.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Chekkutty,

In the second para from bottom, showing something wrong? as
"Madani still languishes in Coimbatore jail, even seven years after his arrest without trial."

If you wrote it in earlier, no comment. It it is for 2007 Dec. 12, this statement is utterly wrong. Please correct and update it.