Monday, January 7, 2008

Is Jail the Right Place for Editors in Kerala?

Last week, I wrote in this column that we have inaugurated the New Year sending an old editor who runs a magazine that sells a few hundred copies from a small room and living in a world of revolutionary dreams into jail. I am sorry to report that even after almost three weeks in jail, the 68-year old P Govindan Kutty, editor of People’s March, is still languishing in the Alwaye sub-jail as his bail application was rejected by the local magistrate late last week. Govindan Kutty who launched an indefinite fast on December 19, in protest against his illegal arrest, still continues his fast.

And nobody seems to bother. Except for a few stray voices here and there in the smaller newspapers, no mainstream newspaper in the State has bothered to report on what is happening to this old man, who had once undergone medical treatment for some mental illnesses.

But I suppose it is not a crime; that is having undergone medical treatment for some illness, mental or otherwise. The police had initially announced to the press that he had harbored hard-core Naxlites from Andhra Pradesh who were in hiding in Kerala. But they failed to find any proof to substantiate it. Then they charged him with hailing the attack on former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu some five years back.

That, in a nutshell, is the present situation. The only crime he has possibly committed seems to be that he wrote something in his magazine, which sells hardly a few hundred copies. I feel the police in this land now ruled by communists like comrades V S Achuthanandan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan are in mortal fear of dreams, dreams of a revolutionary socialist kind. Poor old Govindan Kutty still seems to nurse such dreams that make our rulers jittery.

Though the mainstream Malayalam media has so far not bothered about the development of the violations of human rights taking place in front of us, the national press seems to be taking notice. In her regular column, Media Matters in The Hindu, Sevanti Ninan, wrote today:

In Govindan Kutty's case, the point raised by a fellow Kerala editor,N.P. Chekkutty, is, can he be arrested arbitrarily by Andhra Police in the State of Kerala without even the minimum legal procedures? He was allowed to speak to a lawyer only with jail officials present. The charges now framed against him are under Sec.134, 124 A, 133 B, of IPC and under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is
normally used against criminal elements. Is it now to be used against those who run publications? He has been accused of applauding the attack on Chandrababu Naidu five years ago. Why is he being arrested now?

Of course, in the blogosphere too there is some concern about these developments. In a Google group discussion, I received a number of responses for my post about the arrest.
Here I reproduce the original post and some of the responses that were received. It gives us some hope that at least there are still a few people left who are concerned about the plight of others in this land:

Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2007: N P Chekkutty wrote:
Dear Friends,
Mr Govindan Kutty, editor of People's March, an English monthly with Maoist leanings, has been under arrest in Alwaye for the past ten days. He has been on an indefinite fast ever since his arrest for unlawful activities by the Kerala police.

It is sad that the mainstream media in Kerala simply seem to have turned a blind eye to this attack on media freedom. The monthly's office in Trikkakkara was ransacked, the computer system messed up and a series of calumnious stories were planted against the man by the police which the major Malayalam dailies carried without ever questioning him about it.

A few newspapers had taken a different line. For example, Madhyamam did a story on the arrest with an interview with the editor. We at Tejas also did a story and followed it up with an edit page article which questions the police claims about the arrest. We also had written an editorial a few days ago highlighting the dangerous trend of arresting media-persons with no evidence against them.

No one in the Kerala civil society has said anything about it so far, except a few human rights activists. This deafening silence is extremely disturbing. Hope somebody here would listen and join in condemning this attack on an editor who has an independent view of his own, with which I disagree completely. But he has a right to keep his view and write and propagate about it.

Poet K Sachidanandan wrote from New Delhi:

I do not think as long as Govindan Kutty has only propagated his /his group's ideas, he can be arrested, censored or tortured. I am in solidarity with him and all those who support his freedom. I never knew this as I get only Mathrubhumi and Manorama at home -besides English dailies- and they did not seem to have carried the news.

Social critic T T Sreekumar wrote form Singapore:

He spoke to the media as the cops were ransacking his office and the unlawful arrest was being made. He said he is the editor of a registered newspaper the license of which has not been cancelled till date. I hope all those who champion the cause of human rights and condemn fascist/state terror would protest. They can break their silence of almost two weeks.

N D Jayaprakash of Delhi Science Forum wrote:

The arbitrary and unlawful arrest of Govindan Kutty is a highly condemnable act. If Govindan Kutty had indulged in scurrilous writings, appropriate action should have been taken against him under the relevant laws of the land. However, it does not appear that he had been warned or served notice on that account. As has been pointed out, he is the editor of a registered newspaper with a valid license. If he had acted contrary to the laws of the land, action should have been initiated against him through due process. But in this case it appears that it is the State which is acting contrary to the laws of the land.

Sajan Gopalan, senior television journalist in Thiruvananthapuram, wrote:

Even the reporting style by media on the arrest of the Maoist Leader also needs a thorough analysis. He was treated like a murderer by the media and it was not considered that he is also a political activist, whether we agree with his style of politics or not. There is a need to inform the public about the reasons of Maoist growth in rural India. Media which is dazed in the urban growth is far away from
these realities...

Let us watch and wait what happens next in this sordid drama of ‘media freedom’ (not to report) and media un-freedom (self-imposed.)


(Devil’s Sermon is a weekly political commentary.)

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