Saturday, September 11, 2010

Media’s Selective Amnesia: The case of N M Siddique in Kerala

IT WAS on July 22 that my friend and one-time colleague N M Siddique was picked up by the police as he was going home in the evening. He was produced before the magistrate the next day, a Friday, around 8 pm and was remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.

Ever since he was incarcerated at the Ernakulam sub-jail, all his applications for bail being rejected till last week when the Kerala High Court ordered his release on bail on a series of stiff conditions. It was on September 2, Justice V Ramkumar of the High Court ordered bail for him, but curiously the order said he could be released only on September 13 as the investigations were still on.

Siddique, now a freelance media-person and a columnist for Thejas daily, was serving as the Ernakulam district president of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO), a national level human rights network headed by Justice Hosbet Suresh of Mumbai. He was charged under Sections 153 A, and 124 A of Indian Penal Code for his alleged activities creating communal tension and also for anti-national activities. The case is still pending and since the matter could be considered sub judice, I do not want go into the merits of the police charges. Let us hear it as and when the court is pleased to take it up.

But I cannot but shudder at the complete silence in the mainstream media in the matter of the arrest of a well known media-person, writer and a lawyer whose main mistake appears to have been filing a complaint with National Human Rights Commission over a series of raids and searches in various parts of Ernakulam district after the unfortunate incident of hand-chopping of a college teacher in Moovattupuzha. His complaint had alleged that these raids were often conducted in violation of the norms set by the higher courts for such actions and there were instances of police highhandedness and harassment in many cases. He had given a few specific cases as example for investigation by the NHRC.

Following this the NHRC did take some steps and had sent a notice to the Director General of Kerala police seeking their response. The matter is pending before the NHRC and in the meanwhile another search was conducted by the police at NCHRO office in Ernakulam north, which also became a matter of another complaint to NHRC by Mr Siddique as this operation was also violative of the norms and without any formal notice to him or any other office-bearer of the organization.

This is the background to the arrest which took place around 8 pm on July 22 and he was not even allowed to talk to his wife or any other friends or relatives as to what was happening to him. The news of arrest became known when somebody saw him in the police lock-up the next day and informed his friends and relatives. The police took him to the magistrate’s residence late evening and got his remand around 8 pm.

The police have charged him under serious sections of the IPC, for anti-national activities and creating communal tension, and the police report on the seizures at his office refer to a few copies of Thejas fortnightly, copies of his columns on human rights issues in Thejas daily and other publications, and a few CDs on Maradu and Gujarat carnage, etc, released by MRDF, an Ernakulam-based media research foundation.

What is surprising about the arrest and the more than six weeks of incarceration of a well known intellectual, writer and campaigner in Kerala, is the complete silence on the part of almost all the major regional media groups and their willingness not to question any of the police claims made in this case. This is really surprising even for a pliant and complicit media like Kerala’s regional press, because every time in the past when writers and intellectuals were put under arrest or subjected to state harassment, there have been voices raised in protest. Such protests were heard when P M Antony was subjected to harassment over his play on Christ, when a Surya T V reporter was arrested on a complaint from a Congress MLA, when an editor of a known yellow journal was arrested and his office searched, to cite a few examples...

But in the case of Siddique, no newspaper or T V channel made any effort to raise the normal questions that an independent media should have asked. What it points to seem to be a smug relationship between the media and the police in covering up the blatant incidents of rights violations when it comes to the members of the minority community. There are instances galore that prove this sad conclusion, and hence this conspiracy of silence in the case of Siddique is more than eloquent.

(A version of this note has been published at earlier this week.)