A Conversation With: Journalist Naveen Soorinje


By ROHINI MOHAN
Naveen Soorinje.Courtesy of Daya KukkajeNaveen Soorinje.

On July 28, 2012, Naveen Soorinje, a journalist with the Kannada television network Kasturi Newz 24 in Mangalore, Karnataka, covered an attack by a mob from the right-wing group Hindu Jagarana Vedike on a group of boys and girls having a birthday party at a suburban resort. A cameraman, Seetharam, who goes by one name, filmed the brutal assault, which lasted half an hour.

Widely known as “the homestay attack,” it was only one of a rising number of incidents of sectarian moral policing in the developing and modernizing city of Mangalore. But when Mr. Soorinje and Mr. Seetharam were arrested in November, along with 43 others, and charged with conspiracy, rioting and unlawful assembly, the case inspired an intense campaign for media freedom and Mr. Soorinje’s release from jail. Mr. Soorinje was freed on bail on March 23, and the charges against him and Mr. Seetharam were finally dropped on Friday.

In an interview with India Ink, Mr. Soorinje spoke about what he learned during his time in jail and the dangers he sees in extremist groups and in the complicit police in Mangalore.

 

Q.

Since your arrest in November 2012, you maintained that you only recorded the attack and were not a participant. What led to charges being dropped now?

A.

Civil society groups and journalists appealed to the Karnataka chief minister’s office for charges to be dropped. They had approached the earlier B.J.P. [Bharatiya Janata Party] regime, but that was the government that in a way put me in jail, so we didn’t expect them to release me. It was only after the new C.M. from the Congress Party took charge that he signed the petition to drop charges against me. Of course, when the Congress was the opposition party earlier, they didn’t do anything then.

Q.

How were your five months in Mangalore jail?

A.

This might sound odd, but it was good that I saw the inside of a jail. As a journalist, my view of crime stopped at the arrest, police and trial. The life of imprisonment was a blind spot. I found that the increase in communal tensions in Mangalore has led to even the jail being segregated. In the A block, are the Muslims and Dalits, largely convicted or accused of terrorism, smuggling or theft. The B block is the Hindu block, with thugs from right-wing groups — people who attacked girls for talking to boys, or for drinking. I’m Hindu, but since the attackers I filmed and thereby got arrested were in B, the cops thought I’d be safer with the Muslims and Dalits.

I stayed in different wards every few weeks, chatting with whoever was willing to talk. It was eye-opening, the abysmal conditions, the twisted interrogations, the stories of so many innocents or one-time petty criminals that languish in prison for ages while their trials go on for decades.

Q.

Have threats and intimidation against journalists grown in the past few years in Mangalore?

A.

Yes, it has been a crucial part of the communal groups’ intention to intimidate society. After the pub attack of January 2009 — I was a print reporter then — [the Hindu extremist group] Sri Ram Sena upped its violent projects. Hindu boys and Muslims girls can’t eat ice-cream together, can’t sit together in a bus. The attacks on college kids were all over.

I’m lucky to have a secular, fair editor. I’d reported on all this with a group of like-minded reporters. We shared tip-offs, created maximum coverage. We were disgusted with the random attacks on women and even more ashamed by most media that focused on the so-called moral degradations — girls’ drinking and smoking and going with boys — than the assaults by these communal thugs.

We got life threats. People came around my house, screamed on the phone. They burned the press of the local paper I worked at, set fire to the editors’ chair. My editor was arrested; I was chased a few times. The head of Sri Ram Sena, in a press conference, said that it is not enough to kill one fellow. Openly, he said,” We should take out one more journalist, then Mangalore will be fixed.”

Q.

What have the police done to stop this?

A.

These lumpen elements have free rein because of two things: people’s discomfort with modernity and westernization, and police complicity. In the homestay attack, when the police turned up, they conversed with the attackers for over half an hour. One victim tried to escape, but the police caught him and brought him back. In custody, the police allowed the attackers to beat him.

Why did they detain the victims? The Mangalore police do this — take the scared, assaulted kids to the station, call their parents, and then give them advice. “Don’t send your girls with boys, don’t let Muslims and Hindus interact in college, why is your child drinking, don’t you know Indian culture?” This is moral policing, what else? Beat, and then give unsolicited advice to the wrong person.

Q.

The police blamed you for not informing them about the attack even when you were tipped off earlier by a source.

A.

That is untrue. I repeatedly called the inspector of the local police station, Ravish Nayak, from my official number. Nayak did not pick up. The attacks had begun by then, and there was mayhem; the poor girls were screaming. I asked my friend Rajesh Rao of channel TV-9 to call the police. He also called Nayak, again in vain.

My cameraman and I were the first people there, and we tried to record everything. Other journalists came in minutes. We all shot, but we couldn’t stop the drunk, crazy goons attacking the young boys and girls.

It was a birthday party. When I got there after a local source tipped me off — not one of the attackers, as my phone call record shows — a girl was sitting on the porch, and two boys were playing games on their mobile phone. There was no rave party, as the goons alleged.

Q.

You were also accused by the police of abetting the attack because you didn’t stop it.

A.

This is an old dilemma in journalism: do you stop the action or do you report it? But here, I had no dilemma. I was screaming and requesting, “Don’t hit the girls.” The camera has caught my voice, but the attackers were unwilling to listen. They were like a pack of lions. I couldn’t physically stop them. No one could. [Read a translated version of Mr. Soorinje’s full account of the attack here.]

It is common today in India for mobs to call the local media informing them of a planned raid or attack. This is their way of getting publicity. Just 20 days before this homestay attack, a girl was molested publicly by a gang in Guwahati, Assam. In that, the cameraman was egging the attackers on, instructing them. So it may seem like I was in the same situation, but I was not.

Q.

How do the people of Mangalore react to this? Have the sectarian groups influenced their actions?

A.

Mangalore is both modern and conventional. That friction is being exploited. People live their lives as they please, but in private. In public spaces like buses, colleges, restaurants, there is a lurking fear.

The homestay incident was in July 2012. After that, there have been 10 other assaults. None have been investigated, and visual evidence is limited. Moreover, some tabloids — why, even big dailies — mangle the issue. If the Bajrang Dal [a Hindu fundamentalist group] has slapped a girl who was smoking, the headline will say “Smoking girl slapped.” It’s a combination of right-wing ideology and power driving the police, goons and some of the media.

Q.

You are still with Kasturi TV, and still in Mangalore. Has this experience changed the way you report or live now?

A.

There is an angle of caste that I’ve begun to understand. For example, all the boys and girls attacked in the homestay are Muslims or from backward castes. The accused goons are also from backward or lower castes, barely educated until third or fourth grade. All the leaders — of Sri Ram Sena and of the Vedike — are high caste, sitting happily in Bangalore, never arrested, only giving wildly inflammatory speeches on Hindutva to their minions without any consequence. I’ve realized that accountability must go further than the immediate actors.

I used to always try and do balanced reports — you know, quote both sides. But now I want to expose the attackers even more strongly. There is nothing to redeem them.

Rohini Mohan is a journalist based in Bangalore. She is working on a book about the civil war in Sri Lanka.

[This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.]

http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/

 

Mangalore : Govt drops all charges against journalist Soorinje #goodnews


 

journalist-Soorinje

 

 

Mangalore: June 14; The State Government has dropped all charges against journalist Naveen Soorinje in connection with the Morning Mist home stay attack Recently The Visual Media Journalists Association of Dakshina Kannada district had submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah urging him to drop all charges against journalist Naveen Soorinje and TV cameraman Sharan in connection with the Morning Mist home stay attack.

 

 
As per the Cabinet meet on Thursday June 13 it was decided to withdraw cases registered against journalist Naveen Soorinje in the Morning Mist Home Stay attack .
Advocate M P Amruthesh had filed public interest litigation in the state high court on February 6, challenging the state cabinet’s January 31 decision to withdraw case standing against Soorinje.
But the state High Court had, based on an affidavit that Soorinje was not involved with illegal activities at the venue, granted bail to him thereafter on March 23.

 

Sisters of Kasagod write on indefinite fast by the Endosulphan victims


Third Letter From Endosulfan Victims

By Sisters Of Kasargod

30 March, 2013
Countercurrents.org

Dear Friends

This is the third letter that we are writing to you in the past month.We know that many of you got together in your areas in support of our struggle for justice and life, wrote letters, signed memorandums and thought and prayed for us. At this important juncture in our life, we need all of you with us as we are attempting to get back to Life.

So much has happened in the past few days. The indefinite fast and strike in support of the Endosulfan victims by the Endosulfan Victims Janakekya Munnani (EPJM) crossed a month the other day. Fortunately, the discussions by the Government about our fate which took place on March 25th in Trivandrum yielded some positive results that led to the withdrawal of the fast. But we understand that we have to remain alert and our representatives and each one of us have to be on the guard, demanding and insistent. We cannot let the authorities and Government relax in any way and we have to be acutely aware of where all the offers made can be thwarted.
As you know we had submitted a detailed memorandum to the Government on 21st March when we were called for discussion. The major issues in focus were :

1.To review the decision to give aid and help for just 5 years by the Government
2.To include all deserving people in the list which is now incomplete
3. Implement all the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission
4.Constitute a Tribunal for Compensation and Identification of the Real culprits
5.The debt load of the affected people be taken by the Government
6. To design a scientific rehabilitation program for the affected region
7To remove and detoxify the endosulfan reserves still remaining in the godowns.

The answers given to us by the Government are the following:
1To appoint a Committee to examine the question of a Tribunal to provide compensation for the victims, taking into consideration the liability of the pesticide companies also.

2. Setting up a 3 member Committee ( Kasargod District Collector, Joint Registrar of Cooperatives, Kasargod, and Special Officer in charge of Remediation of Endodulfan victims) to study the demand of waiver of bank loans by victims or their families.

3 Renewal and addition of list of beneficiaries identified by the National Human Rights Commission through new medical camps and examination by an expert team of doctors. In this the number of persons with cancer would be included making the list a total of 2295. The examining of the persons to know if they fulfilled the criteria for compensation recommended by NHRC would not exempt others from receiving the State Government assistance, the number being 5500.

4.The order that indicated that victims would get an assistance for only 5 years would be cancelled. The compensation amount of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of dead victims ( 600 persons paid so far) would be reached to the remaining 134 once the succession certificates are produced.

5.The victims are now getting free rations, free treatment and a monthly pension which would be enhanced from Rs 400- Rs 700 a month.

6.To the newly added list of fresh victims identified as Endosulfan affected last year ( 1318) a fresh medical examination would be conducted by a team of doctors soon.

7. The 11 panchayats identified as Endosulfan affected will be reviewed and more Panchayats and areas outside this will be included where there has been impact of the pesticide.

8. 12 more hospitals will be added to the list of hospitals in Mangalore, Manipal and other parts of Kerala where victims can get free medical care.

9.The Social Welfare Department would pay an additional amount of Rs 1500 per month as compensation to the staff of seven Buds school caring for the mentally challenged children in the region. Ambulances will be provided in all the 11 panchayats.

Though it is a relief that the Government has considered the gamut of issues and concerns of us living in the affected area with our poisoned bodies, we are anxious about the implementation part, the delays and loopholes, the snags and pitfalls.

We request each one of you to stay alert and follow up in your own capacity each of the above promises. We need to build up all pressure so that we can avail of all assistance possible.We want to get out of the victim mode and reinstate a semblance of normalcy in our lives..so our children start smiling, walking, holding and feeling human inspite of all their challenges and incapacities.

In anticipation
Sisters of Kasargod
March 28th, 2013

Anitha.S ( catastrophe64@gmail.com) in conversation with the people of Kasargod.
For details contact : Ambalathara Kunhikrishnan: 08547654654.
M.A.Rahman : 09048576384.
For updates in English contact Amruth : 09400930968

 

Naveen Soorinje- ‘State is biased against Muslims, Dalits, farmers’


Most people are relieved when they walk out of prison. Naveen Soorinje, a TV journalist bailed last week after four-and-half months in jail, says his incarceration was a blessing. Soorinje, 28, made headlines in July after he videoed vigilantes of an illiberal Hindu sectarian outfit attacking young men and women at a private party in the coastal Mangalore city in Karnataka. The police, however, named him a co-accused in the case and arrested him in November. The son of a small villager farmer, Soorinje has reported extensively on communal and caste violence, police atrocities and organised crime in his ten-year career. Importantly, he has campaigned against corruption in journalism in his city in the last three years. He spoke to Tehelka’sImran Khan after his release on March 23.
Imran Khan

March 25, 2013

Naveen Soorinje. Photo: Ashok KR

How do you feel after spending nearly five months in prison?
My jailing was a gift from the police. It gave me a chance to study another face of theirs. A journalist doesn’t easily get that opportunity. I saw how deeply the communal forces have penetrated the government and the city administration.

What did you experience in the jail?
The biggest learning was that nearly 40 percent of the inmates are Muslims. Most were arrested after communal violence. Some are rotting there for years. I did not meet a single Hindu or Christian arrested for communal violence. The only non-Muslims communalists arrested are the vigilantes for their morality policing, and only those who were exposed in my video although their attacks are an everyday event in Mangalore.

What was your routine in the prison?
We would queue up at 6 am to be counted to make sure no one died overnight. But the famous prisoners didn’t need to. A quick shower and a short walk was allowed at 7.30 am and breakfast at 9.30 am. Often, other prisoners came to me thinking I could help them as a journalist. I wrote out their petitions and complaints. Many inmates had overstayed for months because they couldn’t raise even Rs. 500 to post bail. I helped them borrow money from other inmates.

Why did it take you so long to get bail?
The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the local administration colluded in my case and lied to the court about me. The police claimed I had absconded even though I was at work in the city. This delayed the decision on my bail.

Does your prison experience offer any lessons for journalists?
Journalists should also hear out the accused instead of just being police informers. Our moral obligation and primary duty is to be the informers of the people. It was my video footage alone that led to the vigilantes’ arrest. Journalists should also realise that the police serve their masters in power. Police officers that were secular under a Congress government turned communal when the BJP came to power in 2008. The prison showed me the state’s bias against the minorities, Dalits, farmers and adivasis.

Some 500 people in the Mangalore jail are held on mere suspicion and all are Muslims. A 15-year-old boy was picked off the street because a police officer found him suspicious. He has been in judicial custody for months. Rehman, an 80-year-old qawwali singer who can’t even walk, was arrested because he owned two SIM cards. A Dalit man is in prison for three months because he allegedly stole a bucket, worth Rs. 75, from a Brahmin. Can’t such cases be resolved at the police stations? Most of the time journalists unthinkingly accept press releases from the police and “sentence” the accused.

Are you happy with the support you received from the news media?
I didn’t expect much except from a few friends but I am overwhelmed with the support I got and I am thankful to all. I must, however, say that most journalists in Mangalore didn’t support me for various reasons, including ideological.

What next?
Continue working as a journalist. I plan to write a book based on my experiences in jail. I have many stories to tell.

 

Journalist Naveen Soorinje granted bail #goodnews


His arrest had raised many important questions about the violation of democratic rights and media freedom in India
Tehelka Bureau

March 18, 2013

Naveen Soorinje. Tehelka photo

Naveen Soorinje, the private Kannada channel reporter who was arrested for exposing an assault on women by Hindu extremists in Mangalore has finally received bail after four months. Justice Sreedhar Rao of the Karnataka High Court granted the bail after a surety and a bond of Rs 5 lakh. Naveen is likely to be released either today or tomorrow after the order copy is received and signed. “Finally justice has been done after four months. I hope the freedom of the press will not be muzzled any longer by the present government and the local police in Mangalore will not resort to harassing those media persons who exposed the issue,” his lawyer Nitin R said.

“We are very happy with the news and want to congratulate and thank all the people who rallied around him in support,” his brother Prem Soorinje said.

On 7 November, Soorinje was arrested by the Mangalore Police who lumped him along with the Hindu Jagaran Vedike group who groped and attacked the boys and girls celebrating a birthday at a homestay in Mangalore on July 28, 2012. Since he and his cameraman had caught the men chasing, slapping, and groping teenaged women, the arrest made this one of the most bizarre examples of shooting the messenger. The 43 attackers who were charged in the case were identified on the basis of Soorinje’s footage. TEHELKA had raised many important questions after his arrest and the violation of democratic rights and media freedom.

 

On a car ride with Mother Courage- Bhanwari Devi #Vaw #Sexualharassment


Independent journalist & radio anchor Vasanthi Hariprakash tells about her date with Rajastan’s firebrand Bhanwari Devi
bangalore Mirror

bhanwari devi

Posted On Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 09:19:45 PM

It is one thing to read about Bhanvari Devi in the papers; totally another to see her, and then realise she is smiling at you with every bit of her warmth even when you are just introduced to her. A woman about whose courage reams have been written, whose grit in the face of gang rape 21 years back by upper caste men in her village had eventually led to the landmark Visakha judgment on sexual harassment of women at the workplace, Bhanwari does justice to that line I had heard sometime, recited on stage as part of a poem: “Rajasthan ki naari hai, phool nahi, chingaari hai” (The English translation of that line would do no justice to the spirit in which it was written: The woman of Rajasthan; she is no flower, she is the spark of a fire.)

Firebrand Bhanwari certainly is, or why would the unlettered woman from the oppressed Kumhar caste have ventured about 30 years back to be a saathin (woman community worker) in her village in Rajasthan? Why would she agree to be a volunteer whose job, as part of the Women’s Development Programme (WDP), was to intervene in child marriages that would mean taking on unrelenting powerful patriarchs?

It was a job that was to cost her very dearly. The year was 1992, village Bhateri, about 60 km from the capital city of Jaipur. And in that part of the country where child marriages are rampant, an uppercaste Gujar household had been getting ready for a wedding. Or more aptly, getting ready for cradle-snatching. The bride was a nine-month-old baby girl; the ‘groom’ all of 1 year!

Bhanwari, who knew what it meant to be a child bride having been one herself, landed up at the house. She tried telling them gently, explaining to them why it was so wrong, “Mat karo chhoti bacchii ki shaadi, bhavishya kharab ho jaati hai ladki ki. (Do not get the child married now, her future will be ruined),” she pleaded.

But when all the Gujar men present there yelled at and taunted her, she revoked the power of being a saathin. “Collector saab has asked women like me to stop the marriage if the bride is a child,” she said. The party was over, even if only for that time — the child’s marriage is said to have taken place a few months down the line.

The male ego and the caste pride were hurt; the price extracted soon enough. One evening, when Bhanwari and her husband were working in their sparse little field, five Gujar men showed up. After picking a fight with him, they took turns to rape Bhanwari.

“Itne chhote chhote thhe yeh sab,” she tells me putting out her hand to describe how small her kids back at home were. The mother of two sons and two daughters decided it was no time to cry. How she then told her husband that she would not listen to him and would go ahead to file a police complaint, how the local primary health centre refused to examine her, how women cops at the local police station took away her ghaghra as evidence leaving her to travel to Jaipur by bus wrapped only in a thin bed sheet, how her first medical examination happened only 48 hours after her rape, and how it was the pressure of women’s organisations that brought the horrific crime to light – these are part of the Bhanwari story now well known, and well documented in newspapers, books as well as online articles.

Bhanwari’s incredible courage pushed her to be an unlikely hero. It won her awards, most famously the Neerja Bhanot award — named after the brave airhostess who died trying to resist a hijack attempt on a Pan Am flight in 1986. It took Bhanwari to international fora and women’s conferences in foreign lands. It also made her the mascot of victory over traumatic circumstances, but back in her own village, little or nothing changed for her, especially socially. Today, while she is the toast of woman power all over the country, to her own fellow villagers in Bhateri, Bhanwari with her family continues to be an ‘outcaste’.

The crippling social boycott that bans any link with her is a hurt she doesn’t express openly, but is evident when she says, “Aas paas ke gaon ki auratein salaah lene aatin hai, mere gaon se ek bhi nahi. (Women from all the nearby villages come to me asking for guidance, not one from my village.)”

Her rapists, meanwhile, were freed long back, after serving barely a year in jail.

Even the government has done little for the welfare of saathins like her, who travel village to village, carrying the word of government schemes for the poor, and risk their life and limbs while trying to intervene in cases of dowry demands, female foeticide and child marriage. “Women workers of Anganwadi, which came in much later after the WDP did, earn much more than we do. From Rs 300 decades back, today it’s barely 1,600.”

And since they are cleverly termed ‘volunteers’, these women retire with no pension, despite having been government servants all their lives. But that lament is only temporary. The positive power of Bhanwari’s persona kicks in, embracing every person she comes in touch with.

At a felicitation function organised on Saturday in her honour by the Kannada Lekhakiyara Sangha (Women writers’ association) in Bangalore’s Chamrajpet, the reed-thin Bhanwari deeply hugs a young girl whose own story of courage had earlier moved the audience to a thunderous applause. That long, deep hug is freely dispensed to every woman, every girl who wants Bhanwari to pose for a picture with her, mostly clicked on mobile phones. Even this writer, meeting her for the first time, is a beneficiary of that embrace.

From Chamrajpet, a couple of women are set to take Bhanwari to an activist’s home in Srirampura near Malleswaram for a simple lunch. Seeing that they are trying to hail an autorickshaw, I ask them if they want to come along in my car. They agree, and soon the middle aged woman in a bright Rajasthani saree, its ghunghat covering her head, is seated in the middle of the backseat next to me. On the other side is her daughter Rameshwari, who has accompanied her on this trip to Bangalore, and earlier Mangalore, where she addressed — and “energised” — a rally of around 4,000 people to mark International Women’s Day, to specially speak out against increasing moral policing in the coastal city.

Rameshwari, who translates Bhanwari’s Rajasthani dialect into Hindi for us, says her mother was thrilled to see so many women come together in the rally. She saw on TV all the “maar-peet” how they dragged girls out of a party, tore their clothes, pulled their hair…

Bhanwari speaks before her daughter can finish that line. “Kisi bhi aurat ke saath aisa hota hai, toh lagta hai mere shareer par atyachar ho raha ho. Bahut zyada dukhi hoti hoon. (Whenever a woman goes through that kind of ordeal, I feel I am violated. It makes me very sad.)”

That sadness, though, is not of the helpless kind. “Suryanelli ki ladki ko itni badi sazaa kyon?” she suddenly breathes fire. Referring to the church’s ban on the Kerala rape survivor, she says, “Why is she being punished? What is her crime? Why can’t all of us behenen (sisters) go there to show our support for her?”

Looking out of the car, Bhanwari lapses into memories of her own struggle, first to get even the complaint against her rapists registered, and then the battle in the courts. “Court mein koi bhi nahi hai garib ki sunne ke liye. Beizzati hoti hai, khilvaad karte hain mahilaaon ke saathh. (There is none in the courts to listen to the poor. There is only indignity and insult for women.)”

Talk then veers to the Delhi girl whose gang rape and death caused such national outrage. I mention the recent American award given in her honour, and Bhanwari retorts, “Puraskaar se pet kaun bhare? Hume puraskaar nahi, nyaay dijiye. (Can an award feed the stomach? Give us justice, not awards.)

Sunny, spirited, sharp and ready with repartees — just what’s the secret source of her mum’s spunk, I ask Rameshwari as the women get out of the car. “Bas, Maa aisi hi hain. Suru se hi. (Mother is always like this. Right from the start). A proud smile later, “Strong. Ekdumm majboot

 

The Irony of Iconhood: The life and times of Bhanwari Devi #Vaw #Sexualharassment #Justice


http://www.lawisgreek.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/bhanwari-devi.jpg

by- Laxmi Murthy
“Only justice can fill my belly, not awards,” says Bhanwari Devi in response to a question from the audience about whether or not she had been recognised by international awards. She was speaking at a meeting organised by the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. The previous day, along with other leaders, Bhanwari had roused a massive rally in Mangalore with her fiery calls for solidarity and action against violence against women. The Mangalore March 8th program itself was phenomenal, from all accounts (I couldn’t go), and I hope Madhu, Shakun or others will share some of the spirit and verve of the rally, Women in Black event and the seminar. The unprecedented coalition of women’s and progressive groups (almost a hundred) to raise a voice against the saffronization of Karnataka’s coastal belt and increasing attacks on women, has been the outcome of dedicated work by the Forum Against Atrocities on Women (the Mahila Dourjnya Virodi Vedike, Karnataka). That none of the events, which saw the mobilization of more than 5000 women, made it to even the Bangalore editions of the dailies (can’t even dream of the national media bothering!) is a matter of dismay, but won’t go into that right now.

Here I just wanted to share what some of us were talking about soon after Bhanwari’s talk. Many of the questions, particularly from the press (and apparently this happened even in the meeting earlier in the day), kept pushing Bhanwari back into the victim mode and somehow managed to zero in on her vulnerabilities. It is no surprise then, that she broke down on stage even 20 years after she was gang raped.
Some of us tried to steer the discussion to the context in which she worked – the context in which women’s safety as workers led to the Vishaka Guidelines. Again, no surprise, that nothing much has changed for Sathins on the ground. They continue to work in precarious conditions, for a monthly pittance of Rs 1600 (raised from Rs 200 in 1the 1990s, after determined work by the Sathin Karamchari Sangh, many of us in women’s groups in Delhi at the time were part of the support group, so are aware of just what an uphill battle that was). The task of “consciousness raising” or stopping “social evils” like dowry, sex selection, child marriage etc can be extremely precarious, especially at the village level. How many of us, asked  Shyama Narang in the audience, would enter people’s houses and demand that they stop child marriage or refuse to take dowry? Bhanwari was raped while attempting to overturn exactly these sorts of practices. Needless to say, there is no job security, no transport, and no support at all from the government for doing this risky work.
Throughout, her focus was on individual effort, collective action and non-government efforts if any change was to come about. She spoke of her efforts to educate her daughter Raneswhari (a bright and confident young woman who accompanied her to Mangalore-Bangalore) – she is now an MA B.ed and teaches in a school. Bhanwari spoke of the support she had received from her husband, activists in Jaipur and women’s solidarity in general. As for the rape case, Bhanwari does not talk much about, frustrated by the legal process and the appeal by her rapists pending in the High Court.
It is deeply ironical that the icon of the Vishakha Guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace finds the whole effort of law reform utterly futile and of no real help to women. Her response to deal with perpetrators of violence against women is to round them up and beat them. She was also in favour of death penalty for rapists, while responding to a question from a journalist in the audience: what should be done about the juvenile perpetrator of the ‘Delhi gang rape”? Predictably, today’s item in the Times of India (why are we not surprised?) says, “Fearless fighter wants all Nirbhaya rapists to be hanged”.
Bhanwari’s anguished response underlines once more why the best opportunity to undertake law reform might not be during times of trauma, emotional distress or mass mobilization, despite popular notions or even a progressive groups’ understanding of “striking while the iron is hot”. The job of reviewing or making laws is better done when one is somewhat removed from the situation. It is in the nature of Commissions and government response to agitations that they pick and choose what suits the status quo, but to appear to be responding to popular sentiment and “public mood” (however that is defined) gives the regime brownie points that the feminists are loathe to give.
As for Bhanwari, her life goes on, and that’s the wonderful part. True grit, impassioned activist, flame of hope – all the clichés in our lexicon can’t even begin to describe her.

 

#India- What you wanna be -Kareena or Konkona or .. #womensday


Bachi Karkaria , TNN

Or Kiran next-door? The liberated woman is free to flash any face

There’s a poster in the lifts of our Dosti Flamingoes housing complex. It’s an invitation to ‘Bring out the hairspray, the blue eye-shadow and the press-on nails. Put on your dancing shoes and join the All Ladies Bollywood dance party on March 8′. On the streets, lamp-posts advertise a slimming clinic which tempts you to ‘surprise your husband with your curves this Women’s Day’. But the headlines are about steely Irom Sharmila, and little girls who continue to be raped and murdered as if the verbiage over Nirbhaya is all just empty noise. So what’s the battle for women’s rights really all about?

Yes, i balked at the first two notices. They seemed regressive, especially the one about the curves for hubby-ji. Worse, the ‘o’ in its ‘Women’s Day’ was shaped like the women’s symbol. Surely it was a travesty to deploy it for something that was not just frivolous, but also quite the opposite of what March 8 represents? Hey, babe, you’re supposed to stand up against patriarchal stereotypes, not lie down purring with satisfaction at your sexual slavery.

The poster in our lift could merely be about just a fun evening. But, i couldn’t help a party-pooper thought. Its visuals were from last year’s event, and showed our Dosti ladies in flamingo finery, shaking out a ‘Sheila ki Jawani’ and happily taking on Munni ki badnami. So, the chosen way to celebrate women’s liberation is to plunge into an item number — the same entity currently being blamed for women’s many-fanged humiliations? Interesting.

An even more spoilsport thought surfaced. Wasn’t this amateur kajra-mujra just one thrust removed from another increasingly popular feature of girlie nights — the male stripper, who goes through his suggestive paces to catcalls and vixen-whistles? The women hysterically stuff currency notes into his G-string, and they may or may not stop short at pawing his six-pack. No one in this smart, intelligent, designer bagging audience stops to think that this is the same, denounced demeaning objectification, even if in reversed roles. Surely, with their advantages, they should be able to come up with a more evolved way of asserting equality?

Eek! Do i sound like the secret cousin-sister of Mumbai’s ‘Hockeystick’ Dhoble? A covert member of Mangalore‘s Hindu Jagran Vedike? Subhash Padil, leader of its goons who barged into a homestay last July and beat up the young men and women celebrating a birthday, had swaggered later, “I have no remorse …Do you know what they were up to? They were drinking beer, and you know what that leads to?…Going to parties and drinking and smoking…Is that any way to celebrate a birthday? It is because of our actions that the girls there were saved from being dishonoured.” Righttt! Slapping, manhandling and ripping their clothes is the morally acceptable way to rescue women from certain shame.

So, amidst the righteous hyperventilation which marks March 8, perhaps it would be helpful to find some quiet time to ask if there is a right or wrong kind of liberation. To realise that women, long-time victims in primeval power assertions, are again the first casualties of today’s ‘clash of civilisations’: between ‘traditional’ values and liberalised aspirations. That freedom, by its very definition, cannot be chained to someone else’s notions of correctness.

In the age of post-post Lib, being seriously sexy is as legit as being seriously activist. Women are free to choose between being a Malaika Arora or a Mallika Sarabhai. Or neither. They can choose to be a homemaker instead of a power-babe. Or be able to without apology. We shouldn’t let the neo-dictatorship of the feminists become as bruising as that of the old Big Daddies.

***

Alec Smart said: “In Modi’s ‘Love Story’, ‘Shove means never having to say you’re sorry

‘Soorinje can’t be allowed to go unless innocents are freed’


STAFF REPORTER, The Hindu

Chief Minister yet to sign order on Soorinje’s release

There was no progress made in reporter Naveen Soorinje’s case at Monday’s Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar.

A resolution to drop the criminal charges against Soorinje of Kasturi Newz24 was passed by the Cabinet during its last meeting on January 31. But the resolution has not yet been signed by Mr. Shettar as a result of which Soorinje continues to be in jail.

While Mr. Shettar once again told journalists that he would sign the Cabinet resolution and facilitate Soorinje’s release, he did not commit to a deadline.

Meanwhile, a senior Minister told reporters after Monday’s Cabinet meeting that there is “pressure” from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the case.

“There is a demand from them [RSS] that the State should also withdraw cases against the other accused in the case,” the Minister said on the condition of anonymity.

Speaking from Mangalore, MLA J. Krishna Palemar said, “There are other innocents in the case. We cannot allow Soorinje’s release unless they too are released.”

Charges

Soorinje has been in jail since November 7, 2012 on the charge of colluding with the Hindu Jagaran Vedike group that attacked boys and girls celebrating a birthday at a homestay in Mangalore on July 28, 2012.

Journalists, who are fighting for Soorinje’s release, have said that Soorinje was a victim of political machinations. It is the official position of the Karnataka Union of Working Journalists as well as the Editors’ Guild of India that Soorinje should have been made a witness in the case as it was footage shot by his cameraman that helped the police identify and arrest the attackers.

 

#India – Crossing the Lakshman rekha- moral policing #Vaw


 

 

VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED – Recently in Mangalore, Outlook

 

 

The attack on a homestay in Mangalore clearly shows that Hindutva ideologues define the moral and cultural boundaries in coastal Karnataka.

 

 

 

BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT 

Naveen Soorinje, the journalist who was arrested in connection with the attack on a homestay, being taken to a court in Mangalore in November 2012. 

The visiting hours at the Mangalore Sub-Jail are between 11-30 a.m, and 1 p.m. Visitors of undertrials gather around the imposing jail gate ahead of time as a guard usually checks the contents of their stainless steel lunch boxes before they are allowed inside. Soon, the motley group of relatives, friends and the odd journalist is led to either of the two wards where undertrials are lodged. A double-grilled window separates the visitor from the undertrial. Within minutes of reaching the enclosure, there is a cacophony of voices as the visitors jostle to find a convenient spot.

As this reporter heads for the window, a dishevelled Naveen Soorinje saunters in on the other side of it. The 28-year-old journalist has lost some weight since his arrest but he is upbeat. As is evident from his name, Soorinje is not a Muslim, but is lodged in the Muslim ward. “If I were in the Hindu ward, I would have been killed. There are many people there whom I’ve exposed through my work,” he says with a smile.

Soorinje, a journalist with Kasturi News, a 24-hour Kannada news channel, was arrested on November 7, 2012 when he was named in a charge sheet filed by the Mangalore police following the incidents that took place at Morning Mist Homestay. On July 28, 2012, a mob of 25 to 30 activists of the Hindu Jagran Vedike (HJV) led by 34-year-old Subhash Padil barged into the homestay and beat up a group of young men and women gathered there for a birthday party.

Videos of the attack, which are available online, show that the girls are manhandled, their dresses are ripped and they are slapped hard by HJV activists. A young man is stripped of his shirt and dragged by his hair across the room and pounded by a group of attackers.

The videos, which were played on loop on local and national news channels for a couple of days, drew nationwide condemnation. The ugly scene the Hindu right-wing elements created was recorded by some local journalists.

There were two other journalists at the venue apart from Soorinje, Rajesh Srinivas of TV 9, a well-known Kannada news channel, and Sharan Raj of Sahaya TV, a local news channel reportedly close to the Hindu right-wing. According to Soorinje’s testimony, he received a tip-off about the raid and tried to contact the police as soon as he realised that an attack was under way. However, his presence had irked the police who, Soorinje said, wanted to teach him a lesson.

Subsequently, charges were filed against the attackers as well as Soorinje and Sharan Raj (it remains a mystery why charges were not filed against Srinivas). Raj is in the Hindu ward of the jail. Strangely, the attackers and the journalists were charged under the same sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) pertaining to rioting, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and outraging the modesty of a woman.

Subhash Padil is known to play the moral vigilante of the Hindutva forces in Mangalore city. He was one of the members of the group that attacked women in Amnesia Pub on January 24, 2009. He has had stints in the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Rama Sene.

“I have no remorse for what I did. Yes, I led the group that attacked the girls at the homestay but do you know what they were up to? They were drinking beer and you know what that leads to…,” Padil shouted from across the grilled window of the jail. He added: “How does a girl celebrate a birthday party? Do you go to a remote location with boys and drink beer? We don’t have any problem if you sit with your family and have a quiet dinner but going to parties and drinking and smoking…. Is that any way to celebrate a birthday? It is because of our actions that the girls at the homestay were saved from getting dishonoured. We have ensured that such immoral activities have come down in Mangalore.”

The attacks on Amnesia Pub and the home stay are just two of the many incidents that have taken place in the coastal Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka in the past few years.

It is clear from the fiery rhetoric of people like Padil that the moral and cultural boundaries in the area are defined by Hindutva ideologues and anyone who breaches that boundary is a target of their foot soldiers. Women especially should be very careful about stepping out of the confines of the cultural Hindu rashtra, and if a woman is “spoilt”, then the family is dishonoured. Getting “corrupted” by “modernity” and by befriending Muslim men (love jehad) is the easiest way in which Hindu women in Dakshina Kannada can overstep the Lakshman rekha drawn by the Sangh Parivar.


The police escort youth who were attacked by pro-Hindutva activists at a party at Padil on the outskirts of Mangalore in July 2012. 

Sample some of the incidents that have occurred in the recent past as reported in the local media:

On January 30, a fracas broke out between a mixed-sex group of young people who were smoking at Rock Cafe in Mangalore and members of the Bajrang Dal and the Durga Vahini. The police, who arrived with the Hindutva brigade, took the youngsters to the police station and summoned their parents. On December 19, 2012, a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl were assaulted by activists at the Shibaroor temple festival near Mangalore. On December 15, a four-member gang assaulted a Muslim boy who was speaking to a Hindu girl in Bajpe in Mangalore. On November 7, a couple of youngsters in Kundapur in Udupi district was targeted. It later turned out that they were siblings. On November 2, activists of a Hindutva group brought a young woman to the Puttur police station alleging that she was engaged in immoral activities with a boy from a different community.

In a report brought out by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka (PUCL-K) and the Forum Against Atrocities on Women, Mangalore (FAAWM) after the homestay attack, 300 major and minor moral policing events between 1998 and July 2012 in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts have been recorded.

Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum, who has catalogued every reported event of moral policing, said: “The situation for young people in Mangalore is extremely scary as the youth are not able to mix freely.”

Postgraduate students at the Mass Communication and Media Studies Centre of St. Aloysius College expressed their views in a discussion with this journalist. “We are careful not to go out of the campus with friends of the opposite sex. We usually meet in groups and ensure that we do not stay out late,” said a first-year male student who did not want to be named. A girl student added: “We are apprehensive and make sure that we do not attract attention when we go out.” All the students had minor incidents to report about how people they knew were warned about public behaviour by self-appointed moral guardians.

Distinct Culture

Separated from the hinterland by the Western Ghats, the coastal belt of Karnataka has developed its own distinct culture. Dakshina Kannada district was part of the Madras Presidency during the colonial years.

The two dominant castes of Karnataka, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, have a minuscule presence in the region. The Muslims living in the coastal district, known as Bearys, are distinct from their counterparts elsewhere in the State. There is a historic Catholic Christian presence along the coast. The numerically strong Hindu castes of the region include the Billavas, the Moggaveeras and the Bunts, while Brahmins also have a significant presence.

The dominant languages of the region are Tulu and Konkani although Kannada is spoken and understood widely. Interestingly, Dakshina Kannada has the highest literacy rate in Karnataka, marginally ahead of Bangalore.

 

When migration to countries around the Persian Gulf began in the late 1960s, the Bearys took advantage of the economic opportunities that unfolded, and the funds they repatriated caused a fundamental change in the caste-based economy of the region. Non-Muslim migrants to other parts of India also caused the coastal belt to be flush with funds. Mangalore’s communal polarisation started with the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

Recognising the presence of important religious institutions and the changes in the economy, the Sangh Parivar constituents began to systematically work in the region from the 1980s, making it a Hindutva laboratory. Their efforts paid off when coastal Karnataka emerged as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral bastion in the 1990s.

Muslims, who constitute 22 per cent of the population in Dakshina Kannada, have also been influenced by the identity politics of Muslim groups from northern Kerala in the past decade, and there are reported incidents of Muslims doing counter moral policing. The area has emerged as a communal tinderbox with slow self-segregation among the communities as well. Distinct Hindu, Muslim and Christian residential areas are emerging.

The district was once known as the most progressive part of Karnataka, but Hindutva forces have overrun it now. Jagadish Shenava, an advocate and the district working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), articulates this aggression when he says: “We are very strong here and the situation has gone beyond normal. No Muslim boys and Hindu girls in the area can meet without causing a communal riot. Our next target is Manipal as it is the hub of illegal activities like pubbing.”

It is in this background that the role of the media needs to be examined. There are only a handful of Kannada newspapers such as Karavali Ale (Coastal Wave) and Vaartha Bharathi that are waging a relentless battle against the excesses of the Sangh Parivar. Employees of Karavali Ale were targeted recently after the newspaper published an article that linked a senior leader of the HJV with drug supply in the region.

The journalist community in the region, for the most part, has either been silent on or collaborated with the gradual communalisation of the region. Soorinje’s work has had an impact in the media. About his reportage of the homestay incident, he says: “The July 28 incident in Mangalore is not a stray incident. Such events occur here every week. If I had not shot the visuals, the police would not have accepted the fact that the assault had happened. This has been the case in many such incidents in the past.”

The journalist community in Bangalore rallied around Soorinje. Some journalists even went on a three-day hunger strike in January demanding his release. This forced the State Cabinet to withdraw all charges against Soorinje on January 31 but he continues to remain in jail. On February 6, a public interest petition was filed against the withdrawal of the cases against Soorinje, prolonging his incarceration.