Media trial and the tale of a terror accused


By Abu Zafar12/3/12, tHE NeWZFIRST

All throughout the course of trial and after he was acquitted of all terror charges, Syed Wasif Haider, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur district, was being termed as a ‘terrorist’ by the media. When the trial by media crossed his tolerance limit, he sued three Hindi dailies thus taking them to court.

Syed Wasif Haider, a graduate in Physics and Mathematics from Chatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University, was arrested on 31 July 2001 for his alleged involvement in a bomb blast that took place on 14 August 2000.

 

Three policemen were injured in the blast caused by a bomb planted in a pressure cooker. After the arrest, the Police claimed that Wasif was a member of Hizbul Mujahidin, an outlawed terror outfit. Subsequently he was charged in different anti national cases at different places.

Later after languishing for about eight years in the jail, he was acquitted of the all the charges by different courts in Kanpur and Delhi by12 August, 2009.

Narrating the entire account of fabrication of cases Wasif told Newzfirst that how the media trial added insult to injury.

“First of all my parents were not able to come out of the trauma of my arrest, this media trial made them further untouchable and disconnected in the society.” says 40 years old Wasif.

Media trials:

A Hindi daily, Amar Ujala, published a story on its city page on 19 December2001, where the newspaper introduced him as terrorist.

The same newspaper published a news story on 11 August 2006 about under-trial ’s demand for some facilities in jail. The newspaper carried a headline ‘Atankion ne jail me suvidhaen maangi, faisla 28 ko’ (Terrorists demand facilities in jail, decision on 28).

Wasif says that according to Uttar Pradesh Jail Manual, graduate prisoners can ask for chair, table and some other facilities for the purpose of study. (But he never got it, as the decision remained pending before fast track court.)

Trial continues after acquittal too!!!

Wasif was acquitted in one of several cases by the additional session judge of Kanpur on 23 April, 2003. Citing that none of the witnesses was able to establish that accused have committed the crime, the Court observed that the prosecution has failed to prove the charges against any of the accused, as such all the accused are entitled for acquittal from the offences for which they have been charged.

On 13 August 2006 the same newspaper Amar Ujala again published a news-story with a headline – ‘Khufiya ki paini nazar, Kanpur me 11 ISI agent’ (Intelligence has a close watch, 11 ISI agents are in Kanpur). Wasif says that the list of ISI agents included his name too.

According to Wasif still such kind of defamatory, fabricated and planned stories are being published regularly.

Distressed by such media-practices, I didn’t find any other way but to sue those publications in the Supreme Court, he says. “All of them have published the news of our acquittal but still the media trial is on.”

He has sent legal notices to other two Hindi dailies Dainik Jagaran and Hindustan Dainik for derogatory reports against him.

Wasif was working as area sales manager in an American company Becton Dickinson, which manufactures medical equipments and was earning handsome salary. But after his acquittal nobody is ready to offer him a job.

The stigma has not even spared her younger daughter, who has to face the taunts at the school because of derogatory media depictions.

Larger questions over media reporting:

This is a serious question; who has given the right to them (media) to pronounce someone as criminal? asks Wasif.

One who knows the basic law is aware that no one can introduce someone as criminal unless he or she is proved guilty by the court of law, he says.

Wasif sent a legal notice to Amar Ujala through his lawyer Irshad Hanid on 30 April this year arguing to publish an apology for aforesaid news-stories and to stop doing the same in future.  “But, they continued to do more than earlier.” says Wasif.

“On last 27 September they published a news regarding terror activities in Kanpur with a headline ‘ye tha mamla’ (This was the case) wherein they included my father Syed Hiader Jafri’s name in the list of terrorists.”

Wasif’s father Syed Hiader Jafri has won several awards for translations including Sahitya Academy award.

“Is media superior to the Court?” asks distressed Wasif. “Even the guidelines of Supreme Court of India say that media should recheck the facts and publish truth.”

He further says that newspapers also write that those who meet ‘us’ terrorists will be investigated by the Police. Then who will be having courage to meet us and get into trouble?

Who has given powers to media to give character certificate, questions Wasif. According to him the Hindi media is more biased and has criminal mindset than others.

“If the Police catch a dog and claim that they have arrested it because it was trained in Pakistan, this Hindi media will publish that news without asking any question.” he says.

 

Muslim Prejudice-‘I’m jobless. I can’t start a business also because friends refuse me loans’


‘I’m jobless. I can’t start a business also because friends refuse me loans’

Syed Wasif Haider
Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
Age 40 | Years In Jail 8
Arrested July 2001 | Acquitted August 2009

Syed Wasif Haider

Photo: Vijay Pandey


SYED WASIF HAIDER, a resident of Kanpur, UP, was jailed for eight years, before the courts finally acquitted him of all charges on 14 August 2009. As a part of the delegation meeting the president on 18 November, he had only one thing to say: “Please stop the media from defaming me. I was declared innocent in 2009. Yet, the local media drags my name in whenever there’s a blast. I’m facing a social boycott. Children in the locality don’t play with a ‘terrorist’s’ daughters. Relatives feel police will hound them for visiting me.”

After his arrest, nine cases, including rioting, waging war against the State, sedition, ferrying arms and explosives were slapped against Haider. Every single case fell apart because the courts either refused to entertain the confessional statement made in police custody (which often found space in the media) or found the witnesses “unable to establish” that Haider had a role in the Kanpur bomb blasts of 14 August 2000 and other offences.

At the time of his arrest, Haider was 29. The only son of his parents, he left behind a pregnant wife and three children, while he spent eight years shuttling between Kanpur Jail, the Navi Central Jail in Allahabad and the Central Prison in Fatehgarh.

TEHELKA met Haider at his lawyer friend’s house in east Delhi. Here, this wellbuilt man in his early forties lives with his memories. Recounting his trauma, he says the police hung him upside down in a dark cell for three days after picking him up. Then they pushed washing powder and water down his nose. Then electricity was passed through his toes till he fainted. His torturers never left any mark on his body because that would have muddied their FIR claims. Interestingly, the interrogation also included questions on what sect of Islam he followed.

“I replied I was a Muslim, but they insisted on sect and ideology. Later I realised if one follows Salafist Islam, it becomes easy for them to label him a Lashkar-e-Toiba loyal. Sunni Barelvi groups would be linked with Hizbul Mujahideen,” Haider says.

Unable to bear it anymore, Haider finally gave in to the torture, agreeing to confess on video camera to whatever the police wanted. In the confession made under duress, Haider said he was trained by the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir and Pakistan — information that found its way to the media.

“My wife had to sell her jewellery to make ends meet,” says Haider. “Some 38 lakh went into meeting legal expenses (the case went right up to Supreme Court). Today I’m jobless. I can’t start a business because friends refuse me loans. Wherever I go looking for a job, once they learn about my eight years in jail, companies tell me they will get back to me. They never get back.”

Incredibly, even after the courts acquitted Haider, the media did not stop its trial. Thanks to “anonymous sources”, and a total disregard for accountability, some blast or the other was always linked with Kanpur, and not surprisingly, Haider’s name would crop up. For instance, the Dainik Jagran dated 9 December 2010 had a news item on a terror attack that suggested the likelihood of links with Kanpur and mentioned Haider along with others as ‘atanki’ (terrorist).

Holding up the Dainik Jagran dated 9 January 2011 as an example, Haider shows a headline, which after translation reads: “Garbage Overwhelms Basketball Court”. Then he shows the next day’s paper (10 January 2011) which says: “Garbage Being Lifted from Basketball Court”. “This is the impact of the media,” says Haider. “Now imagine how I was demonised.”

Haider has filed a case against Dainik Jagran in the Allahabad High Court. Cases are also pending against Amar Ujala and Dainik Hindustan.

Baba Umar is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
babaumar@tehelka.com

 

No place for Dayamani, in mainstream media why ?


No place for Dayamani, Media Watch, Thehoot .org
A significant agitation against land acquisition and the bail and re-arrest of its leader were barely noticed by mainstream media.
 Isn’t it the media’s disdain for lower caste/class dissenters, wonders ARITRA BHATTACHARYA. Pix: Dayamani Barla, Indiatogether.org
 Friday, Oct 26 11:16:49, 2012

I remember my first glimpse of Dayamani Barla: there she was on the screen, fierce, stoic, talking about the ravages the Koel Karo dam and hydel power project would bring to the people of the region. I remember thinking of her as a charismatic-yet-grounded activist then, taking my cue from the images flickering on the screen. She was featured on a documentary on radical women writers, poets, and activists I think, but I may be wrong; I remember nothing of the documentary except that I encountered Dayamani Barla (and Putul Murmu) there for the first time.

Since that day in 2007, I encountered Barla on numerous occasions–in news reports on agitations against land acquisition, in meetings and agitations against excesses committed by the state, in newsletters of grassroots NGOs, and in her own writings on numerous issues.

And so, it wasn’t so much of a surprise when I came across this news report stating that she’d been sent to jail in a 2006 case. Of late, the convener of the Adivasi-Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch and one of the national conveners of National Alliance for People’s Movement had been camping with villagers in Nagri, who were protesting against the “acquisition” of fertile agricultural land for the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and the NationalUniversity for Study and Research in Law (NUSRL). Barla’s activities as a journalist turned anti-displacement (tribal, woman) activist had been a sore point for the Jharkhand government, and her participation in the Nagri agitation perhaps tested the State’s patience, which sent the police to hound her. She evaded arrest and surrendered before the court on October 16 and was granted bail two days later.

The jail authorities, however, refused to release Barla on October 19, and instead said that she had been arrested in a fresh case. Among similar instances, my mind went back to the occasion when activist Arun Ferreira was re-arrested in front of the very jail he was released from this January. Like Barla, Ferreira had spent years exposing the excesses of the state, and it’s no secret that the state’s machinery tries to keep such elements behind bars.

Barla’s bail and her re-arrest, however, were hardly noticed by the mainstream media. None of the big three among the English papers—The Times of IndiaHindustan Times, and Indian Expresscarried a story on Barla’s bail and re-arrest. There was no story either on the two English television news networks–NDTV and CNN-IBN.

What was more surprising, however, was the fact that while Dainik JagranHindustan andAmar Ujala had no story on her surrender, bail, or re-arrest, Dainik Bhaskar and Navbharat Times reported her surrender before the court, but had no story on her being granted bail, and her subsequent re-arrest. Only Prabhat Khabar, the paper Barla used to write for, carried ashort article on October 19 on her being granted bail. But even here, there was no report on her being re-arrested thereafter.

Holy cows

It has often been observed by media analysts that the regional media is more sensitive to local happenings, and the spurt in the regional media’s readership and circulation owes a lot to the localization of content. What might the exclusion of news about Barla’s re-arrest tell us about the regional media then?

For one, it might point to the fact that across the board, the media considers the IIMs and such educational institutions as holy cows; they are, like the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, a matter of prestige, and essential to the progress of the country. Anyone opposing these is viewed with deep suspicion therefore. So also Barla.

Another factor to keep in mind perhaps in the context of localization of the regional media’s content and the exclusion of Barla’s bail and re-arrest is numbers. Barla surrendered before the court against the backdrop of the Nagri agitation. Arguably, the 153 families that are the landowners–or project-affected in the land acquisition for IIM and NUSRL, on paper–do not constitute a large enough number for the regional media to take notice and tweak their content.

Also, when a paper carries an article on someone being sent to a 14-day judicial custody, mentioning the charges she is accused of, but chooses not to report on her being subsequently granted bail and then re-arrested–like in the case of Dainik Bhaskar and Navbharat Times–where does that leave the reader? Does such partial news serve to discredit/malign the activist in the eyes of the reader?

Since the IIM is a matter of prestige, it comes as no surprise that The Times of India did cover the Nagri protest. The article in the paper, however, does not mince words about which side it is on, when it states, “All the protesters, led by Barla, were carrying traditional weapons and attacked the policemen on duty”. With this one statement, an alleged act of attacking the policemen on duty, in a case for which the accused has not even appeared in court, is converted into an undisputed fact.

Still more curious is The Times of India’s attribution of a quote to Barla for a story datelined October 20. How did the paper manage to speak to Barla when she was supposedly in jail? Are we, as readers, to disregard the Asian Human Rights Committee report which states that Barla has been in jail since October 16? In the TOI’s scheme of things, Barla was clearly still leading the protesters!

Pecking order

Does the exclusion of Barla’s bail and re-arrest reflect the social hierarchies that the media is deeply entrenched in? Tehelka happens to be the only mainstream media outlet in English that has carried a story on Barla and the Nagri agitation. (Or is it Nargi? Why does Tehelka say it’s Nargi, when everyone else across the Hindi and English media calls it Nagri? Further, why doesTehelka state that Barla surrendered before the Jharkhand police when everyone else says she surrendered before the local court?).

In the media’s pecking order perhaps, Barla is not a credible activist; at least she’s not big enough for her case to be reported.  

To be considered powerful/ credible in the mediascape, an activist has to be based in Delhi, and/or take potshots at big politicians (readers might recall how the national media “discovered” Anna once he shifted “base” to Delhi; we might recall Kejriwal too. And also think of how the media ignored P.V. Rajagopal and his march though the numbers he was commanding was more than Anna Hazare’ s).

It has often been said that non-violent agitation requires an audience to be effective, and in the context of agitations in rural areas, this audience is absent. And so is the media, which does not bother to report on an agitation unless the numbers are big enough for it not to ignore. The absence of media reports often becomes a credible ploy in the hands of the state in its efforts to criminalise dissent. No media coverage could very well feed into the theory that the dissenter was carrying out activities secretively and illegally.

Of course, agitators could resort to spectacles; they could work towards creating images that capture attention. Think of the jal satyagraha in Madhya Pradesh, and how the national media honed in on the story then, only to forget all about it once the spectacle was over.

Then again, even a spectacle offers no guarantee of coverage; the jal satyagraha in Kudankulam was hardly used by the media to raise questions it ought to have, as this recent Hoot storyshowed.

Barla’s exclusion from newspapers and newsreels also points to another factor: the thousands of activists and dissenters lodged in jails and the systemic ignoring of their cases by the media. Binayak Sen has often been at pains to explain that his case is just one among thousands in the country. Yet why is it that we never hear of Dayamani Barlas, Jeetan Marandis, Sudhir Dhawales, Anjali Sontakkes, or Sheetal Sathes in the same way as we heard of Sen?

Is it the media’s bias–against people from a lower caste-class background, against “people not like us”? For, the one thing common between all the names mentioned above is the fact that none of them comes from the middle class. They are from among the tribal or lower caste sections of society, and have/had been leading struggles against state excesses in various ways before being branded Maoists by the state and arrested.

Barla hasn’t been called a Maoist as yet–at least there’s no government propaganda in the media labeling her of leading a Maoist cell or indoctrinating the youth. But her case isn’t so different from the few mentioned above. And in ignoring her case, the media has once again shown itself to be part of the systematic disdain with which lower caste-class dissenters are treated.

 

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