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/

 

Journalist Victimized by the Karnataka police #FOE #mediagag


 

In jail for the past 50 days for covering the Mangalore homestay raid,

Naveen Soorinje’s bail application comes up tomorrow.   

 

Posted Tuesday, Dec 25, 2012, http://www.thehoot.org/

On November 7, 2012, Kannada TV channel Kasturi’s reporter in Mangalore, Naveen Soorinje, 28, was returning after covering a public function addressed by former Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy, when he was arrested by the Mangalore police. From that date to now, he has been lodged in the Mangalore sub-jail. He has been denied bail by both Mangalore Judicial Magistrate First Class [JMFC] and the Mangalore district and sessions court.
Soorinje’s crime? He covered and telecast the attack on a birthday party at a homestay in the Mangalore’s suburb of Padil by Hindutva activists on July 28, 2012. But the charges against him are: unlawful assembly [IPC section143], rioting [147], rioting with deadly weapons [148], criminal trespass [447], house trespass [448], wrongful restraint [341], voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means [323/324], criminal intimidation [506], intentional insult with intent to provoke breach [504], assault or criminal force against women with intent [354] and dacoity [395].
The Mangalore police have arrested 31 persons with Hindutva links in connection with the homestay incident. Soorinje, the only reporter present on the spot, and whose report identifying this incident as  ‘’Talibanization of Mangalore’’ was the basis for the entire case against the Hindutva activists, has been charged and arrested under the same sections of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] as the accused.
When his bail application comes up on December 26, 2012, Soorinje will have spent 50 days in jail. A small band of committed journalists and activists from Mangalore are fighting for his release. They have given petitions to the district administration, tried to get chief minister JagadishShettar to intervene, but to no avail.  Home minister R Ashoka,  reportedly at the behest of Soorinje’s boss Anita Kumaraswamy, the wife of former chief minister H D Kumarswamy, is said to have tried to protect the journalist. But, according to sources in Ashoka’s office, his efforts were muzzled  by a PIL filed by some Mangalore residents in the Karnataka High Court seeking a restraint on his intervention.
Who is Naveen Soorinje?
Mangalore reporters point out that Soorinje has been responsible for several exposes in his career, first as a reporter for the tabloid Karavali Ale and later, for the Kasturi channel. In the course of his seven year career, he has written and done audio visual stories that have targeted Hindutva organizations, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Popular Front of India which is also a Muslim organization, the pontiff of Pejawar Mutt Vishveshateertha, who is the guru of former Madhya Pradesh CM Uma Bharti, and the powerful head of the Dharmasthala temple, the DharmadhikariVeerendraHeggade, among others.
‘’Naveen has taken on all-powerful organisations in the region, indiscriminately. He wrote exposes on corrupt policemen, exposes on journalists taking gifts in return for favours, so everyone was out to fix him. They have deliberately put non-bailable charges on him and ensured that he is out of circulation as a warning to everyone else who wants to expose the communalism bubbling over in Mangalore,’’ a fellow journalist, who declined to be named, told The Hoot.
Soorinje, by his own submission, had got a tip off from a source in Padil on July 28h that some people were preparing for an attack on Muslim boys who were consorting with Hindu girls. Soorinje says, according to a report compiled by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties Karnataka [PUCL-K]: ‘’The immediate thought that crossed my mind was, should I inform the police right away or not? I had not information about the organization that was going to attack. I also did not know who was going to be attacked or for what reason or the place at which the attack would take place. As I had been given the information by my news source, I thought I would inform the police only after confirming it.’’
Soorinje was the only reporter who reached the homestay, Morning Mist, before the attack at 6.50 pm. He had with him Rajesh Srinivas, the cameraman of another Kannada TV channel, TV-9, as his own cameraman was not available. Soorinje says when he reached there,  he saw a girl sitting in the verandah and two boys were at another corner, playing on their mobiles. ‘’There was nothing there which could provide a reason for assailants to attack, so even at that point, I did not think it was necessary to call the police, as the information that I had been given could be wrong.’’
But some 30 people gathered and barged in, as the girl on the verandah ran in and tried to shut the door. Soorinje says he immediately called the local inspector Ravish Nayak, but he did not receive the call. Soorinje then called the TV-9 reporter Rajesh Rao and asked him to contact Ravish Nayak, with the same results.
Along with the assaulters, another cameraman, Sharan of the local Mangalore channel, Sahaya TV, had come in. Sharan and Srinivas barged into the home stay along with the assailants, while Soorinje began reporting the story and alerting others. He says he was shocked at the kind of violence and molestation of the girls that the assailants indulged in and felt ‘’these things could not be made into visuals for the news. Very little of what happened there could be shot on camera. However, the way the assailants were manhandling the girls, if news cameras were not present, I shudder to think how much further they would have gone.’’
The police have built a case against Soorinje based on a complaint filed by an event manager Vijay Kumar, who was hosting the birthday party at the home stay. But Vijay Kumar has told PUCL-K: ‘’If the media had not been there, the goons would certainly have raped the girls. After the incident we gave a statement to the police. My signature was taken on a blank sheet of paper and then an FIR was prepared, some of whose points I don’t agree with.’’ He, along with other victims, held a press conference in Mangalore on July 29 and said: ‘’The media has helped us, there should be no case against them.’’
The police, further, did selective chargesheeting. Soorije was charged and put into jail, but the TV-9 cameraman whose footage was used by all channels including the national ones, is not among the accused. Yet another accused, Sharan of Sahaya TV, is going about his work in Mangalore, but he has not been arrested. A CD of the entire incident submitted by Soorinje to Ravish Nayak has gone ”missing” while a pen drive from TV-9 has been shown as the evidence. This serves the purpose of making TV-9 the witness and Soorinje the accused. The police have slapped the dacoity charge on him along with section 34 of the IPC, which reads:”When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.”
Naveen’s bail application comes up on December 26, 2012.

#Mangalore Mob attack- TV reporter’s version #VAW #Moralpolicing


The shameful news of Mangalore is very well known to you all. It is a good sign that eight assailants have been arrested in relation to this case. Along with the eight of the assailants the reporter Naveen Soorinje who reported the incident first has also been booked under section unlawful activities prevention act along with the eight assailants.  A friend in mail sent the account of the shameful event and him being framed in the case.
Here is what Naveen Soorinje has to say, A TRANSLATION….
At 6.45 in the evening on July 28, one of my news sources from Padil (in Mangalore) called me. This was all he told me: “Naveen, around 30 men have gathered near the Timber Yard in Padil Junction and I overheard them talking to someone trying to coax them to gather some more people. They were instructing someone to be prepared with their motorbikes. It looks like they are planning to attack the guest house in Padil. I overheard them saying something like Muslim boys and Hindu girls.”
I asked him to find out which organization the men belonged to. All he could gather was that they were from some Hindutva organization, though he could not find out the name of the exact organization they belonged to.
The immediate thought that crossed my mind was this: “Should I inform the police right away or should I not?” The dilemma was because there was no accurate information as to who belonging to which organization was to attack whom and where. I just had very rudimentary information on hand. If the members of the organization had called me themselves, I could have indeed informed the police instantly. As the news came from a my source, I thought I should inform the police only after confirming the news. Having come to this decision, I set out on my bike to Padil along with my cameraman.
In a while, my cameraman and I were outside the guest house/ home stay named Morning Mist located on the hill in Padil. None of the attackers who eventually turned up were present at the spot then.We stood there for five minutes unable to understand why anyone would plan to attack that particular home stay which is located half a kilometer away from the highway cutting through Padil. The home stay is surrounded by a tall compound wall on all four sides. There is only one gate and 60 meters from the gate is the home stay. I stood near the gate and watched. There was nothing happening inside that could conceivably provoke an attack. A girl was sitting outside on a chair and two boys in another corner of the bungalow were absorbed in their mobile games. They were not indulging in any activity which can be considered illegal. That is the reason why I did not inform the police at that point of time. If my information turned out to be wrong, it would be an unnecessary anxiety for the entire police department.
While I was making all these calculations in my mind, I saw a group of over 30 people marching towards the home stay. Out of curiosity I asked them in Tulu: “Do you know what the matter is? What is happening here?” Some boys in the group pointed to the girl sitting outside saying: “Look, there is the girl and there are the guys…” They ran towards them, all set for attack. The girl, who realized that the group was there to attack, ran inside the bungalow and tried to close the door unsuccessfully. The group of 30 managed to run to the door and open it before the girl could close it completely.
Only at that point was I completely aware of what was happening and my conscience was also awakened. I immediately called Ravish Nayak, Inspector, Mangalore (Rural) (+91-948085330) from my official number (+91-9972570044). That must have been around 7.15 p.m. Ravish Nayaka did not receive my call. On the other hand, the assault had just begun. The girls started running helterskelter failing to understand what was happening. The police personnel were not receiving the calls being made. I asked my friend Rajesh Rao of TV-9 to call the police and Ravish Nayak did not receive the call made by Rajesh Rao either.
While I was trying to get in touch with the police inspector, the cameraman ran behind the attackers and got started on his duty of recording the action. Till then only my cameraman and I were present at the spot but were soon joined by the cameraman of Sahaya TV, Sharan, and a photographer, Vinay Krishna. I was a mute witness to all that was happening there, with the guilt of not being able to do anything. More than half the attackers had consumed alcohol and were not in a position to listen to anything. I have been witness to violent incidents in my life, but never before violence of this scale and nature. Our cameraman was running wherever the group was attacking individuals. I was watching it and screaming and requesting, “Don’t hit the girls.” My request reached the camera sound recorder but did not reach the attackers.The boys who were attacked were pleading, “Please leave us. We are having a birthday party here. Please…” and were falling at the feet of the attackers. But nothing moved the attackers. If it were to be just this, probably I could have forgotten the incident. But I saw something much more terrible and shocking.
The girls who saw the boys being trashed were shocked at the sight and ran in all directions only to be followed by the attackers. Believe it or not, one of the girls jumped down from the first floor but was caught by nearly 20 attackers who began to pull out her clothes. They slapped her and pushed her to the wall. By then the girl in pink clothes managed to run away. When the attackers caught her, she was literally stripped naked. Leaving her with only one piece of cloth the assailants molested her. This sight sent a chill down my spine. Never in my life had I seen something as horrific as this, though I had heard of such things. These were the scenes which could not become visuals for the news. Only a portion of the incident was shot. Later on, all the boys and girls partying there were locked inside a room. All this happened in a matter of 15 minutes.
When the attackers were done with one round of their planned action, Inspector Ravish along with Police S.I. Manikantha Neelaswamy and others arrived at the spot. It appeared as though the police had a tie-up with the attackers. For over half an hour the police were in conversation with the attackers. I was utterly shocked by the scene of police conversing with the them. While they were conversing, one boy who was in the partying group tried to escape, but was caught by the police. When in the custody of the police, the attackers trashed him.
By then many media persons had arrived at the spot. My cameraman and I returned to the office and uplinked all the visuals to the Bangalore office. At 8:45 p.m. the news was aired. Within no time the visuals of our channel was used by national channels and thus the incident became national news. This angered city police Commissioner Seemanth Kumar who called my friend Rajesh Rao of TV-9 who then was with me. Rajesh put the call on loud speaker while Seemanth Kumar was saying: “Why should Naveen have reported the incident? I will teach him a lesson. He not only compared this incident to the Assam incident, but also said that Mangalore is being Talibanized. This time he will be taught a lesson. We will fix him in this case and none of his contacts at any level will be of any help.” It is crystal clear from the words of Seemanth Kumar that his concern was not the attack itself, but the fact of the attack being reported.
This morning I received yet another shock. The attacked boys and girls had given statements against me at the Mangalore Rural Police Station. I was sure that those statements were given under pressure. I guess the boys and girls had heard me requesting the assailants not to trash them. By evening my doubt was cleared. Speaking to the media the attacked boys and girls said: “We haven’t complained against the media. They have stood in our support.”
Mangalore (Rural) police have filed a case against me under the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The police have arrested eight of the assailants with the help of our visuals. The incident we have reported is shameful, not the visuals we have shown. The 28 July incident at Mangalore is neither a stray incident nor are such attacks in Mangalore a new phenomenon. Every week such incidents take place. Fundamentalists not only attack boys and girls mixing with the boys and girls of another religions but also take them to the police station. This incident would have taken place even if I had not shot it. Our recording has revealed the inhuman face of the fascists and has led to the arrest of eight attackers. No matter what is said and what cases are booked against me, I believe I have done my duty as a reporter and that is the only satisfaction to my hurt self.
It doesn’t matter to me that there are complaints filed against me and an FIR has been lodged. I will be happy if the attackers are punished because of the FIR lodged against me. If I am to be freed of these charges because of some pressure and if that is going to benefit the the attackers in any way, then I do not need such freedom. No matter what punishment is given to the attackers, it will never do justice to those girls who were assaulted right in front of my eyes. Yet they need to be punished.
There is more to write, but time does not permit. If any individual or association needs more information to fight the cause or if any investigation team needs more information, I can be contacted at any time of the day.
My address:
Naveen Soorinje
Reporter
Kasturi News 24
Mangalore
Mobile: +91-9972570044. +91-8971987904

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