शनिवार, जनवरी 15, 2011

Media on attack - The Rahul Singh’s Story

 Rahul Singh is another name targeted by the state for raising voices of its wrong doings. He is neither an activist nor affiliate of any underground group. He is working Journalist. He did not commit any crime defined under law. He, as a journalist, covered a story, which had raised serious concerns over the present character of the state, its accountability and dread towards those who speaks about human rights at large. The latest actions of the Gujarat government in the Lunavada exhumation case, which has resulted in the harassment of Mr. Rahul Singh, simply for having conducted his job as a journalist, raise serious questions about the freedom of the press.

On one hand, no action has yet been taken against those responsible for the Pandharwada massacre during the Gujarat riots; remains of men, women, and children killed in the massacre were found in 2005, piled one on top of the other, with their clothes and shoes on, in a shallow pit off the Paanam river, near Lunavada, in Godhra district. On the other hand, a journalist, who worked independently and responsibly for two weeks to collect information and bring the story of mass dumping of these bodies to light, is being victimized by the Gujarat government.

On Wednesday morning, 29th December 2010, a team of six men in plain clothes claiming to be Gujarat police officers arrived at the Bhopal residence of Mr. N.K. Singh, a senior journalist and father of Mr. Rahul Singh. The team asked for Mr. Rahul Singh, in order to take him to Gujarat for interrogation. It was during this sudden morning visit by the Gujarat police that the family of Mr. Rahul Singh, the local and national media, and the wider public first learnt that Mr. Rahul Singh has been made co-accused in a case that represents the latest legal twist surrounding the Lunavada exhumation. The manner in which the police officers behaved when they found out that Mr. Rahul Singh was not present in his father’s house, and what appears to be a violation of Section 67 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, in the process of serving the summons, have created the impression that the Gujarat police have ulterior motives that could endanger Mr. Rahul Singh’s safety, and lead to his arrest if he is taken to Gujarat.

Mr. Rahul Singh, who presently resides in New Delhi as a journalist with Headlines Today, was employed by Sahara TV when he investigated and brought to light the story of mass burials near Lunavada in late 2005. For over 3 years, families of victims did not know whether their kin were dead or alive, and if dead, where the remains lay, something that would have helped families conduct last rites and attain closure.

In December 2005, Rahul was working with Sahara TV. He came to know about the mass grave in Panderwada village from a local human rights activist, Mr. Rais Khan, who then worked for a civil rights organisation called Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). The family members of 21 persons, whose remains were recovered from the mass grave, were seeking the whereabouts of their missing relatives with the state administration at the time. These 21 persons were found missing after the Gujarat genocide, orchestrated by the BJP that ruled the state then and is also now holding power in Gujarat. The state administration and the local police, of which Mr. J. K. Bhat was the SP at that time, had informed the family members of the missing persons, that the state police did not have any information about their missing relatives.

It was at this time that some villagers in Panderwada came to know about the mass grave in the outskirts of their village. The villagers came to know about the mass grave when they found dogs scavenging bones and other decomposed flesh that the villagers suspected to be human remains. They reportedly informed Khan, who was at the time working for CJP assisting the victims' families of the 2002 genocide about the suspected presence of decomposed human remains in the village. Khan contacted the families who were searching for their missing relatives and also Rahul and informed them about the possibility of unearthing the mass grave.

Rahul contacted the then SP of Panchmahal district, Mr. Bhat and informed him about the suspected mass grave. The officer, in an interview that was broadcast over TV, informed Rahul that the police had no information about the grave or about the 21 persons alleged to be missing and suspected to be buried in the grave. Then, Rahul along with the camera crew went to the suspected mass grave where the family members of the missing persons were unearthing the grave. At the site, the family members unearthed human remains, with dress and other personal belongings of their missing relatives. Rahul, on behalf of the Sahara TV, recorded the incident and later broadcast the incident on TV. The incident revealed the attempt of those who were behind the Gujarat genocide to hide evidence of mass executions.

The state police and the administration were forced to respond. They cordoned the area and an official exhumation was conducted. The recovered remains were sent to the Forensic Laboratory in Hyderabad and the tests conducted revealed that the exhumed remains are that of the 21 persons that the families were claiming to be missing since the genocide. The state police soon came up with a story that the exhumed human remains were in fact buried after a post-mortem examination of the dead bodies of unidentified victims of a 'communal violence' in the state. The state police further claimed that the place from which the human remains were recovered was in fact a burial ground and not a hidden mass grave. The fact however is that the place resembles a waste dumping ground, and the bodies were piled one over the other and were buried only a few inches below the surface, that dogs were able to dig up the remains, which led to the disclosure of the mass grave.

The state police also produced post-mortem reports that they claimed to be relevant to the bodies that were recovered and identified, alleging that the bodies, before they were buried were examined by a forensic surgeon. However, the reports of the post-mortem examination of the 21 bodies, all conducted in the same facility and by the same crew, had the time of post-mortem examination recorded, in five to ten minutes intervals, suggesting that the documents were fabricated to fit the story invented by the state police and the administration, and further to justify the claim that the bodies were buried after proper procedures prescribed by the law.

Is it not Mr. Singh’s responsibility as a journalist to tell stories to the best of his knowledge and ability? Why does the Gujarat government need to go beyond involving Mr. Singh as a witness? Why has it made him a co-accused? Will, tomorrow, any journalist covering any story that does not suit the interests of an insecure government, be made a co-accused at a later date and become enmeshed in its political machinations? If this is not censorship, then what is it? Such intimidation can only serve to prevent journalists from doing their work without fear or favour.

We are extremely concerned about the implications of the move by the Gujarat government to make a journalist doing his bona-fide duty in investigating a story and recording an event as a co-accused. As per the information available with us, Mr. Singh has been booked under IPC sections 114, 192, 193, 201, 295A. The applications of sections 114, 192, and 193, and 201 on a journalist in this case represent a direct attack on press freedom. Can a journalist be charged with abetment to a crime if the crime takes place while he is only doing his job as a journalist and recording an event? Will every journalist, whose story ends up being used as evidence in a court of law, be held liable later for fabricating evidence by the party unhappy with the realities of the evidence? As for section 201, we have learned from Mr. Singh that he painstakingly investigated and corroborated the truth of the dumping of bodies and bore witness as a journalist to the moments when victim’s families and religious leaders gathered to exhume the bodies. Victim families and leaders never objected to Mr. Singh’s presence at the time. In terms of section 295A, even if one were to follow the absurd argument that exhumation of dumped remains from a shallow pit by victim’s families, who had been seeking information about their loved ones for years, ended up hurting religious sentiments 5 years after the event, how is a journalist who recorded the event and didn’t physically take part in the exhumation or even personally publish the story, be held liable for hurting religious sentiments.

In another case in Manipur, a journalist who has been detained by the state police in an alleged attempt to silence the local media in the state, the Manipur State Police Commando Unit arrested Mr. Ahongsangbam Mobi Singh on 29 December 2010 on the allegation that he is working for the secessionist elements operating in the state. Singh has denied the police case and has accused the police that they are trying to implicate him in a fabricated case as he was not willing to pay heed to the demands of either the government or the police.

In Indian Express v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641, it has been held that the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. The courts have the duty to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that abridge that freedom. Freedom of press itself has three essential elements which are freedom of access to all sources of information (Indian Express v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 6412), freedom of publication (M.S.M. Sharma v. Sri Krishna Sinha, AIR 1959 SC 395), and freedom of circulation (Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124). This situation also informs us that there in no body exists in India to look after such suppressions on media, especially media persons. Now Rahul and Mr. Ahongsangbam Mobi Singh will have to fight a legal battle, which institution will provide them legal and financial support, no way!! In the present state framework, is a case against minister, MP or Bureaucrat has to be framed, the police or any investigating agency has to get permission from the concerned bodies, but in the context of media persons, government or police can move in action, even without any reason, there is no accountability fixed for the biased actions. 

The 2002 Gujarat genocide has placed India in the list of those countries where conditions exist where such a crime against humanity is possible. The incident has attracted such global condemnation, that even recent reports, like the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, in her report (A/HRC/10/8/Add.3) to the UN General Assembly dated 26 January 2009, in paragraphs 34 to 36 has criticised Government of India, in particular the Government of Gujarat, in taking no responsible and conceivable actions against those who were responsible for the genocide. The report in paragraph 36 specifically mentions about the Godhra train burning incident and the violence that erupted thereafter in Gujarat. The Rapporteur expresses concern about the demonstrated lack of interest of the state government in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the genocide.

Furthermore, according to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which India has ratified, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

In light of the above, and with knowledge of the recent history of the Gujarat government and happenings in Manipur in quelling dissenting voices, it is very clear that now media freedom is also in threat. In contrast to these 2 cases we shudder to think about the implications that this will have to freedom of expression and freedom of the press not only in the stultifying confines of Gujarat or Manipur but throughout the nation.

कोई टिप्पणी नहीं: