Photo Credit: Malini Subramaniam
Two days after the attack on the house of Scroll.in contributor Malini Subramaniam, the Chhattisgarh police on Wednesday finally filed an First Information Report in the incident. However, Subramaniam’s lawyers described the FIR as “inadequate” since it does not account for the events leading up to the attack and fails to name anyone.
On Sunday evening, a group of 20-odd men from the Samajik Ekta Manch, a newly formed group that claims to be working to counter the spread of Naxalism in Bastar region, staged a demonstration outside Subramaniam’s house. She identified two of the men, since they had visited her house on January 10 and warned her against writing articles that tarnished the image of the police. Later that night, around 11 pm, the police had turned up at her house for questioning.
The month-long process of intimidation culminated in an attack on Subramaniam’s home in the early hours of Monday. Around 2.30 am, stones were hurled at her house, shattering the rear window of her car.
The local police initially refused to file an FIR.
After reports of the attack appeared in both local and national media, an FIR was filed on Wednesday against unnamed persons for the offences of house-trespass and “mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees and more”.
However, Isha Khandelwal, Subramaniam’s lawyer, pointed out that the FIR had several holes in it. She said”
“While registering the FIR, thepolice has ignored the evening incident and refused to accept the obvious fact that what happened in the night happened as a result of that, thus making both incidents part of one single continuous transaction. Also, the Manch’s action in the evening on its own amounts to an illegal act under Sections [of the Indian Penal Code] such as 117, 143,147,153 [relating to unlawful assembly, promoting enmity between classes and other charges] which are all cognisable. Then why an FIR for that incident where Malini has recognised people not been registered? Also the sections they have put up for the night incident are rather simple ones with less imprisonment even though offences under Section 440, 451, 452, 457 [relating to house trespass] are clearly made out.
Meanwhile, in a press conference, members of the Samajik Ekta Manch denied any involvement in the attack and claimed they were simply protesting against Subramaniam’s writings in a “democratic manner”.
Statements in support
Support has continued to pour in for Subramaniam.
The Editors’ Guild of India issued a statement expressing concern over attempts to intimidate her. “While the activists and the police are free to place their point of view, even counter the stories that she has written, the physical and mental intimidation of theScroll.in writer, Ms Subramaniam, and the attempt to stop her from reporting from the region is not acceptable,” it said. “It’s a crime to attack someone’s home. The incident is highly condemnable and against the tenets of the freedom of the press.”
The human rights organisation Amnesty International also issued a statement, calling at the attack “another indicator of the increasingly hostile atmosphere in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Chhattisgarh.”
“The government of Chhattisgarh must not just sit on its hands and watch journalists being threatened and harassed,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, Campaigner at Amnesty International India. “They must act on their promise to protect journalists from being attacked simply for doing their work.”
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a non-profit in the state, also issued a statement asking the government to ensure such attacks do not take place. It said an attempt was being made to create front organisations that would cover-up for the police.
Here is the full text of the Editors’ Guild statement.
The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by the intimidation of a contributor/stringer of the online magazine Scroll.in, Malini Subramaniam, currently based in Jagdalpur town of Bastar region in Chhattisgarh.
On Monday, February 8, a group of unidentified persons allegedly hurled stones at her home in which the rear window of her car parked in the compound was shattered. The incident took place within hours of a mob of 20 people who are part of a social group called Samajik Ekta Manch, which comprises of political workers of all major parties in Bastar and some former Salwa Judum activists claiming to be anti-Maoists, gathering outside her home Sunday evening and protesting against her writings as being pro-Maoists. They even accused her of being a Maoist sympathizer. Ms Subramaniam has been living with her daughter in Jagdalpur for four years now. While she is working as a stringer/contributor for the online news site Scroll.in for a little over one year, she was previously working on a project for the International Red Cross in Bastar. It was perhaps in the context of a series of her recent reports in Scroll.in that were perceived to be against the police that the Samajik Ekta Manch activists recently met her at her residence last week – this came after several inquiries and questioning of her by the local police themselves.
Bastar has been in the throes of an armed conflict. Two local stringers working for a newspaper have been arrested by the police on charges of aiding the Maoists and are languishing in jail. The Manch activists reportedly took objected to her reportage saying it was in support of the Maoists and against the development of the region and that she was not giving the others versions. While the activists and the police are free to place their point of view, even counter the stories that she has written, the physical and mental intimidation of the Scroll.in writer, Ms Subramaniam, and the attempt to stop her from reporting from the region is not acceptable; it’s a crime to attack someone’s home. The incident is highly condemnable and against the tenets of the freedom of the press. That the local police have not deemed it fit to register an FIR in this incident, smacks of partisan behaviour. The Editors Guild of India urgently calls for the intervention of the Chattisgarh Chief Minister and hopes that he would ensure a free and fair probe into the matter.