Is a Lok Ayukta raid against a corrupt SC/ST official an “atrocity” against dalits? Is sacking or suspending an incompetent SC/ST employee an “atrocity” against dalits? Is questioning, criticising , shouting slogans against, or burning an effigy of an SC/ST public figure an “atrocity” against dalits?
Can the media dispassionately write about or comment on individuals and institutions of the scheduled castes and tribes, as they should any other community, without attracting the charge of “harassment”?
In other words, are dalits above the laws of the land? Or are the scheduled castes and tribes taking advantage of the special status that the Constitution of India confers on them?
The answers are blindingly obvious to most, but to the Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, they are not so. Last night, AP police swooped down on the offices of the Telugu daily, Andhra Jyothy, and arrested its editor (K. Srinivas) and two journalists (N. Vamsi Krishna and N. Srinivas) under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.
Section 3 (1) (x) reads:
“Whoever, not being a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe… intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or tribe in any place within public view.”
The Maadiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga had lodged a complaint with the police on 28 May 2008 that the staff of the newspaper had abused him by his caste when they had taken out a protest march the previous day. According to one report, Krishna Madiga “showed the photos where the editor and others were present when the agitators were beating his effigy with chappals”.
The reason Andhra Jyothy staff had taken out the protest march?
Activists of the MRPS had attacked the offices of Andhra Jyothy in Hyderabad, Warangal and Vishakapatnam on 27 May 2008 and vandalised them in protest against an article it had published on 26 May 2008. Two cars were also damaged.
Without naming any Dalit leader in particular, the article in question referred to “hired leaders” and “saleable commodities” who were only pandering to their interests rather than working for the interests of their community.
MRPS leaders claimed Andhra Jyothy had published the news item “with the specific intent of tarnishing the image of leaders who were crusading for the uplift of the weaker sections for decades”.
Almost a month later, on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Emergency, the police came knocking and took away the editor and the two contributors. The charge against the reporters was that they had burnt the effigy of Krishna Madiga and slapped it with chappals during the rally on 27 May 2008.
A police officer is quoted as saying, prima facie, there is “clinching evidence” against all three.
The arrest of the Andhra Jyothy staff comes in the middle of a surcharged media atmosphere in the Congress-ruled State, and the journalists’ bodies are smelling more than a rat.
Ramoji Rao, the proprietor of the State’s largest daily Eenadu, has been the subject of a sustained legal and financial scrutiny. The chief minister’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, has just launched a multi-edition, all-colour newspaper called Saakshi to take on Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi. And the film star Chiranjeevi, whom Andhra Jyothy is seemingly backing, is slated to announce the launch of a political party soon.
Photograph: Andhra Jyothy editor K. Srinivas being taken away in a police jeep upon his arrest (courtesy Andhra Jyothy )
Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom‘
Cross-posted on sans serif