In a shocking instance, Karnataka police have charged KK Shahina, a reporter with ‘Tehelka’ magazine, of criminal intimidation under Sec 506 of the Indian Penal Code. Her crime: her systematic investigation of the police case against Abdul Nasar Madani, Chairman of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Kerala.
The action of the Police against a journalist who is only doing her professional duty is against all democratic notions and strikes at the very heart of the Press and democracy in India. In this age of embedded journalism and paid news Shahina’s work is actually a very brave attempt at critical journalistic enquiry, without which the possibilities of democracy can never be fully achieved.
Shahina was booked under IPC 506 on November 29 for allegedly intimidating witnesses and there has been a swift and sharp reaction from civil society members against the police action. Shahina was at work preparing an investigative report on the case relating to Madani. The latter had spend almost 10 years in Jail as an under trial in the 1998 Coimbatore blast before he was let off without any charges on 1 August 2007.
After two years he was implicated as one of the conspirators in the Bengaluru Blasts of 2008. In her investigation into the present case, Shahina tried to look into the police story that Madani had conspired in the Bengaluru blasts in separate meetings two years ago — one which took place in Madani’s rented home in Kochi and the other in the Lakkeri estate in Kodaku Karnataka.
For proving their case, the Karnataka Police had used the evidences given by persons living in Kodagu region of Karnataka. These witnesses, according to the police, had testified that they had seen Madani in the area, when he had come there to plan the blasts. However, Shahina’s investigation reveals a completely different story. When she interviewed two of the witnesses, K. K. Yoganand and Rafeek Bappatty, they told her that they had not seen Madani as the police chargesheet claims. In fact, Shahina reports that Yoganand, a BJP worker whose testimony is recorded in the charge sheet, does not even know that he is a witness in the Madani case!
Even while she was trying to prepare the investigative report, the harassment against Shahina began. The local police and the Circle Inspector suspected her and asked her if she is a terrorist! They refused to believe that she was a journalist from Tehelka, even after speaking to Shoma Chaudhary, the Executive Editor of Tehelka, over the phone.
Based on her investigations in Kodagu, Shahina wrote the article Why is this man still in prison? which came out in Tehelka Magazine on December 4th, 2010. This article clearly brings out the loop holes in the Police story on the Madani case. Immediately, the police registered two cases against Shahina and the persons who had accompanied her to Kodagu to conduct the interviews. Two cases have now been registered against them at the Somawarpet Police Station (No. 199/10) and Siddhapura Police Station (No. 241/10) under Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code for intimidation of the witnesses.
There are strong indications that the Karnataka Police action was prompted by the fact that Shahina is a Muslim and had attempted an investigation against Abdul Nasser Madani, another Muslim. In fact, Shahina’s case is yet another example of how the State apparatus acts against its minority communities by constructing them as the threatening “other” to its Secular self.
Madani himself has been a victim of this ideological perception, having been thrown into jail for 10 long years without bail and basic human rights, and then left off with no charges proved against him. Even now, the police story (as Shahina’s report proves) is full of loop holes and yet he is being systematically denied bail by the Karnataka courts. Shahina’s attempt was also to bring this injustice into the public sphere. However, the same legal apparatus that was used to keep Madani in jail for long years is now turning against a journalist, who was conducting an investigation into his case, as part of her duty. This raises disturbing questions about the nature of the case itself and the consensus about it that the police is trying to create.
The Karnataka police action against Shahina has sparked a protests from academicians, writers, students, journalists and activists. Journalists from Kerala submitted a petition to the Chief Minister of Karnataka asking for the withdrawal of the case. The Delhi unit of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) took out a demonstration on 2nd December in Jantar Mantar in protest against this incident. Journalists shouted slogans and carried placards that read, ‘Stop media gagging, withdraw case against journalist’ while marching from Kerala Bhawan to Jantar Mantar.
A group of academicians, activists and journalists from Delhi have started an online petition to be sent to the Home Minister of Karnataka. They are also planning another protest in front of Karnataka Bhavan in the coming week.
The intimidation of the journalist gives rise to apprehensions that our society is slowly moving towards an emergency-like situation when the media is being denied any kind of independence and also being taken over by those who want the stories of the powerful and the dominant to circulate. It is also shocking that, today, in the name of security and control of extremism, the human rights violation by police is beyond scrutiny. All this is a clear indication of the fall in the democratic nature of our culture and society.
(Jenny Rowena teaches in Miranda House, Delhi University
K Ashraf is an Independent Researcher based in Delhi)