‘Eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind’

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a newspaper (or magazine or website) publish anything in the name of a “debate”? Is such content questionable even when it does not directly spark trouble on the ground? And, in the eyes of the law, who is to be held responsible for the publication of such content?

These are old questions in journalism, but they gain added significance in the wake of police in the communally sensitive coastal city of Mangalore taking cognisance of two separate complaints against Vijaya Karnataka, a Kannada newspaper owned by The Times of India group, for two different articles published on two different dates.

Besides the overall editor of the paper, the resident editor, and the author of the piece, the police have registered a complaint against the directors of the Times of India subsidiary that publishes Vijaya Karnataka, in the second of the two cases. They have been charged with “spreading hatred” among the people and “disturbing peace in society”, both non-bailable offences under two different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Ironically, churches, convents and prayer halls in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka had been attacked in September last year after Hindutva activists stumbled upon Christian literature (Satya Darshini) that allegedly mocked Hindu gods. This was deemed to be offensive to Hindus and the violence was sought to be justified in the name of the perceived injury to Hindu sentiment.

The boot is now on the other foot.

***

The first case is pretty straight forward and has been widely reported. On 27 December 2008, the Mangalore South police station, registered a case (FIR No 343, dated 27-12-2008) in connection with an article written by the noted Kannada author S.L. Bhyrappa in Vijaya Karnataka on 16 October 2008.

The case was registered on a complaint filed by P. B. D’Sa, president of the Dakshina Kannada unit of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

In his complaint, D’Sa alleged the article titled ‘Inthaha ghatane bere yava deshadalli nadedeethu‘ (In which other country would such an incident take place?) incited communal feelings, in the wake of the attack on churches in Karnataka in September last year.

Apparently, the article by Bhyrappa cast doubts on “the integrity of Mother Teresa and a number of other Christian saints in reference to their contribution to humanity. The complaint said the article had hurt the feelings of Christians, and pointed to a number of demonstrations and jathas taken out by Christians against it.

The local diocese had termed the article “communally provocative” when it was published.

The first complaint named Vijaya Karnataka‘s editor Vishweshwar Bhat, its Mangalore edition resident editor U.K. Kumaranath, and printer and publisher, K.R. Ramesh, besides Bhyrappa.

***

But it is the second complaint, booked by the Mangalore North police six days later, on 2 January 2009, that is drawing the attention of ToI bosses in Bombay and Delhi.

This case (FIR No. 2, dated 2-1-2009) deals with an article written by Pratap Simha, a sub-editor with the paper who writes a weekly column titled Betthale Jagaththu (naked world) every Saturday on the editorial page, and published on 20 September 2008.

The complainant in this case is James Louis, vice-president of the Bharathiya Crista Seva Sanghatane (BCSS). And here, too, the charges are identical: of endorsing the bashing of the minority community and seeking to create discord among various communities.

Predictably, the author of the article (Simha), the editor of the paper (Bhat), the resident editor (Kumaranath) and the printer (Ramesh) have been named in this complaint. But also standing “accused” are five directors of Vijayanand Printers Limited (VPL), the Times of India subsidiary that publishes the paper: Ravi Dhariwal, Chinnen Das, Anand Sankeshwar, Bhaskar Das, and Probal Ghoshal.

Those who have seen the complaint say it does not mention why the ToI directors have been named as accused. All it says is that they are all responsible for the publication of the article.

The complaint refers to objectionable parts of the article ‘Haagantha helidavanu yaava Bajarangiyu alla‘ (the person who said so is not a Bajrang Dal man) and alleges that the article is a “deliberate” attempt to instigate the sentiments of the Hindu community against the Christian community and to create hatred towards Christians.

The complaint raises objections to paragraphs 6, 11 and 12 and says it can “poison the minds of the readers and hurt the sentiments of Christians.

In particular, it objects to the question “How will Christ help the people when he couldn’t help himself?” and the statement “Who will keep silent when offensive statements are made about their religion and is attacked?

This, according to the complainant, justifies the attacks on the churches and prayer halls in Karnataka, coming as they did shortly after the Christian community was targeted in Kandhamal in Orissa.

It says paragraph 12 particularly instigates the people against the Christian community and justifies all the violence reported against minorities. Apparently the article in question contained the statement, “do not keep quiet when someone comes to your locality with the intention of conversion. Receive the books that they give and then teach them a lesson“.

The case against the author, editors, printer and directors has been registered under section 153, 153A, 153B and 295A read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 153 of IPC reads: “Wantonly giving provocation with the intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed, if not committed.” Section 153A reads: “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” Section 153B reads: “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration.”

Section 295 saying injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class has to be read with the IPC section 34 which says: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.

***

Media observers say the mere filing of FIRs against the editor, printer, publisher, author/s and directors of the company alleging a plot to disturb communal amity does not amount to much, especially when the attack on the churches preceded the date of publication.

Moreover, the police have to investigate the complaints and only later contemplate or take further action.

PUCL’s D’Sa who accompanied the second complainant to the police station has been quoted as saying that the police inspector told them he would investigate whether the article did create any “negative ripples” in society. That is easier said than done.

But it is the attempt to implicate the directors in the case that is eliciting attention. Are the directors, all of them non-journalists, responsible for the publication of the content when four of the five directors cannot speak, read, write or understand the Kannada language?

Or is this just an attempt to cause pin pricks to them because a mainstream, mass-circulation Kannada publication owned by the country’s largest print media house is seen to have become the inhouse journal of the Hindutva herd?

***

The two cases should also be viewed against the backdrop of Mangalore emerging as a vortex of communalism into which journalists have not just been sucked in but are active players and participants.

On either side of the communal divide on the west coast, leading publications have played a not inconsiderable role in whipping up the surcharged communal atmosphere with inflammatory headlines and incendiary content. The circulations are soaring, but the faultline is growing wider and wider.

Trucks carrying Karavali Ale, a Kannada newspaper published from Mangalore, were attacked last month and its copies burnt allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists for its criticism of their role in the attack on the churches in September. The Press Council of India has had to intervene after the local police refused to register the paper’s complaints.

In March 2007, the paper’s editor B.V. Seetharam was arrested on the ground that his writings promoted religious hatred. Seetharam was arrested under Sections 153A, 153 B and 295A of the IPC—all non-bailable offences.

Ironically, the Vijaya Karnataka editors, the authors, and ToI directors have been booked under the same sections of the IPC.

But the larger question is of the role of the media in creating the ground for “public debate” on a sensitive issue like “conversions”.

Is the publication of any kind of content OK in the name of a public debate? Is it really the business of the media to maintain communal and societal peace and harmony, or is it of the “State”? Is it beyond the function of a newspaper or a writer to provoke readers because somebody might find it offensive?

If Christian literature published decades ago can be suddenly ferreted out and declared offensive to Hindus, are Christians wrong in finding offence in yesterday’s newspaper? Is it wrong for Muslims to feel offence if the Danish cartoons are republished in the name of “debate”?

Who was that genius who said an eye for an eye only makes the whole world go blind?

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16 Responses to “‘Eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind’”

  1. wanderlust Says:

    im sure next, an article which asks people to reject religion-based terrorism would be raked up as ‘communal’ and have a case registered against its author.

  2. Gururaj B.N. Says:

    One should know once in a way what it is like, to be at the receiving end of polemics. For centuries, the Christian Missionaries have been maligning the Hindu Pantheon and the Hindu practices. After centuries, the fragmented Hindu society is waking up to trade back the same coins. Is it so difficult for the christian community to take criticisms of their religion in their stride? If Sri Krishna can be branded by the Christian Missionaries as a lecher, to call Jesus as a person who could not save himself is hardly an invective. The Hindus have endured such abuses of their deities for centuries. Why not the Christians bear with these polemics which are doled out once in a way? It is time to turn the other cheek, or ignore what landed on one cheek!

  3. etvraviraja Says:

    Please check the credentials of
    P B D`Sa: for rent activist, supporter of yellow journalist BVSeetharam before jotting down glorious word about religion/ freedom of expression…
    if you do not wish to publish following link to expose him…
    http://wordpress.com/tag/karavali-ale/
    , just try hitting Karavali Ale or B V Seetharam in google see for yourself, how saachaa this fellow is!

  4. Kuri Mari Says:

    Being part of a caste group which has been ear marked for conversion (Joshua Project), I have been targetted for conversion by Christian evangelists in South Canara.

    I thank pratap simha and bhyrappa for dessiminating information on the christian religion so that I can well understand and reply to the polemics of the christian missionaries. I feel empowered by these articles and next time the missionaries come to my locality and abuse our religion ancestral spirit worship of South Kanara, I know what to reply to them.

    It is important to counter the vicious propoganda of christian missionaries which is hell bent on making our ancient customs extinct and replace them with chrstian superstition. Thanks once again to vijaya karnataka.

  5. Palahalli Says:

    Good show Kuri Mari!

    I’m touched by Churumuri’s concern about missionary “image”.

  6. Coffee addict Says:

    What more do you expect from semi literate journalists who wear the RSS cheddi under their trousers.

  7. Vinay Says:

    Any day, such debates in newspapers are better than either violence or forced conversions. When I read the debate, the incitements were both ways, personal and directed insults against people writing and certain allegations made on significant people/movements in history. I personally feel that the only problem with the debate was that it should have had better quality. I really think these debates should be encouraged, since it provides a vent for thoughts and anger. These are good moves in a stale democracy. Otherwise only vote banks will be represented and votes will be bought, only caste and money will play. More such debates will bring out topics, be it economics, communalism, equality, etc.,

  8. Palahalli Says:

    Coffee addict, time to realize that Hindus in general are reacting strongly to Christian and Islamic predators. Most, in fact, don’t even belong to the Sangh Parivar. So, rogues will be paid back in their coin.

  9. Abhi Says:

    Debates are welcome. But the debate in VK was juvenile and one sided. It was more of propaganda than debate.

  10. sisya Says:

    A bit about The Book – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satya_Darshini#Satya_Darshini

    Of course, the New Life Church had nothing to do with printing, publishing or distributing it. The book printed, published and distributed itself. It is appalling to what lengths the psecular press will go to defend the indefensible — even after the Catholic Bishop of the same Mangalooru has dissociated himself from them.

    How about seizing the opportunity and engaging the likes of SLB in an academic debate? Of course, the likes of D’sa know what happened when the likes of URA and GK took up the challenge. We therefore have him filing frivolous suits when I’m sure even he knows fully well that it will not wash.

    And to raise the shrillness of the pitch, we have the ‘secular-to/with-a-p’ press including churumuri adding to the background noise. How about churumuri research and publish a rebuttal/refutation of each of SLB’s claims before it busies itself in spinning fallacious yarns out of ‘news’ that a suit has been filed against the ‘perpetrators’ .

  11. Abhi Says:

    Here is another equally dumb and opposite debate: http://ibnlive.in.com/videos/82023/war-on-terror-israels-the-way-to-go-with-pak.html

  12. etvraviraja Says:

    Please check
    http://tinyurl.com/6uzbwf

  13. Kumar Says:

    This is not the first time B V seetharam was arrested by police. He was arrested in 2007 too for extortion. I guess this article is in support of one comrade to another criminal comrade.

    http://udupipressvictim.wordpress.com/2007/03/10/why-arrest-of-bvseetharam-is-not-an-issue-of-freedom-of-press-but-case-of-blackmail-attempt-on-wealthy-jain-community-gone-wrong/

  14. Palahalli Says:

    Liberals will squeal “murder!” everytime they are opposed or exposed..

    S.L. Bhyrappa is doing great work in ensuring they keep squealing!

  15. Anthony pinto Says:

    Some one calls himself Udupi press victim(his father is the most powerful ministers of Karnataka) And desperately propagates his blog on everyforum in different names. There is no difference with language of his blog and the language of the paper he condemns.

  16. sanga baktha Says:

    the debate was the sucessful one ,but those fake secularists cannot accept thier defeat in front of people.so they are reacting in this way.

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