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The Sunanda-Tharoor wedding, according to reports witnessed the presence of about 50 mediapersons, mostly from TV channels. Two channels telecast the marriage ceremony live. But nobody was sure whether the media was invited for the function.
That would mean that the reporters and camera persons gatecrashed into a private function which had around just 100 invitees including kin of Sunanda and Tharoor. Was the media by flocking to the venue of Sunanda-Tharoor wedding, shamelessly without invites, displaying their ignorance once again about the line that divides intrusion of privacy and public interest?
Or were they showing us through the coverage that the allegations levelled against Shashi Tharoor regarding his sweet heart’s sweat equity in Kochi IPL team needs to probed further?
Newspapers and news channels which, wittingly or unwittingly, have become partners of the police in the Great Kerala Terrorist Hunt, reported recently that a police party, acting on a tip-off, seized more than 300 books from the Ernakulam district office of the Popular Front of India and arrested six PFI activists.
The books, according to reports, contained material calculated to create communal hatred.
The PFI has been under the scanner since the chopping off of the hand of T. J. Joseph, professor of Malayalam at Newman College, Thodupuzha, allegedly as punishment for denigration of Prophet Mohammed. Police has arrested many PFI activists in connection with the gruesome incident and issued lookout notices for many more. Various institutions suspected to be associated with the PFI have also been targeted. They include Thejas, a daily, and the Other Books, a publishing house, both based in Kozhikode.
P. Koya, who is a member of the supreme council of PF is the Editor of Thejas. N. P. Chekkutty, an experienced professional, who previously worked with the Indian Express and the CPI (M)-promoted Kairali television channel, is the Executive Editor. Koya was summoned by the police a few days ago to Aluva for questioning in connection with the hand chopping case.
Reports of seizure of incriminating material in the form of books, compact discs etc have been a regular feature of media accounts of the police investigation. The cryptic information disseminated by the police with the help of obliging media persons is enough to create doubts and generate fear in people’s minds and induce them to acquiesce in abuse of state power and violation of the citizens’ rights.
Most media persons perhaps do not realize that they have become convenient tools in the hands of the authorities. Editorialized reports appearing in the CPI-M daily Deshabhimani, which acts as drum-beater for Kerala’s own War on Terror, are a giveaway: they reveal the political motivation behind the exercise.
According to the media, the CDs seized from PFI offices include some showing Taliban executions and the books contain material calculated to cause communal enmity. In the absence of detailed information about the contents of the CDs and the books, the police version cannot be verified independently.
Some newspapers said one of the seized books is titled “asavarnarkku nallath islam” (Islam is best for non-Savarnas). Deshabhimani claimed it contains articles written under fictitious names.
As it happens, this is a book about which I have personal knowledge. It was published by the Thiyya Youth League of Kochi in 1936 when Ezhava leaders of Travancore, disgusted with the lack of response from the Maharaja’s regime to their demand for social justice, were advocating mass conversion. The proposal led to a public debate over which religion to opt for. Apart from Christianity, which had already attracted many members of the community, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam were considered. It was the fear of imminent mass conversion engendered by this debate that prompted the Maharaja to issue the temple entry proclamation later that year.
The book is a collection of essays dealing with matters connected with the issue of conversion. Among the writers are some well-known personalities of the time like Sahodaran K. Ayyappan, K. Sukumaran and K.C. Vallon.
As part of the attempt to rekindle the embers of Kerala’s renaissance movement which had died down, the Dalit Sahitya Academy, Kozhikode, reprinted the book two decades ago. It sent me a copy at that time as the book contains a piece written by my father, A. K. Bhaskar. That essay outlines the message of Islam.
I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the essay appearing under my father’s name. Nearly 70 years ago –a few years after the book was first published– I had accompanied him to a function held at Kollam on the Prophet’s birthday. On that occasion, he spoke on the message of Islam, and what is in the book corresponds with what he said there.
I understand two more editions of the book have appeared since the Dalit Sahitya Academy first reprinted it.
The lack of professionalism in media coverage of the terrorist hunt and the immense damage it causes are matters that merit serious attention.
On August 6, a team headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police raided the office of Other Books, a publishing house at Kozhikode. Media reports said the police seized a computer hard disk and a few CDs.
The ACP told the media that the raid was conducted on the basis of material, including books and pamphlets, seized from a person arrested at Aluva in connection with the hand chopping case.
The Hindu, in a report published on August 8, quoted the ACP as saying examination of the books and pamphlets revealed nothing incriminating and that the hard disk and CDs had been sent to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Thiruvananthapuram, for examination.
Two weeks have passed since the raid on Other Books. Neither the police nor the media has provided any further information about it. Has the C-DAC sent its report to the police? If so, what are its findings? The media has no interest in finding answers to such questions. Typically its interest in such matters ends with celebratory coverage of the raid.
Other Books was established in 2003. It has already published many books in English and Malayalam. It has also distributed over 700 publications of about 90 Indian and foreign publishers.
Soon after the raid, Other Books Editor M. Noushad in a press note denied the firm was associated with any Muslim organization, including the Popular Front of India. He said it has published books on a variety of subjects like Kerala history, Muslim studies, Dalit issues, women’s issues, caste and culture, and West Asia. Historians K.N. Panikkar, M.G.S. Narayanan, K.K.N. Kurup and K.N. Ganesh and writer Zachariah are among the persons whose writings have appeared in their publications.
Two years ago, Other Books published “Nine Decades of Marxism in the Land of Brahminism” by Swapan K. Biswas and its Malayalam translation by M. R. Sudesh. At the instance of the publishers, I wrote an introduction for the Malayalam version, titled “Brahmana Marxism”. (This can be read here)
Frontline, edited by N. Ram, in its issue dated February 13-26, 2010 carried an article by A. G. Noorani, one of its regular contributors, under the headline “Islam in Kerala”. It was a combined review of five books brought out by Other Books.
Noorani wrote: “These five books must be appraised along with their publishers. Other Books is an independent book distribution and publishing initiative by a collective of university students, academicians and social activists to widen contemporary discourse on various subjects distributing and publishing books that seek to embrace alternative and critical perspectives.
“It seeks to provide solutions for serious readers and focus on the promotion and spread of alternative knowledge and original ideas through locating, printing, publishing and distributing non-mainstream books to serious-minded readers. A wide range of topics is covered, ranging from post-modernism to Islam to organic farming. It also networks with all reputed national and international publishers to make available the books at lowest rates.”
Earlier the police had arrested workers of Dalit Human Rights Movement in several districts and disrupted distribution of copies of its weekly, Swatantra Nattuvisesham.
Given the present social and economic scenario, a Dalit periodical cannot reach its target audience through the news stands. DHRM therefore evolved a new marketing strategy. It decided to send its activists to Dalit colonies to sell the weekly. The CPI (M) evolved a counterstrategy to foil the move: its local leaders not only barred DHRM workers’ entry into the colonies but apprehended them and handed them over to the police saying they were terrorists.
In September 2009 a morning stroller was hacked to death in the tourist town of Varkala. The police said DHRM had killed him to demonstrate its clout, and the media promptly proclaimed the arrival of ‘Dalit terrorism’. DHRM chairman V.V. Selvaraj and several of its activists were arrested. They are all on bail now. A year after the murder, the state is still to proceed with the trial.
The established political parties want to suppress Swatantra Nattuvisesham as DHRM poses a threat to their traditional Dalit base. The police wants to suppress it because it is serializing graphic accounts of police torture of DHRM activists arrested in connection with the murder case.