Harassed for backing adivasi cause

BY chekkutty| IN Regional Media | 19/11/2003
The CBI has taken over investigation of a case involving police victimisation of a television reporter in Kerala.

N  P Chekkutty

Wayanad (Kerala): Kerala Chief Minister A K Antony   was   quick to condemn the Tamil Nadu   police action against The Hindu editors and reiterate his commitment to  the freedom of the press, but ironically his own police have been doing the  same to a   journalist in Wayanad for espousing the cause of the poor adivasis in this backward district.

 Ramdas Mannarottu, a reporter for Asianet Television News, had to go into hiding to escape police torture for almost two months and ever since he has been required to report to a police camp every Friday, as he finds himself  an accused in a police case filed after the police firing on the adivasis in Muthanga reserve forests on February 19 this year.

Ramadas, who worked as a reporter for a number of local newspapers before joining the Asianet as a stringer in 2001 was one of the key journalists who brought into light the police atrocities on the adivasis in Wayanad, leading to the stand-off on February 19 when one policeman was hacked to death and an adivasi was killed in the firing.

"The adivasis under C K Janu and M Geethanandan, leaders of the Adivasi Gotra Sabha, occupied the reserve forests in Muthanga on January 5 and in the five weeks till the day of firing, I went there at least twenty times to report on the events," said Ramdas, after he returned from the CBI police camp at Sulthan Battery where he has to sign the register every week. He is also not to leave the State without permission, another condition for the anticipatory bail he received from the Judicial Magistrate Court in Sulthan Battery.

The charges against him, according to the FIR field by the Kerala police, are criminal conspiracy, unlawful meeting, conspiracy causing the death of a policeman, etc, and he is the 44th accused in the case registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code like 143, 144, 342, 302,364 , etc.

The entire episode of the confrontation between the Adivasi Gotra Sabha and the State Government is the result of the decades of Government inaction in the genuine grievances of the tribals who demanded restoration of their lands occupied by outside encroachers. Following years of agitation, the Antony Government came to an agreement with the Gotra Sabha, offering to provide them land at the expense of the Government.

But the Government failed in honoring its pledge and the adivasis, after prolonged waiting, decided to occupy the reserve forests in Muthanga as a mark of protest. The occupation of the land began on January 5 and it went on till February 17 without much resistance from the police. On February 17, the adivasis took some forest officials as hostage when they entered the forest and this event marked the turning point in the sequence of events. Though the officials were released the next day in the presence of the district collector, the police encircled the forest and the The Gotra Sabha leaders Janu and Geethanandan were arrested in the following days, and they were severely beaten up in the police custody. It was then the police started searching for  Ramdas and some others, forcing him to go into hiding.

"The police opposed my bail application on the charge that I had made a cell phone call to Geethanandan on the day of the firing, asking him not to release the policeman taken hostage by them, which is patently untrue. In fact, there is no mobile phone range in the area where they were camping and I had not made any call to Geethanandan. When we asked the police to prove their charge with the help of cell phone records, they changed tack and said some Government official had heard me speaking to Geethanandan which is also untrue," he said.

The Kerala Union of Working Journalists had made a representation to the Chief Minister requesting him to stop the harassment of media-persons in the wake of the Muthanga incidents. The Chief Minister had promised to take steps and he in fact, entrusted B Sandhya, DIG of Police, to conduct an inquiry. The inquiry report was handed over to the Government nothing has happened. Since then the case had been handed over to the CBI. The police and CBI investigations have been going on for over eights months now, and the journalists` request to drop the charges against Ramdas is still pending, Ramdas making his weekly trips to the police camp.

The CBI officials   who took   over the   inquiry form the Kerala   crime branch police, told  this reporter that it  would take some  more time for them to decide whether there is any real  case against the journalist. Till then, he will remain in the list of accused.

Contact: chekkutty@sify.com














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