Press Freedom

'Don't tarnish the image of the police': Home of Scroll.in contributor attacked in Chhattisgarh

For a month now, Malini Subramaniam, Scroll.in’s contributor from Bastar, has been subjected to intimidation by the police and a local group that claims to be a forum against Naxalism.

Early on Monday morning, around 2.30 am, a motorcycle slowed down near the Jagdalpur home of Malini Subramaniam, who writes from Scroll.in from Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Subramaniam, who was awake, heard the clang of something hitting the metal gate of her house. In the morning light, she saw large stones lying in the porch. The rear glass of her car lay shattered.

Hours before the stones were thrown, around 6 pm on Sunday evening, a group of 20-odd men had gathered outside her house. They shouted slogans attacking her: Naxali Samarthak Bastar Chodo. Malini Subramaniam Mordabad. Naxal supporter, leave Bastar. Death to Malini Subramaniam.

The men urged women from Subramaniam's neighbourbood to join them, alleging that she was supplying arms to Maoists, and could plant bombs in their homes too. They asked the neighbours to throw stones at her home too.

Subramaniam immediately recognised two of the men: Manish Parakh and Sampat Jha. Both were part of another group of approximately 20 men who had visited her house on January 10. They had introduced themselves as members of Samajik Ekta Manch, which they described as a newly formed forum in Jagdalpur town to counter Naxalism in Bastar and support the police in its work. Later, Subramaniam found out that Parakh is the secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yuva Morcha and that Sampat Jha is a member of the Congress in Jagdalpur.

When they had arrived at her house around 8 pm on January 10, Subramaniam had invited them in, little knowing that they would launch into a tirade against her. “The group immediately, without even taking a seat, began enquiring about my whereabouts and more specifically dwelled on my contributing articles for Scroll.in,” she said.

Reporting rights violations

Over the last year, among other things, Subramaniam has reported on adivasi protests against police atrocities, allegations of mass-scale sexual violence by security forces, and the arrests and alleged torture of journalists by the police. A recent report raised doubts over the veracity of Maoist surrenders, with local people alleging that the police was putting pressure on them and forcibly parading them as surrendered Maoists.

Such reports on human rights violations are rare in a region where the long drawn low-intensity war between government forces and Maoist rebels has imperiled the freedoms of both ordinary residents and journalists. The government has used its advertising clout and draconian laws to silence the Hindi press. The English-language national press barely has any representatives in Bastar.

This made Subramaniam’s reports stand out. With two decades of experience in the development sector, she had travelled widely in the conflict affected areas as the head of the International Committee of Red Cross in Chhattisgarh. After ICRC folded up its operations in 2013, Subramaniam stayed back in Jagdalpur, and was able to travel and bring to light stories that were otherwise not being covered.

Her work made her a target. Before they left her house on January 10, the group of men made clear what they had come for. “They threatened they would be very angry if people were to engage in activities that tarnishes the image of Bastar and the police,” Subramaniam said.

A late-night visit

After they left, Subramaniam emailed me about the visit. Around 11 pm, while I was speaking to her on phone, a police jeep pulled up outside her house. As she stepped out to meet the police personnel from behind the metal gate of her house, I stayed on the phone, listening to the conversation that lasted nearly 40 minutes.

The police team led by the city superintendent Umesh Kashyap claimed they had come for a “verification”, but refused to reveal what had prompted it. They insisted that Subramaniam let them in, but she pointed out that it was very late and politely asked them to come the next morning. “Come in the morning, please, and we can talk over chai,” she told them.

A policewoman then came up with a barrage of questions: what did she do, where was she from, what did she travel to remote areas in Bastar. They wanted to know the name of her father, her husband, her landlord. The questions were routine ‒ nothing that could not wait till the morning.

When she told them she wrote for Scroll.in, the policewoman said “Iss naam ko yahan koi press nahi.” There is no press agency by this name here. Subramaniam explained that she sent her stories to Delhi ‒ a fact that was greeted with great astonishment by the police.

Before they left, Kashyap expressed his annoyance with Subramaniam’s refusal to let them inside, warning her that this would not purport well for the future.

Intimidation by police

The next day, Scroll.in called the district superintendent of police, RN Dash, and asked him what had prompted such a late-night police enquiry. He said he would “look into the matter”. Scroll.in also wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, and the Director of Public Relations, protesting against the late-night police visit.

“It is inexplicable why a journalist was subjected to such late night questioning when there was no justifiable urgency,” said the letter. “We still do not know the purpose of the police visit. It appears aimed at threatening Subramaniam and stopping her from reporting freely in Bastar. We request the intervention of your office to make sure that Subramaniam and other journalists are not subject to intimidation by the police in Bastar.” 


The same day, Subramaniam went to the city police station to submit her identification documents as she had been asked to.

Ten days later, however, the police was back at Subramaniam’s house. This time, the personnel were from the police station of Dharampura, the area where she lives. Subramaniam was away, and her daughter received them. Subramaniam went to the police station and answered the same set of questions she had been asked before, and submitted the same set of documents. A policewoman told her that a senior police officer had asked them to carry out the enquiry.

Later, Subramaniam found out from her neighbours that the police had surveyed her house from their roof. They had tried contacting her domestic staff. Parakh, the BJP Yuva Morcha leader, had also made visits to the neighbourhood, with copies of her articles, spreading word that she was an agent of the Maoists.

Keen to secure Subramaniam’s safety, Scroll.in sent another letter to the Chief Minister. There was no formal acknowledgement of it. Informally, however, a senior official of the government said the matter had been resolved. He added, “Please ask her to be careful”, without spelling out what that meant.

Press freedom under threat

Subramaniam is not the only journalist to face police harassment in Bastar. Last year, two journalists, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, were arrested on charges of aiding Maoists. In October, hundreds of journalists organised a rally in the state capital Raipur to protest against their arrests and to demand more protection from the government. After journalists took out another rally in Jagdalpur in December, Chief Minister Raman Singh announced the setting up of a committee of editors that could vet complaints against journalists before the police stepped in.

The committee has still not been formed. Monday morning's events leave no doubt where Chhattisgarh government stands when it comes to the safety of journalists and press freedoms.

After the sloganeering mob left, Parakh, Yuva Morcha member who was part of the mob, sent her images and a press note over the messaging service WhatsApp. The images showed the group burning effigies. The note said those were of Naxalism and Naxal supporters.

Subramaniam called the district superintendent of police from her number. He did not take her calls. She called from another number ‒this time, he took the call but as she began describing the visit of the Samajik Ekta Manch, he disconnected.

On Monday, Subramanian spent more than four hours attempting to get a First Information Report filed against the attackers at the local police station, but the officers refused to file an FIR.

Malini Subramaniam was sent this image depicting an effigy of Naxalites and their supporters being burned.
Malini Subramaniam was sent this image depicting an effigy of Naxalites and their supporters being burned.

This article is free for reproduction without alteration.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.