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 BULLETIN BY 

The incredible engineering that can save your life in a car crash

Indian roads are among the world’s most dangerous. We take a look at the essential car safety features for our road conditions.

Over 200,000 people die on India’s roads every year. While many of these accidents can be prevented by following road safety rules, car manufacturers are also devising innovative new technology to make vehicles safer than ever before. To understand how crucial this technology is to your safety, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a car accident.

Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.
Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.

A car crash typically has three stages. The first stage is where the car collides with an object. At the point of collision, the velocity with which the car is travelling gets absorbed within the car, which brings it to a halt. Car manufacturers have incorporated many advanced features in their cars to prevent their occupants from ever encountering this stage.

Sixth sense on wheels

To begin with, some state-of-the-art vehicles have fatigue detection systems that evaluate steering wheel movements along with other signals in the vehicle to indicate possible driver fatigue–one of the biggest causes of accidents. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is the other big innovation that can prevent collisions. ESP typically encompasses two safety systems–ABS (anti-lock braking system), and TCS (traction control system). Both work in tandem to help the driver control the car on tricky surfaces and in near-collision situations. ABS prevents wheels from locking during an emergency stop or on a slippery surface, and TCS prevents the wheels from spinning when accelerating by constantly monitoring the speed of the wheels.

Smarter bodies, safer passengers

In the event of an actual car crash, manufacturers have been redesigning the car body to offer optimal protection to passengers. A key element of newer car designs includes better crumple zones. These are regions which deform and absorb the impact of the crash before it reaches the occupants. Crumple zones are located in the front and rear of vehicles and some car manufacturers have also incorporated side impact bars that increase the stiffness of the doors and provide tougher resistance to crashes.

CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.
CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.

Post-collision technology

While engineers try to mitigate the effects of a crash in the first stage itself, there are also safe guards for the second stage, when after a collision the passengers are in danger of hitting the interiors of the car as it rapidly comes to a halt. The most effective of these post-crash safety engineering solutions is the seat belt that can reduce the risk of death by 50%.

In the third stage of an actual crash, the rapid deceleration and shock caused by the colliding vehicle can cause internal organ damage. Manufacturers have created airbags to reduce this risk. Airbags are installed in the front of the car and have crash sensors that activate and inflate it within 40 milliseconds. Many cars also have airbags integrated in the sides of the vehicles to protect from side impacts.

SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.
SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.

Safety first

In the West as well as in emerging markets like China, car accident related fatalities are much lower than in India. Following traffic rules and driving while fully alert remain the biggest insurance against mishaps, however it is also worthwhile to fully understand the new technologies that afford additional safety.

So the next time you’re out looking for a car, it may be a wise choice to pick an extra airbag over custom leather seats or a swanky music system. It may just save your life.

Equipped with state-of-the-art passenger protection systems like ESP and fatigue detection systems, along with high-quality airbags and seatbelts, all Volkswagen cars have the safety of passengers at the heart of their design. Watch Volkswagen customer stories and driver experiences that testify its superior German engineering, here.

Play

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

×

PrevNext