The media – particularly Hindi newspapers – has taken a blinkered view to the arrest of Delhi University Professor Hany Babu Musaliyarveettil Tharayil by National Investigative Agency (NIA) on Tuesday, July 28. The 54-year old English Professor is the 12th person to have been arrested in the Elgar Parishad case.
The Elgar Parishad case is related to the Bhima Koregaon violence that took place on January 1, 2018. Bhima Koregaon – a village situated on the banks of Bhima in Pune (Maharashtra) – saw a gathering of activists on December 31, 2017. The event was held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
A day after Hany Babu’s arrest, Hindi dailies largely toed the police line. The dailies failed to incorporate the views of Hany Babu’s family. They did not also report the comments of human rights activists and senior lawyers. In short, their stories appear pathetically one-sided.
To begin with, in its reporting, Dainik Jagran (National, July 29, p. 6) seems to convict Hany Babu much before his conviction. The daily calls his arrest as an act of “tightening the screws” (kasa shikanja). The Hindi daily does not include a single line that problematizes or contradicts the police version.
Dainik Jagran’s narrative and selection of the words appear scary and violative of the ethics of journalism. The reporting seems to be fully based on the dictation from the police officials. As the daily reports, “54-year old Hany Babu is a resident of Gautam Buddh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh… All the 12 arrested in [the Elgar Parishad] case so far have been accused of having links with CPI (Maoist). Hany Babu – who was arrested on Tuesday – has been a member of the organisation floated to defend G.N. Saibaba jailed in Pune. G.N. Saibaba has been a professor of Delhi University as well as a member of CPI (Maoist). The arrests of G.N. Saibaba and other accused have been made in connection with Elgar Parishad’s event held outside Shaniwar wada [fort] in Pune. The allegation of Pune police is that the said [Elgar] Parishad has hatched a conspiracy of spreading violence the next day during the gathering of Dalits in Bhima Koregaon. The financial assistance to the Parishad was provided by CPI (Maoist). The Pune Police allege that the ‘Urban Naxal’ (Shahri Naxal) group– by spreading violence on January 1, 2018 in Bhima Koregaon – was planning to destabilise the state government.”
Amar Ujala (New Delhi, July 29, p. 1), another leading Hindi daily, has also based its reporting on the views of NIA. It completely excludes other versions. “According to NIA spokesperson, Hany Babu was spreading Naxal and Maoist ideology and he is a co-conspirator with others arrested [in Elgar Parishad case]. He would be presented before an NIA court on Wednesday in Mumbai”.
Navbharat Times (New Delhi, July 29, p. 1), similarly, has just reproduced the police version. “The case is related to the inflammatory speech allegedly made during the Elgar Parishad’s event on December 31, 2017, in Pune. Afterwards, huge demonstrations were held in Maharashtra, and the loss of life and property was reported”. While reporting the case, Jansatta (New Delhi, July 29, p. 1), similarly, followed the police line.
Urdu newspapers, however, did not pay much attention to the story of the arrest of Hany Babu. However, Inquilab (Mumbai, July 30, p. 3) published a story that the DU professor has been sent to police custody till August 4. A notable difference in reporting between Inquilab and the above-mentioned Hindi dailies is that the Urdu daily, at least, incorporated a few lines of the advocate of the accused. As Inquilab reports, the advocate of Hany Babu, appearing before the court, said that the police have been interrogating Hany Babu for the last four or five days, that is why sending him to the police custody is not needed.
Much like the above-mentioned Hindi dailies, The Times of India (New Delhi, July 29, p. 1) has just reproduced the police version. The English daily’s story consists of around 250 words but it does not write a single line to problematize the police version. Though The Hindustan Times (New Delhi, July 29, p. 1) has given prominent space to the police version, its story has included the statement of Hany Babu’s wife and DU teachers’ association president.
Jenny Rowena – Hany Babu’s wife and a faculty member at Miranda House, Delhi University – would approach the court. Her statement questioning the NIA’s claim was also incorporated by The Hindustan Times. “They [NIA officials] said that they have found a folder on his computer which has incriminating material against him. Other than that, they don’t have anything. These are letters written by some other people saying he is a Naxal leader etc. Why would somebody keep such a folder on his own laptop? These were not his documents but were shown as his. He said that he didn’t know about the documents and had nothing to do with him,” Rowena said. The Hindustan Times has also managed to quote DU teachers’ association president Rajib Ray as saying that “We have known him [Hany Babu] as a fantastic teacher. He has been a great voice for the oppressed and he should not be harassed like this.”
In its report, The Indian Express has also managed to reach out to Hany Babu’s wife. “Some officer called me around 5 pm and said Hany Babu was being arrested. I asked if I could talk to him, but they refused. This arrest is ridiculous,” Jenny Rowena was quoted as saying.
In its coverage, Telegraph (Kolkata, July 29, p. 1) appears to be much more critical. It does not feel hesitant to mention that Hany Babu is known as “an outspoken English teacher” … who had earlier been known for his activism for the implementation of OBC reservation in higher education”. The English daily also mentions that Hany Babu has “consistently denied any links with the CPI Maoist or any role in organising the Elgaar Parishad”.
Contrary to the claim of the NIA, Telegraph asserts that “the right-wing groups allegedly attacked the annual Ambedkarite pilgrimage to the victory monument near the river Bhima, outside Pune, on January 1, 2018. Now the Elgaar Parishad is being probed for incitement of the violence as well as Maoist links”.
In their coverage, the mainstream media – with a few exceptions – have failed to critically look at the claim of the security agencies and the government. They have not questioned as to why the prominent activists, academicians and lawyers are being framed as a “threat” to the state. Besides Hany Babu, Shoma Sen, Varavara Rao, Surendra Gadling, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudhir Dhawale, Anand Teltumbde, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Gautam Navlakha– have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon. The dailies have no interest to reflect on the concerns of the human rights activists that the state is becoming more and more authoritarian.
The human rights activists argue that the arrests of activists, civil rights workers and intellectuals in the Elgar Parishad case are being made to intimidate people from expressing their dissents. For example, the European Human Rights Organization recently called for a stop against the people working for human rights. “Consequently, we strongly believe that measures should be urgently taken to stop impeding and criminalizing the work of human rights defenders by means of overly broad national security legislation and to respect their freedoms of association and expression. India should do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for civil society working in the country and consider enacting a law on the protection and promotion of human rights defenders”.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media – particularly Hindi dailies – continue to suppress the relevant facts and conjure up stories out of the police version.
Note that the Elgar Conference was organised to critique the Hindutva government and caste order by asserting the Dalit identity. The term “Elgar” (in Elgar Conference) literally means “raid”, attack” and “incursion”. In fact, the conference was jointly held by Dalits, OBCs, Muslims and Maratha organisations.
The activists claim that Dalits, as the soldiers in the British Army, played an important role in the defeat of the Peshwa rule based on caste order. In the recognition of the gallantry of the Mahar (Dalit) soldiers, the British rule erected an obelisk (smaarak stambh) at the Bhima Koregaon in the memory of the dead. Out of 49 soldiers whose names are engraved, 22 have been identified as Mahars.
Following the violence in Maharashtra, FIRs have been filed in Pune with an allegation that the banned Naxalite groups were behind the conference. The police accuse the activists for instigating violence by giving inflammatory speeches. Moreover, 19 persons – also named in the Elgar Parishad case – have been accused of hatching a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(Abhay Kumar is a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is broadly interested in Minority Rights and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and worked as a reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at email@example.com)