Shooting the media has become an acceptable bloodsport in India, especially if the message is contrary to the closely held views and beliefs of linguistic, parochial, chauvinistic, political, fundamentalist, extremist, militant, communal and casteist groups. And that’s not the full, unabridged list.
The Hindu, the 138-year-old Madras newspaper with editions in all the four southern States, has become the target of pro-Tamil LTTE groups which do not share the paper’s stand on the military action that the Sri Lankan government has taken in the north of the island republic, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) hold sway. The paper’s offices have been attacked in Coimbatore and Erode.
Below is the full text of the statement issued by N. Ram, the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, condemning the attacks:
“On behalf of our 130-year-old newspaper, its 3,528 employees, and four million readers, I wish to strongly condemn the illegal acts of mischief and violence in Coimbatore and Erode by activists of the pro-LTTE fringe group calling itself the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK) along with a handful of anti-social elements.
“These unruly and illegal acts were an expression of intolerance of the newspaper’s criticism of pro-LTTE and pro-Eelam chauvinism in the Tamil Nadu political arena. In our considered editorial assessment, these chauvinistic, pro-separatist tendencies are deeply inimical to the interests of the Indian people.
“Hearteningly, the overwhelming majority of the people of Tamil Nadu, who do not want a replay of the propaganda campaigns and violent activities of the terrorist Tamil Tigers in one of India’s most peaceful States, firmly oppose these chauvinistic tendencies. This is evidenced, among other things, by the fact that, post-1991, even the small pro-LTTE parties have not dared campaign on a pro-LTTE platform in any State or general election.
“The latest act of mischief and violence against our newspaper occurred around 5 a.m. on Thursday, October 16 at the Erode Bus Stand. A group of about half a dozen persons raising pro-LTTE slogans invaded the point of distribution, assaulted the person in charge of this distribution point, indulged in filthy slogans and threats, distributed hand bills extolling the LTTE, snatched 2400 copies of The Hindu and 390 copies of Business Line, doused them with petrol, and set them on fire. Thanks to the vigilance of our staff and the outrage of hawkers, two of the culprits were apprehended on the spot.
“The police have registered a case at the Erode Town Police Station under Sections 147, 323, 294(b), 285, 427, 506, and 506(i) of the IPC and arrested the leaders of the group, Kumaragurubaran, 42, district organiser of the PDK, and M. Jayakumar, 30, of the ‘Tamil Desiya Podhu Udaimai Katchi.’ The police are on the look-out for the other culprits.
“Earlier, on Tuesday, October 14, there were two incidents targeting our Coimbatore office on LIC Road. Some activists of the lawyers’ group of the PDK demanded that The Hindu reverse its editorial stand against pro-LTTE and pro-Eelam chauvinism, burnt some copies of the newspaper, and attempted to march to our office.
“The police effectively prevented them from doing so, thus preventing possible violence, and registered a case under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly) and 285 (negligent conduct with regard to fire or combustible matter) of the Indian Penal Code. The second incident, involving about ten persons, including PDK activists and law college students, was more serious. The group marched towards The Hindu office in Coimbatore, two persons sneaked through the police cordon, and tried to scale the iron gate and force their way past our staff and security personnel. One of them hurled a stone, which fortunately caused no injury or damage. The police arrested ten persons, who were later released on bail, and registered a case against this group under Sections 147 (unlawful assembly), 285, 447 (criminal trespass), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), and 506 (i) (criminal intimidation) of the IPC.
“While we are satisfied with the response of the police in Coimbatore and Erode to these criminal acts — which constituted a threat to the physical safety of our journalists, non-journalistic staff, and others working for us, and to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution — we would like the police as well as the Tamil Nadu Government to take stronger action under the law of the land against the extremist fringe outfits and the individuals, including lawyers, behind these illegal acts.
“We expect the police and the State government to monitor and pursue seriously the prosecution of these cases, so that exemplary punishment under the law of the land is meted out to those who menace freedom of expression in the cause of a banned terrorist organisation.”
Photograph: Copies of The Hindu and Business Line set on fire at the Erode bus stand on Thursday morning. At right, a pro-LTTE handbill found at the site warned The Hindu against publishing ‘anti-Tamil’ reports and accused it of ‘betraying’ Tamils’ interests (courtesy M. Govarthan/ The Hindu)