The Media Foundation has chosen Shahina KK as the winner of the Chameli Devi Award for an outstanding woman journalist. In her acceptance speech she spoke of her attempt to establish that the police conspired to forge a case against Abdul Madani after the Bangalore blasts. ``I have always tried to espouse the cause of those who live on the margin and who cannot have their say,’’ she said.
She was awarded for work done while with Tehelka. She is now with Open magazine.
I am using this opportunity to explain who I am.
See, I happen to be a Muslim, but I am not a terrorist.
Unfortunately, anybody carrying a Muslim name, no matter whether he or she is a believer, agnostic or atheist has to keep this as an opening line on every occasion of a dialogue in public. I have hardly practiced any religion right from my adolescence yet I have to make this kind of a statement.
You may have an idea about what I am going to talk about. In fact this award gives me a great opportunity today to talk about the crime I have committed. I interviewed two of the prosecution witnesses in the infamous Bangalore blast case in which Kerala PDP leader Abdul Nasar Madani is an accused. Madani had spent 10 years in prison as an under-trail in the Coimbatore blast case of 1997 and later was exonerated in 2007. The firebrand orator, who once triggered some kind of belligerence among the post-Babri Masjid Kerala Muslim youth, in his second coming had made a public alliance with the left parties in the last Lok Sabha polls. A man who was speaking the language of democracy, a politician who was using the tools of parliamentary politics had been again taken by the police, this time from Karnataka, for his alleged involvement in the Bangalore blast case. He was arrested immediately after the Lok Sabha polls.
Two of the six prosecution witnesses in the case, Jose Thomas and Mohammed Jamal who is the younger brother of Madani, had approached the court alleging that their testimonies had been fabricated. The third witness was on death bed in a hospital in Ernakulam on the day the police recorded his testimony. He died four days later. Police records say that the testimony was recorded in Kannur, around 500 kms away from Ernakulam where he was admitted. The hospital records prove that on that day he was not in Kannur, but was very much in the hospital in Ernakulam.
With this background, I started my investigation into the police conspiracy theory. Obviously as a journalist, I suspected the police story. My assumption was not wrong. I decided to meet the other prosecution witnesses from Kudaku, Karnataka who had testified that they had seen Madani in the ginger estate in Lakkeri in Kudaku. Two of them told me that they had seen Madani only on television. One among them, K.K Yogananda, an RSS activist, was not even aware that he had been listed by the police as a witness.
The other person is Rafeeq, whose story is very typical of what happens to hundreds of Muslim youngsters who are arrested and tortured by the police with absolutely no evidence. He was forced to give testimony against Madani.
I went there on 16th November last year. On the way to Rafeeq’s place after meeting Yogananda, I was talking to local people over there. The police came and started questioning me. Initially it was in an intimidating tone. They did not allow me to stay back and continue my work hence I left and we set off to meet Rafeeq.
I completed my job late in the evening and started my journey back to Kerala. On the way back, I received a call from the Circle Inspector who asked me if I was a terrorist. I did not have any answer. But the reports of the visit of a ’dubious’ woman in the garb of Tehelka journalist along with some strangers were doing the rounds in the local news papers. It is obvious that all those stories must have been planted by the police.
Meanwhile, Tehelka published the story titled, ‘Why this man is still in Prison’? Madani may or may not be innocent. My story was not at all on the merit of the Bangalore blast case but on the fabrication of a conspiracy theory by the Police.
After a few days, I came to know from news paper reports that a case had been registered against me for intimidating witnesses in the Bangalore blast case. The rest, you may know. Initially, they charged me under sections 506 and 149 of IPC, for intimidating witnesses. They had also managed to get complaints from the witnesses I interviewed. I sought anticipatory bail in the district court of Madikeri. During the course of the hearing of my bail plea, the police sought permission of the court to add section 22 of unlawful activities prevention act, which was allowed by the sessions court and my anticipatory bail plea was rejected.
Now the bail plea is in the High Court of Karnataka. Tomorrow, the case will be heard. I don’t know what is going to happen - whether I will get bail or jail.
The case against me is nothing but a warning to the entire media, not to attempt to challenge the state. If you dare to do it, they will use draconian laws against you. If you belong to the minority community, they will also profile you. It is very difficult to prove that you are not a terrorist. It is equally difficult to prove that you are not a Maoist in our life and times.
In this era of paid news, I believe, it is important to speak for those who live on the margins, who are not able to pay. I have always tried to give visibility to those who are invisible. This award espouses my efforts and gives me support and assurance in my way ahead.