Friday, January 25, 2008

Code Red: No Dissent In Marxist Land

Activists decry the arrest of People’s March editor saying he was denied several fundamental rights

Kochi and Thrissur

INTERNAL SECURITY has often been the cover for the State to clamp down on people with an ultra-Left background. In the latest case, the editor of a Kerala based pro-Maoist monthly, People’s March, was arrested a month ago from his office in Trikkakara near Kochi. The 68-year-old editor, P. Govindan Kutty is on an indefinite hunger strike in judicial custody to highlight the human rights violation. But barring a few activists of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), civil society in the highly literate state still seems to be completely unmindful. The PUCL activists have threatened to launch an agitation near the Kerala High Court protesting against the unlawful manner in which the arrest was carried out.

The Kerala Police and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan have said that a close watch is being kept on activists demanding the protection of Kutty’s rights. They have also said they would not allow anyone like him to run any publication that voices dissent against State atrocities. Authorities at the Central Jail in Viyyur are reported to be injecting glucose drip to Kutty as he is determined not to break the fast. Activists say he is often straitjacketed to inject the drip. At the time of filing this report, he was being shifted to the Government Medical College in Thrissur.

According to PUCL state president PA Pouran, Kutty is continuing his fast alleging that even the minimum legal procedure was ignored and the basic rights of a prisoner, including access to a lawyer, had been denied him. When he was arrested and remanded to judicial custody in December, the authorities insisted that he could talk to his lawyer only in the presence of jail officials.

Kutty, who was a government servant, had come in contact with Maoist thought while working in Andhra Pradesh about two decades ago. He returned to Kerala five years ago and launched his small publication, which sells only a few hundred copies. The publication has never been proceeded against and meets legal requirements such as registration with the Registrar of Newspapers for India and has permission to be carried at concessional rates by the postal department.

Charges against Govindan Kutty are framed under Sections 134, 124A, 133B of the Indian Penal Code and under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which has never been used against a journalist. One of the main charges against Kutty is that he wrote an article some five years ago hailing the Maoist attack on the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

Human rights activists say the arrest and the consequent developments raise several disturbing questions. “First of all, it exposes the palpable intolerance being shown by the police and the present government in Kerala towards any kind of dissent. The second is the scant respect for human rights and the fundamental rights of every citizen, including prisoners. The third is the selective and arbitrary manner in which the civil society in Kerala, including intellectuals and the mainstream media, seem to behave even on issues where fundamental rights are violated,” says NP Chekkutty, noted journalist and editor of Malayalam daily Thejus.

PUCL’s Pouran says Kutty was arrested soon after the Andhra Pradesh Police picked up two Maoist activists, Malla Raja Reddy and Suguna, from Angamaly near Alwaye on December 17 last year. The two were living among construction workers from outside the state. The AP team had come in plainclothes without informing local authorities as required by law, and was attempting to get away with the two until the local people stopped their vehicle. It was only then that the AP Police agreed to produce the two in a court and get a transit warrant.

Such secret raids seem to have become a routine affair. In June 2007, another Maoist, Raja Mouli, was forcibly taken by a group of AP policemen from the Kollam railway station. He was not produced in any court and his body was recovered two days later in Andhra Pradesh.

THE KERALA Police, which raided the offices of Govindan Kutty alleging he was helping Malla Raja Reddy find shelter in Kerala, still maintain that he is a man of terror. But they could not find any evidence to link him to Reddy and hence the decision to charge him for an article written five years ago. It is also said the police manipulated the mainstream Malayalam media to demonise Kutty. The stories about his personal life were carried without his version. Only a handful of media houses took his version of the story, thereby highlighting the police’s blatantly false claims.

While opposing his bail application in the Kerala High Court, the police said Govindan Kutty was providing ideological backing to Maoists of different streams for the last five
years and his release would help Naxalism grow in Kerala. But the home department has no answers as to why they allowed him to engage in such activities for the past five years
and what prompted his arrest in December.

“We are not against taking proper legal action against him if he is guilty. But throwing basic human rights to the wind in the name of Naxal raids is not justified,” said Pouran.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 4, Dated Feb 02, 2008

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