Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Scientist arrested in Midnapore: a story somewhat different from the one you have been reading so far

By Parni Ray

Nisha Biswas, 56, a family friend and a senior scientist at the Central Glass and Ceramics Research Institute was detained by the West Midnapore police in Lalgarh on the 15th of June, 2010. She has been charged with a long list of cases, most of which fall under the larger bracket of the now ubiquitously used Section 120 of the Indian Penal Code (criminal conspiracy against the state).

Biswas, a moderately fresh face in the slowly burgeoning team of Human Rights activists working in Lalgarh, has been working with the locals of the area for almost 2 years now. This, obviously, was not her first visit to the turbulent area, where section 144 still rages on.

On the 15th of June on her way to Lalgarh on yet another field survey Biswas was accompanied by at least 5 other people, Kaniska Chowdhury (a professor in Behala college), Manik Mondal (human rights activist), two unidentified reporters from CNN-IBN and a journalist from Hindustan Times. Following their arrest, the three journos were let of immediately after a quick clarification of their identities while Biswas, Mandal and Chowdhury were placed in judicial custody.

Alarmingly none of the detailed accounts presented by CNN-IBN of the incident (and there were quite a few see even care to mention that their own correspondents entered Lalgarh with this band of 'naxal sympathisers' as allies.

Biswas and her associates face the risk of a life imprisonment, or so says the ever so reliable TELEGRAPH. This on the basis of the notebook, pen, digital camera and the meagre 4,500 rupees seized from them, a seizure list of which is yet to be released. This on the basis of the 18 months of 'intelligence reports' acquired by the Kolkata Police by tapping and recording her various phone conversations. Her (and her associates) specific offense in Lalgarh, police claim has been to

a) have attended a kangaroo court held by the villagers (of which there is no proof)

b) to have corresponded with Maoists on a regular basis and have brought along funds for their operation, the 4,500 rupees, Midnapore police claim, was for this purpose alone. Police claim Biswas and the others were picked up while trying to meet Maoist leaders in Lalgarh and while in talks with members of Chhatrodhar Mahato's PCPA.

c) to have instigated the villagers with (but of course) anti-national thoughts and attempted to (but of course) wage war against the state.

Biswas has been specifically targeted by the media especially due to her occupation as a 'Scientist', which, as a tag tends to inspire great alarm when paired in relation with 'terrorist' outfits. It is a trifle funny how the media implicitly means to suggest that the only reason a scientist may come into contact with a political association is to help them make explosives! As if all sorts of scientists, irrespective of what their specialization, what their field are equipped to soup up bombs, as if bombs ARE what scientists make!
The media doesn't however stop at introducing this rather ludicrous subtext between the lines, it continues on its path of hilarity in a direction which is particularly enraging. After the prerequisite questioning of the disapproving neighbours, the angry colleagues,the reportage swoops, vulture like, on predictably double-edged phrases. 'She was always aloof', 'she had a fight with a colleague'. Taken out of context and subjected to the tried and tested journalistic methods of 'cut' and 'paste' these damp-as- salt-in-July sentences lend a whole new hue to both, the piece being rendered and the individual being described. It's a particularly horrifying method of social profiling. I tremble with fear at the thought of what my classmates from college or my co-learners at swimming class or my neighbour who I have never met or the lady who comes to take our rubbish in the morning or even that girl I once brawled with in school might tell journalists if they came enquiring after me!

There are a number of reasons why I am writing this post. For one, I am angry. And yes there is no point in denying the urban smugness which has lent a particularly sharper edge to my anger simply because this is happening to a woman I have had dinners and shared a smoke with. But surely there are other reasons as well. One of them, the most important of them, is to further share with you the sham of a media we have already recognized as a puppet in the hands of the state, equally corrupt, equally dictated by corporate demands and in one word, blind. But most importantly I write this so that YOU know, and tell others and tell the OTHERS to tell others so that soon, when one of us decides to do something about this, this particular 'this', or some other 'this', or THIS in general we all know who to stand by and perhaps, what to do.

Spread the word.

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Press Notes by PUDR and Sanhati