Goddess Durga debate, sedition charges and death threats: Senior Journalist Sindhu Sooryakumar on the hate campaign against her
Smriti Irani presented a leaflet on Mahishasura Day observance at JNU in the Parliament. The Opposition protested in the Rajya Sabha, pointing out that bringing such leaflets published by fringe groups will set a bad precedence. The News Hour discussed the issue on Friday evening. VV Rajesh represented the BJP in the debate. MB Rajesh MP and Anto Antony presented the views of the CPM and the Congress respectively. In the programme, VV Rajesh repeated Smriti Irani’s statement that the leaflet painted Goddess Durga as a sex worker. Not even once, did I quote his statement. My question was how Smriti Irani could cite the references in the leaflet to prove the allegations of sedition. I repeatedly sought the BJP spokesperson’s explanation on how it amounted to sedition.
How a comment, which may be considered blasphemous, would come under sedition law? Besides, some tribes in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha celebrate Mahishasura Jayanti. If that is part of their belief, how can they be blamed? On the other hand, there are no objections to celebrations of Durgashtami and Durga Jayanti. These were the issues raised at the debate. In his reply, Rajesh praised pluralism. But he claimed that things propagated through the leaflet would instill separatist tendencies among students and pit them against each other. Then I pointed out that such programmes used to be held in the campus earlier as well and people like BJP Udith Raj had participated in the event in the past.
In the half an hour discussion, I never raised the question “what is wrong calling Durga a sex worker?” Nor did I say that it was a matter of freedom of expression, as is propagated by them. Please watch the video. You will understand what transpired.
What happened next?
After 8:30 pm on Friday, I started getting phone calls stating that I made denigrating comments on Durga. In the beginning, I did not have any clue on what was evolving. I did not attend many calls either.VV Rajesh rang me up in the morning and said that there was a misinformation campaign going on against me. He informed that a Whatsaapp message was doing rounds against me.
What did the callers say. What was your police complaint?
They said they won’t let me live in peace and will destroy my family. The comments were sexist and abusive. I filed a police complaint when I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave them details of the calls I attended. For the past three days my mobile phone has been inundated with abusive calls, which is still continuing. The messages circulated from pro-BJP, pro-Sangh Facebook profiles published my phone number and exhorted people to call me. The FB posts wrongly quoted me as saying ” Sindhu Sooryakumar asks what’s wrong if someone calls Goddess Durga a sex worker.” “Sindhu Sooryakumar is a sex worker. This is her phone number. Call her to protest,” such messages circulated on pro-BJP, pro-Sangh Facebook profiles. Such messages are also circulating via Whatsapp.
Who do you think is behind this?
I strongly believe that the RSS is behind this campaign. Because it is through their social media network – from India as well as the Middle East – that these messages are circulating. I do not think this is a natural response to a news program. This is a planned campaign hatched from the RSS camp. I am forced to believe that RSS is encouraging a culture that is abusive to women. I wish I were wrong. But this is my experience. Unless RSS disowns this hate campaign, I will continue to believe this campaign was done at their behest.
I called BJP Spokesperson V.V Rajesh (who attended the News Hour show) on Saturday evening and said I was going to file a complaint. “No BJP worker will do this. You go ahead with the complaint. I will cooperate with any investigation. I will tell the police that you have not said anything abusive about Goddess Durga,” he told me. I asked him then why is BJP not announcing this as a party position. Why can’t they issue a statement? Rajesh replied that BJP Kerala president Kummanam Rajashekharan had to be consulted.
As of now, there has been no response from the BJP. I have shared the police complaint with the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President, the CPIM State Secretary, the BJP President, the DGP, the Home Minister, and the Chief Minister. I expect that Kummanam Rajashekharan will watch the News Hour show I hosted, see the truth and issue a statement denouncing the hate campaign against me. As a political leader he has the responsibility to respond. If he has believes in the freedom of expression, I trust that he will issue a statement.
Are you receiving calls even after the police complaint?
There are no signs of the abusive calls stopping. When people call from their own mobile phones, it shows they have no fear of the law. The police have filed charges against a few of them. If the charges against them are not strong, I will move court with a private complaint. I stand by what I said. I will not allow anyone to challenge my freedom of speech and right to live.
Do people who call identify themselves as party functionaries?
Not everyone. But some said they were either RSS or BJP activists. Most of them asked me three questions: Why do you dislike Narendra Modi. Why can’t you acknowledge RSS. What is your problem with the BJP.
Asianet new editor Sindhu Suryakumar gets life threat for allegedly ‘demeaning Goddess Durga’