While large swathes of the country froth over the Delhi gangrape and others try to persuade them that froth is not enough, 28-year-old Naveen Soorinje stays in jail. For the last 7 years journalist Soorinje has reported on assault after assault on the rights of women in coastal Karnataka for which good deed his punishment has been to stay in jail. On Wednesday the Karnataka High Court rejected the bail petition filed by journalist Soorinje, who covered the 28 July attack by members of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike on a group of young men and and women at the “Morning Mist” Homestay in Mangalore.
On 7 November Soorinje was arrested by the Mangalore Police who lumped him along with the men who groped and attacked the young people making this one of the most bizarre examples of shooting the messenger. After a month in jail Soorinje and his friends among the journalist fraternity thought that he would make bail. Particularly since in jail the reporter has contacted a bout of chicken pox and is currently in hospital under judicial custody. However, Judge Keshava Narayana rejected the bail application saying he was no different from the attackers who have been charged with a wide range of crimes from “criminal intimidation” and the frankly inadequate “outraging the modesty of a woman” to “carrying lethal weapons”and “dacoity”. The judge said that Soorinje had “encouraged the happening of the incident and assisted in videography of the event, and thereafter facilitated its telecast in television channels, which has caused greater damage to the dignity and reputation of the victims.” Soorinje’s argument that he was vastly outnumbered by the goons and all he could do was record the crime as a journalist has been ignored.
Soorinje has been a reporter for the last 7 years, most recently with the television channel Kasturi Newz 24. He grew up in an agricultural family in Dakshin Kannada district and was bit by the investigative journalism bug fairly early. And more recently he has acquired a reputation for going the extra mile for big, intimidating stories. He was the first one to reveal that former (then current) Karnataka CM Sadanand Gowda was neck-deep in a land scam. It’s now an annual ritual in the media and across parties to deplore the shame of Made Snana – a ritual at the state-run Kukke Subramanya temple in which lower caste devotees roll in the leftovers of Brahmins. But Soorinje was the first to report the phenomena. It was also his 2012 investigation that began state-wide protests against the rape and murder of a 17-year-old college student in the piligrimage spot Dharmasthala. Soorinje’s investigations showed that there had been over 50 unnatural deaths in Dharmasthala over the last few years none of which have been adequately explained.
Soorinje’s petition to seek quashing of the proceedings against him is still pending before him in the High Court. In his petition seeking quashing, he had argued that the Mangalore Police had not made a prima facie case of his involvement in the attack. Incidentally, the victim on the basis of whose complaint the FIR was lodged against Mr. Soorinje, has said on record that he was made to sign on a blank sheet of paper by Mangalore Police. A different judge had earlier stayed the proceedings in the case arguing there was no prima facie evidence. But by the time the stay came into effect, Soorinje had been arrested by Mangalore Police. In one of those legal twists his counsel was forced to seek a cancellation of the stay in order to move the bail application. In effect bringing the case back in motion. And leaving Soorinje in jail.