ON JANUARY 6, 2009 in a scene straight out of a 1970s Bollywood movie, six police vans chased down the car in which the chairman and director of Chitra Publications, BV Seetaram, and his wife were travelling in Udupi district, Karnataka. Seetaram stepped out to face a posse of 25 policemen seeking to arrest him in a two-year-old defamation suit against him. It is ironic that the policemen had forgotten to bring along the arrest warrant.
Chitra Publications publishes three newspapers, including the controversial Kannada news daily, Karavali Ale. A popular read in the coastal districts of Karnataka, the newspaper claims 40,000 subscribers and over two lakh readers.
A day after his arrest, Seetaram was produced before the court of the Judicial Magistrate (First Class) in Udupi — handcuffed to an iron chain and escorted by several policemen wielding automatic rifles. Citing a serious threat to his life from the police and the state government, he refused to apply for bail but changed his mind after being moved to Mysore.
There are instances which suggest that the government is helping Hindutva forces
Seetaram’s arrest follows nearly two months of sustained attacks against his newspaper clearly aimed at disrupting Karavali Ale’s circulation. On November 17, the newspaper’s printing press in Mangalore was attacked and a constable on duty sustained injuries. Weeks later, distribution vans were intercepted and over 5,000 copies of the paper burnt. Hawkers and shops selling or stocking it were ransacked. Though complaints were filed and cases registered, no arrests have been forthcoming — something that hardly surprises the editor.
Seetaram has consistently held Bajrang Dal activists responsible for the attacks — he says they are incensed by his open criticism of their role in the attacks on churches in and around Mangalore in 2008. Seetaram’s accusation of the Bajrang Dal has hardly been refuted. The Bajrang Dal’s Dakshina Kannada district convenor, Vinay Shetty, while talking to TEHELKA, indicated support for the attacks against Karavali Ale. “If people are angry, they will react. He (Seetaram) attacks Hindu, Christian and Muslim religious leaders; people from the community will come forward to defend their leaders.” Days after a series of articles in his newspaper accusing the Sangh Parivar of playing a fascist role in the coastal region, Seetaram was arrested in a defamation suit filed against him in July 2007.