PUCL Bulletin, November 2002

Handling of a harassment case by Kerala State Human Rights Commission is questioned

The actions of Kerala State Human Rights Commission in case of Suryanelli girl are contradictory. The Commission has refused to entertain the complaint of Suryanelli girl and her mother against CBI harassment, which is a part of Abhaya case probe. However, the Commission has recorded its acceptance for future action Shobana George's complaint alleging crime branch harassment. The "fake document" case is still under investigations. The case has already created a lot of confusions amongst human rights activists and the general public.

On Suryanelli girl's complaint against CBI, the Commission version was that it couldn't interfere in a case under investigation by the police. As against this, the Commission has to explain the criteria under which it adopted a diametrically opposite stand on Shobana George's complaint of harassment against Crime Branch, which was not raised by others from whom the Crime Branch collected "evidence" as part of their ongoing investigation in the "fake document" case.

In the name of Abhaya case probe, the Suryanelli girl and her mother were subjected to 'custodial interrogation'. The interrogation was carried out by the CBI in a guesthouse that too in the presence of Mary. Mary is the same person, who was convicted by the Kottayam Special Court after it found her guilty in the Suryanelli case. But in the case of Shobana George, the crime branch team headed by a top lady officer just collected "evidence" from her, after her return from a week-long holiday to Bangalore and Chennai. The Crime Branch dealt with her 'decently'. The fact that Shobana George was not subjected to "custodial interrogation" by Crime Branch, unlike the trauma faced by Suryanelli girl and her mother from CBI, make the contradictory stands adopted by Human Rights Commission in these two cases questionable.

Shobana George could have complained to the Assembly Speaker if at all her rights as an MLA was violated; as a house-wife she could have approached the State Women's Commission; against the alleged news campaign, she could have complained to the Press Council of India; and if her harassment was from her own party colleagues, she should have complained to her party bosses in KPCC/AICC. Since Shobana George has not done any of these, her opting to lodge complaint before the Human Rights Commission makes it all the more suspicious.
At the same time, it was Anil Nambiar, Chief Reporter of Surya TV, who was arrested, imprisoned and released on conditional bail.

He was the actual victim of Crime Branch harassment in the "fake document" case. The only "crime" that he had committed was filing of a report based upon a police document, which he considered as genuine in full confidence and true belief. Neither the Crime Branch, nor the Chief Minister, had so far accused that Anil Nambiar or Surya TV had artificially created such a document for the sake of news. If so, the Crime Branch investigation would have concluded after Anil Nambiar's arrest. This first ever arrest of a media person in Kerala for merely filing a news report constitutes a clear violation of Press Freedom.

The Human Rights Commission should, therefore, have questioned as to why the Crime Branch has not arrested anybody even after one month of Anil Nambiar's arrest, and despite his disclosing the source from where he got the "fake document". The Commission, who used to initiate suo-motu cases based upon news reports, kept silent on this issue while, after rejecting the Suryanelli girl's complaint, it showed excessive interest in Shobana George's complaint. These actions of the Commission have brought into doubt its own credibility in public eye.

We sincerely urge the Commission, which could have acted as an effective institution within the parameters of the 1993 Human Rights Protection Act, to avoid adopting such objectionable, suspicious and unjustifiable actions at least in future.

-- Mukundan C. Menon, Secretary General, Confederation of Human rights Organisations (Keralam), September 10, 2002

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