PUCL Bulletin, May 2002

Acceptance Speech by Rani George

It is my great pleasure standing here before such a distinguished group to receive the 21st PUCL 'Journalism for Human Rights' Award. I would like to thank all who helped me to be worthy of this honour.

Human rights are the most taken for granted rights everywhere in the world by those who enjoy them. And they are also the most violated rights. The tragedy is that those who enjoy them generally don't bother to extend help to those who are not so fortunate.

And also, people who are not aware of human rights violations outnumber those who are. In every field this stands true. So it becomes t prime responsibility of the media to create awareness in general public about the human right violations taking place all around.

I had the opportunity to realise the depth of human right violation taking place in the name of politics in certain areas in Kerala. The State, which stands first in literacy, is regarded as comparatively calm when it comes political violence. But certain areas in Kannur, one of the northern districts stand as an exception.

Politics terrorizes people here. Every year at least 10 people get killed and hundreds get crippled for life in CPM - BJP rivalry. Political slavery is very prevalent. Everyone must join one party or the other and must reside where others belonging to the same party lives. Thus forming the so call cluster of "party villages".

What happens in these party villages is unknown to the world outside; even to people in other districts of Kerala. Everything is on under cover. People live, work and die according to what political leaders say. They have little or no right as individuals.

Outsiders decide everything about them. They have no power, no human rights, no life of their own. It was considered a different world.

In 2000-2001 I was working as a reporter at Kannur. No woman journalist had ever worked there before. Even men considered - still do - the place too dangerous to go out and find a real story.

I started off as anyone else: doubtful and with not much hope. But after working there for some months, I sensed certain areas untouched by the media till then could give shocking revelations. I wished to go to the inner, remote areas where criminals were heard of being trained. I wanted to talk to Policemen posted in the area, who were terrified with the
prospectus of their lives there. I wanted to talk to women who were at their wits with all the violence and enmity between men from different political parties. I decided to find out myself what was going on there.

And when I talked about this with my colleagues, our news agents, part time correspondents etc. no one encouraged me. Everyone warned me that I wouldn't return safely after visiting those areas. And even if I did, I wouldn't be walking alive to see the story published.

But when I talked with my news editor, he was very happy with the idea. He was very happy that somebody wanted to do so something about the situation. He himself was very upset over the village people who were being deprived of all basic human rights there. His confidence in me filled me with courage and I started out on the journey.

The warnings were not false. The villages I couldn't enter outnumbered those which I could people, led by local political leaders, vehemently opposed me getting any information about their village. Those villages, of whose borders were marked either in red or in saffron. Even electric posts were clearly marked. No one, who belongs to one village, would never think of entering other villages. These villages were known as "Party Villages".

The terrified people wouldn't allow me even to walk around and wouldn't allow anyone to speak with me. Goons armed with sticks and guns examined the vehicle at every point as if we were spies from another planet. And worse still our driver wouldn't drive through certain places which were notorious for bomb attacks.

One day, two days, three days… days will pass by without any progress. But slowly information started sneaking in. From local people who had had enough with violence and killings, women who had been losing their husbands and children all these years, local political leaders who were facing threats from opposite parties...people who were being deprived of their basic human right - the right to live with dignity - they were ready to help and all poured out details.
With their help, I was able to visit a number of party villages, and a party training camp, which even the Superintendent of Police had failed to enter. Police didn't come with us anywhere because of fear of attack.

And the series of stories, when published in the newspaper, Malayala Manorama, from March 8 to 12, 2001, really shocked readers. Many people from the violence hit area appreciated it as it was for the first time that something was written on their plight, on the violation of basic human rights of common people.

Of course, threats poured in I had gone to the villages disguised as a social researcher and when it became public - with the first part of the story - that I was not, both parties issued warnings. I had to disconnect my telephone for days and at the office colleagues attended calls and assured the callers that I was not working there, but only a freelancer and so they don't know the whereabouts.

But I am very proud to remember that the story did what it was intended to do. The world outside knew about the party villages and many came to help the people out there. And most importantly, the government became more alert. And it was forced to take a tough stance against political criminals.
It was the time of assembly elections. Violence was sure to spread. This time more police force equipped with arms were supplied to the district for the first time. And the elections, though some violence spurted here and there, went off without much havoc or loss of life. And though they still exist, life in party villages has become a bit more secure with the change of state government.

And so, I consider my efforts didn't go without success