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
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
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
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