Several activists and prominent voices from across the country have come together to condemn the threats to Chennai-based journalist Sandhya Ravishankar, following her investigative reports on the illegal sand mining in the southern beaches of Tamil Nadu.
Earlier this year, Sandhya had filed a series of investigative reports on The Wire, recounting how beach mineral mining companies in the state had indulged in illegal mining and allegedly covered it up. Read our story on her here.
A press release from a group of activists rallying behind Sandhya stated that Magsaysay award winners, musician TM Krishna and social activist Aruna Roy, Kavita Krishnan (AIPWA), Annie Raja (NFIW), noted activist Harsh Mander, Prof. Lakshmanan (MIDS), Evidence Kathir, academic Dr. Anand Teltumbde, environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman, independent journalist Cynthia Stephen are amongst those who have signed a petition, started by friends of Sandhya concerned about her safety following the threats to her. About one thousand persons from across the country and all over the globe have signed so far, the release stated. This includes activists, researchers, homemakers, academics, students, media persons, musicians, filmmakers and IT professionals.
Noted social activist Aruna Roy said, " People often think of corruption as financial, or dealing with money and bribes alone. Sand is an important natural resource and therefore illegal sand mining is often not perceived as such by people. Chennai based Sandhya has brought this to light and shown through her work how this natural resource has been exploited by the powers. Sandhya through her extensive series of articles has raised some of these vital questions. Threats to her are an attempt to quell all awareness and discussion on the very subject of sand mining mafia, and is not merely an isolated attack on an individual."
"Moreover, the nature of the threats indicate how social media is falling prey to the hands of anti-social elements, who use this to target women freely."
Speaking on the issue, TM Krishna has said, "In this country and specifically in Tamil Nadu we have been living under fear and threat for decades. Activists, journalists, musicians and writers who have raised their voice against the powerful, corrupt and brutal mafias that control various illegal operations has been silenced through various means. This has to stop right now. In almost all these operations the political establishment has been an active participant. Sandhya Ravishankar, at the cost of risking her own personal safety has exposed the Sand mining mafia that exists in Tamil Nadu. She has given us an opportunity to declare freedom from the various goons who control our social, economic and political existence. It is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that Sandhya is safe and continues her work. We are living in times when dissent has been turned into an anti-national word by the political powers at the helm. And to further establish that, they bully and frighten people who stand up to them courageously. Dissent is the core energy that keeps the spirit of democracy alive and it is beholden on every one of us to protect, preserve and to actively express our dissent to every kind of violence that is perpetrated in society. "
Noted Chennai based environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman, said "In exposing the beach sand-mining racket, Sandhya was not only flagging an issue of importance to all of us, but also to future generations. Mining of beach sand and dunes is an invitation to disaster as the sand is a buffer against a violent sea and keeps salinity from invading the coastal freshwater aquifers. The police should act in a manner that inspires public confidence."
Social activist Harsh Mander has said, “Sandhya’s case is emblematic of the climate of permissive intolerance that we see around us today. That she is trolled, with sexually violent threats, and that too for exposing corrupt nexus of the sand mafia, is a sad commentary on our times. We need to all stand in solidarity with Sandhya and all the Sandhyas around us.”
Bangalore based Independent journalist Cynthia Stephen had this to say, “It is a matter of grave concern that a reporter who has done an investigative report on illegal sand mining in the state of TN is being threatened. That she is a woman is also very significant. When public interest is being upheld by her work, and the people of Tamil Nadu and the administration of the state are stakeholders, these threats to her are worthy of the highest condemnation. We call upon the government to ensure her tormentors are arrested immediately and brought to justice. Furthermore, we call for full clarification on the violations uncovered by Sandhya rajagopal and immediate action against the perpetrators of the illegal mining. The ill-gotten wealth to must be brought back to India and used for the benefit of the people of the region who are the true owners."
Mumbai-based independent journalist Geeta Seshu asserts, “All journalists are standing with Sandhya Ravishankar and her work. “
Many networks and campaigns from across the country, including the network of Women in Media (NWMI), have come forward to express their support for Sandhya, the release further added.
The full petition is as follows:
Statement of support for Sandhya Ravishankar, Chennai-based journalist facing threats for reporting on sand-mining mafia
March 18, 2017
We, the undersigned, are concerned about the reports of threats and intimidation to Sandhya Ravishankar. We strongly condemn the same and express our support to her, as well as to other journalists and media-persons who undertake such courageous, investigative work of uncovering truths about established powers.
Sandhya Ravishankar has published a series of articles on the sand mining mafia in Tamil Nadu as part of her investigative work undertaken over four years. Ever since her article was published, she has been under threat and intimidation. As reported in The Wire, Sandhya has said, "I have been harassed online with trolls on social media using foul language against me, calling me a “corrupt” journalist, a “fake” journalist etc. My mobile number was published on Twitter and Facebook by the anonymous trolls supporting Mr S. Vaikundarajan, the largest beach sand miner in the country – my mobile number was published with a note in Tamil saying that I was “anti-Jallikattu” and asking people “not to call her”. Subsequently I received a flood of abusive and threatening calls – unknown people threatening to put chilli powder inside my private parts, threatening to beat me up and abusing me in the filthiest manner possible." She has lodged complaints with the Press Council of India, the Indian Women’s Press Corps, The Editor’s Guild, the Chennai City police and the Cyber Crime Cell.
As citizens of India, we stand in full support and solidarity with journalists like Sandhya. We state that she is not alone, and that we stand by her. We demand that her complaint be taken seriously by the authorities, and that they take cognizance of the sensitivity of her work. Action must be taken against those threatening her, so that such intimidation is discouraged. It is a known fact that journalists face grave dangers and undertake enormous risks in reporting inconvenient facts about powerful lobbies. Moreover, freedom of press is a Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right (Art. 19) and it is the collective duty of citizens and authorities to uphold the right. The threats to her are a violation of that very right.
Sandhya's investigation into the issue of sand mining is, truly, in the interest of the nation. Her reports have highlighted long term and short term impacts on Tamil Nadu's environment and its economy. Significantly, she has pointed out in her investigation how the law of the land is being subverted with impunity by a private conglomerate, even as law-abiding officials have only attempted to implement laws.
he threats to Sandhya indicate attempts to silence her and the trolls have been hurling gender-based slurs. Such threats to women in the field of journalism need to be countered strongly by authorities as well as civil society. This is a question of safeguarding fundamental democratic rights. We therefore urge that speedy and exemplary action be taken so that a strong message is sent to those behind these threats and intimidatory tactics.