Threats, slander and defamation cases are just some of the methods employed to intimidate journalists across the world. Tamil Naduâ€™s scribes are no stranger to these tools used routinely by governments, corporates and individuals to ensure that free and fair journalism does not survive.
A day after news portal The Wire published a series of articles on the sand mining cartel in Tamil Nadu, freelance journalist Sandhya Ravishankar found herself at the receiving end of character assassination and slander. Her four-part investigative series details how â€śillegal mining of beach sand has been going on for years with the collusion of the state and perhaps even central authorities, costing the exchequer tens of thousands of crores of rupees.â€ť Through her investigations, she highlights in particular the operations of VV Mineral, the largest sand mining company in India and profiles its owner S Vaikundarajanâ€™s rise over the years.
On Saturday, a blog purportedly belonging to VVM Employee Association accused her of being a â€śpaid news writerâ€ť for its business rival Dhaya Devadas and insinuated that her â€ś personal enmityâ€ť was the motive behind publishing her article against VV Mineral. Instead of countering facts with facts, the slanderous blog went on to drag Sandhya through the mud, accusing her of threatening the management to employ her husband, also a journalist, in the VV Mineral-owned Tamil news channel, News 7. The blog also published an email sent to The Wire threatening a legal notice if VV Minerals objections were not put up.
Speaking to TNM, Sandhya dismissed the allegations as false and baseless and said, â€śIt was on expected lines. When I pitched the series to the editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, I said that there were going to be repercussions. These are very typical ways of intimidation but I am not afraid.â€ť
Sandhya, her husband Prem Shankar along with Times Internet were slapped with defamation cases for a 2015 report in the Economic Times on the illegal sand mining mineral scam in Tamil Nadu. The criminal case filed at a Tirunelveli court is pending.
The Chennai-based journalist says that she began her investigations into illegal sand mining in 2013 when she was working with national news channel Times Now, but did not receive a legal notice then. She, however, notes that other journalists and media outlets that have pursued the sand mining story have received threats and legal notices. Frontline magazine was sent a legal notice in 2016 for a similar report.
In addition to the various intimidating tactics, Sandhya woke up on Monday inundated with phone calls from strangers. Accusing her of being â€śanti-jallikattuâ€ť, trolls had shared her mobile number on social media and requested strangers to continuously call her. She has filed a complaint with Chennai Policeâ€™s cyber crime on the latest harassment.