Lawyer and human rights activist Gayatri Khandhadai has slammed Chennai city police Commissioner AK Vishwanathan after he publicly displayed her Facebook profile at a press conference and alleged a ‘Pakistan connection’. Gayatri had been part of the kolam protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act on Sunday following which she along with five others and their lawyers, were detained by the police. The protests were widely emulated across the state while the Chennai police was condemned for detaining the peaceful protesters.
However, on Wednesday, at a press conference meant to provide details of the Chennai police’s performance in 2019, city police Commissioner AK Vishwanathan showed screenshots of Gayatri Khandhadai’s Facebook profile and said she had listed herself as a researcher with a firm called ‘Bytes for All, Pakistan’.
The annual police press conference is usually held on the first day of the new year to address the success of crime prevention measures in the city. Surprisingly, though, the Chennai police came prepared with screenshots and videos and said the police were probing a ‘Pakistan connection’ of the anti-CAA protester.
Speaking at a press conference in Madurai on Thursday, Gayatri showed her research — published by a number of organisations including Bytes for All. Titled ‘Descrating Expression’, the December 2016 research report chronicles the persecution of sexual and religious minorities in countries including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
“It saddens me that when I asked who the complainant against me was, I was told that the complainant's privacy would be affected. But how can the same police publicly announce my Facebook profile at a media press meet? What is the reason for taking a photocopy of my Facebook profile? You (Chennai police) have completely compromised my security and my privacy,” slammed Gayatri.
A quick Google search reveals Bytes for All Pakistan, a network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners, has been active in the field and oft-quoted in the media for its research on human rights issues. It describes itself as a ‘human rights organization and a research think tank with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies.’
Slamming the casual manner in which the reference to Pakistan was made, Gayatri said, “The Chennai Commissioner of Police is solely responsible for my safety and security.” Since the Commissioner’s press conference, social media posts with a screenshot of Gayatri’s Facebook profile and her meeting with DMK chief Stalin who congratulated the protesters have been shared widely.
“I am a lawyer. I have been fighting for freedom of expression and religious rights for a long time. I have registered in this report that atheists, religious and sexual minorities are being affected repeatedly in these countries. Whole chapters have been dedicated to Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. It's funny that they turned me into a Pakistani agent. BJP has said that the CAA was introduced to protect religious minorities. Doesn't my report support that? Shouldn't the BJP call and congratulate me?” Gayatri asked.
Pointing out the main difference between the Centre’s concern for minorities and hers, she said that her argument, unlike the BJP’s, was for the protection of all people. The CAA has been controversial for claiming to protect persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh but excluding Muslims from its ambit.
The lawyer reminded, “I have written about the homes and schools of Pakistani Hindus being burnt. If they had read the report and conducted the press conference, that would have been good.”
What the Commissioner said
Holding up a printed copy of the Facebook profile, the Commissioner had said, “This is part of Association of All Pakistan Citizen Journalist. How far she has a Pakistan connection- We are getting to see that many organisations here are also supporting her and are in contact with her- Arappor Iyakkam, Welfare Party of India and other organisations. We are probing, will probe what the Pakistan connection is and if there's more details in this regard.”
The Commissioner claimed that the protesters had already drawn seven to eight kolams and hence were not stopped from doing so. He said that the police got information only when an issue took place between the protesters and a neighbour who had reportedly objected to anti CAA kolams in front of their house. However, TNM has questioned these claims here.