Date: 21 February 2006, The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today expressed deep concern about the growing trend of violent attacks by right wing outfits against the media in Maharashtra.
"Disagreement with views cannot be the reason to attack media houses. The media must be allowed to remain independent, and encouraged to resist pressure tactics, from whichever direction they come," said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
On February 19, members of the right wing Sambhaji Brigade ransacked the office of Loksatta, an Indian Express group publication in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. Armed with rods, they destroyed computers, broke window panes and burnt files. They also damaged office furniture and beat up two employees who were present in the office. The mob, shouting slogans glorifying the Sambhaji Brigade and Shivaji, went on the rampage supposedly because Loksatta had not published any article on the occasion of Shivjayanti, the anniversary of warrior king Shivaji. On their way back, they also burnt down a motorcycle with Loksatta written on it.
The Sambhaji Brigade, a splinter group of the Maratha Seva Sangh, an organisation active in "promoting the cause of the Marathas" came into the national spotlight in January 2004 after their vandalising of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune, Maharashtra, one of the country’s premier research centres for Orientology. They were protesting against the institute’s alleged involvement in maligning the name of the Maratha King Shivaji. The attackers were reacting to what they considered a derogatory remark on Shivaji’s parentage, made by the American author James Laine in his book ‘Shivaji: A Hindu King in an Islamic Kingdom’. The 150 strong mob barged into its premises, ransacked the library, destroyed thousands of rare books, ancient manuscripts, old photographs and priceless artifacts, and took away some invaluable historical texts.
The attack in Ahmednagar follows closely on the attack on February 8 on the TV Channel Zee in Mumbai. Members of the Shiv Sena, a militant right-wing party, led by Sena’s student wing, Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS), ransacked the office of the TV Channel Zee. The attack was purportedly because of a skit on the Shiv Sena by the Channel Zee Marathi. A satirical skit titled ‘Kaka Mala Vachva’ (uncle, save me) was presented at the Zee Marathi annual awards, allegedly commenting on the power tussle within the Thackeray family that led to the exit of Sena leader, Raj Thackeray, from the Shiv Sena.
Bowing to pressure, the issue was "amicably" resolved a week later when Nitin Vaidya, Business Head Zee Marathi apologised in case Zee had in any way hurt their (Thackeray family) sentiments.
"Diversity of opinion and tolerance of views in a multicultural society is a hallmark of a vibrant democracy. Those who perpetrate these attacks must be severely dealt with. These self-appointed censors cannot be allowed to intimidate and stifle a free press," said Warren.
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 100 countries.