ON FRIDAY night, she moderated a spirited discussion on a popular Malayalam TV news show on whether celebrating Mahishasur Jayanti could be considered an act of treason.
Since then, Sindhu Sooryakumar, chief coordinating editor of Asianet News TV, says she has received over 2,000 abusive calls on her cellphone, allegedly from activists and sympathisers of various pro-Hindutva groups, accusing her of calling Durga a “sex worker” during the show.
The irony: a video of the show, seen by The Indian Express, shows that those two words were read out by V V Rajesh, BJP state secretary, while quoting from pamphlets that he claimed were distributed on the JNU campus and later produced in Parliament by HRD Minister Smriti Irani.
On Monday, Kerala Police arrested five people based on a complaint filed by the journalist. G Sparjan Kumar, Commissioner of Police, Thiruvananthapuram city, told The Indian Express: “All of those arrested are connected to BJP, RSS and Hindu groups, including Sri Rama Sena.”
One of the five, from Thiruvananthapuram, told police that he got Sooryakumar’s number from a WhatsApp group called Sanga Dhwani, where a member shared her personal number and asked others to call and abuse her “for a Facebook post on Durga”.
Three others, who were arrested from Kannur, are members of Sri Rama Sena, the pro-Hindutva group involved in the Mangalore pub attack of 2009 and several other cases of moral policing.
“I have been getting a call every minute. The main allegation is that I abused Durga, calling her a sex worker,” Sooryakumar told The Indian Express.
“Most of the abusers called me a prostitute and abused me. Some threatened me while others didn’t even know what the charge was. I got a call this morning from someone asking whether I was Durga. Another person called me sometime ago, saying I had posted something against Durga on Facebook, and that he wanted to abuse me for that,” she said.
Sooryakumar added that BJP’s Rajesh assured her that he would assist in any investigation. “He said that he has clarified the situation to many of the party’s cadre who had called him. However, his party’s leadership still hasn’t disowned the rumour being spread in their circles,” she said.
Sooryakumar added that BJP-RSS leaders of the state have also remained silent. “All they have done is issue a general statement about freedom of the press,” she said.
On Monday, BJP’s Kerala chief Kummanam Rajasekharan evaded questions on the issue. “The BJP is a party that supports freedom of the press,” he told reporters. Later, in a Facebook post on his official account, Rajasekharan wrote that his party “has nothing to do with this issue”.
Police chief Kumar said investigators were tracing the Facebook user who first posted the rumour about Sooryakumar using derogatory words to describe Durga. He added that they were also tracing the WhatsApp groups that circulated the personal number of the journalist.
Sooryakumar said that routine operations of Asianet News Studio have also been affected with the channel’s numbers being inundated with “hundreds of calls” from those who could not reach her directly.
The state’s journalists’ union, meanwhile, organised a protest and a march to the Kerala Secretariat on Monday, seeking action against the culprits.