A timely warning: Statement against RSS attack on journalist Neha Dixit and press freedom

We, the undersigned journalists, activists and academics, condemn in the strongest terms, the brazen attack launched by RSS organizations and individuals on journalist Neha Dixit and Outlook magazine for a thorough investigative report by Dixit based on three months of field work. This report revealed how different Sangh outfits trafficked 31 tribal girls, some as young as three years, from tribal areas of Assam, to Punjab and Gujarat. Orders were issued to these organizations by the Assam State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, the Child Welfare Committee (Kokrajhar), the State Child Protection Society, and Childline (Delhi and Patiala), to return the children to Assam. These orders were violated with impunity by Sangh-run institutions with the help of the Gujarat and Punjab governments.

On the publication of this report in Outlook, a police complaint was lodged at Latasil Police Station on grounds of inciting communal hatred, and the police registered an FIR against Indranil Roy (Publisher), Krishna Prasad (Editor) of Outlook and Neha Dixit, writer of the story. The complainants are Bijon Mahajan (BJP spokesperson and Gauhati High Court advocate), Mominul Awwal (BJP Minority Cell) and Subhash Chandra Kayal (Assistant Solicitor General).

Instead of launching an investigation into the trafficking, the police have chosen to act on a frivolous and motivated complaint against those who exposed the crime.  We demand that the police immediately file charges against those who conduct child trafficking.

In addition, RSS organizations have started a campaign targeting Neha Dixit and Outlook in social media, claiming “defamation”, and we can expect more trumped up police complaints and legal interventions. We are also aware that these Hindutva brigades often take the law into their own hands, unleashing violence with impunity, emboldened by the current regime.

RSS organizations and individuals have long used the law and police machinery to hound artists and intellectuals from MF Hussain to Ashis Nandy, invoking the legal section of “inciting communal hatred” to stifle freedom of expression, using it whenever their own communally violent and hate-inducing tactics and actions are revealed and made public. Journalists are particularly vulnerable, as their investigative reports that reveal RSS organizations’ strategies to attack minorities, Hinduise tribals and created hatred between communities, are themselves targeted as “inciting communal hatred”.

We condemn these familiar and reprehensible tactics of the RSS machinery and appeal to our legal justice system to be alert to the misuse of courts and legal machinery by these forces.

We also demand that all criminal action against Neha Dixit and Outlook be dropped, as this is an intolerable attack on freedom of the press to publish thoroughly researched articles in the public interest.

The full, 11,350-word text of Neha Dixit's five-part investigation "Operation #BabyLift" on how the Sangh Parivar flouted every Indian and international law on child right to traffic 31 young tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat to ‘Hinduise’ them.

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