Sand mafia exposé: Petition to protect journalist gets wide support

Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi, March 20 (IANS) Around a thousand people have signed a petition seeking protection for independent journalist Sandhya Ravishankar, who is under threat for exposing the sand mafia in Tamil Nadu, a rights body said on Monday in a statement.

"Magsaysay award winners, musician T.M. Krishna, social activist Aruna Roy and Professor Lakshmanan are among those who have signed a petition started by friends of Sandhya concerned about her safety following the threats to her," a statement from a consortium of several civil societies working for transparency and judicial accountability in the country said.

The Chennai-based journalist in a series of articles written for the online new website had exposed the "illegal sand mining" racket rampant in the state. In doing that, she also detailed the rise to the top of ace mining-baron S. Vaikundarajan -- "country's largest miner and exporter of rare earth minerals".

After Ravishankar targeted Vaikundarajan, she began to get abusive, anonymous calls, threatening her of dire consequences.

However, she hasn't found herself alone and is getting support from civil society members, who have voiced their concern by being signatories to a petition started by her friends.

"Sandhya through her extensive series of articles has raised some of these vital questions. Threats to her are an attempt to quell all awareness and discussion on the very subject of sand mining mafia, and is not merely an isolated attack on an individual.

"Moreover, the nature of the threats indicate how social media is falling prey to the hands of anti-social elements, who use this to target women freely," social activist Aruna Roy said in the statement.

Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman exhorted police to do an exemplary job and inspire confidence in public by acting against those threatening Ravishankar.

"If poets, artists, thinkers and independent-minded journalists are silenced, a country loses its conscience. At a time when kleptocracy is in the spotlight in the state, the brazen threats by the beach sand mafia assume increased significance. The police should act in a manner that inspires public confidence," he said.

In the petition launched on March 17, Ravishankar said she was called a "fake" and "corrupt" journalist after her articles, and her contact number was also revealed on Facebook and Twitter account by "anonymous trolls supporting Mr S. Vaikundarajan".

Since receiving threats, she has lodged complaints with Press Council of India, the Indian Women's Press Corps, The Editor's Guild, the Chennai police and the Cyber Crime Cell.