Interview/Santosh Thammaiah:“I will continue to write against the tyrant Tipu Sultan and radical Islamists”
Journalist and writer Santosh Thammaiah was arrested on November 12 based on an FIR filed by an activist of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), a political arm of the notorious Popular Front of India (PFI). The FIR alleged that Santosh had hurt their religious sentiments in a speech at Gonikoppa in Kodagu a few days ago at an event organised to protest Tipu Jayanti. The arrest of the journo in the midnight and the way the police conducted themselves, raised several questions on who was calling the shots. Santosh a veteran journalist and writer is the editor of Aseema Kannada Monthly and works for Hosadigantha Kannada daily. Tipu Jayanti which has been opposed by all had people up in arms this year too. However, the arrest of Santosh over his speech against Tipu Sultan lays bare the intent of the government which repeatedly turns a blind eye to the activities of organisations like PFI and SDPI. In this interview, Santosh Thammaiah speaks to Organiser on his arrest, the attitude of the government, the rise of fanatic organisations like SDPI and the reason for opposition to Tipu Jayanti in his native Kodagu.
Q. You were arrested for speaking about Tipu Sultan and the ideology that drove him to commit atrocities against Hindus. You were taken away from your home in the death of night like a terrorist. What prompted the police to treat you like this? How do you make sense of all this?
This is the way of the government to convey that anyone who raises voice against Tipu Sultan and his Jayanti will be dealt with similarly. When we protested against Muslim only universities a few years ago, they had a setback and used Tipu Jayanti to come back. Despite widespread protests in Kodagu and the death of elderly protester like Kuttappa, the adamant government went ahead with the celebrations amidst police security. The government even lied about his death and in subsequent years continued the abhorrent practice of Tipu Jayanti despite condemnation from across the state and country. Given this attitude of the ‘secular’ government, arresting me for speaking the truth about Tipu and his atrocities is not surprising at all. Members of ‘Tippu Virodhi Horata Samiti’ and we became part of the agitation knowing that the government will target us. What I didn’t expect is that the government would go to the extent of muzzling free speech and rights of a journalist, but even this came true.
Social media has revealed many truths that mainstream media deliberately did not publish. All knew the truth about Tipu Sultan and his atrocities but chose to ignore them. But it was due to the impact of social media, that few TV channels took up the debates on Tipu
Q. There is enough proof to show that your speech did not have any elements that would hurt anyone’s religious sentiments, except the truth about Tipu and his atrocities. Despite this, the SDPI and its parent PFI went to the extent of lodging an FIR. According to you, where from are these anti-India elements getting the courage to indulge in such systematic threatening?
They are becoming courageous to threaten anyone who disagrees with them due to the tacit support of the government and its machinery. When we look at recent history, these organisations have opened their fangs whenever there is a non-BJP Government in the State. During Siddramaiah’s regime, murders of Hindu activists and the way the government treated them has given them the courage. Now, both the partners in the coalition government indulge in politics of appeasement and compete with each other in this. Moreover, SDPI had a seat-sharing agreement with JD(S) earlier and with Congress in the recent Assembly polls. There are ministers in this government who are big-time proponents of Tipu Jayanti. It is due to these reasons the Islamic organisations are baring their fangs brazenly and have increased under this coalition government. They are holding massive protests in a place like Kodagu where they did not dare to speak earlier. SDPI which is the political arm of PFI had said that they do not support Tipu Jayanti, but now with their protests against me, their mask has fallen off. This shows that for these organisations the cause of Islam is higher than the interests of the country.
Q. You were invited to the event as a journalist. You have written about Tipu in various newspapers and periodicals regularly. When there was an FIR against you and you were arrested, did any Press organisations, free speech activists or so-called liberals come out and speak in your support?
No, none of them came in my support. I am a member of many Press organisations. I might be identified with a different ideology and as I have been a supporter of RSS. That does not mean that I do not have freedom of expression. I speak and write the truth which I come across as per my research. But none of them came to my support. In the Press fraternity, they see me more like an ‘RSS man’ than as a journalist. I know for sure that few press associations did not condemn my arrest only because it could hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Such is their hypocritical attitude towards journalism of truth and free speech.
SDPI which is the political arm of PFI had said that they do not support Tipu Jayanti, but now with their protests against me, their mask has fallen off. This shows that for these organisations the cause of Islam is higher than the interests of the country
Q. However, on social media, you got good support when #IAmWithSantosh trended, and you were depicted as the new symbol of #FreedomOfExpression. Do you think social media is a better platform to convey the truth today? How do you think people are responding to the adamant attitude of the government to go ahead with Tipu Jayanti?
I think so. Social media has revealed many truths that mainstream media deliberately did not publish. All knew the truth about Tipu Sultan and his atrocities but chose to ignore them. But it was due to the impact of social media, that few TV channels took up the debates on Tipu. This episode also shows that ordinary people want to know the truth and also how much ever the facts are suppressed they think for themselves and realise the truth through one medium or the other. The support I got on social media was an expression of the genuine opposition that was present throughout the country against Tipu Jayanti but exploded on my arrest. Hence a trend like #IAmWithSantosh was more about people’s opposition to the government's attitude and support for a cause than about me as a person. Many of those who supported and protested against my arrest are those who are not part of RSS or BJP but believe that Tipu Jayanti is not good for the society. There is a lot of anger among the people, especially in Kodagu whose people suffered the most under Tipu. People irrespective of caste and creed are becoming part of the protests against Tipu Jayanti.
Q. The intent of filing an FIR, then arresting you could be to stop you and others from writing about Tipu and his atrocities. Was this a message to all those who write or speak about him? So will you stop writing or talking about Tipu, his crimes or about Islamic terrorism? How has this affected your family members?
Yes, it could be to convey that they would shut us up. But I will never stop writing or speaking the truth about these issues. I have been writing about Tipu’s atrocities for the last 15 years. The proof of this was available in almost every house in Kodagu but never came out. I took the trouble of bringing all such hidden proofs out in the public domain through my research and articles. Be it the Devati Prambu massacre, reason for building Virajpete, truth about so-called Tipu’s mausoleum, were all exposed by me. I have only covered about 30 per cent of the proofs I have on hand. This arrest has given me the further strength to write about the rest 70 per cent and bring out more facts. Tipu had massacred my ancestors, and there is no way I will stop writing or speaking about it. This entire episode has given much-needed impetus for all the karyakartas of the Horata Samiti including me. My arrest and whatever happened has not affected my family members much as they too believe in my work.
What can one expect from Karnataka Government which renames roads named after Aluru Venkata Rao (Revolutionary, historian and writer) to Tipu Sultan Sreet!
Q. As you said, Kodagu has a long history of valiant fighters and almost every house has contributed a soldier to the Indian Army. Why not celebrate the Heroes of Kodagu instead of commemorating a tyrant?
Every small town or village in Kodagu is so much crazy about Indian Army that there are stalls at every road corners called ‘Jai Jawan’ stalls dedicated to the Indian soldiers. Even our buses celebrate soldiers and martyrs by hoisting flags to commemorate their sacrifice. In such a region, instead of celebrating Army Day, the government is celebrating a tyrant. There is a World War II memorial in Madikeri with names of the martyrs from the district. There are statues of soldiers who laid down their lives in various wars.
Moreover, this year is the 150th year of Kodagu’s foremost poet Haradas Appacha Kavi. He was a great poet who brought Haridasa literature into Kodava and established drama troupes in towns and villages across Kodagu. It is due to his efforts that the Kodava language is still alive. Any government should have commemorated this literary giant. But what can one expect from a government which renames roads named after Aluru Venkata Rao (Revolutionary, historian and writer) to Tipu Sultan Sreet! It is due to their politics of appeasement that they are encouraged to conduct massive rallies in Virajpete, a town that was built 228 years ago to keep away invaders from Kodagu.