Chennai-based journalist Sandhya Ravishankar has alleged harassment and intimidation from supporters of S. Vaikundarajan (who owns the largest sand mining conglomerate in India) after she published a four-part series on an online publication this January on illegal beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu. According to a report in The Wire, where the series was published, Ravishankar has been harassed online, over the phone, and has also received multiple threats of violence. She has asked authorities to intervene in the matter.
The reports detail the business practices of those involved in beach sand mining besides revealing the political collusion that allows the practice to continue. Beach sand is mined for expensive rare earth minerals like Thorium, Monazite, and Zircon.
In a letter sent to the Press Council of India, she has alleged that she has been abused and threatened by anonymous trolls supporting Vaikundarajan, the owner of VV Mineral, and that the trolls published her mobile number online. “Subsequently I received a flood of abusive and threatening calls – unknown people threatening to put chilli powder inside my private parts, threatening to beat me up and abusing me in the filthiest manner possible,” the letter reads. The harassment is also being carried out through online blogs.
Vaikundarajan’s legal team has also served a notice to Ravishankar promising a criminal defamation case against her. Ravishankar has replied to the legal notice, according to a report in HuffPost India. The defamation case had not been filed until March 17.
Ravishankar has reported on illegal beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu earlier as well. According to the HuffPost India report, her reportage had led to an investigation by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change into the practice. However, the committee set up for the probe had exonerated Vaikundarajan alleging personal enmity behind Ravishankar’s reports. A case, accusing Ravishankar and her husband V Prem Shankar of defaming the mining baron, is pending hearing at the court.
Ravishankar has also filed a complaint with Chennai police and the cyber wing earlier this week. She has also written to various organizations and individuals including the the Press Council of India, the National Commission for Women, and Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi.
“If this continues, I am afraid that the freedom of journalists to write on core key issues in Tamil Nadu will face a death knell,“ Ravishankar has written to the Press Council. “Every individual has the right to file any number of cases, of course. But slander and falsities being circulated viciously on social media and through WhatsApp are issues that cannot be dealt with easily or stopped,” she said.