Lara Choksey

from The Statesman, Kolkata

 

Targeting a ‘videshi mahila’

 

19 April 2012

ravindra kumar

IT is not unusual for the media to occasionally embark on flights of fancy. But for the past two days, a section of the Kolkata media has occupied itself with identifying a reporter on the staff of this newspaper as a red-headed American “who had worked extensively with the ISI in Bangladesh” and who was seen clad in green trousers and brown top in Nonadanga on 13 April, apparently masterminding anti-India activities in collusion with Maoists.

Lara Choksey marked her 25th birthday on Wednesday, the day a television channel identified with the ruling party first named her as an American ISI agent who had worked extensively in Bangladesh (the previous evening’s telecast had merely described her as a “videshi mahila”). She does own green trousers and a brown top, and she was assigned by this newspaper to cover the problem at Nonadanga (which she has done with concise and balanced reports). She was at the place on 14 April (not the 13th), which she would have been required to be in order to complete her assignment.

But she is not an American; she is British and since September 2011 an Overseas Indian Citizen. Her grandparents were close friends of my predecessor, late CR Irani, and I too have known them for several years. She couldn’t have worked for ISI or for anyone else in Bangladesh, quite simply because she has never been to that country. And if she was recruited by the ISI, it wasn’t in Pakistan because she assures me she hasn’t visited that country either. Finally, she isn’t a redhead.

Lara completed her MA in Cultural Studies with distinction from Goldsmiths College, London last year. Her thesis project was “urban development, architectural rehabilitation and their human costs”, an appropriate area of study considering the assignment she was given at Nonadanga. From 2006 to 2010, she did a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds. Before that she was in school. She came to India last October and joined The Telegraph’s t2 section. Since early this year, she has been on the staff of The Statesman. A Google search of her name would yield most of this information, and more.

Strange things happen in the world of espionage, but based on the evidence Lara might have found it difficult to fit sleuthing and sabotage into her rather busy academic calendar, which included being a research assistant to her professor at Goldsmiths College and being a researcher and writer for the university newspaper

Why am I sharing this with you? I am doing so quite simply because over the 33 years of my life spent in journalism, I have seldom come across such paranoia-fed, breathlessly fatuous, incompetently researched reportage aimed at defaming a young journalist. The reports claim to be based on Central and state intelligence inputs, and if indeed they are questions must be asked about the intelligence of those who fed this nonsense and of those who swallowed it without so much as a cursory check.

I have a larger concern. Both media houses that reported this story are linked to the ruling party in West Bengal; this might grant to them an exalted status within the bureaucracy and police. Someone in authority might get it into his head that it would be safer to act on these stories than to ignore them. I have offered to Kolkata Police any assistance it might want to arrive at the truth, but have been assured that Lara Choksey is not the subject matter of any investigation

But these are strange times and, whether with or without adequate reason, the state government has allowed suspicion to grow that it is capable of acting before it thinks a proposition through. The best cure to such dark fears is the light that only exposure can provide. The Press can’t function if it is required constantly to look over its shoulder.

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  • john hutnyk  On 20/04/2012 at 09:48

    From the Times of India

    Firhad asks for evictee list of Nonadanga
    TNN Apr 6, 2012, 02.23AM IST

    Tags:
    Urban Development Minister|Nonadanga Unnayan Biradhi Committee|Mahasweta Devi|Firhad Hakim
    KOLKATA: A day after the rampant lathicharge on the agitating squatters of Nonadanga, state urban development minister Firhad Hakim has asked for complete list of squatters, who were evicted from Nonadanga on March 30. A five-member team met Hakim at Unnayan Bhawan on Thursday on behalf of the Nonadanga Unnayan Biradhi Committee (Prastuti).

    Sources said that the minister, initially, was not convinced and refused to arrange rehabilitation for the evictees. Later, he asked the panel members to submit a list of evictees and assured review of the rehabilitation scope before further eviction.

    Political experts said Hakim was not convinced initially as providing rehabilitation for these squatters is against government policy as it believes that most of these evictees arrived in the city a few months ago. But the minister made a shift from his stance after eminent writer and human rights activist Mahasweta Devi’s strong message on Wednesday advocating proper rehabilitation of the squatters. The writer also condemned the lathicharge on woman agitators. Five women and an infant sustained injuries in the police lathicharge on Wednesday.

    Samir Chakraborty, one of the leaders, said: “We have managed to convince the minister of the haplessness of the evictees, who are now homeless. We will submit a comprehensive list of the evictees and wait for government’s move.” He said that they would submit a list of 144 evicted families for rehabilitation package.

    Sources, however, said that members of Mazdoor Kranti Parishad and Matangini Mohila Samity – who are believed to be spearheading the movement of the agitators – are gearing up for an intense agitation.

    “But they want to give time to the government before taking their protests to the roads again. We will wait for a few days and submit the list on Friday. If the government does not take any action then we may go for a hunger-strike,” said a leader of the anti-eviction committee.

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