Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu: The Moral Quandary That Savukku Shankar And Felix Jerald Have Put Us In

K Balakumar

May 14, 2024, 08:29 PM | Updated May 15, 2024, 12:47 PM IST

YouTuber Savukku Shankar in police custody (X)
YouTuber Savukku Shankar in police custody (X)
  • Their kind of approach wasn't exactly journalism, but their arrest is a blow to freedom of expression and holds lessons to the media.
  • The visuals were visceral, and scary.

    The arrested contentious YouTuber Savukku Shankar, with his fractured left-arm in a sling and hemmed in by escorting cops, shouting at the top of his voice that he would be finished off by the police in Coimbatore prison where he is incarcerated now.

    He also said that his arm, which we all saw on TV to be fully bandaged, was allegedly broken by a cop whom he specifically named. We are refraining from putting out that name because in the political climate obtaining in Tamil Nadu now, we are not sure what constitutes defamation. It is better to be safe than to be sorry is the mood among journalists now. 

    Felix Jerald, who was forever interviewing Savukku Shankar and asking him leading questions, so that the latter would unleash one brazen allegation after the other in shocking profusion at the politicos, police and the judiciary, has also been picked up by Tamil Nadu cops. The charge against him is he carried defamatory content.  

    That video clip of Savukku Shankar, which has gone viral, has a chilling effect. A man openly says that he has been attacked and injured by the cops, but most of us move past almost thinking within ourselves, 'after what he had said for so long, how else would the police react?’ For his scurrilous videos this was the inevitable comeuppance is the implicit reasoning in our minds.

    But that thinking may be flawed. 

    Savukku Shankar, however wrong he is, is a private individual. The police force, on the other hand, is an institution with its sets of rules and regulations that have to be adhered to at all times. The arrest of Savukku Shankar and later his man Friday Felix Jerald, has put many of us in Tamil Nadu on a moral cleft stick.

    Savukku’s journalism was scurrilous

    It is difficult to be okay with the kind of journalism as was practised by Savukku Shankar. It was essentially a no-holds-barred stage for allegations and charges against his chosen targets, which also changed for reasons he alone knew. For long, he went after the AIADMK and Edappadi Palaniswamy. Then BJP's Annamalai was his prime focus. Then the DMK was under his non-stop attack. 

    Most of his allegations did not have proof to be classified as credible news. His YouTube videos were just rumour and gossip adda sessions. In a situation when the mainstream media had gone silent against the ruling dispensation of the State, his attacks began to be heard loud and resonant. Not everything he said was totally off the mark. But what was true and what was a malicious lie was increasingly difficult to sift between. In any case, it wasn't journalism.

    Amidst all this, there is also the allegation that he went after journalists. The journalist Sandhya Ravishankar has written and spoken elaborately how she was vilified at the behest of the sand mafia in the State when she wrote about their illegal operations. It is indeed one of the black chapters in TN journalism. 

    Sandhya has been one of the many who refuse to have any sympathy for the YouTuber. But that is understandable, as she has paid a heavy price, including facing strain in her marital situation, because of Shankar's muck-racking ways. It is not just Sandhya alone who is not ready to feel for the present plight of Shankar when the State's might is ranged against him. There are quite a few, who have been at the wrong end of his dubious ways, who say that this is the right kind of justice for him. 

    Sandhya and many others who feel that they are victims of Savukku brand of dark journalism sure have a case. 

    The fear in the media

    After the arrest of Felix, while he is being taken away to the jail from the court, he could be heard shouting to the hordes of media personnel that this could happen to them tomorrow. That fear is also rife in the media circles. 

    The spite of the vengeful powers that are is only too apparent. Look at the flurry of cases that have been slapped on Savukku Shankar. And also see how news is slowly let slip against him and an image of him being a dubious lowlife is built on social media platforms. He is accused of being in possession of ganja. He is alleged to have made huge amounts of money and is also said to have invested in many properties. 

    At the time of his arrest, he is said to have been with a lady journalist, the implicit suggestion being that he was a debauched womaniser. There are also details of property purportedly purchased by the woman. Not much proof has been available for any of these charges. No real surprises there. 

    At the time of writing this, it is said that the house of Felix Gerald is being raided by the police. Yes, they are searching the premises of a man who is accused of defamation. What are they looking for? The mike that he interviewed Savukku Shankar with to be presented as part of the evidence? Who knows?

    As you can see, it is an Orwellian situation with the Big Brother not only watching but also fully involved in some dirty tricks. So what is the ethical stand to take in the whole murky matter? You can't condone Shankar's ways. Nor can you absolve the high-handed State.

    It is a classic Catch-22. It is sobering to realise that this is what professor and author John W Aldridge wrote on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the publishing of the book Catch-22: "The comic fable that ends in horror has become more and more clearly a reflection of the altogether uncomic and horrifying realities of the world in which we live and hope to survive."

    In the event, Savukku Shankar may be the metaphorical Yossarian of our times in Tamil Nadu.

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