Bangalore-based editor Ravi Belagere, whose articles against Karnataka MLAs had him staring at a jail term last year, is now accused of misusing his tabloid – Hai Bangalore! – to defame a senior employee of the publication.
In June last year, Belagere, 59, was one of the two editors whom the Karnataka Assembly had slapped with a year-long jail term and Rs 10,000 fine (or another six months in jail) for publishing slanderous articles against MLAs.
Weekly Kannada tabloid Hai Bangalore! is known as much for carrying juicy stories about scandals, affairs, crime, politics etc, as it is for its caustic tone and rhetoric-ridden opinion articles.
Now, ex-employee Sunil Heggaravalli, 40, has filed a petition in the sessions court seeking that no defamatory article is published about him and his family. The December 28 edition of the tabloid had ran a cover story with the headline ‘Her husband beat her naked – Sunil Heggaravalli’s evil story’, with Heggaravalli’s photo plastered on it. The previous edition too had a story dissing him.
Heggaravalli’s lawyer Harish Kumar MT said the petition will be accepted after both parties put forward their arguments in court on January 10. Belagere has filed a vakalat (advocacy) in the court, objecting to Heggaravalli’s petition.
Belagere, also the publisher of Hai Bangalore!, spent about half of December behind bars on the charges of hiring a contract killer to eliminate Heggaravalli. The charge against him is that he had hired a sharpshooter, Shashidhar Mundewadi, to kill his former colleague.
Who spilt the beans?
In the first week of December, an investigation into the murder of Bangalore-based journalist Gauri Lankesh led police to a gun dealer, who was arrested. While the dealer said he had nothing to do with the murder of Lankesh, he confessed to supplying weapons to Mundewadi. The police swiftly nabbed Mundewadi, who spilled the beans about Belagere reportedly hiring him to kill Heggaravalli.
Consequently, the police raided Belagere’s house, found some arms and ammunition and arrested him on December 8. The local court sentenced him to 14 days in judicial custody and he was shifted to Bangalore central jail. He applied for bail on medical grounds and, though his prison term was to end on December 23, a sessions court let him out on bail on December 21.
Heggaravalli approached the Karnataka High Court, challenging the decision to grant bail to Belagere. The court is yet to hear the plea as it’s shut for winter vacation.
Heggaravalli said Belagere is an influential person, has contacts with criminals and can do anything to him. Fearing for his life, he met the state’s chief minister and home minister to seek protection and was provided with a gunman. The police also check on his house every hour.
On the other hand, Belagere’s lawyer Diwakar K said the entire plot is a conspiracy to defame the editor, and that Belagere was arrested on the basis of voluntary confession of an accused (Mundewadi). He reasoned that an accused’s statement is not an admissible evidence, which is why Belagere has been granted bail. As for the editor possessing weapons, Diwakar said he has a licence for all the weapons.
Bad blood explained
Heggaravalli said that, according to the police, Belagere has a bone to pick with him because the editor believes his wife had an affair with him. He said he had spoken with Belagere’s wife, the managing director of Hai Bangalore!, a few times over the phone in 2013 to coordinate for work when he was the news head of a sister company, Janasri news channel. He said Belagere seems to have misconstrued their work-related calls.
Further, he claimed that Belagere even called him when he was in the custody of the central crime branch and asked if he had revealed his affair to those in the media fraternity. He said he denied having an affair, at which Belagere hung up. Heggaravalli said it’s a matter of concern that an accused could call the victim despite being in police custody.
Belagere’s lawyer summarily denied that any such phone conversation took place. He said the police’s remand statement does not mention any such call.
Heggaravalli has a post-graduate diploma in journalism and has been a journalist for 17 years. He had begun his career with Nota, a Kannada magazine, and started working as a crime reporter with Hai Bangalore! in 2001. He remained with the company till 2014.
He said he and Belagere shared a good rapport but things changed in 2014. “It felt like he had something on his mind,” Heggaravalli said, and shared an anecdote.
He described how on December 20, 2014, Belagere asked him to go to the office to meet investors. Upon reaching the office, Heggaravalli said he saw men with criminal background loitering around and found no investors at the office. He left the place and informed a police officer, who advised him he quit the company.
He said he had rejoined Hai Bangalore! on October 6 last year upon Belagere’s request.
Kumari Meghna and Elizabeth Mani are Bangalore-based freelance writers and members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.