Sudhir Chaudhary’s show on October 8 may not have gone the way he planned. Chaudhary, the editor-in-chief of Zee News and host of Daily News and Analysis, wound up offending members of the Valmiki community by referring to sage Valmiki as a “dacoit”. Two first information reports (FIRs) were subsequently lodged against Chaudhary in Ludhiana district.
Thirteen minutes into the show, Chaudhary said: “Ramayan ki rachna Valmiki ne ki thi jo pehle ek daku hua karte the. Valmiki ne khud ko parivartit kiya bilkul badal diya. Unhone sadhna ki aur akhirkaar gyan prapt kiya. Apne isi gyan ka prayog karke unhone mahakavya Ramayan ki rachna ki (Ramayana was composed by Valmiki who used to be a dacoit. Valmiki underwent a complete transformation. He meditated and was able to attain enlightenment. By using this knowledge, he wrote the epic Ramayana).”
The backlash was swift. On October 12, an FIR against Chaudhary was lodged in Ludhiana city and a second FIR was filed on October 13 in Jagraon town — both by members of the Valmiki community, which has also demanded “strict action” against Chaudhary for criticising the sage. The Valmiki community is a notified Scheduled Caste in Punjab and plays a major role even in the politics of the state. SCs constitute nearly 32 per cent of the total population of Punjab.
The FIR in Ludhiana was filed by Vimal Bhatti, a resident of Haibowal in the city and a member of the Bharatiya Valmiki Dharam Samaaj. Bhatti claimed Chaudhary has “hurt the sentiments of the community”. “Derogatory words were used against sage Valmiki in a primetime show that goes against ancient history,” Bhatti said. “Even the courts have now said Valmiki was never a dacoit, so how come a journalist uses such words for him?”
The court in question is the Punjab and Haryana High Court which ruled in 2010 that Valmiki was never a dacoit.
Bhatti submitted a recorded video of the episode and a written complaint to the police commissioner of Ludhiana, Rakesh Agarwal. Gurpreet Kaur Purewal, the additional deputy commissioner of police, conducted an enquiry before registering an FIR against Chaudhary under Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code. Purewal said “further action” will be initiated soon.
The second FIR was filed by Geja Ram, a Valmiki resident of Jagraon in Ludhiana district. According to the FIR, registered under Sections 295-A and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, the religious sentiments of the community were hurt due to Chaudhary’s “derogatory language”.
Reacting to the controversy, the general secretary of the Punjab Congress, KK Bawa, said Valmiki doesn’t only represent the Valmiki community, but also “Indian culture” due to composing of the Ramayana. “Everyone should respect such a sage who composed the great scripture. The comments by the journalists have not only hurt the Valmikis but entire Hindu community,” Bawa claimed.
This piece is by Arjun Sharma, a Ludhiana-based freelance writer and member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.