Newsmakers

Jayshree Khadilkar-Pande,editor, Navakal, jailed for contempt of court, 2003

 
Checkmated by the judiciary

by Surekha

navakal01Given the importance of a free press in India, it is rare for an Indian court to jail the editor of a newspaper for contempt of court. But that is the sentence Jayshree Khadilkar-Pande, editor of the popular Marathi daily, Navakal, and the first woman to be accorded the status of an International Grandmaster in chess, had to serve recently.

Jailed on 16 July 2003, Jayshree spent six days behind bars.The issue was the editorials written by her father Neelkanth Khadilkar, wellknown proprietor and executive editor of Navakal, criticizing Justice B N Srikrishna while his inquiry into the 1992-93 communal riots was on. "The Bombay High Court filed a suit against us for contempt of court arguing that the said editorials referred to Srikrishna as Justice Srikrishna and the use of the prefix 'Justice' while criticising the Srikrishna commission lowers the dignity of the court," says Jayshree. She maintains their stand saying that since Srikrishna happens to be a justice who was heading the commission, using the prefix is perfectly in order. "We respect the judiciary and had no intention to insult it," she says.

Because of his age, Neelkanth Khadilkar was not jailed, Jayshree opting to serve the sentence in his stead. "Actually the sentence for contempt of court is only for a day, but I was imprisoned for six days —the last, i.e.the seventh day was spared because of the protests in the Maharashtra Assembly," explains Jayshree. She claims to be the first editor to accept imprisonment rather than tender an apology to the court and be let off. All editors who have so far been charged with contempt of court have quietly apologised and spared themselves the pain of being in prison.

This gutsy stand won her the vociferous support of the public. Navakal readers showed their solidarity by gathering at the office and sending many letters in support. She recalls gratefully the support extended by readers, even labourers and factory workers, who sent in contributions of money —whatever they could afford, even as small an amount as Rs. 5 —to help her.

Jayshree was put in the women undertrials' cell. She slept on the floor and ate thick, half baked rotis and watery dal. Later, she was lucky to get permission to get food from home, so she didn't have to swallow that horrible food. The inmates were allowed into the courtyard between 7am to 12.30pm and again from 3.30pm to 5pm. She took these opportunities to meet and interact with the women undertrials and wrote 11 articles based on their plight. For years, their cases are not admitted in court and the undertrials keep languishing for want of justice.

Jayshree and her sisters, Vasanti and Rohini, are all chess champions. Jayshree was the first woman to become an international grandmaster. All three sisters were groomed by their father in the family business of running the newspaper. Vasanti looks after administration, Jayshree is the editor of Navakal and Rohini is the editor of their eveninger, Sandhya Kal. Their mother looks after the financial side of the business. Their father's strong editorials are extremely popular among the masses and Navakal has a tradition of carrying these editorials on the front page. The Khadilkars consider Navakal to be the voice of the downtrodden and the working class.

Because of her progressive upbringing, Jayshree says she never felt discriminated against because of being a woman. It never mattered. Her father always dissuaded them from wasting time in the kitchen. Yet she is aware that other women from all walks of life do face problems. It is this sensitivity which comes through in her articles on women's issues. She also encourages her women staffers to develop their skills and gives them a fair chance to prove their abilities. While she is considerate towards their genuine problems, she also remains vigilant to see that women do not take undue advantage of the leniency shown to them. Of her staff of 15 journalists, three are women and one of them is a crime reporter who often has to go out in the middle of the night to cover crimes.

Navakal's stand on socio-political and communal issues is often controversial and the paper has its staunch supporters as well as vehement opponents. Jayshree believes and follows her father's stand on all issues and takes pride in the strong convictions and tradition of the newspaper started by her great grandfather.

 

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