As Dileep returns to jail, conspiracy theories abound in the press and on social media
After the Kerala court denied him bail on Saturday, Malayalam film star Dileep had to return to jail from police custody. The battle for bail seems to have come to an end — at least temporarily — for Dileep, who has been charged in connection with the February 2017 abduction and assault of a popular actress.
Meanwhile, theories regarding Dileep's presumed guilt or innocence abound in both social and mainstream media.
Groups both for and against Dileep are airing conspiracy theories in an attempt to silence each other. Critics of Dileep say a top PR agency is trying to build public opinion in favour of the star, and influence the investigation. Reports also state that the cyber wing of Kerala police has started investigations into this alleged organised effort, and that the company which is undertaking the campaign for Dileep has been identified.
The logic seems to be that after an initial hesitation, suddenly, supporters of Dileep (including actors, politicians and fans) have come out in the open to express their solidarity with the actor, hoping that he will be able to prove his innocence in court. It seems that the police is also not comfortable with the on-going opinion building excercise in favour of Dileep in the cyber world. Dileep’s supporters, however, say the real conspiracy is to trap Dileep in a fabricated case. They say the police has not been able to collect any conclusive evidence against the actor.
Arguments about a massive public relations exercise for Dileep reverberated in court too, during the hearing of the bail application. The prosecution reportedly pointed out that there is a campaign on social media in favour of Dileep, which testifies to his influence — using that in its argument against Dileep's bail application being approved. The defence counsel countered that forcefully. However, the court denied bail and Dileep’s counsel will move Kerala High Court for bail on Monday, 17 July.
Subsequently, critics of Dileep mocked the alleged PR campaign, saying it had backfired. Some reports say hundreds of fake profiles have been created on social media to express support for Dileep. The actor's real-life supporters meanwhile, claim that that the police is coming up with conspiracy theories to divert attention from their failure to collect any real evidence against Dileep.
Meanwhile, the assault case seems to be acquiring new dimensions as officials of the Enforcement Directorate and IT department have started collecting details of the financial transactions between Dileep and other film stars. They are also investigating possible money laundering in the Malayalam film industry. Many in the industry have started showing uneasiness at the possibility of falling into the IT Department and ED dragnet.
It was PC George, the nonconformist independent MLA in Kerala Assembly who first warned against jumping to conclusions in the case. Several Malayalam film stars, producers and writers have also publicly requested the media and the public not to treat Dileep as a convict before the court passes its judgment. Among them are renowned director Adoor Gopalakrishnan, several colleagues of Dileep in Mollywood, especially those who come from mimicry background including Harisri Asokan, Kottikkal Jayachandran, Shajon and actress Tesni Khan. They added that they wanted justice for the victim too. Producer Dinesh Panicker and director Rajasenan meanwhile, issued statements that they had never accused Dileep of trying to ruin the careers of other artists.
Noted Malayalam writer Paul Zakaria clarified that while he stands firm with the actress who had been tortured cruelly, he cannot approve of the way in which the press has reported the case as though Dileep was already found to be guilty. The police is still gathering evidence and the charge sheet is yet to be submitted. A prejudiced attitude against Dileep is contrary to justice and human rights, Zakaria said.
Meanwhile, some of the responses on social media with regard to Dileep have also drawn attention. An emotional post from actor and mimicry artiste Koottikkal Jayachandran, which has gone viral on social media, explains why Dileep has made as many enemies as friend, both in the film world and outside.
Jayachandran said he had recorded steady growth in his professional life till a few years ago, when suddenly he found that many directors were excluding him from their films without any valid reason. When some of the offers he got were cancelled, he asked for the reason and came to know that it was done at the behest of Dileep. Afterwards, he happened to meet Dileep and asked him directly about it. Dileep gave a truthful reply and thereafter, he helped Jayachandran and protected him like a brother. Jayachandran described Dileep as 'an ordinary human being with an extraordinary large heart'.
Perhaps that gives a clue as to how Dileep has created loyal supporters and powerful enemies. This has resulted in the case currently being fought as much on digital, social and mainstream media as in court. But emotional responses have no place in the execution of justice and the police should not be influenced by political or public pressure for or against Dileep.
The media attention and social media response of course, is on this scale because Dileep is a celebrity. However, questions such as — should people comment on an ongoing criminal investigation? Can the police stop them from doing so? Is it acceptable to undertake a public relations campaign for an accused in a criminal case? — remain unanswered for now.
One mustn't forget conspiracy theories gain ground when people lose faith in the capability and impartiality of the system. Politicalisation of the police force and revelations by senior officers on the corruption and partiality of investigating agencies have created doubts about the effectiveness of the system. That is why people are perhaps seeking the help of agencies outside the system to ‘ensure justice.’ The only solution is cleaning of the system and ensuring impartial investigations — in Dileep's case, and every other case that follows.