[As the J Dey case seems to be finally heading towards a breakthrough, it’s time we remind ourselves that India’s record in protecting journalists is a very poor one.]
India offers its citizens a comfortable illusion of freedom and democracy based on equality and liberty. But a closer inspection of this face value reveals many ugly truths. Homegrown presents ‘Muffled’ a series of articles by Devang Pathak wherein we attempt to highlight a 70-year-old culture of repression, censorship and injustices meted out to the basic rights of Freedom Of Speech and Expression in this country.
In this third piece, he traces a gruesome and often bloody timeline of Indian journalists who have been victims of violent reactions to their work. Only recently, we published a Reporters Without Borders survey that ranked India as 136th out of 180 countries as far as Freedom Of Press is concerned. With a new government that’s been accused of censorship and clamp downs on journalists far too often, are things getting better or worse? Read on as we chronicle to investigate.]
A global debate raged on for weeks about freedom of expression and journalistic freedom after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. India was part of the narrative too, in its usual contentious manner. The voice was heavily focused on questions like, “Why were they so antagonising and inflammatory?” rather than stating the global position of “No one deserves to die for cartoons.” and that “Freedom of Speech is absolute.”
The absolute nature of freedom of speech is an absent concept in India with dangerously punitive laws on censorship and extended powers of the state to curb freedom of speech and expression as it sees fit. The country has also witnessed a dark period in the form of the Emergency of 1975-77 where the press was placed under severe pressure, making L.K. Advani famously say “You were asked to bend, and you crawled.”
India has not done much since then to make its journalists feel safe and this is evident from the consistently low ratings we receive in World Press Freedom Report. To provide further proof to this fact, we present to you a timeline of how journalists (especially regional reporters) have been targeted over the past few years due to the nature of their work.
I. MVN Shankar is killed for his reports on Public Distribution System Scams, November 2014
MVN Shankar, a journalist with Andhra Prabha, was beaten to death with iron rods in Guntur in Coastal Andhra Pradesh. Shankar had been filing reports about the scams in Public Distribution System and impropriety in kerosene oil distribution, which is said to have invited the wrath of the Oil Mafia, culminating in this brutal killing.
Case Update: Investigations are still on with no subsequent arrests.
II. Tarun Kumar Acharya is killed over mixing personal and professional reasons, August, 2014
Tarun Kumar Acharya, a stringer with Kanak TV in Orissa was killed over his news report in local Oriya Newspaper Sambad about child labour in a local cashew processing factory. Acharya and Prusty, the owner of the cashew processing factory, had a rivalry where Prusty alleged harassment from Acharya and that the news report as an attempt to sabotage his business. Three of his friends took Rs 50,000 and new SIM cards to kill Acharya while he was returning home after work.
Case Update: Four Men have been arrested while the hunt for two more is still on.
III. Siddharth Vardharajan’s employee is assaulted as a warning to the journalist, February, 2014
Siddharth Vardharajan, the former editor of The Hindu and an ardent critic of the present Prime Minister revealed that on February 23rd, the caretaker of his Delhi flat was assaulted by four men when he was returning from nearby shops. The men asked him if he worked for Vardharajan and when the employee said yes, he was assaulted and let off with a warning to tell his boss ‘to watch what he says on TV’. A passing warning was also made against Vardharajan’s wife Sociologist Nandini Sundar for her protests against the Chhatisgarh government’s human rights excesses.
IV. Rakesh Sharma Killed in Etawah over alleged Gambling operations reporting, August 2013
A senior reporter for Hindi Daily Aaj was shot by unidentified assailants on a motorcycle in Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s home district of Etawah. The police was quick to label the killing of Rakesh Sharma as one of personal animosity, but local journalists believe it was Sharma’s reporting of the illegal gambling in the region that lead to this heinous act.
Case Update: Repeated searches have not shown any update on the progress of the case with the police being adamant that it was not related to the journalist’s work.
V. Rationalist Narendra Dhabholkar is shot dead in Pune, August 2013
Rationalist and Editor of Socialist magazine Sadhana Narendra Dhabholkar was shot dead in Pune while returning from his morning walk. A crusader against superstition and religious extremism, the incident drew shock at such a brutal crime. The suspects ranged from right-wing groups to the jewellers who sold jewellery based on astrological beliefs. Shockingly, no breakthrough has been made in the case while another rationalist and friend of Dhabholkar, Govind Pansare was shot dead in a similar fashion.
Case Update: Transferred to CBI after no breakthrough by Pune Police.
VI. Trinamool Congress workers try to burn a journalist alive, June 2013
Trinamool Workers assaulted five journalists in Barrackpore while they were there covering a local story. The gang of Trinamool Supporters dragged Barun Sengupta into a room and assaulted him viciously before pouring petrol on him, and were about to set him on fire when locals of the region intervened and fought the Trinamool Workers.
VII. Journalist and family attacked with acid, March 2013
The task of reporting the truth when there are powerful forces invested in its non-disclosure is a daunting one in itself. Now add to that a possible price to be paid by one’s family as well. Mr Dinesh Chaudhary, a journalist with Tarun Bharat , his wife and daughter were severely burnt when two men barged into their home at midnight and attacked them with acid. The family was rushed to nearby hospital where immediate care saved their lives. Mr Chaudhary was targeted for writing about illegal Guthka operatons in the Purna, Maharashtra, attracting the wrath of local Congress leader Syed Ali Syed Hasan. The police were quick to name their five suspects including Syed Ali after Mr Chaudhari filed a police report. The Press Council of India had also set up a committee to investigate the incident.
VIII. Maoists kill journalists they suspected of being police informers, February and December, 2013
NemiChand Jain, a freelancer journalist who supplied short reports to the local news outlets and distributed the newspapers in the region, was stabbed to death in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. The Maoists had alleged that Jain was a police informer and had taken responsibility for the killing. This had prompted a boycott of Maoist news and interviews from the Bastar Journalists due to which the Maoists released an apology for the killing. This was short-lived as Sai Reddy, another senior Bastar Journalist, was killed by Maoists in Basaguda for his alleged role in government’s anti-Maoists initiatives.
Case Update: Police have arrested two Maoists said to be involved in the Nemichand Jain murder while Sai Reddy’s case still remains one of impunity.
IX. Arunachal Times Associate Editor survives lethal shooting, July 2012
32-year-old Tongam Raina was complacent about receiving threats and intimidation which she deemed to be a part of her job, as she wrote about the corruption in the state, the threats of super-hydro dams etc. But on 15th July, 2012, the threats turned into a murderous action when she was shot by two men and was nearly paralysed. Yumlang Achang and his associates wanted to hurt Rina for not writing about him and his organisation in her newspaper. Rina has now recovered and was even awarded Germany’s ‘Prize For Freedom and Future Of The Media’ award in 2013
Case Update: The State police were able to nab the perpetrators and the absconding Achang surrendered to the police.
X. Rajesh Mishra is murdered in Rewa for investigation into funding irregularities at local schools, March 2012
A journalist writes about alleged financial mismanagement in schools of a rival newspaper’s owner. The journalist is then invited for tea and killed by unknown assailants using an iron rod. This sad story is that of Media Raj’s Rajesh Mishra whose investigation into Rajneesh Banerjee’s regional schools invited the wrath of his rivals. Mishra was asked to come to a tea stand by the editor of Banerjee’s Vindhya Bharat where he was attacked by two assailants.
Case Update: The Guardian has classified this as a case without impunity though the police was quick to make arrests.
XI. Chandrika Rai and his family are murdered in an alleged Coal Mining Mafia attack, February 2012
Freelance journalist Chandrika Rai, his wife and two teenage children were brutally murdered in their home in Umaria, Madhya Pradesh. The MP Police was quick in its investigation, pointing the blame to Rai’s driver and announcing the case solved. But many suspect that the real reason for the murders was Rai’s work in covering the Coal Mafia in various local publications. It’s widely believed that the police had botched the investigation, even alleging in between that Rai was a kidnapper.
Case Update: While the police claimed it was his driver who carried out the murders, the family’s kin moved the High Court which got the case transferred to the CBI.
XII. Journalist’s niece is kidnapped and raped as a threat, July 2011
The appalling brutality which is meted out to journalists and their kin can sometime make one shudder in disbelief. A journalist identified only by the name of Rizwan, who edited the monthly JungSatta and worked with local TV news channels was a witness in a double murder case involving a local gang of Bulandshahr. Accused Mehboob Pandey’s gang kidnapped Rizwan’s niece, mistaking her to be his daughter, and raped her.
XIII. Veteran Crime Journalist J.Dey is shot in Mumbai, June 2011
Mid-Day’s Crime Editor Jyotirmoy Dey was shot dead in Powai on 11th June 2011.This marked the first time that a high-level journalist from an established publication was murdered without any stated threats and the reasons were open for speculation- from oil mafia to underworld connections and Dey’s antagonizing of his sources. The Mumbai Police claimed to have solve the case, alleging that Satish Kalya planned the murder at the behest of Gangster Chhota Rajan and that Dey’s former colleague Jigna Vora was involved as she told Rajan about Dey’s closeness to a rival gangster.
Case Update: The case is now on a much delayed trial with the charge-sheet being filed against 10 accused under MCOCA , but not everyone is convinced about the police’s investigation.
XIV. Nai Duniya’s Umesh Rajput is killed for his news story on Adivasi’s death, January 2011
Nai Duniya’s Umesh Rajput was killed by unidentified assailants on a motorcycle in Raipur, Uttar Pradesh, after his news report on an Adivasi’s death due to complications in an eye surgery. Umesh was a staffer in Nai Duniya and it was alleged that the doctor involved in the surgery conspired with the son of a local politician to kill the journalist. Rajput had filed a police complaint about the threats he had received since the story came out 10 days before he was murdered.
Case Update: The kin of the victim has alleged bias and shoddy investigations which have still not ended. A classic impunity story.
XV. Journalist is attacked for asking tough questions to the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi, October 2010
The Babri Masjid verdict in 2010 drew appreciation and criticism from different groups of the Indian population. When Maulana Ahmed Shah Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid was criticising the verdict being based on beliefs rather than facts, Abdul Wahid Chishti, a reporter from an Urdu daily, decided to ask some difficult questions. The questions irked the Imam who asked the journalist to leave, labelling him a traitor and even warning him of dire consequences. When his supporters informed the Imam that Chishti was talking to the television channels outside, Bukhari left the press conference and commanded his supporters to attack and beat up the journalist. A few journalists tried to stave off the attackers from Chishti who later lodged a criminal case that Bukhari and his men assaulted him and even threatened to kill him.
XVI. Journalist VD Bhat is kidnapped by the police, September 2010
VD Bhat, a journalist in Kumta,Karnataka was kidnapped by the Kumta police and assaulted for writing articles exposing the land mafia and alleged flesh trade in his district, which attracted the wrath of a local politician and the Sub-Inspector of police of Kumta. The Sub-inspector was suspended and an inquiry was ordered into the allegations made by the journalist.
The exhaustive list of attacks, intimidation and even murders of Indian Journalists are a cause for concern but what is even more worrisome is the shoddy investigations done by the police and investigative authorities. The loopholes-ridden investigation, even in high profile cases such as that of J Dey and Narendra Dhabholkar, shows an inherent lack of respect for the fourth estate in our country. While we tried to provide an update on each of the gruesome criminal cases of murder and attempt to murder, there were no further reports available in the press, a surprising journalistic apathy for their own kind.
Indian Journalism does not reside simply in 9pm Prime Time news with famous anchors and guests, nor in the mainstream national newspapers which are increasingly advertisement infested. As George Orwell put it,“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations,” a fact the Indian Media seems to be forgetting quickly or is reluctant to pursue in an environment where lives are threatened. There needs to be a strong clamour among the local and national media as well as the state and central government to seek better protection and speedy justice for journalists who are attacked in the simple pursuit of truth. Each day that this is not accomplished, India fails as a democracy.
Representational image courtesy of Reuters.