Flix Saturday, June 13, 2015 - 05:30
A journalist was burnt to death this week. Under normal circumstance, all of us should have risen up in solidarity and support of the deceased and maybe even struck work for a day or a few hours. . We did not. Shame comes to mind. It comes to mind a second time when the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls for an independent investigation into the case. The venerable Paul Steiger chairs CPJ. Amnesty International has joined their call. This is not the time to ask why foreigners are questioning India. This is the time to hang our heads in shame because when one of us is killed in line of duty, all of us die a little. There is no other side to this kind of crime. Jagendra Singh was burnt to death because he took on Shahjahanpur’s political-criminal –police nexus. Uttar Pradesh (UP) - where the town is located – is India’s wild-west where its leaders condone rape and brandish guns to prove a point.  In a statement recorded just before he passed away, Singh named the people who had set him afire asking in desperation why they had not arrested him instead. As evidence goes, it seems an open and shut case, as Singh has made a dying declaration. In another unrelated development Delhi-based journalist Swati Chaturvedi filed a First Information Report (FIR) against an anonymous twitter handle that made unacceptable, inappropriate and sexist comments about her. The controversy online then shifted with many people pointing out that Chaturvedi has also randomly appeared on people’s timelines with disrespectful and disparaging remarks. This does not excuse the person/people who have been harassing her and hopefully the police will get to the guilty swiftly. Chaturvedi’s FIR made national headlines as they should with many famous people commenting on her brave decision. Singh’s death did not make national headlines for some days, only a channel/paper or two picking it up and he had no famous tributes. Nobody had time for him or the deeper issues his death raised about difficulties of reporting from the ground in India and its towns and villages. People called Singh an unconventional journalist because he posted his stories on Facebook. Apart from the patronizing content of that comment, it also means that India’s metros – Delhi and Mumbai in particular - are where the country’s battles including the one for freedom of information must be fought if they are to be taken seriously.   What does this say about how we the journalists in India are going about our work? One man is dead, the police have the names of his murderers – what are they waiting for?   Is the silence and inaction telling us that we must auto-censor ourselves instead of standing up to corruption and crime in politics? No small irony there coming just ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Emergency imposed by Ms. Indira Gandhi when journalists disappeared, those who fought the system were harassed while many simply caved in as fighting meant paying a price, even death. If the leaders of the UP government do not bring Singh’s murderers to book, they would have shown themselves up for the cowards they are. And yes, it will matter. Crimes that go unpunished will eventually lead to such lawlessness that no one will be safe, neither in Delhi nor in Shahjahanpur.  Signs of that are visible across India. Read- Lutyens handles drying up after FIR based on journalist's complaint?