India lost more journalists on the job in 2015, than last year
India lost more journalists on the job in 2015, than last year

India lost more journalists on the job in 2015, than last year

The deaths are alarming

By Nava Thakuria

As we are approaching the end of 2015, India stands today at an awkward position having lost five journalists to assailants, which is higher than the death tolls in 2014. While the robust media in the largest democracy of the globe had lost two scribes (MVN Shankar from Andhra Pradesh and Tarun Kumar Acharya from Odisha) to goons last year, the statistics have gone up this time. In addition to the suspected murders of five journalists, several cases of assault were also reported.

Uttar Pradesh saw the first killing of a journalist this year on June 8. Jagendra Singh died after suffering from severe burn injuries at Lucknow civil hospital. The Shahjahanpur-based freelance journalist was allegedly doused with patrol and set ablaze by a group of police personnel on June 1. His family members claimed that the police had targeted Singh at the behest of UP minister Ram Murti Singh Verma as Singh used to expose his illegal activities through the alternative media.

Singh was understood to receive threats from Verma for his regular Facebook posts in connection with Verma’s alleged corruption and land grab, which was incidentally supported by the RTI inputs. Singh had worked for leading dailies like Amar Ujala, Hindustan, Swatantra Bharat etc, but at the time of his death, he had turned into alternative media for a wider readership.

However, the UP police floated a different story: Singh immolated himself in front of the police personnel as they arrived at his residence for a raid.

A severely burned Singh was taken to Lucknow, where he died after a week. But in his dying declaration from the hospital led, Singh accused the influential minister and SP leader Verma for the attack on him.

Soon condemnations started pouring in from local, national and international journalists’ bodies, and from human rights activists. The members of the bereaved family including the victim’s father Sumer Singh, wife Suman, daughter Rachna, sons Rahul and Rajan along with many local scribes also demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Facing the heat of stern criticism from various international bodies like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Amnesty International etc, the UP government ordered the suspension of five police personnel suspecting their role in Singh’s murder. The chief minister also offered a compensation of Rs 30 lakh to the Singh’s family.

The second case of scribe’s murder was reported from MP, where the mining mafia abducted Sandeep Kothari on the night of June 19 and his charred body was recovered two days later. Kothari hailed from Katangi locality of Balaghat district and the kidnapers brought him from his home town to Sindhi locality of eastern Maharashtra to ‘burn him alive’ there. The MP police quickly arrested two suspects (Vishal Tandi and Brajesh Daharwal), who run illegal mining and chit-fund activities, in connection with Kothari’s murder.

The police however did not forget to declare that Kothari was a ‘criminal’ and he was killed because of personal grudges. On the other hand, his father Prakashchand Kothari, mother Kanchan Devi and brother Naveen demanded a high level probe into Sandeep’s murder and stringent punishment for the culprits.

Thane-based journalist Raghavendra Dube lost his life to miscreants’ attacks on July 17. The Maharashtrian scribe went to cover a police raid in a night bar, but soon his body with multiple injuries was recovered from a nearby locality. It is suspected that the editor of Khushboo Ujala, was beaten and stabbed to death by the criminals.

A television reporter named Hemant Yadav lost his life to goons. Yadav, who worked for Hindi news channel TV24, was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne miscreants on the night of October 3 at Dheena locality of UP. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

The fifth and last journalist victim of 2015 was from Bihar. Mithilesh Pandey  was shot dead on October 25  in his village in Gaya district. According to the family members, two masked persons entered the victim’s residence in the evening and shot at him. Pandey was taken to a nearby hospital, but he succumbed to injuries.

According to his family, Pandey used to receive threats from unknown individuals because of his reporting for various Hindi media outlets.

India’s neighbours

India’s immediate neighbour Bangladesh also lost four bloggers namely Niloy Chkrabarty, Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman Babu and Avijit Roy this year, while Pakistan has two media casualties (Muhammad Zaman Mehsud and Aftab Alam) in 2015. Sri Lanka reported the killing of Priyantha Ratnayake though other tiny Indian neighbours have maintained satisfactory records of no media casualties this year.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in all, 65 journalists were killed across the globe till the middle of December.

Recently the media fraternity of Assam demonstrated their resentments against the assaults on scribes across the country.

Wearing black bands around their mouths, the scribes from both print and electronic media staged the protest demonstration in front of Guwahati Press Club.

“We reiterate our demand for a national action plan to safeguard the brave journalists who pursue critical journalism. Moreover we continue insisting on justice to be delivered to all slain media persons across the country,” said the Journalists’ Forum Assam. In a recent statement, the forum also urged the media persons across India to rise on the occasion to compel the authority to punish every single murderer of journalists under the rule of law.

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