India improves on the murdered journalists index

India improves on the murdered journalists index
India improves on the murdered journalists index
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By Nava Thakuria

India has improved in its record of protecting journalists as compared to last year, with the killing of only two journalists. The largest democracy in the world also supports a robust media fraternity involving a huge number of media persons, many of whom perform their duties with unprecedented threats and limitations, but with all their commitments to the medium.

Unlike 2013, when the populous country lost more than ten journalists in twelve months, this year culminated with the casualties of two working journalists. The first murder of journalists took place in Odisha (earlier Orissa) and second one was reported from Andhra Pradesh.

The country’s immediate neighbours like Pakistan (Irshad Mastoi, Abdul Rasool and Shan Dahar), Bangladesh (Sadrul Alam Nipul) and Burma (Aung Kyaw Naing) also lost their journalists to assailants, though Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (China), Sri Lanka and Maldives did not report any such incidents this year. 

Rather a ray of hope for the journalist-victim's families was sighted from our Himalayan neighbour. A Nepal court has recently convicted and sentenced five perpetrators involved in the killing of a reputed Nepali journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa a decade back. In an unusual verdict, the Dailekh district court punished five former ultra-left cadres (more popularly known as Maoists) for torturing and then burying alive the journalist, who used to work for Radio Nepal and Nepal Samacharpatra newspaper. 

Nepal witnessed the uprising of Maoists between 1996 to 2006 spreading an undeclared civil war across the country that resulted in the killing of over 15,000 individuals and displacing nearly 1,50,000 people. Numerous allegations were poured against the Maoist rebels terming them as merciless killers of conscious citizens including brave journalists.

India woke-up to the persisting threats to journalism this year with the brutal murder of Tarun Kumar Acharya (35-year-old), a young reporter from Ganjam district in Odisha. Acharya used to work for a regional news channel (Kanak Television) and contributed regularly for an Oriya newspaper. 

The young reporter was found with his throat slit open at Khallikote ,130 km away from Bhubaneswar, on the night of May 27. A few days before his murder, Acharya had prepared a series of stories relating to the local cashew-nut processing factories deploying children as regular workers. Moreover, he was vocal against some powerful individuals in his locality, those often crated social nuisances. On the fateful night, he was targeted by goons on his way home riding on his two-wheeler. 

Acharya died on the spot and his body was later recovered by local villagers with severe injuries on his neck and head. The Odisha police started investigating the case in a low pace, only to receive brickbats from the journalist fraternity and civil society groups. Finally the Odisha authority succeeded in nabbing two perpetrators namely Shyamsundar Prusty, who owns a cashew processing plant in Khallikote and Ramesh Reddy, a small time businessman from Berhampur in connection to the crime. 

According to the local police, Prusty developed a grudge against Acharya after he reported about the child labour practices in the cashew-nut processing factory and took the help of Reddy in killing the reporter. Acharya’s murder was unanimously condemned by Orissa Union of Journalists, Berhampur Press Club, Media Unity for Freedom of Press, Journalists Coordination Committee, Journalists’ Forum Assam, National Union of Journalists etc. and they demanded adequate compensation to Acharya’s young widow, a minor girl and old parents.

National Human Rights Commission (of India) also registered a case (Regn. No. 2605/18/5/2014) regarding the murder. The second victim, MVN Shankar (53) was based at Chilakaluripet of Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh. A senior journalist working with Andhra Prabha, a popular Telugu daily published from Hyderabad, Shankar was attacked by unknown assailants with iron rods and sticks on the night of November 25 in front of his residence. He was moved to Guntur hospital with severe head injuries to which he succumbed the next day. Shankar, who left behind his wife, a daughter, prepared a number of news-reports relating to the kerosene mafia, which used to sell the domestic fuel, supplied through the public distribution system, in the black market. 

A brave media person, who raised voices for due benefits to fellow journalists, Shankar even lodged a complaint in the Guntur police station asking actions against the corrupt food-item dealers. The local journalist bodies including Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists and Andhra Pradesh Newspaper Employees Federation organized protest rallies demanding punishments for the perpetrators of the crime. Lately the Indian Journalist Union and International Federation of Journalists came out with statements condemning the murder and demanding justice to the deceased journalist and his family. 

But no arrest was made even after a month of the murder. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a media rights body, at least 59 journalists were killed across the world in 2014, where the motives had been confirmed that the victims were targeted because of his/her activities as a professional journalist. The deadliest countries include Syria (17), Ukraine (5), Iraq(5), Palestine (4), Somalia (4), Paraguay (3), Mexico (2), Afghanistan (2), Brazil (2), Philippines (1), South Africa (1), Libya (1), Yemen (1), Central African Republic (1), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1) etc. Compare to 2013, India has shown a better statistics last year as it witnessed the slaughtering of two journalists. The populous country lost 11 journalists to the perpetrators including three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh of Tripura) in northeast India. In the year 2012, five journalists including one from Assam (Raihanul Nayum) and another from Manipur (Nanao Singh) were assassinated.

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