India: Where Goons Target The Media: Two Killed

After five months of ‘no-casualty’ to journalists in India this year, a number of incidents relating to assaults on media persons were reported in various parts of the country in June 2015. Two journalists, one from Uttar Pradesh and one from Madhya Pradesh have lost their lives. One journalist from Assam survived an assassination bid in the last few days.

Jagendra Singh Burned

On June 8, Jagendra Singh, a Shahjahanpur based freelance journalist, died after suffering severe burn injuries as he was doused with patrol and set ablaze allegedly by a group of police on June 1. Singh’s family claimed that the police personnel targeted him on behest of UP minister Ram Murti Singh Verma in Akhilesh Yadav’s cabinet as the middle aged journalist used to update his facebook with various corruption-related information about the influential minister.

Jagendra Singh
Jagendra Singh, Shahjahanpurbased freelance journalist

Singh, 42, is understood to have earned enmity from the Samajwadi Party leader, as he started posting regular feeds exposing the minister’s corruption and land grab issues on facebook, which was later picked up by other journalists for mainstream newspapers. Once having worked for leading dailies such as Amar Ujala, Hindustan, Swatantra Bharat etc, Singh lately turned into an alternate media journalist. However, the UP police floated a different story that Singh himself immolated in front of the police team who went to raid his house.

Later, of course, five policemen were suspended for their ‘suspected role’ in Singh’s murder. Severely burnt Singh was taken to Lucknow civil hospital where he died a week later, but in his dying declaration, Singh accused the minister for his endless miseries.

Prashanta Kumar Injured

Singh’s murder was followed by three more cases of physical assaults on media persons (Deepak Mishra at Kanpur on June 11, Haidar Khan at Sherpur Kalan locality on June 13 and Prashanta Kumar at Khoirabari on June 18) in the country. Kumar from Khoirabari locality of Udalguri district under the trouble-torn Bodoland Territorial Council area of Assam, who is associated with Asomiya Pratidin, a highly circulated Assamese daily, was lucky to survive an assassination bid by some suspected militants.

The young correspondent was picked up by a group of miscreants introducing themselves as members of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (IK Songbijit faction) and physically assaulted Kumar for his series of anti-militant reporting.

For a few hours, the culprits tortured Kumar inside a four-wheeler and then shot at him. Kumar, who received bullet injuries in his left shoulder, was soon abandoned to die. However, some villagers took Kumar to a local hospital and later he was shifted to Gauhati Medical College hospital.

“Attacks on media persons have been increasing across the country for their journalistic activities. The tendency has recently grown Assam too following the massive security operations against the militants, as the armed outfits start targeting the reporters for covering the counter-insurgency operations,” said a joint statement issued by Journalist Action Committee (Assam) and Journalists’ Forum Assam.

Expressing shock at the incident, Kokrajhar Press Club and Khoirabari Press Club urged the State chief minister Tarun Gogoi, also in charge of State home portfolio, to take appropriate actions against the culprits such that the scribes of rural Assam can report on different sensitive issues without any fear.

Sandeep Kothari
Sandeep Kothari

Sandeep Kothari Abducted, Killed

The second victim of brutal murder by the mining mafia in central India was reported on June 21 from MP, where Sandeep Kothari, 40, lost his life. He was abducted from Katangi locality of Balaghat district and Kothari’s charred body was found lying near the railway tracks at Sindhi in eastern Maharashtra.

The MP police have already arrested two perpetrators (Vishal Tandi and Brajesh Daharwal), who run illegal mining and chit-fund activities, in connection with Kothari’s murder. The police also announced a reward of Rs 30,000 on another accused Rakesh Nasvani, who is presently absconding. They also constituted a special investigation team to probe into Sandeep’s murder.

Last year, India lost two active journalists namely Tarun Kumar Acharya, 35, from Ganjam district of Odisha (earlier Orissa) and MVN Shankar, 53, from Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. Acharya used to work for a regional news channel (Kanak Television) and contributed regularly for Oriya newspaper titled Dainik Sangbad. The young reporter was found with his throat slit open by a sharp knife at Khallikote on May 27. The local authority succeeded in arresting two perpetrators namely Shyamsundar Prusty and Ramesh Reddy relating to the crime.

The second victim of 2014, Shankar was working with Andhra Prabha, a popular Telugu daily published from Hyderabad and he was attacked by unknown assailants with iron rods and sticks on November 25. He was moved to Guntur hospital with severe head injuries. Shankar succumbed to the injuries next day. Shankar prepared a number of news-stories relating to the kerosene mafia, which used to sell the domestic fuel, supplied through the public distribution system, on the black market.

Deadliest Countries For Journalists

According to the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists were killed last year across the globe, where the motive explained that they were targeted because of their activities as media persons.

The deadliest countries in 2014 include Syria (17), Ukraine (5), Iraq (5), Somalia (4), Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (4), Brazil (3), Afghanistan (3), Pakistan (3), Paraguay (3), Mexico (2), Yemen (1), Myanmar ( 1), Libya (1), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1), South Africa (1), Philippines (1), Bangladesh (1), Guinea (1), Central African Republic(1) etc.

In 2013, India lost 11 journalists to the perpetrators including three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh of Tripura) in northeast India. Five journalists, including one each from Assam (Raihanul Nayum) and Manipur (Nanao Singh) were killed in the year 2012.

This year until today, 32 journalists have been killed around the world, where India’s neighbour Bangladesh recorded three gory incidents (slaughtering of secular bloggers namely Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman Babu and Avijit Roy). Other deadliest countries up to the end of May 2015 include France (8), South Sudan (5), Syria (4), Yemen (4), Brazil (1), Iraq (1), Guatemala (1), Ukraine ( 1), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1), Mexico (1) etc.

Reaction To The Deaths In India

Both killings of the Indian journalists resulted in sharp reactions from the media fraternity of the country. The condemnations from local journalists to national scribe bodies to international media forums started pouring over the UP and MP government. Even the UP Governor Ram Naik joined in the chorus demanding justice for the victim’s family.

“We demand appropriate actions against the criminals, who eliminated the journalists to avoid embarrassment because of their journalistic activities. Both the UP and MP governments must take these cases seriously and help punishing those accused personnel,” said Rupam Barua, president of Journalists’ Forum Assam.

He argued that unless there is a national action plan for the safety of journalists in India and also justice is not guaranteed, few journalists would take the risk of reporting sensitive issues, which would only ruin the tradition of serious and critical journalism in the country.

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Northeast India) based journalist, who contributes to NewsBlaze and various media outlets throughout the world.