By Nava Thakuria
The media fraternity of Assam in northeast India has come out to the street demanding the legitimate protection for media persons across the country. Journalists representing both print and television media, while demonstrating their angers against the brutal assaults on media persons in different parts of the country, also raised voices for a national action plan for safety of newsmen.Standing in front of Guwahati Press Club on 29 June 2015, the demonstrators folded their mouths with black bonds. They were unanimous while observing that the media persons based in different
parts of India should get united demanding justice for all the victim journalists and demanded the Union government in New Delhi for initiating a special protection law for the media persons of the country.
It may be mentioned that after five months of ‘no-casualty’ to journalists in India this year, a number of incidents relating to assaults on media persons were reported from various parts of the
country within June 2015. Two journalists from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have lost their lives and one from Assam survived an assassination bid in the last few days.
On June 8, Jagendra Singh, a Shahjahanpur based freelance journalist, died after suffering from 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 of the influential minister.
Singh, 42, is understood to earn enmity from the Samajwadi Party leader, as he started posting regular feeds exposing the minister’s corruption & land grab issues on facebook, which was later picked up
by other journalists for mainstream newspapers. Once worked for leading dailies like Amar Ujala, Hindustan, Swatantra Bharat , 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.
The incident of Sing’s murder was followed by few more cases of
mishandling and physical assaults on media persons (Deepak Mishra & Haidar Khan of UP, Saravanan of Tamil Nadu, Javaid Malik of Jammu & Kashmirm and Prashanta Kumar of Assam) 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 few hours, the culprits tortured Kumar inside a four-wheeler and then shot at him. Kumar, who got bullet injuries at his left shoulder, was soon abandoned only to die. However, some villagers took Kumar to a local hospital and later he was shifted to Gauhati Medical College hospital.
â€œAttacks 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.
Assam also witnessed few bizarre incidents where local journalists were mishandled by policemen (to a lady television reporter), businessmen (to Mukut Roy), unruly youths (to Partha Sakia) and a
media baron (to Hildol Gogoi) in separate incidents.
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 of eastern Maharashtra.
The MP police have already arrested two perpetrators (Vishal Tandi and Brajesh Daharwal), who run illegal mining & 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 nabbing 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 where 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, in the black market.
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) .
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. On the other hand, five journalists including one each from Assam (Raihanul Nayum) and Manipur (Nanao Singh) were killed in the year 2012. This year till date 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 till the end of May 2015 include France (8), South Sudan (5), Syria (4), Yemen (4), Pakistan (1), Brazil (1), Iraq (1), Guatemala (1), Ukraine ( 1), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1), Mexico (1) .
Both the killings of 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 to the victim family, which is only rousing.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Guwahati, Assam)
By Nava Thakuria