By Nava Thakuria
India continues to be a dangerous place for working journalists as the largest democracy in the globe has lost three journalists in mysterious accidents within the first three months of the year. Even the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres came out with a strong condemnation against the journo-killings and let the world know about India’s degraded index on safety & security of professional scribes.In fact, within few hours the central Indian provinces of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar had lost three scribes on 25 &26 March 2018. Sandeep Sharma (36), a dedicated reporter of Bhind locality of MP, was
deliberately mowed down by a truck in the morning hours, following which the television reporter (of News World) died in the hospital.
Sandeep, who had reported against the local sand mafia, even received threats and informed the police but it did not help him to survive.
On the previous night, two scribes namely Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh were hit by a luxury vehicle in Bhojpur locality of Bihar and died on their way to the hospital. Navin (35), who used to work for Dainik Bhaskar and Vijay (26), who was associated with a Hindi magazine, were riding on a two-wheeler when the accident took place.
The bygone year witnessed the killing of 12 journalists, where tiny northeastern State of Tripura contributed two casualties. The populous country thus emerged as one of the hazardous places for media persons after Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia etc.
India’s troubled neighbor Pakistan lost seven professional journalists and a media student to assailants in the year. On the other hand, its other neighbors namely Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Maldives witnessed the murder of one scribe each in the last year. However, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet (now under Chinese occupation) evaded journo-killing incident during 2017.
Last year, India witnessed the killings of Hari Prakash (January 2), Brajesh Kumar Singh (January 3), Shyam Sharma (May 15), Kamlesh Jain (May 31), Surender Singh Rana (July 29), Gauri Lankesh (September 5), Shantanu Bhowmik (September 20), KJ Singh (September 23), Rajesh Mishra (October 21), Sudip Datta Bhaumik (November 21), Naveen Gupta (November 30) and Rajesh Sheoran (December 21).
On an average India loses five to six journalists annually to assailants, where the perpetrators normally enjoy impunity as the public outbursts against those murders remain lukewarm. However, the
horrific murder of Kannada editor-journalist Ms. Gauri at her Bengaluru (earlier known as Bangalore) residence sparked massive protests across the country.
As the news of Gauri’s murder by unidentified gunmen spread, it immediately caught the attention of various national and international media rights organizations. Everyone outrightly condemned the incident and demanded actions against the culprits. Even the Communist leader and Tripura’s immediate past chief minister Manik Sarkar was influenced by the protest-demonstrations.
He personally joined in a rally in Agartala demanding justice over Gauri’s brutal killing, but when the young television reporter (Shantanu) from his State fall prey to the mob violence, he preferred
to remain silent. The Tripura based journalists, while strongly condemning the murder of Shantanu, had to demand a response from Sarkar.
Later one more journalist (Sudip Datta) was murdered by a trooper belonged to the State police forces, which put Sarkar, who was also in charge of State home portfolio, in an embarrassing position. Otherwise popular for his simplicity, Sarkar also received brickbats for the murder of three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh) together in 2013. Amazingly, within this period, no other northeastern States reported about journo-killing.
As usual, central States like Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana etc remained the killing field of journalists for many years and most of the journo- casualties in the country were
reported from the zone. Shockingly most of the cases were not resolved legally and the victim families continue crying for justice against their irreparable losses.
India was ranked 136th among 180 countries in World Press Freedom Index (2017) of Reporters Sans Frontiers and the country was just ahead of its neighbors Pakistan (139), Sri Lanka (141) and Bangladesh
(146). Norway topped the list of media freedom index, whereas one party-ruled North Korea (180) was placed at its bottom.
India’s other neighbors namely Bhutan (84), Nepal (100), Maldives (117), Afghanistan (120) and Myanmar (131) ensured better press freedom. Pakistan lost seven journalists namely Muhammad Jan, Taimoor Khan, Abdul Razzaque, Bakshish Ellahi, Haroon Khan, Samar Abbas & Utpal Das along with a novice scribe (Mashal Khan) to assailants last year.
Bangladesh witnessed the murder of rural reporter Abdul Hakim Shimul and Maldives drew the attention of international media with the sensational killing of Yameen Rasheed, a journalist & human rights defender. Relatively peaceful Myanmar reported one journo-murder (Wai Yan Heinn) in 2017.
According to various international agencies over 95 media persons spread in 28 countries were killed in connection with their professional works last year. This year it has reached to 10 casualties till the end of March. The statistics were dangerous in previous years (120 fatalities in 2016, 125 killed in 2015, 135 in
2014, 129 in 2013, 141 in 2012, 107 in 2011, 110 in 2010, 122 in 2009, 91 in 2008 etc).
The situation got deteriorated in Mexico (14 incidents of journo-killings), Syria (12), Iraq (9), Afghanistan (8), Yemen (8), the Philippines (6), Somalia (5), Honduras (4), Honduras (4), Nigeria (3), Russia (3), Turkey (3), Yemen (3), Guatemala (2), Peru (2), Dominican Republic (2), Colombia (2) et cetera.
The year also witnessed 262 journalists sent to the jails in different countries with slight improvement than in 2016 when 259 media persons got imprisoned worldwide. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey still tops the list of detainees in 2017 with 73 scribes behind bars followed by China (41), Egypt (20), Eritrea (15), Vietnam (10), Azerbaijan (10), Uganda (8), Saudi Arabia (7), Bangladesh (4), Myanmar (3), Cambodia (2), Pakistan (2), India.
In 2016, India witnessed the targeted killings of six working journalists, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. It improved its statistics in 2014 with the murders of only two scribes, but the year 2013 reported the killings of 11 journalists including three media workers in northeast India.
The vulnerable media community of the one-billion habitants’ nation continues pursuing a national action plan to safeguard the media persons in the line of military, police, and doctors on duty. Their
arguments are loud & clear if the nation wants the journalists to do the risky jobs for the greater interest always, their security along with justice must also be ensured.
(The author is a Guwahati-based (northeast India) journalist.)
By Nava Thakuria