Neutralizing the messengers in India

Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria

By Nava Thakuria

GUWAHATI, India, 10 April 2018

India continues to be a dangerous place for working journalists. The largest democracy in the globe has lost three journalists in mysterious accidents in the first three months of the year. Even 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 and security of professional scribes.

In fact, within a few hours the central Indian provinces of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar had lost three scribes on 25-26 March 2018. Sandeep Sharma (35), 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 that did not help him to survive.

On the previous night, two scribes, 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, who used to work for Dainik Bhaskar, and Vijay, who was associated with a Hindi magazine, were riding on a two-wheeler when the accident took place.

The past year witnessed the killing of 12 journalists, where the tiny northeastern State of Tripura contributed two casualties. The populous country thus emerged as one of the most hazardous places for media persons after Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

India’s troubled neighbor Pakistan lost seven professional journalists and a media student to assailants in the year. On the other hand, its other neighbours 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 incidents 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. 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 Bangaluru (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.

Sarkar personally joined in a rally in Agartala demanding justice over Gauri’s brutal killing, but when a young television reporter (Shantanu) from his State fell 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 any journo-killings.

As usual, central States like Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana remained the killing fields of journalists for many years and most of the journo-casualties in the country were reported from this 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, just ahead of its neighbours Pakistan (139), Sri Lanka (141), and Bangladesh (146). Norway topped the media freedom index, whereas one-party-ruled North Korea (180) was placed at the bottom.

India’s other neighbours, Bhutan (84), Nepal (100), Maldives (117), Afghanistan (120) and Myanmar (131), ensured better press freedom. Pakistan lost seven journalists: Muhammad Jan, Taimoor Khan, Abdul Razzaque, Bakshish Ellahi, Haroon Khan, Samar Abbas and 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 and 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 up to 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, and 91 in 2008). The situation 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), and Colombia (2).

The year also witnessed 262 journalists sent to the jails in different countries with slight improvement over 2016 when 259 media persons were 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), and India (2).

In 2016, India witnessed the targeted killings of six working journalists, 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 our one-billion-member nation continues to pursue a national action plan to safeguard the media persons in the line of military, police, and doctors on duty. Their arguments are loud and 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.


About the author

Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Guwahati, India. He has been covering socio-political developments of northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.

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