Skip to main content

India remains a hazardous place for hardcore journalists irrespective of regime in power at the national or state level

Journalists' protest in North-East against murder of Shantanu
By Nava Thakuria*
For more than one reason, India remains a hazardous place for hardcore journalists irrespective of the regimes in power at the national or province capitals. The populous country witnesses the murder of around five media persons annually and that has not been improved for decades. The land of Bhagwan Vishnu, Mahamuni Buddha and Gandhi Mahatma has not succeeded in resolving any of those journo-murder cases legally or logically. 
The media fraternity of the world’s largest democracy observed an unusual Gandhi Jayanti as scores of scribes across the country organized protest demonstrations in different locations with sole demand for ensuring safety, security and justice to the working journalists.
Different press clubs, journo-media-bodies along with other institutions formed human chains, symbolic protests and also took out processions in support of the demand. The reason behind in demonstrating angers on the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on 2 October was the relentless violence broke out against the journalists in different forms across the south-Asian country. With the spirit of the lawyer turned journalist turned India’s Father of the Nation, the media fraternity also showed their commitment to defy all probable physical and intellectual challenges ahead of them in their professional careers.
India witnessed three shocking news of journo-murders during September 2017 and the media fraternity along with their well-wishers seemingly rediscovered the vulnerability for the scribes who continue to pursue critical journalism. The ongoing year witnessed the killing of nine journalists in 10 months, but initially reactions to those killings from the authority and general populace remained lukewarm. 
But the murder of Kannada editor-journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 5 at her Bangaluru (earlier known as Bangalore) residence aroused massive protests across the country. Publisher of ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’, a Kannada language newspaper in Karnataka of central India, Gauri was shot dead by unidentified gunmen, following which strong reactions were observed not only from inside the country but also various international organizations.
A Left ideology inclined journalist Gauri’s assassination tempted more civil society groups, which are predominantly against the Hindu nationalist ideologue like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) along with Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to come to streets demanding justice. They were in hurry to make statements that the outspoken journalist was targeted by the ruling political elements as she used to criticize both RSS and BJP absolutely. The Congress ruled Karnataka government head Siddaramaiah, who had a cordial relationship with Ms Gauri, declared her demise as a personal loss.
But for reasons, best known to chief minister himself only, the reactions against the killer(s) of Gauri, 55, were soft. Very recently the Karnataka police issued few sketches of suspected killers, but nobody has been arrested till date. The protest-demonstrations against Gauri’s killing were so loud that even inspired a Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief minister to personally join in a demonstration at Agartala. The Tripura government chief minister Manik Sarkar’s participation in the protest program encouraged the media fraternity of northeast India and for which he was thoroughly appreciated.
But when a young television scribe of Tripura itself was beaten to death by a mob, the same CPI (M) chief minister remained silent. The Agartala based journalists, while condemning the murder of Shantanu Bhowmik on September 20, had to raise voices for getting reactions from the amiable chief mister. Also in charge of State home portfolio, Sarkar later only pronounced a spongy reaction towards the incident. In contrast, condemnations from various national and international media rights bodies were pouring against the brutal murder of Shantanu, 29, who used to work for an Agartala based Bengali-language cable news channel ‘Din-Raat’ (meaning day & night).
A series of demonstrations were organized by various Indian media bodies across the country demanding justice to Shantanu. On the fateful day, Shantanu went to cover a program of Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which was pretesting against the ruling CPI (M) and slowly it turned violent. Claimed to have supports from the tribal population of Tripura, the IPFT maintains its demand for a separate homeland (read Twipraland) for the tribal people out of Tripura. 
The party, which has seemingly a political understanding with the BJP, continued its violent protests since the last few years. The IPFT protest at Mandwai of west Tripura, bordering Bangladesh, soon witnessed the arrival of many cadres belonged to the CPI (M)’s tribal wing Tripura Rajya Upajati Ganamukti Parishad (TRUGP) at the location.
Both the parties had already engaged in violent clashes on the previous day at the same location. So the situation got charged and finally members of both IPFT and TRUGP turned aggressive and later emerged violent. Shantanu started shooting the violent activities with his mobile phone, as his lens-man avoided the professional camera for fear of abusive reactions from the agitators.
As Shantanu started capturing the visuals of IPFT members attacking the opponent & police forces and damaging vehicles on the roadside too, he was asked initially to stop recording. Later the protesters chased him understandably for his smart phone and some of them turned unruly to attack Shantanu finally with stick-rods and other sharp items. Blood soaked Shantanu was rescued and sent to the hospital by the police, but till then he had stopped breathing. His phone was not at the location and it is still missing, which was also recently admitted the State police chief Akhil Kumar Shukla.
Along with local media bodies, various international forums like New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Pars based Reporters sans/without Borders (RSF), Brussels based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) etc condoled and condemned the murder. They unanimously asked the Tripura government to go for a thorough investigation into Shantanu’s death and simultaneously ensure safety to the working journalists.
Amnesty International, in its condemnation statement pointed out that the killing of journalists cannot become the order of the day. State governments in India must do everything in their power to prevent journalists from becoming targets for their viewpoints or affiliations. Authorities must end impunity for these killings, it added. Condemning the killing of Shantanu, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said, “I trust the authorities will conduct an investigation into this killing and bring its perpetrators to justice.”
In India, all influential media bodies like Indian Newspaper Society, Editors’ Guild of India, Broadcast Editors' Association, Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps, Federation of Press Clubs in India besides various journalist unions strongly condemned the murder of Shantanu and urged the Manik Sarkar government help delivering justice. Even the Press Council of India, a quasi-judicial body, took note of Shantanu’s killing and sought a report from the Tripura government. 
All media bodies of northeast India came out with the protest demonstrations against the killing of Shantanu and demanding a high level probe (preferably by Central Bureau of Investigation). Extending moral supports to the Tripura journalists for justice, the media bodies asked the government to compensate the family of Shantanu adequately.
They also urged the Union government in New Delhi to formulate a national action plan for delivering earliest justices to journo-victim families. The string of scribe killings began with Hari Prakash (killed on January 2) and it continued with the murders of 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) and lately Rajesh Mishra (October 21). India is ranked 136th among 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index (2017) and it is just ahead of troubled neighbours like Pakistan (139th), Sri Lanka (141) and Bangladesh (146).
Norway tops the list of media freedom index, where one party-ruled North Korea (180) is placed at its bottom. India’s other neighbours namely Bhutan (84), Nepal (100), Maldives (117), Afghanistan (120) and Myanmar (131) are ahead of it, while Tibet/China is placed on 176th position. The one billion plus nation lost six journalists to assailants in 2016, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. It witnessed murders of two scribes in 2014, but the year 2013 reported as many as 11 journalists' murders including three Agartala-based media employees Sujit Bhattacharya (proofreader), Ranjit Chowdhury (manager) and Balaram Ghosh (driver), who were stabbed to death in the office premises of Tripura’s Bengali newspaper ‘Dainik Ganadoot’.
---
*Senior journalist based in Guwahati

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.