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International community, including UN, has begun to recognize: India is a dangerous place for journalists to work

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 this 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 few hours the central Indian provinces of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar had lost three scribes on March 25-26, 2018. Sandeep Sharma (35), a dedicated reporter of Bhind locality of MP, was mowed down by a truck in the morning hours, following which the television reporter of News World died in the hospital. Sandeep reported against the local sand mafia, even received threats, and though he informed the police about it, this did not help him 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 bygone year witnessed the killing of 12 journalists. The tiny northeastern state of Tripura contributed two casualties. India thus emerged as one of the hazardous places for media persons following Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia etc. India’s troubled neighbour Pakistan lost seven professional journalists and a media student to assailants in the year.
On the other hand, its other neighbours namely Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives, witnessed the murder of one scribe each in the last year. However, there were no casualties in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, which is under Chinese occupation.
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 public outburst against ths murders remains lukewarm. However, the horrific murder of Kannada editor-journalist Gauri Lankesh at her Bangaluru residence sparked massive protests across the country. As the news of her murder by unidentified gunmen spread, it immediately caught the attention of various national and international media rights organizations.
Everyone 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 he young television reporter (Shantanu) from his State fall prey to the mob violence, he preferred to remain silent.
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 belonging to the state police force, which put Sarkar, who was also in charge of the 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 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 victims' 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 neighbours 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 in 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 namely 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 various international agencies over 95 media persons spread in 28 countries were killed in connection with their professional works last year. This year already there are 10 casualties as of March-end. The statistics were dangerous in previous years (120 fatalities in 2016, 125 in 2015, 135 in 2014, 129 in 2013, 141 in 2012, 107 in 2011, 110 in 2010, 122 in 2009, and 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) etc. The year also witnessed 262 journalists sent to 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 topped 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 targeted killing of six working journalists, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. In 2014 only two scribes were murdered, as against 11 in 2013, including three in the northeast.
The vulnerable media community of the one-billion nation has for long sought a national action plan to safeguard media persons on line of military, police and doctors on duty. Their arguments are loud and clear: If the nation wants journalists to do risky jobs for greater interests, their security along and justice must be ensured.

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