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Ayodhya region editor reputed for 'promoting' communal harmony despite threats

By Bharat Dogra* 
Sheetla Singh, the great Hindi editor from Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, breathed his last on May 16.
He was 93, and was on duty till the last day in his editorial office when he collapsed.
Bringing out a small cooperative newspaper is not easy in the best of times, but it becomes more difficult when the editor has a tendency to frequently incur the wrath of the most powerful persons. Adding an important local factor, this task becomes even more difficult when the newspaper is coming out from Faizabad, located just near Ayodhya, and when the editor is committed to standing up for communal harmony even in times of worst communal tensions.
Despite all these difficulties, if Sheetla Singh and his colleagues have been able to bring out Jan Morcha newspaper from 1958 to 2023 for 65 years, then it is a tribute to their resilience, hard work, courage and close connect with people.
It was in 1958 that two left-oriented journalists and activists, Sheetla Singh (then 28 years old) and Hargobind were able to fulfill their dream of starting this newspaper, with the initial investment being contributed by the lifetime savings of Hargobind amounting to Rs 75. In 1963 Hargobind asked Sheetla Singh to be the editor and Sheetla Singh has been in the editor’s chair for the last 60 years.
During this period of 65 years Jan Morcha has become one of the few local newspapers to acquire a national reputation. As the Ayodhya region had seen so much happening which was of national significance, Jan Morcha became the most sought after newspaper for keeping in touch with the affairs of this region.
Sheetla Singh did not hesitate to go out of his way, incurring lot of risk by helping communal harmony activists
Jan Morcha acquired and maintained its reputation of a people-centric approach to various issues and happenings. On issues of most urgency for this region Jan Morcha always remained committed to communal harmony and when occasion demanded, Sheetla Singh did not hesitate to go out of his way and incurred a lot of risk by helping communal harmony activists and investigations to uncover the truth of issues and happening which needed to be reported accurately. If for such stand and commitment he and his colleagues faced threats, well, they were willing to live with these.
Sheetla Singh also contributed much to obtaining better working conditions for journalists and newspaper employees at a wider level. He was the President of the UP Working Journalists Union as well as member of various wage boards.
He was for four terms a member of the Press Council of India. He will also be remembered for contributing to the discussions and debates on institutional conditions in which journalists and editors can better contribute to society and can hope to function in more free conditions, free not just from government interference but also from big business interests.
It is an amazing and impressive achievement that Jan Morcha has been able to continue regularly for such a long time in adverse conditions, having about 50 colleagues working full-time today, apart from those who serve it in part-time positions. This newspaper will miss the great and inspiring leadership of Sheetla Singh, but the best tribute to him will be for this newspaper, and others like this, to continue the march and go from strength to strength.
*Has contributed articles and reports on issues of high social relevance for a long time



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