By Nava Thakuria*
As the year passes on, India stands to become one of the worst places for working journalists, similar to the conflict-ridden nations like Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Mexico, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. The largest democracy in the globe witnessed the murder of six scribes and lost five journalists to assailants in 2015. Contrary to the common perception as a troubled region of India, the North-East has not reported any murder of journalists for the last consecutive three years. The alienated region, which had lost over 30 journalists to perpetrators in the last 25 years, remained safe for the scribes in these years, though numerous cases of misbehaviour, assault and threats to media persons continued to pour in.
The last incident relating to murder of media persons in the North East was reported from Tripura, where an Agartala based newspaper employees, Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh were stabbed together to death in May 2013. It was predeceased by the killings of Raihanul Nayum (Dhubri, 2012), Dwijamani Nanao Singh (Imphal, 2012), Anil Mazumdar (Guwahati, 2009), Jagajit Saikia (Kokrajhar, 2008) etc.
The first murder of journalists in the rest of India in 2016 was reported from Uttar Pradesh, where a young scribe named Tarun Mishra was shot dead on 13 February at Gosaiganj locality in Sultanpur district. Mishra (32) used to work for a Hindi daily (Jansandesh Times) and he was understandably targeted for highlighting the illegal soil mining activities in his district. Three motorcycle riding miscreants shot at him near to his residential locality in Ambedkar Nagar and he succumbed to his severe injuries in the hospital.
The second casualty was reported from Jharkhand, where a television news channel reporter was killed by the local goons. Two unidentified people targeted Indradev Yadav (also known as Akhilesh Pratap Singh) at Dewaria locality of Chatra district on 12 May. Yadav (35), who used to work for Taaza News, faced the bullets in front of the village panchayat office and died on his way to the hospital.
The third case of a journalist’s murder came to light from Bihar within 24 hours. Unidentified gunmen shot at Rajdeo Ranjan at Siwan railway station locality on 13 May. Employed and working for a national Hindi newspaper (Hindustan), Ranjan, 45, died in the hospital. The brave journalist reportedly earned enmity with local political goons for his reporting against their misdeeds.
The above two the incidents created instant wave of protests in Ranchi as well as in Patna and then it spread to other parts of the country. Various local, national and international media (rights) bodies including the members of prestigious press clubs based in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati etc. demonstrated their angers against the vicious attacks on scribes and demanded distinctive punishment to each & every single perpetrator of the crimes.
Another tragic incident came to light lately from Punjab, where a brave lady scribe named Anshita Bawa died under a mysterious situation. Anshita on 22 April drove her vehicle to meet one of her friends, but she could not reach the location, rather her body was found floating in a canal at Bool locality of Sudhar areas. Initially it was understood as an accident or a suicide case, but the post-mortem result narrated a different story. The autopsy report revealed that Anshita, 22, was subjected to severe injuries before her death. She suffered nearly nine injuries with a fatal one on her head. Under pressure from her family members, the local police registered an FIR terming it a case of murder.
The focus then shifted to relatively peaceful State of Gujarat, where a senior journalist was stabbed to death in his office on the night of 22 August. Kishore Dave, 53, was attacked by miscreants when he was working in Junagadh office of Gujarati newspaper ‘Jai Hind’ and died on the spot. There was no security camera in the one-room office, where an office assistant later found Dave’s blood-soaked body lying on the floor.
Soon horror returned to Bihar as another journalist fall prey to goons on 12 November. Dharmendra Kumar Singh, who used to work for Hindi daily ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ was targeted when the 38 years old scribe relaxed at a tea stall outside his residence during his morning walk at Amra Talaab locality Rohtas district. Three motor cycle-borne assailants fired at him indiscriminately and succeeded in fleeing from the location. Singh was brought to the Sasaram hospital, but he succumbed to injuries on the way. Local journalists suspect that the stone-crusher mafia was involved in the murder as Singh exposed their illegal activities through recent pieces of reporting.
The killings angered the media fraternity in India and abroad. Amidst protests by local journalist forums, three international media rights bodies namely the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ, New York), the Reporters Sans/Without Borders (RSF, Paris) and the International Press Institute (IPI, Vienna) strongly condemned the incidents and called for authentic investigations into the murders. Facing the heat of condemnations, the Nitish Kumar-led government of Bihar recommended for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the murder of Rajdeo Ranjan.
There are some progresses in police investigations over some fresh journo-murder cases, but none has got convicted till date. According to the CPJ, over 60 professional and non-professional journalists were killed worldwide last year, where Syria tops the list with 14 journo-casualties. It is followed by Iraq (6), Yemen (6), Afghanistan (5), Libya (3), Somalia (3), Turkey (2), Mexico (2) etc. Besides Pakistan (3) and Myanmar (1). The CJP did not report any journo-murder cases in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet (China), Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan during the year.
Myanmar, which has been changing from a military regime to the multiparty democracy, lost Soe Moe Tun, who worked for Daily Eleven newspaper, to assailants. The Sagaing region based scribe was targeted by the illegal logging mafia in northwest part of the country. The government in NayPieTaw also imprisoned five journalists namely Lu Maw Naing of Unity (since January 2014), Aung Thura of Unity (February 2014), Sithu Soe of Unity (February 2014), Yarzar Oo of Unity (February 2014) and Tint San of Unity (February 2014).
Though Bangladesh has not reported any casualty of mainstream journalist, it lost one Netizen (Samad Nazijmuddin of Ganajagaran Mancha) to criminals. The Muslim dominated country however imprisoned five scribes namely Rahman Mahmudur of Amar Desh (since April 2013), Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury of Weekly Blitz (January 2014), Salam Abdus of Ekushey TV (January 2015), Kanak Sarwar of Ekushey TV (March 2015) and Rimon Rahman of Amader Rajshahi (September 2015). Tibet (as China) was also devoid of any journo-murder this year, but the Communist regime in Beijing has imprisoned as more as 49 scribes and 81 Netizens.
In 2015, India lost Jagendra Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Sandeep Kothari (Madhya Pradesh), Raghavendra Dube (Maharashtra), Hemant Yadav (Uttar Pradesh) and Mithilesh Pandey (Bihar) to assailants. The previous year witnessed the murder of two scribes (MVN Shankar from Andhra Pradesh and Tarun Kumar Acharya from Odisha), whereas the country in 2013 lost 11 journalists, including three Agartala media employees to the perpetrators.
*The author is a senior journalist and secretary, Guwahati Press Club