End of 2016: NE India Remains Safe for Scribes
As the year 2016 roles on for the final hours, India stands as one of the worst places for working journalists similar to the conflict-ridden nations like Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Afghanistan etc, where journalists are being deliberately attacked compelling many of them to flee. The largest democracy in the globe witnessed the murder of six journalists till the third week of December this year, whereas the populous country lost five journalists to assailants in 2015.
Northeast India States (NE), which lost over 30 journalists to perpetrators in the last 25 years, however remained relatively safe for the scribes in the last consecutive three years. The last incident relating to the murder of media persons in the trouble-torn region was reported from Tripura where three Agartala based newspaper employees stabbed together to death in 2013.
The first incident of journalist murder this year took place in Uttar Pradesh, where a young scribe named Tarun Mishra was shot dead on 13 February 2016 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 journalist murder came to light from Bihar within 24 hours. Unidentified gunmen shot at Rajdeo Ranjan at Siwan railway station locality on 13 May. Working for a national Hindi newspaper named Hindustan, Ranjan (45) died in the hospital. The brave journalist reportedly earned enmity with local political goons for his reporting against their misdeeds.
Both 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 the 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 in Patna recommended for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the murder of Rajdeo Ranjan. After registering the case under sections 302 (murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) etc of Indian Penal Code, the CBI had recently filed its first charge-sheet in the case. There are some progresses in police arrest and investigations over many journo-murder cases across the country, but none has got legally punished till date.
According to the CPJ, over 70 professional and non-professional journalists were killed worldwide in connection with their works this year, where Syria tops the list with 14 journo-casualties. It is flowed by Iraq (6), Yemen (6), Libya (3), Somalia (3), Turkey (2), Mexico (2) etc. Besides Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar, no neighboring countries of India including Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet (China), Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan reported the killing professional journalists in 2016.
India’s troubled neighbor Pakistan lost three journalists (Mehmood Khan from Dawn News, Shehzad Ahmed from Aaj News and Muhammad Umar from Daily Dera News) to assailants, where as Afghanistan reported the killings of Nematullah Zahir (Ariana News), David Gilkey (National Public Radio), Zabihullah Tamanna (National Public Radio), Yaqoub Sharafat (Radio Television Afghanistan) and Mohammad Zubair Khaksar (Nangarhar Radio & Television).
Myanmar, which has been changing from a military regime to the multiparty democracy, lost one journalist this year. The Sagaing region based scribe named Soe Moe Tun, who worked for Daily Eleven newspaper was targeted by the illegal logging mafia in northwest part of the country. The government in NayPieTaw has 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 on 6 April) 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).
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. Similarly, Thailand also witnessed no casualty of scribes, but it has jailed two scribes namely Somyot Prueksakasemsuk of Voice of Taksin (since April 2011) and Nut Rungwon/Somsak Pakdeedech of Thai E-News (May 2014).
Last year, India lost Jagendra Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Sandeep Kothari (Madhya Pradesh), Raghavendra Dube (Maharashtra), Hemant Yadav (Uttar Pradesh) and Mithilesh Pandey (Bihar) to assailants. The year 2014 witnessed the murder of only two scribes namely MVN Shankar from Andhra Pradesh and Tarun Kumar Acharya from Odisha. However the country lost 11 journalists to the perpetrators in 2013 including three newspaper employees from Tripura.
The killing of Sujit Bhattacharya (proof reader), Ranjit Chowdhury (manager) and Balaram Ghosh (driver) in the office premises of Dainik Ganadoot broke as sensational news as the Bangladesh bordering State had no recent record of journo-murder incidents. After lot of hue & cry, the Tripura police arrested Sushil Choudhury, editor-cum-owner of the Bengali daily.
Choudhury was later convicted by the west Tripura district & session court holding him accountable for the triple murders. But soon Choudhury received the respite from the higher court and lately the Tripura government had forwarded an appeal to the Supreme Court against his acquittal in the sensational case.
Manipur and Assam, where over 30 separatist militant outfits are still running their activities, witnessed the previous incidents of journo-murder (Dwijamani Nanao Singh in Imphal and Raihanul Nayum in Dhubri, 2012), Anil Mazumdar (Guwahati, 2009), Jagajit Saikia (Kokrajhar, 2008) etc in the region. Assam alone lost 15 newsmen to armed militants in the last three decades, but none have been convicted till date.
(The writer is a senior journalist and secretary, Guwahati Press Club.)