Umesh Rajput: an impunity story

BY Geeta Seshu| IN Media Freedom | 21/10/2012
More than a year and a half later, why are police investigations still on despite all the damning evidence,
asks GEETA SESHU. Pix: Umesh Rajput
For a classic illustration of impunity, it can’t get better than this:
 
·         An adivasi patient dies due to complications following an eye operation.
·         A journalist files a story in the Hindi daily, Naidunia, where he is a staffer.
·         The journalist is threatened the day after the report appeared.
·         He filed a police complaint about the threats amid strong protests from local residents and his colleagues.
·         Ten days later, he was shot dead outside his home.
 
Now here’s the impunity story! A case is lodged against ‘unknown’ persons for the deaths. Family members, neighbours, villagers and local journalists, outraged that police ignore the threats to his life,allege that the doctor joined hands with the son of a local politician who the journalist had earlier written about, to kill him. More protests follow, going up to the State Legislative Assembly. The Home Minister makes a statement that police investigations are on.
 
More than a year and a half later, police investigations are still on. A court order, following a petition filed by the journalist’s brother, resulted in a narco-analysis of the accused. A report recommended further investigations of the accused. But police claim they have no evidence and the accused still roam free!
 
Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, who is representing the journalist’s brother, told this writer that the case came up again last week with no change in the situation. An exasperated Justice T P Sharma, hearing the case, has directed the government to file an affidavit on the status of investigations.
 
If it were not for the dogged pursuit of justice by Umesh Rajput’s brother, Parmeshwar, the death of the journalist would have been just another statistic, in the growing list of cases of deaths of journalists in India for the last couple of years. Already, since the Free Speech Hub of The Hoot began tracking freedom of expression since 2010, there are ten instances of deaths of journalists –staffers or freelancers – and even the status on progress in investigations, leave alone convictions, is deplorable.
 
In October 2011, ten months after Umesh Rajput died on January 23, 2011, Parmeshwar filed a writ petition before the Chhattisgarh High Court demanding an inquiry into the death of his brother and a report from police on the status of the investigation. At every turn, he had to approach the court for orders to direct police to proceed with their investigations.
 
Police dragged its feet on the case, despite an order for a brain mapping and narco analysis test by the Gariabad magistrate in May 2011. The test was finally conducted in November 2011, after the court passed orders for police to do so twice. Even then, the report was not disclosed. Yet another court order had to be obtained to disclose its findings, says Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj.
 
The report throws light on the manner in which the accused – who appear to be people who knew Rajput and were aggrieved by his reports - met up to discuss the plan to eliminate him.
 
“Even now, when the narco test says that further investigation is necessary against the accused, the police merely called them and recorded their statements that they were not guilty. That is the extent of the ‘further’ investigation the police have done,” she rues.
 
The case is scheduled to come up again in two weeks.
 
About Umesh Rajput and his work
 
Umesh Rajput was a 35-year old journalist working for  Naidunia newspaper from Chhura village of Raipur district in Chhattisgarh. Appointed as a junior sub-editor in the Hindi daily since September 2010, he had earlier worked with a local paper, Haribhumi Samachar. A member of the Chhattisgarh Union of Working Journalists, he was well known in the area for his reporting, taking on a number of local politicos and writing consistently on corruption and exploitation of tribals in the area.
 
Umesh filed a report about the death of an adivasi woman, Runjibai Gond, due to a botched up eye operation in a Community Health Centre in Chhura village run by Dr I Nageshwar Rao in Naidunia on January 13, 2011. The woman had high blood sugar and though her husband did tell Dr Rao and Saroj Mishra, the ‘Netra Sahayak’ at the health centre, the latter did not take adequate care and when the woman turned serious, she was discharged and sent home where she succumbed, the writ petition said.
 
Umesh Rajput’s report on the death took care to mention the version of the Chief Medical Officer of the health centre. It also referred to the increasing complaints of the quality of care in the health centre. Personnel of the health centre were hardly ever transferred and remained in the same post using their political clout, his report alleged. The story was picked up and other local newspapers also reported it.
 
The very next day, Saroj Mishra called Rajput to the hospital on the pretext of recording the statement of the deceased woman’s husband. However, he was threatened with dire consequences. He immediately filed a complaint with the police and an FIR (first information report) was lodged. Several local organisations, like the Journalists Association of Chhura and the Chhattisgarh Adivasi Vikas Parishad , took up the case and demanded the suspension of the health officer.
 
Despite all of this, no action was taken against Mishra, allegedly because of the political clout she wielded.  On January 23, two youth came in a motorcycle to Rajput’s house, called him out and when he emerged, fired at him. Neighbours rushed him to hospital but he died on the way.
 
Local journalists and Rajput’s family made numerous petitionsto the state Chief Minister Raman Singh and to the State Human Rights Commission to no avail. Matters seemed to move ahead when the Gariabad magistrate issued orders for the narco analysis of eight suspects – Saroj Mishra, Ashok Dikshit, Raju Pandey, Janardhan Soni, Shiv kumar Vaishnav, Neelkanth Thakur, Rituraj Shah (son of an ex-MLA and a locally powerful person in the area) and Rajput’s wife, Vimla on May 7, 2011.
 
Police have tried to imply that Rajput was estranged from his wife and that her friend and local sarpanch, Shivkumar Vaishnav, may have had a hand in his death. But there was no evidence of this.Clearly, if the police sought evidence, they would find it.
 
Rajput’s brother, who made a submission before the High Court seeking an expeditious enquiry into the murder, pointed out that police didn’t take cognisance of other evidence, like the handwriting on the threatening note found beside his body, the blood-stained pen of the deceased or that neighbours didn’t hear the sound of the motorcycle which the killers allegedly used.
 
Other evidence, like the narco analysis report, clearly indicated that some of the suspects (Dixit, Shah and Shivraj) had gathered together to discuss the conspiracy to kill Rajput and that a ‘supari’ (contract) was issued for the murder.
 
Yet, all of this was ignored and police filed a progress report that an in-depth questioning of the suspects yielded nothing, the submission before the court said, demanding an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
 
 
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