Journalists in Uttar Pradesh are shaken and disturbed by a spate of killings and attacks on their colleagues – four deaths and two grievous attacks in the last one and a half months!
On August 14, a senior journalist Suresh Bahadur Singh was beaten up in Azamgarh and was hospitalised.
On August 23, 2013, Rakesh Sharma, a senior journalist from Hindi newspaper Aaj, was shot dead by unidentified persons who came in a motorcycle and opened fire on him near Bakewar in Etawah. Sharma was returning home from work at the time. Police investigating the killing say it may have been prompted by some personal enmity. But this has not convinced journalists.
On August 25, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Lekhram Bharti, a journalist, went to the police station to record a complaint on a personal matter but his foes beat him up and killed him on his return from the police station. Another local journalist, Gangher Upadhyay, of Hindustan, who reported on the incident, has in turn, been threatened for publishing the news!
On August 26, 2013, the body of a journalist, Zakiullah, missing for the last three days, was found dumped in a gunny bag on the road in Bulandshahr, bearing multiple injury marks. Police have attributed no motive for the crime.
Around one and half months ago, unidentified persons killed Shashank Shukla, a journalist working in Banda, a remote district of the state. A stringer for local television channels, he was a well-known journalist and after vociferous protests by his colleagues, the local administration promised action. But no culprits were apprehended.
According to DK Mishra, editor of a website kherilive.in journalists are threatened or attacked for their writings but they are rarely killed only for their journalism, adding that standards of journalism have fallen and the profession itself is not as respected or feared as before. Police also do not take crimes against journalists seriously and often delay investigations in fruitless exercises to determine whether the person attacked as a journalist at all!
Mishra, who was also beaten severely and almost set afire for his writings a couple of years ago, added that, with the prevailing impunity, journalists have little or no protection and avoid courting danger. “Journalists have almost stopped going to villages for news-gathering. Should we seek police protection if we want to go reporting?” he asked.
Upset at the deaths and the complete lack of investigation into these incidents, the Uttar Pradesh Accredited Journalists Association (UPAJA) has submitted a memorandum to the state Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. But there has been no action whatsoever.
“On August 16, the Chief Minister told his top secretaries and the police chief in our presence to investigate the deaths and to take action to nab the culprits. But till date, nothing has been done. Is this how they respect the directive of the Chief Minister?” asked an angry Rakesh Tiwari, president of the UPAJA.
“For the last four months, the crime scenario in UP is very shameful, there is a lot of goonda-gardi (rioting and attacks by anti-social elements). Now, after Rakesh Sharma’s death, police said it was personal enmity. But that is a ridiculous response,” Tiwari said.
“What kind of ‘personal’ enmity would a journalist have? And, if it is personal, why aren’t the attackers caught?” he wanted to know. Also, in the case of Suresh Bahadur Singh, police can see the faces of the accused in video footage of the attack but not a single accused was picked up, he added.
Earlier, in Uttar Pradesh, there was a state-level media standing committee to redress media issues but this is defunct, he said.
Over the last few years, the state of lawlessness had increased in UP, with the sand mining mafia and their political connections, increasing attacks and killings of RTI activists, he said. Regrettably, journalists’ organisations are weak and not able to raise a voice save from passing ceremonial resolutions, he said. “We now have four names, but there may be others we don’t know about, journalists who are really fighting against injustice in their districts,” Tiwari said.
In the case of the unidentified journalist from Lakhimpur Kheri, Mr Husain Afsar, online editor of DailyAag.com, says that journalist organisations are trying to determine the facts in the case but have come up against a blank. The journalists of UP were slowly becoming demoralised as the administration response has been casual and uncaring, he added.
Sharat Pradhan, another senior journalist and member of the UPAJA, said that the situation was grim in the state. With this coming of the Samajwadi Party government, there is a definite mafia problem and criminal elements are active. They are averse to any story against them. Perhaps Rakesh Sharma was doing some stories against the local politicians and had to pay for it with his life, he surmised.
Overall, he felt, both the state Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav were media savvy but don’t support their police and bureaucracy when they do take action (as in the Durga Shakti Nagpal case). It was also important to determine whether the journalists were killed for their work or for any other reason, Pradhan felt, adding that while it was necessary to verify each case, it was also true that fear was silencing journalists in UP.