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Why is India the fourth most dangerous country for journalists?

Joginder Singh Journalist

Joginder Singh

MUMBAI: Take the case of Joginder Singh, a freelance journalist from Bareilly who was burnt alive, allegedly by Uttar Pradesh dairy minister Ram Murti Singh Yadav. Singh’s fault: He had accused the minister of being involved in illegal mining and land grabbing in northern India.

A few days later, Sandeep Kothari, owner of a newspaper called ‘Dainik Kranti’ in Madhya Pradesh, was set ablaze due to alleged personal rivalry with a local gang.

Another journalist by the name of Ashok Kumar Namdev, working with a national daily, was assaulted by a group of rowdies involved in illegal mining in the Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh.

Although not a first for India, such criminal acts against journalists, especially in small towns, have been on the rise across the country. Even as journalists across the nation condemn such acts, the question arises as to why journalists have become victims of such crimes and whether the Hindi belt is being governed by a vicious criminal–politician nexus.


Rajdeep Sardesai

According to India Today Group consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai, “Politics has become criminalised across the country. It’s just that perhaps the protection that a journalist may have in certain parts of the country is a little greater because of stronger law enforcement machinery, and certain parts may have weaker law enforcement machinery.”

Earlier, several journalists would get death threats if they happened to be investigating cases involving the sand, coal or other such mafias. However, it appears that these mafias have grown stronger due to poor or no law enforcement. Moreover, the political environment in regions like Uttar Pradesh is already criminalised and polarised, further leading to the rise in the number of such activities.

Joginder Singh was assaulted after he had written an article for a local Hindi newspaper accusing the minister of involvement in illegal mining and land grabbing. The journalist later posted details of the investigative story on Facebook, whereupon he was visited by a group of six people, including two police officers in a civilian get-up. They started beating Singh, then poured petrol over him, before setting him on fire.

Sandeep Kothari

Sandeep Kothari

Similarly, 44-year-old Sandeep Kothari suddenly went missing from his home in Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh. His family lodged a missing person complaint, following which the police arrested three people who revealed the horrific account of how Kothari had been set on fire and buried in a forest in Maharashtra’s Nagpur district.

A group of people allegedly snatched Ashok Kumar Namdev’s mobile, camera and damaged his motorbike.

Another journo named Haidar Khan, a stringer for a news channel and a resident of Sherpur Kalan, a village in Uttar Pradesh, was attacked by a group of people who tied him up and dragged him behind a motorcycle till he lost consciousness. The TV journalist had been reporting on a land usurpation case in the region.


Nikhil Wagle

Condemning these acts, Mi Marathi consulting editor Nikhil Wagle says, “It is because all manner of mafias, be it mining, oil or political, have got more courage. The entire police and government machinery is dysfunctional. Political parties have vested interest with these mafias, so who will arrest them? They are going to attack more journalists. It is not that we were not getting threats earlier. Even in Maharashtra, many journalists working in rural areas get threats. When I was editor of IBN Lokmat, two of my reporters were threatened by the sand mafia. Getting threats is very usual, but the lethal attacks on journalists are worrisome.”

India has a dubious reputation when it comes to the safety of journalists as they face regularly harassment, intimidation and death threats. Journalists working in smaller places and rural areas face maximum trouble. Unlike their big-city counterparts, these media persons have no job security, no fixed salary, no big and powerful networks and no institutional support.

The booming social media has given birth to a new breed of journalists. They aggressively use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to do their own independent journalism. This new breed of journalists who sometimes double up as activists face the wrath of the people in power more than those in traditional media like print and TV. The recent burning of two journalists in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh within a gap of two weeks has brought the focus back on the safety of journalists in India.

In conflict-hit areas like Jammu & Kashmir, the North-east and Naxal-affected states, journalists face threats from both the authorities and the militants or rebels.

Wagle adds, “Last year, over 1,000 journalists were killed across the world—in some countries, due to war or terrorism; in India, because of mafias. In Karnataka, mining mafia has threatened lots of journalists. In South, a number of channels are run by political parties and they don’t expose the ills. But an independent journalist who wants to work honestly will be attacked. That is the threat.”

In 2012, India was dubbed the second most dangerous country for working journalists. In 2014, India’s rank went up to fourth place, still considered a very dangerous place for them.

According to the website ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’, in India 35 journalists have been murdered with a confirmed motive, 22 others were killed with an unconfirmed motive since 1992. The data is up to 8 June 2015. With the addition of the murder of Sandeep Kothari in MP on 19 June, the figure touches 58. The number of journalists facing verbal, physical and mental harassment is far higher in India.

Sardesai mentions, “I know journalists who are under pressure in all parts of the country. The difference has to be made between honest and dishonest journalism. Dishonest journalists today get away, while honest journalists are targeted. Some dishonest journalists today have become mini politicians. Some newspapers and news channels have been used for blackmailing. As a result, the honest journalist is suffering.

“That’s the real worry, because there are others who in the guise of journalism have become blackmailers or politicians. The political class expects every journalist to be at their behest, and if a journalist challenges or questions their authority, he/she becomes a victim.”

The industry needs to come together to fight such crimes and as Wagle states, “We all should condemn such acts and unite to protect our friends. The government and police should be on the alert, and the journalist fraternity should put pressure on the government to put a stop to these crimes.”

Sardesai, however, has another point to make. He says that it would not be easy to get journalists together for a common cause as they are too busy fighting each other.

“First, journalists have to get their act together. Instead of fighting with each other, we should be fighting together against these forces. But we are so busy competing with each other, undermining each other’s capabilities that today we have become soft targets for the public out there. Twenty years ago if this had happened, people would come out in spontaneous support of journalists. Today there are people who say ‘good, they should be taught a lesson’. We have become vulnerable because there are people out there assaulting our credibility, and rather than uniting, journalists are divided.”

35 Journalists Killed in India/Motive Confirmed
8-Jun-15Jagendra SinghFreelancerShahjahanpur district, Uttar Pradesh
26-Nov-14MVN ShankarAndhra PrabhaAndhra Pradesh
27-May-14Tarun Kumar AcharyaKanak TVSambad, Odisha
6-Dec-13Sai ReddyDeshbandhuBijapur District
7-Sep-13Rajesh VermaIBN 7Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh
20-Aug-13Narendra DabholkarSadhanaPune, Maharashtra
23-Dec-12Dwijamani SinghPrime NewsImphal
1-Mar-12Rajesh MishraMedia RajRewa, Madhya Pradesh
20-Jul-10Vijay Pratap SinghIndian ExpressAllahabad, Uttar Pradesh
25-Nov-08Vikas RanjanHindustanRosera
13-Aug-08Javed Ahmed MirChannel 9Srinagar
11-May-08Ashok SodhiDaily ExcelsiorSamba
1-Apr-08Mohammed MuslimuddinAsomiya PratidinBarpukhuri
6-Jan-06Prahlad GoalaAsomiya KhabarGolaghat
20-Apr-04Asiya JeelanifreelancerKashmir
21-Feb-04Veeraboina YadagiriAndhra PrabhaMedak
31-Jan-03Parvaz Mohammed SultanNews and Feature AllianceSrinagar
21-Nov-02Ram Chander ChaterpattiPoora SachSirsa
30-Jul-01Moolchand YadavFreelanceJhansi
10-Aug-00Pradeep BhatiaThe Hindustan TimesSrinagar
19-Nov-97S Gangadhara RajuEenadu Television (E-TV)Hyderabad
19-Nov-97S KrishnaEenadu Television (E-TV)Hyderabad
19-Nov-97G Raja SekharEenadu Television (E-TV)Hyderabad
19-Nov-97Jagadish BabuEenadu Television (E-TV)Hyderabad
19-Nov-97P. Srinivas RaoEenadu Television (E-TV)Hyderabad
16-Mar-97Saidan ShafiDoordarshan TVSrinagar
1-Jan-97Altaf Ahmed FaktooDoordarshan TVSrinagar
17-May-96Parag Kumar DasAsomiya PratidinAssam
10-Apr-96Ghulam Rasool SheikhRehnuma-e-Kashmir and Saffron TimesKashmir
10-Sep-95Mushtaq AliAgence France-Presse and Asian News InternationalSrinagar
29-Aug-94Ghulam Muhammad LoneFreelanceKangan
22-May-93Dinesh PathakSandeshBaroda
31-Jan-93Bhola Nath MasoomHind SamacharRajpura
18-May-92M L ManchandaAll India RadioPatiala
3-Jan-92Ram Singh BilingAzdi AwazDaily Ajit, Jalandhar
22 Journalists Killed in India/Motive Unconfirmed
23-Aug-13Rakesh SharmaAajEtawah
27-Apr-13Jitendra SinghPrabhat KhabharJharkhand
12-Feb-13Nemi Chand JainFreelancerChhatisgarh
26-Sep-12Chaitali SantraFreelancerSouth Baksara
18-Feb-12Chandrika RaiNavbharat and The HitavadaUmaria
11-Jun-11Jyotirmoy DeyMiddayPowai
22-Feb-11Umesh RajputNai DuniaRaipur
2-Jul-10Hem Chandra Pandey (Hemant Pandey)freelanceAndhra Pradesh
20-Nov-08Jagjit SaikiaAmar AsomKokrajhar
10-Jun-06Arun Narayan DekateTarun BharatNagpur
8-Nov-04Dilip MohapatraAji KagojBhagirathipur
18-Sep-03Parmanand GoyalPunjab KesariKaithal
24-Jun-03Indra Mohan HakasamAmar AssamGoalpara, Assam
13-Oct-02Yambem Meghajit SinghNortheast VisionManipur
14-Apr-02Paritosh PandeyJansatta ExpressLucknow
20-Aug-00Thounaojam Brajamani SinghManipur NewsImphal
31-Jul-00V SelvarajNakkeeranPerambalur, Tamil Nadu
18-Mar-00Adhir RaiFreelancerDeoghar, Jharkand
10-Oct-99N A LalruhluShan in Manipur
13-Mar-99Irfan HussainOutlookNew Delhi
23-Jan-99Shivani BhatnagarIndian ExpressNew Delhi
27-Feb-92Bakshi Tirath SinghHind SamacharDhuri
Source: Committee to Protect Journalists