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How safe is India for journalists?

Nava Thakuria | Published: July 24, 2019 20:41:17


After years of bad precedents on journo-murder incidents, India has slightly improved the statistics this year, as there is report of two journalists' murder till date. The robust democracy with over a billion populace losses around six journalists to assailants each year, but this time it has reduced to two in the first six months of 2019.

The first victim belongs to Maharashtra as Anand Narayan was reportedly murdered on  June  04  at Antop hill locality of Mumbai. Narayan, 38, was murdered at his residence by miscreants. Mumbai police have already registered a murder case over the fateful incident. The second casualty was reported from Madhya Pradesh, where Chakresh Jain, 40, was burnt to death by assailants in Shahgarh locality on June 19.

India's immediate neighbours, except Pakistan that routinely ranks among the most dangerous countries for scribes, have shown encouraging statistics. These nations including Bangladesh, Tibet (under China), Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan have not reported any incident of scribe-murders since January 1 this year. However harassments to media persons have been reported from most of the countries in the Indian sub-continent. Besides local journalist organisations, The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) etc have condemned the spate of attacks and murders of media persons in India and called on the authorities for urgent action to improve journalists' safety in the country.

The largest democracy in the world lost six journalists (Navin Nischal, Vijay Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, Achyuta N Sahu and Chandan Tiwari) to assailants last year. Bihar based reporters namely  Navin Nischal (35) and Vijay Singh (26) were hit by a running vehicle in Bhojpur locality on March 25 and they died on way to the hospital. Next day, Madhya Pradesh journalist Sandeep Sharma (36) was deliberately mowed down by a truck in Bhind locality and the dedicated reporter on environment issues succumbed to injuries on March 26. Kashmiri journalist Syed Shujaat Bukhari (50) was shot dead in Srinagar on June 14 by a group of militants. Jharkhand journalist Chandan Tiwari (32), who used to report on corruption issues, was abducted and later his body was found on October 30  in Chatra locality, where Doordarshan cameraperson Achyuta Nanda Sahu (34) was killed in a Maoist (ultra-Left) terror attack at Dhantewada of Chhattisgarh on the same day.

The year 2017 was reported as the deadliest year for journalists, as India witnessed the murders of Hari Prakash, Brajesh Kumar Singh, Shyam Sharma, Kamlesh Jain, Surender Singh Rana, Gauri Lankesh, Shantanu Bhowmik, KJ Singh, Rajesh Mishra, Sudip Datta Bhaumik, Naveen Gupta and Rajesh Sheoran. Among the casualties, northeastern State of Tripura reported two incidents of journo-murder. Shantanu, a young reporter was beaten and stabbed to death during a protest demonstration at Mandai locality, where Sudip Datta was shot dead by a Tripura State Rifles constable at RK Nagar locality. Earlier it witnessed murder of three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh) in 2013.

According to Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF)/ Reporters without Borders, the number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline as authoritarian regimes have tightened their grip on the media. Hence journalists have to work against totalitarian propaganda, censorship, intimidation, physical violence and cyber-harassment. In the latest world media freedom index, published by the Paris-based RSF, Norway topped the list of countries with admirable media freedom. Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, Jamaica, Belgium etc follow in the RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index. On the other hand, North Korea, China and Vietnam continue to be at the bottom of the list.

India (positioned at 140) is below United States (48), Bhutan (80),  Israel (88), Maldives (98), Nepal (106), Afghanistan (121), Sri Lanka (126), Myanmar (138) in the list, whereas Pakistan (142), Cambodia (143), Venezuela (148), Russia (149), Bangladesh (150), Vietnam (176), China (177), North Korea (179), Turkmenistan (180) etc follow it.

"Violence against journalists including police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India. Killing of journalists in connection with their works indicates many dangers that journalists often face, especially those working for regional media outlets in rural India," said Daniel Bastard of RSF. Speaking to this writer recently from Paris, RSF's south-Asian desk head also added that other worrying trend that needs to be addressed in the Indian sub-continent is the high level of censorship & self-censorship, lack of pluralism in certain countries and political affiliation of media group owners. With mainstream journalism going increasingly online and the advent of alternative media, newer threats are rising, observed Daniel commenting, "We are now seeing online harassment of journalists by troll armies, dissemination of false information, and hate speech messages calling for killing of journalists whose work displeases those in power and their supporters."

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (northeast India) based media activist.

navathakuria@gmail.co

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