By va Thakuria
Looking back to 2017, India finds itself in an awkward position with the annual statistics of 12 jourlists either murdered or killed in suspicious situations. The largest democracy in the globe, thus emerges as a hazardous place for mediapersons after the likes of Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
The killing spree of media persons in India started with Hari Prakash (on January 2) and by the end of 2017 the country lost Brajesh Kumar Singh (January 3), Shyam Sharma (May 15), Kamlesh Jain (May 31), Surender Singh Ra (July 29), Gauri Lankesh (September 5), Shantanu Bhowmik (September 20), KJ Singh (September 23), Rajesh Mishra (October 21), Sudip Datta Bhaumik (November 21), veen Gupta (November 30) and Rajesh Sheoran (December 21).
On an average, India loses five to six jourlists annually to assailants, where the perpetrators normally enjoy impunity as the public outbursts against those murders remain lukewarm. However the horrific murder of Kanda editor-jourlist Ms Gauri at her Bangaluru (earlier known as Bangalore) residence sparked massive protests across the country.
As the news of Gauri’s murder by unidentified gunmen spread, it immediately caught the attention of various tiol and intertiol media rights organizations. Everyone outrightly condemned the incident and demanded actions against the culprits. Even the Communist leader and Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was influenced by the protest-demonstrations. He persolly joined in a rally at Agartala demanding justice over Gauri’s brutal killing, but when the young television reporter from his State fall prey to mob violence, he preferred to remain silent.
The Tripura based jourlists, while strongly condemning the murder of Shantanu, had to demand a response from Sarkar. Later one more jourlist’s (Sudip Datta) murder, also by a trooper belonged to the State police forces put Sarkar in an uncomfortable position. The otherwise popular chief minister, who also holds the
State home portfolio, was accorded with blames that Tripura had earlier witnessed the murder of three media employees Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh together in 2013.
Otherwise, the central Indian States like Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Harya etc remained the killing field of jourlists for years and most of the journo casualties were reported from this zone. Most of the cases have not been resolved legally and the victim families continue crying for justice.
India is ranked 136th among 180 countries in World Press Freedom Index (2017) of Reporters Sans Frontiers and the country is just ahead of its neighbours Pakistan (139), Sri Lanka (141) and Bangladesh (146).
Norway tops the list of media freedom index, whereas one party-ruled North Korea (180) is placed at its bottom. India’s other neighbours mely Bhutan (84), Nepal (100), Maldives (117), Afghanistan (120) and Myanmar (131) ensure better press freedom.
India’s troubled neighbor Pakistan lost seven professiol jourlists and a media student to assailants in 2017. Its other neighbours Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives witnessed the murder of one scribe each in the last 12 months.
According to various intertiol agencies, over 95 mediapersons spread in 28 countries were killed in connection with their professiol works since the beginning of 2017. The statistics were however more alarming in previous years (120 killed in 2016, 125 in 2015, 135 in 2014, 129 in 2013, 141 in 2012, 107 in 2011, 110 in 2010, 122 in 2009, 91 in 2008).
The situation has deteriorated in Mexico (14 incidents of journo-killings), Syria (12), Iraq (9), Afghanistan (8), Yemen (8), the Philippines (6), Somalia (5), Honduras (4), Honduras (4), Nigeria (3), Russia (3), Turkey (3), Yemen (3), Guatemala (2), Peru (2), Dominican Republic (2), Colombia (2) etc emerged as dangerous countries for professiol jourlists in the bygone year.
This apart, 262 jourlists were sent to jail in different countries, a negligible improvement to 259 mediapersons imprisoned worldwide in 2016. According to the Committee to Protect Jourlists, Turkey still topped the list of detainees in 2017 with 73 scribes behind bars, followed by Chi (41), Egypt (20), Eritrea (15), Vietm (10), Azerbaijan (10), Uganda (8), Saudi Arabia (7), Bangladesh (4), Myanmar (3), Cambodia (2), Pakistan (2) and India (2).
In 2016, India witnessed the targeted killings of six working jourlists, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. The country improved its statistics in 2014 with the murders of only two scribes, but the year 2013 reported the killings of 11 jourlists including three media workers in northeast India.
The vibrant Indian media fraternity observed an unusual Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 in 2017 to raise voices for ensuring safety, security and justice for working jourlists across the country. Different press clubs, media bodies and civil society organisations also organized various demonstrations in support of their demands.
The vulnerable media community of the 1-billion tion continues pursuing a tiol action plan to safeguard mediapersons in the line of military personnel, police and doctors on duty. Their arguments are loud and clear — if the tion wants jourlists to do their risky job for society’s greater interest, their security along with justice must also be ensured.