The press is the fourth pillar that holds up the Indian Democracy. But according to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report, India placed 138th out of 180 this year, slipping two ranks from last year. This comes as a blow to a nation which prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy.
The same report also places India on the list for the World’s Deadliest Countries for journalists (see graph below). Journalists in India, especially investigative and crime reporter, live in constant fear of being murdered. Approximately 41 journalists have been murdered in India in the last 25 years, as per the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and none of them have received justice in our courts. And now, for the world’s largest democracy to be in the same league as war-torn and terrorism driven nations is utterly shameful.
The report also speaks about how 2018 was the worst year for journalist around the world, with a record number of 80 who were killed, 350 put in jail and 60 held hostage.
With the current rise in murders and threats against the journalists and editors, clearly, the future of investigative journalism looks bleak. Let’s take a look at the few journalists who were killed in India for simply doing their job:
An editor and publisher of a Kannada language newspaper, Lankesh, was shot dead outside her residence in September by 3 unidentified men. She was known for being a strong critic of right-wing political ideology and was outspoken about issues like women’s right, press freedom, and caste discrimination. Her articles exposed the discrepancies and corruption in the political parties. The murder case was handed over to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the killing. In March 2018, the SIT team arrested the first accused in the case, Naveen Kumar. He is said to be linked with Sanatan Sanstha, a radical Hindu group. This group has also been linked to the shooting of journalists in Maharashtra, Narendra Dabholkar.
In June 2018, the SIT said that Parashuram Waghmore had confessed to the murder, stating that he did it because it was told to and that he did not know who the victim was.
The 51-year-old journalist was shot dead in the Tripura State Rifles (TSR) headquarters by a security guard on the instructions of the commandant, Tapan Debbarma. The reason cited behind his murder was the expose of financial irregularities and corruption worth Rs. 10 crore which involved Debbarma. This murder in Tripura comes only 2 months after a 28-year-old TV journalist, Santanu Bhowmik, was killed by a mob for covering a road blockade agitation in Mandai. While northeast has witnessed many such murders of the journalists, this was the first murder by a security force.
Soon after this incident, the UNESCO condemned this act and referred to it as an ‘ultimate form of censorship’. As per the chief of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay assassinations like these is an ultimate form of censorship and the government must ensure protection to the journalists.
Soon, after the incident, both the accused were arrested by the police.
15 years ago, this journalist and owner of the newspaper –Poora Sach – was murdered in his residence for exposing the rapes in the religious sect, Dera Sacha Sauda. This comes months after an article published in a Hindi daily which published an anonymous letter (written by a former sadhvi) which exposed how the sadhvis were sexually harassed by the Dera’s chief, Gurmeet Rahim Singh. In 2002, he was shot by 2 men (followers of Rahim) riding on a motorcycle outside his house.
Investigations into the case led to the arrest and a bail shortly to the primary accused Nirmal Singh in January 2017. The other man on the motorbike, Kuldeep Singh. had already been bailed shortly after the initial arrest.
A senior crime reporter and editor of the Mid-day newspaper, Dey was shot dead when out for a morning walk. From calling Rajan ‘chindi’ in one of his articles to exposing about the oil mafia in Maharashtra, he knew about all the happenings in the crime and the underworld. After 6 months, Mumbai crime branch arrested 10 people including the gangster – Chota Rajan – and an Asian Age journalist – Jigna Vora. In 2011, Rajan had confessed to the crime on national Hindi news channel. However, it was only in the year 2018 was Rajan and 8 others were sentenced to life imprisonment. Vora was acquitted owing to lack of evidence. Vora, having a professional rivalry with Dey, supplied the gangster with address and number plate of Dey’s car.
As a journalist for the Hindustan Daily in Siwan (a district in UP), Ranjan uncovered a number of stories relating to politics and crime in Siwan. Many of which few were against Mohammad Shahabuddin, then the MP of Rashtriya Janata Dal. 2 bullets were shot at Ranjan near the Siwan station. The 5 men who were arrested in relation to the murder were arranged by the contract killer called Laddan Mian, who was close to Shahabuddin. In 2017, he was charge-sheeted by the CBI in a special court in New Delhi.
He was the editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir – a Kashmir daily newspaper. Bukhari was shot dead on the evening of Thursday, 14th June at the Press Enclave in Srinagar. According to eyewitnesses, he was ambushed by two unidentified men when he stepped out of his office. The assailants fired at his vehicle from both sides, killing his personal security officer on the spot. Critically injured, Bukhari was brought to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead.
His death marks the killing of a third journalist at Press Enclave and taking the toll of journalist deaths in Srinagar to half a dozen.