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Govt. turning journalists into contractors: Jailed Bastar scribe


Prabhat Singh (left) being felicitated at an event in Raipur on Sunday—Photo: Special arrangement
‘Maoist insurgency an excuse to get funds from the Centre’

Prabhat Singh (left) being felicitated at an event in Raipur on Sunday—Photo: Special arrangement
Prabhat Singh (left) being felicitated at an event in Raipur on Sunday—Photo: Special arrangement
When two journalists, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag working in the Maoist-hit Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, were arrested by the police for alleged Maoist links, another journalist, Prabhat Singh, was at the forefront demanding their release.

As a result, a senior police officer had openly threatened Mr. Singh and had asked him to stop reporting against the police. Mr. Singh told The Hindu that a subordinate of the same officer offered him to take back all the cases filed against him if he met the officer and stopped reporting against the police. After he refused to stop reporting on the cases of fake encounters and atrocities on tribals, Mr. Singh, a resident of Dantewada district, was behind bars himself, implicated in four cases.

Mr. Singh was granted bail by the Bilaspur High Court on June 22, after three months in jail, and walked out of Jagdalpur district jail on Saturday. But rather than visiting his family members in Dantewada, he chose to travel to Raipur on Sunday to participate in a programme organised to draft a law for the protection of journalists.

Mr. Singh told The Hindu : “We cannot afford to sit down and relax now. The situation of Bastar is worsening with each passing day. There is no scope for independent journalism or judicial process. Efforts are on to destroy the civil society. We have to work extra hard now.”

Mr. Singh said that he was arrested because of the state government’s pressure on the police. “This government does not want Maoist insurgency in Bastar to end, because this insurgency has become an excuse for a flow of funding to the state from central government. There is no democracy in Bastar. Some police officers and contractors are ruling the region. There is no accountability for the development works done and funds spent in Bastar. I was reporting on it and the state government did not like it.”

He was speaking at an event organised by the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties and the Patrakar Sayunkt Sangharsh Kanoon Samiti, a committee of journalists formed after the arrest of Mr. Yadav and Mr. Nag, in Raipur.

Mr. Singh also slammed the state government for ‘double speak’. “When we were protesting for Santosh and Somaru, this government said that a process was going on to release them. At the same time, senior administrative officers were proposing and preparing to slap the draconian Chhattisgarh Public Security Act on Santosh [Yadav]. If this government was seriously worried about the security and independence of journalists, they would have released Santosh.”

Claiming that a process to ‘turn journalists into contractors’ was going on in Bastar since the formation of the separate state of Chhattisgarh, Mr. Singh said that there were barely a few journalists left in Bastar who could work freely.

“Now, you can hardly differentiate between a journalist and a contractor in Bastar, Jr. Singh said. “Those who refused to buckle under pressure were targeted like me. A syndicate of officials and contractors is at work in Bastar, and the situation is likely to worsen in the coming days. This government wants to hide the reality of Bastar from the world. They hired expensive lawyers from outside the state to make sure I do not get bail. Why is this establishment scared of a simple journalist like me?”

“Fake propaganda is being carried about Bastar, whereas on the ground there is complete lawlessness. Some police officers, who idolise Hitler, have been given the reins of Bastar by the Raman Singh government, and there is no hope for improvement in the situation in the near future,” said Mr. Singh Stressing on the need for a law to protect journalists, he said that after spending three months in jail, he had lost the fear of political punishment. He plans to go back to Dantewada to resume his reporting job.

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