This past month, 3 journalists have been brutally attacked in Uttar Pradesh, within a span of 15 days. In Shahjahanpur, a few 100 kilometres away from the state capital, journalist Jagendra Sharma was burnt to death on 1 June, allegedly with the complicity of the local police. On 11 June, Deepak Mishra from Kanpur was shot and on 13 June Haider Khan from Pilibhit was beaten up by local goons. These incidents have sparked debate about the working conditions of journalists in this region.
Jagendra Singh’s death in Shahjahanpur has become a controversial issue, with the ruling Samajwadi Party’s minister Ram Murti Verma is being held responsible. Jagendra Sharma’s family claims that Ram Murti Verma had pulled strings and instructed local Police Inspector Shriprakash Rai to have him killed. Rai eventually set Jagendra Sharma on fire, leading to Sharma’s death. Apparently, the grouse with Verma has its history in Jagendra Sharma levelling accusations of corruption, illegal mining and rape against the minister. In Pilibhit, journalist Haider Khan was beaten with pistol butts by a local gang of goons, and tied and dragged some distance by a car. Khan was found unconscious in the middle of the road. Haider had reported on the illegal acquisition of some land.
In the current climate, very few journalists are seen to raise questions on those in power. Media – from television channels to print newspapers – is owned by ministers, politicians, and big businessmen. In this context, when some journalists do expose stories of corruption, violence and scams, there are no institutions or fora for their security and protection. Forced to react to these incidents and the vulnerability of journalists, the Uttar Pradesh government announced that a toll free number would be launched for journalists to register complaints against anyone who was intimidating them. However, given the closely knit nexus of politicians, the powerful classes and local goons, the risk is that this number will be one of the many ‘helplines’ where complaints are registered with no action being taken.
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