Lucknow: Barely a week after a journalist was brutally attacked for exposing irregularities in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in Lalitpur, yet another journalist from Uttar Pradesh has lost his life. A scribe working with a Hindi newspaper and his wife were allegedly thrashed to death over longstanding enmity with a former sarpanchin the state’s Sonbhadra district on Tuesday evening, triggering an outpouring of shock across the state.
Uday Paswan, a local journalist who contributed stories to a Hindi daily, and his wife, Sheetla, were brutally thrashed to death at around 6 pm on Tuesday in Barwadih village in Sonbhadra district. Paswan died on the spot while his wife Sheetla succumbed to her injuries at the trauma centre in Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
Notably, the incident took place at a time when the deceased couple, who had been demanding security in view of the threat, visited Kone police station on Monday morning with the same demand. However, no action was taken. While the couple was returning home on a motorcycle in the evening, they were attacked with rods, sticks and bricks. Three police personnel have now been suspended for dereliction of duty.
"Five of the six accused of the murder of the journalist and his wife have been arrested, while the main accused, Keval Paswan, who is a former village head, and the key accused, is still absconding. Our team will soon arrest him,” Ashish Srivastava, Senior Superintendent of Police (SP), Sonbhadra, told NewsClick over the phone. He added that an FIR had been registered against six people – Keval Paswan, his wife Kaushalya, sons Jitendra, Gabbar, Sikandar and an associate, Akhlaque Alam, under sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting arms with deadly weapons) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) after a complaint by the deceased's son. Vinay Paswan. “The journalist had a land dispute with Keval and cases had been lodged against both the groups in 2016, 2017, 2018 and this year as well in the local police station,” he said.
When asked why no prior action was taken in the case despite the police being informed, the official refused to comment. “We are investigating the case; three police officials including Inspector Kone, a sub-inspector and a constable have been suspended for gross negligence on duty and we will deal with it strictly,” he added.
Vinay Paswan, Uday’s son, however, has disputed the claim by the police. “The police is spinning the story as it has failed. Despite repeatedly asking for police security, the district administration took it lightly. My father went to Lucknow especially for this and filed a complaint at the chief minister's Janata Darbar but despite directives issued from CM's office, the District Magistrate (DM) did not pay attention to my father's complaints. My parents lost their life because the police could not provide them with security on time,” Vinay told NewsClick.
Journalist organisations held demonstrations in Sonbhadra district and in the state capital of Lucknow against the incident. Uday Paswan is the second journalist to have been killed in the state in the past week.
Second Scribe Death in a Week
Uttar Pradesh has seen a spate of fatal attacks on journalists over the last few months. On November 12, another journalist who also worked for a Hindi daily newspaper was found dead on a railway track at Sadar Kotwail area in Unnao district, barely,65 kms from state capital of Lucknow.
Suraj Pandey, who worked for a Hindi newspaper, was found dead on a railway track at Sadar Kotwail area on Thursday evening. A case was filed against a sub-inspector and a constable after the journalist’s family alleged that they had murdered him.
According to PTI, sub-Inspector Sunita Chaurasia, her driver Amar Singh and the constable were charged under Section 302 (murder) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code for the death of Suraj Pandey. According to the police, a personal feud between Pandey and Sunita led to his death.
The victim’s mother, Lakshmi Pandey, had also alleged that his son was killed and his body thrown on the railway track in Sadar Kotwali after the murder.
Three more Journalists Killed in Three Months
On June 19, Shubham Mani Tripathi, a local correspondent for the Kanpur-based Kampu Mail, a Hindi daily, died on the spot after he was shot in the head by unidentified persons. The incident came days after Tripathi, in a Facebook post, had said he feared he could be killed by the sand mafia because of his investigations into land expropriations linked to illegal sand mining. The brutal murder of a young journalist in broad daylight in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district sent shockwaves across the state with fingers being pointed at the illegal sand mining mafia and land grabbers active in the region.
In a similar incident, Vikram Joshi, a Ghaziabad-based scribe, was shot dead on July 20 in front of his two daughters after he dared to lodge a complaint with the police following the alleged molestation of his niece.
Joshi who works with a local daily was attacked four days after he lodged a complaint at the local Vijay Nagar police station against some people for harassing his niece. The deceased’s family has alleged that Joshi’s death was a result of police incompetence.
Barely a month after Vikram Joshi was shot dead, another senior journalist based in Uttar Pradesh's Ghazipur district was killed in the last week of August.
Ratan Singh, who was associated with Hindi news channel Sahara Samay, was shot dead in the Phephna area of Ballia district by some unknown assailants inside the campus of the local gram pradhan (village head), according to the Devendra Nath, Superintendent of Police (SP), Ballia.
According to the police, the incident had no connection with the victim’s profession. The journalist Ratan Singh had a long-running land dispute with his neighbours.
GAGGING MEDIA: DOZEN OF JOURNALISTS BOOKED, THREATENED FOR REPORTING
In the past few months, journalists have been detained, assaulted, their camera equipment snatched and even broken in many parts of Uttar Pradesh for criticism of government's policies, including those to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Over one and a half years, over fifteen journalists faced criminal cases, physical violence and police interrogation and notices for reporting in Uttar Pradesh. Most of the journalists were charged under Indian Penal Code sections 500 (defamation), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) and 505 (1) (B), which deals with offences committed with the intention to cause fear or alarm among the public, or induce people against the state.
1. Siddique Kappan : A Delhi-based journalist, Kappan, who contributed to Malayalam news portal Azhimukham, was on his way to Hathras alongside three others to report on the gang rape of a Dalit girl when he was picked up in Mathura on October 5, 2020. He was later booked under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Kappan, along with others, is languishing in Mathura jail.
2. Supriya Sharma : A case was registered against Supriya Sharma, Executive Editor of Scroll, on June 18, 2020, under the SC/ST Act and IPC 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory), and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) for showing abysmal condition of Domari village during the pandemic. The village was adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
3. Shakil Ahmed, Lakhan Singh, Ashish Tomar, Aamir Khan and Moin Ahmad: The five journalists from Bijnor was booked for reporting on how Dalit families put up their houses for sale after they were denied the right to draw water from a well in the district on September 7, 2020. They were charged under under IPC 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 268 (public nuisance) and 503 (criminal intimidation) and Section 66A of the IT Act. The district administration withdrew all cases against them after an action committee of scribes lodged a protest.
4. Ravindra Saxena :The Uttar Pradesh administration had lodged an FIR against Ravindra Saxena, a journalist at Today-24 news portal for reporting on the mismanagement and negligence at a quarantine centre in Sitapur district. Saxena was booked under SC/ST Act and the Disaster Management Act. After local journalists hit the road Saxena’s arrest was stalled, but the FIR has not been withdrawn.
5. Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra : Cases were filed against the journalists from local daily Janadesh Times for their report on March 26, 2020. It was on the plight of the Musahar community, residents of Koiripur village in Varanasi district accompanied by a visual showing children eating grass amid the pandemic.
6. Asad Rizvi: A Lucknow based freelance journalist was assaulted by the police on October 2 while he was reporting on protests in the city in the aftermath of the rape of a Dalit girl in Hathras a few weeks earlier. In his complaint, Rizvi had alleged that the police tried to break his mobile phone and confiscated his memory card.
7. Siddharth Varadarajan : A FIR was lodged in Faizabad against one of the founding Editors of The Wire on April 1 for reporting that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had attended a religious event in Ayodhya on March 25, after the lockdown was announced. He was booked under Section 188 (disobedience of an order issued by a public servant) and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the IPC. He was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court.
8. Prashant Kanojia : Kanojia was picked up from his residence in Delhi by the UP police on August 18, 2020 for a tweet. He got a reprieve from the Supreme Court in 2019. An FIR was lodged against Kanojia again in Lucknow's Ashiyana police station for allegedly making “objectionable remarks” about PM Modi and CM Adityanath on social media. He was charged for defamation, printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory and offence committed with the intention to cause fear or alarm among the public or induce people against the state.
9. Manish Pandey : News1 India journalist Manish Pandey was interrogated by the Special Task Force (STF) of the state’s police after reporting on low-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) kits supplied to hospitals and colleges in the state.
10. Pawan Kumar Jaiswal : A case has been registered against Jaiswal for allegedly doing the “despicable work” of maligning the image of the Uttar Pradesh government by recording a video of school children being served salt and roti in midday meal. Jaiswal had been booked under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharging duty), 193 (false evidence) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.
11. Amitabh Rawat : An FIR was registered against Rawat for publishing the video of a minor girl cleaning the floor at the district hospital in Deoria. The police report alleged that he was indulging in the “despicable work” of maligning the image of the Uttar Pradesh government. The journalist in question recorded a video of a minor girl cleaning the floor in the female ward of the district hospital in Deoria where her ailing mother had urinated. The irate staff forced the little girl to wipe and clean floor.
12. Ajay Bhadauria and Vivek Mishra : The duo from Fatehpur district were booked for critical news reports. Bhadauria had tweeted about the closing down of a community kitchen in Vijaypur and Mishra had filed a report on dysfunctional cowsheds.
13. Omar Rashid : A journalist from The Hindu, Rashid was detained for a couple of hours for reporting on anti-CAA protests in the state capital. He was released after interrogation.
14. Bachha Gupta: A photojournalist based in PM Modi's bastion of Varanasi, Gupta was booked for capturing photographs of children cleaning a flooded police station near river Ganges. Gupta who is associated with Swatantra Chetna newspaper, was charged with trespassing and criminal conspiracy.
15. Santosh Jaiswal : Journalist Santosh Jaiswal was arrested in the last week of November 2019 after he took photographs of school children mopping the floor and called up police to apprise them of the incident in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh.
16. Manoj Kumar Soni: Soni, a journalist working with Hindi daily Dainik Perfect Mission in Sonbhadra district was brutally assaulted for writing on how land mafia were active in the region.
17. Amit Sharma: The TV journalist Amit Sharma was thrashed by Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel in Uttar Pradesh's Shamli while he was covering the derailment of a goods train near Dhimanpur.
18. Dhara Singh Yadav and Unknown: The two journalists were booked for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups of people.
Recently, the Editors Guild of India expressed its concern over “a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws” to intimidate journalists in Uttar Pradesh.
“As the Chief Minister of India’s largest state, you are well aware of the important precedence that the state sets with respect to safeguarding all constitutional rights. This is especially crucial with respect to preserving the space for free media, more so at a time when the world has been in the throes of a pandemic,” the guild told the CM. “Media has played an important role in raising awareness about the pandemic,” they emphasised.