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Sheetla Singh: Will be Remembered for Raising People's Issues

Asad Rizvi |
Translated by Amit Sheokand
As an editor of Janmorcha, Singh raised issues concerning the marginalised sections of society.
sheetla singh

Sheetla Singh (93), editor-in-chief of the Hindi daily Janmorcha and an advocate of secularism, passed away in Faizabad (now Ayodhya) on Tuesday, May 16. An era of journalism ended with Singh, who pursued unbiased journalism fiercely, even during the raging wave of "Hindutva" during the Ayodhya movement.

At a time when only communalism is on display from newspaper pages to television screens, and "public issues" have almost disappeared, Singh, in his newspaper news and editorials, tried to raise issues related to the public mind.

Singh is said to have left-wing leanings. Still, he always had friendly relations with prominent leaders of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Singh was a journalist as well as a writer. Along with editing Janmorcha, he wrote a famous book 'Ayodhya: The Truth of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri-Masjid' on the most important event of Indian politics "Babri Masjid" demolition (December 6, 1992) and "Ram Janmabhoomi".

This book is considered important in many ways. 

A local leftist leader said that a journalist had asked Singh, what truth have you revealed in your book? Singh replied, "I have given details of the fact that the leaders of the Muslim community were taking the initiative for the construction of the Ram temple, but the Sangh was not allowing it to happen because of their political benefits."

Senior journalist Sharat Pradhan explains, "Singh started his journey in media with a cooperative venture, which he launched with his Guru Hargovind. Janmorcha, owned by Jan India, was started on December 5, 1958, in Uttar Pradesh, with a capital of only Rs 75. Initially, Janmorcha was a weekly bulletin. But later, it was published as a daily newspaper. Its founder Hargovind was a freedom fighter. After him, Singh took over the editorial role, and he fulfilled the responsibility for almost 53 years."

Pradhan, who has been active in journalism for many decades, believes that Janmorcha was more of a mission than a newspaper. 

"It was a people's front in the true sense. It raised the issue of the common person. As an editor, Singh related himself to the pain of the lowest rungs of society."

Recalling the editor-in-chief of Janmorcha, Sharat Pradhan narrated how Singh once told him about days when they used to bring out the newspaper, would cook and eat Khichdi in the office, and after that, all of them would sleep in the office. 

Journalist Naved Shikoh says that Ayodhya was the centre of external media during the Ayodhya movement. 

"Janmorcha used to help and guide journalists from all over the country. The one who strengthened the credibility of Janmorcha was its editor. Singh meant Janmorcha, and Janmorcha meant Singh."

Taking his point forward, Shikoh says, "In those days, the country's media used to follow Awadh's journalism. The ground reporting of Ayodhya/Faizabad was read to get important news. Senior journalists who came from every corner of the country used to read Janmorcha first to investigate the current mood of Ayodhya, the centre of Awadh and Ram's city."

Shikoh says that when the corporate occupied the "media", Singh gave a significant identity to a local newspaper with his sharp journalism. He was a Press Council of India member and was also honoured with the "Yash Bharti" award.

Journalist Suman Gupta, who worked with Singh for almost 35 years, says that she learned journalism in Janmorcha. She said that at one time, the office of Singh used to be the guest house of the country and foreign media where journalists from all over the world gathered and sent the news of Ayodhya to their institutions. 

According to Rihai Manch general secretary Rajeev Yadav, after the Uttar Pradesh police opened fire on the violent karsevaks who violated the curfew on October 30, 1990, and November 2, 1990, and attacked the Babri Masjid, most newspapers and certainly all local people put up headlines like "Ayodhya bathes in blood", and "Blood flows in Saryu".

But Singh's editorial Janmorcha had published the report of 16 people killed in police firing.

Yadav said that he came to know about this when he was doing research during his studies, and he studied old newspapers. During this, he also met Singh.

Iqbal Ansari, son of Hashim Ansari, who favoured Babri Masjid, said that Singh was his father's friend. He says that Singh always wrote news honestly and respected all religions.

Ayodhya's Left leader Surya Kant Pandey says that Singh had written that right-wing organisations were less interested in building Shri Ram's temple in Ayodhya and more in forming government in Delhi.  

He further says that history will never forget Singh as he did not compromise with communalism despite attacks from right-wing organisations. He was not a journalist of the ruling party or the opposition but of the people.

This is why a wave of mourning ran from the political circles to the media world as soon as the news of his demise came.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath described the demise of Singh as extremely sad and said that his condolences are with the bereaved family.

Samajwadi Party President and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said Singh had created new paradigms by connecting journalism with social concerns. His death has caused irreparable loss to the journalism world.

Congress general secretary and in-charge of Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi says that Singh was a strong pillar of Hindi journalism who always kept democracy and public interest paramount and never compromised his ideals. 

"Journalism has suffered an irreparable loss in his passing."

The Press Club of India has also termed the death of Singh a great loss to journalism.

Singh also fought for the rights of journalists as a four-time member of the Press Council of India and as a member of several wage boards for journalists and newspaper employees. His contribution can never be forgotten.

Singh will always be remembered for his dedication towards media and media persons.

(This article was originally published in Hindi.)

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