The last column (“Killing of scribes: justice delayed or denied,” March 12, 2012) led to a large number of readers expressing indignation at the mafia-style murders of a journalist and his family and the lack of response from the State government. From one reader, my office received five letters in five days; each one sought only one thing — quick initiatives to bring to justice the killers of the investigative journalist Chandrika Rai and his wife and two teenaged children. Readers did not mince words while condemning the murders in Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh on February 18. Rai, a freelance journalist, had exposed, through his incisive writing in a couple of newspapers, the illicit mining of coal in the central Indian State.
Some readers offered practical solutions to the various problems journalists, especially investigative reporters, confront frequently, while others raised pointed questions that demand honest answers. One reader asked why the police ignored the first mention in the media of the recent activities of the coal mining mafia. Another asked why the media showed no interest in proceeding with the investigation and following up after a stage.
The relevance of such questions becomes apparent when we consider that on March 8, about three weeks after the killing of Chandrika Rai and his family members, Narendra Kumar, a 30-year-old official of the Indian Police Service (IPS), was mowed down by a tractor-trolley engaged in illicit mining in Morena district. The grisly incident only brought out the brazenness of the mining mafia fed by money and muscle power.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan decided to bring in the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the killing of the IPS officer. A CBI investigation into the other case is still possible if the Union of Madhya Pradesh Journalists presses its demand with greater force. In a similar situation in Chhattisgarh, Sushil Pathak, a reporter with Dainik Bhaskar, was shot dead when he was returning home after the night shift in December last year. Chief Minister Raman Singh handed over the case to the CBI after continuous protests by journalists' organisations.
As for the question why the media tend to lose interest on an issue soon, a study by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York has shown that unpunished violence against journalists often led to self-censorship. Such a situation generally compels people to avoid sensitive issues.
Significantly, international organisations such as UNESCO and the International Press Institute are increasingly concerned with ways and means to ensure safety for journalists working in situations where threats to life and limb abound. In fact, UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have provided training in conflict and human rights to 80 journalists in 2011.
Bringing the guilty to justice
Prem Mahendran in his online response to my column said that weeks after the brutal murder of Chandrika Rai, no major reports on the progress of the police investigation had been published by the media. There ought to be constant police alerts, he suggested. He wondered why an independent inquiry could not be agreed to.
J.P. Reddy of Nalgonda said in his e-mail that it was a tragedy that the mafia was killing several journalists. He opined that without the active support of politicians no mafia could survive. In view of this, journalists who track the criminal activities of the mafia gangs must change their strategy and make investigative journalism teamwork. His suggestions include life insurance cover of up to Rs.10 lakh for all journalists and an arrangement whereby the police would be kept informed about their professional visits.
Ajeet Tiwary e-mailed: “It [our concern for journalists] is not only about beating and denigrating media. Efforts are on to curb the voice that speaks for those who are marginalised. Should we beat them all in streets without hearing them in the court? Those [who are] guilty must be brought to the court and punished.”
Ramakrishna Ogirala reminded journalists of their key role in protecting democracy. He recalled the brutal attacks on media persons by a section of advocates in Bangalore, besides the killings soon after of Chandrika Rai and his family and the young police officer by the mining mafia in Madhya Pradesh. Noting that political leaders seldom keep their promises, he demanded that the government should act speedily to bring the culprits to justice.