“You fought for others' rights. Now who will fight for you?” screamed in grief Beena, the mother of Jyotirmoy Dey, Editor, Crime Investigation, Mid-Day, who was shot dead by a gang of four from the underworld on June 11 in Mumbai (The Hindu, June 13, 2011). Shubha, his journalist wife, said, controlling her grief: “There were no threats. Nothing he spoke of.” J. Dey's sister Leela lamented: “You got us fame and a good status. But we wanted only you.”
These are heart-rending laments from a family that has been shattered. There is perhaps no better way of telling in brief the tale of this much loved and respected journalist with the highest commitment to his chosen profession. His family was supportive of his all-consuming professional mission of exposing to the public anti-social elements, whether they were hired killers or cartels of criminals or terrorists or corrupt Ministers, bureaucrats and police officers, in the larger interest of the society.
A late entrant to journalism, J Dey had in a highly productive period of two decades published scores of well-researched and bold articles about Mumbai's mysterious underworld. In the process, he won the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of readers and was acknowledged and admired by scores of fellow-journalists. Many of his colleagues have recorded the way in which an endearing Jyotirmoy meticulously built up contacts among different sections of people with a “bottom-to-top” approach.
Jyotirmoy's fearless articles on “encounter deaths” received wide acclaim for their accuracy. Many of his recent reports were on the oil mafia, which included a well-researched piece on the pilferage of oil from other States, which allegedly involved a “Rs. 10,000-crore scam.” His most recent assessment was that the underworld activity had started reviving itself after a long gap, in a new form in the context of expanding global trade. His “Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers” was published last year. Top police officials were among his avid readers.
Other intrepid Indian journalists have been killed or maimed in targeted attacks. But those attacks didn't become national news, at least not in any sustained way. But the coverage of the gunning down of Jyotirmoy Dey, and of the implications of the failure to apprehend the murderers for several days after the brutal murder, by the print and broadcast news media has been detailed and impactful. This owes in no small measure to the spontaneous solidarity and determination shown by Mumbai journalists who have been on a non-stop vigil to press for concrete state efforts to bring justice not only to the bereaved family, but also to the journalist fraternity.
The media coverage has led to serious public discussion on issues revolving round the underworld in Mumbai and elsewhere and what has come to be perceived as an unholy nexus comprising mafiosi, politicians, and police. The state of freedom of expression, and in particular the safety of journalists who are determined to expose this nexus, have come into sharp focus. The police delay in tracing the murders is being watched with great concern by the people.
Although Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was quick to promise that a new law would be put in place to protect the lives of journalists in the light of the growing violence against them, one wonders whether the government is serious about this. The Chief Minister, who reportedly came under pressure from some heavyweight Ministers, subsequently seemed to resile from his original position by noting that there was a broad consensus in the Cabinet on bringing a law to protect journalists but also on a provision to address complaints against the media. As matters stand, according to Mr. Chavan, a committee of Ministers will prepare a new draft law and introduce it in the next session of the State Assembly.
Hearteningly, journalists in Mumbai seem determined not to let this appalling crime, and the issues arising out of it, go the way of previous attacks on journalists and media organisations and the issues they raised. Two organisations of journalists, the Mumbai Press Club and the Marathi Patrakar Parishad, and an advocate have filed public interest litigation (PIL) petitions in the High Court to press their demand for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the death of J. Dey. (A former journalist has also filed a petition in the court.) The High Court ordered the Maharashtra government to file a status report on the investigation on June 21. The advocate-petitioner, V.P. Patil, expressed the apprehension that if the investigation was not entrusted to the CBI urgently, the matter might end up as a case of “fake investigation,” very much like a fake encounter.