It was nothing but the Facebook posts of the Shahjahanpur-based social-media journalist Jagendra Singh — highlighting cases of alleged corruption, illegal mining and land mafia related to Uttar Pradesh Backward Classes Welfare Minister Ram Murti Verma — that cost him his life. He was set on fire by local policemen allegedly at the behest of the Minister.
Jagendra was not a journalist in the traditional sense of the term. He used to write, in what can best be qualified as social-media journalism, on a Facebook page called “Shahjahanpur Samachar”, which used to serve as a hyper local news page for the town.
With nearly 5,000 followers, the page had become a source for the local newspapers to get leads and do follow-up stories. It was all fine as long as Jagendra posted reports about general crime, accidents and heritage of the city. The problem arose when he started writing about allegations of land encroachment, illegal mining and cases of alleged corruption against Mr. Verma.
These were reports which are said to have tested the patience of Mr. Verma after which he allegedly sent the policemen after him. He was torched on June 1. Just a day before that, Jagendra, in one of his reports, questioned the huge landholdings of the Minister.
“From where did Minister of State Ram Murti get property worth millions,” questioned the headline of a report published on “Shahjahanpur Samachar.”
“It has been three years since Murti became a Minister, but his works for the common people are open facts. But [the] noticeable development is that the Minister has collected property worth millions during this period,” the report said.
Another FB post highlighted rape charges against Minister
Another important story on the social media page of Jagendra Singh was about allegations of gang rape against Ram Murti Verma by an anganwadi worker. Jagendra’s report claimed that the worker was being threatened by the police at the behest of the Minister to drop the charges.
The report also of the same day is titled, “SP leaders come together to save rapists.” Strongly irreverent in tone, the report made fun of what the supremo of the ruling party, Mulayam Singh, had said about young boys making mistakes with regard to the issue of rape. Jagendra asked if the SP supremo would now say that “Old people [Minister Verma] also make mistakes.”
Interestingly, allegations of rape against the Minister were already in the public domain and reported by the leading Hindi dailies of the State. Jagendra was not writing something on his own.
In another report, he alleged that the Minister was behind the illegal sand mining business in the Garga river, which he claimed was being deliberately ignored by the officials.
It was after reports like these that Jagendra was attacked in which his leg was broken. According to his post, he met the district officials asking for protection. Ironically, in response to his plea for security, police registered two cases of attempt to murder, kidnapping and looting against him. Jagendra claimed it was done on the Minister’s orders.
“How could I commit all these serious crimes while I had a broken leg,” he wrote on his Facebook page after which on May 22 he also announced that he might be killed by the Minister.
“Ram Murti Verma can have me killed. At this time, politicians, thugs, and police, all are after me. Writing about the truth has gone against my life,” Jagendra, in his late forties, wrote on his Facebook profile.
Till now, the Minister, named as an accused in the journalist murder case, has not been arrested. There have also been growing demands for his dismissal.