Death of a journalist

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:53 pm IST

Published - June 26, 2015 02:03 am IST

The >death of Shahjahanpur-based freelance journalist Jagendra Singh of burn injuries earlier this month, continues to raise questions. And, instead of inspiring confidence that it would ensure a fair and impartial probe into the death, the Akhilesh Yadav government is focussing its energies on limiting the political damage from the allegations of the involvement of State Minister >Ram Murti Verma in the case. First, the government was slow to act after footage emerged of a seriously injured Jagendra Singh saying the Minister and his “goons” could have beaten him up instead of burning him. Next, the government offered a > financial compensation of Rs.30 lakh, and promised jobs to his two sons. Now, efforts seem to be under way to treat the death as a case of self-immolation. A >forensic report opened up the possibility of attempted suicide, on the ground that the right-handed Jagendra Singh had suffered more wounds on his left side than on his right side. For the police to give credence to such a possibility ignoring his dying declaration would be a travesty of justice. Whether or not the Minister or his associates were directly connected with the death will have to be a matter for further investigation, but there is no doubt that the journalist was attempting to expose the reported links of the Minister to illegal mining activities, with the aid of posts on the social networking site Facebook, and through litigation. Any investigation would necessarily have to look into these aspects.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav might be tempted to see his Samajwadi Party and the government as victims of trial by media, but his own actions have done little to help matters. Instead of being seen to be firmly on the side of the victim, the government came through as being bent on protecting the Minister. The proper course would have been to drop him from the Cabinet till the completion of the investigation. The offer of compensation was clearly a political move, after days of bad publicity and a dharna by the victim’s family members. If the leaked preliminary forensic report is any indication, the promised impartial probe into Jagendra Singh’s death is unlikely to happen. Despite the filing of a >first information report naming the Minister, the police are yet to act against him. Jagendra Singh’s death is a reminder of the perils that confront investigative journalists, especially those who take on the rich and the powerful. If the Uttar Pradesh government fails to act decisively in this case, the suspicion that it has a lot to hide will strengthen. It will also adversely affect freedom of expression. Issues far greater than the reputation of the Akhilesh Yadav government are at stake in this case.

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