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Small town journalists are more vulnerable to violence

Those discussing Gauri Lankesh’s murder in TV studios are oblivious to the enormous challenges that journalists in small towns face

columns Updated: Sep 17, 2017 17:51 IST
People attend a protest in New Delhi against the killing of Gauri Lankesh, a senior Indian journalist who, according to police, was shot dead outside her home on Tuesday by unidentified assailants in the southern city of Bengaluru, India, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
People attend a protest in New Delhi against the killing of Gauri Lankesh, a senior Indian journalist who, according to police, was shot dead outside her home on Tuesday by unidentified assailants in the southern city of Bengaluru, India, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton(REUTERS)

We are living in a unique era when the hunter has become the hunted and the audience itself becomes a spectacle. In these days of ideological haze, Indian society needs to do some deep introspection because the mistakes of a few moments can lead to punishment for centuries.

Let me begin with discussing Gauri Lankesh.

If I so desired, I could have written on this subject last week but I consciously kept silent. I wanted to see the conspiracy theories that were being spun over the murder of an intellectual reach a logical conclusion, but that did not happen. Even now, bizarre discussions are being carried out on the idiot box ( as someone coined it so beautifully). The collective agony over the murder of a journalist was transformed into a battle for ideological supremacy. Not just journalists, even thinkers, writers and actors were dragged into this cesspool. Who said Indians need the battlefield of Kurukshetra to accomplish a Mahabharat?

At one time Charlie Chaplin had said: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in a long shot.” Today, when people have themselves shed their masks, the reality of their internal dilemmas has been revealed. Those who keep announcing the death of truth in the world must be guffawing loudly.

No matter what she wrote, ate or spoke, Gauri Lankesh shouldn’t have been killed. If our journalists, writers and intellectuals are murdered, how will Indians stand out from other barbaric nationalities? That’s why lakhs of people like me, who hadn’t heard of Gauri before the tragedy, are in anguish. But this doesn’t mean that we begin acting like judges and delivering our own verdicts. In a healthy democracy, probe agencies should be given the time to investigate. Creating unnecessary noise puts them under enormous psychological pressure. Why don’t those holding forth on TV and social media not realise this irony: The rationale behind their outrage is as antithetical to the spirit of the Constitution as the acts of violence themselves?

It is also important to know that Gauri Lankesh was associated with a certain ideology. That’s one of the reasons why so many people congregated to mourn her murder. How about other journalists who are silently doing their job with objectivity? They don’t live in the safe environment of big cities. They can be killed but not intimidated. Our colleague Rajdev Ranjan was one of these. A little more than a year ago, he was murdered in a busy market while returning home from Hindustan’s Siwan office.

It was a tragic moment for us. The body of our young colleague was lying in the hospital. We had to pull his two minor children and his wife out of the whirlpool of misfortune they were caught in. The killers had to be brought to justice. Apart from all this, we had to bring out a newspaper the next day. We knew that the mafia that had killed Rajdev would attempt to deflect attention from the murder by trying to character assassinate him. So his colleagues at Hindustan decided that they won’t let his death become a public spectacle.

That is the reason why his killers are in prison today. Rajdev’s wife Ashadevi Ranjan teaches in a village and the responsibility of ensuring that his children are educated at a safe place is being carried out by Hindustan Media Ventures Limited. It is true that the Bihar Police didn’t leave any stone unturned and the CBI filed a chargesheet. But if the government wanted, it could have made Ashadev’s employment permanent. She could have been given monetary assistance. But that is the misfortune of regional journalism. Those shouting themselves hoarse on TV in Delhi and Mumbai fail to recognise their challenges. They keep silent on this even as more than 99% of journalists who become victims of such violence come from small towns.

Why are those of us who believe in raising our voices selective in our outrage?

The issue isn’t just about journalists. When a child was killed in Gurgaon’s Ryan International School, the issue shook both Delhi and Mumbai. The very next day a five-year-old girl in east Delhi was raped by a security guard in a not-so-high-profile school and there was no similar outrage. Those creating noise are ensconced in their cocoons. The noise makers have forgotten that the victim was one of their own.

Most of these social media warriors belong to the same walk of life as the unfortunate victims. Why don’t they understand that by beating these virtual drums, they are driving the prey towards danger in the human jungle?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan

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