It is well known that journalists (and citizen journalists) in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka face huge safety challenges. India may not be as dangerous as its neighbours for journalists, but we are not lagging too far behind. In fact, let’s expand this a bit: The country is becoming increasingly unsafe for those who dare to speak out against the ‘majority view’, which, at times, is a manufactured one. The State action against students in Jawaharlal Nehru University for their pro-Afzal Guru sloganeering and the sedition charges against a student leader is a case in point. The indications of this churn have been evident from some time in social media. Journalists or, for that matter, any citizen who says something unpopular is pilloried mercilessly; some journalists have even got death threats from ‘nationalists’.
In the last few months, there have been several instances where journalists have been intimidated by the State or those with links to it. Late last week, the bureau chief of a Hindi daily was shot in Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur district by unknown assailants. This comes a few days after two TV journalists were heckled and abused for questioning a local politician on his role in the death of a young boy. In Chhattisgarh, journalist Malini Subramaniam’s home was attacked recently after she wrote on the state of development in the Maoist-hit Bastar region. In the same state, two tribal journalists — Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav — have been in jail since last year. While Mr Nag has been charged under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Arms Act, Mr Yadav has been charged under the IPC, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act. Journalists have demanded that the state government should produce evidence against their two colleagues, or release them. If this is the state of affairs in ‘mainland’ India, can we expect any better in the insurgency-hit North-East? In October, five editors in Nagaland were asked by the Assam Rifles to desist from covering the NSCN-K, a terror organisation. On November 26, three newspapers carried blank editorials to protest the order. According to Reporters Without Borders, nine reporters lost their lives in 2015 in India.
While the deaths are shameful, they don’t reveal the extent of daily pressures that reporters face, especially if they are at non-metro locations. By attacking the messengers, the State is only doing a disservice to itself: Remember Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes?