Jagendra Singh, the social media journalist who was burnt to death over his reports against a Uttar Pradesh minister, used Facebook to report about issues nobody bothered about and pushed authorities to provide solutions.
Singh, based out of Shahjahanpur, was burnt to death allegedly by a gang of goons and policemen earlier in June. The family is now demanding a CBI inquiry into the matter.
Before his death, Jagendra used to manage and post through two Facebook profiles - Jagendra Singh and Shahjahanpur Samachar - each of which has around 5,000 friends. He also sold his reports to 10-odd newspapers in Uttar Pradesh on a freelance basis.
Jagendra mostly wrote about Shahjahanpur in Bareilly district and adjacent areas on Facebook. His posts talked about local crimes, civic issues, politicians and their activities, and examinations in local schools. They were often accompanied by photographs which he had clicked himself.
In one of his posts, he wrote about how garbage had heaped up on a road in a nearby village, disrupting normal life. In another, he talked how children troubling an old man selling balloons in the locality had led to a gun-battle. He also focused on local success stories – children excelling in academics or extra-curricular activities.
Some of his posts were about the state's minister for dairy development and a leader of the ruling Samajwadi Party, Ram Murti Verma. In his posts, Jagendra had levelled allegations against Verma, including one that he and four of his men had raped an anganwadi worker and another that he had illegally amassed assets worth crores of rupees. He, however, did not give any evidence to back up his allegations.
Before succumbing to his injuries, Jagendra had accused Verma of ordering goons to kill him. Verma has already been charged with murder, along with 9 others, including 4 policemen.
Though Jagendra substantiated some of his reports with documents to prove his allegations, critics say many were without any proof and raise questions as to whether such journalism is fair.
How Jagendra started off as an online journalist
Rahul Singh, Jagendra's son, said that after getting acquainted with Facebook, his father always toyed with the idea of using the platform for society's benefits and spreading awareness.
"Papa used to say that in a newspaper you get the news only the next day but on the internet its real time and thus the impact can be far-reaching," said Rahul.
Jagendra's long-time associate and fellow journalist Avnish Mishra, who now works for a local newspaper called Swatantra Bharat, told Hindustan Times that when Hindu-Muslim riots had broken out in Bareilly in 2012, Jagendra was a crime reporter with Swatantra Bharat.
Jagendra had witnessed the violence and discussed means to spread harmony between the fighting communities with his friends.
"Then he came up with the idea of using social media platforms like Facebook. He made a profile called 'Aman Pasand' and started posting about communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims," said Mishra.
"From then on, the idea of using the internet to convey his news and message had attracted Jagendra. And gradually he became a popular figure with many people on his friend's list and many likes on his posts."
Mishra said as Jagendra's popularity increased on Facebook, authorities and MLAs too befriended him on the platform. A scroll through his friend's list by HT confirmed the claim.
"Many a times, after Jagendra reported something, authorities got the clue [about issues] from his post and then took action," he said.
To serve people
Rahul said his father used to earn around Rs. 6000-7000 a month as a freelance reporter and the family could never rely on his income solely.
"He never had any intention to earn from his reportage. We kept telling him to concentrate on earning, but he simply didn't listen," he said.
According to Rahul, mainstream newspapers often avoided publishing some of his reports owing to political pressure. But Jagendra had always been free to publish what he felt was right, without caring for repercussions.
"He used to say he was more concerned with serving the people and delivering fearless news," he said.