LAST year, 12 journalists were either murdered or killed in suspicious situations in India.
The largest democracy globally thus emerges as one of the most hazardous places for media workers on the planet after only Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
India’s troubled neighbor Pakistan lost seven professional journalists and a media student to assailants in 2017. Moreover, its other neighbours Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar) and the Maldives witnessed the murder of one scribe each in the last 12 months.
Smaller neighbours Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet (now under Chinese occupation) evaded journo-killing incidents during the period.
In some ways, India has one of the most vibrant media landscapes in the world. While elsewhere consumers are moving away from print into digital media, Indians are still buying print newspapers in the millions – and increasingly in Hindi and a variety of local languages.
The Times of India is the most widely read English language newspaper worldwide with around 5 million readers daily.
But murders of journalists, which continue unabated, are a major blight on its democratic credentials. The killing spree of media persons in India started with Hari Prakash on Jan 2 and Brajesh Kumar Singh on Jan 3.
By the end of 2017 the country had lost Shyam Sharma (May 15), Kamlesh Jain (May 31), Surender Singh Rana (July 29), Gauri Lankesh (Sep 5), Shantanu Bhowmik (Sep 20), KJ Singh (Sep 23), Rajesh Mishra (Oct 21), Sudip Datta Bhaumik (Nov 21), Naveen Gupta (Nov 30) and Rajesh Sheoran (Dec 21).
— Ranjana Smetacek (@rsmetacek) December 28, 2017
On average, the South Asian nation loses five to six journalists annually to assailants, where the perpetrators normally enjoy impunity as public responses to murders remain lukewarm.
The horrific murder of Kannada editor-journalist Gauri Lankesh at her Bangalore home, however, sparked massive protests across the country.
As the news of Gauri’s murder by unidentified gunmen spread, it immediately caught the attention of various national and international media rights organisations. The incident was outrightly condemned and people demanded action against the culprits.
Even the Communist leader and Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was also influenced by the protests. He personally joined in a rally at Agartala demanding justice over Gauri’s brutal killing, but when the young television reporter from his state fall prey to a mob violence, he chose to remain silent.
The subsequent murder of Sudip Datta, also by a state police troopers, put Sarkar in an uncomfortable position.
The otherwise popular chief minister was blamed for the fact Tripura had earlier witnessed the murder of three media employees Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh together in 2013.
Moreover, the central Indian States of Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have remained killing fields for journalists for years. Most of the cases remain unsolved legally and the victims’ families continue crying for justice against their irreparable losses.
India is ranked 136th among 180 countries in World Press Freedom Index – only just ahead of its neighbours Pakistan (139), Sri Lanka (141) and Bangladesh (146).
India’s other neighbours namely Bhutan (84), Nepal (100), Maldives (117), Afghanistan (120) and Burma (131) ensure better press freedom. Norway tops the index, where as one party dictatorship North Korea is at 180.
Pakistan lost seven journalists, whereas Bangladesh witnessed the murder of rural reporter Abdul Hakim Shimul on February 3.
Burma reported one journo-murder of Wai Yan Heinn on April 16 and Maldives drew the attention of international media with the sensational killing of Yameen Rasheed, a journalist and human rights defender on April 23.
According to various international agencies, more than 95 media persons spread in 28 countries were killed in connection with their work since the beginning of 2017.
The year also witnessed 262 journalists sent to the jails in different countries with slight improvement over 2016 when 259 media workers were imprisoned worldwide.
In 2016, India witnessed the targeted killings of six working journalists, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. The country improved its statistics in 2014 with the murders of only two scribes, but the year 2013 reported the killings of 11 journalists including three media workers in northeast India.
The vibrant Indian media fraternity observed an unusual Gandhi Jayanti on Oct 2 this year to raise voices for ensuring safety, security and justice for working journalists across the country. Different press clubs, media bodies and civil society organisations also organised various demonstrations in support of their demands.
The vulnerable media community of nation of 1.3 billion continues pursuing for a national action plan to safeguard the media workers in line with military, police and doctors who are on duty.
Their arguments are loud and clear: if the nation wants the journalists to do a risky job in the name of the public interest, their security along with justice must also be ensured.