Scribes in India: Falling victim of pandemic, violence

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By: Nava Thakuria

Critical journalism remains a dangerous profession and Indian scribes are habituated with various forms of vulnerability like physical, professional or medical emergencies. The vast country loses a number of professional journalists to assailants every year. On the other hand, a large section of scribes routinely face retrenchments, arbitrary redundancy and humiliation in their workplaces. As the media fraternity has largely lost its credibility and earned brickbats from the mass, the Covid-19 pandemic emerged as a severe health hazard to the community.

For records, India loses more media persons to the novel corona virus infection aggravated ailments than physical eliminations in violence till date since January 2020. Thousands of journalists are now infected with the new-found virus as they were playing the role of corona-warriors along with the practicing doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, police personnel etc. Casualties within the media fraternity because of Covid-19 complications across the country now start mounting every alternate day.

Lately the country lost five prominent journalists to Covid-19 within ten days. The latest victim has surfaced from Agra near New Delhi where senior journalist Ami Adhar Nidar (50) died of the virus infection at Medanta hospital in Gurugram on 19 September, 2020. Associated with the highly circulated Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagaran, the popular journalist was hospitalized few days back after he tested positive for Covid-19.  He left behind his wife, one son and one daughter with other relatives.

On the previous day, Anil Srivastava (68) from Basti in Jammu locality succumbed to Covid-19 complications. Worked for the United News of India for many years, Srivastava died at Basti medical college hospital, who survived by his wife, two sons and other relatives. On 18 September itself, a Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) based journalists Harish Choubey (60), who worked for another widely circulated Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar from, died in the hospital after testing positive for the virus infection.

Similarly, Abohar (Punjab) based journalist Naresh Bajaj (57) succumbed to Covid-19 complications on 10 September. Worked as a correspondent to Sach Kahoon, a newspaper published from Sirsa, Bajaj was also very active as a social worker too.  Ravinder Kumar (30) from Una locality in Himachal Pradesh, who worked for Dainik Jagaran, was sent to the hospital after developing symptoms of Covid-19. But he died on the way on 9 September. Kumar, who left behind his parents, wife and a brother, was cremated following Covid-19 protocols.

Lately, Assam in northeast India, also witnessed two Covid-19 journo-victims as Udalguri based correspondent Dhaneswar Rabha (35) breathed his last at Guwahati medical college hospital on 6 September. Rabha is the first scribe in the region to succumb to Covid-19 complications, who was otherwise suffering from renal problems and went for regular dialysis. The soft-spoken reporter left behind his parents, wife, two kids, and a host of relatives. Next day, senior journalist Ashim Dutta passed away at   Silchar medical college hospital. Dutta (65), who worked for a Bengali daily in Barak valley, was also suffering from kidney problems. He was admitted to the hospital after testing positive for Covid-19. A pass-out from Gauhati University, Dutta left behind his wife, only daughter and other relatives. Weeks back, Mumbai based senior film-journalist Shyam Sarma, Nellore (Andhra Pradesh) based scribe Narayanam Seshacharyulu, Pune based television reporter  Pandurang Raikar, Kanpur based television journalist  Neelanshu Shukla, Patiala based photojournalist  Jai Deep, Tirupati based  television reporter Madhusudan Reddy & video journalist M Parthasarathy succumbed to the infections.

The list also includes television reporter Ramanathan & news videographer E Velmurugan from Chennai, news presenter Davinder Pal Singh from Chandigarh, television scribe Manoj Kumar from Hyderabad, print-journalist Pankaj Kulashrestha from Agra, Orissa’s journalists Simanchal Panda, K Ch Ratnam & Priyadarshi Patnaik, etc. Kolkata based photojournalist Ronny Roy became the first Indian scribe to lose his battle against the dreaded virus. New Delhi scribe Tarun Sisodia killed himself undergoing Covid-19 treatment at AIIMS. Maharashtra’s veteran journalist Ashok Churi, who edited Marathi weekly Palghar Times, died at a Palghar based hospital, who later tested positive for Covid-19. The printer-publisher of Asomiya Khabar (Rantu Das) also died at a Guwahati hospital and later tested positive for the virus infection.

Meanwhile, the robust Indian media fraternity witnessed the murder of seven journalists in separate incidents this year. The last depressing news broke from Uttar Pradesh, where television journalist Ratan Singh was killed by his neighbours. Singh (45), who used to work for Hindi news channel SaharSamay from Phephna, Ballia locality was targeted on the night of 24 August.  UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced Rs 10 lakh as ex-gratia and the police promptly arrested few suspected individuals.

Prior to it, a young Assamese scribe was murdered on 8 August at his rented office in Tinsukia town of eastern Assam. Bijendeep Tanti (32), who was associated with a private channel (News Time Assam), ran a Facebook portal Din Pratidin Northeast simultaneously. The young reporter hailing from tea-plantation families was found lying dead with severe injuries on his neck. The police have arrested the prime accused in the murder and the lady reportedly confessed the crime.

Earlier Madhya Pradesh journalist Sunil Tiwari (35), who worked for a Gwalior-based Hindi newspaper, was beaten, stabbed and shot to death in Niwari locality.  Tiwari was returning home in the evening hours of 22 July, when he was attacked by a group of criminals. The police arrested few individuals suspecting their role in the murder, against whose illogical activities Tiwari continuously raised voices through a number of newspaper articles. Same day, UP journalist Vikram Joshi (45) succumbed to his injuries in a Ghaziabad hospital. Joshi, who worked for local newspaper JanSagar Today,  was attacked on 20 July  by a group of goons and shot at him in front of his two minor daughters  as he had lodged a police complaint against some local criminals who were involved in various incidents of eve-teasing. The police arrested nine persons suspecting their physical involvement in the murder.

Months back, a digital channel reporter of Andhra Pradesh was murdered at Nandigama locality on 29 June. Ganta Naveen (27) developed enmity with some influential persons in his locality and they are suspected to organized the crime. The police arrested eight accused individuals in connection with the murder. Another news portal reporter from Orissa (Aditya Kumar Ransingh, 40) was killed on 16 February in Banki locality. The police arrested two criminals involved with Ransingh’s murder, with whom he maintained bitter relationships. The brutal murder of brave reporter Shubham Mani Tripathi from UP shocked the media society as he continued to report against illegal sand miners even after receiving death-threats from unknown individuals. Tripathi (25), a born patriot who worked for Kanpur-based Hindi daily Kampu Mail, was shot dead in Brahmanagar, Unnao locality on 19 June by two shooters as he was returning home on a two-wheeler. The police arrested three individuals suspecting their role in the killing.

The pandemic has however r crashed the mainstream media industry in the country. Worried owners have already stopped publishing hundreds of physical newspapers and those surviving managements closed down their editions in different localities, reduced the number of pages, went to cut salaries and even laid off employees including senior journalists citing the reason of shrinking advertisement revenues.

Only a few editors could raise voices against the arbitrary retrenchments of managements and the rest continues to carry on with humiliations in work places. When hundreds of journalists in Guwahati too turned positive for Covid-19, the concerned newspapers, news channels and news portals tried to avoid making news out of the development. Some infected media persons however made personal revelations in social media. Various organizations including Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA) criticized the media outlets for their selective reporting over the issue arguing that when they continue identifying other Covid-19 patients by name and photographs, but remain silent collectively when their employees turn positive.

What is amazing that Assam (read State health minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma), unlike the other Indian provinces, used to name all individuals who turned Covid-19 positive and the local media outlets used the entire information. The logic behind it was that one should be publicly named & photographed after testing positive for Covid-19 to make others who came in contact with the concerned individual in the last few days for necessary pre-cautions. It was termed as a social responsibly as the concerned group of people could take it as a caveat and go for necessary screenings.

But shockingly when the scribes and media workers tested positive for Covid-19, no media outlets made revelations that their employees were also infected by the virus. But what would have been wrong, if the editors could name their employees as corona-warriors as social responsibilities! After all, testing positive for Covid-19 by anyone is quite a normal phenomenon (and no way it’s a crime or a matter of shame). Rather, the editors should (could) have done it as a pride citing their employees got infected by the new-found virus while working in the pandemic.

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