India is not a safe place for journalists. The country ranks 136 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017, just three ranks above Pakistan. Even war-torn Afghanistan fares better at 120. Though the list selectively blames the Modi government, the fact remains that India has never been a safe place for journalists and no single party, politician or ideology can be blamed for the killings. Reporters have been killed for reporting against the mafia, politicians or Naxals. They have been killed for exposing corruption.
So while the nation debates the killing of Gauri Lankesh, it is time to remember the 21 journalists who were killed before her but whose deaths, perhaps, failed to jolt the Lutyens’ media. Not one of these journalists worked for the English media.
1. Rajesh Verma
Verma was covering the communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar when he was killed during the clashes. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh visited the family of the slain journalist.
2. Nemi Chand Jain
Killed on February 12, Jain was stabbed to death in Nama village in Sukma district. He was killed by the Naxals. His killing made Chhattisgarh journalists pass a resolution boycotting Naxals. This forced the Naxals to issue an apology for killing Jain.
3. Sai Reddy
Reddy was murdered by Naxal terrorists in Basaguda, Bijapur. He was the second journalist to be killed by Naxalites in 2013. The Naxals accused him of working with the police to dislodge them in Bastar.
4. Rakesh Sharma
5. Jitendra Singh
Singh was 43 when he was shot dead by Naxals in Murhu of Khnuti district in April 2013. The main issue was allegedly a dispute over a road construction project. Naxals didn’t want him to help in development of the area.
6. Tarun Kumar Acharya
Acharya was stabbed to death in Khallikote. He was 29. Twelve days after his murder, the police arrested P. Shyam Sundar Prusty, the owner of a cashew processing plant. According to reports, Acharya had exposed child labor practices at Prusty’s plant.
7. M.V.N. Shankar
The oil mafia was behind Shankar’s killing. He was beaten to death by “unidentified assailants” armed with iron rods. He had reported about the illegal sale of commodities, including kerosene, by the oil mafia through PDS.
8. Mithilesh Pandey
Masked men barged into Pandey’s house in Paraiya block of Kashta village in Gaya district and shot him dead. The 40-year-old was receiving death threats and had approached the police.
9. Hemant Yadav
He was shot dead by bike-borne assailants in Dheema in Chandauli. According to the police, the 40-year-old might have irked someone with his activism.
10. Ajay Vidrohi
Vidrohi was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his house in Sitamarhi district. His killing enraged the journalism fraternity in the region. Even the police was severely criticized for its lack of action.
11. Sanjay Pathak
Pathak, a part-time journalist with a local Hindi daily, was killed by two persons in Baxariya area of Faridpur. He was hit on the head by a heavy object. The killers were dragging his body when a police patrol found them. One was caught but the other managed to escape.
12. Devendra Chaturvedi
Chaturvedi was shot dead in Kannauj at his house. The attackers also shot at his son Raja, a journalist and a lawyer, but he managed to escape.
13. Akshay Singh
Singh was investigating the deaths connected to the Vyapam scam when he suddenly collapsed following an interview. He was taken to a government hospital and then to a private hospital in Dahod, Gujarat. He was declared dead on arrival. The CBI took charge of the case because of its suspicious nature.
14. Sandeep Kothari
Kothari was killed for exposing illegal mining and land-grabbing in Balaghat district. Police arrested three persons in connection to his murder. The three were connected to illegal mining and chit fund companies. They had allegedly set Kothari ablaze after kidnapping him.
15. Jagendra Singh
Singh was allegedly killed by the henchmen of SP minister Rammurti Singh Verma. He used to post against Verma’s ties to illegal mining and corruption. Before succumbing to injuries, Jagendra Singh accused some cops for dousing him in petrol and setting him on fire.
16. Karun Mishra
Mishra was shot dead in Sultanpur. The police named two mining contractors in the case. Misra was killed for reporting against illegal mining. Special police teams were formed under orders of then CM Akhilesh Yadav to probe Mishra’s killing.
17. Indradev Yadav alias Akhilesh Pratap
Police said that a dispute over contract led to the killing of Yadav. Two persons were arrested in connection with the case.
18. Rajdeo Ranjan
Ranjan was killed in Siwan by gangsters in May. He wrote against former RJD MP Mohammad Shahabuddin, a criminal turned politician. According to Ranjan’s wife, he was seventh on Shahabuddin’s hit list. Ranjan’s murder is being probed by the CBI.
19. Kishore Dave
Dave was allegedly killed because of personal enmity. Three people, including Dave’s partner in a travel business, were arrested by the police.
20. Dharmendra Singh
Unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants shot and killed 35-year-old Singh in Amra Talab in Rohtas. The police connected his killing to his reporting against the stone mafia.
21. Kamlesh Jain
Jain wrote against the liquor mafia. He was shot in Pipliyamandi. Police investigation later concluded that he was killed because of personal enmity allegedly by the brother of a woman Jain wanted to marry.
It is not that the killing of Gauri Lankesh has made India an unsafe place for journalists; it has always been an unsafe place. And journalism fraternity should learn to condemn every killing equally be it someone from the English media or the local dailies.