India runs on five democratic principles: sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic and republic. Well, it’s constitutionally sound. But, do they hold any connotation or give voice to the group that broadcast India ‘most democratically’? Representing India in its truest form is a disguised way of crossing the ‘No Entry’ zone, quite literally. In the past three years, the killing of journalists shook the country and brought the journalistic fraternity in India to demand their safety.
Let’s go through an anecdote. “If they wanted to arrest me, they could have done just that. Why did they have to beat me and set me on fire.” – Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist who was burnt to death in Shahjahanpur in 2015 in his statement from his deathbed.
On June 8, 2015, Jagendra Singh succumbed to burn injuries at his home in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. In his last video-recorded statement to the local administration, Singh, lying on a stretcher with burns on his face and body, accused the local police and a politician’s henchmen of the attack. The journalist accused Ram Murti Singh Verma, a member of the then ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), for targeting and threatening him for revealing his alleged involvement in cases of land encroachment and corruption. After widespread outrage, condemnations and incessant coverage around the threats to journalists in India, the news gaze gradually moved on to other stories. Singh’s case was closed without any convictions. Singh’s sons submitted an affidavit in court saying that their father had immolated himself. Later, a key witness walked away from the truth unabashedly and termed the murder a ‘suicide.’ That’s just one case. One journalist. One family. What’s the reality? Lakhs of cases. Lakhs of affected journalists. Lakhs of affected families.
Statistically, India ranked 14th on the Global Impunity Index with 18 murders of journalists with impunity from 2008 to 2018. The extensive list maintained by the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), shows that 75 journalists (and media workers) have been killed in India since 1992 – with 44 killed with confirmed motives. Many of the stories of attacks on journalistic fraternity are an example of how a journalist writing about politics and corruption in India, outside the context of war reporting or ruling party’s propaganda, is confronted with fatal consequences. It is often believed that democratic political systems should be able to provide a safer working environment to journalists, but it has been argued that the more democratic a country is, the more is the likelihood of journalists being killed, whereas less democratic regimes reduce the odds. (Irony decoded?!)
Pankaj Pachauri (Go News representative) was quoted saying, “We are in a serious crisis because in a democracy as vast as complex as India’s, media is losing its strength. Agriculture, employment, education and environment form just one percent of the news content. The rest is politics, sports, crime, and entertainment.” Indian media channels, who are supposed, to tell the truth about the people in power, are actually busy catching eyeballs by inviting the same people to their countless award functions. No wonder how multi-national corporations actually grow their market value through their large user-base in India and have no concern with the meagre revenue generated from the country none whatsoever.
The truth being said: The ruthless murders of journalists are symptomatic of a larger problem of silencing journalists. Media is being heavily censored by the government and their access to official events restricted. Furthermore, there is a significant rise in internet shutdowns across the country, increasing to 77 in 2017 against 31 in 2016. It is one problem connecting arms to give rise to future problems.
Demands for a law to protect journalists have been cropping up in different parts of the country from time to time. Democracy allows for and encourages increased investigative reporting, which, in turn, can get journalists killed. Alternatively, journalists are not at as great a risk for murder in autocracies not because autocracies make them “safer” but because there are fewer incentives or opportunities for them to pursue stories that would put them in ‘mortal danger.’