Indian journalist burnt alive: The price of doing your job right

Published: June 12, 2015
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Jagendra Singh (left) and Ram Verma (right)

Life – that’s the price one may have to pay for doing one’s job the way it is supposed to be done.

On May 5th, a female aganwadi (children’s play group) worker was gang raped in India’s Uttar Pradesh. The woman had pleaded with the court to register an FIR against the accused minister, Ram Murti Verma. That is when a Shahjahanpur-based journalist, Jagendra Singh, decided to highlight the gory incident and did whatever he could to get the story of the rape victim across.

India is ranked 13th on the Committee to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) Annual Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. India has repeatedly failed to advance justice in the cases of journalists working for local print publications that have been slain in connection to their reporting on corruption, politics, or crime, the CPJ research shows.

Realising the power of social media, he used Facebook to constantly create room for justice to be provided to the poor woman and to punish the criminals, which included the minister. Singh proved to be successful in doing so, but in the process, he paid the heaviest price possible. It cost him his life.

On June 1st, a group of police officers and goons burnt him alive.

An FIR has now been registered against the minister and four others with charges of murder, intent to provoke breach of peace, criminal intimidation, and criminal conspiracy.

Singh has been a loud critic of politics and current affairs in Hindi language newspapers and on his two Facebook public pages, which have more than 4,000 followers combined. English and Hindi-language news reports did not specify what newspapers he had written for. His son said that Singh posted news stories on Facebook based on information he obtained through India’s Right to Information law and other sources, according to The Indian Express.

Singh was openly critical about Verma, alleging that he was involved in illegal mining and land grabs, the reports said. In a May 31st Facebook post, along with an accompanying photo of Verma, the journalist alleged that the minister was involved in the gang-rape of a local woman. In another post, a day earlier, Singh questioned the land holdings amassed by the minister.

Photo: Facebook page

In a Facebook post on May 22nd, Singh wrote,

“Ram Murti Singh Verma can have me killed. At this time, politician, thugs, and police, all are after me. Writing the truth is bearing heavily on my life. After exposing some of Ram Murti Verma’s acts, he had me attacked…”

Photo: Facebook page

Singh shouldn’t have needed to give up his life before the world could see the real faces of the minister and police officers, but it’s a grim reality in this part of the world.

Singh’s murder highlights the problems with the sluggish justice system and also sheds light on how dangerous it has become for journalists to bring forward problems and wrongdoings, when instead it should be easy and convenient in the presence of all the technology that is available to newsmen today.

The tragedy is not only that of the Indian journalist. Without going into much detail, I can tell you that many journalists in Pakistan have had to pay the same heavy price for not giving up on what their profession demands of them; speaking the truth.

I have attended seminars and even hosted discussions on how to deal with this problem. A lot is often said about the responsibility that lies with journalists’ organisations, regulatory bodies, and even governments for ensuring a safe working environment, but I’m afraid unless enough courage is mustered up to face the truth, the truth will continue to be suppressed in this cowardly way.

Journalists too, should always keep in mind the adage; no story is worth your life.

But do we take notice, or have we started blaming the journalist for crossing the red line out of helplessness?

It’s good to see though how Amnesty International India is speaking up about the incident and demanding the Utter Pradesh government to set up a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into the alleged extrajudicial execution of a journalist by the state police. Again, I am neither hopeful nor sure if an investigation of this kind demanded by Amnesty International will materialise.

The unfair killing of Jagendra Singh once again goes to highlight the perilous professional path that journalists tread on. It is important to punish criminals, for if we fail to do so, we will be sending out a message to the barbarians that they are free to operate with impunity and free to continue to silence voices they cannot bear to hear.

What happened to Singh is heart-breaking, but incidents such as these have never succeeded in discouraging journalists from doing their job. Wherever they might be, they continue to bring forward the injustices prevalent in the world today, and they do that with a great sense of pride.

Professionals such as Jagendra Singh are the hope that we all need.

waqas.rafique

Waqas Rafique

An Islamabad based journalist who was a former employee of Express News. He tweets @waqasrafique (twitter.com/waqasrafique)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    When you hear or read that India is the Rape Capital of the world, believe
    it. Every word is true. Even ministers are involved in this nefarious activity.
    That’s India for you. Supposedly only women are forced to jump on
    their husbands funeral pyres and Muslim villages are burnt, as policy. Mizoram,
    Imphal, Kohima, are examples.. Now journalist are being burnt alive, regularly.
    What else can you expect from a civilization that is ‘claimed’ to be
    6000 years old. A country here widows are burnt to death. Where girls are
    killed at birth. Rape is the order of the day. Mobs and gangs hunt for Muslims/Christians….Recommend

  • wb

    This happens because Indian police is too politicized and too corrupt.

    Most people will never go to the police unless something horrible like a murder and rape has happened. Indian police is extremely extremely corrupt and EVERY SINGLE appointment over the level of a Sub Inspector is political. The price of bribe ranges between a few lakhs to a few crores to get appointed a Sub Inspector or an Inspector and above in India. The price depends upon the area of the city of town.

    This is the main reason why impunity exists so much in India.

    Also, most of these police officers are fundamentally rowdies themselves. Rowdies with uniform and paid by the government.

    And surprisingly, out of 40 odd states, except for Kejriwal, no one else even made police reforms an agenda for elections.

    Shows what conditions we live in.Recommend

  • wb

    I love you so much, man! When we have to break up Pakistan again, like in 1971, you’re our biggest ally. Keep up the good work.

    Recommend

  • Headstrong

    I’m really curious – when you wake up every day, do you switch on your hate, or does it build up gradually through the day? Do let us know…Recommend

  • wb

    30 odd states, not 40.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    “Mobs and gangs hunt for Muslims/Christians….”
    :-). Good one.Recommend

  • Rajesh Mehta

    Act being deplorable has to be condemned in strongest of language as it challenges the principle of free press one of the pillars of any functioning democracy

    Having said that, the condition of press and free speech is far more grave in Pakistan if one goes by objective unbiased report( and of course China has no freedom of speech )

    Let me highlight some of those events to underscore my point considering memories of those events are usually short lived in this region

    1) In 2011,Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency was involved in the killing last month of Saleem Shahzad, a leading investigative journalist who had written scathing reports about militants infiltrating the country’s army.

    2) Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, has paid the price in death threats and a life in exile for writing something which wasnt palatable to Pak army

    3) One reporter Waqas A Khan, a bureau chief for The Nation and Daily Pakistan Observer, reports on Christians, Shias and others under attack in Pakistan. His wife urges him to pull back. “But,” he asks, “how can I stop writing when my country is on the edge of disaster because of religious extremism?”

    4) two journalists, Irshad Mastoi, the Bureau Chief of the Online news agency and assignment editor of ARY, Mastoi’s reporter Ghulam Rasool and accountant Muhammad Younas were killed by unidentified armed militants.

    Basically,Over the years, dozens of Pakistani journalists have been abducted, tortured and murdered in the name of religion. Many have gone into hiding or fled the country to escape fanatics who label them infidels and apostates.

    Prominent television personality Raza Rumi of Lahore was warned he would “pay a price with his blood” for reporting on the persecution of religious minorities and condemning Pakistan’s flawed blasphemy laws.

    As he rode home March 28, 2014, a hail of bullets killed his driver and wounded a bodyguard. After surviving the ambush, he fled to America

    For years, the Committee to Protect Journalists has listed Pakistan among the most dangerous countries for the news media.

    Anyone who is unbiased would conclude its far more lethal to report in fair manner in Pakistan unless one toes the line of religious bigots or the armyRecommend

  • wb

    Don’t discourage him. We need more and more people like him in Pakistan for another 1971 to happen.Recommend

  • seismann

    what you expect of a ghorgahst;he lives among the dead,so brain-dead;gory !isn’t it?Recommend

  • Yogesh Pawar

    Well articulated, argued and finely nuanced. One can’t but agree with Waqas’ blog. This is the price one has to pay for being a journalist anywhere in South Asia… One only hopes more such voices emerge so that authorities in the region are shamed into taking corrective action..Recommend

  • Lakhkar Khan

    WB,

    1971 was 35 years ago. You and your radical prime minister are
    still stuck in time and celebrating dirty achievement of the past by breaking a
    country into 2 pieces. Geographical disadvantage played a big role in that war.
    Pakistan is 10 times smaller country by size but its nukes are as powerful as
    yours if not more. Don’t fool yourself and don’t get jealous if Pakistani
    economy is getting better and its allies don’t want to build relationship with
    India like has with Pakistan.

    Pakistan is a survival. We are not afraid of the rhetoric of
    radical Hindus like Modi. Modi is nothing but a radical racist Hindu troll who
    is responsible for starting riots against it own Indian minorities.Recommend

  • Ranjan

    Lol, society and security is so bad in India. Even after that, India is the most growing economy in the world. Muslim population is increasing in percentage of the whole population, and no one is afraid to come to India, whether be it ANY cricket team or journalist from any other country!Recommend

  • Kolsat

    Indian politicians like those in third-world countries are power drunk which causes them to behave cruelly towards anyone they oppose or dislike. This UP minister Ram Verma even looks like a felon. Indian state of UP is ruled by dynasty of goondas whose patriarch Mulayam said when talking about rapes in his state two years ago that we should not be harsh on the rapists because boys will be boys. Yadavs have this mentality so what can you expect from this Verma guy. He should be castrated Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    Thank you so much for the kind words. Appreciated.
    Thanks again, proves the points…..in triplicate!
    May Hanuman, Ganesha, [elephnt headed one?] and
    Kali Mata watch over you. Hail Hinduland !Recommend

  • IBN E ASHFAQ

    It is so sad that both Pakistan and India have completely rotten Police structures and the problem is leadership that in both the countries comes through a so called democratic process. I think that other options need to be looked into for selecting leadership that is free of rape and corruption.Recommend

  • Raghu Reddy

    what nonsense . No nation could survive if all its Inspectors are rowdies. This is one case and yes police and law will see to bring culprits to death.Recommend

  • Raghu Reddy

    Its case of mafia. As if it doesnt exist in Karachi and rape doesnt happen there.Its just that they women raped are married as 4th wives. We know it all.Dont worry. As pak becomes more peaceful, a lot will be known.Recommend

  • Raghu Reddy

    You are ridiculous. Modi is only speaking truth. Dont get jealous of Indians if Pak econom is increasing. We give a damn really damn to Pak. We only come here to tell you stop terrorism and be a godd guy. You can continue Kashmir struggle peacefully. No worries. Until then lets trade, be good neighbors only after Pak stops sending terrorists. Until then, LISTEN TO MODI.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Just bother about your own country..your media and you people dream to much.As we Indian see it ,pakistan is no democracy and it has no political structure ..get this straightRecommend

  • abhi

    You don’t expect any better from a SP government. It is pathetic that they win election because of Vote bank politics.Recommend

  • jyotir

    Do you know in Indian state like Up and bihar have very higher records in crime and rape..become Muslims are majority in those areas and they give vote based on religion basis not on devlopement..thats why in Up mulayam singh,azam khan rules whereas in bihar Lulu rules.. Check out their Muslim vote sharing % every year…Recommend

  • fze

    Man, you are incredible. Look what you have done. You have switched on the hate maters of people like wb, jyotir, Raghu Reddy and Rangan. I can’t stop laughing. You made my day. Thank you. They have all fallen into your trap. Ha.ha.ha…Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    You figured it out ! Oh, well.
    [ It’s a free service provided to Paks…only. Since they are
    the underdog. Battling 1.8 billion ‘friendly’ neighbors.]Recommend

  • Rajiv

    you know too much about India dear Honourable sir.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Pakistan is a survival

    yep ….barely …..surviving

    We are not afraid of the rhetoric of radical Hindus like Modi
    neither are we….hey good ……atleast we have 1 thing in common.
    :)Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Why do you think gang hunt for Muslims/Christians is good for them?Recommend

  • Your Gay Friend

    gul, you are becoming more and more incoherent day by day. Recommend

  • Abdul

    LOL With this kind of ‘General knowledge’ no doubt Pakistan is poised for higher things.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    I didn’t say that. you did.Recommend

  • human juice recyclers

    Gul Zaman is absolutely correct. Too much drinking ur/ne affected their brain I suppose. The 1971 war was a geographical disadvantage for Pakistan since 1947 which was used by Indians using dirty tricks to separate from Pak. Hindu terrorists are still in Pakistan trying to make a rift and repeat 1971 among ethnic groups but they are being arrested everyday.

    The real reason for this hate against Pakistan is these Hindus are jealous because Muslims invaded India many many
    times and kept them on a short leash for over 800 years. Now, a small
    Muslim country can turn the almighty India into a glass parking lot in a
    few minutes

    These people couldn’t even contain a small group of 7 kashmiri freedom fighters crossed into Bombay. Their security forces were running away
    like cowards for what we know Recommend

  • Lakhkar Khan

    Maybe so but unlike you dark skinned inferior Hindus, Pakistanis don’t have to bleach their skin to feel good about themselves.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Good for you.
    We have enough good reasons for us to feel good about ourselves.
    Not like you Pakistans who have nothing but “fair skin”.
    haa…and I thought you can’t stoop lower.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    dark skinned inferior Hindus
    That’s the reason the Bengalis separated from you . You guys were telling the same nonsense to them and insulting them. And you blame for problems you created yourself.

    Let me make something clear for you …nobody wants to live with “fair skinned” people whose heada are filled with horse manure and their hearts with evil. Recommend

  • Rajiv

    I have taken a screenshot of your comment and I will show it to Zimbabweans, SriLankans & Bangladeshis.
    Let them know you guys have filled up with superiority complex.Recommend