17 Jun 2019 08:06 PM, IST


India Tomorrow

New Delhi, June 17—The recent incidences of arrests of journalists across India and violent assaults inflicted on some other scribes have left the civil society contemplating about the dangers the advocates of free speech have been facing increasingly now.

Concerned journalists and activists are speaking their mind more vehemently than before in defense of the right to freedom of expression and independent press.

Caravan magazine’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal sees the protests by the intellgensia against such arrests as a positive sign of acceptance that physical or mental torture or harassment of journalists by the police on behalf of governments, has reached the threshold of even those cities which would be hitherto, safe for scribes.

“After 2014, when we used to hold meeting to protest the arrests of journalists in Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir, we wouldn’t get such a response as we are getting today because many concerned journalists also would think that such actions against journalists will be confined to conflict zones in our country. Nobody was ready to take such actions seriously. Finally, when government clamped down on NDTV and Gauri Lankesh was murdered, only then, after three years, journalists realized that it can happen anywhere now. Then people began to raise their voices. Still, when Zakir Ali Tyagi was arrested in UP, people thought that such unlawful arrests would not happen in Delhi and then you saw police picking up Prashant Kanojia. So perhaps journalists would treat it as their own problem. However these arrests have also a wider context, which is the realization that these actions cannot be taken without the nod of state machinery which has declared Muslims and any section of the society or journalists who don’t support the Hindutva agenda as anti-nationalists,” says Bal.

For Delhi University’s Hindi Professor Apoorvanand Jha, it is not the journalist which is in peril, it is also the reader whose rights to access to factual news is under threat.

“The attack is not only on a journalist’s right to write and come out with credible news, it is the attack on the right of readers to know and on their choice to read whatever they want. It is the reader who is being deprived of reading the truth. Besides these arrests, we have also seen the practice of removing such editors and journalists from organizations who are critical of the government. Makhan Lal Chaturvedi once said that if a researcher makes factual errors in his work, it can be amended or set right by him or researchers working on the same subject, but if a false news makes it to the pages of newspapers and instantly read by a great number of people then it is too difficult to right the wrongs.”

They were speaking at the Press Club of India here on Monday where independent journalist Prashant Kanojia and Ipsa Shatakshi, the wife of journalist Rupesh Kumar, also spoke. Both Kanojia and Kumar were arrested last week from Delhi and Ramgarh (Jharkhand) respectively.

At the press conference organized by ‘United Against Hate’, Ipsa, who addressed the media on phone, narrated how her husband was picked by the police on June 4.

“Along with Rupesh, his counsel Mithilesh Kumar Singh and a doctor named Mohammad Kalaam have been arrested. All of them, including Rupesh are accused of being naxalites. Right from the beginning there were differences in the police version of his arrest and what is truth. He was arrested on June 4, however the police said that he was arrested on June 6. Police says he was caught with explosives but according to my husband police planted the explosives in front of him and jibed that they have charge him under something since they have nabbed him. The police also raided Rupesh’s house in Bhokaro and collected reading materials including a biography of Bhagat Singh terming it as ‘pro-Naxalite literature’. The police also asked my husband as to why he writes in support of tribals and Dalits since he is an educated person he should not do that and take care of his family. These arrests are a clear message that if you will write against the government this is what will be done to them. Rupesh has always stood for humanitarian causes and has always supported the weaker sections of society, so I don’t understand what his crime after all is,” said Rupesh’s wife.

The press conference was also addressed by Zakir Ali Tyagi, a young man from Muzaffarnagar who was arrested over a controversial social media post in April 2017. He was released after 42 days in jail.