The Indian subcontinent sets to improve in its journo-murder index with only two casualties to date in the pandemic year. The first half of 2020 witnessed the murder of one scribe, each in Pakistan and India, related to their journalistic work. In contrast, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives reported no journo-casualties thus far.
Pakistan reported the first murder of journalists in the subcontinent in 2020, where Aziz Memon, aged 50, was found dead on 16 February in an irrigation channel near his Mehrabpur locality residence. Hailing from Sindh province, Memon used to work for privately-owned KTN television and Sindhi-language daily Kawish. Two other Pakistani journalists, Javed Khan and Zulfiqar Mandrani, also lost their lives in separate bomb blasts.
India lost a young scribe on 19 June at Unnao in Uttar Pradesh to assailants. Shubham Mani Tripathi, age 25, a correspondent for the Kanpur-based Hindi daily Kampu Mail, fell prey to bullets fired by two shooters as he was returning home on a two-wheeler. Severely injured, Tripathi was brought to a Kanpur hospital, where he succumbed to the wounds to his head, chest, and back.
A resident of Brahmnagar in Unnao district, Tripathi, reported on illegal sand mining practices in his locality. Recently married to Rashi Dixit, Tripathi received threats from unknown individuals, suspected to be illegal miners, for his reporting. However, the courageous scribe ignored the warnings and continued his reporting activity.
Recently, the UP police arrested three individuals, namely Afshar Ahmed, Abdul Bari, and Shahnawaz Azhar, on suspicion of their involvement in Tripathi’s murder. The police also launched searches for Divya Awasthi, blamed for various land grabbing and sand mining incidents. Her name was mentioned in the first information report filed by the victim’s family.
Earlier, an Orissa-based journalist, 40-year old Aditya Kumar Ransingh, was killed on 16 February along with a Congress leader in Banki locality in Cuttack district. Engaged with a news portal, Ransingh was hacked to death by two criminals, who were later arrested by the police. It is reported that Ransingh maintained bitter or hostile relationships with the two persons accused of the crime, Sushat Pradhan and Himanshu Bhusan Routray.
According to the international media rights body Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders), nearly 20 journalists have already lost their lives in connection with their journalistic activities in 2020. Mexico and Iraq top the list with three journo-casualties each, followed by Syria 2, Somalia 2, Afghanistan 1, Yemen 1, Nigeria 1, Paraguay 1, and the Philippines 1.
India – 9 journo deaths by violence in 2019
India witnessed nine incidents of journo-killings in 2019, but only one incident is listed as a clear case of targeted murder. Andhra journalist K Satyanarayana (age 45) of Telugu daily Andhra Jyothi was killed because of his journalistic activities. Satyanarayana was hacked to death on 15 October 2019, although local scribes report that he was targeted on earlier occasions.
Other Indian journalists who suffered violent deaths in the last year include Jobanpreet Singh, an online reporter in Punjab who died in police firing. Kanpur-based journalist Vijay Gupta was shot dead by relatives. Neighbors murdered Kushinagar-based journalist Radheyshyam Sharma. And, Saharanpur-based photojournalist Ashish Dhiman was shot dead along with his brother by neighbors.
Shahgarh-based freelance journalist Chakresh Jain died of severe burn injuries. Mumbai-based news channel contributor Anand Narayan was murdered by miscreants, while an employee killed magazine editor Nityanand Pandey in Thane.
Kerala journalist K Muhammed Basheer lost his life as a government officer driven vehicle mowed down him. Guwahati-based scribe Naresh Mitra died after sustaining head injuries in a mysterious accident inside the city. Bihar journalist Pradeep Mandal was attacked and targeted by miscreants, but he luckily survived. Mandal contributed several news items against the local liquor mafia to Dainik Jagran, which aroused hostility to the level of threats of violence.
Contrary to the number of journalists, eliminated by assailants, the novel Coronavirus pandemic is taking a more significant toll as no less than seven journalists have already died of Covid-19 complications in the subcontinent. Bangladesh alone lost six journalists to the virus infection, where nearly 200 other media persons tested positive for Covid-19. India also witnesses approximately 150 journalists infected with the virus with three known casualties thus far. Pakistan reports over 50 media persons infected with the virus.
At the same time, the pandemic has led the killing of hundreds of mainstream media outlets across the subcontinent. Many surviving newspapers have closed down their editions, reduced pages, cut salaries, and laid-off employees, including working journalists, citing advertisement revenues’ shrinkage in the past three months.
Apart from some of the journalist unions, few dare to raise their voices against the news media owners for their apparently arbitrary and hasty decisions. The redundancies and the front line coverage of the pandemic are debilitating, humiliating, and ultimately risky and life-threatening for journalists and their families.