By Bhanvi Satija:
This Saturday night, a charred body was found near the railway tracks close to the station at Sindhi in Wardha district of Madhya Pradesh. The body has been identified as that of a journalist, Sandeep Kothari, who reported for local Hindi dailies in the region. He also used to report for Nayi Duniya till 2012.
Sandeep, 40, was reportedly abducted on the night of June 19 when he was headed towards Umri village with a friend on a bike. The bike was hit by a four wheeler, and its occupants bundled Kothari inside it and fled. Whether Kothari was burnt to death or whether his body was burnt after being killed is a question that still remains unanswered. “He wrote against and also lodged complaints against manganese and sand mafias and other high-and-mighty people involved in organized crimes,” Kishore Samrite, a former local lawmaker, told PTI, who added that Kothari’s actions had also led to him being falsely accused in as many as 12 criminal cases. “His family too was tormented by mafias”, which is probably why his siblings always requested him to quit journalism.
The police have seized the car used for kidnapping and have already arrested two persons, identified as Vishal Dandi and Brijesh Duharwal – all from Katangi–in connection with Kothari’s murder. The third suspect Rakesh Naraswani is absconding, according to Additional SP, Balaghat, Neeraj Soni. “The arrested and the absconder were in fact Kothari’s associates in many cases and their friendship had turned into rivalry. The three had allegedly implicated him in a rape case in which he was discharged. The enmity could be due to the case”, said Soni to Indian Express. The Sub-Divisional Officer of Police (SDOP) J S Markam said, “Police suspected the trio was engaged in illegal mining and also running chit fund companies. They were pressurizing Kothari to withdraw a case of illegal mining he had filed against some persons in a local court.” The police suspects that Kothari was kidnapped and murdered because he refused to withdraw the matter. “We are investigating the case from all angles and a police team is camping in Nagpur. It will be premature to conclude the exact reason behind the kidnapping and killing,” Markam said to PTI.
The case of Sandeep Kothari comes only a few days after Uttar Pradesh’s Jagendra Singh’s death. Singh died in a hospital on June 8 from burn injuries he sustained in a police raid. Between Kothari and Singh, the country has also seen two more attacks on journalists – one on Haider Khan in Pilibhit and the other on Deepak Mishra from Kanpur. The state of Uttar Pradesh continues to be a site of terror for journalists, as in 2013 too, four journalists were killed in a span of 45 days in the state.
However, the problem of security of journalists is not state-specific in India. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ research shows that at least 35 journalists have been killed in India since the 1992. India is ranked 13th on CPJ’s Annual Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. The country has repeatedly failed to act against such incidents, or provide justice. It lacks security and remedy measures for journalists – the very people who make up the fourth pillar of the world’s largest democracy.
What is being done about the security of journalists and what actions are being taken in the cases of those attacked or murdered is a common concern. “The horrific murder of another journalist in less than two weeks is alarming and is symptomatic of India’s entrenched culture of impunity,” said CPJ Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “We call on Indian authorities to launch an independent investigation into Sandeep Kothari’s death, identify the motive, and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
What is even more worrying is that none of the authorities, either from the government or from the media world, condemn these deaths. Nupur Basu, an experienced print and television reporter, wrote recently with respect to Jagendra Singh’s death – “I and many other journalists are seriously troubled by the fact that one of our tribe has been burnt alive and we have failed to bring those responsible to account. Not a single minister, leave alone the Information Minister, has found time to condemn the attack.”
Even if the media bodies and ministries issue statements and acknowledge the incidents, they feel that they have done their bit, when there is much more that needs to be done. “When district correspondents are killed or attacked, media bodies issue statements and feel they have done their bit. This has to change for the state governments to become accountable. Cases have to be tracked, and chief ministers badgered for action”, said Sevanti Ninan, media critic and editor of thehoot.org.