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How More Journalists Were Killed Reporting On Politics In The Last One Year, Than War

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By Zita Campbell, IndiaSpend.com:

When Karun Misra did die–shot at close range while riding a motorcycle on his way home–it was a shock to his family. He left behind a wife, Payal, and two young children, including a 15-day old newborn. But Karun, a journalist in Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkarnagar district, was aware his life was in danger, a friend, Manish Tiwari, told IndiaSpend.

From all accounts a driven, idealistic man, Karun, 32, had written stories about a particularly dangerous business–illegal mining. Mafia hit-men first came for Karun after he refused bribes and ignored threats, said the friend. On February 5, “he got information that something was going to happen to him on either the 11th or 12th of February,” said the friend.

A day later, Karun was dead, the fifth journalist murdered in India’s most populous state since March 2015, accounting for half the 10 killed nationwide, according to data independently compiled by The Hoot, a media watchdog, and IndiaSpend. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a global advocacy, called India “Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan”. Committee For The Protection Of Journalists (CPJ) affirms this statement with their compilation of data showing that for the year of 2015, there were only two deaths of journalists in Pakistan and no deaths in Afghanistan.

Karun’s case is unique because the mastermind behind his murder and the main shooter were arrested. This is rare. As many as 24 journalists were murdered for work-related reasons in India since 1992, Committee for the Protection Of Journalists (CPJ) data reveal. But 96% of the cases are unsolved, ranking India 14th globally for impunity in murder cases against journalists, according to the CPJ impunity index.

“That’s because the concerned governments are not willing to really protect journalists performing their duties,” Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, media commentator and Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, told IndiaSpend.

“Indian journalists daring to cover organised crime and its links with politicians have been exposed to a surge in violence, especially violence of criminal origin, since the start of 2015,” Reporters Without Borders states. Illegal mining for a variety of sand and minerals–particularly sand for the construction industry–is a crime that is in growing evidence across India.

Two murders monitored by RSF (in 2015) were linked to illegal mining, “a sensitive environmental subject in India”, an RSF report released in 2015 said. RSF’s data are estimates of murders confirmed as work-related; there are four more awaiting confirmation.

“Soldier-Like” Karun Went Up Against Powerful, Illegal Industry

“He didn’t like to do stories and leave them just like that,” said another friend of Karun, Anil Dwevedi. “He wanted a result from it… He was soldier-like, he would not call police and say ‘something is happening’ and they should go there.”

When Dwevedi met him four days before he was killed, Karun, a reporter with Jansandesh, a Hindi daily, confessed, “There is some danger, some difficulties… but I have to fight.”

His fight was against a powerful, illegal industry that is steadily expanding despite a new law, promulgated in January 2015, that allows for five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 500,000 per hectare of land mined illegally.

But illegal mining has steadily increased over the last six years (except for a dip in 2013-14), as this government statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament) revealed. In UP, where his investigation of illegal mining cost Karun his life, cases registered almost doubled over a decade.

With illegal mining embedded in UP’s economy and politics, Karun’s friends and family pointed out that despite arrests, illegal mining in their area has not stopped.

“The reason for which Karun was killed is still going on,” said one of the two friends we spoke to. “Police are not doing what they can to stop the illegal mining business… it’s still going on.”

For Karun’s brother, Varun Misra, the shock endures. He has not forgotten how Karun did not answer his phone when he called on February 13. At 11 p.m., he received a call from an uncle. “[My uncle] told me Karun was dead. I was so shocked. I could not believe it.”

46% Of Indian Journalists Killed On Duty Were Covering Politics

Since 1992, only 3% of journalists in India have died covering wars, according to CPJ data, and as many as 46% of journalists who were killed while working were covering politics; 35% corruption.

India is not alone in this trend, reported RSF: “Two thirds of the journalists killed worldwide in 2014 were killed in war zones. In 2015, it was the exact opposite. Two thirds were killed in countries at peace.”

Death is not the only cause for concern for the Indian journalist. “Human rights defenders, journalists and protesters continued to face arbitrary arrests and detentions. Over 3,200 people were being held in January [2015] under administrative detention on executive orders without charge or trial,” the latest Amnesty International report states.

Journalists face hostile environments across the world: 71 were killed with confirmed motives, with another 25 unconfirmed, according to CPJ’s statistics. RSF records that 43 journalists have been killed for unclear reasons.

Karun’s brother, Varun, said crimes were getting “bigger and criminals bolder” and this is why punishment was important. “This can happen with anyone anywhere,” he said. “My only appeal to the authorities is a speedy trial and severe punishment. Death is inevitable but nobody deserves to die like this.”

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.com, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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