Panchkula is a small tier-2 town in Haryana. When the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted yesterday, his followers attacked mediapersons, apparently to erase any evidence of the violence. In the violence that engulfed Panchkula, outdoor broadcasting vans were attacked, cameras of photojournalists and TV cameramen were damaged, and journalists were injured.
Sirsa, where the Dera’s headquarters are located, is a smaller town than Panchkula. It wasn’t supposed to be the centre of the violence, as opposed to Panchkula, where the verdict was announced. Yet a video journalist of a Punjabi news channel went missing after there was violence there too. When followers moved out of the headquarters after the verdict, they thrashed a reporter of the channel and fractured his hand.
Unlike the protest by top editors following an attack on reporters at the Patiala House court complex in Delhi last year, or the swift arrests made by the police following the murder of a journalist in Delhi this year, it doesn’t appear that there is going to be much acknowledgment of the attacks in smaller cities and towns. The Press Club of India is though reported to have issued a statement against the violence in Panchkula yesterday.
It is a Sirsa-based journalist who is credited with exposing the rape by the godman. 53-year-old Ram Chandra Chatrapati was the editor of ‘Poora Sach’, a local evening daily publishsed from Sirsa, when the anonymous letter accusing the godman of rape came to light in May 2002. Chatrapati had been vocal about the Dera’s activities since then.
While threats were made to multiple journalists in Sirsa who were reporting on the Dera, two bike-borne men shot at Chatrapati in October 2002. According to a Frontline report from the time, he died unnoticed by mainstream media a month later.
Data too suggests that journalists working in small town and cities are more likely to meet a work-related death. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) compiles data of journalists killed in the line of duty and an analysis of the data shows that journalists from tier-3 cities are most likely to be killed due the work they do.
Of those 40 journalists, only 6 have died in tier-1 cities like Pune and Hyderabad. Most such deaths have happened in tier-3 (21) and tier-2 (13) cities.
“My father fought for life in the hospital for 28 days after they pumped bullets into his body, and he had named the Dera chief as the accused in his statement to the local police. But the cops did not include the Dera chief’s name in the FIR, and the legal battle began from there,” Anshul, Chatrapati’s son, told Hindustan Times recently.
He also told the paper that he has struggled to continue publishing his father’s paper amid threats and pressures. His struggle for justice has been long. Fifteen years after the murder of Chatrapati, final arguments in the case, where Gurmeet Ram Rahim is an accused, continue to be heard in a CBI court.
However, even this remedy has not been available to all the 40 journalists who have died in India since 1992 (67 if one also includes those deaths in which the motive is not confirmed by CPJ). There are few who will ever hear about them.