Trigger warning: mentions of death and violence
Buddinath Jha, alias Avinash Jha, a 24-year-old journalist and RTI (right to information) activist, was allegedly murdered in cold blood, in Bihar’s Madhubani, for exposing the local medical mafia.
His dead body was found burnt on the roadside on Friday evening (November 12, 2021), after he was found to be missing for four days (since November 9, 2021).
Jha was continuously writing against private nursing homes and registering complaints against them. He uploaded a post on his Facebook page on November 7, 2021, saying, “Khela hobe! Game starts 15 November 2021.”
It is known that Jha had exposed irregularities in medical clinics running in the area, through his reportage; and it is suspected that he had been getting death threats from the medical mafia for the same.
A video was also uploaded by him about receiving threats and regarding rigging in a private hospital. He went missing soon after that video surfaced on social media.
His cousin, BJ Bikash, said:
“After the Facebook post, Avinash disappeared on November 9, and a complaint was made by us the next day. The report was filed on November 11. The owners were angry with the action taken against their private nursing home. They threatened him several times and even offered money to stop him from filing the complaint. But, he was adamant about exposing them. We suspect that the medical mafia hatched a conspiracy and after kidnapping him, burnt him to death.”
Locals have confirmed that Jha’s reporting led to a crackdown on several clinics and private hospitals in the area. Many of those hospitals were shut down and some had to pay fines. It has been alleged that he was offered bribes to discontinue his reporting.
As for the medicals and hospitals being shut down, the medical officer in-charge, SN Jha, who has been appointed in Benipatti for the last three years, said that Jha was exposing all corrupt hospitals for the past three years.
Talking to the media, he said that, “In the last three years, Avinash had made a lot of complaints about nursing homes and pathology labs within the public grievance redressal… On which action was recommended after an investigation from here and action was also taken against the nursing homes.”
He added that, “Due to this initiative, in February 2021, the government had issued an order to close 19 investigation houses and nursing homes of Benipatti and Dhakjari.”
“Similarly, an investigation was conducted in December 2019, in which orders were issued to close nine nursing homes and pathology labs. In August 2021, the civil surgeon also imposed a fine of ₹50,000 on four private nursing homes,” he concluded.
As for this case, six people have been arrested including a nurse. However, Benipatti SDPO (sub-divisional police officer), Arun Kumar Singh told the media that the journalist was murdered because of a love affair gone sour.
Singh said that six suspects have been arrested: Roshan Kumar, Bittu Kumar, Deepak Kumar, Pawan Kumar, Manish Kumar and Purna Kala Devi.
All the suspected parties are being questioned intensively. The police are investigating both the love affair and the involvement of the nursing home operators, in the murder case.
The National Union of Journalists (India) has highlighted that four months ago, another journalist was burnt to death in Siwan. In the last eight years, 10 journalists have been murdered in Bihar. So far, more than two dozen journalists have been injured when reporting about the liquor and sand mafia.
The NUJ (India) has alleged that most of the accused have been patronised by the ruling establishment. Massive district-wise demonstrations will be held in Bihar against attacks on journalists and a memorandum will be given to the governor, demanding strict punishment for the culprits.
पत्रकार अविनाश झा की हत्या के खिलाफ एनयूजे का प्रदर्शन। pic.twitter.com/HFnQAdENj0
— NUJ(India) (@NUJIndia) November 19, 2021
The Hindu reported that 20 RTI activists have been killed in Bihar in the last 11 years, since the implementation of the RTI Act.