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Journalists, activists, express solidarity with Scroll’s Supriya Sharma

The journalist was recently booked for reporting uncomfortable truths from Uttar Pradesh, especially a village adopted by the PM

Sabrangindia 19 Jun 2020

NWIMImage Courtesy:scroll.in

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) has condemned Uttar Pradesh police's “malafide FIR against Supriya Sharma, the executive editor of Scroll.in, targeting her for her report recording the loss of livelihood and hunger suffered by residents of Domari, a village near Varanasi adopted by the Prime Minister in 2018.”

The NWMI stated that the “stringent lockdown ordered to check the spread of the novel coronavirus has led to deep distress and uncertainty for contractual and daily wage workers, in both urban and rural India. Reportage from rural areas and among vulnerable communities is crucial to inform public debate and policy at a time like this. Yet, the government and police departments across India, and in Uttar Pradesh in particular, have targeted journalists doing essential work, registering at least 55 police complaints against journalists since the lockdown in March.”

The UP police FIR targeting Sharma, an award-winning, senior journalist, is the latest instance of this. The NWMI has demanded that “the FIR be withdrawn and Sharma be protected from arrest.” The network has stated that it “strongly condemns such attempts to muzzle the press and to prevent it from carrying out its duty to report on the condition of the most deprived sections of society.” 

The FIR dated June 13 names Mala Devi, one of the residents interviewed by Sharma, as a complainant, and states that Mala Devi denies having complained about going hungry during the lockdown. In the FIR, Devi alleges that Supriya Sharma did not truthfully represent her job and her lockdown experience in the story. The complainant stated in the FIR that she worked for the civic body; in Ms Sharma’s report she stated that her son worked for the civic body, while she worked as a domestic worker. 

The police have booked Sharma, and the Scroll’s chief editor under Sec 501 IPC (defamation), and also under sections of The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA). This, stated the NWMI, is “intended to have a chilling effect on the journalistic community.” However, the network added a fact check that “the two sections of the PoA cited in the FIR, have no connection with Ms Sharma’s report. Nor do they reflect anything Mala Devi says in her complaint. The police have also, inexplicably, invoked Sec 269 IPC – ie, negligent act likely to spread infection – in the FIR.”

“None of these sections have anything to do with Sharma's report,” stated the NWMI, adding “the PoA amendments of 2015 and 2018 have come after years of mobilizations by Adivasi and Dalit activists. While the police continue to routinely intimidate these communities, and act hostile to them,  refusing to file FIRs on serious crimes against Dalit and Adivasis, the use of the law against a journalist reporting on their vulnerability marks a dangerous new trend in police excesses and intimidation of reporters.” 

The NWMI said that such police cases, “drain a journalist, and small media organisations such as Scroll.in, of their  financial resources.” Scroll has already stated that it stands by the article. The organisation published this statement: 

“Scroll.in interviewed Mala in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020. Her statements have accurately been reported in the article titled, ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown.’ Scroll.in stands by the article, which has been reported from the Prime Minister’s constituency. This FIR is an attempt to intimidate and silence independent journalism, reporting on conditions of vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 lockdown.”

 

The Delhi Union of Journalists has expressed its shock that Scroll Executive Editor Supriya Sharma has been booked for reporting on hunger during the lockdown in villages around Varanasi. “It is regrettable that the state has chosen to misuse the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to charge the journalist,” stated the DUJ. The DUJ, has strongly condemned “the use of FIRs to intimidate journalists valiantly doing their job during the current pandemic and economic crisis. Journalists run incredible risks to their own health and safety by reporting from the field. We expect governments to respond to such reports and critiques by taking measures to alleviate distress among the people, instead of shooting the messenger.”

“Sharma’s record speaks for itself. In 2014-15 she won the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Woman Journalist. We note with dismay the growing tendency to victimise journalists,” the DUJ added.

Noted social activist Bezwada Wilson who is the National Convener, Safai Karmachari Andolan stated: “It is not merely touching an untouchable, reporting about their sorrows also become a crime in democratic India. This is a Threat for people who highlight poverty, hunger & discrimination. What an irony, using shoulders of the victim to shoot the messenger.”

Strong words condemning the FIR also came from Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, General Secretary, Indian National Congress, who has extensively worked in Uttar Pradesh and was herself at loggerheads with the UP government during the Migrant Workers were stranded on the state’s borders during the Covid-19 lockdown exodus. She posted: “The UP government cannot cover the truth by filing an FIR.  During this disaster on the ground there are severe disturbances. Corrections are possible by showing the truth, but the UP government is getting FIRs made on journalists, former officials, opposition to bring out the truth. “ 

Activist Umar Khalid who has also been booked under various acts of the Indian Penal Code when he was a student leader at the Jawaharlal Nehru University also questioned why a journalist reporting from the ground had been targeted. He stated, “While multi-millionaire hate mongers spew venom from their AC studios, real journalists who bring out the truth from ground, face threats and fabricated cases. Not surprising that India has fallen down on the Press Freedom Index. In solidarity.”

According to writer and activist Natasha Badhwar who worked with Supriya Sharma in the early days of her career, “Her voice stands out for its clarity, courage, compassion. 

Supriya's work is sharply focussed on the story, never making it about herself, never sliding into editorialising, always looking for the patterns and reporting them, whether they suit our fragile imagination or not.”

“Independent journalism,”  wrote Natasha on her Facebook wall, “has suffered many setbacks in the last few years, but Supriya's personal commitment is an inspiration for everyone else in the fraternity.”

Supriya Sharma is the winner of the Chameli Devi Jain Award for an Outstanding Woman Journalist for 2014-15 and has also been conferred the prestigious Ramnath Goenka award for Reporting on Politics and Government for 2014.

"This has gone much beyond what we have come to expect from BJP governments, even from the Bisht government in Uttar Pradesh,” said veteran journalist and activist John Dayal. “There is also an element of revenge. A complaint under the SC anti atrocity act is a very serious matter. The Modi government changed the rules to keep the big fish out of it. This needs to be challenged. I stand in solidarity with Supriya who has done excellent work reporting human rights and exposing persecution of religious minorities, Dalits and Tribals in Scroll,” he added.

The First Information Report (FIR) was filed in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Supriya Sharma days after her news reports from Varanasi on the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on common people began appearing on the news portal. 

The FIR, dated June 13, and filed at nearly 11 P.M, also names Scroll’s chief editor (though it does not record his name) as a co-accused. As SabrangIndia had reported earlier, the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) report has listed about 55 journalists who were targeted for doing their jobs during the Covid-19 lockdown. The most cases are in Uttar Pradesh (11 journalists March 25 to May 31 2020). Supriya sharma is the latest journalist to have been targeted for doing her work. As the trends show, she may not be the last.

Related: 

UP Police book FIR against senior journalist, under multiple sections including SC/ST act

Journalists, activists, express solidarity with Scroll’s Supriya Sharma

The journalist was recently booked for reporting uncomfortable truths from Uttar Pradesh, especially a village adopted by the PM

NWIMImage Courtesy:scroll.in

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) has condemned Uttar Pradesh police's “malafide FIR against Supriya Sharma, the executive editor of Scroll.in, targeting her for her report recording the loss of livelihood and hunger suffered by residents of Domari, a village near Varanasi adopted by the Prime Minister in 2018.”

The NWMI stated that the “stringent lockdown ordered to check the spread of the novel coronavirus has led to deep distress and uncertainty for contractual and daily wage workers, in both urban and rural India. Reportage from rural areas and among vulnerable communities is crucial to inform public debate and policy at a time like this. Yet, the government and police departments across India, and in Uttar Pradesh in particular, have targeted journalists doing essential work, registering at least 55 police complaints against journalists since the lockdown in March.”

The UP police FIR targeting Sharma, an award-winning, senior journalist, is the latest instance of this. The NWMI has demanded that “the FIR be withdrawn and Sharma be protected from arrest.” The network has stated that it “strongly condemns such attempts to muzzle the press and to prevent it from carrying out its duty to report on the condition of the most deprived sections of society.” 

The FIR dated June 13 names Mala Devi, one of the residents interviewed by Sharma, as a complainant, and states that Mala Devi denies having complained about going hungry during the lockdown. In the FIR, Devi alleges that Supriya Sharma did not truthfully represent her job and her lockdown experience in the story. The complainant stated in the FIR that she worked for the civic body; in Ms Sharma’s report she stated that her son worked for the civic body, while she worked as a domestic worker. 

The police have booked Sharma, and the Scroll’s chief editor under Sec 501 IPC (defamation), and also under sections of The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA). This, stated the NWMI, is “intended to have a chilling effect on the journalistic community.” However, the network added a fact check that “the two sections of the PoA cited in the FIR, have no connection with Ms Sharma’s report. Nor do they reflect anything Mala Devi says in her complaint. The police have also, inexplicably, invoked Sec 269 IPC – ie, negligent act likely to spread infection – in the FIR.”

“None of these sections have anything to do with Sharma's report,” stated the NWMI, adding “the PoA amendments of 2015 and 2018 have come after years of mobilizations by Adivasi and Dalit activists. While the police continue to routinely intimidate these communities, and act hostile to them,  refusing to file FIRs on serious crimes against Dalit and Adivasis, the use of the law against a journalist reporting on their vulnerability marks a dangerous new trend in police excesses and intimidation of reporters.” 

The NWMI said that such police cases, “drain a journalist, and small media organisations such as Scroll.in, of their  financial resources.” Scroll has already stated that it stands by the article. The organisation published this statement: 

“Scroll.in interviewed Mala in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020. Her statements have accurately been reported in the article titled, ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown.’ Scroll.in stands by the article, which has been reported from the Prime Minister’s constituency. This FIR is an attempt to intimidate and silence independent journalism, reporting on conditions of vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 lockdown.”

 

The Delhi Union of Journalists has expressed its shock that Scroll Executive Editor Supriya Sharma has been booked for reporting on hunger during the lockdown in villages around Varanasi. “It is regrettable that the state has chosen to misuse the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to charge the journalist,” stated the DUJ. The DUJ, has strongly condemned “the use of FIRs to intimidate journalists valiantly doing their job during the current pandemic and economic crisis. Journalists run incredible risks to their own health and safety by reporting from the field. We expect governments to respond to such reports and critiques by taking measures to alleviate distress among the people, instead of shooting the messenger.”

“Sharma’s record speaks for itself. In 2014-15 she won the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Woman Journalist. We note with dismay the growing tendency to victimise journalists,” the DUJ added.

Noted social activist Bezwada Wilson who is the National Convener, Safai Karmachari Andolan stated: “It is not merely touching an untouchable, reporting about their sorrows also become a crime in democratic India. This is a Threat for people who highlight poverty, hunger & discrimination. What an irony, using shoulders of the victim to shoot the messenger.”

Strong words condemning the FIR also came from Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, General Secretary, Indian National Congress, who has extensively worked in Uttar Pradesh and was herself at loggerheads with the UP government during the Migrant Workers were stranded on the state’s borders during the Covid-19 lockdown exodus. She posted: “The UP government cannot cover the truth by filing an FIR.  During this disaster on the ground there are severe disturbances. Corrections are possible by showing the truth, but the UP government is getting FIRs made on journalists, former officials, opposition to bring out the truth. “ 

Activist Umar Khalid who has also been booked under various acts of the Indian Penal Code when he was a student leader at the Jawaharlal Nehru University also questioned why a journalist reporting from the ground had been targeted. He stated, “While multi-millionaire hate mongers spew venom from their AC studios, real journalists who bring out the truth from ground, face threats and fabricated cases. Not surprising that India has fallen down on the Press Freedom Index. In solidarity.”

According to writer and activist Natasha Badhwar who worked with Supriya Sharma in the early days of her career, “Her voice stands out for its clarity, courage, compassion. 

Supriya's work is sharply focussed on the story, never making it about herself, never sliding into editorialising, always looking for the patterns and reporting them, whether they suit our fragile imagination or not.”

“Independent journalism,”  wrote Natasha on her Facebook wall, “has suffered many setbacks in the last few years, but Supriya's personal commitment is an inspiration for everyone else in the fraternity.”

Supriya Sharma is the winner of the Chameli Devi Jain Award for an Outstanding Woman Journalist for 2014-15 and has also been conferred the prestigious Ramnath Goenka award for Reporting on Politics and Government for 2014.

"This has gone much beyond what we have come to expect from BJP governments, even from the Bisht government in Uttar Pradesh,” said veteran journalist and activist John Dayal. “There is also an element of revenge. A complaint under the SC anti atrocity act is a very serious matter. The Modi government changed the rules to keep the big fish out of it. This needs to be challenged. I stand in solidarity with Supriya who has done excellent work reporting human rights and exposing persecution of religious minorities, Dalits and Tribals in Scroll,” he added.

The First Information Report (FIR) was filed in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Supriya Sharma days after her news reports from Varanasi on the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on common people began appearing on the news portal. 

The FIR, dated June 13, and filed at nearly 11 P.M, also names Scroll’s chief editor (though it does not record his name) as a co-accused. As SabrangIndia had reported earlier, the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) report has listed about 55 journalists who were targeted for doing their jobs during the Covid-19 lockdown. The most cases are in Uttar Pradesh (11 journalists March 25 to May 31 2020). Supriya sharma is the latest journalist to have been targeted for doing her work. As the trends show, she may not be the last.

Related: 

UP Police book FIR against senior journalist, under multiple sections including SC/ST act

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