To be a Journalist in Uttar Pradesh, or one reporting from the Adityanath-led state has a unique kind of challenge. Write anything that so much as hints at an administrative lacune, or a faulty policy, or highlights the dismal law and order situation, or makes any politician, policeman or bureaucrat upset, and be prepared to receive arrest warrants and legal notices. That is if you are lucky, you have lived to tell the tale, and fight a long legal battle for just doing your job as a journalist.
Unfortunately there are scores more who are physically attacked. The annual World Press Index, put together by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, has placed India at a low 142nd position. Recently the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) released a report listed about 55 journalists who were targeted for doing their jobs during the Covid-19 lockdown. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 11 journalists being targeted. The number has gone up since the report came out.
According to a recent report in the Caravan magazine, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the chief secretary of Lucknow on June 22, “regarding a complaint accusing the Uttar Pradesh administration of cracking down on a journalist for reporting unflattering news..
The recent murder of Ghaziabad-based journalist Vikram Joshi, near his home, has brought back memories of how the media has been treated in the state in recent times. Here are a few of them:
June 2020: FIR against Supriya Sharma for reporting on poverty during lockdown
A First Information Report (FIR) was filed in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, against journalist, Supriya Sharma, the Executive Editor of the news portal Scroll. She had filed ground reports from Varanasi on the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on common people. She was booked under various charges including the SC/ST Act, Section 501 of the Indian Penal Code, Section 269. Sharma had done a story on the hardships faced by a Varanasi resident, who later filed a complaint against the journalist alleging that she had been misquoted. The story may be read here: UP Police booked the FIR against the senior journalist, under multiple sections.
April 2020: Case against Siddharth Varadarajan for report on lockdown violation
Even though the interstate borders were sealed, the Uttar Pradesh government summoned a senior Delhi journalist to Ayodhya, during the lockdown. The UP police sent plain clothed policemen to Siddharth Varadarajan’s Delhi residence to summon him to appear in Ayodhya on April 14. He was asked to appear in connection with a case registered against him by Uttar Pradesh Police, which took exception to a factual report in his publication. The Wire article had stated that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other people had attended a religious ceremony in Ayodhya after the national lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi . The question most asked then was this: Why is the UP government targeting journalists?
April 2020: Prashant Kanojia, booked for ‘objectionable remarks’ against PM, UP CM
The Delhi-based freelance journalist, Prashant Jagdish Kanojia, was booked for allegedly making defamatory remarks on social media against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Shashank Shekhar Singh, a BJP leader, had complained to the Aashiana police, and a case was registered against Kanojia. The FIR was registered on the charges of defamation, printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory, circulating mischievous comments and obscenity under the Information and Technology Act. However, this isn’t the first time Kanojia has been booked. He was once earlier arrested by the Lucknow police for making objectionable posts against CM Adityanath. At the time, he was released on bail by the Supreme Court after journalists and his supporters held protests against his arrest in various parts of the country.
May 2020: FIR against Ravindra Saxena, for reporting on negligence at a quarantine centre
According to a report in Newslaundry, the Uttar Pradesh administration has lodged an FIR against Ravindra Saxena, a journalist at Today-24 news portal for reporting on the mismanagement and negligence at a quarantine centre in Sitapur district. Saxena had done a video report, stated NL, after speaking to people at a quarantine centre in Maholi tehsil of Sitapur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, who alleged that they were served rotten rice. He was slapped with an FIR. He had then told NL that a case against him had been filed, alleging that he had violated the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Disaster Management Act. “The FIR has been registered on the orders of the CM,” he had claimed.
March 2020: Notice sent to Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra for reporting on hunger
Journalists Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra, of the Hindi paper Jansandesh Times, had filed a report from Varanasi district, where members of the Musahar community, a Dalit sub-caste, had to eat wild grass seeds to keep from starving. According to a report in the Caravan magazine, they were served a legal notice on the same day. Kaushal Raj Sharma, the district magistrate of Varanasi had termed the article “false,” adding that it was a “sickening attempt to stigmatise the Musahar families.” He demanded that the report be rescinded and that the newspaper issue an apology in the following day’s edition, adding that an inquiry would be launched if this was not done, said the news report.
December 2019: Omar Rashid, detained, communally abused
While covering the anti Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests journalists too were in the line of fire. Omar Rashid, a correspondent with The Hindu who was in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, to cover the protests was picked up by the police along with a local activist Robin Verma, from a dhaba outside the Uttar Pradesh BJP office where they were having a meal. “They packed the two of us into a police jeep, snatched my mobile phone and asked me to not call or inform anyone or I would regret it,” he had said. The media later reported that they were then taken to the Hazratganj police station where Robin was beaten up and the journalist was detained, communally abused and questioned by UP police.
Sept 2019: Case against journalist for exposing roti-salt mid-day meal at Mirzapur
A case was registered against journalist Pawan Jaiswal for a video report that showed children at a government primary school in Uttar Pradesh’s Mirzapur district, being fed only rotis and salt for the mid-day meal. According to the website of the Uttar Pradesh Mid Day Meal Authority, students at government schools are supposed to get a variety of food including pulses, rice, rotis, vegetables and even fruits as mid-day meals.
According to news reports, a case was registered by the Block Education Officer (BDO) of the area, who accused the journalist of “maligning the image of the state government.”