More than 14 days since the attack on journalist Kamal Shukla and other journalists in Chhattisgarh, no action has been taken against the perpetrators. Kamal Shukla, who went on a hunger strike in Kanker to protest the attack and the lack of action, was forcibly admitted to hospital on Oct 7, 2020, by the local administration. However, he said he would continue on his protest hunger strike.
On Oct 9, 2020, journalists from across India have written to the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to demand action against the accused in the case and to seek protection for journalists in the state.
Here is the letter:
Hon’ble Chief Minister,
We, the undersigned journalists from across India, have been covering the news in Chhattisgarh for national and international media outlets, and write this letter with deep concern.
It is with great anguish and disappointment that we follow the news from Kanker district in the matter of Kamal Shukla, senior journalist and editor of Bhumkal Samachar as well as another journalist Satish Yadav.
As per a video shared on social media and news reports of 26th September, Kamal Shukla was dragged and brutally attacked during the day in full public view right outside the Kanker police station. According to Shukla who addressed the media soon afterwards, he and other reporters had reached the police station to support Satish Yadav who was being beaten up by Kanker-based Congress workers. Yadav had reported that the control over Nagar Palika decisions were actually with the husband of the elected President, which probably angered the supporters.
Several people, including local Congress workers, gathered there, with many hurling abuses against Shukla and other journalists. As the crowd swelled and one of the party workers brandished a pistol in the air, the thana in-charge reportedly refused to take any action, instead expressed his inability to protect Shukla and asked the journalists to leave the thana. As they left the police station, Shukla was physically assaulted.
The video clearly shows the serious nature of the attack, which resulted in a head injury for Shukla, who needed the administration of three stitches. Shukla also said the Superintendent of Police and the District Collector did not answer his calls of distress.
On the insistence of local journalists, the police filed a first information report against four people, Jitendra Thakur, Gaffar Memom, Shadab Khan and Ganesh Tiwari. All four, we understand, are Congress workers in different capacities in Kanker district. The offences listed in the FIR include Section 294 (public acts of obscenity), 506 (criminal intimidation), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 34 (acts by several persons to further common intention). These offences in no way reflect the serious nature of the crime committed. All four Congress workers are currently out on bail.
We also gather that the Chhattisgarh government has put in place a six-member fact-finding committee under the Department of Public Relations and tasked it with submitting a report on the matter within 10 days. However, the committee has no clear terms of reference. Besides, the public relations department has no jurisdiction to investigate a criminal act.
The least expected in such a situation is timely and immediate action by the government to assure journalists and the public of its commitment to press freedom.
A magisterial inquiry must be initiated. The local authorities must be held accountable for their failure to prevent the assault, despite threats being delivered to journalists in the presence of the police.
The absence of such action has prompted journalists across the state to sit on a fast. Instead of paying heed to them, we understand, the government has forcibly put Shukla under hospital care to break his fast.
It is deeply shocking that the Congress government that came to power promising a law to protect journalists and assuring Freedom of Speech and Expression should now turn away from its responsibilities in such a brazen manner. Journalists in the state continue to face threats and violence for doing their work. The failure of the government to act against Congress workers encourages more attacks on reporters.
We write to remind you of your stated commitment to press freedom and back the demands raised by journalists in Chhattisgarh that the government must:
· Initiate criminal charges against the accused that reflect the seriousness of the assault.
· Hold the district authorities directly accountable for the assault.
· Put in place the promised Protection of Media Persons Act at the earliest.
Malini Subramaniam, Hyderabad
Supriya Sharma, New Delhi
Mahtab Alam, New Delhi
Dipankar Ghose, New Delhi
Freny Manecksha, Mumbai
Parth MN, Mumbai
Ushinor Majumdar, New Delhi
Ashutosh Bhardwaj, New Delhi
Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
Aruna Chandrasekhar, London
Suvojit Baghchi, Kolkata
Rahul Pandita, New Delhi
Divya Trivedi, New Delhi
Rahul Kotiyal, New Delhi
Makepeace Sitlhou, Guwahati
Hridayesh Joshi, New Delhi
Rohini Mohan, Bangalore
Pavan Dahat, Nagpur
Raksha Kumar, Bangalore
Ajoy Ashirwad, New Delhi
Salman Ravi, New Delhi
Chitrangada Choudhury, Bhuvneshwar
Vijay Pandey, New Delhi
Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, New Delhi
Sukanya Shantha, Mumbai
Padmaja Shaw, Hyderabad