By Malini Subramaniam

Senior journalist from Chhattisgarh Kamal Shukla, Editor Bhumkal Samachar, who was brutally assaulted on Sept 26, 2020, told Free Speech Collective that these attacks were a direct consequence of exposes in his newsportal Bhumkal Samachar on illegal sand mining in Kanker district. 

Kamal Shukla

Shukla was attacked with sharp weapons resulting in injury to his head, neck and his waist.   In a video that was put out in social media, a few men are seen dragging him by his head slinging insults of rape of his mother and sister and constantly beating him. 

(Click here for the videos)

After being administered three stitches at his head injury, an unfazed Kamal Shukla came to address the media attacking local and senior congress workers, including the Chief Minister of remaining silent on the attack on free speech in his state.  

Shukla said that journalists in Kanker have been regularly writing about the corrupt practices in the district and had sought the dismissal of the Collector, Shri Kumar Lal Chouhan as he was extremely rude with the journalists and hand in glove with the sand mafia.  The Collector refused to respond to their queries and made derogatory remarks in whatsapp groups against journalists. 

The nexus between the administration, police, local politicians and the mafia is clear, he said. 

Shukla had reached the thana, when he heard that a local reporter, Satish Yadav, was being beaten up and dragged by some locals to the thana.  Yadav had reported that the control of the Nagar Palika decisions were actually in the control of the husband of the elected President, which probably angered the supporters. 

“But as I reached joined by other reporters to file a case against his attackers, we were surprised to see people like Ganesh Tiwari and his associate Gaffar Memon waving a pistol  threatening me with life!” said Shukla.  Shukla then rushed to where the thana incharge sits asking him to protect him, who instead said he won’t be able to protect him and that he should leave.

No sooner he stepped out of the thana, a crowd of 300 were present and watched as he was dragged, slapped, hit and brutally attacked till the bus stand, he said.  

The police has filed bailable offences u/s 294 (public acts of obscenity), 506 (criminal intimidation), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 34 (acts by several persons to further common intention) of the IPC against four persons, Jitendra Thakur, Gaffar Memmon, Shadab khan and Ganesh Tiwari.  While issuing the statement, the police made it a matter of ‘internal dispute’ between media personnel Bhumkal Samachar editor Kamal Shukla and co-editors of Amar Stambh and Dainik Shrambindu, Ganesh Tiwari and his associates Jitendra Singh Thakur Gaffar Memmon and  Shadab khan.

Shukla feels these charges are only a hog wash.  The four were invited to the thana and then let off as these were bailable offences.  He is demanding atleast 307 (attempt to murder) and 324

Kamal Shukla said, it’s a pity that the same people in the Congress who had cried hoarse over corruption in the previous BJP government and promised to usher in a law for protection of Jounalists should behave in this manner.  He said, what the BJP government did not do in its 15 years of power, the current Bhupesh Baghel’s Congress government achieved it.  This government has arrested journalists the most in its tenure. 

Instead of bringing in the promised the law for the protection of journalists, the state promptly brought in a ‘fake news committee’ primarily to pile cases against reporters who are critical of the government, said Shukla.  Although Shukla has not been framed in any such instance of alleged ‘fake news’, there have been worrying cases against seasoned journalists.

The attack against him, Shukla feels, is a bigger political conspiracy involving senior Congress leaders.  In a recent editorial of 23rd September, Kamal Shukla had raised questions on Chief Minister Bhubesh Baghel’s government of having gone silent on some of the most tainted officers. 

These officers are being charged with serious offences of corruption in some of the most high profile scams involving 36000 crore of public money, not only are they out on bail but have been quietly reinstated in their jobs.  Is it to further enable collection of funds through corrupt means for the upcoming elections in Bihar and West Bengal, Shukla had asked in his editorial. 

Speaking to Free Speech Collective, the SP of Kanker M R Ahire, said that necessary action will be taken against the perpetrators as appropriate in the law.  However, what emerged a few hours later were diluted charges against those who attacked Shukla.

Shukla made no secret of the work he did for the Congress-I in the run up to the 2018 Assembly election. However, as he said in an interview, he had become disillusioned with the Congress government and was critical of its policies:

A few hours back, while addressing the media on farm bills, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel when asked to respond on the attacks on Shukla, said he condemns such attacks and that appropriate cases will be filed against the attackers.  When reminded that the person, Gaffar Memmon, who attacked Shukla brandishing his licensed revolver threatening Shukla with his life was a District Congress leader, Baghel said that in that case more serious charges will be filed against him.  

Free Speech Collective will watch closely the next couple of days on the developments in Kanker in this matter.

Baghel instead compared his government with the previous regime that atleast in his time, journalists are gathering together challenging attacks.  This he felt was a big leap from the previous BJP government.  Reminding media the fear prevailing then, he reminded all of the case of  Santosh Yadav, who was charged under Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, where even the news agency that had hired him refused to accept him as their reporter.  He said in the past two years, we have come a long way. 

When asked about the Chhattisgarh Protection of Mediapersons’ Act  – a bill that has been under discussion since a year, Baghel said the bills was in its final stage .

This government is most serious in having the Chhattisgarh Protection of Mediapersons’ Act enacted, said Ruchir Garg, Media Advisor to the Chief Minister, when Free Speech Collective contacted him over phone.   “No doubt there has been a delay, but the processes of consultation though prolonged are on to have a good law in place”, he said reiterating that Justice Aftab Alam , under whose chairpersonship the consultation is being undertaken, has taken personal interest in taking the widespread suggestions that are pouring in.

Garg shared the various consultations that have taken place in different locations including Bastar and Surguja divisions from where suggestions from ground reporters were collected that prompted the first draft to undergo substantive change.  A second round of suggestions were sought online which has now been extended to included suggestions from outside the State as well.   The Chief Minister is very keen to have a thoroughly consulted piece of legislation, stated Garg.

As regards yesterday’s incident in Kanker, he said he strongly condemns such an attack against Kamal Shukla and was confident that those involved will have to face legal action.  When questioned over the mild charges slapped against the perpetrators, he said appropriate sections of the IPC can always be applied if deemed necessary.

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