India is famous for being the world’s largest democracy, but government actions in 2002 to curb the press indicate a growing intolerance among the country’s leadership. Many journalists say the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to target its critics in the media as a matter of policy–and largely gets away with it.
In the western state of Gujarat, police and political activists were responsible for a series of physical assaults against journalists covering the violence that swept the state after a Muslim mob attacked a train carrying Hindu activists in late February. The ensuing reprisal attacks left more than 1,000 Muslims dead and tens of thousands homeless. When journalists reported that much of the violence against Muslims was organized and sponsored by police and activists associated with Hindu nationalist groups, including the BJP, Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, lashed out. Modi, himself a BJP leader, accused the press of “making attempts to project Gujarat as a violent and disturbed state” and conspiring “to remove people’s faith from the elected government.”
Journalists who covered the violence were vulnerable not only to the rage of unruly mobs but also to harassment and assault by police who did not want evidence of their complicity in the attacks publicized. Police in Rajkot, a city in Gujarat, beat Sudhir Vyas, a reporter from the national Times of India, while he attempted to cover the unrest. “They said, ‘Why are you here? Have you come to report on what we are doing?'” Vyas told CPJ. “They knew I was seeing what they allowed others to do.”
In June, the government threatened to expel Time magazine’s New Delhi bureau chief, Alex Perry, after he wrote an article questioning Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s fitness to lead the country during heightened tension on the subcontinent. Though officials interrogated Perry about alleged visa infractions, they took no further action.
Less than a month later, the government forced Al-Jazeera correspondent Nasir Shadid to leave India. “Al-Jazeera is replacing its correspondent,” External Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said, according to The Associated Press. “This is a decision the government of India makes.” Shadid’s colleagues in the capital, New Delhi, said the journalist had angered officials with his reporting, particularly on attacks against Muslims in Gujarat and on the conflict in Kashmir, a mostly Muslim territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.
Iftikhar Gilani, the New Delhi bureau chief for the Jammu-based newspaper Kashmir Times, suffered the worst state harassment. The government accused him of possessing classified documents and jailed him for seven months under the Official Secrets Act, a draconian, colonial-era law.
Journalists working in strife-torn Kashmir continue to endure physical assault, threats, and harassment, and in 2002 the number of attacks against the press increased there. Militant groups fighting against Indian rule were believed to have perpetrated the most serious of these assaults, including three separate incidents in which journalists were shot and one in which a grenade hit a reporter’s home. Tensions ran high in the run-up to controversial state legislative assembly elections held in September and October. Militant groups had threatened to assassinate anyone who supported the elections, which they believe conferred undue legitimacy on the Indian government. The United Jihad Council, a Pakistan-based organization representing about 14 militant groups in Kashmir, issued a threat against the press hours before a prominent editor was shot: “Mujahideen (warriors) are aware of the black sheep among journalists and warn them to mend their ways.” Nine journalists have been killed in Kashmir since civil war erupted there in 1989, according to CPJ research.
Separatist insurgencies in India’s northeastern states, especially in Manipur and Assam, also endangered journalists. In October, ethnic Kuki militants kidnapped two journalists in Manipur State to protest the media’s “poor coverage” of the United Kuki Liberation Front. Just two days after the journalists were released, reporter Yambem Meghajit Singh was found dead in Imphal, Manipur’s capital. His colleagues say they do not know what motivated the killing. And in Assam, police threatened to arrest journalist Lachit Bordoloi and accused him of ties to the rebel United Liberation Front of Assam after he wrote about police corruption.
Though covering India’s conflict areas was obviously dangerous, even ordinary reporting on crime or political infighting occasionally sparked violent reprisal. One editor was murdered in the northern state of Haryana after reporting on sexual abuse and other crimes allegedly committed by a local religious sect. A crime reporter in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh was also murdered in 2002, though the motive behind his killing remained unconfirmed at year’s end. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, meanwhile, a political gang armed with wooden batons assaulted several journalists working for a newspaper that had published an unflattering cartoon of the group’s leader.
Sudhir Vyas, Times of India
Vyas, a reporter for the national daily Times of India, was physically assaulted by police in Rajkot, in the western state of Gujarat, while trying to go to the city’s commercial center to cover massive rioting. Vyas was traveling on a scooter clearly marked as a press vehicle and also showed his press credentials to the officers. “They knew I was a journalist,” Vyas told CPJ. “They said, ‘Why are you here? Have you come to report on what we are doing?’ They knew I was seeing what they allowed others to do” during the riots. About four officers assaulted Vyas, beating him with wooden batons. He says he sustained a hairline fracture to his right elbow, which he had raised to protect his head, and also suffered severe blows to his back.
The assault on Vyas was typical of attacks against journalists reporting on the communal violence that swept Gujarat following the burning of a train carrying Hindu activists, which left 59 people dead. That incident, which occurred on February 27, triggered a wave of reprisal attacks largely targeting the state’s Muslim minority. Journalists reported that much of the violence directed against Muslims was organized and sponsored by police and political activists associated with Hindu nationalist groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the ruling party in Gujarat and the leading partner in India’s national coalition government.
Pranav Joshi, New Delhi Television
Harsh Shah, The Indian Express
Harshal Pandya, Eenadu Television
Dhimant Purohit, Aaj Tak
Sanjeev Singh, New Delhi Television
Amit Dave, Jansatta
Ketan Trivedi, Gujarat Samachar
Gautam Mehta, Gujarat Samachar
Kalpit Bachech, Times of India
Police in the Ahmedabad, the state capital of Gujarat, assaulted several journalists who were covering the officers’ attempts to restore order at a peace meeting disrupted by a group of Hindu nationalists. Police, failing to control the mob, turned on journalists documenting the scene. Joshi, a cameraman for New Delhi Television, was among the most seriously injured. Police hit him over the head, knocking him unconscious, and continued beating him until a senior officer intervened. Joshi was rushed to a hospital for treatment.
Others injured included Shah, a photographer for the national newspaper The Indian Express§ Pandya, a reporter for the private broadcaster Eenadu Television; Purohit, a correspondent for the private news channel Aaj Tak; Singh, a reporter for New Delhi Television; Dave, a photographer for the newspaper Jansatta; Trivedi, a reporter for the newspaper Gujarat Samachar; Mehta, a photographer for Gujarat Samachar; and Bachech, a photographer for the national daily Times of India.
The incident occurred at the historic Sabarmati Ashram, founded by Mohandas K. Gandhi, the leader of India’s nonviolent movement for independence. Peace activists had convened the meeting at the ashram to discuss recent communal violence in Gujarat. The gathering was interrupted by protests led by the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in Gujarat and the leading partner in India’s coalition government.
In an editorial headlined “Savaging the Journalist,” The Indian Express reported that the attack on journalists was the culmination of a “systematic anti-media campaign” sponsored by the state government, which had garnered negative press coverage for official complicity in violence that largely targeted the Muslim minority community.
Paritosh Pandey, Jansatta Express
Ehsan Fazili, The Tribune
A grenade exploded outside the Srinagar residence of Fazili, a correspondent covering Jammu and Kashmir for the regional, English-language daily The Tribune. Srinagar is the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir State, where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.
Fazili told CPJ that the grenade appeared to have been planted by a teenage boy who had entered his office minutes before the explosion asking permission to use a water tap. The journalist said he became suspicious when he heard some activity on the other side of the house. Just as he went outside to investigate, the young man fled but also warned him to move away from the house. Fazili escaped the blast with only a few splinter injuries on his back.
A separatist militant group later claimed that the grenade was not intended for Fazili. Local journalists said they perceived the attack as a warning to the Srinagar press corps–many of whom live and work in the same neighborhood.
Zafar Iqbal, Kashmir Images
Iqbal, a journalist for the Srinagar, Kashmir-based, English-language daily Kashmir Images, was seriously injured after being shot by three unidentified assailants, according to journalists in Kashmir and Indian news reports. At about 3:00 p.m., three gunmen entered the Srinagar offices of Kashmir Images and asked for Iqbal. After speaking with the journalist for several minutes, one of them took out a gun and shot him in the leg and neck. The assailants fled the scene and have not been caught by police.
Iqbal is an editor and reporter at Kashmir Images, a publication known for supporting the Indian government. Local journalists believe Iqbal may have been targeted because of a front-page story he wrote in the May 29 issue about the Indian army’s efforts to help an impoverished family. His colleagues told reporters that the assailants discussed the story with Iqbal before shooting him.
Journalists are regularly targeted for violent attack in Indian-administered Kashmir, where Muslim separatists and Indian security forces are fighting for control of the region. The shooting came amid escalating tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory.
Iftikhar Gilani, Kashmir Times
Alex Perry, Time
Perry, New Delhi bureau chief for Time magazine, was threatened with expulsion after he wrote an article questioning Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s fitness to the lead the country during a time of heightened tension on the subcontinent. Though officials repeatedly summoned Perry for questioning over alleged visa infractions, in the end, no further action was taken.
The controversial article prompted small demonstrations, including one in Pune, a city in Maharashtra State, that was led by members of Vaypayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party during which a pile of Time magazine copies was burned. Time magazine also hired armed security guards after The Pioneer, a conservative newspaper, published Perry’s home address along with a scathing critique of his article.
Nasir Shadid, Al-Jazeera
Shadid, New Delhi correspondent for the Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Jazeera, was expelled from the country. “Al-Jazeera is replacing its correspondent,” External Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said, as quoted by The Associated Press. “This is a decision the government of India makes.”
Though Al-Jazeera denied that it was under pressure to replace Shadid, the journalist’s colleagues in New Delhi said he had been pressured for some time over his reporting on abuses committed against India’s Muslim community. Shadid “has been asked to leave India because of his reporting on Kashmir and Gujarat,” said S. Venkat Narayan, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia. The government is extremely sensitive about reports of government complicity in attacks against the Muslim minority community in Gujarat and also keeps close watch of reporting on the disputed Kashmir region.
Shahid Rashid, State Reporter
Rashid, editor of the Urdu-language daily State Reporter, was shot by masked gunmen as he rode his scooter to the newspaper office in the Chanapora area of Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir State. Both Pakistan and India claim the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Local residents took Rashid to the S.M.H.S. Hospital in Srinagar, where he underwent surgery. Rashid had bullet wounds in his neck and arm, a hospital spokesperson told Agence France-Presse. Journalists in Srinagar were not sure what motivated the shooting but noted that violent attacks against the media appeared to be on the rise.
Saravana Kumar, Dinamalar
Pakkiri Samy, Dinamalar
The office of the Tamil-language newspaper Dinamalar, located in Thanjavur, a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was attacked by about six people armed with wooden sticks. The gang destroyed office equipment and furniture and assaulted employees who attempted to stop them.
The journalists most seriously injured were Kumar, a subeditor, and Raja, a reporter, both of whom were taken to Thanjavur Medical College Hospital for treatment. Samy, a subeditor, suffered minor injuries. Also hurt were several staffers including Murugan, the office manager, who was also hospitalized; Raman, a computer operator; and Thanga Rajan, an office assistant.
According to sources at the newspaper, the journalists recognized their assailants as members of Dravida Kazhagam, a nationalist organization that promotes the advancement of the Dravidian ethnic group in Tamil Nadu. The news editor at the paper told CPJ that the attack was likely motivated by a July 26 political cartoon that depicted Dravida Kazhagam’s leader as a rat to be chased out of the house of Tamil Nadu’s chief minister.
Ghulam Mohammed Sofi, Srinagar Times
Sofi, a prominent editor in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir State, was shot and wounded by two unidentified gunmen. The two young men entered the offices of Sofi, editor of the popular Urdu-language daily Srinagar Times, at about 6:30 p.m. and opened fire. Sofi’s bodyguard attempted to block an assailant and was shot in the thigh. Sofi was briefly hospitalized for a bullet injury to his right hand.
The attack on Sofi was one of several violent incidents that occurred in Jammu and Kashmir as polling for state legislative elections began. Some militant organizations fighting for independence for Kashmir or accession to neighboring Pakistan had threatened to assassinate those who participated in or supported the elections, which they believe confer legitimacy on Indian rule. India and Pakistan have competing claims over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The Srinagar Times is an independent newspaper that supported the state elections.
Sofi told CPJ that his newspaper has been attacked nine times since 1989, when fighting between the government and insurgents in Muslim-majority Kashmir flared into civil war. However, this was the first time that he came face-to-face with his assailants. “We don’t know who is behind this attack,” Sofi said. “But the attackers have failed to fulfill their objective,” he added, noting that he had spent some time at his offices the day after the attack.
The United Jihad Council, a Pakistan-based organization representing about 14 militant groups active in Kashmir, released a threatening statement only hours before the attack on Sofi. “Mujahideen (warriors) are aware of the black sheep among journalists and warn them to mend their ways,” said the statement, according to The Associated Press.
Iboyaima Laithangbam, The Hindu
Yumnam Arun, free-lance
Laithangbam, a reporter for the national English-language newspaper The Hindu, and Arun, a free-lancer reporting for the regional monthly Eastern Panorama, were kidnapped by ethnic Kuki militants in India’s conflict-ridden Manipur State. Abducted in an ambush in Chandel District on the road that leads from the state capital, Imphal, to the Burmese border, the two were released safely on October 10, in the town of Palel. A driver and fellow passenger kidnapped along with the journalists were held separately and released on October 12.
In a brief account of his detention published in the October 11 edition of The Hindu, Laithangbam said that members of the United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), one of many insurgent groups fighting in India’s fractious northeastern states, abducted the journalists. “The outfit’s ‘commander,’ Lt. Mingthang, told us that we were being taken to protest ‘poor coverage’ of the UKLF activities,” Laithangbam wrote. He said the rebels warned that they would target any newspaper that did not publish their press releases, and that journalists may be captured again in the future.
On the day of their capture, the two journalists were forced to march for about four hours through forested mountains and were held overnight in a tribal village where the UKLF had set up a temporary camp, according to Laithangbam. The next day, they were taken to another village, where they were again forced to spend the night. Although the two were not physically harmed, the rebels stole a digital camera, tape recorder, pocket radio, and money.
Yambem Meghajit Singh, Northeast Vision
Ram Chander Chaterpatti, Poora Sach