Read why Hindi Media needs Asha Ranjan of Siwan, Not Ravish Kumar of Press Club
Hindi Media Needs Asha Ranjan of Siwan, Not Ravish Kumar of Press Club
There were no different theories in Rajdev Ranjan’s family about who was behind his killing, quite unlike the different possibilities Gauri Lankesh’s siblings have suggested as probable reasons for her murder. Ranjan, in his early forties, was Hindi daily Hindustan’s Siwan district bureau chief in Bihar when he was gunned down on May 13 last year. His wife Asha Ranjan, a school teacher, accused mafia don and Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) leader and former MP Mohammad Shahabuddin of masterminding the murder. She didn’t have candle light vigils or protest meetings at Press Club of India in Delhi to support her fight against the Siwan strongman, a dreaded chief of crime syndicate who had prospered under minority appeasement politics of Lalu regime in 90s.
Ranjan, thankfully, wasn’t accorded state funeral, and escaped the embarrassment of a gun salute. He, obviously, had no ex-spouse writing a Facebook obituary for him from Washington. Moreover, he wasn’t convicted of defamation by a court either. The day he was killed, his murder didn’t find its way to prime time shows of national TV news channels, not even Hindi news channels.
Asha Ranjan persisted, without placard gladiators of press freedom and devoid of any hashtag demanding justice for her husband. Newspapers reported it with the banality of every day crime and a few television channels had quite late and fleeting mention of Siwan journalist’s murder. She claimed that her husband was on Shahabuddin’s dreaded hit list. With her dogged efforts, the case was transferred from state police to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for probe and even Supreme Court asked the probe agency to conclude probe in three months. Earlier, responding to the murder, Press Council of India (not the club) asked for a special law to ensure safety of journalists. After many rounds of questioning, collecting evidence and also establishing links with the kind of investigative writing Ranjan was doing for Hindustan, on August 22 this year CBI filed a chargesheet against Shahabuddin and six other in a special CBI court in Muzaffarpur, 72 km north of state capital Patna.
The road to getting them chargesheeted wasn’t a smooth one for Asha. She had her spells of doubt, especially when RJD leader and former Health Minister Tej Pratap Yadav and Shahabuddin were seen with two prime accused- sharpshooters Mohammad Kaif and Mohammad Javed. It’s significant to note that then RJD was part of Mahagatbandhan government in the state. Such apparent political patronage for the accused was further reinforced when Republic TV made its debut with the expose of a telephonic conversation between RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and jailed don Shahabuddin.
Interestingly, instead of grasping the repercussions of such nexus, major sections of national media looked away from the expose for reasons which possibly ranged from professional rivalry to the vice of selective outrage. The author had addressed the significance of the expose, as well as extent and underpinnings of indifference of national media to it, in a piece for this website. Despite such patronage not inspiring any confidence, Asha should count herself lucky that CBI is now taking the case to its logical conclusion.
She wouldn’t have been so hopeful if she was aware of how his husband’s extended journalistic fraternity in national capital and other influential centres of outrage production have been quite unmoved by the dangers faced by the journalists of regional press working in the hinterland. It, for instance, took Delhi media15 years to discover the heroism of Poora Sach editor Ram Chander Chhatrapati in his fight against now disgraced cult leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim. In fact, there are many more cases in which death of, or violent attacks on, journalists working in regional media are yet to be retrieved from the layers of obscurity Confining here to Hindi media only , the scene isn’t any less alarming either. The role of language and ‘people like us’ class (and sometimes ideological too) solidarity in determining the scale of outrage over killing of journalists is quite evident. The author has reflected on it in an earlier piece for this site.
Not going back further than last four years, a statistical measure of selective outrage can be derived from the data gathered and compiled by columnist and commentator Anand Ranganathan. He has statistically tabulated the response of a few leading voices of India media active on Twitter to different cases of violence against journalists.
Please embed the table given below
The fact of language, preferred political narrative and sometimes tyranny of distance contributing to the blinkered outrage is now being realized by foot soldiers of regional press. Yesterday, for instance, while condemning Gauri Lankesh’s murder, journalists’ associations in Assam wondered why there hasn’t been any outrage about 32 journalists killed in Assam in past few years. It should also be understood that such backlash has also forced people to argue that Gauri Lankesh was also a regional media journalist. That’s only a half-truth, perhaps more useful to suppress the facts rather than revealing it. While writing a tribute to her, her ex-husband Chidanand Rajghatta, The Times of India ‘s Washington correspondent, makes it amply clear that she was a very late convert to Kannada. He gives enough hint to suggest that being brought up in an elite setting, English was first language for them then and till both of them weren’t proficient in Kannada even as they entered their youth. Quite late in her life too, apart from running her Kannada magazine Gauri Lankesh Patrike, she was writing for English portal Wire. That’s not to hold against her, but simply understanding why she didn’t represent an average regional journalist struggling against the heat and dust of hinterland India.
Dangers faced by Hindi media and its mofussil practitioners haven’t found voice even in national Hindi press and television news. They have got lost in the din of supposedly ‘national’ narratives, which often is an euphemism of convenient posturing and cherry-picked alarmism. For instance, having positioned himself as the melancholic tragedy king, or say Dilip Kumar, of Hindi TV journalism Ravish Kumar, could be seen as eager enough to be seen and heard at capital’s Press Club protest meetings or marches but one hasn’t seen any initiative from him for the conditions in which his less fortunate colleagues work in the hinterland.
An act of overcompensating for it by posting an information capsule last evening (September 7) on an attack on a journalist in Arwal doesn’t take away from the fact that self-appointed flagbearers of free press in Hindi space like Kumar have confined themselves to the rhetorics and selective agenda of their English counterparts. That’s the price that Ravish has decided to pay for being the blue-eyed boy of south Delhi journalism- a group which has given him a sense of belonging because of his literary flourish and aesthetic refinement.
It’s not that such selectivity has escaped the attention of commentators on Hindi media. Commenting on the silence of Kumar and his ilk on the reported death threats and abuses hurled at a reporter of Prabhat Khabar in Bararia (Bihar), independent journalist Vyalok Pathak called out the selective nature of outrage in national media against attacks on media freedom (Ravish Kumar, asal darr kya hota hai, Prabhat Khabar ke patrakaar Sanjeev se puchiye Ravish Kumar, if you want to know what fear is, ask Prabhat Khabar’s journalist Sanjeev, June 15).
In times when fight for media freedom is increasingly becoming a political narrative, there are obvious trappings of outrage being dictated by agenda and ideological affiliations. As English media punches above its weight in setting the tone for this discourse only at the cost of details, Hindi media needs to retrieve and assert its autonomy in evaluating and addressing the challenge of ensuring safety for thousands of its footsoldiers operating from difficult terrains of hinterland India. In doing so, it must avoid the cacophony of self-righteous voices of Press Club, and instead listen to the tales of how Asha Ranjan fought for her fearless husband.