These days the discourse in the Indian media is high on “freedom”. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, religious and cultural freedoms, academic and intellectual freedoms. I can open any English language newspaper today and read about how Modi has wrecked press freedom. I can hear them shouting from the rooftops that their voices have been stifled.
Whatever virtues the Indian media might have, irony is clearly not their strong suit.
The voices have recently grown louder with the CBI raid on Prannoy Roy. In a clear violation of press immunity, the CBI raided NDTV and Prannoy Roy in connection with alleged fraud.
Oops! Did I say “press immunity”? I meant “press freedom”. I always struggle with these concepts of having immunity vs having freedom. Anyways…
But there is one voice that I cannot hear. A voice that is gone forever. All that we have left is a few screams on tape.
That’s the job of a journalist. Asking questions. And Jagendra Singh wanted to ask why “they” had to burn him alive? On his death bed, the helpless man wanted to ask why the “minister and his goondas” could not have given him a lesser punishment, such as beating him up.
Who is Jagendra Singh?
Well, there are journalists who are burned alive and have to beg for the more merciful “punishment” of being beaten up. And then there are journalists who have to be rushed to TV studios and Thinkfests with severe third degree injuries from getting trolled on Twitter.
Jagendra Singh belonged to the former category. His journalism was a no-frills operation, for he ran a mere Facebook page called “Shahjahanpur Samachar“. For those who don’t know, Shahjahanpur is one of those sleepy little towns in Uttar Pradesh that never make the news. Shahjahanpur is definitely a bigger town than Dadri, though, but I digress.
On the Facebook page of Shahjahanpur Samachar, this man Jagendra Singh ended up writing extensively about alleged corruption of one Ram Murti Singh Verma, a minister in then Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh.
So, a journalist accuses a minister of corruption. The next thing, the journalist is burned alive and leaves behind a dying declaration (caught on video, no less) accusing the “minister and his goons” of burning him.
What happens next? Does the Press Club hold an emergency meeting to begin a nationwide movement for justice to this journalist? Do intellectuals start returning heaps of awards to stir the national conscience?
No, of course not! The minister in question was secular, a member of the Samajwadi Party. The state of Uttar Pradesh was ruled at the time by the “Achche Ladke” team headed by Akhilesh Yadav.
So, nothing happens. Intellectuals keep their awards. Journalists keep raising awareness against the scourge of internet trolls.
Nothing to see in Shahjahanpur. A few months later, Dadri would go on to happen in “Modi’s India”. That’s when the cameras came, crying aloud for freedom.
But the law had to take the case to its logical conclusion. Something had to be done about the complaint lodged by Jagendra Singh’s son.
Oh thank god! Jagendra Singh’s sons had earlier lodged a complaint against the minister. That was before they had a chat with their mother and discovered that his father had planned to threaten self immolation all along. So nice of these two upright young sons to come forward and actually “demand a clean chit” for the minister.
Who says that “ghor kaliyug” has come? It is moments like these that restore our faith in humanity.
Fortunately, the alleged sole eyewitness in the alleged murder of the alleged journalist (hope I have used “alleged” sufficiently many times) also remembered just in time that it was actually a self-immolation. What an awful misunderstanding that could have hurt the image of one very upright individual minister in the secular government of Akhilesh Yadav.
Here ends the story of Jagendra Singh. You won’t hear him telling his wild stories ever again. Thank god for that, right?
It’s only a matter of time before Jagendra Singh’s voice on tape also realizes its mistake and ends up “demanding a clean chit” for Akhilesh’s minister. Wait and watch…