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Police’ Camouflage formula would restrict media persons from doing their job

"The formula applied by the West Bengal Police would make a journalist face serious problems at the other end while reporting people’s issues and problems in Maoist dominated areas. The journalists would now be under Maoist scanner and would be suspected as police informer or planted by police."

HNF Editorial : September 27, 2009

West Bengal Police somehow succeeded in arresting Chhattradhar Mahato, chief of a Maoist-backed body that leads the tribal movement in trouble-torn belt of West Bengal, posing some of its officials as journalists.

Arresting Mahato is definitely a big success for the police force, as explained by West Midnapore district police superintendent Manoj Verma, but arresting Mahato in camouflage of journalists would have its reverse impact on journalism professionals in accomplishing their jobs.

As the reports on the event explain, two police officers, camouflaging themselves as journalists, went to the area where Mahato had agreed to give an interview to a select group of media persons and pounced on Mahato at an opportune time. But, why as journalists who use to take more risk than the empowered police officials in reporting the problems and issues of people leaving in Maoist controlled remote places where administration and armed police forces do not often dare to go?

It could be West Midnapore, Bankura or Purulia in West Bengal, Sundergarh, Koraput or Malkangiri in Orissa, Dantewada or Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Police officials opt not to be posted in remote Police Stations, Government officials seek cancellation of their posting or remain on long leave, political leaders keep themselves away from such places and occasionally visit such areas accompanied by huge security personnel. But the journalist or media person can never avoid visiting such places like the government officials do nor can by provided with security, as provided to the leaders, to visit such localities. But the journalist goes to such remote places, talk to people and their ideologues and bring their issues to a larger audience or readership who we mean public.

Take the example of Narayanpatna in Koraput where finally the tribal community reacted to the negligence, harassment and apathetic attitude of the government machinery since many decades by forcibly acquiring the land that was once occupied by their forefathers. Immediately after the incident, there was a landmine blast that killed 10 people including 9 Jawans. Narayanpatna then became inaccessible to administration and police. Even, local police was afraid to come out and move in the public. But the reporters tried their best to report incidents that happened in Narayanpatna. They reported the plight of non-tribal communities living in and around Narayanpatna, incident of the Block Office being ransacked and looted etc.

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Whenever a journalist or a group of journalists got a chance to meet a Maoist cadre, they always wanted to know the reasons behind the movement and came up with suggestions for the government to find ways for a long term solution. Many of the journalists risked their life on many occasions to inform the larger public about the reasons behind the growth of Maoist movement and their objectives and plans to achieve them. Always, the journalists tried to come up with fresh clues for the Public, for the Police and the Administration.

But, after the West Bengal incident, Police of other Maoist inflicted states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Orissa, Jharkhand etc would put the media professionals under its scanner and also would try to imitate the same formula to trap the senior cadres. Even now, Police has put many of the journalists under its scanner and, on many occasions, booked journalists on charges of Maoist connection.

The fresh such instance occurred in Orissa’s Gajapati district where a journalist Laxman Chaudhury - Mohana Block Reporter of a leading Oriya daily was arrested on charges of Maoist connection. Reason behind the charge is that some eight leaflets allegedly released by the Maoists were carried by a bus conductor who was told to hand over the leaflets to Laxman. The statement was given by the Bus conductor and Police put the charge on the journalist on basis of this statement only, arrested the journalist and forwarded to Jail.

Now, the formula applied by the West Bengal Police would make a journalist face serious problems at the other end while reporting people’s issues and problems in Maoist dominated areas. The journalists would now be under Maoist scanner and would be suspected as police informer or planted by police. If things happen like this, it will not only restrict the media persons from doing their professional job, but also deprive the poor and downtrodden communities living in remote forest villages of finding someone who can, possibly, make their issues reach public, planners and the corridors of power.

 

 

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