One of the most challenging tasks in India has been to report from those remote places which are in the middle of several conflicts and repressive policies. Apart from the more routine problems relating to collecting evidence and facts in remote areas, when these become conflict zones or when repression is being unleashed there, risks of journalism work increase considerably and a journalist can easily experience serious harm from the various perpetrators of violence. As someone who has reported from several dacoity infested areas of Chambal and Bundelkhand, villages affected by Khalistani terror in Punjab, naxalite violence areas in Bihar and areas of severe repression of weaker sections in Chattisgarh and elsewhere, I have some experience of the serious risks and difficulties that are involved.
Hence when some journalists working in such difficult conditions repeatedly come up with important reports on injustices and human rights violations and other serious problems then these journalists deserve special appreciation and respect.
Rupesh Kumar Singh is one such independent journalist from Jharkhand who has been repeatedly coming up with reports of such courageous journalism. Unfortunately he has faced repression and arrest as a result of this. On 17 July he was arrested from his home in Ramgarh, Jharkhand.
This is not the first time that he was arrested. He was earlier arrested and intimidated to give up his reporting based on people-centered journalism. He responded by writing even more courageously on a range of issues but with special emphasis on the many-sided injustice suffered by tribal communities. His reports on industrial pollution and displacement and his questioning of the so-called ‘development’ that brings more ruin than relief to common local people, particularly adivasis should have led to important corrective actions in a genuinely democratic response. Instead these merely aggravated official hostility against him.
At the time of his first arrest, although he was kept in jail for several months, the authorities could not find any credible evidence against him, resulting in his release. He wrote an important book on his jail experiences. A collection of his reports, articles and poems was also published.
But as in the past, the authorities continued to pursue him, trying to implicate him in some sort of collusion with Maoists, a tactic which is often used to harass anyone who is highly sympathetic towards the poor and towards struggling tribal communities in particular. He was among those journalists whose phone was allegedly under surveillance using Pegasus hacking software.
The arrest of Rupesh Kumar Singh after a nine-hour search of his house is widely seen as an act of repression and vendetta to not only curb his journalism but also to intimidate and silence others from practicing similar journalism in the vast areas where tribal communities along with other people are struggling to protect jal, jangal and zameen ( farmland, forest and water sources). Unfortunately, instead of mobilizing tribal communities for an ecologically protective, people centered path of development to which they can contribute the most, the authorities of several such regions are colluding with big industrial interests, including multinational companies, to grab land and violently curb tribal aspirations for a sustainable and justice-based development path. Rupesh and others like him, who challenge this, are being intimidated, harassed endlessly and arrested.
Hence it is important for professional bodies of journalists as well as other democratic forces to oppose the arrest of Rupesh Kumar Singh, and also to oppose the imprisonment of all those who have been jailed for resisting the imposition of distorted development strategy and massive displacement on tribal communities.
An international organization Committee to Protect Journalists has stated, “Indian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh, cease harassing him in retaliation for his work, and allow him to report freely and safely.” This is a demand that should be widely and strongly supported by professional bodies of journalists as well as by all democratic forces.
Bharat Dogra received the PUCL Award for Human Rights Reporting and thrice the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting. His recent books include Plant in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Man over Machine—The Path to Peace.