In what appears to be the second murder of a journalist in less than a month, a television journalist was shot dead in a village in the Phephna area of Ballia district of eastern Uttar Pradesh late on Monday, police said.
Unknown assailants shot dead Ratan Singh inside the campus of the local gram pradhan, said Devendra Nath, Superintendent of Police, Ballia. Mr. Singh worked as a reporter in Ballia for Sahara Samay UP/UK. Mr. Nath said that while an old dispute might have been behind the murder, the facts of the case and the likely reasons behind it were being investigated.
However, his family questioned the police narrative that the murder took place over a land dispute, with the immediate cause being a confrontation over storing straw.
On the complaint lodged by the father of journalist Ratan Singh (45) against 10 people, six accused — Sushil Singh, Dinesh Singh, Arvind Singh, Suneel Singh, Vir Bahadur Singh and Vinay Singh have been arrested so far, Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Sanjay Yadav said.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Azamgarh Subhash Chandra Dubey said the confrontation was triggered off after the family of the journalist kept straw on the disputed land. In return, the accused side dumped wheat chaff on the land. After the journalist’s family removed the chaff placed by the accused side, the latter did the same with their straw leading to an altercation and “ladai-jhagra”, said the officer.
Mr. Singh was then hit with lathis and shot dead, said Ballia police.
Vinod Singh, the father of the deceased journalist, however, refuted the police statement and said there had been no quarrel over keeping straw on the day. He accused the police of “lying” and even questioned the role of the local police in-charge.
“There was no issue over the puwal (straw). You can go there and see for yourself. There is no puwal or bhusi kept there,” Mr. Vinod told to The Hindu.
He said the accused had lured his son to the spot through deceit.
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar had stated on Monday night that Ratan Singh had a property dispute with his neighbor and after a fight between the two, he was shot at.
The deputy inspector general (DIG) of Azamgarh, Subhash Chandra Dubey, said the killing was not related to Singh’s profession. “I want to make it clear that the reason behind the case is an old land rivalry and in no way is the crime motivated by the fact that Singh was a journalist,” he said in a statement. “Action under the National Security Act and Gangster Act will also be ensured against the accused,” he said.
However, critics of the police have alleged that negligence by the local police played a major role in the killing of both Ratan Singh and the murder of journalist Vikram Singh in recent times.
Ratan Singh’s father, Vinod Singh has said that his son had called the station in-charge from the site to come and help him, but even though the station in-charge arrived at the spot, he chose not to avert the situation and went back without acting. “The station in-charge came in a jeep but ignored what was happening and went back. Had he not gone back, my son would have been saved,” he said, as reported by India Today.
The station in-charge of Phephna village in the district was suspended for negligence in executing his duty.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh to the family of the deceased and offered condolences. An official spokesperson in Lucknow said the chief minister has directed officials to ensure strict action against the accused.
In today’s time, it is all the more important that the media in the country can work fearlessly, and the police need to ensure that in no way can journalists be intimidated or any harm be caused to their life. All the accused need to be arrested as soon as possible and brought to justice.