When, on August 22, journalist Pawan Kumar Jaiswal went to a government primary school in Siur, about 22 km from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, on a tip-off that students were being served rotis with just salt as their mid-day meals for the past few months, the reporter from Jansandesh Times must have thought he was doing his work. He shared the video expose with some broadcast journalists and it soon made its way to social media. And it went viral. The next week, several rounds of enquiries were held. District magistrate Anurag Patel visited the school the very next day and some heads rolled. Jaiswal must have been glad. The fourth estate had played its role as a watchdog on the system.
But on September 2, Jaiswal was booked by police for trying to defame the government as part of a ‘conspiracy’. Patel even defended it, saying what business a print media reporter had about shooting a video. In today’s India, politicians and bureaucrats are telling media persons the way to go about their jobs. However, the outpouring of public support for Jaiswal is heartening. So are the tough words from the Editors Guild of India that the Yogi Adityanath-led UP government should not try to shoot the messenger and instead try to fix what was wrong on the ground.
It is astounding that the state government, after having failed in its responsibility to serve primary schoolchildren nutritious food, levelled such serious criminal charges against a journalist who had exposed an instance of grassroots-level corruption.
What is totally ironical is that, in the same FIR lodged against Jaiswal, the administration admitted that only roti and salt were cooked for the children. This is not an one-off incident. Asad Rizvi, a Lucknow-based journalist, allegedly got calls from a police official asking him not to write against the government. These issues are being raised by journalists. A senior journalist even jocularly enquired from a top official whether he had the freedom to ask questions in a press conference. That way, the Yogi Adityanath government seems to have taken a leaf out of the Central government’s ways of dealing with the media. The repeated harassment of NDTV promoters Prannoy and Radhika Roy at the hands of investigative agencies comes to mind.
In the BJP-led India, the fourth estate is expected to be a pliant lapdog, singing paeans to the leaders while the country’s economic and social fabric is being torn to pieces. They are not supposed to grill the Prime Minister on crucial issues but ask questions like whether he carries a wallet or which mango is his favourite. Other times, they are supposed to be propaganda vehicles of a jingoistic and fascist brand of nationalism. Jaiswal’s incident shows that not all journalists are ready to sacrifice the basic tenets of their profession. They will be not willing participants in this dumbing down experiment that is currently on in India. And that is definitely good news for India. May this breed thrive.