Chhattisgarh: Journalist Kamal Shukla Attacked by Local Congress Leaders, FIR Registered 

With the local police treating the incident as one of 'personal rivalry' rather than press freedom, one of the politicians has filed filed a counter complaint against the journalist

New Delhi : The leading Chhattisgarh journalist Kamal Shukla, who is editor of Bhumkal Samachar magazine and head of the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti was beaten on Saturday afternoon in Kanker (North Bastar) district of Chhattisgarh. According to local journalists, the incident took place in the afternoon when Shukla went to the local police station after hearing that a journalist, Satish Yadav, had been assaulted by local municipal corporators belonging to the ruling Congress party.

“This has been done in a very planned manner as we have been raising a voice and reporting about the wrongdoings of local politicians belonging to the ruling Congress,” Shukla told The Wire from Kanker. “As soon as I stepped out of the police station, I was attacked by these people,” he added. Shukla claimed that his attackers were irked by his reportage and social media writings “as it has been causing loss to them”. Apart from Shukla and Sathish Yadav, another reporter –  Jivand Haldhar – was also been attacked.

Shukla alleged that inside the police station, Ghaffar Memom, a representative of the local Congress MLA, Shishupal Shori, waved a pistol at him, saying Kamal Shukla should be killed as he is the real culprit. “I was targeted because I have written about Shori’s involvement in sand smuggling and in this work Ghaffar and others are helping Shori,” Shukla alleged. Protesting the incident, local journalists are staging a protest at Ambedkar chowk of Kanker town.

Confirming the assault incident, the superintendent of police, M.R. Ahire, told The Wire that an FIR has been registered in the matter under sections 294 (public acts of obscenity), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 34 (act done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). As per the local police, Jitendra Singh Thakur, Ghaffar Memom, Ganesh Tiwari, Maqbool Khan and others have been named in the FIR. However, the police have described the assault as a clash between two groups due to some ‘aapsi ranjish’ (personal rivalry).

A counter complaint has also been registered by one of the accused, Ghaffar Memon. “We have also received a counter complaint against Shukla but it is yet to be converted in an FIR,” the Kanker SP told The Wire. In his complaint, Memon has alleged that it was Shukla who abused him and threatened to kill him. According to Memon, the incident started when Shukla abused him for not paying for an advertisement  published in his magazine. “Given that Shukla is a ‘criminal minded’ person and has a sedition case pending against him, I am afraid that he might do something untoward against me,” says Memon’s complaint to the police demanding strong action against the journalist.

An outspoken journalist, Shukla has been at the forefront of the campaign demanding legislation for the protection of journalists in the state. In April 2018, the state Police had charged  Shukla with sedition for sharing a cartoon on Facebook that allegedly made derogatory references to the judiciary and the government. He, however, insists he was falsely charged.

Meanwhile, calling it a murderous attack on journalists by Congress leaders, local reporters have written a letter to the governor of the state, Anusuiya Uikey, requesting her intervention. The global press freedom organisation Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the attack and demanded investigation against the perpetrators.

Condemning the incident, the Chhattisgarh unit of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has demanded that the Kanker administration provide protection to journalists. In addition, the human rights body demanded an independent enquiry into the matter and strict action against the attackers. Moreover, the PUCL asked for an enquiry to examine the role of the local police, apart from passing an effective legislation to protect journalists in the state.

In 2016, the state chapter of the PUCL along with the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti,  in consultation with several journalists and lawyers, had proposed a draft act for the protection of journalists and human rights defenders in the state. This was done in the backdrop of a promise made by the then chief minister, Raman Singh, that there would be a law for the protection of journalists in the state.

Immediately after taking oath as chief minister in 2018, the Congress’s Bhupesh Baghel had issued a directive to prepare a draft as it was part of his poll promise. In October last year, a committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Aftab Alam had drafted a Bill for the protection of media persons in Chhattisgarh.  However, the bill has yet to be passed by the cabinet or tabled for discussion in the assembly, let alone becoming law.

The Wire tried to contact the local Congress MLA, Shori, for his comment, but he could not be reached. This story will be updated when he responds.