In India, it is probably easy to get away with the murder of a journalist. Why? Because the country is among the worst when it comes to the protection of the lives of journalists who speak truth to power. It ranks 12th on the Global Impunity Index of 2020 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The index highlights the countries “where journalists are singled out for murder and their killers go free”, reads the report Getting Away with Murder. It, therefore, is only understood that women journalists in a country as such would naturally be in a vulnerable position. The vitriol, hate and sexual abuse coming their way worsens if they are representative of a persecuted minority in India, for example, Rana Ayyub, who receives death and rape threats on an every day basis because she refuses to be fearful of the right-wing Hindu majority.
However, Rana Ayyub is not the only woman journalist who’s made news in 2021. With their brave, honest and exemplary work, we saw several women journalists even risking their lives to bring to us the news as it is in 2021. Here’s paying our tribute to a handful of them:
1. Srishti Jatav
Srishti Jatav, a journalist working with the Dalit Times, was arrested by the Delhi Police in August for covering the Dhobi Ghat Slum demolition. The Dalit Times brilliantly covers relevant socio-political movements pertaining to the causes of the Dalit community, the farmers and other marginalised sections of the society. The incident happened when she had reached Jamia Nagar’s Batla House area to report on how hundreds of people who were settled in the Dhobi Ghat slum area were displaced due to the Delhi Development Authority’s demolition drive which was given the go-ahead by a National Green Tribunal judgement. Soon after her arrest, social media mobilisation for her release began with hashtags like ‘Stand with Srishti Jatav’ trending and she was let free later.
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2. Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swarna Jha
Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, working with the HW News Network, were named in an FIR at a Tripura police station and later arrested for their coverage of the Tripura violence against Muslims that panned out in November. The journalists in their reports highlighted the instances of burning down, attacks and vandalism on the mosques in the state. They were first allowed to leave Tripura but were detained by the Assam police again to be taken back to Tripura and be arrested.
The FIR was registered on the basis of a complaint by Kanchan Das, a local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader. The FIR was registered on November 14 after a complaint by local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Kanchan Das. Both the journalists were soon granted bail by a local court. Interestingly, while the Tripura Police refuted the claims in the journalists’ report that mosques were burnt down, according to AltNews, “multiple people, including local journalists, told the website that a mosque at the former Central Reserve Police Force camp in Panisagar was vandalised and torched”.
3. Khabar Lahariya
The journey of Khabar Lahariya, India’s only all Dalit-women led local news organisation, has been in news for the brave and relentless on-ground reporting that the women reporters do in the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh belts of India. This year, a brilliantly-made documentary on the team, titled ‘Writing With Fire’ directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, has been winning accolades across global film festivals including the prestigious Sundance. The film, showcasing the journey of Dalit women journalists in the India of today, has been called the ‘most inspiring journalism movie, maybe ever’ by the Washington Post and is a New York Times critics pick. Meera Devi, the bureau chief at Khabar Lahariya, also travelled to the Netherlands to represent the film.
4. Srishti Jaswal
In June 2020, Srishti Jaswal’s tweet calling out the actions of a protagonist named Krishna in a Netflix film was misunderstood as her attack on the the god Krishna, following which she received rape and death threats from many Hindu Twitter accounts. This resulted in Jaswal issuing a public apology and subsequently losing her job at the Hindustan Times. A year later in 2021, Jaswal won the prestigious Lorenzo Natali Best Emerging Journalist award, a grant by the prestigious National Foundation of India and a Pulitzer Center grantee. Jaswal refused to be sidelined by the widespread vitriol that was coming her way and is now an independent journalist doing exemplary journalism with organisations such as the Newslaundry, Al Jazeera, Caravan magazine, VICE World News, etc. She has continued to hold institutions in power accountable, led investigative reports on how farmers were given seven times lesser compensation under Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) despite 100% crop loss, etc.
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5. Jyoti Yadav
A senior correspondent with The Print, Jyoti Yadav does relentless on-ground coverage of issues in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. She won the prestigious UN Laadli Media award this year for her article on rape culture and two of her ground reports: one, on how a woman police officer saved a 38-year-old woman who was locked up in a toilet for a year; and two, on navigating the digital world from inside a veil – received ‘jury appreciation citations’. She wrote extensively about how she Indian National Lok Dal’s Abhay Chautala’s crass conduct with her because she was doing her job of asking tough questions as a journalist. Yadav writes, “For me, still very new to the political beat at the age of 26, this was a true baptism by fire. In the course of time, I will surely grow a thick skin…”
6. Nidhi Suresh
When the news of the rape of a Dalit girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh reached us, Nidhi Suresh of NewsLaundry was one of the most instrumental voices in making sure this happens. Suresh followed up on all developments in the case, going on to follow up on the ostrasication faced by the victim’s family in the upper-caste populated village that they live in. That this relentless pursuit of truth and justice by Suresh happens in a state like Uttar Pradesh, infamous for its crackdown on dissent and freedom of speech in the recent past, leaves one even more in awe. Suresh also faced an FIR by the UP police after a defamation complaint by News18 journalist Deep Srivastava. This was following her report on how in a religious conversion case in Tilhar in Uttar Pradesh, the said journalist demanded money.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section