Journalist & Journalism Shot Dead for Reporting “Sand Mafia”

By: Afsha Shaikh.

A reporter working for a Kanpur based newspaper was killed on June 19 in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh. 

“Unidentified persons” near the Gangaghat area of Unnao District shot journalist Shubham Mani Tripathi, who worked for a newspaper named ‘Kampu Mail’, while he was returning home with a friend on a motorcycle. He was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead. 

Tripathi wrote in his Facebook profile, on June 14, that an illegal construction by “famous land mafia” had been demolished as a result of a report he had filed. Tripathi was very vocal on his Facebook posts. He said the mafia was furious by this move and lodged a fake application against him to the district magistrate.

“Recently, before his death, Tripathi have had some arguments with the land grabbers and expressed fear that he could be killed by them. But the police did not take him seriously. Divya Awasthi, a woman who deals with land businesses and is politically active, is said to be involved. An FIR was filed against her. He sustained three bullets in his head, two in chest and one probably in the neck” said Ritesh Shukla, who is Bureau Chief of Kampu Mail, told NewsClick.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Uttar Pradesh is “one of the most dangerous regions for journalists, especially those who try to cover the “sand mafia”. The non-profit organisation listed at least five recent incidents in which journalists were killed or attacked for reporting on either illegal sand mining or land grabbing activities. There is allegedly insufficient police investigation into the attacks that are determined to be fatal.

India ranks 142nd on global press freedom index out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis. The ranking by Reporters Without Borders cited ‘police brutality and hate campaigns on social media by Hindutva followers against journalists’ to explain India’s position.

report collated by Delhi-based Rights and Risk Analysis Group (RRAG) found that during the imposition of the lockdown, at least 55 journalists were arrested, booked and threatened for reporting on COVID-19. 

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said, “We call on the Uttar Pradesh authorities to appoint an independent investigation to shed all possible light on Shubham Tripathi’s horrific murder.” He added that in this region of northern India, “The links between sand mafia bosses and local police chiefs mean that, when journalists are murdered in connection with their reporting, the police investigation is almost always closed without further action. The vicious cycle of impunity needs to be broken by means of legislation guaranteeing journalists’ safety.”

Shyam Meera Singh, a journalist at Economic Times Hindi in his facebook post expresses concerns regarding the journalists by saying, “You never know when police will drag you out of your home simply because you posted a story or a post against the powerful. You will also never know which of the story or post might prove to be fatal for yourself.” He added, “After staying in jail for about 3-4 months, the criminals are released just by paying a couple of lakhs.” He further encourages the Uttar Pradesh government to take action against the killers of Shubham Mani Tripathi.

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