- NL Sena
The protest against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by big and small newspapers is a hidden chapter which should get the due appreciation in the history of Indian journalism.
After the 15-year-long trial of two rape cases, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been sent to jail for the next 20 years. The verdict is awaited in two other cases–the murder of Ranjit Singh, the slain brother of the survivor victim sadhvi, and in the murder of Ram Chander Chhatrapati, the journalist who published Poora Sach, a local daily.
Ranjit Singh was the first to protest against the rape of the sadhvi from Kurukshetra i.e. his sister and hence was allegedly murdered. He was married and had three children of which two daughters have been married. His murder is important because he was also the member of the 10-member executive unit of Haryana, but he protested after the rape incident. The killing of Ram Chander Chhatrapati is equally important. When all the corporate media houses refused to publish the anonymous letter in the sadhvi episode, he published it first and hence paid the price of losing his own life.
Chhatrapati was the only one in the media fraternity of whole of Haryana and Punjab to bring the ‘Poora Sach’ of Dera in front of everyone and held the battle flag against the Dera. The matter came to light in 2002. That era was different altogether: TV channels were emerging, mergers and acquisitions were not happening in newspapers, now major brands Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran were as local as others 15 years ago. The pressure of the corporates was also not on them. Hence, they had the power to write the truth though at the local level.
When the anonymous letter was first published in Poora Sach, a newspaper published from Sirsa, Ram Chander was murdered. This news was covered in national headlines but no one talked about the small-time evening newspaper Lekha-Jokha from Fatehabad, whose office and press was burnt down by Dera devotees because it published the same letter. The journalists of the newspapers filed a FIR against the Dera, but around 50,000 Ram Rahim supporters threatened the Fatehabad authorities that if any action against the Dera would be taken they would block the roads.
Sudesh Kumari, a social worker who witnessed this incident and who has also been imprisoned for one-and-a-half months for raising her voice in favour of the sadhvi, said, “The protest campaign organised by Jan Sangharsh Manch, Haryana organised in Fatehabad against Baba on February 5, 2003 was attacked. The office of Lekha-Jokha was burned earlier. Journalists filed a case of loot, arson and property damage against the Dera, but they threatened them so much that the journalists had to take back the FIR. The authorities and the government were also overtly in favour of the Dera. The journalists were very courageous but no one could stand in front of the Dera.”
Apart from Poora Sach and Lekha-Jokha, the newspaper which covered the agitators in the rape case of sadhvi was Haryana Janadesh Times. This newspaper gave the banner space on its front page to the incident of February 5, 2003, where women who protested with Sudesh Kumari had their clothes torn, men beaten up and a bogus case of attempt to murder a Dera supporter was filed against them. Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code is a non-bailable section due to which more than two dozen protesters had to be imprisoned for around one-and-a-half months and had to suffer the trial for next six years.
Another newspaper, Haribhoomi, published from Haryana also launched a strong campaign against the Dera chief. Apart from this, The Tribune in English and Hindi and Amar Ujala in Hindi regularly published the news against Ram Rahim during that time and covered the protests in favour of the sadhvi in the whole of Haryana. After seeing the clippings of these 15-year-old newspapers, one can understand that if these newspapers hadn’t united against Ram Rahim, it would have been impossible to get Ram Rahim, who led a supposed five million followers, examined by the CBI.
Sudesh Kumari, the vanguard of the protest campaign against the rapist baba in Haryana and general secretary and convener of Jan Sangharsh Manch, says the threat posed by Dera supporters was so much that there was no other way apart from preparing the people against Ram Rahim. She says, “If we collected lakhs of signatures for the CBI inquiry, the newspapers published the news in our favour to make the people understand that something wrong has happened and it should be inquired.”
After the murder of Ram Chander Chhatrapati, the Haryana Press Association organised a meeting in February 2003. The then president of the association, K B Pandit, announced that Rs 5 lakh would be given as compensation under the insurance scheme to Chhatrapati’s family members. Also, Chhatrapati’s son Anshul was appointed correspondent in one of the national dailies in Sirsa and a state-level journalism award was instituted in Chhatrapati’s honour. This news was published in the Hisar edition of Haribhoomi on 10th February.
Today when journalists are being killed in violent incidents and no one is there to take care of them, the step taken by a state press association 15 years ago is commendable.
The way all the big and small newspapers protested against Ram Rahim is a commendable thing and is an unknown chapter in the history of journalism which needs to be acknowledged and be proud of. Especially today when the special CBI court has sentenced the rapist baba to 20 years imprisonment, this fact in itself is enough to convince journalists that though there might be a delay in getting justice, the fight for it should definitely be waged.