The Varanasi police have filed a case against Supriya Sharma, the executive editor of Scroll, for allegedly misreporting on a Dalit woman. Sharma has been booked under two different sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, among other charges. The police action is based on a First Information Report, dated June 13, filed by one Mala Devi.
Scroll's editor-in-chief is also named in the FIR.
Mala is a resident of Domari village in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi district. Domari was adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a model village in 2018 under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. On June 8, Scroll published a by Sharma from the village, headlined “In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown”. The report included quotes from Mala.
According to the FIR, Mala alleged that Sharma had falsely reported about her work and material condition during the lockdown. A translated extracted from the FIR read: “…Supriya Sharma has falsely written that I work as a maid and I have been living only on tea and roti. By writing that me and my children had to starve during the lockdown, Supriya Sharma has made fun of my poverty and my caste. This has caused me mental anguish and has tarnished my image in the society."
In her report, Sharma wrote that Mala was a single mother and had six souls to take care of. She wrote: “After her employers stopped paying her during the lockdown, the domestic worker made furtive trips to Banaras, in the hope that she would find some odd jobs or gather alms to buy food for her five children. She often failed. 'We would sleep on chai and roti, sometimes not even that.'"
Newslaundry tried to contact Mala Devi on a telephone number given in the FIR. But the number was out of service. Naresh Fernandes, the editor-in-chief of Scroll, told Newslaundry that the organisation would release a statement shortly.
"Scroll.in interviewed Mala in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020. Her statements have accurately been reported in the article titled, ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown.’
Scroll.in stands by the article, which has been reported from the Prime Minister’s constituency. This FIR is an attempt to intimidate and silence independent journalism, reporting on conditions of vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 lockdown."
However, this is not the first instance in recent times that the Varanasi police has acted against a journalist for alleged misreporting. On March 26, an editor and a reporter at Jansandesh Times were served a show cause notice by the district magistrate of Varanasi, where the Hindi daily is based. The notice was issued based on a report by the daily that villagers from the Musahar community were forced to eat grass to survive the lockdown. The administration claimed that the report was “fabricated” and threatened legal action against Jansandesh Times.