The murky story of ‘trafficking’, ‘extortion’ and a Dainik Bhaskar journalist

Sadaqat Pathan reported on the alleged trafficking of a newborn. He was soon entangled in the case himself.

ByAkanksha Kumar
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The murky story of ‘trafficking’, ‘extortion’ and a Dainik Bhaskar journalist
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On July 25, the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar published a report about an alleged human trafficking case in Khandwa district, Madhya Pradesh. The story by the newspaper’s crime reporter, Sadaqat Pathan, was based on a police complaint filed by a nanny named Kanchan Bai, who accused a doctor couple of trying to sell a newborn girl for Rs 1.5-2 lakh.

Acting on Kanchan’s complaint, the police had arrested the doctors, Renu and Saurabh Soni; two workers at their clinic, Mohsin Khan and Kamlesh Patel; and a nurse at the Khandwa district hospital, Sanjula Patel.

They were all let go after a warning, Bhaskar reported the next day, and noted that the police were now investigating the role of some local journalists in the case. The accused were arrested once again following a public outcry, save for Renu, who is now absconding. They have been slapped with charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act as also the Juvenile Justice Act.

By the end of that day, July 26, the police had filed an FIR naming four local journalists – Ajit Laad, Raj Pillay, Devendra Jaiswal, and, quite surprisingly, Sadaqat Pathan. They were booked under penal sections for kidnapping and extortion.

The FIR was based on a complaint by Saurabh Soni, who accused the four journalists of blackmailing him. “On July 22, I was asked to come to a designated place where they assaulted me and then asked me to pay Rs 50 lakh or else they would inform the police that I was involved in human trafficking,” the doctor told the police according to the FIR. “Later the amount was brought down to Rs 20 lakh.”

Saurabh paid the journalists Rs 25,000 via PhonePe and cut them two cheques, for Rs 7,75,000 and Rs 10,00,000, he alleged in the complaint.

Sadaqat denied there was any monetary transaction. “If it were actually a case of extortion, why would we ask for money to be paid through cheque and online transfer?” he asked.

Still, despite his protestations of innocence, Sadaqat was soon suspended by Bhaskar.

He was indeed present when his fellow local journalists met the doctor at the Circuit House, Sadaqat told Newslaundry, but only to report a potential story, not extort.

Ajit, Raj and Devendra had been investigating the doctor couple for human trafficking and posing as potential buyers for a newborn girl to get evidence, Sadaqat claimed. “It was my weekly off on July 22. I got a call from Raj Pillay. He had an audio recording in which the nurse, Sanjula, is promising that she would help him get a birth certificate for the newborn that Saurabh was selling,” he added. “The doctor was coming to Circuit House later in the day to hand over the baby and Pillay asked me to join. I went, thinking it could be a potential story.”

When Sadaqat reached the Circuit House, he claimed, Ajit, Raj and Devandra were in the middle of an argument with Mohsin and Kamlesh, who were insisting the “buyers” pay for the baby in advance. The doctor soon arrived, but without the baby, Sadaqat said. “Ajit Laad, who runs the YouTube channel Khabar Bharat, had been in touch with the doctor,” he added. “Since Dr Soni didn’t have the baby with him, we had no evidence of human trafficking.”

Ajit has previously been accused of extorting a forest official and the case against him is pending.

Raj, a former Dainik Bhaskar photojournalist, runs a YouTube channel as well while Devendra works for Hindi news channel IBC24.

The next day, Sadaqat claimed, he learned that Saurabh had given a baby to Kanchan, the nanny. “She was told to feed her for Rs 500 a day. I told her family to hand over the baby to the police and file a complaint,” he alleged.

They did, but the police didn’t take action for another day. That’s when Sadaqat filed his report.

By the next night, Sadaqat himself was in the dock. He promptly sent a letter in protest to the inspector general of police, Indore. “I have been working with Dainik Bhaskar for the last 20 years. In that time, there’s not been a single allegation against me. I have tried to expose those in power through my reports. These charges of blackmail and extortion are untrue and have no basis,” he wrote.

Sadaqat suggested that he was falsely named in the FIR because he has been a thorn in the side of the administration. In April, he recalled, Khandwa’s sub divisional magistrate sent a notice to his editor, Ashish Chouhan, demanding an “explanation” for Sadaqat’s reportage on the shortage of beds and oxygen during the second Covid wave and threatening to register a police case against him for “spreading misinformation.

“I chose not to respond to that notice,” Sadaqat said. “Later, I was told the district collector wanted to see me. I never went but I was told by a colleague who had been summoned as well that he was reprimanded for the stories we had done on Covid.”

Chouhan declined to comment, as did Nitika Rana, HR manager at Dainik Bhaskar in Bhopal.

BL Mandloi, the investigating officer, wasn’t available for comment. Bhimrao Atkade, an assistant sub Inspector at Khandwa’s Kotwali police station, told Newslaundry that they are investigating allegations of both trafficking and of “phone tapping, abduction, and blackmail against the journalists”.

Also Read :
‘We report what we see’: Why Dainik Bhaskar’s Covid coverage stands out
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