Rajendra Gautam has filed an FIR in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, against fellow veteran journalist Hemant Tiwari under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, which punishes hate crimes and atrocities against Dalits and Adivasi communities.
Gautum, 44, is Dalit. Tiwari, 56, is Brahmin.
In the FIR, filed on August 3, Gautam accused Tiwari of making casteist remarks against him, his wife and son. Tiwari has denied the allegation.
“I have been tolerating Mr Tiwari since 2019. I couldn’t take it anymore when he started making remarks against my wife and son, so I went to the police and registered the complaint. It was difficult but it had to be done,” said Gautam, who runs two newspapers out of his apartment in Lucknow called Tijarat and Nishpaksh Divya Sandesh.
His colleagues have suggested complaining to the Press Council of India as well, Gautam said, and he was in the process of doing so.
Gautam alleged that Tiwari hurled casteist slurs at him after he declined to back him in the election to the Uttar Pradesh State Accredited Correspondents Committee. The election was held in March 2021 and Tiwari, who has previously worked with Dainik Jagran among other newspapers and now routinely appears as a TV talking head, was elected president.
“He made remarks like ‘Are Chamarue ab media me bhi aayenge kya aur hamain harvayenge?’” Gautam said of Tiwari. “Will the Chamars beat us in the media as well?” Chamar is a casteist slur used against the Dalits.
“It is not my fault that I was born Dalit,” Gautam added. “I do my journalism with utmost honesty and that is why I have become a problem for journalists like Hemant Tiwari. I came from a marginalised background and made it in this profession. I had respect for him but he crossed the line when he dragged my wife and son into this.”
Hemant Tiwari heads UP State Accredited Correspondents Committee. I Facebook
A couple of weeks earlier, Tiwari had filed an FIR against Gautam’s wife Rekha Gautam and son Nirbhay Raj under the Press and Registration of Books Act, the Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code, accusing them of harassing and defaming him by publishing a “baseless report” in their newspapers and circulating it on the internet.
Rekha is the editor of Nishpaksh Divya Sandesh and Tijarat; Nirbhay is a correspondent.
The newspapers have previously been the subject of two anonymous complaints to the Press Information Bureau seeking a look into their circulation figures and the volume of government ads they received based on those figures. Gautam claimed the two newspapers have a combined circulation of 6,000 copies. This correspondent could not verify the number independently.
“Rajendra Gautam has been trying to defame me for a while now, for reasons best known to him. I never hurled any casteist abuse at him,” Tiwari said. “I have been in this profession for 34 years and this is the first time such an allegation has been levelled against me.”
Tiwari termed Gautam’s FIR against him a “misuse” of the Atrocities Act, not least because it does not specify “the date or time of the abusive remarks”. “This is a vindictive step against me by this person who is not a journalist, but a blackmailer,” Tiwari charged. “He tried to throw mud at me thinking I would bow down but he did not realise that my hands were clean. Now my police complaint has scared him, so he’s misusing the Atrocities Act to put me behind bars.”
The escalating conflict, meanwhile, has caused consternation within Lucknow’s journalist fraternity. “Journalists should always remember that they help set the standards in society. They should stick to those standards and not become the news themselves,” said Ratan Mani Lal, former Dainik Bhaskar editor, describing the conflict as “unfortunate”. “But the use of casteist slurs, that too by a journalist, can’t be justified.”