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Another Odisha Journalist Assaulted While Trying To Question BJD MLA From Soro

Several scribes in state have been targeted over last few years.

Bhubaneswar: A TV news journalist from Soro, Balasore district, was allegedly attacked by the local BJD MLA, Parshuram Dhada, on Tuesday, September 25.

The victim, Pramod Kumar Das, works for a Odia news channel, Kanak News. He was attacked by Dhada and his supporters at an event where cards for Biju Krushak Kalyan Yojana, a health insurance scheme, were being distributed. A tense situation arose when Dhada, on not being invited, arrived at the event to confront officials. When Das, who was covering the event, attempted to get a statement from the miffed MLA, he was beaten up by his supporters. It is to be noted that Kanak News, formerly Kanak TV, is owned by fellow BJD MP from Rajya Sabha, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik.

The journalist was initially brought in to a local hospital. He complained of severe chest pain and difficulty in breathing when admitted. As his condition deteriorated, he was transferred to the Balasore Government hospital and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). As per latest reports, he is now recovering and has been shifted from the ICU.

“I was attacked brutally, my phone was snatched by the MLA’s supporters, and videos of the incident were deleted from my phone,” says Das. He has also stated that eyewitnesses have been threatened to not speak up against Dhada.

Balasore Superintendent of Police (SP), B Jugal Kishore, told NewsCentral that a case has been registered and an investigation is on. He declined to put forward any further comments on the issue. Though the incident took place two days back, there are claims that the police is not following up on the case, or taking any action against the MLA or his entourage.

Soro MLA Parshuram Dhada and his henchmen. photo by Subrat Kumar Pati
Soro MLA Parshuram Dhada and his henchmen. photo by Subrat Kumar Pati

BJP in Odisha has condemned the incident. Senior leader Pratap Sarangi described the incident as “heinous” and an “attack on democracy”. He demanded immediate arrest of the perpetrators, and alleged that the police is protecting the MLA, as he is part of the ruling party. “I’ll visit the place and demand justice for the victim,” Sarangi added.

Previously, several criminal cases have been registered against Dhada, under sections 323, 294, 506, 34, 188 and 427 of the Indian Penal Code. Coordinator of Election Watch Odisha Chapter, Ranjan Mohanty said, “A lawmaker should not take law to hand. Attack on a journalist on duty is not acceptable. Police should not remain silent on this.”

This is not the first time a journalist has been attacked in Odisha. Over the last few years, more and more journalists have been assaulted or killed for their work. Several cases go unnoticed, or the police fails to take stringent action against the accused.

In response to a query raised in the Parliament by Sisir Kumar Adhikari, an MP from Trinamool Congress, regarding total number of journalists attacked in the country, the Information & Broadcasting ministry stated that only one case had been registered between the years 2014-16 in Odisha. Office of the I&B Minister, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, responded: “This data of NCRB reveals that there is a substantial decrease in number of cases of attack on journalists.”

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Members of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) were suspended in 2015 for severely beating Kanak TV reporters, Shankarshan Patra and Satyajit Sena. Due to a delay in the train schedule, several passengers protested, which was caught on camera by Patra. On seeing this, members of the RPF removed the cassette and attacked the journalists.

In 2016, Pravat Bisoi, a TV journalist from Cuttack Sadar, covering a child marriage, was attacked by nine persons, including members of the bride and groom’s immediate family. Bisoi filed an FIR with the Sadar Police and the case drew in criticism across various political parties.

These occurrences draw a sharp contrast against the I&B Ministry’s response that just one incident has been registered, and that number of attacks have decreased.

A cop from Puri was transferred in the beginning of 2018 for assaulting a local TV journalist, Subhrakant Padhiary. The entire incident was caught on camera by his cameraman, where the cop was seen punching and kicking the reporter. Similarly, in 2017, Ramesh Rath, a Balipatna-based reporter, working with Pragativadi, an Odia daily, was brutally attacked by two assailants. This incident was severely condemned by the International Federation of Journalists. In another instance, in 2014, Tarun Kumar Acharya, a local journalist working for Kanak TV, was found with his throat slit and several chest injuries. It was found that shortly before his murder, he had reported on use of child labour at a cashew processing plant.

Former journalist and Chief of Odisha Congress Media Cell, Satya Prakash Nayak, said, “This is happening more with the leaders of the party in power. They are becoming more violent and taking law to hand. Mostly in these kind of cases, police does not take necessary action against the accused.”

-With inputs from Manish Kumar

(Authors are Odisha-based freelance writers and members of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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