The ‘Chilling’ Fields…
Sometimes the barrel of a gun becomes the source of Power, but it seems that often the pen becomes mightier than the gun or a sword. This Power has the strength to create Public Opinion anywhere in the world, and to trigger Revolutions. History suggests that the pen has influenced the public sentiment against a ruler, triggering the fall of a Government… be it songs, poems, essays or news reports: it is difficult to ignore the Power of sharp words. Hence, for some people, it would be a natural trend mostly, to try to crush the hand or to eliminate its owner. In case a lady owns such a pen, she experiences Character Assassination or receives threats of Gang Rape and other Sexual Offences.
It has been observed that women journalists face more threats than their male counterparts for criticising the Government or its policies. If she exposes the involvement of any political leader, minister, businessman or administrative official in corruption and illegal activities, then she often faces inhuman harassment or sacrifices her life. It may be noted that Bulgarian Television Host and Journalist Viktoria Marinova (August 19, 1988 – October 6, 2018) was raped and murdered at the age of 30 for her investigative reporting on an alleged fraud with EU funds linked to big businessmen and politicians. Even before Marinova, Irish Crime Reporter Veronica Guerin (July 5, 1958 – June 26, 1996) was murdered by drug lords. She was shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle. Russian Journalist Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya (August 30, 1958 – October 7, 2006), Maltese Mediaperson Daphne Anne Caruana Galizia (August 26, 1964 – October 16, 2017), Indian Journalist-turned-Activist Gauri Lankesh (January 29, 1962 – September 5, 2017), and several other female journalists have sacrificed their lives, while honestly performing what they felt as their duties. Their main motto was Service before Self.
In fact, people (especially Rulers) don’t like those words, which contradict their opinions, unmask them and curtail their social influence. As per a report published by the UNESCO, 894 journalists had been assassinated from 2010 to 2019 around the world. Reporters Without Borders has claimed that India is one of the five countries in the world that have been considered very dangerous for media persons. In Press Freedom Index, India has dropped two positions (from 140 in 2019) to 142. In the South Asian nation, women journalists are often subjected to horrific physical and mental assaults while covering news related to Government policies, protests, mass movements or political violence.
During the 2020 riots in the Indian capital of New Delhi, Journalist Parvina Purkayastha interviewed Kapil Mishra, a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main accused of inciting communal violence. Later, Mishra’s supporters heckled and manhandled Purkayastha. The BJP politician was accused of directly inciting the violence, which had left at least 34 people dead and hundreds injured.
Neha Dixit, a New Delhi-based award-winning Journalist, has been receiving rape, acid attacks and death threats for the past few months for conducting investigative journalism. Dixit said: “Since September 2020, I am being physically stalked. The stalker identifies my exact physical location on phone calls and threatens me with rape, acid attack and death, clearly bringing my profession as a journalist into the conversation.” These are not isolated incidents.
Unfortunately, the Indian Police are reluctant to take the FIRs of women journalists, as well as ordinary women. FIR or First Information Report is a document prepared by the Police in South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence. It is because the Administration provides the perpetrators or murderers with safe shelters, apart from helping them dodge the Judicial procedure. Still, some female journalists have shown the courage to perform their duties without fear due to their persistence, perseverance and extreme self-confidence.
Hence, attempts are made to suppress them even in the most cruel manner. Lady Ann Salem of the Philippines was jailed in a “false case” in December 2020. On February 5, 2021, the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court dismissed illegal firearms possession charges against Salem, the Editor of the English-language news website Manila Today, stating that the Police had improperly used contradictory witness testimony to obtain the search warrant that led to her arrest last year. Rana Ayyub, an Indian Journalist and Opinion Columnist with The Washington Post, is still receiving death threats for writing the investigative book, ‘Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up‘.
Maria Angelita Ressa, a Filipino-American Journalist and Author, has been doing her job for decades, risking her life. Once, she used to receive 90 personal hate messages every hour! That is why it was possible for her to say: “We are journalists, and we will not be intimidated. We will shine the light. We will hold the line.”
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