Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Reporters risk their life in naxalite regions

IF YOU want to see where the heart of India beats, visit a village anywhere in India. You are likely to get drawn toward the popular culture of rural environs. So, as a journalist in rural reporting, we are expected to report about those who are cut off from the urban life or say a rural reporter acts as the link between two different worlds. The role, in such context, is enormous and sometimes even hazardous.

Journalists do address these issues, but under several constraints. I brief here, about the problems and the limitations we face. As a reporter working in tribal areas where the light of civilisation has been put out and where people have been influenced by naxalites. The journalists penetrate deep into the remote pockets to bring highlight sordid facts of poverty, starvation, epidemic and killing of police . Such tasks are easier said than done because, we journalists have to trek miles, on dangerous paths often risking our own life.

I can clearly recall an incident when I had to face a lot of difficulties. It was on December 1, 2001. I had to visit a remote tribal village in Visakhapatnam. As a roving correspondent of Vaartha, I walked several miles along with journalists continuously, often hills and dense jungles. I was only an aged journalists out of 11 journalists. I had to stay on that night in a tribal village with others, took our dinner from the house of a village head.

The very next day by 7am we completed our hot water bath and tea without milk and left to attend the CPI (ML) peoples war, Andhra-Orissa border(AOB) special zonal committee’s first inaugural function. The naxals arranged special security within 7 km radius from the place where I interviewed Sudhakar who was the secretary, AOB special zonal committee on December 2, 2001 for about seven hours. A day before Kuvvuru Mandal office, Chinturpalli MLA’s two houses and then minister of Orissa, Arabinda Dhali’s house rased to ground by the naxals. We were allowed to speak freely with one and all.

While coming back in another direction some local tribal boys taken us through most dangerous path which leads to Kuvvuru. Moving inside the forest they get outside information in seconds. We reached Kuvvuru (urban area) where we had to face difficulties in getting food against the payment of cash. The hotel owner out of fear provided with the help of a local journalist who was there in the hotel. In fact, police had warned all hotel owners not to provide food to outside journalists and to strangers because of the Kovvuru incident on December 1, 2001.

The moment I reached Visakhapatnam, my camera was seized by the police. Athul Singh, SP, Visakhapatnam wanted to know about the place and the name of the village where we had had dinner on December 1, but as a journalist, I refused to leak the information and in fact, I do not know the name of the village where I was accommodated with other 10 journalists.

However, I left my residential quarter for few days and took shelter in the office of famous journalist, Yugandhar Reddy, who is now in charge of Sakshi, Visakhapatnam.

Again after 4 years, I went to Kunta and visited Errabore relief camp in Dantewada where the armed Maoists killed 50 people on July 17, 2006. Reporters are not allowed to enter inside the camp. I faced many odds. My pen and notebook too, were snatched by members of Salwa Judum. Visiting Dantewada means risking your life. Local journalists are not allowed to write against the police or Salwa Judum. However, I got the story printed in South Asia Politics, September 2006 when the local newspapers did not accept the story.

At Vakapalli, Andhra Pradesh, some tribal women were raped by the Greyhounds Unit on August 20, 2007. I was prevented to go the very day to the spot by policemen. Later, after few hours I accompanied with local political leaders and reported the same.

Pramod Samantray, a member of the national executive body of the state of Orissa, brought series of police atrocities on media in Dharitri, which he represents.

Recently, the 30 armed police belonging to special operation group assaulted 10 tribals of whom there were two girls and nayak sarapanch, Nuvaguda of Korukonda block of Orissa bordering to Andhra Pradesh. Pramod Samantray visited the spot for reporting and escaped from the clutches of police.

We, as journalists are not concerned with whether the state will eventually find a way out to ’maoism’ so long as people are the arbiters and they are able to decide without fear the argument is at liberty to work itself out. Political battles are to be fought without trampling upon the rights of people, particularly on media.

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