India: Freed Journalist Vows to Fight on

Soni Sangwan
New Delhi
170314-IN-maoist-1000.jpg Supporters of Maoist leader Prabhakar, who was killed in a police encounter on the Andhra-Odisha border, attend his funeral on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India, Oct. 27, 2016.

Journalist Santosh Yadav, who said he was locked up, tortured and humiliated for exposing police brutality in a central Indian region infested with left-wing guerrillas, is unfazed by the difficulties his job entails.

Yadav, a freelance writer based in the Maoist-troubled state of Chhattisgarh, was released last week from Kanker Jail where he spent nearly 18 months. He was arrested in September 2015 on suspicion that he was a Maoist supporter.

Maoists, also known as Naxalites, are an armed rebel group fighting Indian security forces since the late 1960s from jungle hideouts in central and eastern India.

Inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, the left-wing outfit claims that it is fighting for the rights of the poor and landless people who are being uprooted by the government to exploit resource-rich forests scattered throughout the region.

Yadav is one of at least one-half dozen journalists who have been sent to prison or thrown out of the state after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in May 2014.

It’s a “catch-22 situation” for journalists in Chhattisgarh, Yadav says.

“While the Maoists target journalists they believe to be ‘state sympathizers,’ the police target journalists who write about Maoist-related incidents without bias – which often means exposing police atrocities,” Yadav told BenarNews.

Arvind Choudhary, Yadav’s lawyer, said his client was being falsely implicated.

“The police say that they saw Santosh at the site of an encounter with Maoists. One of the officers said he could recognize Santosh in the dark night after officers fired a flare gun. But that same officer was unable to definitely identify Santosh in a lineup,” he told BenarNews.

Two senior Chhattisgarh state police officers refused to comment about Yadav’s allegations, saying the matter was under judicial consideration.

Journalist SantoshYadav was recently released from jail in Chhattisgarh, India, after being locked up for about a year and a half, March 12, 2017. [Courtesy Santosh Yadav]


Out on bail, Yadav recently spoke to BenarNews. Excerpts from the conversation:

Benar News: Why were you arrested?

Santosh Yadav: I had received news that some tribals had been picked up by police from a nearby village. I went there to speak to their family members. At the behest of the family members, I went with them to the local police station to ask about the arrests. The police claimed they were Maoists who had surrendered. However, the reality was they were innocent villagers. When I questioned the police, they arrested me on charges of inciting violence.

BN: When did you get to know about the charges against you?

SY: Much later. It was after a few days of being locked up that I was told I had been booked for links with Maoists because I was present at the site of the encounter. The truth is on that day I wasn’t in that area.

BN: What happened after your arrest?

SY: I was kept in the Jagdalpur Central Jail. I was beaten frequently, treated like a downtrodden. The living conditions were abysmal, the food, inedible. After tolerating it for as long as I could, I decided to protest. But any rebellion against jail rules would only invite more beatings.

BN: How did your family react to your arrest?

SY: I have three daughters – Divya is 8, Ismeya is 4 and the youngest was just a month old when I was arrested. My wife, Poonam, works as a maternity care giver and my father is a peon. I was arrested even before we could name my youngest child. My wife refused to name her until my release. We still haven’t named her. But of course, my family stood by me like a rock, as did a lot of press freedom activists.

BN: What are your plans now?

SY: I will continue to report from Chhattisgarh. I am unfazed by this episode. I remain committed to unbiased reporting. Human rights violations have to stop. And someone has to be the voice of the villagers and tribals who are the worst affected by this internal war in India.


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