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Bastar scribe Santosh Yadav is finally out of jail, but journalism has to wait

Mahtab Alam | Updated on: 14 April 2017, 18:23 IST
Santosh Yadav (Mahtab Alam)

Bastar-based journalist Santosh Yadav is still under shock and wants some time before he can start doing journalism again.

“I certainly and seriously want to do journalism again, in fact, in a more professional manner than I used to do earlier, but to do that I need some time as I am yet to come to terms with what has happened with me and my family in the course of my incarceration,” said Yadav while talking to Catch.

“I still have a case to fight.”

“I will go back to journalism soon,” he added without a second thought despite the fact his family and friends are advising him to do some business or some other job.

Yadav, who is in the national capital till Saturday, was arrested by Chhattisgarh Police in September 2015 from his village Darbha. They accused him of being a Maoist supporter. He was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other laws, ranging from rioting, criminal conspiracy, murder, and criminal intimidation, to being a part of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), among other alleged offences.

He was granted bail by the Supreme Court on 26 February this year.

However, he could only come of out of jail, almost two weeks later, on 10 March because it was difficult for him to arrange surety to avail the bail.

Before him, another Bastar-based journalist, Sumaro Nag, a stringer and news-agent with Rajasthan Patrika was arrested in July 2015.

Yadav's trial is still on in a local court of Jagdalpur and his bail petitions were rejected earlier by lower courts citing the grave nature of charges. According to his colleagues and his lawyer, he has been targeted and was arrested because of his reports, something the police strongly denies.

At the time of his arrest, 31-year-old Yadav used to report for two Hindi local dallies namely, Navbharat and Chhattisgarh.

Finally out of jail, he is immensely thankful to his journalist colleagues, human rights organisations and lawyers for their solidarity and support.

The story so far

In the wake of Nag and Yadav’s arrests that year, on 26 November 2015, more than 100 journalists, activists and academicians across the country petitioned to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and then Union Ministers for Home, Information & Broadcasting and Tribal Affairs, demanding immediate release of the journalists and fair investigations into their matter.

Later, similar demands were also raised by Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), all of which went unheard.

Recalling his time in jail, Yadav said, “Initially, I could not believe what I saw in jail. I used to think something like this happened only angrez ke samay mein (during colonial rule)”.

“I don’t know about other parts of India, but in Bastar, the jails are overcrowded with no basic facility.”

According to him, the prisoners, mostly under trail, are forced to live in subhuman conditions. And most of the prisoners belong to marginalised groups such as Adivasi and Dalit. He also added that most of these prisoners are innocent but they can’t afford good lawyers. Hence, they are languishing in jail.

“Is this the azaadi our forefathers fought for?” he wondered.

During his 17 months of imprisonment he was lodged in two jails of Bastar, first in Jagdalpur Central Prison and later in Kanker District Prison. “While as compared to Jagdalpur jail, Kanker’s jail's condition is better but even that’s not good for the prisoners,” he told Catch.

“In October last year when we inmates restored to a peaceful protest to complain about the issues in the prison, we were beaten severely,” said Yadav.

He claimed that he was beaten so badly that he was unconscious for nearly six hours. Later he was lodged in solitary confinement for 11 days.

“I was also accused of hatching jail-break plans and inciting inmates. I was presented before jail mates as if I am a naxalite. Hence, I was mostly not allowed to talk to co-prisoners.”

Perils of the trade

Talking about the risks involved in doing journalism in conflict-ridden zones like Bastar, Yadav said, “It is not an easy task. You are always under suspicion from all sides.”

According to him, there are multiple risks and issues involved in it, from resource crunch to lack of trust to unwillingness to publish news of vital importance due to adverse situations.

“Everyone wants to play safe,” said he.

“Though there are brave souls who are trying their best bring out the facts, risking their life and liberty.”

He echoed the Editors Guild of India's fact-finding team’s report (of March 2016) which claimed, “Not a single journalist is working (in Bastar) without fear or pressure.”

Out on bail, Yadav has to report to a local police station on a daily basis. It is one of the reasons why he is not able to start working as a journalist yet.

“I have not been proven guilty. But it conveys a message that I have done something wrong. It is a great hindrance for me when it comes to deciding what work to take on,” he told Catch.

Even for his trip to Delhi, he had to obtain permission from a local court. In Delhi, Yadav spoke at a public meeting in Delhi University’s Political Science department, interacted with journalists and met officials of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

In the coming days, Yadav hopes, with less restrictions – like not more than a weekly report to a police station, and a steady job of a full-time reporter – he can fulfill his journalistic duties better. He is convinced that at the end of his trial he will be acquitted.

Yadav said, this case and the 17 months in prison has changed his life drastically. “I am eagerly waiting to start work again and to report about what is happening in the remote areas of Bastar.”

First published: 14 April 2017, 18:23 IST
 
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