It took social media outrage, and demands for investigation from an international journalist watchdog, and human rights organizations to arrest a powerful politician and a local police chief, for allegedly burning alive a journalist, who reported about their massive corruption and criminal acts.
Jagendra Singh, a social media journalist, had posted stories alleging that Ram Murti Verma, a state minister in Uttar Pradesh and a powerful Samajwadi party politician in Shahjahanpur, was massively corrupt, and a criminal. According to Singh's posts on Facebook, Verma had forcibly grabbed large tracts of land, and gang-raped an aaganwadi worker along with his henchmen.
Singh paid a terrible price for his allegations. He was set on fire in Shahjahanpur, and died of serious burns in a Lucknow hospital on Monday.
A week before, on June 1, the police had been to his house to arrest him on a complaint by Verma. They alleged that he set himself on fire fearing arrest. But in a statement recorded in the Lucknow hospital before his death, Singh said that it was Sriprakash Rai, the local police station chief, who had poured kerosene on him and set him ablaze. His son, who lives with his mother and two siblings in a nearby town, then filed an FIR, alleging the same.
Singh was taken to the King George Medical College in Lucknow after suffering 60 percent burns and was declared dead on Monday. His son Rajan said that his father had been assaulted earlier by Verma and his associates, and that the police head of the area was corrupt and aiding Verma instead of filing a case against him.
“Ram Murti Singh Verma and his associates were threatening my father for the past few days and police was acting at his behest. The minister’s three associates, who attacked my father on April 28 were not arrested. A few days later, police lodged a false case against my father,” he said.
Singh had worked in local Hindi dailies but was lately posting news only on Facebook. He did not provide any evidence of his allegations against Verma, but the reaction from the other side suggests he might have been on to something.
Verma, his four associates and the local police head Sriprakash Rai were arrested Tuesday after a social media outcry. The Committee To Project Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based organization that tracks attacks on journalists around the world, demanded an investigation. “We call on authorities to conduct a swift, credible, and transparent investigation into the death of Jagendra Singh,” said CPJ's Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra.
Amnesty International tweeted about it, as did several others.
This horrific attack on Jagendra Singh highlights the dangers that journalists can face in doing their jobs in Uttar Pradesh.— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) June 10, 2015
Singh had earlier posted that Verma might try to get him killed, after he was beaten up by people who he alleged were Verma's associates.
Here is one of the posts that Singh had posted, in which he raised questions about unusually high growth in Verma's property assets, now worth crores of rupees:
The post that alleged gangrape by Verma and his associates has been taken down. Here is a screenshot:
“The inspector and others barged into the room and poured petrol on him and set him ablaze,” Singh's wife said in an interview on Times Now. She said that the police had not acted on his complaint that Verma's associates had assaulted him.