India has never been a comfortable place for rationalists or journalists, and now things are getting positively dangerous. Over the last couple of years, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi, all rationalist activists, have been gunned down in separate incidents. And now, if Maharashtra Police's investigation is to be believed, journalist Nikhil Wagle is also in danger.
The arrest of Sameer Gaikwad, a member of the bizarre right-wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha, in connection with communist leader Govind Pansare's murder, has given the police an amount of material to investigate. Police have reportedly found that the name of Wagle, a senior Marathi journalist and former anchor, frequently came up in phone calls between Sanstha members and Gaikwad. This, coupled with other information, prompted the police to believe Wagle's life might be in danger. The Sanstha itself has denied these claims and insists Gaikwad is being framed.
Wagle himself points to one specific news show he anchored that angered right-wing elements. The YouTube channel Hindu Janajagruti Samiti has put out the above clip which is titled 'Protest IBN-Lokmat for supressing Hindus feelings'. The "suppression" being pointed at in this clip is based on the responses of the panel to a Sanatan Sanstha member, Abhay Vartak.
In response to questions about Graham Staines – an Australian missionary who along with his sons aged 6 and 10, was burnt alive in a car in 1999 by members of the Bajrang Dal – Vartak, instead, wants to discuss the demolition of a Hindu temple in Goa. Wagle, who is anchoring the show and seems quite agitated, tells Vartak that no temple has been demolished and that they have spoken with the police to confirm that as well. He then goes on to admonish Vartak for misusing television for false propaganda.
This clip is from 2011 and Wagle claims to have been receiving death threats since then. The senior journalist has however refused police protection, saying it is mostly futile. Another journalist Shyamsundar Sonnar who writes for a Marathi newspaper Prahar has also received threats from the Sanstha and filed an official police complaint.
Both of them have a right to be concerned about their safety. India ranks 13 in the Committee for Protection of Journalists’ annual impunity index, meaning journalists are often slain with the killers not apprehended. This year alone has seen the mysterious death of AajTak journalist Akshay Singh who was covering the Vyapam Scam. Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist was also burnt alive in June this year, allegedly by members of the UP police.
Additionally, journalists are routinely threatened on Twitter. TV journalist Ravish Kumar's website was hacked in January this year and a threat to his life posted there. Proceeding from twitter threats and hacks to actual death threats, however, suggests the situation is only getting worse.