In the intervening night of 8-9 December, 2018, Amit Topno, community correspondent from Jharkhand's Khunti working for Video Volunteers was shot dead. Amit had been with Video Volunteers (VV) since 2012 and reported for Newscode and OK Times and sometimes also drove a taxi for Ola Cabs.
Amit reported fearlessly on issues like sand mining, illegal alcohol sales, adivasi rights, education, sanitation, human trafficking, land rights, culture and most recently the Pathalgadi movement. His last report for VV was produced six months ago on the Pathalgadi, a movement in which adivasi communities across Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh asserted their right to self-governance. The movement has its roots in creating awareness and ensuring implementation of the key provisions of the Panchayats (Extensions Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 that empower a village as an administrative unit.
Like many of VV correspondents, besides being a community journalist, Amit was a social activist too. He followed up his video reports with on ground action to solve the problem he was reporting. He held community screenings, conducted village meetings, assisted the community in writing applications and approaching government officials and worked towards ensuring accountability. His efforts solved 45 percent of the problems he reported on. It made schools safer and encouraged the administration to deal with issues like the human-animal conflict in the area.
Those who knew Amit remember him as an inquisitive, warm, fun loving and an extremely helpful and courageous individual. "Jharkhand is a land caught up in a frightful storm. Its people are being whirled around in a storm of starvation, conflict and poverty. I am the headman of my village, Nichitpur, Jharkhand, and I'm tired of seeing my people die,” Amit had said in an interview in 2014.
Amit’s body was found on the Namkum-Doranda road in Ranchi on 9 December. The autopsy report reveals that he was shot in the head and the bullet was still lodged in. The nature of the injury revealed that he was shot at close range. The autopsy report also stated that there were no signs of struggle or scuffle, not even a scratch. His taxi, phone and identity cards were missing but not the money. '
All of this, points to a pre-meditated and professionally-executed murder. It has been over 11 days since his murder, but no arrests have been made in the case yet, even though the police have said that they are closing on some leads.
On 14 December, more than a 100 people, including social movement leaders, activists, journalists, students and members of the VV network participated in a silent candlelight march to protest his murder. At the march, Jerrome Kujur, Dayamani Barla, Deepak Bara spoke out about the frequent threats and harassment of activists and journalists in Jharkhand. They urged the state to conduct a thorough investigation into this case and bring Amit's murderers to justice.
On 15 December, 2018, a delegation of civil society organisations, including VV, met with the superintendent of police and urged him to conduct a thorough and speedy investigation into Amit's murder. The SP assured that all possible angles will be investigated.
On 17 December, 2018, the Jharkhand Jantantrik Mahasabha organised a peaceful protest in Jamshedpur. Friends and allies of Amit also submitted an application to the National Scheduled Tribe Commission urging them to take note of the gruesome murder. Civil society organisations appraised this matter to the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand government and other ministers on 19 December 2018. Arup Chatterjee, an MLA from Nirsa Dhanbad, was handed over documents related to Amit’s work and he has promised to raise the issue in the upcoming winter session of the assembly starting on 24th December.
Though Amit had not informed his network of any threat or danger to him in the last 18 months, it cannot be ruled out that he was murdered because of his work as a journalist and social activist, raising issues affecting communities on the margins and working in an area, where conflict over land, resources is rife. In November 2018, another journalist from the same area was murdered. At a time when India ranks 14th on the Global Impunity Index, Amit’s murder is a reminder that journalists who speak to truth to power and report out of remote, rural areas are not safe.
The article originally appeared on Video Volunteers, a reporting network that's focused exclusively on providing broad coverage from the poorest, most media-dark districts in India.
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2018 18:11:47 IST