Sunday, June 26, 2011

CPJ: Journalist J Dey killed in Mumbai

Mumbai journalists pay tribute to J Dey. (AP/Rajanish Kakade)
Mumbai journalists pay tribute to J Dey. (AP/Rajanish Kakade)
In the comfort of my London home, far from the dangers of crime reporting in Mumbai, the news flash on television seemed unreal. Senior journalist Jyotirmoy Dey had been killed, pumped full of five bullets in broad daylight. I thought things like this only happened in Bollywood flicks, and that crime reporters in Mumbai never had any reason to jump at shadows. Alas, I was wrong.

It didn't sink in until later, when my husband Danish and I sat up reminiscing on the days when we reported on Mumbai's underbelly. J Dey (that's what we always called him) was an editor at one of Mumbai's leading newspapers, Midday. Danish remembers him as a guy who guarded his word, as any intelligent reporter covering the underworld and rogue police would do. He spoke little, kept his distance from the crowd, and protected his sources. He was a journalist par excellence.

A senior cop in Mumbai--one of the two I respect--once told me that J Dey probably knew more than the police about underworld operations, so I admired him before I even met him. When I did, I liked him instantly: He was a man of intelligence and maturity, always composed and dignified. Sachin Kalbag, Midday's executive editor, remembers how J Dey was a "rock" when his colleague Akela was arrested under the draconian Official Secrets Act. Kalbag says J Dey never wavered for a minute and would often tell him, "We will get Akela out. You don't worry. Remember, we are in the right; they (the police) are the bad guys here."

J Dey's death deserves our greatest condemnation.

Whatever the motive for J Dey's murder, his profession played a huge part. Everyone is contemplating which of his stories angered someone enough to want to kill him. He was called the encyclopedia of the Mumbai underworld. His second book, Dial Zero, released a few months ago, explored the highly secretive issue of underworld informers. His contemporary Husain Zaidi, who also authored books on the Mumbai underworld, believes J Dey was writing a third book on the rags-to-riches stories of some underworld dons.

The brutality of J Dey's murder has shocked everyone in the journalist fraternity in Mumbai and beyond. Hundreds of journalists are digging deep every day in the public interest to uncover crime. Will the killing set a precedent for anyone unhappy with the press to shoot journalists? Will fear lead to self-censorship?

As for the police, as crime reporters we know what happens behind closed doors in police stations. Many cops have been put behind bars thanks to investigative journalism. Abhishek Sharan, who worked with J Dey for several years, believes that nothing fascinated Dey more than the direct confrontation between the mafia and the police. His exposes and investigative stories have often upset the men in uniform. So far, no one has been arrested for his murder. The police have failed us yet again.

India ranks 13th on CPJ's Impunity Index, highlighting the don't-care-a-damn attitude of Indian authorities when it comes to investigating cases of slain journalists. But if I know the press in Mumbai; it will not let the cops sleep in peace until J Dey's killers are brought to book. That's the best tribute we can pay him.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Plowing through Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

My Sri Lankan friends are angry that UK’s Channel 4 has dug up old graves in a time when Sri Lanka is moving towards normalcy. But just because things in Sri Lanka have improved on paper doesn’t mean those who have committed atrocities should be allowed to escape. Where is justice if we all turn a blind eye to such war crimes?

Channel 4 ran a documentary on June 14 called Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields and that’s what it was all about: capturing Tamil prisoners, stripping them down, blindfolding them with their hands tied behind their back and shooting them at point blank range and then enjoying the game like it was a target practice on a dart board.

For the women it was much worse as most of them were raped and then killed. The image of a Tamil news presenter first at work on TV and then her naked corpse in the field keeps resurfacing in my head all day long.

Although Channel 4’s Jon Snow warned us that the scenes would be gruesome, it was horrendous. The mobile phone footage showed a series of live executions of Tamil prisoners, and the soldiers even kicked and abused the raped and mutilated bodies, filmed as trophy footage by the killers. They also gave advice to each other on where to aim and how to shoot.

I have seen some real vile footage of war crimes during my years at City University – footage that was too violent to ever make it on television. Yet, I couldn’t see the entire documentary without squirming in my seat.
Amnesty International puts the civilian casualty figure around 40,000 in the last violent phase of Sri Lankan civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lankan government did not allow any reporters near the war zone to camouflage the death and destruction from the rest of the world. But even the LTTE used civilians as shields to protect themselves from the army in turn causing their deaths. Atrocities were committed by both the parties in their quest to win and innocent civilians lost their lives.

Sri Lankan forced shelled hospitals and civilian camps in areas they marked as “no-fire zones”. The UN’s report published earlier this year agrees that there are “credible reports” of war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government’s army against the country’s Tamil civilians.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields was premiered at the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday June 3. Its audience: ambassadors and delegations from the UK, US, India, France, Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, Mexico and Finland.

Many asked why air this footage in the UK, to an audience so detached from the Asian sub-continent. But again UK has political clout. A day later, the Prime Minister, David Cameron told the parliament that “Sri Lankan government needs to be investigated”.  Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said "if the Sri Lankan government does not respond we will support the international community in revisiting all options available to press the Sri Lankan Government to fulfil its obligations."

It remains to be seen with the protests and civil war going on in the Middle East now, how much the international community responds to the plea for a probe into Sri Lanka’s war crimes of 2-3 years ago.
But if we don’t raise a voice now, when will we?

The film will be available to global audience for seven days from15 June at:

Warning: Not for the weak hearted!