A journalist in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh, was assaulted allegedly by the family of a village pradhan after he raised questions about the illegal use of machines for MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) work instead of employing labourers.
Vinay Tiwari, who runs a news portal Bundelkhand Times TV and also contributes as a stringer for some newspapers, had his hand and leg fractured in the assault and was left with bruises all over his body.
Lalitpur SP Mirza Manzar Beg said they booked the village pradhan, her husband and three sons for assault on the complaint of the journalist. Two of the accused have been sent to jail and legal action is being taken, said police.
The assault took place in Dhaura village under the Jakhlaun police station limits on November 7. Mr. Tiwari said he had gone for coverage to a spot after a tip-off that machines and tractors were being used instead of manual labourers in the construction of a link road under the MNREGA scheme.
Mr. Tiwari said he shot videos of the machines but soon got into an altercation with village pradhan Babita Mishra and her family. The accused snatched his video camera, mobile phone and cash, he said.
He alleged that one of the Ms. Mishra’s sons rammed his motorbike into him and struck his leg with a shovel.
“The other two sons soon landed there with a licensed weapon,” he says. Mr. Tiwari was then allegedly thrashed with lathis and was forced to shoot a video on gunpoint admitting that he was there to extort money.
“They hit me so many times that for 15-20 minutes I was not fully conscious,” he told The Hindu. The accused then allegedly threatened to shoot him but luckily for Mr. Tiwari his brother, who had been alerted to the assault by a resident, reached the spot to rescue him.
“Had he reached a few minutes late, I would have been killed,” Mr. Tiwari said.
Journalists’ body denounces attack
The International Federation of Journalists and its Indian affiliate National Union of Journalists- India (NUJ-I) denounced the attack and urged the Uttar Pradesh government to investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to justice.
NUJ-I president Ras Bihari demanded that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath constitute a high level inquiry committee to investigate the case and punish the culprits.
Mr. Tiwari said he had been opposed to such wrongdoing in the MNREGA even in the past. Previously, he had been attacked for reporting on illicit liquor trade. He claims the pradhan was using machines instead of labour to finish targets as the local body polls were due soon.
Tweeting about the incident, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged the assailants were “goons” linked to the ruling BJP. He asked if the government would call for protecting the rights of a “select few journalists” or help people like Vinay Tiwari too.