Arrested for Photos of School Kids Mopping Floor: It’s Tough Being a Journalist in UP

Social Commentary

Arrested for Photos of School Kids Mopping Floor: It’s Tough Being a Journalist in UP

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Unless your chosen beat is “praise everything you see”, it’s not the best time to be a journalist in Uttar Pradesh. In the last couple of years, journalists have been acquiring the same reputation in the state as drug dealers — getting arrested and dealing with the occasional FIR is all a part of the job. The only difference is that journalists also have to deal with threats both online and offline, while drug dealers usually enjoy a relatively good rapport with their clientele.

The latest in the list of journalists to be targeted is Santosh Jaiswal, a local reporter from Azamgarh. His crime: He took photos of children mopping the floor of their school. Jaiswal was arrested after the principal of Oodpur Primary School filed a police complaint against him.   

According to the FIR, Jaiswal misbehaved with the teachers and students and coaxed them to purchase his newspaper. It also says that the journalist came to the school and ordered the students to mop the floor so that he could click pictures.

The news of Jaiswal’s arrest comes days after Pawan Jaiswal, a reporter with Hindi newspaper Jansandesh Times, was booked for reporting that a school in Uttar Pradesh was feeding its children rotis and salt as a mid-day meal. The FIR, filed last Monday, claims that Jaiswal shot the video after alerting school authorities that they had no supplies, and while the authorities were out buying more. It’s also outraged that Jaiswal had the gall to share a “video” when he’s, in fact, just a print journalist.

This, according to the FIR, amounted to criminal conspiracy, obstructing a public servant, concocting false evidence, and cheating — some of which can invite life sentences, and in some cases, even the death penalty.

Even the District Magistrate of Mirzapur was not convinced by the FIR’s argument. A couple of days after the first video went viral online — and days before the FIR was filed — he found the allegations to be true and suspended two people in charge of the mid-day meals. The state government, meanwhile, ordered an inquiry into the incident, and promised action against those responsible.

Now, ideally, that’s where the story should have ended. Instead, in a twist worthy of M Night Shyamalan movie, the journalist was booked for all the crimes listed above, along with a representative of the village, who helped him “spread” the video online, and another local who alerted Jaiswal of what was happening in the first place.

It’s no surprise that there has been some backlash over the way the UP government has been dealing with journalists, with protestors claiming that this was a case of — as the Editor’s Guild put it — “shooting the messenger”. And they aren’t fully exaggerating. This is just the latest in a string of cases where journalists have apparently been targeted in the state.

A couple of days after the first video went viral online — and days before the FIR was filed — he found the allegations to be true and suspended two people in charge of the mid-day meals.

Just a few months ago, the UP government drew the ire of none other than the Supreme Court for arresting another journalist, Prashant Kanojia, for simply sharing a video on Twitter. The clip featured a woman apparently declaring her willingness to spend the rest of her life with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The CM was far from flattered or amused by this proposal, and Kanojia was booked under the severe IT Act. He was immediately released by the court a couple of weeks later, which asked the UP government the same rhetorical question everyone else had on their minds, “Have you ever some across remand for 11 days in such a case?” 

Also arrested with Kanojia were the publishers of the video he had shared. Ishika Singh, the channel head of Nation Live, and Anuj Shukla, the editor of the publication, were first booked defaming the CM. Then a few days later, another journalist associated with the channel, Anshul Kaushik, was arrested for defamatory comments a panellist apparently made during a debate. All the while, the state police sealed the premises from where the channel operates, and where activists and Editors Guild members were protesting, leading them to decry this as an attempt to “intimidate” the press and “stifle the freedom of expression”.

But just because things in UP aren’t the best, doesn’t mean the other states are lagging behind. India has been consistently dropping places in the press freedom index, going from 106th in 2005 to 140th out of 180 in 2019. This year’s report also made a mention of the Kashmir media blackout, and the difficulties foreign reporters have to face when reporting in areas the administration finds to be “sensitive”. 

Our mainstream investigative journalists, meanwhile, have turned their attention to other pressing issues. Zee News’s Sudhir Chaudhury for instance devoted all his time last night to giving Indians tips on how to deal with a nuclear fallout (that he might have some hand in causing at this point), including incredibly, “not looking at it” and “taking a bath”.

Did someone say Indian Watergate? Nope. No one has for a while… 

Most television news channels, much like Zee, have transformed into war rooms, where opinions are thrown around like bullets, and shouting down panellists is a hobby. Arnab Goswami is very close to deafening any member of the Khan market gang, and Times Now is making up for losing their star anchor with cracking an “exclusive” every three minutes. Award winning journalists like Ravish Kumar, meanwhile, have to deal with the occasional blackout. 

It’s safe to say that in the next few years, not too many young Indians, especially from Uttar Pradesh, are going to want to attend journalism schools, especially given the reputation the career is slowly earning across the country. Makes sense, if they have to get arrested anyway, might as well take up something more lucrative.