In the age of air-conditioned journalism, few have the zeal of quest for truth be presented to the world amidst bullets, bombs and rocket launchers. Danish Siddiqui, a photojournalist of the world’s most reliable news agency Reuters, was pierced by Taliban bullets in Afghanistan.

A young Indian journalist was martyred in line of duty. Whether it is in the river or in the seas, or the sky or battlefield, in the silence of death or among the dead bodies, neither the camera nor the pen of the courageous stopped anywhere. The camera did not flinch despite a rocket hit. That was his forte. He was neither afraid of Corona nor of despotic Governments. Such courage of his earned him the world’s prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Reuters has paid deep tribute to him, describing him as an excellent journalist, a devoted husband-father and a much-loved colleague. Danish was heading the Reuters multimedia team in India. On his death, all the Heads of States and leaders including the President of the world’s most powerful country “Joe Biden” paid tribute. Setting a sad precedent for our Nation our ruling leaders, who tweet on fall of a hat, did not even deem it courteous and necessary to tweet a tribute on his martyrdom. All the leading organizations of the world, including the United Nations, paid tribute to him. All the major media organizations of the world also showered him with respect. We too salute him.

We remember when we joined journalism, it was passion. Wherever there was a dangerous assignment, it was always voluntarily. Most of the times expenses were self borne. During Kargil conflict, while based at Amritsar, We gathered vital news crossing Pakistan’s border. The BSF officer who facilitated us clearly warned that if anything untoward happened, we would be disowned. At that time, we had published news with the headline “Nepalicious conspiracy to wreak havoc with the waters of Ravi”, taking cognizance of which the then Defense Minister George Fernandez and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani had come to inspect the border where his compliments came with sane advice. We acted in the same way in Naxalite affected areas too. That is why when I heard Danish’s martyrdom, by Taliban, I could not stop sadness, anger and curse to seep in against those who had killed a peacemaker journalist.

Pity rises upon those who ridiculed Danish’s death and also on them who did not consider it necessary to tender the tribute deserved by him, even by those holding responsible positions of power. Danish has set a role model for journalists, whose life being not difficult but is still not easy either. His death rings the bell of convenience bard journalism. One remembers the death of Dutch journalist Pieter de Vries, a Danish national mourning. The mayor of Amsterdam saluted him as a ‘national hero’. Danish’s death finds no mention in the galleries of present political dispensation while his death is being seen through a religious prism even amongst certain journalists. This glorified martyrdom in midst of accusations and counter-allegations, has washed down the drain of dirty politics. When the solemn occasion demanded showering of respects on the martyred journalist, casteiest and religious comments are being hurled by journalists.

We remember during the peak of Corona era, when we were feeling proud to walk around in an air-conditioned car, Scorched Danish was covering the plight of the immigrants, as one of those walkers walking a thousand mile walk home, while we were covering the events in the comfort of our air-conditioned cars. While we were relishing the flavours of home cooked food, he was unraveling the secret of the burning corpses. Wading Ganges he was dodging police cordon to bring out the truth to the world. His photojournalism unmasked the squid face of those covering up the corpses of the Covid dead. How have we lagged behind to bow in respect before such a brave photo-journalist? We belong to a Nation of Vedic culture, where it’s the tradition to pay respects, in words becoming of such respects, to those who martyr in line of duty. Perhaps our policy makers and their supporters have forgotten their own traditions and culture.

These days the distorted face of journalism is being seen which any journalist would be ashamed of. We are striving night in and day out to glorify those who have eroded the foundations of journalism or say democracy and what can be expected from such fascists who promote the night of long knives who call the murder of a lion clad saint, bravery. They glorify the media houses and journalists engaged in spreading hatred while their gloves come off to decimate those promoting communal harmony. They shed tears for the divisives and the one who is the unifier is treated as an enemy. Such is the reflection of media today. The ruling dispensation is swarmed by such media and journalists who chose to keep mum when truth dares and this section of media consider him their enemy, who oppose the State policies.

Agendas are set up not for raining the voice of people but for the rulers by such media while arraying the programmes, this is what is witnessed daily. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 52 journalists have been murdered in India in the last 30 years, while only 53 journalists, including Danish, have been killed in violence-hit Afghanistan, which reflects where the journalists are at risk more than Taliban?

We call ourselves the largest democratic country in the world but discard the basic democratic features. If we have to strengthen democracy, then those who show the mirror of truth will have to be respected discarding the conspiracies of their murder. We must pay tribute with respect to the journalists who were martyred in line of duty. Arrangements should also be in place to secure their future and safety of their family. If it cannot be done then it shall be difficult to save democracy.

Jai Hind

(Writer Ajay Shukla is the Chief Editor of ITV Network)