Police in Dausa, Rajasthan, have arrested a journalist under tough anti-hate laws after a “misleading” report about a “Pakistani flag” being raised in the town was published in a Hindi daily. A photojournalist and two senior editors of the newspaper too were named in the FIR.
Bhuvnesh Yadav, Dausa-based reporter for Dainik Bhaskar, among the country’s most widely circulated daily newspapers, was arrested on Friday evening on charges under sections 153A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion, race, residence, language, etc.) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts aimed at outraging religious feelings) of the IPC, police said.
Photographer Bhaskar Jainam alias Bablu, the daily’s Dausa bureau chief Rajendra Jainam, and its Jaipur-based news editor Shakti Prakash Singh were named in the FIR.
The report was published in the newspaper’s December 17 edition under the headline “Halwai Bazar mein ghar ki chhat par lehraya Pak jhanda” (A Pakistani flag is fluttering on the roof of a house in Halwai Bazar). It described this as a “huge failure on the part of the administration”.
“The administration is busy with the chief minister’s expected visit, and is unaware of anti-national activities in the city. This is also a major lapse on the part of intelligence agencies,” the report said. The report was accompanied by a picture of a flag atop a house, which had a large crescent and star on a green background, but which was clearly not the Pakistani flag.
Muslim residents of the town protested after the report appeared, saying the flag was a “religious flag” which is hoisted every year to observe the Prophet Mohammad. “We are all unhappy with the news report, and have submitted a memorandum to the SDM,” local corporator Ikram Khan said.
Police visited the house after the report appeared on December 17. “It is a religious flag and not a Pakistani flag as was made out by the news report. It is hoisted annually,” Dausa Kotwali SHO Devendra Pratap said. The officer said the complaint was filed by Abdul Khaleel, who was named in the report as the owner of the house on which the flag had been raised.
Khaleel said: “The irresponsible report was carried without verifying the facts or making inquiries. The flag was raised by children in our family, aged 8-10, to observe the birth anniversary of the Prophet on December 24. Our flag has a bit of red on the lower side, while the Pakistani flag has no red at all.”
The report, Khaleel alleged, “was carried to vitiate the communal harmony of Dausa”.
The following morning, December 18, the newspaper published another report, apparently to clarify its first report. This report, headlined “Pakistani jhanda nahin lehraya, pehchanne mein hui chook: SP”, said the crescent and star on the flag had created “bhram” (confusion), which led to “gaflat” (inaction). It quoted district superintendent of police Yogesh Yadav as saying that it was not a Pakistani flag, and that “all aspects of this matter” were being probed.
However, the Dausa police arrested Bhuvnesh Yadav later that evening. “Following the complaint, we arrested Yadav on Friday evening,” SHO Pratap said.
News Editor Shakti Prakash Singh said, “I’ve been dragged into local politics.” Police had not approached him yet, he said. On the report, he said, “What can we do now?”
On Saturday, Dainik Bhaskar published a report on its website, accusing the SP of “goonda raj”. It alleged that since the newspaper had repeatedly highlighted the SP’s failure to maintain law and order in Dausa, the officer had got Khaleel to file a complaint and had the journalist arrested.
Rajasthan Editor of Dainik Bhaskar, Laxmi Prasad Pant, claimed: “This is a lapse on the part of the police. They (the police) gave wrong information to the media. Police initiated the matter, only then did we cover it. It was police who reached there first, and when it (the information) came to us, we covered it.”
SP Yogesh Yadav did not take calls. I-G, Jaipur Range, D C Jain, too was unavailable for a comment. Khaleel’s lawyer Mohammad Arif said the Dausa Chief Judicial Magistrate had refused the journalist bail, and he was now expected to file a fresh plea with the District Judge on Monday.