Over 100 journalists protested at the Mirzapur Collectorate in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, a day after the state government filed a case against journalist Pawan Jaiswal, who filmed students being fed salt with rotis as a mid-day meal at a local school.
The video shot by Jaiswal on 22 August purportedly shows children sitting on the floor of the Siyur Primary School in Jamalpur block in Mirzapur. The journalists protested the complaint filed by the Block Development officer which accused Jaiswal of attempting to defame the Uttar Pradesh government.
“Our reporter exposed how school children were being fed rotis and salt. The video he shot went viral and the district magistrate himself went to the spot and said this was true,” Sanjay Dubey, who is the district chief of Jansandesh Times, which is the local Hindi daily that Jaiswal works for, told NDTV.
The Uttar Pradesh government said on Tuesday that it would examine the FIR filed against Jaiswal. “Action has been initiated against all those found prima facie guilty in the entire matter. As far as the FIR is concerned, we are getting it examined,” state government spokesperson Shrikant Sharma said.
A mid-day meal, which is a government scheme, should include pulses, rice, rotis and vegetables on all days and mil and fruits on certain days.
Jaiswal, village-head representative Rajkumar Pal and unidentified others have been booked under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharging duty), 193 (false evidence) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code, a senior officer told PTI.
According to the FIR, Pal was aware that only rotis were cooked in the school, and instead of arranging vegetables, he called a journalist and “pressed him to run it”. The complaint blames the duo for making the video in a planner manner aimed at maligning the state government’s image.
On Monday, Uttar Pradesh basic education minister Satish Dwivedi said he will look into the case. “No action should be taken only for exposing corruption or bringing out the facts. If this has happened, I will take a look. I will have to get a report from the police department and then I will be able to tell you,” he told PTI.
Meanwhile, Jaiswal called the FIR an “attack on journalism”, welcoming those calling his story a lie to verify the facts. “A case has been filed against me because questions have been asked from the government officials,” he said.
The Editors’ Guild of India called the “cruel” case a “classic case of shooting the messenger” and condemned the state government’s action. The guild sought the withdrawal of the case and that the journalist not be harmed or harassed any further.
“It is precisely exposé such as these that show how valuable free and fearless journalists are to a democratic society. It is shocking that instead of taking action to fix what is wrong on the ground, the government has filed criminal cases against the journalist. Even if the government believes that his report is wrong, there are easy and conventional redresses available. Using the IPC and police is no way to respond to this,” it said.
District Magistrate Anurag Patel said on Monday that the reporter could have taken a photograph of the incident instead of filming it. “You are a print-media journalist. You could have clicked a photograph if you had felt that something wrong is taking place and publish it. But he did not do this, and hence, his role seems to be suspicious,” he said, explaining that a case was registered because it seemed Jaiswal was involved in criminal conspiracy.