Indian journalist Sandeep Sharma dies in Bhind
Police probe launched after a reporter, who was investigating illegal sand mining mafia, is killed in Madhya Pradesh.
An investigative journalist in a central Indian district has been crushed by a truck, police say, drawing attention to the issue of safety of journalists.
Sandeep Sharma, 35, who had been reporting about illegal sand-mining mafia in the state of Madhya Pradesh, was hit and killed by a truck on a road in Bhind district on Monday morning.
He succumbed to injuries at a local hospital.
“We are probing the case,” Shailendra Singh Khushwaha, deputy inspector at Bhind police station, told Al Jazeera. “The driver of the truck has been held. The truck is also in our possession.”
Sharma had earlier sought police protection because he feared for his life, local media reports say, quoting a letter from him.
Sharma had alleged the involvement of police officials in the sand-mining mafia operations.
He had conducted two “sting” journalistic reports about sand mafia for a regional TV station, News World.
Khushwaha told Al Jazeera that Sharma was not provided police protection.
In the CCTV footage of the scene, Sharma on a motorbike is run over by a truck that takes a sudden swerve and then races away from the spot.
Sathyanarayan Sharma, president of the Press Club of Bhind, described Sharma as a “brave journalist” who was “facing threats from a police officer whom he had exposed a few months ago”, according to a Times of India report.
Sand mining has been declared illegal in most parts of India.
Although Indian authorities have refused to accept the existence of illegal operations, a Reuters news agency report last year had chronicled the flourishing industry and the threats faced by those seeking to blow the lid off this booming business.
But it is not just the apathy of the police and the administration, rather “there is very little support or protection offered by the news organisations they work for”, said NK Singh, member of the Editors Guild and former editor of the Hindustan Times in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh.
“I find that any journalist living in India’s smaller towns face problems regarding their own safety as well as that of their family while discharging their duty,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If powerful people decide to target them they become a sitting duck. Often these investigative journalists are derided as ‘blackmailers’ in small towns.”
“This is not the first time that sand mafia has killed a journalist in Madhya Pradesh. In last few years, they have killed at least half a dozen policemen, officials and journalists in this one state alone.”
No murders solved
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), not a single journalist’s murder in India has been solved over the past decade.
The watchdog ranks India 13th in its Global Impunity Index, a list highlighting countries where the murders of journalists are least likely to be punished.
Sharma’s death in Bhind comes just months after the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a newspaper editor and vocal critic of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the southern city of Bengaluru.
Lankesh’s killing had sparked mass protest across many cities in India.
Earlier this month, Indian police arrested a member of a hardline Hindu group for her murder.
Sharma’s death on Monday brings the number of journalists killed in India in relation to their work to 44 since 1992.
The state government of Madhya Pradesh has promised to bring the guilty to account.
“Security of journalists is our priority and strict action will be taken against the culprit,” Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the state’s chief minister said on Monday.
Madhya Pradesh is also battling an extraordinary public scandal, known as the Vyapam scam.
Over 40 deaths linked to an exam-cheating scandal in Madhya Pradesh that involved bribes worth millions of dollars has rocked the state since 2013.