It all started with an October 8 headline in Dainik Jagran, which claimed that the local BJP MLA Tejpal Nagar had negotiated with the NTPC to secure jobs for the men accused in lynching of Akhlaq. However, the main body of the report went beyond the Akhlaq angle. It was a report about job loss and tribulations of a family.
Earlier this month, Neeraj, a resident of Bishahra village in Dadri, had self-immolated at the gate of NTPC to protest against termination of his services. He and four others were fired from their jobs by a contractor who accused them of being drunk. The police said that Neeraj, who was working as a contract labourer at the NTPC complex for the last two years, was the sole breadwinner of the family.
Reports say that Neeraj had gone into depression after his job loss. He was worried about livelihood of his family. He was married two years ago and had a daughter. His father was a farmer who had passed away earlier, so Neeraj had to take care of his wife, daughter, mother, and a younger minor brother, who incidentally has also been made an accused in Akhlaq lynching case. Being the sole breadwinner for the family, the loss of job had a toll on him.
Staring at an uncertain future for himself and his dependent family, Neeraj decided to attract attention of NTPC management by taking an extreme step in form of self-immolation. He put petrol and set himself on fire in broad daylight in front of NTPC premises. He subsequently died in a hospital due to the burn injuries, and as per the Dainik Jagran report, his wife was promised a job and financial compensation by the NTPC.
The report further claimed that the BJP MLA Nagar also negotiated with NTPC officers to provide jobs for the accused in the Akhlaq murder case. Appears that NTPC had to agree to provide compensations as the villagers were angry and had protested against Neeraj’s self-immolation; police had to be deployed at NTPC premises lest situation turns violent.
While the Dainik Jagran headline talked about jobs to the accused in Akhlaq murder case, the report suggested that the agreement was basically about taking back all those who were fired from their jobs by NTPC, and it appears that the accused were among those. The report further suggested that these will be provided jobs in the next three months and there was a written agreement regarding the same.
This part about an agreement between the BJP MLA and NTPC was also reported in brief by Amar Ujala in the following day’s newspaper (9 October), though it was not as detailed as the Dainik Jagran report.
For almost a week after publishing of these reports in local Hindi newspapers, there was no outrage — perhaps because local people know that this was due to Neeraj’s suicide and not Akhlaq’s murder — but things changed when The Hindu published a story on 14th October claiming that the 15 accused men in lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Bishahra village in Dadri have landed contractual jobs with state-run NTPC.
The Hindu story completely eliminated the fact that an NTPC worker named Neeraj had killed himself and this entire “job offer” was triggered by that tragic incident. Not only the fact that a suicide had forced NTPC to offer jobs was hidden by The Hindu report, it vaguely quoted an unnamed NTPC spokesperson trying to link it solely with Akhlaq case.
In fact, in The Hindu report itself, the unnamed NTPC spokesperson denies that there was anything to do with Akhlaq case. This is what the unnamed spokesperson was quoted as saying:
“Yes, we have agreed to give jobs to unemployed youths of Bishahra. It has nothing to do with Akhlaq’s lynching. Contractual jobs have been offered to many residents of Bishahra because it is the NTPC’s policy to give jobs to all project-affected persons based on their qualification and expertise.”
So even though the spokesperson, who is not named by The Hindu for some strange reason, clarified that agreement to provide jobs had no relation to the Akhlaq case, The Hindu report tried to insinuate that the jobs were offered because these people were accused of killing Akhlaq i.e. as a “reward”.
This selective reporting of news is not something new to The Hindu and the reporter who filed this story, Mohammad Ali. We had earlier exposed how The Hindu had indulged in spreading fake story on molestation by bystander during the Elphinstone stampede tragedy, which they had to withdraw. The Hindu had also received a show cause notice from Press Council for the same.
This particular reporter Mohammad Ali, too, has a history of selectively reporting facts, hiding an important detail about the story. For example this is how he blamed cancellation of an atheist event on Hindu groups, when there was a clear involvement of groups belonging to other religions too.
Ali has been reporting, in his own style, on events around Akhlaq’s murder for long, and once he had shown his lack of sensitivity, or betrayed his priorities, by positing a smiling selfie outside the home of Akhlaq:
Following this selective reporting of facts by The Hindu article, multiple media platforms, like Kashmir Observer, ScoopWhoop and Firstpost among others published the story, citing The Hindu as a source. This led to widespread outrage as the tone of these reports, based on The Hindu article, suggested as if the murder accused were rewarded with government jobs (and not compensated after one innocent person was forced to commit suicide).
Finally, on Sunday NTPC trashed the reports. As per the reports, Pankaj Saxena, an NTPC spokesperson said, “No agreement has been ever made to provide jobs to the accused in Ikhlaq’s lynching and none of them have been employed. We have a professional procedure through which people are engaged on a contractual basis.”
Saxena further said that they contact villagers whenever a vacancy for jobs like those of a technician, machine operators, and casual labourers is there, because the organisation had purchased lands from them.
“If employment is provided to the lynching accused, all due rules and regulations will be followed. We will focus on all legal aspects,” the NTPC official told HT.
Hence, even if the accused are provided employment, it will be after following rules and regulations and not as a “reward” of “government job” as implied by the reports and furthered by Congress spokesperson:
While our country is seeing growing joblessness isn’t it amazing how Akhlaq’s alleged killers have got a sarkari naukri in NTPC #acchedin
— Priyanka Chaturvedi (@priyankac19) October 15, 2017
Going by the latest reports of denial by NTPC, it seems that Dainik Jagran, with its original story, might have goofed up or there was no formal agreement to provide contractual jobs to the accused in Akhlaq lynching case. NTPC being a govt undertaking will surely have a documentary proof and they will not wrongly deny anything that can be easily exposed by looking at records. What is shocking, however, is the fact that most of the mainstream media stories conveniently ignored the fact that the job was offered to Neeraj’s wife following his self-immolation outside NPTC office.
Perhaps, following the pressure due to self-immolation, NTPC would have in principle agreed to compensate everyone who lost their jobs and this was either spun by the media or the local BJP MLA as written agreement to provide contractual jobs to murder accused. If there was a written agreement, that document should now be in public and NTPC officials should be taken to task for misrepresenting facts.
Nonetheless, the fact that the mainstream media and celebrity journalists did not outrage over the suicide of a guy who lost his job is appalling. He was the lone breadwinner for the family and he was pushed to take this extreme step. Perhaps for the mainstream media, a tragedy in Dadri is worth reporting and outraging upon only when it has a communal angle.