India: TV crews accused of inciting suicides

Lucknow, 2 August (AKI/Asian Age) - Cases for abetment of suicide have been registered against reporters of two national Indian TV news channels after the deaths of five disabled stallholders who were protesting against the administration in Varanasi, which had ordered the demolition of their stands, their only means of livelihood.

The district administration lodged cases against the reporters on Tuesday night after eyewitnesses confirmed that the news crews had actually provoked the physically-challenged vendors into consuming "sulphas" tablets in protest against the city authorities decision to demolish their stores in the Gurubagh area of Varanasi.

"We are not naming the channels as yet because we want to reconfirm their involvement in the matter. However, as soon as the investigations are over, we will not hesitate to initiate action against the journalists," Varanasi’s senior superintendent of police S.B. Shirodkar said.

Cases have also been registered against the vendors’ leader Namo Upadhyaya, who also consumed poison, and Raju Bengali, who reportedly incited the vendors. Both have been arrested.

Uttar Pradesh home secretary Renuka Kumar told reporters in Lucknow that it had been found that journalists from the two channels had incited the vendors to take the drastic step of consuming poison because it would make a "good visual."

"Action will definitely be taken against irresponsible persons from the media because two days ago we had assured the vendors that they would be suitably rehabilitated and an acceptable solution to this effect had been worked out. The vendors were fully satisfied with the outcome of their meeting with me, and there was just no provocation for their action on Wednesday," district magistrate Veena Kumari said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the five vendors who died after consuming sulphas tablets have been identified as Rajesh Maurya, Tribhuvan, Gurudev, Ram Chander and Mangru Prasad. All five were physically handicapped.

The other vendors whose condition continues to be critical are being treated at the BHU Hospital in Varanasi.

On Tuesday, about a dozen physically handicapped vendors who had been using the pavements to sell their wares, and had been served notices to vacate the space as part of the municipal corporation’s anti-encroachment drive.

The anti-encroachment squad arrived in the Gurubagh locality of Varanasi on Tuesday morning and was demolishing encroachments on the other side of the road when the TV news channels reportedly incited the vendors to take "drastic steps" to attract public attention.

The vendors took out some sulphas tablets and gulped it down with water before the media. About 20 minutes later, the vendors lost consciousness and were rushed to a nearby hospital.


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