- A journalist shared video of students being served roti and salt in UP
- The journalist was charged with conspiracy for shooting the video
- Senior official said journalist shot the video to defame the government
Amid outrage over a journalist being charged for his video showing roti and salt being served to children at a school in Uttar Pradesh, a top official has added to the display of callousness with his comments.
In a video taken on August 22 at the school in Mirzapur, young children are seen sitting on the floor eating rotis with salt served as midday meal under a flagship scheme of the central government. Pawan Jaiswal, who works with a local Hindi daily, Jansandesh Times, has been charged with conspiracy for shooting the video. A representative of the village head has also been charged and arrested.
The government says this man should have arranged for vegetables instead of calling a reporter to the school.
Asked why the reporter has been accused of "conspiracy" where he had only gone to report the news, Anurag Patel, Mirzapur's top government official who ordered the enquiry that led to the FIR against the journalist, claimed he had deliberately made the video to defame the state government, and that he should have stuck to stills instead because he writes for a newspaper.
"There is a different way to make news. If you hear the audio, someone (the village head's representative who has been charged and arrested) is calling him and saying come here and make a viral video and come and be part of a conspiracy," Mr Patel said.
When it was pointed out that not once did the reporter use the word "viral", the official replied: "Maybe he didn't say 'viral' but he is asking for a video to be made. You are a print media journalist, you could have taken photos. You could have printed it, but you did not do it. That is why we are accusing him of conspiracy."
Mr Patel also sought to clarify his recent comment that children were also served rice and salt in the past. "In khichdi, you put salt and rice, no? Also, daal (lentils) is added. But it wasn't for many days," he said.
Dinesh Sharma, the Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has backed the conspiracy theory. "It does seem like someone has conspired - whether it is the representative of the village head or someone else. But the government will not display any prejudiced behavior against anyone. Whatever report comes, if someone tries to defame the government then there will be action but someone is innocent nothing will be done against that person."
More than 100 journalists protested today at the Mirzapur collectorate office over the case filed against the reporter.
Ironically, the same district magistrate now accusing the journalist of conspiracy had earlier told reporters on camera that two separate inquiries conducted on the day the meal was served, ordered by him, had established truth in the reporter's version.
On the day after the video went viral, District Magistrate Anurag Patel had even suspended the teacher-in-charge of the school and the supervisor at the gram panchayat were suspended. The district magistrate says he ordered a third inquiry, which implicated the journalist, because he wanted to triple check the facts.
The website of the Uttar Pradesh Midday Meal Authority - the overseeing body for these meals in the state - describes an elaborate menu, which includes pulses, rice, rotis and vegetables. Fruits and milk are included on certain days, according to the meal chart.
The three-page first information report against the journalist mentions that only rotis were cooked at the school on the day when the video was shot. It adds that the villager, a representative of the village chief, should have arranged for vegetables instead of calling a reporter to the school premises.
Journalists have rallied around their colleague. "We are protesting because our reporter exposed how school children were being fed rotis and salt. The video he shot went viral, the district magistrate himself went to the spot and he said this was true. Is it wrong to expose to truth?" asked Sanjay Dubey, district chief, Jansandesh Times.