“Sai Reddy was always very thorough with his facts and figures. He exposed gaps in the implementation of government schemes, wrote against the Salva Judum and against the Maoists too. He was an independent person.”
Lalit Surjan, proprietor-editor, Deshbandu
“He was the authentic voice of the area. He was a very active journalist and wrote consistently against corruption - against the government, the Salwa Judum and against the Maoists.”
Suvojit Bagchi, Senior Assistant Editor, The Hindu
A day after the killing of Sai Reddy in this conflict-ridden state, there is still little clarity over who his killers are and why they wanted him dead. But what is clear is the extreme dangers of trying to practice journalism here and the impunity shrouding the myriad threats, attacks and the deaths of journalists - the second this year, after Nemichand Jain was killed in much the same manner, in Sukma in February.
Then, alleged Maoists threw pamphlets signed by a Maoist group saying that Jain was killed because he was a police informer. There were multiple pamphlets with different dalams of the Maoists either taking responsibility or denying it. The Maoists issued an apology for the killing, 45 days later, following a media boycott and protest.
Needless to say, the killers are still at large.
There were no pamphlets when a group of men, armed with sharp weapons, prevailed upon Sai Reddy in broad daylight on Friday. Like Jain, Reddy was also returning from the weekly market near Basaguda village, Bijapur district of Bastar division.
Even the police haven’t confirmed the involvement of the Maoists in the killing and the manner in which the killing took place suggests a different modus operandi in the attacks on journalists here. For one, the killing seems to have been the handiwork of villagers, not an organized team of Maoists, says Suvojit Bagchi of The Hindu.
As in Nemichand Jain’s killing, the general imprint of the Maoists is missing. The Maoists, journalists who work in the area say, usually issue a few threats, warnings and even tell the journalist to leave the area (three journalists re-located their homes and work from the districts they covered earlier).
But perhaps this is a new trend in the policy of the Maoists towards the media. Or, perhaps it is a symptom of the erosion of ideology by the Maoists, felt Lalit Surjan, owner-editor of the respected Hindi newspaper, Deshbandhu. “For some time now, I have been feeling that the Naxals of today are not the same as those 10-15 years ago. They are now going in for wanton killing. They don’t seem to touch industrialists, traders or forest officials,” he added.
The Maoists, he observed, targeted government industries like the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) but strangely, the privately-owned Essar never suffered any destruction of property, Surjan said, adding that the Maoists were also lenient with forest officials! “There isn’t a single instance of them even slapping a forest officer, “ he said.
Reddy’s death was a huge blow to journalism in the area, he felt, adding that Reddy may not have been a trained journalist but was perfect for the job. He was a regular contributor to Deshbandhu , meticulously checking facts and figures.
In Chhattisgarh, in any case, journalists were a frightened lot, There was little or no proactive reporting, journalists preferring to stick to reporting of events and things that happened. “Nobody wants to go into the danger zone,” he said.
Now, with Reddy’s death, the few who did venture in, will also stay away.