Rajendra Gautam filed an FIR in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh against fellow veteran journalist Hemant Tiwari under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, which punishes hate crimes and atrocities against communities Dalits and Adivasi.
Gautum, 44, is Dalit. Tiwari, 56, is a Brahmin.
In the FIR, filed August 3, Gautam accused Tiwari of making caste remarks against him, his wife and son. Tiwari denied the allegation.
“I have tolerated Mr Tiwari since 2019. I couldn’t take it anymore when he started making remarks against my wife and son so I went to the police and registered the complaint. It was difficult but it had to be done,” said Gautam, who runs two newspapers from his apartment in Lucknow called Tijarat and Nishpaksh Divya Sandesh.
His colleagues also suggested filing a complaint with the Press Council of India, Gautam said, and he was in the process of doing so.
Gautam alleged that Tiwari threw caste slurs at him after he refused to support him in the election to the Committee of State Accredited Correspondents of Uttar Pradesh. The election took place in March 2021 and Tiwari, who previously worked with Dainik Jagran among other newspapers and now appears regularly as a television talking head, was elected president.
“He made remarks like ‘Chamarue ab media me bhi aayenge kya aur hamain harvayenge?“” Gautam said of Tiwari. “Will the Chamars also beat us in the media? Chamar is a caste slur used against Dalits.
“It’s not my fault that I was born Dalit,” Gautam added. “I do my journalism with utmost honesty and that is why I have become a problem for journalists like Hemant Tiwari. I come from a marginalized background and have succeeded in this profession. I had respect for him, but he overstepped his bounds when he dragged my wife and son into this.
A few weeks earlier, Tiwari had filed an FIR against Gautam’s wife, Rekha Gautam, and son Nirbhay Raj under the Press and Registration of Books Act, Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code, accusing them of harassing and defaming him by publishing a “baseless report” in their newspapers and circulating it on the internet.
Rekha is the publisher of Nishpaksh Divya Sandesh and Tijarat; Nirbhay is a correspondent.
The newspapers have already been the subject of two anonymous complaints to the Press Information Office requesting a review of their circulation figures and the volume of government announcements they received based on those figures. Gautam claimed that the two newspapers had a combined circulation of 6,000 copies. This caller could not independently verify the number.
“Rajendra Gautam has been trying to defame me for a while now, for reasons he knows best. I never threw caste insults at him,” Tiwari said. “I have been in this profession for 34 years and this is the first time such an allegation has been made against me.”
Tiwari called Gautam’s FIR against him an “abuse” of the Atrocities Act, particularly because it does not specify “the date or time of the abusive remarks”. “This is a vindictive measure against me from this person who is not a journalist, but a blackmailer,” Tiwari charged. “He tried to throw mud at me thinking I was going to bow but he didn’t realize my hands were clean. Now my complaint to the police has scared him off so he abuses the atrocities law to put me behind bars.
The escalation of the conflict, meanwhile, has caused dismay among the Lucknow journalist fraternity. “Journalists must always remember that they are helping to set the standards of society. They should stick to these standards and not make the headlines themselves,” said Ratan Mani Lal, former Daïnik Bhaskar editor, calling the conflict “unfortunate”. “But the use of caste insults, that too by a journalist, cannot be justified.”