As of December 31, 1998

When the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won control of the government in February, observers worried that an erosion of civil liberties would soon follow if the party imposed its brand of religious conservatism on traditionally secular India. Despite these fears, the government placed no new restrictions on the country's lively and generally free press.

Nevertheless, India's complex political, ethnic, and religious conflicts make the country a dangerous place to report the news. Journalists covering secessionist conflicts in India's northeastern states continue to be vulnerable to attack from both armed rebels and state security forces. On January 13, Ankur Barbora, a special correspondent for the newspaper Asian Age, disappeared from Calcutta under mysterious circumstances. Though police claimed they had conducted investigations in West Bengal, Assam, and Nagaland, they were unable to discover what had happened to Barbora. The journalist's colleagues at the Asian Age, however, believe he was abducted – and possibly killed – because of his reporting in the Northeast.

Authorities continue to use laws punishing speech that might provoke ethnic or religious tensions against the press. In January, for example, four employees of India's official television network, Doordarshan, were arrested and detained on charges that their report on a recent massacre in Assam was divisive, and dangerously exploited the conflict between Assamese Hindus and the indigenous Bodo community.

The escalating conflict between Indian and Pakistani troops in the northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir did not take the toll on the media it had in the past. Although the local press still receives threats and ultimata from armed Hindu and Muslim militants seeking to influence coverage, CPJ documented no physical assaults against journalists this year. Some in the media say that Kashmiri journalists, fearful of attack, practiced a degree of self-censorship. Eight journalists have been murdered in Kashmir since 1989, when the secessionist movement became an all-out war.

Political violence remains a threat to the press. In March, about 50 armed men who were allegedly members of the state's ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Party attacked the office of the newspaper Dinamalar in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The group assaulted the guard on duty and destroyed a substantial amount of property. Dinamalar had recently been critical of the DMK during parliamentary elections. In June, in the neighboring state of Kerala, a crowd of activists associated with the ruling Communist Party-Marxist (CPM) severely beat two reporters and two photographers for their coverage of a double-murder case in which CPM members had been implicated. Such attacks often occur with the tacit approval of state authorities, and so are rarely investigated.

Attacks on the Press in India in 1998

07/18/98Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, Natton Samoy Attacked, Threatened
06/16/98Tony Dominic, Malayala ManoramaAttacked
06/16/98Josey George, DeepikaAttacked
06/16/98Chandra Bose, MathrubhumiAttacked
06/16/98P. Manoj, MathrubhumiAttacked
02/26/98The Kashmir TimesCensored
01/15/98Hitesh Medhi, DoordarshanLegal Action
01/15/98Pratap Bordoloi, DoordarshanLegal Action
01/15/98Ramani Malakar, DoordarshanLegal Action
01/15/98Deben Tamuly, DoordarshanLegal Action
01/11/98Avirook Sen, India TodayAttacked
01/11/98Suparna Sharma, Indian ExpressAttacked

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