Freelance journalist Rizwana Tabassum ends life, her article on World Press Freedom day is a must read

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Rizwana Tabassum, a freelance journalist who reports from Uttarpradesh, Rizwana Tabassum committed suicide today evening at her residence in Varanasi. 27 years old Rizwana Tabassum is a Hindi language journalist who report for TheWire Hindi, The Quint, Khabar Lahariya, BBC, Newsclick Hindi, Asiaville Hindi etc. As per the police say, they found a suicide note that says Samajwadi Party’s local leader Shamim Nomani is responsible for it, as per local media reports. Her brother Rizwan told she had been coordinating with ration delivery work with a trust, along with Shamim Numani. A friend of Rizwana said that she had been upset for past week, reports Newslaundry.

Recent posts on Tabassum’s facebook profile include photos and podcasts on CoVID lockdown and an article she wrote in Youth ki Aawaz on World Press Freedom day, about the struggles of being a ground local reporter. She writes about her experience of reporting communal tension from the ground. She shares the experience of reporting the ABVP students protests against the appointment of a Muslim professor for Sanskrit in Banaras Hindu University in November last year. The article is translated from Hindi as follows,

I was abused for reporting wearing a Hijab at Banaras Hindu University

May 3, 2020, Youth ki Awaaz

“Today, May 3rd is observed globally as World Press Freedom day. Since 1993, following UNESCO’s meeting, UNO declared May 3rd as Press Freedom Day.

Media is being considered as democracy’s fourth pillar. But even on this pillar, the attack is nothing less. The power and influence of media scares people who are anti-social and wrong doers up to keep it in their custody. For doing it they use many tricks. Such people sometimes try to suppress the media by using their power positions and reporters are also threatened with intimidation to suppress the news. This way the freedom to express is abolished.

So May 3rd, is being observed as Press Freedom day, to make people aware of the importance of its existence, along with it, to make governments attentive to the existence of media. This time, the motto is ‘Journalism without Fear and Favor.’

Reporting from Rural Areas is Challenging

Is journalism without fear possible these days? Can someone do journalism without bias for months and years? Isn’t the answering a bit difficult? the answer is difficult and it is more difficult for those who do uninterrupted ground reporting from rural areas.

The journalists whom we see on TV are mostly celebrated and followed as journalists. But did you ever think how does news reach these journalists? Regional journalist! Being regional journalist is an ordinary thing? not at all.

When you do journalism with all your Eeman, then a lot of people will come against you and your work starts getting difficult.

“Security guards of BHU threatened me”

It is a matter from last year November, BHU’s professor Firoze Khan’s appointment evolved in to a ferocious protest there. Firoze Khan’s appointment to the Sanskrit department irked the students of the department and they started protesting against Firoze Khan in the premises of BHU.

I wanted to talk to the students who are on dharna. I reached there at around 3 pm, the students who were at dharna was sloganeering against Firoze Khan and Muslims. After standing there for some more time I spoke to a student, “My name is Rizwana Tabassum, I am a freelance journalist, I am doing a story for The Quint, I wish to talk to you people.”

That student didn’t say anything. After some time, two female security guards who were appointed there came to me and said, “these students told us to “ask that girl to leave from here”, or else something else will happen with her. You please leave this place, we don’t want any tension.” After hearing this, I again looked at the students, they were addressing Muslims with abusive words. I was wearing Hijab. They started hurling abuses at me as well, I was alone there, without reporting I came back.

Had to return empty handed, without a report

That day, for not being able to do that report, I am sad not only for this, the people are talking bad about Muslims and I couldn’t work seeing the hatred in their minds, but I was sad that the minds of those students are filled with venom and it is spilling out.

From Banaras Hindu University, my home is in around 14 kilometers distance. You have spent on the attempt to work but you couldn’t accomplish it, is disappointing.

A freelance journalist is paid only for the reports they do. They will not get much money when they go for reporting a story and return, again go for another story and return without a story.

For a local journalist there is struggle to face at every front. Be it in case of work, interacting with different sorts of people, and economically as well. Apart from all these, when there is a problem, the reporter has to face it all alone, no organization stands by them.”

Shamim Numani is booked for abetment of suicide. It is of no doubt that a promising, truthful voice of journalism in the polarized Indian press is lost, right a day after raising certain pertinent questions regarding the same. “She never told about anything nor did she have any enmity with anyone. She was a good daughter as well as a good journalist”, said her father. Rizwana is an ex student of Hindi journalism from BHU’s Rajiv Gandhi campus, Barkaccha.

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