Mourning the Demise of Scribes in Corona Disaster

The novel coronavirus-infected diseases may not leave us fully, but the massive vaccination drive across the world has slowed down the disaster to a great extent.
Mourning the Demise of Scribes in Corona Disaster - Nava Thakuria
Mourning the Demise of Scribes in Corona Disaster - Nava Thakuria
Nava Thakuria

The novel coronavirus-infected diseases may not leave us fully, but the massive vaccination drive across the world has slowed down the disaster to a great extent. Hundreds continue to get infected with the new variants of coronavirus, even though the number of casualties is coming down drastically. It’s perhaps the time to pay tribute to the practicing doctors, nurses, health & sanitation workers along with the police and press personnel who worked as the frontline corona warriors and many sacrificed their precious lives.

Sadly, no concrete statistics are available on how many frontline corona workers died in the global health disaster that began in the second half of 2019. However, the Geneva-based Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has documented nearly 2000 media workers (and former journalists) as  victims of the Covid-19 till March 2022. It is believed that the actual number of victims of the pandemic would be higher, as the causes of death were often not specified and in some cases it was not reported adequately.

In some countries, there is no reliable information about the corona media casualties. The media workers (particularly ground reporters, cameramen and photographers), because of their professional demand, had to go to the field and thus got exposed to the newfound virus, commented PEC president Blaise Lempen, asserting that they played an important role in the immediate fight against the virus. PEC, the global media safety and rights body started the corona-ticker to condole and pay tribute to the journalists killed by the Covid-19 around the world.

Among the affected countries, Brazil recorded the highest number of corona media casualties (314), followed by India (284 victims), Peru (199), Mexico (129), Colombia (80), USA (70), Bangladesh (69), Italy (61), Venezuela (60), Ecuador (52), Argentina (50), Indonesia (43), Russia (42), Iran (35), United Kingdom (33), Dominican Republic (31), Turkey (30), Pakistan (27), Egypt (23), Nepal (23), Bolivia (21), Honduras (20), South Africa, Spain, Ukraine (19 each), Panama (17), Poland (14), France, Guatemala, Nigeria (11 each), Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe (10 each), Algeria, Cuba, Paraguay (9 each), Philippines (8), Uruguay (7), etc.

The list also include Kazakhstan, Kenya, Romania (5 each), Morocco, Cameroon, Iraq (4 each), Albania, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Portugal, Salvador, Sweden (3 each), Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uganda (2 each), Angola, Barbados, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kirghizstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Moldova, Mozambique, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand, Togo, Tajikistan, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen (1each).

Northeast India lost over 20 journalists to the pandemic. Besides three north-eastern scribes, who died while working outside the region, all others succumbed to the virus infection related ailments in their own localities while performing their duty as corona warriors. Assam witnessed the highest number of corona-casualties, whereas Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have not reported any incident of journo-death due to Covid-19.

The shocking news broke for the Guwahati-based media fraternity on 3 July 2020 with the demise of Rantu Das (54 years old), the printer & publisher of Asomiya Khabar, who was declared dead because of corona-complications. Rural reporter Dhaneswar Rabha (35) lost his battle to corona virus on 6 September. Diagnosed with chronic kidney diseases and put on regular dialysis, Rabha died in Guwahati medical college hospital while undergoing corona treatment. Journalist’s Forum Assam has documented the Udalguri-based reporter as the first journo-victim to Covid-19 pandemic in northeast India (Kolkata’s photojournalist Ronny Roy was the first scribe in India to lose his battle against the novel coronavirus infection).

Barak valley-based senior journalist Ashim Dutta (66) died the next day at Silchar medical college hospital. A pass-out from Gauhati University, Dutta was also suffering from kidney ailments and needed dialysis regularly. Talented young journalist Aiyushman Dutta (35) succumbed to Covid-19 complications in April 2021. A prolific feature writer Aiyushman was also a founder of Guwahati International Music Festival. The list of victims also includes radio news presenter Golap Saikia along with Moran-based journalist Jadu Chutia (49), Chaygaon-based scribe Shivacharan Kalita (60), Bokajan-based reporter Rubul Dihingia (44), Nagaon-based reporter Humeswar Hira (63), Barpeta-based journalist and academician Bijanlal Choudhury (80), etc.

New Delhi-based Assamese journalist couple Nilakshi Bhattacharyya (55) and Kalyan Barooah (60) died of Covid-19 aggravated ailments after hospitalization in the capital city. Similarly, illustrator and cartoonist Anirban Bora (43) also died fighting the corona battles. Assam lost two media luminaries namely Dr Lakshmi Nandan Bora and Homen Borgohain to the corona aggravated ailments. Saraswati and Sahitya Academy awardee and former president of Asom Sahitya Sabha, Padma Shri awardee author-journalist Bora (89) died while undergoing treatment. Earlier veteran journalist, editor, litterateur Homen Borgohain (88), also an academy awardee and a former president of Sahitya Sabha passed away following post corona complications.

Both Manipur and Tripura lost four journalists to the corona disaster. Imphal-based senior author-journalist Sagolsem Hemant (65), who worked for various local newspapers died while undergoing treatment. Ukhrul-based television journalist Thotshang Shaiza (52), Imphal-based scribe Lairenjam Bijen Singh (45) and Saikhom Shantikumar (51) also joined in the victim’s row. Tripura witnessed the demise of Kokborok news channel reporter Jitendra Debbarma (46), Agartala-based freelancer Tanmoy Chakraborty (40), journalist turned politician Gautam Das (70) and Kumarghat-based senior journalist Manik Lal Das (58) in the battles against the corona infection. Only corona media victim from Meghalaya, Syndor Singh Syiem (67) died of post Covid-19 complications. The Shillong-based veteran journalist was associated with a number of Khasi newspapers.

Needless to mention that along with the casualties, the pandemic also crushed the mainstream media to a large extent. In fact, the newspaper industry is struggling to survive with the emergence of internet empowered digital (social) media in addition to the corona crisis. Relentless corruption in the offices of many proprietors and editors, less promotional activities among reporters, a visibly low space dedicated to the readers for interaction etc have almost ruined the profession. Now a large number of print media owners start shifting to digital space (from publishing physical newspapers) and close down their editions in different localities. Cutting salaries and even lay-off media employees citing the shrinkage of advertisement revenues since the pandemic hit the country still go on. The Union government in New Delhi disposed of a compensation package of Rupees five lakh to hundreds of media corona victim-families across the country in a phased manner. Some State governments (like Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Telangana, etc) have also extended financial support to their victim-families. But the bitter truth remains that no journalist based in the region has been compensated by the concerned State governments till date, reasons best known to them only. Should not it be a matter of concern for the regional media fraternity!

Mourning the Demise of Scribes in Corona Disaster - Nava Thakuria
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