Gone But Never Forgotten - Scribes Who Succumbed To Covid-19

Only Brazil reported more deaths of media persons (314), than India who where official figures show 284 casualties to the virus.
Nava Thakuria writes on scribes who lost the battle to Covid-19
Nava Thakuria writes on scribes who lost the battle to Covid-19

Novel coronavirus-infected diseases have not left us till now (probably it will live with the human race for some more years), but the increased immunity, enhanced by the massive vaccination drive across the world, has slowed down the health disaster to a great extent. Thousands may get infected with the new variants of coronavirus, but the number of casualties has come down drastically. It’s perhaps the time to pay tributes to the practicing doctors, nurses, health & sanitation workers along with the police and press persons who worked as frontline corona warriors and many even sacrificed their precious lives.

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. According to a Geneva-based global media safety and rights body, nearly 2000 media workers (and former journalists) died of Covid-19 in 95 countries until March 2022. Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) however believes that the actual number of victims of the pandemic is certainly higher, as causes of death (of journalists) were often not specified and in many cases, it was not reported properly.

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. They played an important role in the immediate fight against the virus, commented PEC president Blaise Lempen. Speaking to this writer from Geneva, he added that PEC 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 (1 each).

India’s north-eastern region with a population 60 million, where a vibrant media with hundreds of newspapers, satellite & cable news channels still survive, 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 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 Dihingiya (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 passed away 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 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.

Need not to mention that with all these casualties, the pandemic also crushed the Indian mainstream media to a large extent. In fact, the newspaper industry is struggling to survive with the rapid invasion of internet empowered digital (social) media outlets. Relentless corruption in many offices of proprietors and editors, less promotional activities for budding reporters, a visibly low space dedicated to the readers for interaction etc, have 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 as well as cut salaries and even lay-off employees citing the shrinkage of advertisement revenues since the pandemic hit the country.

Besides the Union government in New Delhi, which has been disposing a compensation packages of Rupees five lakh to each of media corona victim families across the country by a phased manner, some State governments (like Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Telangana, etc) also extended compensation packages to their journo victim families separately. But the bitter truth remains that no journalist based in the region has been compensated by the concerned State governments here.

The author is a northeast India based journalist

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