Victim of her occupation?

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Jigna Vora could just be the symptom of a larger malaise, reports Rana Ayyub

Crossing the line Vora has been charged with complicity in Dey’s murder
Photo: Deepak Salvi

THE ARREST of Mumbai-based journalist Jigna Vora in the murder of veteran crime reporter and writer J Dey is being treated with shock and malicious whispers in media circles. Vora, listed as the 11th accused by the Mumbai Police in its chargesheet filed last week in the Dey murder case, has been charged with playing the agent provocateur in the murder.

The Mumbai Police claims it has prima facie evidence against Vora, 37, citing her call records and statements from other co-accused that she shared information about Dey’s movements, his motorcycle registration number and address. Investigating officers in the case go on to add that their suspicions were aroused by her post-murder articles in The Asian Age, applying for the position vacated by Dey in Mid-Day as well as her calls to members of the Chhota Rajan gang.

On the face of it, the police arguments seem weak. Chhota Rajan could have used his own set of informers to get hold of Dey’s motorcycle registration number or his residential address. Further, what merit does Rajan’s confession to a TV channel have when he says he got Dey killed at Vora’s instigation?

Irrespective of Vora’s culpability in the case, the arrest could well be a warning for journalists covering the crime beat and reporting on the underworld. While Dey’s murder raised questions on whether he had crossed the line of professional propriety, Vora’s arrest has perhaps highlighted the need for journalists to dissociate themselves of any affiliation with criminal gangs. In Mumbai, where the mafia is a major source of news, and stories on the underworld can make careers, Vora’s ‘access’ to bigwigs in the underworld was no aberration.

Crime journalists in the city, many of whom have documented their interactions with rival gangs, will recall how they have had to please the ‘Bhais’ and their liaison men to get that elusive meeting or telephonic chat, how they have had to prod the ego of one Bhai to get stories on the other. Senior IB officials and top cops who have been dealing with the mafia ganglords will tell you how established journalists have been used as mediators to coax surrenders or pass on information on the activities of the D-company. Dey himself was many a time accused of doing the same.’

While conducting an investigation two years ago, TEHELKA had chanced upon a meeting between Fareed Tanasha, a Rajan shooter who was killed just a couple of months later, and a couple of journalists (Vora being one) outside the MCOCA court, where his case was listed. The journalists were addressing Tanasha’s wife as “Bhabhi” and speaking about matters that were more personal than professional. But could that be held against the journalists? Or held against the editors who encouraged their reporters to meet the dons at Irani cafés?

Vora’s editor at The Asian Age, Hussain Zaidi, who defended her integrity, might best know the perils of reporting on the underworld. Zaidi himself wrote Black Friday, a seminal work on the Mumbai blasts, based on what he called a series of conversations with lieutenants of the D-company. And is now facing the ire of his management.

But does getting stories out from underworld sources justify junkets to Bangkok and the heartlands of the dons? Perhaps not. Also, the bigger question is about the malaise itself. The grime that stems from active encouragement by top police officers and heads of media organisations, who stoke the ambitions of journalists without a word of caution about personal safety. They play a game as dangerous as the one by IB sleuths, who once cosied up to the Rajan fraternity to wipe out the D-company, with active help from scribes.

The media has been talking about the ambitions of a ‘single mother’ who arrived on the media scene late in life. In stark contrast, Dey’s rapport with the underworld was termed ‘networking’. Is gender bias at work here?

Rana Ayyub is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.
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