A packet of Parle-G biscuits roughly contains 316 calories. A healthy man needs at least 2,400 to 3,000 calories per day. Amit Pandey ate two packets of Parle-G a day. One for lunch and another for dinner. That’s how he was dousing his hunger for more than a few weeks. He died in a Lucknow hospital due to multiple-organ failure, allegedly due to starvation.
So, who was Amit Pandey and why did he starve himself to death? An assistant producer with Sahara Group’s Samay (Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand) news channel, it was not by choice but due to poor financial conditions that he was forced to survive on biscuits. Pandey was not paid salary for three months and his self-esteem stopped him from asking for a loan from his friends. He chose to ignore his hunger and perform in the hope that one day the organisation would pay him his dues. After he died, the channel released the arrears to his family. In the din of TRP-seeking headlines and breaking news, Amit’s death was lost somewhere, or perhaps selectively ignored. A death that could have been a wake-up call for the entire media fraternity could become no more than a brief item in local newspapers. The editors and decision-makers in media organisations chose to look away — not for the first time and, perhaps, not for the last time.
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Amit left the world causing nary a ripple but thousands of people employed in various departments of the Sahara media unit continue to struggle for their rights. They say they have not been getting salaries for months — some have not been paid for the past six months — as the management claims it has no funds.
Cut to July 2012. More than 150 employees of Mahuaa TV channel were informed by the human resource (HR) department that the proprietor PK Tiwari has decided to shut it down. The HR gave no explanation as to how the employees would be compensated and when they would be paid their pending salaries. All was well a day before. The HR chose a Sunday to make the announcement, making it seem like a well-laid plan to pre-empt any protest as the number of employees at the workplace on a weekend is usually low.
However, within a few minutes, the employees gathered in Film City, Noida, and resorted to a sit-in on the channel’s premises, resolving not to move until their dues are settled. The management called the police, cut water supply and also threatened to call bouncers but all in vain. Ironically, all this was happening in a media hub where all the major Hindi and English news channels have their offices. Repeated requests were made to senior journalists and editors of these news organisations to show their solidarity with the protesters, but the exploitation faced by fellow journalists did not even make it to the news tickers. The sit-in continued for three long days before the management of Mahuaa was forced to concede to their demands and clear all their dues.
More than 125 employees of Mahuaa were summarily thrown out of their jobs one fine Sunday and not a word in the Indian media! Three years later, many of the employees are still jobless, while some have been forced to quit journalism and find other means to make ends meet. In a nutshell, this speaks of the extreme odds a large section of mediapersons in India are battling against in the workplace to keep the show going.
In November 2014, a national channel P7 News ran this as breaking news: “Owing to salary dispute P7 News channel closes down”. The breaking news was flashed by the channel’s output desk as the employees had not been paid their salaries for the past three months. However, much to the disappointment of the harried journalists who thought their rebellious act would set off a wave of sympathy and solidarity in media circles, nothing of the sort happened as it was a little too late: by the time the news was flashed, the channel had gone off air and the distribution limited to the office premises only.