Skip to main content

Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Wherever politics combines with criminality... becomes dangerous for journalists – particularly if they report on both. One such journalist was Rajdev Ranjan. A law graduate, Ranjan worked for the “Hindustan Daily” newspaper in the Indian state of Bihar. Even before he took over management of the office in the provincial capital of Siwan, Ranjan had politician Mohammad Shahabuddin in his sights, who at times sat in parliament for the major national RJD party. Shahabuddin was not only considered a strongman of the RJD in Siwan, but also a spider in the web of organised crime. Some call him the most criminal politician in all of India. The register of capital crimes of which the 50-year-old has stood accused since the mid-1980s is simply endless. Among other things, he has faced life imprisonment for a double murder and was excluded from the parliamentary elections in 2009.

Ranjan published articles on Shahabuddin on multiple occasions. One report that attracted particular attention in 2014 was about a contract killer, whom the police found to be working his way through a hit list compiled by Shahabuddin with more than 20 names. Even from a prison cell, he would not let up on his opponents or his conspiratorial machinations. A meeting with an influential RJD politician in prison was revealed by Ranjan just a month before his murder.

For Ranjan’s widow Asha Devi, it’s clear that her husband’s undaunted pursuit of his work led to his own name being added to Shahabuddin’s blacklist. According to his wife, Ranjan knew this and even talked about the names that were higher up on the list than his, and therefore had greater priority in Shahabuddin’s murderous logic. Devi also reported direct threats against her husband. “I am absolutely sure that Shahabuddin was behind Rajdev’s murder”, said the local parliamentary delegate of the ruling BJP party, Om Prakash Yadav, who met with Ranjan’s family after the attack. 

On 13 May 2016, as Ranjan’s colleague reported later from the editorial office of the Hindustan Daily, her boss had a call that put him in an unusual hurry. Presumably the journalist was lured into a trap this way. On the way home from the railway station in Siwan, his murderer shot him from a motorbike using a 7.65-millimetre pistol, hitting his head and neck from a short distance away. Fatally injured, the 45-year-old died on the way to hospital.

The Indian Press Council announced concern about the frequency of attacks on media representatives

and called for legislation to better protect journalists and to speed up prosecutions following attacks causing injury or death. Ranjan’s colleagues demanded that his murderer be brought to justice. Even the Unesco Director-General, Irina Bokova, condemned the crime and demanded its resolution. No crime against the freedom of information and opinion may go unpunished, she said.

A few days ago, on 14 September 2017, columnist Asit Manohar from news magazine “The Day After” took the occasion of another Indian journalist's to remember Ranjan’s violent death.

“We should question the claim that India is a peaceful democracy.” Instead, perhaps the media should really ask “Why is India one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists?”

In the 2017 Press Freedom Index compiled by the organisation Reporters Without Borders, India, the world’s biggest democracy, ranks only 138th out of 180. In his article Manohar also points out that since 1992 a total of 28 Indian journalists have been killed and that almost none of these crimes have been solved. 

In Ranjan’s case anyhow, the authorities now believe they not only know who killed him, but also who is behind the murder: at the end of August, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation accused Mohammad Shahabuddin of the murder as the last of a total of seven suspects, with the additional charges of criminal conspiracy and violations of arms laws. The man who is, in all probability, responsible for the death of Rajdev Ranjan was released on bail in September 2016 following a decision by Bihar’s highest court.

In contrast, however, the Indian federal government, among others, appealed to the highest court in the country, which annulled the decision a short time later. Since then, Shahabuddin has resided in Tihar Jail in central New Delhi. On 30 August 2017 his appeal against the old murder verdict was rejected, and he now awaits a new trial. While Shahabuddin’s lawyer considers the body of proof as “thin”, according to the newspaper “The Indian Express”, Ranjan’s widow believes he is rightly accused of murder and states:

“We firmly believe in justice.”


written by By Joachim Frank; chief correspondent, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger


  • Rajdev Ranjan

    The media echo about the murder of Indian journalist Rajdev Ranjan was huge in India. It sparked a fundamental debate of the Indian Press Council about enacting a law to protect journalists. Ranjan worked for the Hindustan Daily, the fifth largest newspaper of India. He was the boss of the bureau in Siwar in the Indian state of Bihar. He was known for his fierce criticism of politician Mohammed Shahabuddin, Member of Parliament for the national party RJD. He had him killed by a contract killer. After long investigations Shahabuddin was sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2016.