5. The Family Flips | Crooked Media
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June 17, 2024
Killing Justice
5. The Family Flips

In This Episode

As The Caravan reporters continue to follow up on the Judge Loya story, they are ready for backlash, dismissal, and even lawsuits – but not the reaction of Judge Loya’s family.





Ravi Gupta: The thing that most stuck out to me in reporting this story was how afraid everyone was to talk about it. There were a handful of reporters who dove headfirst into the mysterious circumstances around Judge Loya’s death, and they were mostly concentrated in a small publication called The Caravan. The Caravan is a small, independent magazine based in New Delhi. Their cramped offices sit in a Soviet style building just a stone’s throw from the RSS’s Delhi headquarters. This is the magazine that published Niranjan Takle’s stories about Judge Loya’s death. The first story came out in 2017. It focused on the Loya family’s suspicions and the alleged bribe offered by Chief Justice Mohit Shah. In other words, it was only the beginning. Vinod Jose is the former editor in chief of The Caravan. The morning the first story went live, he remembers that his phone rang. 


[clip of Vinod Jose] So I remember a senior journalist calling me up on the first day and saying that, look, you are not going to get away easily with this, right? 


Ravi Gupta: That early reporting raised eyebrows in media circles. Then when the second story came out, he got another call, this time from a lawyer saying: 


[clip of Vinod Jose] This is crazy. They’re just going to come and pick you up and shut the magazine down. 


Ravi Gupta: That fortunately didn’t happen. But the story didn’t immediately get a lot of play. Atul Dev, one of the reporters at the Caravan was shocked at how little coverage the story received. 


[clip of Atul Dev] I mean, this is the political scandal of the Modi era. Not one single newspaper, not one single television station mentions it, not even in the inside pages. 


Ravi Gupta: For the first seven days after the magazine published the story. No one picked it up. 


[clip of Atul Dev] I mean, any newspaper worth its salt would be putting it on the front page. 


Ravi Gupta: Vinod specifically remembers one front page story that stuck out the next day. 


[clip of Vinod Jose] I remember one of the newspapers saying the next day that Amit Shah has found a tutor who will teach him Bangla and Tamil. That’s the main story the next day. 


Ravi Gupta: Somehow, the Home Minister’s language lessons were deemed more newsworthy than the story Niranjan broke about Judge Loya. And that was a problem for the magazine, because they needed people to pay attention. Because not everyone was reading the Caravan. It’s a niche outlet, well-respected, but it’s only published in English, so the circles reading it were small. If the story didn’t make it to the major media outlets, it would be easy to ignore. And that’s what seemed to be happening. But the team at the Caravan held that hope that the initial stories would create momentum for further revelations and, most importantly, legal action. Then the Loyas went silent. [music break] This is Killing Justice, episode five. The family flips. I’m Ravi Gupta. [music break] The stories that the Caravan published did one thing above all else. They raised questions around the official account of Judge Loya’s death. The magazine published 26 more articles in the year after Niranjan Takle broke the story. In that coverage it was important to Vinod that they avoid coming to conclusions. 


[clip of Vinod Jose] At no point did I wanted it as, the Caravan has found this to be a murder. No, we are miles away from any of those kind of conclusions. 


Ravi Gupta: From Vinod’s point of view, Caravan’s job was to simply get the story out there. 


[clip of Vinod Jose] What I wanted to stand by with that story was that if the family was breaking silence, we would give them the very clear and journalistically vetted platform. And there is a big story there for public to take note of. 


Ravi Gupta: Now they had to wait and see how the government would respond. To Vinod, it was clear what should happen next. 


[clip of Vinod Jose] Judge Loya’s death needs an investigation, a free and fair investigation. 


Ravi Gupta: But would Judge Loya’s death get that official investigation? It would take time for that question to get an answer. The Loya family now found themselves squarely at the center of a national story and they were getting cold feet. Niranjan Takle had been through this before. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] People say something very serious on record, but when it actually appears they backtrack. And that’s the reason why I keep everything, all the interviews on a video record. 


Ravi Gupta: Niranjan was in touch with the family when the stories came out. He first spoke with Judge Loya’s niece Nupur. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] She was scared. 


Ravi Gupta: She was scared because her family members were quoted by name in the articles. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] And uh everybody is calling her and asking why the names are revealed. 


Ravi Gupta: He told her, your family spoke to me on record. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] So I said speaking on the record means that the names will be mentioned when nobody spoke to me on the conditions of anonymity. So uh and it is well recorded there. So she said okay okay, but now they have panicked. 


Ravi Gupta: Niranjan says that minutes later, Judge Loya’s sister Doctor Biyani called him. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] She said, but everybody is calling her. And now they are extremely scared and they are trying to scare me. 


Ravi Gupta: Doctor Biyani’s relatives were afraid for her life. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] She said that a few of her relatives told her that the ruling party leaders will get angry. And what will we do if they do something to us? 


Ravi Gupta: Niranjan tried to encourage her to tell the whole family that being in the public eye was the best protection. He also encouraged Doctor Biyani to respond to the inevitable calls from other journalists. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] If anybody from the rest of the media calls you, then speak to them and simply repeat what you had told me. 


Ravi Gupta: Niranjan spoke with Doctor Biyani twice after the stories were published. Then later that week, he received a text. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] She texted me that I am not scared at all. It is the relatives who are trying to pressurize us, and everybody has been called to Pune. 


Ravi Gupta: The Loya family was gathering in the city of Pune to discuss the Caravan stories and what to do next. I’m speculating here, but I can see why they would want to decide what to do as a group. Whatever they did next would potentially affect everyone, not just those who went on record. We’ll never truly know what happened at that gathering, but it seems they came to a decision because Niranjan says he didn’t hear from them again. Nupur blocked him on WhatsApp and on Facebook, and Doctor Biyani never again responded to Niranjan’s messages. The Loya family didn’t follow Niranjan’s advice to keep speaking to the press. There was no public comment or interviews. They were silent. Until… 


[clip of Anuj Loya] I was seventeen at that time, so I don’t know anything like I was in emotional turmoil. 


Ravi Gupta: That’s Anuj Loya. Judge Loya’s son. He’s the young man who allegedly wrote the note pointing a finger at Chief Justice Mohit Shah. On January 14th, 2018, eight weeks after the first story was published. He held a presser in the wood paneled conference room of a swank law firm. There’s a video of it on YouTube. Anuj sat behind a table piled high with microphones. Anuj, just 21, was there to tell the media that the family was no longer suspicious about the circumstances around his father’s death. 


[clip of Anuj Loya] They had some suspicions because of emotional turmoil at that period. So right now [?] they are clear with it and uh even they don’t have any issues. 


Ravi Gupta: Anuj said that the family had some suspicions because of emotional turmoil during that period. Now they were clear of it. But remember, Niranjan first spoke with the family nearly two years after Judge Loya’s death. They were still grieving, but their suspicions weren’t fresh. Anuj wore a blue checkered shirt unbuttoned at the collar. A sharp contrast with the lawyers and fancy suits who flanked him. In the video, you can hear the reporter’s voices from behind the cameras. One asked, do you want an investigation or not? 


[clip of unnamed reporter] Do you want an investigation or you don’t want? 


[clip of Anuj Loya] I don’t want to decide it.


Ravi Gupta: Anuj looked nervous as he responded. He doesn’t want to be the one to decide. Another reporter asked. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 2] So had you written that letter? Which is contradictory to your current stand. 


Ravi Gupta: It was a simple question. Had he actually written that letter, which was contradictory to his current stand? And Anuj equivocated. 


[clip of Anuj Loya] Well, as I said, that was a emotional turmoil, period. So at that time there was suspicions. But now we are clear with it. [banter from reporters asking questions all at once]


Ravi Gupta: The reporters started yelling questions over each other and the lawyer jumped in. 


[clip of Loya family lawyer] Guys, one minute. Let’s be clear. I think he has had this press conference to clarify this thing. If you want to vomit what has happened historically, I don’t think that’s fair. So let’s close it at this. Okay. This is all that he can say. Yes. Quickly. [banter from reporters] These are the two questions then nothing more. Last two questions, nothing more.


Ravi Gupta: With that one appearance, Anuj made the Loya’s family stance clear. They were done with interviews and wanted no part of lobbying for an inquiry into Judge Loya’s death. His father’s death. Anuj didn’t speak publicly again after that. We reached out to Anuj as part of our reporting. He initially responded saying he had no comment, but after the show began to publish, we heard from him. I’ll go into detail about this more next week. But he reiterated that his family no longer harbors suspicions about Judge Loya’s death. And he told us that anything he had to say in the matter, he had already said to the authorities. I’ve probably watched the video of the press conference a dozen times. It’s a bit like watching the Zapruder film, the one that captured the JFK assassination. It’s a piece of footage that says both so much and so little. When the press conference happened, Niranjan was staying in a small hotel room in New Delhi. The room had no TV, so Niranjan watched it on a TV in the lobby. He was shocked to discover the presser was getting covered. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] It was a very surprising thing. Everybody, all the national televisions were reporting telecasting this live, Anuj’s press conference. 


Ravi Gupta: For the first week or so after the Caravan published Niranjan’s first article, no other outlet touched the story. But in the seven weeks since that period, the story had spread. Much of the coverage reinforced the official narrative. That Judge Loya had died of natural causes. Now Anuj was saying the family was no longer suspicious. Niranjan has told me he believes that Anuj gave his statement under pressure. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] People could hear what Anuj spoke but also what Anuj did not speak. 


Ravi Gupta: Watching the press conference, Niranjan thought it gave a clear indication that Anuj was under duress. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] Because his body language, he was constantly looking down. He was never looking up and looking into the eyes of the reporters, so his entire body language clearly suggested that he was under pressure. 


Ravi Gupta: And this idea of pressure. It’s a refrain I’ve heard over and over again while working on this story. Everyone I spoke to in India seemed to understand what it meant. Even if it wasn’t immediately clear to me. Our producer, Raksha Kumar, explained it as best as she could. 


Raksha Kumar: Pressure is a bit of a catch all term. It’s what someone compelled to speak out against the government might feel, knowing the potential consequences. It can come from their peers, their colleagues, or even their families who encourage them to stay silent. Or it can come in the form of violent threats or intimidation. 


Ravi Gupta: As I’ve learned, there are bunch of examples we can point to. 


Raksha Kumar: Let me give you an example. There’s a group of activists who seek information from the government under the right to information law. Hundreds of those activists have ended up dead. Those who have been harassed or attacked are far greater in number. These activists regularly come under pressure to stop seeking public records that expose government corruption. People see what’s happened to them and take it as a warning. Do not get on the wrong side of the government. 


Ravi Gupta: This idea of pressure is a constant presence in the story. Like what happened with the forensic expert R.K. Sharma. We talked about this in the last episode when I interviewed Caravan Reporter, Atul Dev in New York City. Atul had Doctor Sharma review Loya’s medical documents. And based on those documents, Doctor Sharma told Atul something rather shocking. 


[clip of Atul Dev] He said that there’s a possibility of poisoning and there’s trauma applied to this person’s head. 


Ravi Gupta: It was a major allegation. The Caravan had a credible forensic expert raising flags around Judge Loya’s mysterious death. Even at the time of the interview, Atul knew he had to cover his bases. 


[clip of Atul Dev] Before publishing the story, I must have checked at least ten times in my own phone that whether I have a copy of this recording, because I knew what was going to happen once we published that story. 


[clip of Ravi Gupta] So you suspected he would backtrack after? 


[clip of Atul Dev] Yes. 


Ravi Gupta: Atul’s suspicion ended up being correct because later in a letter that was submitted to the Supreme Court, Doctor Sharma said that Atul had grossly mischaracterized their conversation. The audacity still somehow shocked Atul, because he had kept meticulous records of everything Sharma had told him. 


[clip of Atul Dev] And I was like, it won’t stand, you know, how can you be? I have okays on every single quote. I have an interview of the entire recording. 


Ravi Gupta: This went down when the Supreme Court was hearing petitions for an investigation into Judge Loya’s death, which we’ll get to in the next episode. During that process, a Supreme Court lawyer was quoted as saying that the entire state machinery was weighing down on someone like Sharma, quote, “who can withstand such pressure?” To be clear, we don’t know for sure what kind of pressure RK Sharma was under, whether he’d been harassed by the government or if people around him convinced him to retract. But we do know that this kind of pressure is a big reason why it’s so hard to report stories critical of the government in India. I’ve had sources tell me pointed and often shocking details, but those comments were almost always off the record and difficult to substantiate. It’s hard to know what’s going on behind the scenes. And for those who do speak on the record, the threat of backlash looms large. It makes me wonder if important players, from Anuj Loya to doctor RK sharma, changed their stories along the way, how many potential sources clammed up from the jump? It’s hard to know, but it’s easy to see plenty of government intimidation happening in plain sight in many areas of Indian life. That’s after the break. [music break]




Ravi Gupta: Last October, as I was preparing for my first trip to India, there was a flurry of reporting about the Indian government’s latest attack on the press. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 3] Trouble seems to be mounting for NewsClick. In the latest–



Ravi Gupta: Indian officials conducted a shocking series of raids at an independent news site called NewsClick. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 4] Several journalists are detained before being let off. Their laptops and phones are seized. 


Ravi Gupta: The journalists were questioned at their homes and offices about funding sources for their website. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 5] Multiple NewsClick journalists, including the editor in chief, have been brought to the special cell for questioning.


Ravi Gupta: It made news around the country. Watching closely was Geeta Seshu, the co-founder of Free Press Collective, which documents attacks on the freedom of the Indian press. Raksha spoke with her just a week after the NewsClick raids, in her airy apartment in Mumbai. Raksha wanted to know if she thought that the government raids were done with the intent to send a message. 


[clip of Geeta Seshu] Of course it is. Of course, there’s no doubt about that. The whole idea is to, is to send a message across that the government can do anything it wants. It can pick up anyone it wants, it can question anyone at all, and it can do it with full freedom. 


Ravi Gupta: Geeta has been a journalist for decades, even before she began studying media trends. So she can say with full confidence that this has not always been the norm in India. Far from it. Geeta has witnessed firsthand how the Indian media has changed over the last 40 years since she started working as a reporter in the early ’80s. She described the first half of her career as part of a robust, modern industry with a pervasive appetite to speak truth to power. 


[clip of Geeta Seshu] There was a sense of solidarity and a very strong sense of working together for a country that needed change. When I think back, we were fairly lucky really. 


Ravi Gupta: Raksha cut her teeth as a journalist in a totally different era than Geeta remembers. 


Raksha Kumar: Geeta described a version of the Indian press that is very different from the reality that we work in now, especially when it comes to the big national publications that are what most Indians have access to. 


[clip of Geeta Seshu] We are now seeing a total polarization of the media. The media is very clearly divided between very prosperous media companies who support the government and who support a very, very partisan and often a hate agenda very openly, and a struggling independent media which has not been able to survive this kind of an onslaught. 


Raksha Kumar: That independent media is a handful of digital only publications, mostly in English. 


[clip of Geeta Seshu] But I don’t think it is going to be able to survive this challenge of a government that is intent on regulating and censoring just about every independent voice and a climate of hate and very openly partisan agenda that another section of the media very actively promotes. 


Ravi Gupta: The death of independent media in India is a grim prediction, but the series of raids from last fall are just one example of how the government is suppressing these outlets. In the United States, the First Amendment makes it very, very difficult to prosecute journalists for what they publish. Defamation laws determine who could sue journalists for what. And in the US, they broadly favor a free press. Here’s Raksha again. 


Raksha Kumar: Not so in India. Defamation suits are regularly weaponised against journalists. 


Ravi Gupta: And defamation laws aren’t the only way to come after a member of the press. 


Raksha Kumar: There are laws that are totally unrelated to free speech that are now being used to target journalists. When I say totally unrelated, I mean laws that are enacted to combat terrorism, general criminal law, and even some public health rules from Covid times, all of them have been used to arrest journalists for the reporting they publish. 


Ravi Gupta: Journalists can be treated like violent agitators under the law. And as we know, the judicial system in India moves incredibly slowly. 


Raksha Kumar: Journalists can sit in jail for months or years without trial. And even if journalists aren’t jailed, cases can stretch on for years, forcing them to undergo police interrogations, fund their own defenses and stop reporting on the subject matter in question. Geeta put it bluntly when she said:


[clip of Geeta Seshu] The process itself is so punishing, and the process to get to that kind of justice is really very, very damaging, really. And it’s a very difficult and very long and very lonely battle. So that becomes then the chilling effect for others. 


Ravi Gupta: For those who dare to push the envelope, despite everything, there have been terrible consequences. 


Raksha Kumar: Gauri Lankesh’s death is a good example. She was murdered in 2017. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 6] She was shot from a close range and four empty cartridges have been recovered. 


Ravi Gupta: Gauri Lankesh was an outspoken left wing writer who was killed just months before the Caravan put out it’s first Judge Loya story. 


Raksha Kumar: Anyone who knew Gauri would tell you that she was feisty, but very kind. She had a fervor many young journalists are jealous of. She ran a small publication called Gauri Lankesh Patrike, its circulation never went over 100,000 at the most. But she was influential and fiercely critical of Hindutva and BJP’s policies. 


Ravi Gupta: After her death, other journalists got WhatsApp messages saying she was killed because she criticized the Modi government, and social media posts celebrating her death proliferated. 


[clip of Nidhi Razdan] They’ve not only celebrated Gauri’s murder in the most spiteful, most vicious language that you can imagine, but they’ve also been issuing death threats today to other journalists–


Raksha Kumar: And less than a year later, a famous journalist called Shujaat Bhukari was killed in almost the exact same way Gauri was killed. 


Ravi Gupta: In this environment, where stories are suppressed and members of the press are frequently prosecuted and sometimes killed, brave journalism flounders. 


[clip of Geeta Seshu] So the entire structure, the edifice, really of what we would say is democracy. Of the way in which our legal structures are judicial structures, our bureaucracy, our government should be working to protect freedom of expression from the smallest to the largest, doesn’t happen. And I think that is really something that we are seeing being dismantled very systematically. It’s it’s very disturbing. 


Ravi Gupta: This is the climate in which Niranjan Takle published this story about the death of Judge Loya. And he hasn’t escaped consequences. On my first visit to India, Niranjan and I visited the Mumbai Press Club, an organization for journalists with a clubhouse in the city. Niranjan used to spend a lot of time there. But since everything that happened after he published the Judge Loya story, he hadn’t been there in a while. We found a secluded place to talk upstairs on a wide open patio that overlooked an expanse of athletic fields. The day was hot and fans were whirring everywhere to keep away the sticky heat. Niranjan told me about the day the Caravan published his first Judge Loya story. He noticed that some of his fellow journalists seemed to be avoiding him. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] That was the day when, I realized that something is different. And when I got out from the press club, I received a message. 


Ravi Gupta: It was from a fellow journalist, ironically calling Niranjan to ask him not to call him again. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] Now, since you must be under surveillance. So if at all you call or message me, I will also come under that network of surveillance. And I don’t want to face any trouble just because we know each other. But that time I realized that, I mean, even people who posed to be very good friend of mine are actually trying to avoid me now. 


Ravi Gupta: Niranjan’s courage in pursuing the Judge Loya story left him isolated. Even the Loya family, the very people Niranjan was seeking justice for won’t talk to him. And with the decline of independent media, Niranjan tells us it’s been very difficult to find work as a journalist. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] I broke the story in November 2017. Ever since 2017, not a single media organization has given me a job. It is an establishment which does not want the truth to get documented. And for me, that is the very precise reason why I want to do it. 


Ravi Gupta: Niranjan wasn’t killed or prosecuted for his reporting on Loya, but what happened to him goes to show one of the subtler ways journalists are discouraged from holding the powerful accountable. With so much at stake for a journalist pursuing a risky story, you have to wonder why do it? Circumstances like these leave only the heroic or the reckless to take on these types of stories. Without journalism, corruption grows and flourishes with little accountability because there’s no one left to report the truth. Niranjan did his job, he reported. But he couldn’t control what would happen next. Next time, a series of petitions for an official investigation into Judge Loya’s death make it all the way to the Supreme Court. 


[clip of Niranjan Takle] I was jubilant that now something will happen. 


Ravi Gupta: This is where the activists and lawyers step in and try a new tact. A final chance for answers. With one decision, the truth could either come to light or be buried forever. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 7] The Supreme court announced its verdict in the–


[clip of unnamed reporter 8] The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce its uh verdict. 


[clip of unnamed reporter 9] The Supreme Court has just delivered its verdict on the batch of pleas that sought an independent probe into the death of Justice BH Loya. [music break]


Ravi Gupta: Killing Justice is an original podcast from Crooked Media and the Branch media. I’m your host, Ravi Gupta. Our executive producers are me, Ravi Gupta, Katie Long, Ben Rhodes and Alison Falzetta. With special thanks to Sarah Geismer, Madeleine Haeringer and Kate Malekoff. Our senior producer is Khrista Rypl, and Lacey Roberts is our story editor. Raksha Kumar is our consulting producer. Our associate producer is Sydney Rapp. Fact checking by Amy Tardif. Sound design and mixing by Sarah Gibble-Laska with assistant editing by Nathalie Escudero. And original score by Karim Douaidy. [music break]