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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2010

Tripura bleeds to erode NE journo-murder index

By Nava Thakuria

As India was reacting sharply against the killing of Kannada editor-journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 5 at her Bangaluru (earlier known as Bangalore) residence, a northeastern (NE) State repeated its shocking journo-murder incident on September 20 with brutal killing of a young television scribe Shantanu Bhowmik in Tripura.

A Left ideology inclined journalist Ms Gauri’s assassination tempted more civil society groups, which are predominantly against the Hindu nationalist ideologue like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) along with Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to come to streets demanding justice. They were in hurry to make statements that the outspoken journalist was targeted by the ruling political elements as she used to criticize both RSS and BJP absolutely.

As the country witnessed series of protest-demonstrations, mostly by the Left organizations, Tripura’s chief minister Manik Sarkar also joined in a protest program at Agartala. The Communist Party of India
(Marxist) run province government head thus received rousing appreciations from the media fraternity of India as a whole.

But the reality hunted everyone as Shantanu was beaten to death by a mob in west Tripura and the same CPI (M) chief minister remained silent. The Agartala based journalists, while condemning Shantanu’s murder had to raise voices for getting reactions from the chief minister. CM Sarkar, also in charge of home portfolio, pronounced a spongy reaction towards the incident.

However, the condemnations from carious national and international bodies were pouring against the brutal murder of Shantanu, 29, who used to work for an Agartala based Bengali-language cable news channel named Din-Raat. A series of protest programs were organized by various Indian media bodies across the country demanding justice to Shantanu’s bereaved mother and sister.

On the fateful day, Shantanu went to cover a program of Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which was pretesting against the ruling CPI (M) and slowly it turned violent. Claimed to have supports from the tribal population of Tripura, the IPFT maintains its demand for a separate homeland (read Twipraland) for the tribal people out of Tripura. The party, which has seemingly a political understanding with the BJP, continued its violent protests since the last few years.

The IPFT protest program at Mandwai of west Tripura, bordering Bangladesh, soon witnessed the arrival of many cadres belonged to the CPI (M)’s tribal wing Tripura Rajya Upajati Ganamukti Parishad (TRUGP) at the location. Both the parties had already engaged in violent clashes on the previous day at the same location.

So the situation got charged and finally members of both IPFT and TRUGP turned aggressive and later violent. Shantanu started shooting the violent activities with his mobile phone, as his lens-man avoided the professional camera for fear of abusive reactions from the agitators. As Shantanu started capturing the visuals of IPFT members attacking the opponent & police and also damaging vehicles on the roadside, he was asked initially to stop recording.

Later the protesters chased him for the cell phone and some of them turned unruly to finally attack Shantanu with stick-rods and other sharp items. Blood soaked Shantanu was rescued and sent to the hospital by the police, but till then he stopped breathing. His phone was however missing, which was also revealed by the State police chief Akhil Kumar Shukla.

His killing was condemned and condoled by various regional, national and international forums including the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Pars based Reporters sans/without Borders (RSF), the Brussels based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) etc, where everyone asked the Tripura government to go for a ‘thorough investigation’ into the death of Shantanu to bring those responsible to justice and also ensure the future safety of journalists.

Shantanu’s mother Papori Nag Bhowmik is a government employee and his sister Pinaki Bhowmik was pursuing college education student in Gangtok. His father Sadhan Bhowmik lives separately in the same locality. Shantanu’s family was close to the CPI (M) and it was visible when his body was covered with a party flag in his residence before the cremation.

With an aim to establish the fact that Shantanu was actually targeted by the IPFT supporters, the State CPI (M) leader Gautam Das officially declared that the young reporter was a member of his party and that is why he was attacked. Das however clarified that Shantanu was a full time journalist and he was not involved in any party activities.

Meanwhile, the IPFT also came out with the demand for a CBI probe into the killing to unearth actual facts. The party president Narendra Chandra Debbarma, while condemning the heinous crime, reiterated that assaulting media persons was never their policy. He also commented that without entertaining a high level enquiry, the riling CPI (M) should not accuse IPFT supporters against the scribe’s murder.

Lately after lot of hue & cries, the Tripura government decided to constitute an SIT to probe into the astonishing murder, where DGP Shukla claimed that the police had identified the culprits involved with the slaughtering of Shantanu besides three persons already been arrested. Following the demand of compensations raised by the Tripura based journalists, the State government also agreed to offer rupees one million to the bereaved family.

Soon after Shantanu’s killing, blame games started as the BJP accused the Left government at Agartala of failing the law & order situation.

The saffron party also demanded Sarkar’s resignation. The Congress criticized the ruling CPI (M) and also the BJP for triggering communal violence dividing the population with tribal-nontribal (read Bengali) divides.

The tiny State of Tripura goes for Assembly polls next year. The Left parties are in comfortable position as they have 50 seats in the 60-member legislative house. The CPI (M) as well as Sarkar is in power for decades, but the next elections might invites brickbats for both.

Political analysts argue that the BJP would pose a real challenge to the Left government in February-March 2018 with the help of IPFT supporter & sympathizers.

For records, Shantanu was the seventh Indian journalist to be killed this year. The string of killings began with Hari Prakash, 31, whose dead body was recovered in Hazaribag locality of Jharkhand on January 2. Then came another bad news from Bihar, where unidentified goons shot dead Brajesh Kumar Singh, 28, at Samastipur locality on January 3.

The third and fourth incidents involving the murder of working journalists were reported from Madhya Pradesh, where Shyam Sharma, 40, was stabbed to death by miscreants at Anshul locality on May 15 and Kamlesh Jain, 42, was shot dead in Pipliyamandi locality May 31.

Prior to them, a Haryana based television journalist (Surender Singh Rana, 35) was shot dead on July 29. Lately, a senior journalist of Punjab (KJ Singh, 66) was found murdered on September 23 along with his old-age mother.

India lost six journalists to assailants in 2016, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. It witnessed murders of two scribes in 2014, but the year 2013 reported as many as 11 journalists' murders, where three northeastern media employees also fall victims to the perpetrators. The killing of Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh at Agartala broke as sensational news as Tripura had no recent record of journalist-murders.

The trouble-torn NE region has lost over 30 journalists to assailants in the last three decades, where Assam and Manipur had lost more media persons. Both the States, where over 30 separatist armed outfits remain active, witnessed the immediate previous journo-murders with Dwijamani Nanao Singh (killed in Imphal) and Raihanul Nayum (killed at Dhubri) in 2012, Anil Mazumdar (shot dead in Guwahati) and Konsam Rishikanta (killed in Imphal) in 2009 and Jagajit Saikia shot dead at Kokrajhar in 2008.

- Asian Tribune –

Senior journalist KJ Singh's murder comes barely a few days after Tripura-based TV journalist Santanu Bhowmick was killed. Journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was killed in Bengaluru on September 5
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