New Delhi: Various media and rights organisations have condemned the killing of young television journalist Santanu Bhowmik in Mandai area of Tripura yesterday. Bhowmik was covering a road blockade called by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) that turned violent.
According to the police, 28-year-old Bhowmik, employed with the local cable TV network, Din Raat, got caught in a violent clash between the IPFT and the ruling CPI(M)’s tribal wing Tripura Upajati Ganamukti Parishad in the area, situated about 25 km from the state capital Agartala. He was fatally attacked with sharp weapons, allegedly by the IPFT members, in spite of identifying himself as a journalist. Din Raat’s editor Samir Dhar is the brother of CPI(M) state secretary Bijan Dhar.
In a statement issued in New Delhi on September 21, the South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) said, “The issue (of Bhowmik’s killing) goes beyond media freedom and involves the right to life. Coming only days after the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru, this is a reminder of the increasing violence being directed towards mediapersons across India. Reporters on the field in far-flung areas are particularly vulnerable to such attacks and intimidation.”
SAMDEN asked all political parties and the government of Tripura to ensure justice to Bhowmik’s family by bringing the attackers to book “to face the full force of the law.”
Soon after the news about Bhowmik’s killing reached New Delhi on Wednesday, the Foundation for Media Professionals condemned it in a statement pointing out, “Northeast India has long been a zone of impunity where various militant groups have threatened, attacked and often killed journalists trying to do their jobs. Even political parties and security forces are known to intimidate journalists in the many conflict zones that dot the region.” As many as 32 journalists have been killed since 1987 in Assam alone and none of these cases have been solved yet.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists held a protest against the murder at Kerala House in New Delhi on September 21. The Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association, Federation of Press Clubs in India and the North East Media Forum, in a joint statement, expressed shock at the news.
“Shantanu’s life was taken away by mindless violence when he was discharging his professional journalistic duties. It is a reckless, inhuman act to silence the voice of free press in the country and an assault on the freedom of press,” the statement said. The organisations demanded an impartial and swift probe into the murder. A condolence and a protest meeting will be held at the Press Club in New Delhi at 3 pm on September 22.
On September 20, as soon as news about Bhowmik’s murder spread among the journalist fraternity in Agartala, a large number of them blocked the road leading to Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar’s residence, demanding immediate arrest of the culprits. The protesters removed the blockade at around 10.30 pm after Sarkar assured speedy action to a delegation of reporters led by a senior journalist. Besides quick action in the case, the delegation also demanded Rs 50 lakh compensation to Bhowmik’s family as he was the sole breadwinner for his mother and younger sister.
Meanwhile, according to local media reports quoting police sources, two more persons were arrested on Thursday in the case. The names of the arrested are Shyamal Debbarma and Bikash Debbarma, both from Mandai, situated in Jirania subdivision of West Tripura district. Six other IPFT members have also been apprehended on the charge of seriously injuring Tripura Upajati Ganamukti Parishad members in Khowai and Mandai on September 19.
Bhowmik was cremated at his hometown of Jirania today, after his body was taken in a procession by Agartala’s local journalists association.
To the people of Tripura, the brutal incident brought back memories of the June 1980 riots in Mandai in which over 250 persons were killed. The IPFT, which has amplified its protest in the last few months demanding a separate tribal state cut out of the present tribal autonomous district council, recently blocked the only rail and road connection of Tripura with other parts of India, affecting the supply of essential goods to the state. The tribal party has been in talks with the BJP for a pre-poll alliance. On a political quest for the northeastern states, the BJP is trying to make a foray into the Left-ruled Tripura in the assembly polls slated early next year.