Tripura journalist’s killing: Police arrest two, unions demand strict action
Slain journalist Shantanu Bhowmik worked for the Bengali news channel, Dinraat.
The Tripura police on Thursday arrested two people in connection with the killing of TV reporter Shantanu Bhowmik during a clash between rival tribal parties on Wednesday.
Bhowmik’s gruesome death – his head was slit with a sharp weapon – barely a fortnight after the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru was a reminder of the challenges journalist face while covering the militancy-mauled Northeast, also prone to sectarian conflicts.
Bhowmik, 28, worked for Bengali news channel Dinraat, whose editor Samir Dhar is the brother of CPI(M)’s state secretary Bijan Dhar. His death was the second instance of attack on people associated with media after three employees – Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh – were hacked to death in the office of the Agartala-based daily they worked for.
“We arrested Shyamal Debbarma and Bikash Debbarma, two tribal youth from Mandwai for involvement in Bhowmik’s killing and forwarded them to the court,” a senior police officer in Tripura West district said.
Mandwai, in Jirania subdivision 28km from Agartala, had in 1980 witnessed one of the worst massacres in the Northeast. More than 250 people were killed in that genocide.
Police said the arrested duo belonged to the statehood-seeking Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). Six others, also members of IPFT, were arrested in connection with the clash between IPFT and Tripura Upajati Ganamukti Parishad (GMP) at Mandwai on Tuesday.
IPFT is in talks for a pre-poll alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, desperate to oust chief minister Manik Sarkar’s Left Front government. GMP is the tribal wing of CPI(M).
Tuesday’s clash spilled over to Wednesday. Bhowmik, who had a streak of daredevilry in him, went to cover the second day’s clash and was attacked when IPFT members allegedly stormed a local CPI(M) office.
Bhowmik was the sole bread-earner of his family. He is survived by his mother and a sister who studies agriculture science in Sikkim.
The mother, who has not regained consciousness since seeing her son’s blood-soaked body in the hospital on Wednesday, is under medical care in a local hospital.
Bhowmik’s body was on Thursday brought to Agartala Press Club after the post mortem before being taken for cremation via his residence.
Soon after his death Wednesday evening, some 200 scribes blocked the road in front of Sarkar’s official residence till 11pm, demanding the arrest of the culprits involved and compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Bhowmik’s family besides ensuring security for scribes.
While the state’s director general of police AK Shukla assured action at the earliest, Sarkar met a five-member delegation of journalists and said the government would be providing special jackets for reporters in areas prone to violence. “I have asked the police to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
A team of journalists also sought security from governor Tathagata Roy.
Condemning the Mandwai incident, the local committee of CPI(M) called a strike from 6am to 2pm on Thursday. The government, on the other hand, suspended internet connectivity for 24 hours.
The BJP too denounced the incident and asked Sarkar to resign. The Congress held both BJP and CPI(M) responsible for triggering the violence and sought a judicial probe into Bhowmik’s killing.
Jayanta Bhattacharya, a senior journalist, said Bhowmik’s death underscored the perils of reporting in a communally-charged atmosphere. “The political parties should ensure the protection of media persons,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists India (NUJI) and Journalists’ Association of Assam (JAA) demanded strict action against Bhowmik’s killers.
NUJI’s Tripura state general secretary Prasanta Chakraborty said: “Such a brutal act is an attempt to tall the movement of the journalists and fearless coverage of anti-national and anti-people activities.”
NUJI secretary general Ratan Dixit said two gruesome murders within a space of 15 days warranted an act for journalists’ protection.
“Bhowmik was the seventh Indian journalist to be killed this year. The string of killings began with Hari Prakash (31, Jharkhand) and claimed Brajesh Kumar Singh (28, Bihar), Shyam Sharma (40, Madhya Pradesh), Kamlesh Jain (42, MP), Surender Singh Rana (35, Haryana) and Lankesh (55, Bengaluru). India lost 11 journalists to assailants in 2013, two in 2014, five in 2015 and six in 2016. They have hardly received any justice,” JFA president Rupam Barua said.
“With 32 journalists killed since 1987, Assam has been one of the most dangerous places in India for journalists. Sadly, the country beyond has hardly taken note of scribes killed in the line of duty in Assam and none of these cases has been solved yet,” Nava Thakuria, secretary of Guwahati Press Club, said.