Shantanu Bhowmik a 28 year old journalist working for a local news channel named Dinraat was beaten to death on Wednesday while covering the clash between Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the Tripura Rajaer Upajati Ganamukti Parishad (TRUGP) which is also known as Ganamukti Parishad (GMP).
The IPFT is a tribal based party of Tripura which has demanded the formation of a state called Tipraland. GMP on the other hand is the tribal wing of the CPI(M).
Shantanu had reportedly gone to a place called Mandai which is 35 Kms from Agartala for covering a clash between the IPFT and GMP activists. When the police there resorted to a lathi-charge, the mob proceeded to attack Bhowmik.
Another journalist described the gruesome details of his death where he was hit with a stick on his leg and after he fell down, blows were struck to his head. The mob later dragged his body and hid it behind a stadium. The whole incident happened at about 12:30 PM.
His body was later recovered by the police and was brought to the government run Govind Ballabh Pant Medical College and Hospital.
This clash between IPFT and TRUGP seems to have begun as a result [PDF] of unruly IPFT activists’s efforts to try and ensure that the CPM cadre and workers didn’t participate in GMP’s rally in Agartala on Tuesday. This resulted in at-least 130 GMP supporters getting injured in an attack allegedly carried out by the IPFT.
Later, the GMP, SFI and DYFI launched a retaliatory offensive where they attacked IPFT workers and destroyed their flags. The IPFT too decided to respond and then on Wednesday created a roadblock and attacked CPM’s Mandai local committee. It was while covering this whole violence, Shantanu was attacked and subsequently murdered.
This incident elicited a very strong reaction in Tripura with journalists from both the print and electronic media blocking the road near the official residence of CM Manik Sarkar from 6:30 PM Wednesday to demand the immediate arrest of all the culprits. Even though the DGP tried to quell the crowd, they kept their agitation going and only later after assurances form the CM, they withdrew.
Reports have now indicated that 4 IPFT activists have been arrested in connection with the murder and violence which also saw 16 police personnel get injured.
The situation in Tripura continues to remain tense with the imposition of section 144 and the suspension of mobile internet services following the IPFT-GMP clash. The Agartala press club the Tripura Working Journalists’ Association is scheduled to hold a silent funeral procession for Shantanu in Agartala.
This death was unfortunately soon given a political colour by some CPM leaders. According to a local newspaper which slammed such actions, the Tripura’s PWD minister gave a “Red Salute” to the body of the journalist. It also slammed CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury for his tweet blaming the death on BJP-RSS’s approach to journalists and silencing voices.
What can also be noted is that even though a young fearless journalist had been killed in broad daylight, it failed to elicit a similar amount of nationwide outrage which was seen after the Gauri Lankesh murder. Unlike the Lankesh murder where various media persons outraged immediately and endlessly blamed the Right Wing without proof, such a response was clearly missing.
Even though a condolence meet has been organised by the Press Club of India on Friday at 2 PM people might call it to be a clear case of tokenism. Some might try to explain such a reaction away with their tyranny of distance narrative but it certainly doesn’t bode well for the integrity of the media at large.