Image: CK Vikayakumar / The Caravan
The Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) recently released its fact-finding report after its investigation carried out in the wake of the communal violence that occurred in Tripura. The report has stated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Tripura government attempted to justify the communal violence in the state in October as a “natural reaction” to the attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. It has also pointed out that the state police and administration displayed a “lack of professionalism and integrity” in dealing with the violence communal violence, “and with those reporting on the issue. This makes them complicit in the growth of muscular majoritarianism that subverts democratic institutions”.
The EGI’s three-member team of veteran journalist Bharat Bhushan, EGI General Secretary Editors’ Guild Sanjay Kapoor, and Editor of Imphal Review of Arts and Politics Pradip Phanjoubam visited Tripura from November 28 to 1 December, and met Chief Minister Biplab Deb, ministers, journalists, state government officials, and activists.
It added that, “The police and an insecure political leadership have used draconian laws like UAPA and the might of the police and a pliant judiciary to pulverize the civil society that includes the media — mostly from outside the state.” The report made note of what happened to those reporting on and from Tripura, including, fact-finding missions of Supreme Court lawyers who have been served notices under UAPA for “sharing their findings on the violence against minorities in a press conference!” and how “Women journalists were charged with incitement when they were performing their journalistic duty of asking questions from witnesses to the torching of mosques and shops.”
The EGI team, stated that as journalists from outside the state tried to report the communal violence as it was, this “did not suit the narrative of good governance the Biplab Deb government was desirous of projecting.”
The report also puts on record how the communal rioting in Bangladesh during Durga Puja coincided with Chief Minister Biplab Deb and the BJP getting ready to challenge the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the civic elections, “Counter communal mobilisation in reaction to the violence against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh offered an opportunity to the fraternal organisations of the BJP – the VHP, Hindu Jagaran Manch, Bajrang Dal and others – to foment communal anger to consolidate their vote amongst the Hindu Bengali population of the state.”
The report adds that politicians justified the communal violence as a ‘natural reaction’ of the Hindus of Tripura as they had “family links with the Hindu population across the border in Bangladesh.” The fact-finding team concluded that the Tripura government was working according to the “larger nationalist vision of the BJP in which the media also has a role to play – not as a foil to the government but as its partner in the nationalist project… Indeed, the Chief Minister’s statement during the National Press Day, widely reported in the local media — ‘An ideal nation must have an ideal press’ – seems to corroborate this” and added that “the impatience of the Tripura administration to any criticism emanating from local media has been in evidence for a while.”
The EGI revealed that Tripura’s DGP “spent considerable amount of time telling our team that reporters must learn the difference between a prayer hall and a mosque. He also tried to showcase the police force as neutral by claiming that a Bajrang Dal rally had been stopped by the police in Gomati district and 14 protestors had also been booked. “He also “claimed that not a mosque but a “prayer hall” was set on fire. No holy book was desecrated or set on fire. Yet, rumours were spread that the holy book had been burnt. “The situation on the ground was, in fact, peaceful and the local media was reporting that the area was peaceful”. However, the report said the DGP added, “Social media platforms started exaggerating the situation on the ground claiming that 15 mosques had been set ablaze, women had been molested and that there was a massacre/genocide (narsanhar) taking place in Tripura. One October 27, we banned people from going to that area. However, under media pressure, the very next day we had to withdraw that order. But, we said that anyone going there would be held responsible if an untoward incident takes place.” He also reportedly “repeated the official trope that “outside” groups of clergy, lawyers and reporters stoked communal tensions after the initial incident – some even claiming that “Tripura is on fire.”
The EGI report stated that the state government “tends to see media compliance in this partnership as part of the larger mission. This allows it to justify using all means within its power to bring critical or recalcitrant elements within the media to heel. Indeed, the Chief Minister’s statement during the National Press Day, widely reported in the local media — “An ideal nation must have an ideal press” — seems to corroborate this.
The Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Attacks on Media Freedom in Tripura May Be Read Here