“I came here from Kolkata to report. They have beaten me up mercilessly with sticks… I need to drink some water… Please give me some water brother,” wounded journalist Ali Akbar Lashkar, 27, is in obvious pain and shock as he sits outside the police station with a wound on his forehead. “Look how they have beaten me, cracked my skull. I don’t know if I will survive, democracy has vanished,” says the journalist who works for the Kolkata-based Bengali news portal Ab Tak Khabar.
He had come to Tripura on Sunday morning, to report on the situation in the state, after TMC leader Saayoni Ghosh, was arrested and accused of criminal conspiracy and attempt to murder on Saturday night. “I have come to Tripura for the first time and I was attacked… imagine how scared the locals must be,” he said, even as colleagues from other news organisations recorded his words on camera.
He is a journalist from #Kolkata who has been brutally attacked in #Tripura. Listen to his testimony. He claims goons assaulted him with sticks & batons. Strongly condemn this attack on media. Isn’t this attempt to murder? The man is bleeding, says “democracy is under attack” pic.twitter.com/bqHRskUdgw
— Tamal Saha (@Tamal0401) November 21, 2021
Lashkar was among the three journalists who were allegedly beaten up in Tripura while reporting outside a police station, reported Newslaundry quoting him as saying, “They asked me which news channel I am from, and when I responded, they called me a dalal (broker) and started beating me.” He was allegedly assaulted outside the East Agartala women’s police station in Tripura West, where he had come to get an on camera quote from Trinamool Congress leader Kunal Ghosh. According to NL, a woman journalist was heckled here too. Lashkar said he and other reporters were waiting to interview Kunal Ghosh about Saayoni’s arrest, and saw “a group of nearly 200 people, many wearing helmets and carrying hockey sticks, rods and laathis, heading towards the police station. They started beating up people outside, including the TMC workers, entered the police station and started breaking things inside, even beating up police personnel. “My head and eye started bleeding badly and my body has multiple wounds,” he recalls. However, he does not know the people who beat him up.
According to the news report, his colleague Mamoni Bhattacharya, who was also surrounded by the mob said they “gathered around me and they broke our boom mic into three pieces.” Lashkar added that the local police dropped them to the hospital and left. He told NL that later some people reached the hospital and asked him if he worked for the TMC. “I told them ”Why are you asking such questions, I’m just a reporter, here to do my job?’”. The two journalists reportedly hid in the hospital washroom, for nearly an hour after which they were escorted by a friend who took them back to their hotel, reports NL.
The two other journalists who were reportedly also attacked were Miltan Dhar and Bapan Das, who work for news portals News Vanguard and Times24, respectively. According to the NL report, Bapan was trying to escape when the mob arrived, and was hit on his head. Miltan who was also similarly injured said, “In this whole matter between the two political parties BJP and TMC, we are being sandwiched while doing our job.”
Media has been under constant attack in Tripura
The portal Tripurainfo says, “Media has been under constant attack since Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb threatened to take over the state media on September 11, 2020.” The Press Council of India had demanded an explanation from the Tripura government on allegations of attacks on journalists made by the Assembly of Journalists (AOJ), who had alleged that over 20 scribes were attacked in Tripura, after Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb’s controversial remarks on September 11, 2020. Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb had said that a section of “over-excited newspapers” were “trying to confuse people” over Covid-19 and added that “neither history nor I will forgive them”.
In fact, the situation of journalists from the state, and of those who have come to the state to report, seems to mirror what journalists face in Uttar Pradesh or even Kashmir. In both BJP governed states and the Union Territory, journalists have been targeted in various ways for doing their jobs. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked India at 142nd position out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. In India journalists have been easy targets for complaints and FIRs being lodged against them for various reasons, most commonly, just for doing their jobs as reporters and editors. History continues to repeat itself in Tripura. This latest attack on the media reporting on the ground in Tripura, is not the first this year.
In May, the residence of Tripura’s veteran journalist and vice president of the Assembly of Journalists (AoJ), Samir Dhar, was attacked. According to a report in The Wire, it was the third such attack on Dhar’s house since 2018, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was voted to power in the state. The AoJ, had issued a statement, saying, “The miscreants, known as supporters of the ruling BJP party, entered the area on Saturday late night at around 9 pm with sharp weapons and carried out the attacks. They vandalised the boundary walls of Samir Dhar’s residence and also abused him using obscene language and threatened him with dire consequences.”
According to East Mojo, till June 2021, as many as 24 cases had been registered in different police stations across eight districts for attacks on journalists since 2020. The assistant inspector general (AIG) of police (law and order) Subrata Chakraborty had said in June that the Director General of Police (DGP) has taken note of the increasing incidents of violence against journalists and media persons “and the failure of the police to take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.”
In September 2021, a mob, led by alleged BJP members had attacked the office of Pratibadi Kalam, a vernacular daily, and injured at least four journalists. According to a report in NDTV, the mob had also ransacked the premises of the daily in Agartala, destroyed equipment, documents, and set cars and bikes ablaze. A police case was then filed by Anal Roy Chowdhury, Editor and Publisher of Pratibadi Kalam.
Media has been under state scanner too in Tripura
However, not all attacks are by mobs of miscreants, in another similarity with UP, Delhi, Kashmir etc., the media is also under the state’s scanner and is vulnerable. Most recently Associate Editor of HW News English, Arti Ghargi, who did the voiceover for a video, has been summoned by Tripura police for questioning in the town of Kakraban in south Tripura, reported Article 14 .
This is just days after HW News reporters Samriddhi K. Sakunia and Swarna Jha, returned to Delhi after they were granted bail. They had been arrested on Sunday, November 14, from Assam after covering the recent violence in Tripura. They were detained in Assam on Sunday after a case was filed against them by the Tripura police for “spreading communal disharmony”. According to news reports, they are now expected to return to Tripura this Friday, November 26 Nov, to join the ongoing investigation.
Meanwhile, it has taken a Supreme Court of India order that “no coercive steps should be taken” against that the two lawyers who were part of a fact-finding team that visited Tripura to investigate the communal violence that broke out in the state in October, and journalist Shyam Meera Singh who had written a social media post about the violence to remain free. They had all been booked under the draconian anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the Tripura Police for posting their opinions on social media, related to the recent communal violence in the state.