Tripura scribe murdered by IPFT, group was allegedly given Rs 2 lakh by BJP last year

Slain journalist Shantanu Bhowmik, all of 23 years, was covering the agitation of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura when he was attacked by rogue workers of the front, killing him on the spot

Photo courtesy: Social media
Photo courtesy: Social media

Ashutosh Sharma

Another journalist was murdered on Wednesday in Mandai block of Tripura by a group of Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) members, according to a front-page report in Tripura Times. His funeral procession was carried out in Agartala on Thursday amid prohibitory orders.

The report said that 23-year-old journalist Shantanu Bhowmik was brutally hacked to death by “murderously violent” group of IPFT at Mandai, 25 km from the heart of the Agartala city. He had gone there to cover the agitation for Khabar 365 news, a vernacular daily and a local TV channel, DinRaat.

Police have arrested four members of the IPFT in connection with the murder so far and is investigating the matter on the direction of the state government as demanded by local journalists.

Shantanu used to live with his mother and younger sister. In his spare time, he would also help poor children learn to read and write. His death comes on the heels of the murder of Bengaluru-based firebrand journalist Gauri Lankesh and attack on another scribe Pankaj Mishra in Arwal district of Bihar. As many as 27 scribes have been murdered for their work since 1992 in India, according to a study by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Even though Tripura’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit has blamed poor law and order situation under CPI(M) rule, alleging that political violence has become a daily occurrence, a purported signed letterhead (enclosed) of BJP’s Tripura State Executive Committee reads that in August last year it provided a financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh to IPFT as per instructions of central leadership. According to the purported letter dated October 3, 2016, Sujit Kumar Banarjee, treasurer of party’s state unit along with Pratima Bhowmik, general secretary of the party’s state unit, had gone to the house of IPFT supremo NC Debbarma to hand over the money (in the form of cheque or cash not clear).

Photo courtesy: Social media
Photo courtesy: Social media

“Tension was brewing in Mandai and surrounding areas over the past few days as unruly IPFT supporters had been pressing CPI(M) cadres and workers not to participate in the rally of GMP (tribal wing of the Communist Party of India, Marxist) at Vivekananda ground on Wednesday,” the report said, adding, “a large number of GMP workers and supporters had attended the rally. Armed IPFT workers and supporters had attacked them and left more than 150 injured and several vehicles damaged.”

Consequently, the report further stated that the cadre of ruling party including the its tribal, youth and student wings, in a retaliatory offensive damaged some of IPFT flags and attacked IPFT workers in stray incidents.

“On Wednesday morning as the IPFT also sought to respond with a roadblockade and attacking the CPM Mandi local committee office in presence of police. As the tension had soared at 1 pm, journalist Santanu–who was there and fell in the midst of the rival groups -was caught by the IPFT supporters. Even as hapless Santanu told them that he was a journalist, the unruly IPFT workers dragged him to a roadside desolate area and brutally hacked him to death by takkal on the spot,” the report said.

Police rushed him to the GB Pant Hospital where he was pronounced as brought dead. He had sustained multiple injuries on his head, doctors said.

As the news of scribe’s murder broke, agitated local journalists started to converge in front of GBP Hospital. At around 6.30 pm all the demonstrators including journalists from the print and electronic media blockade IGM Choumuhani road near official residence of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. They demanded that the murderers be arrested before the slain scribe was cremated. However, they lifted the blockade following an assurance by the Chief Minister.

According to Superintendent of Police of West district, Abhijit Saptarshi, the situation in Mandai was tense following the clashes. Last night, after imposing Section 144 in two districts, additional police forces were rushed to the area. Mobile internet data services have been suspended in Agartala as well, reported news agency ANI.

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury has blamed the BJP for the death of the Tripura journalist. Taking to Twitter, he wrote, “This ghastly act is about BJP-RSS’ approach to journalists and silencing voices. How desperate it is in Tripura to resort to such tactics. RSS-BJP’s time-tested recipe of preparing for elections is through murder and violence. Tripura will not succumb to their intimidation.”

Tripura, which goes to polls in early 2018, is currently ruled by the CPI(M). Manik Sarkar, who was recently announced as the party’s chief ministerial candidate yet again, has already served four consecutive terms.

While several journalists staged demonstration at Press Club and Jantar Mantar here in New Delhi on Thursday to protest the murder, tributes have also been pouring in from netizens on Twitter for the slain scribe.

“Once again some people have tried to eradicate freedom of expression independent voices and democratic values by killing Santanu Bhowmik,” wrote poet and writer, Javed Akhtar on Twitter.

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Published: 21 Sep 2017, 6:38 PM