How Indian police watched a journalist get lynched to death

“Shantanu Bhowmick was caught and lynched in full view of the police. They didn’t stop the mob when it dragged him and hacked him with a dao. Now the police have arrested two persons and after all the journalists protested, they are taking action. But if they had done so earlier, his life could have been saved,” said editor-in-chief of Dinraat television channel, Samir Dar, talking to The Hoot hours after the funeral of the young television correspondent.

Dar said that Bhowmick was a very energetic young man. “He was sober and very gentle and everyone loved him,” he said, emotionally overwrought at the heinous killing. The channel was a new one, lunched on April 14 this year and Bhowmick had joined the channel after five years of working in other local television channels.

Recounting the horrific manner of his death, Dar said Bhowmick had gone to cover a road blockade of the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) in Mandai, near the capital Agartala when he was spotted by IPFT supporters and caught. “We have demanded action against the police who were present when he was dragged away. Why did they not stop the mob? They lathicharged the mob and burst teargas shells after the incident,” he said angrily.

High tension continued to prevail the second day after the horrific incident. While protests continued following an attack on a CPM party office last night, a company of Assam Rifles held a flag march in Agartala. Journalists who assembled at the Tripura Press Club from last night to protest the killing told The Hoot that it was clearly a targeted attack.

Bhowmick, who was hacked with a dao (a sharp sword) had been reporting on the clash between the IPFT and cadres of the Ganamukti Parishad, the tribal wing of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). He was clearly marked out since he worked for DinRaat channel which was perceived as being pro-CPM, said Chitra Roy, Vice President of the Agartala Press Club.

But  for us, he was killed when he was doing his professional duties, she said, adding that Bhowmick was well known even by the IPFT. The fight between the IPFT to take over the CPM’s strongholds in tribal areas has become extremely intense. “While Bhowmick was killed for his professional work, it was also clear that the killing was political. He became a prey of political rivalry,” she said.

While there is no formal alliance between the IPFT and BJP, they do have an understanding, Dar said. “Everyone knows that the IPFT is backed by the BJP. The IPFT has been very aggressive and is preparing for the assembly elections next February. The BJP is trying to make an alliance with it,” Dar said, adding that the entire atmosphere in the north eastern state was vitiated by the fights between the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), the IPFT and the BJP.

Bhowmick used to cover a lot of these conflicts including one incident of arson only last month. Dar denied reports that Dinraat channel was pro-CPM and that Bhowmick was targeted because he was seen as a ‘partisan’ reporter critical of the IPFT. “Yes, his family may have been pro-left and his mother was a supporter of the CPM. But he was a very committed professional journalist and he even gave news critical of CPM ministers,” Dar said.

Bhowmick, 28, is survived by his mother and sister. He was the sole earning member of his family and had been working for the last five years as a journalist in the north-eastern state. A post-mortem was conducted this morning after which the body was handed over to his relatives and colleagues.

After it was kept in the channel’s office for colleagues to pay their last respects, the funeral was held later in the day.

Dar is honorary editor of the channel, which is owned by a society comprising eleven members. Dar is also bureau chief of the Kolkata based newspaper Aajkal and supervises the channel’s work. He said the members of the society will meet in the next few days to decide on a compensation to be paid to Bhowmick’s family. The Agartala press club has also demanded that the state government provide some assistance to his family.

Other journalist organisations across the country expressed shock and horror at the killing, cominless than a month after the shooting of Bengaluru based journalist Gauri Lankesh. Statements condemning the killing came from the National Press Clubs, the Indian Womens’ Press Corps, the Foundation of Media Professionals, the Journalists Association of Assam, the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists, the Delhi Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists.

The Hoot