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Letters from India
India’s Restive Region Sets to End 2021 without Journo-murder
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Crisis of press freedom
If nothing sad happens in the next seven weeks, India’s restive north-eastern region will complete another year without any incident of journo-murder maintaining the trend for the last four years. The region, comprising eight States with a population of over 60 million and surrounded by many foreign nations like Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet/China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, witnessed two casualties of journalists to assailants for the last time in 2017.

However, the country as a whole continues losing scribes to perpetrators. Till date the populous nation in 2021 has witnessed the murder of five journalists namely Raman Kashyap, Manish Kumar Singh, Chenna Keshav, Sulabh Srivastava and Ashu Yadav, where acclaimed Indian photo journalist Danish Siddiqui was killed in Afghanistan. It lost 15 scribes to assailants last year, followed by 3 journo-fatalities in 2019, 9 casualties in 2018 and 7 in 2017.

Tripura, a Bangladesh bordering State in the region, lost two journalists (Shantanu Bhowmik and Sudip Datta Bhaumik) in separate incidents, whereas the same tiny State once again reported the assassination of three media persons (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh) four years later. They were killed together in the office of a Bengali newspaper inside the capital city of Agartala in 2013. On the previous year, States of Assam and Manipur witnessed the murder of two journalists for the last time, as Raihanul Nayum and Dwijamani Nanao Singh fell prey to perpetrators.

Till then, the region used to lose around five journalists annually, where Assam accounted for a major share of the victims. The State, supporting a number of newspapers, news channels and presently the plenty of digital platforms, alone witnessed the homicide of over 30 editors/reporters/correspondents since 1991.

The saga of sensational journo-murder started with the brutal killing of veteran Assamese freedom fighter turned journalist Kamala Saikia. The Septuagenarian teacher was targeted by the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) for his fierce criticism about its various disruptive activities. The outspoken media columnist was dragged out of his residence on the night of 9 August and his body was recovered the next morning.

Five years later, the murder of human rights activist turned journalist Parag Kumar Das on 17 May  in the heart of Guwahati also created a massive public outcry. The executive editor of Asomiya Pratidin was apparently targeted by surrendered armed militants as he used to write articles strongly criticising them as well the governments in New Delhi and Dispur for their anti-Assam policies. Other journo-victims from Assam include Punarmal Agarwala, Pabitra Narayan Chutia, Dipak Swargiary, Manik Deuri, Panja Ali, Nurul Haq, Alfarid Shazad, Jiten Sutiya, Ratneswar Sarma Shastri, Dinesh Brahma, Indramohan Hakasam, Prahlad Gowala, Mohammad Muslemuddin, Bodosa Narzary, Jagajit Saikia, Ranbir Roy, Bimala Prasad Talukder and Anil Majumdar.

Not only Ulfa, one of the oldest armed militant outfits operating in the region since 1979, but a few other insurgent outfits also killed journalists, who did not follow the militant’s diktats. Most of the north-eastern militants, who want independence from India, used to run shelter &training camps inside Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan with allegedly covert support from Pakistan and China.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has snatched away the lives of over 20 north-eastern journalists since March 2020 till date, which is also very low compared to the national volume of media-corona casualty crossing the 300-mark. Besides three scribes, who died while working outside the region, all others succumbed to the novel coronavirus infection related ailments while performing their duty as covid warriors in north-eastern localities.

Assam witnessed the highest number of corona-casualties among media persons, while Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim have not reported any journo-death because of Covid-19 till date. First shocking news for the local media fraternity broke from Guwahati as a printer &publisher of popular Assamese daily Asomiya Khobor (Rantu Das, 54 years old) was declared dead because of corona-complications on 3 July 2020.

The following month of September witnessed three corona-casualties among journalists in Assam. Rural reporter Dhaneswar Rabha (35), who was based in Udalguri locality lost his battle on 6 September, where Silchar-based senior journalist Ashim Dutta (66) died on 7 September. A radio news presenter named Golap Saikia, who was also associated with a number regional satellite news channels, succumbed to the complications on  26 September.

This year, Assam lost two media luminaries (Dr Lakshmi Nandan Bora and Homen Borgohain) to the corona aggravated ailments. Sahitya Academy awardee author-journalist Bora (89) died on 3 June while undergoing treatment in a city hospital. Padma Shri awardee Bora was also president of Assam’s highly influential literary forum (Asom Sahitya Sabha). Veteran journalist, editor, litterateur Homen Borgohain (88), also a Sahitya Academy awardee and president of Asom Sahitya Sabha, died on 12 May.

City-based talented journalist Aiyushman Dutta (35) succumbed to corona-complications on 26 April at a private hospital. Earlier Moran-based journalist Jadu Chutia (49) expired on 21 April at Assam medical college hospital in Dibrugarh. More journalists followed them as  Chaygaon-based scribe  Shivacharan Kalita (60) died on 14 May, Bokajan-based reporter Rubul Dihingiya (44) on 17 May and Nagaon-based  reporter Humeswar Hira (63) passed away on 22 May.

New Delhi-based Assamese journalist Nilakshi Bhattacharyya (55) died of Covid-19 aggravated ailments on 30 April this year after hospitalization in the capital city. Sadly, her husband Kalyan Barooah (60), also a senior journalist from Assam, succumbed to the virus infection in the capital on 1 May. Same day, another Assamese media person Anirban Bora (43) passed away in New Delhi fighting the corona battle.

Tripura reported the first corona-media casualty as  Jitendra Debbarma (46), who was associated with a Kokborok language news channel, died on 21 October last year. Three more scribes namely Tanmoy Chakraborty, Manik Lal Das and Gautam Das succumbed to corona-complications. Agartala- based freelance journalist Chakraborty (40) died on 25 April this year. Kumarghat- based senior journalist Das (58) expired on 18 July and Agartala-based  journalist turned politician Gautam Das lost his corona-battle on 16 September.

Myanmar bordering State of Manipur lost a senior journalist (Sagolsem Hemant, 65) to Covid-19 on 30 May 2021. Later it witnessed three more corona related deaths (Saikhom Shantikumar, Thotshang Shaiza and Lairenjam Bijen Singh). Imphal-based media person Shantikumar (51) died on 6 June, Ukhrul-based television journalist Shaiza (52) on 12 June and Imphal-based scribe Singh (45) passed away on 23 July. Meghalaya lost one journalist (Syndor Singh Syiem, 67) in post corona-complications on 6 August this year.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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