The murder of Santanu Bhowmik, a television reporter, in Mandwai in Tripura on Wednesday has predictably drawn the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party into a blame game. While the CPI(M), which is in power in the State, is calling this an ideologically motivated murder by BJP-backed forces, the BJP in turn is keen on casting the killing as purely a law and order failure of the Manik Sarkar government.
Bhowmik, who was in his late-20s, was brutally attacked while in the line of duty covering clashes between the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the CPI(M)’s tribal wing, the Tripura Rajaer Upajati Ganamukti Parishad. The IPFT has been escalating its agitation for a separate State, and Tripura has been tense this week with prohibitory orders under Section 144 in place in some districts. By some accounts, Bhowmik had incriminating footage of violence by activists of the IPFT. With elections in Tripura due six months from now, and the BJP taking the fight to the long-ruling CPI(M), there is every danger of fact becoming a casualty as the battle becomes more polarised. It would be a blow against the freedom of the press if Bhowmik’s death is not investigated, keenly and expeditiously, for what it is: because first reports indicate that he did not die in the crossfire, he was targeted.
The murder is a reminder of the dangerous circumstances journalists report in and the physical threat they wear as a second skin. Frequently, as Gauri Lankesh’s killing hinted, they are targeted by extremist groups wanting to intimidate others in the public sphere from taking a particular questioning line. At other times, they are killed for knowing too much. Bhowmik may fall in either category, or both. The inhibitory effect of such killings is obvious and it is welcome that mediapersons around the country are demanding a swift follow-up to punish his killers. But in a democracy such tragic deaths need more than just the rallying of colleagues in the profession. There is a clear line that connects intimidatory tactics against a journalist — whether by physical violence or in other coercive ways — and the health of a democracy. India’s Constitution does not specifically mention the freedom of the press, as do those of some countries, including the United States. This makes it all the more important for the public discourse to internalise the connection, so that a watchful vigil against violence and coercion is never allowed to flag. All too often, appraisals such as the World Press Freedom Index are shrugged aside as being incidental. Bhowmik’s death must bring the chill of India’s ranking falling to 136, from an already abysmal 133 in 2016, closer to our bones.
Predictable: able to be predicted.
Example: The market is volatile and never predictable
Synonyms: foreseeable, (only) to be expected, anticipated, foreseen
Clash: a violent confrontation.
Example: There have been minor clashes with security forces
Synonyms: confrontation, skirmish, fight, battle, engagement
Indigenous: originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.
Example: The indigenous peoples of Siberia
Synonyms: native, original, aboriginal, autochthonous, local, domestic, homegrown
Casualty: a person killed or injured in a war or accident.
Example: We get more and faster trains on to the rails we can expect more deaths, so the casualty figures coldly used in cost benefit studies are all going to be out of date anyway.
Blow: an act of blowing on an instrument.
Example: A number of blows on the whistle
Synonyms: toot, blast, blare, whistle
Expeditious: done with speed and efficiency.
Example: An expeditious investigation
Synonyms: speedy, swift, quick, rapid, fast, brisk, efficient, prompt, punctual
Circumstance: a fact or condition connected with or relevant to an event or action.
Example: We wanted to marry but circumstances didn’t permit
Extremist: a person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.
Example: Political extremists
Synonyms: fanatic, radical, zealot, fundamentalist, militant, activist, ultra
Intimidate: frighten or overawe someone, especially in order to make them do what one wants.
Example: He tries to intimidate his rivals
Synonyms: frighten, menace, terrify, scare, terrorize, cow, dragoon, subdue
Coercive: relating to or using force or threats.
Example: Coercive measures
Coercion: the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.
Example: It wasn’t slavery because no coercion was used
Synonyms: force, compulsion, constraint, duress, oppression, enforcement
Abysmal: extremely bad; appalling.
Example: The quality of her work is abysmal
Synonyms: very bad, dreadful, awful, terrible, frightful, atrocious, disgraceful