New Delhi (India) — The killing of an investigative journalist in India’s northeastern state of Tripura on Tuesday has sparked outrage, with concerns about safety of media persons reporting from remote areas.
Sudip Datta Bhowmik, a senior reporter with a Bengali-language daily Syandan Patrika, was the second journalist to be killed in the state in the past two months.
Police say the 52-year-old was shot dead by a constable of Tripura State Rifles (TSR) – a state paramilitary force – near the capital Agartala.
“Tapan Debbarma, the bodyguard of the TSR’s Second Battalion Commandant, opened fire killing Sudip Datta Bhowmik on the spot,” a police officer told journalists.
Tapan Debbarma, Second Battalion Commandant, and his personal guard Nanda Reang have been arrested in connection with the murder.
The Indian Express newspaper reported Sudip’s editor claiming that he was killed because he exposed corruption cases involving Tapan.
“Sudip’s was a cold-blooded murder. He was killed inside the Circle Officer’s room,” the deceased journalist’s brother told Indian news agency ANI.
Concerns about press freedom are mounting in India as “grassroots soldiers of the media” are being silenced, said Mrinal Pande, journalist and former Chairperson of India’s state broadcaster Prasar Bharti.
“This is a very worrisome series. Most of these journalists killed were writing in local languages which means they are connected to the grassroots and reaching the common man and woman.
“A lot of them were writing about political and industrial scams and corruption, about mining mafias, forest mafias etc. These people are the grassroots soldiers of the media. The guilty must be punished,” Pande said.
The state government has asked a Special Investigation Team to probe the journalist’s death.
His death brings the number of journalists killed in India in relation to their work since 1992 to 41, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said in Washington that “authorities must send the message that India will not tolerate attacks and killing of journalists”.
Many newspapers in the state published blank editorials yesterday as a mark of protest.
Earlier in September, another journalist Shantanu Bhowmik was killed while reporting a clash between two groups in the state.
Gautam Lahiri, President of the Press Club of India, said the government needs to take proactive action.
“This is the second journalist to be killed while reporting in the state. We urge the government to protect the lives of journalists working in the field,” Lahiri said.
The Editor Guild of India in a strong statement on Thursday said it “demands that the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar have the assailants swiftly brought to justice”.
This comes just months after the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a newspaper editor and vocal critic of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the southern city of Bengaluru.
Lankesh’s killing had sparked mass protest across many cities in India.
Sudip’s killing has brought back attention to safety of journalists in the world’s largest democracy.
India holds the 13th spot in the CPJ’s 2016 Global Impunity Index that spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.
According to the CPJ, not a single journalist’s murder in India had been solved over the past decade.
“The guilty are hardly ever punished, so the impunity is increasing. Yeh toh patrkaar hain, isko goli maar do, kya hoga (This guy is only a journalist, no big deal to shoot him),” journalist Pande said.
“We are journalists, our job is to report, write and document. It is the police’s job to keep us safe.” — AP