Incessant attacks on journalists have continued throughout the state of West Bengal in the last fortnight. The attacks had started after the nomination process for the panchayat polls begun on April 2 and continued ceaselessly till April 9, which was the last day of submission of the nomination papers.
According to preliminary estimates, at least 70 journalists have been attacked in the month of April, alone. The attacks resumed on April 23, when following the court directive, the State Election Commission granted additional four hours for filing of nomination papers.
It can be recalled that all the opposition parties had moved to the Calcutta High Court to demand extension of the nomination deadline. However, during this extension, terror antics, allegedly, by the ruling party were more intense. More than 200 panchayat polls candidates were injured.
On April 23, whiskers away from the South 24 Pargana’s administrative office and police superintendent’s office in Kolkata, television journalist Prajna Saha was attacked, allegedly, by TMC youths, who abducted her and kept her torturing for hours. She was released from the makeshift torture chamber that the hooligans had reportedly made in a nearby slum, in a traumatised condition, after her colleagues’ calls to the Police Headquarters and political leaders.
“A group of youths forcefully took me to a room in a slum area. They spoke with me in filthy language and confined me for four hours. They have also threatened to harm my family if I open my mouth. They also formatted my phone,” said Saha.
Aryabhatta Khan, a reporter with a leading Bengali daily, was also kidnapped and intimidated by a group of youths, who were roaming around on motorcycles outside the Alipore administrative building. Most of them had their faces covered.
“Around 20-25 youths showered kicks and blows on me after I clicked a photograph of the crowd. They took me away and snatched my phone and wristwatch,” said Khan.
Interestingly, these attacks have come after journalists’ protest against abduction of another photojournalist of Times of India, yet again allegedly by the ruling party hooligans on April 9. He too was taken to the torture chamber in the slum, where he was forced to undress, and was beaten up mercilessly. The police had refused to file complaint after the incident, according to the journalist.
The Press Club, Kolkata and Kolkata Journalists’ Club have condemned these attacks. In separate press releases, they have mentioned that these incessant attacks on the fourth estate will only weaken the democracy of the country.
Speaking to Newsclick, Rahul Goswami, secretary of Calcutta Journalists’ Club said, “It seems that the continuous protests by the journalist community have had little effect on the hooligans and the administration. In Kolkata, a photojournalist was abducted. Then, an incident of abducting a female journalist took place. She is now traumatised, and is feeling unsafe – thinking of her three-year-old daughter, she has to keep her mouth shut.”
The organisation today also held its executive committee meeting wearing black badges in protest.
According to Aniruddha Chakraborty, a member of the Press Club, Kolkata and a veteran journalist, these kind of attacks are of unprecedented nature. “During Emergency too, journalists were arrested by police under MISA. However, under this regime, the manner in which the police has turned out to be accomplices, is a bad sign for democracy. Even the FIRs are not being registered. The affected journalists are dissuaded from lodging formal complaints by the police and administration. The police and administration have failed to take any action,” he said.
Debjyoti Chandra, news anchor with Doordarshan News and a professor with Rabindra Bharati University, said, “Everyone from news fraternity in West Bengal is totally aghast. The journalists have been doing their duties, and it is the duty of any government to protect them. These attacks are not only heinous, but are also barbaric in nature,” he added.