A fact-finding report by the Editors Guild India (EGI) found that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Tripura underestimated the communal violence. He aimed to garner the Hindu vote for elections in late November and therefore used violence during Durga Puja in Bangladesh as an opportunity to alienate Hindu sentiments in the state.
“The ‘natural reaction’ of Tripura’s Hindus was sought to justify communalism as they had family ties with the Hindu population across the border in Bangladesh,” the report said.
The EGI sent a three-member team to Tripura between November 28 and December 1 to assess the state of media freedom in the state, as the government flouted stringent laws to bar journalists and civil society activists from reporting on communal violence. News of its use began to spread.
The report accused the police and administration of “displaying a lack of professionalism and integrity in dealing with the communal conflict” in the state. However, a group of Supreme Court lawyers probing the communal violence in Tripura had drawn the same conclusion.
The Editors Guild report, in particular, highlights how the government intimidated the media to report against him, therefore “participating in the growth of Bahubali majoritarianism destroying democratic institutions”.
How the Armed Journalists of Tripura Government:
According to the report, local media have been forced to lend support to the running of the government as the state uses advertising as a weapon against those whose narrative does not suit their needs. Advertising is one of the major means for media houses to collect funds and to isolate them from advertisers, this would mean that the organization suffers and will eventually be forced to shut down.
“These include Mrinalini ENN, Din-Raat, Akash Tripura and Holbol. Duronto TV was vandalized in Udaipur a few months back,” claimed a senior THRO official.
A BJP leader said, “The media has good relations with the government here. Independent journalism is absent here because the media is ‘accommodative’ and ready to compromise. The charges of UAPA were leveled against the outside media and not the local media. Most journalists are happy here because they get pension, health insurance and low-cost housing. If there is tension with the media then it gets resolved quickly – the relationship between elder brother and younger brother. The local media did not write directly against the government. It is the outside media that came here and did it.”
The state termed the violence a “normal” response to what happened in Bangladesh. Any person or entity reporting on the issue – especially those from outside – was subject to stringent laws such as the UAPA and police action in an effort to bring them under control.
UAPA alleges on Supreme Court lawyers
Supreme Court fact-finding lawyers have also been under the state’s insecure political leadership. Ehtesham Hashmi, Amit Srivastava, Ansar Indori and Mukesh Kumar were accused of UAPA for sharing their findings on violence against minorities in the state at a press conference.
Fact Finding Report by Lawyers titled “Humanity Under Attack in Tripura”; #Muslim life matters” revealed that if the BJP government in Tripura wanted, they could have stopped the violence but decided to give a free hand to the Hindutva mob in the state.
Women journalists, Samridhi Sakuniya and Swaran Jha were also arrested for performing their journalistic duty under UAPA. However, the Supreme Court came to his immediate rescue.
“For the first time in the history of Tripura they used UAPA against journalists but then the Supreme Court intervened. They knew that the Supreme Court might come down on them so the government has decided to order a review of the UAPA cases against journalists,” said a civil society activist to the EGI fact-finding team. However nothing concrete has come to fruition as the report has been clarified as part of the review.
The report also pointed out that even sympathizers of the government claim, “What they have done to journalists and lawyers is an overreaction and they will have to retract their steps.”
The report said the Tripura Police played a key role in fueling communal tension in the state under the “retired” Director General of Police, who has been given a two-year term by the chief minister.
How the police underestimated the communal nature of the violence:
The DGP claimed that the incident of violence took place in Panisagar on October 26, when Vishwa Hindu Parishad took out a rally against communal riots during Durga Puja in Bangladesh. Not the “mosque” but the “prayer hall” was set on fire. The fire was not set on target of any holy book. Nevertheless, rumors were spread that the holy book had been burnt. The land was indeed peaceful and the local media was reporting that the area was peaceful,” he claimed.
A fact-finding team of independent journalists and Supreme Court lawyers gathered evidence that some religious institutions and scriptures were indeed burned, but police tried to minimize the impact by insisting that journalists be allowed to visit prayer rooms and mosques. Must learn the difference between
No arrests were made, despite evidence of communal violence in the state, until the courts acted upon the “culture of impunity that the state embodies”. On the other hand, journalists and lawyers reporting “against the state” were booked under various charges.
“We used the mildest and bailable sections of the UAPA where the offenses and punishments are imprisonment up to 7 years and hence there is no need to arrest them. We did not charge them under Chapter 4 and 6 of UAPA which deals with terrorism and barred the grant of bail. Our aim was only to stop them and we did not want anyone to be denied bail,” he said in a painstaking attempt to explain the allegations and show the police force to be neutral.
Trinamool Congress accused of ‘conspiracy’
The Bilap Deb government was not only sensitive to those reporting on ground incidents, but also “hypersensitive” to the campaign challenge being posed by the TMC.
They arrested youth leader Shyoni Ghosh only for chanting “khela hobe” and were charged with attempt to murder.
Any report against the state was perceived as a “TMC conspiracy”, which threatened the cautionary tale of the incumbent government building about itself to win municipal elections in the state.