Millennium Post

Free the press

A free press is essential to determine the performance and consistency of any given democracy. In India, this right to freedom of speech has been curtailed time and again, from different corners that threaten the integral role that the press plays in moderating and conveying information relevant to citizens. On Tuesday, we witnessed the unfortunate death of Sudip Datta Bhowmik, a senior journalist with the Syandan Patrika, a leading Bengali newspaper in Agartala. He was shot dead by a Tripura State Rifles constable at the 2nd battalion campus of the forces in Agartala. As the consequence of an altercation between Bhowmick and the office staff, the former was shot and his body was recovered from the parade ground, 50 metres from the commandant's chamber.

The commandant, Tapan Debbarma, is said to have called Bhowmik into his office after the journalist had written several stories exposing Debbarma's corruption. The constable, Nanda Reang, was duly arrested as investigations are still underway. This year we witnessed the unfortunate death of Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered under suspicious circumstances. Evidence and reactions pointed to the fact that her assault was the result of her strong anti-establishment voice of dissent. Time and again journalists have been assaulted or worse murdered for simply performing their role. This spells out ill, especially for the world's largest democracy. The idea of a democracy is essentially to accommodate each independent voice, no matter how critical it is to those holding ostensible positions of power. The murder of journalists is a harsh speck on the country's performance and image on the global radar.

To accept diversity is indeed a challenge and its fruits can never be borne by the harsh elimination of every fragment that doesn't adhere to the status quo. In 2015, Jagendra Singh of UP was set on fire outside his home for speaking out against illegal mining. Similarly, freelancer Sandeep Kothari's life was cut short by three men who were allegedly involved in cases of illegal mining. These instances not only tarnish the possibility of India being a revered democracy but it is also a weapon to instil fear in the minds of voices that do not adhere to the established norm—even if that norm is wrapped in illegality and corruption.

The instance of Bhowmik's murder not only highlights the disintegration of acceptance but also the freehand that the armed forces use to sabotage lives for their benefit. The misuse of AFSPA in the North-East has been repeatedly highlighted in the past with Irome Sharmila continuing her fight against this institutional bloodbath. Yet, not much seems to have changed as the armed forces continue to overemphasise their power and misuse their guns. To progress as a nation, each voice must be accommodated and unlawful killing has to be condemned. Without the freedom of press, we will be shackled in the chains of primitivity.

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