India: Paramilitary Officer, Bodyguard Arrested Over Journalist’s Killing

Jhumur Deb
Guwahati, India
171122-IN-Bhowmik-1000 Indian journalists stand by the body of slain crime reporter Sudip Datta Bhowmik during his funeral in Agartala, Tripura, Nov. 22, 2017.

Indian police said Wednesday they had arrested a paramilitary officer and his private bodyguard in connection with the killing of a Bengali-language journalist in the northeastern state of Tripura a day earlier.

Sudip Datta Bhowmik, a crime reporter for the leading Bengali daily Syandan Patrika, was shot dead when he went to interview Tapan Debbarman, a commandant at the Tripura State Rifles (TSR), at the headquarters of the counter-insurgency paramilitary force, about 30 km (18.6 miles from) state capital Agartala, police said.

“We arrested Tapan Debbarman this morning. His personal bodyguard, Nanda Reang, who allegedly fired at Bhowmik with his AK-47 was arrested yesterday,” Tripura Superintendent of Police Abhijit Saptarishi told BenarNews. The state rifles are attached to the police force.

Reang claimed he opened fire because the journalist tried to snatch his rifle, Saptarishi said.

“[Bhowmik] was shot dead inside the TSR commander’s office by Reang after the two had an argument and scuffled over some issue,” he said.

But Bhowmik’s killing appeared to be pre-meditated, said Syandan Patrika’s editor, Subal Kumar Dey. He demanded a high-level probe into the incident that has led to protests across Tripura, where Bengali-speaking immigrants are looked down upon by local tribes.

Bhowmik had done a series of exposes on corruption in Tripura’s police battalion, which “seemed to have irked the TSR commander, who enjoys the support of the state’s ruling left-wing government,” Dey told BenarNews.

“Bhowmik went to meet Debbarman at his office about noon after obtaining an appointment. During the meeting, both of them had an altercation regarding a news item published in our paper, following which Debbarman ordered his security guard to open fire,” Dey alleged, while citing information obtained from his sources.

‘Growing violence against journalists’

Bhowmik’s killing followed on the heels of the killing of another Tripura-based journalist, Shantanu Bhowmick (no relation), who was allegedly mutilated by a mob on Sept. 20 while covering clashes between police and the state’s warring political groups, near Agartala.

“Even though the two incidents are unrelated, they indicate a common trend of growing violence against journalists. The intolerance toward what journalists write is growing. And we feel a lot of pressure if we want to publish the truth,” Mannosh Paul, executive editor of the Tripura Times, told BenarNews.

At least 10 journalists have been killed this year alone in India, the world’s most populous democracy, which ranks 136 among 180 countries on the latest World Press Freedom Index.

At least 40 journalists have been killed in India since 1992, according to date released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In September, senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down by unidentified men outside her home in Bengaluru amid widespread speculation that she was targeted for her outspoken criticism of rightwing politics. No arrests have been made in the case so far.

“No government in India has been an ardent champion of press freedom. Small-town journalists, even if a handful, [who] work for big media, will often find themselves alone and abandoned when trouble strikes,” the CPJ said in a 2015 report.


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