“They asked me which news channel I am from and when I responded, they called me a dalal (broker) and started beating me,” said journalist Ali Akbar Lashkar, 27, who was attacked Sunday evening outside the East Agartala women’s police station in Tripura West, where he had come to get a video byte from Trinamool Congress leader Kunal Ghosh.
Ali was among three journalists who were allegedly assaulted outside the police station. A woman journalist was heckled too.
Tripura West SP Manik Das and DGP V S Yadav were not available for comment.
Ali spoke to Newslaundry over the phone, as he was at the Agartala airport, waiting to go home to Kolkata after the evening that left him injured and scared. He works for the Kolkata-based Bengali news portal Ab Tak Khabar, and had only arrived in Tripura on Sunday morning, to report on the developments that followed the arrest of TMC leader Saayoni Ghosh, who was booked in a case of criminal conspiracy and attempt to murder on Saturday night.
Another FIR was registered against the TMC leader for disturbing Tripura CM and BJP leader Biplab Kumar Deb’s poll rally, where she allegedly shouted the TMC’s election slogan “khela hobe”.
Ali said the incident took place while he and other reporters were waiting to interview Kunal Ghosh about Saayoni’s arrest. Other TMC members were also present on the spot, he said.
“We had gathered outside the police station, I was holding my boom mic,” he said, “It was around 5.30-6 pm.”
“A group of nearly 200 people, many wearing helmets and carrying hockey sticks, rods and laathis, were heading towards the police station,” said Ali. “They started beating up people outside, including the TMC workers, entered the police station and started breaking things inside, even beating up police personnel.”
Ali recalled how the moment he answered questions about the news channel he worked for, he faced lathis and blows.
“My head and eye started bleeding badly and my body has multiple wounds.”
Who were these people who beat him up?
“I don’t know, the TMC people said they were associated with the BJP.”
He was also accompanied by his colleague Mamoni Bhattacharya, who was also surrounded by the mob. “Her family gave me the responsibility for her safety, I couldn’t let her get hurt,” said Ali, adding that the mob was trying to intimidate her.
“They gathered around me and they broke our boom mic into three pieces,” Mamoni told Newslaundry. “My watch was also broken fully.”
They were taken to a local hospital by the police. “They just dropped us at the hospital and left,” Ali said, adding that after receiving treatment, a group of 20 people reached the hospital and asked him if he worked for the TMC.
“I told them 'why are you asking such questions, I’m just a reporter, here to do my job',” he said, adding that he was not just scared for himself but also for the safety of his colleague Mamoni.
Mamoni told Newslaundry that a doctor gestured to them to escape and they made their way to the hospital washroom, where they had to hide for nearly an hour.
“Ali and I both started calling the people we know in Tripura,” she said, adding that they failed to get help for the hour, until a friend of hers came and escorted the two out of the hospital and to their hotel.
“The hotel staff was also terrified and told us that people might come looking for us,” said Ali. “We somehow convinced them to let us stay the night and left at the break of dawn to reach the airport.”
‘Tripura was not like this’
“This is not supposed to happen inside India, it is a republic,” Mamoni said. “We have heard such instances in Bangladesh and Pakistan but this is not supposed to happen here.”
Mentioning the recent incidents of the offices of news platforms in Tripura, including PB24 and Pratibadhi Kalam being ransacked and torched, Ali said that a sense of fear has now set in, among journalists in Tripura.
“I will never come back to Tripura again,” he said, adding that in the five years of working with his organisation, this was the first time he had come to Tripura to report. He added that local journalists in Tripura supported the two and were planning to take out a candle rally on Monday evening.
Another journalist, PTI photographer Sushanto Das, who had left the spot of the incident just minutes before the mob arrived, told Newslaundry, that in the 18 years of working as a photographer, he had not seen incidents like these. He mentioned meeting Ali at the airport on Sunday night and Monday morning.
“He was there to get the byte when the BJP workers came and beat him up with lathis,” Das said. “The BJP supporters, some of whom came on bikes, started beating everyone who came in front of them.”
“Tripura was not like this,” he said, “In the past, two journalists in Tripura have been killed too, but this is a different atmosphere.”
Two other journalists, Miltan Dhar and Bapan Das, working for news portals News Vanguard and Times24, respectively, were also attacked in the violence.
Bapan, who was trying to escape when the mob arrived, was caught on his way, by a member of the mob, “who had worn a helmet and covered his face with a cloth”. He said he was hit on his head with a lathi, and his neck was also injured.
“Naturally, we are all scared for our lives,” he said, while it is all a part of his job, his wife and two kids will be left stranded without him.
Miltan told Newslaundry that, while he was trying to run into the police station as the mob arrived, he felt a heavy blow with a bamboo stick landing on his leg.
“In this whole matter between the two political parties BJP and TMC, we are being sandwiched while doing our job,” said Miltan.
What do the politicians say?
Nabendu Bhattacharjee, the state spokesperson of the BJP told Newslaundry, that members of the party were present on the spot, but for another purpose.
“The TMC people are saying that our members went inside the police station, no one did,” he said. “Whatever incident has happened, was outside the police station.”
“BJP workers had gone to the spot to protest and raise slogans against the TMC members who were arrested, including Saayoni and other TMC people arrested in a chit-fund fraud,” said Bhattacharjee.
He said that BJP senior leadership then directed them to return from the spot and “TMC goons” from Bengal, he said, attacked the BJP workers, after which, an “altercation” happened. He denied that the BJP workers were carrying rods, but said they just had “flags” with them.
As for journalists being beaten up, he said, “We held a press conference yesterday and expressed grief for the journalists who got injured in the altercation,” he said, adding that the BJP will provide help for their treatment, if required.
Newslaundry called TMCs Kunal Ghosh to seek his comments on what ensued on Sunday evening.
“I am entering a meeting now and the situation here is very tense. I can’t talk right now,” he said. Newslaundry sent him a list of queries. This report will be updated if a response is received.
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