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Newsroom In Tripura Ransacked, Allegedly By BJP Goons

All the channel’s equipment was destroyed in the attack and the channel can barely function now.

Agartala, Tripura: Never did 32-year old Ayub Sarkar, chief editor of Tripura-based Duranta TV, imagine that a video clip his local cable-news channel gave the police to aid an investigation would get them into trouble two years later.

On March 28 at 11.08 pm, unidentified miscreants—carrying with iron rods and sticks, their faces covered—entered the channel’s office in Udaipur, Gomati district. What followed next was a 5-minute rampage in which the hooligans destroyed equipment and furniture.

This was the third such attack on the media in Tripura in the six months prior to state elections, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) toppled the CPM-led government. According to Sarkar’s FIR, the assaulters broke nine CCTV cameras, three computers, two professional cameras, 2 mini DV cameras and decamped with computers and printers.

“Most of us had left for the day and only a couple of security guards and a few staff members were present when our office was attacked,” says a shocked Sarkar. Although the attackers have not been identified, Sarkar believes it to be the handiwork of the same criminals who had attacked a police convoy two years ago.

The incident captured by a video-journalist employed by Duranta TV was later used by the police to nab the culprits who were involved in the attack. “I think they were trying to exact revenge on us for what we did to them two years ago,” says Sarkar. “I strongly believe that these criminals have some political affiliation to the ruling party, otherwise no one would have dared to enter a media house and ransack its property.”

The police are reluctant to speak on the incident. Although a first information report (FIR) has been lodged and investigations are on, not much headway has been achieved in the case.

“You need to understand that it is extremely hard to identify the miscreants from their body structure. All of them had their faces covered and knew exactly where the CCTV cameras were located. They very well knew what they were doing, and their motive was clear – first break the CCTVs and then damage as much property quickly,” says Partha Sarathi Paul, officer in charge of the RK Pur police station.

Sarkar disagrees. “The people responsible for ransacking our office have been identified. However, none of them have been arrested so far. We fear that even if they are arrested they will be let off easily as most of them who were involved in the incident are members of the ruling party,” insists Sarkar, who is also the vice president of the Gomati District Journalists Association.

According to Sarkar, these people belonged to a different political party prior to elections but had joined the BJP recently. He says it’s a common practice in Tripura where people often change their political affiliation to benefit from being associated with the ruling party.

Sarkar says the video footage submitted by the channel to the police helped them capture those responsible for the attack on the police convoy. Prior to the office attack, these people would often threaten staff with dire consequences and prevent them from filming and filing stories in the area.

Sarkar says almost all the channel’s equipment was destroyed in the attack and the channel can barely function now. Duranta TV has asked its reporters to shoot stories on their phone cameras and rented digital video cameras. Sarkar estimates the loss to be around Rs 9 to 10 lakh. The channel management has sought a loan from a local bank to replace the equipment. He fears the financial loss could also impact the channel management’s ability to pay employees on time and might result in pay cuts to tide over the situation.

(Pranjal Sarma is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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