A senior Commanding Officer from the Assam Rifles, his wife and child, and four others were killed in an ambush in the India-Myanmar border area in Manipur in what was once a hotbed of underground armed militancy. This is a huge tragedy for the uniformed personnel posted in the sensitive border, with scores of underground organizations operating out of the twilight zones in the Myanmar border. Myanmar, anyway, is currently under a military dictatorship yet again after a coup which ousted its democratic icon, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, and put her in prison on flimsy charges. The country is now torn between a repressive and ruthless regime with hundreds of people, dissenters and journalists in prison, and several armed resistance groups operating across the country, especially in the border states, like in the Chin state bordering India.
The two organizations which have claimed responsibility for the killings in Manipur have been lying dormant for many years – their sudden terrorist act therefore requires a comprehensive explanation in a state with several underground groups operating with different ideologies, many surviving on nothing but extortion and by using the fear of the gun on innocent people in the remote interiors. Indeed, this is perhaps the first time that a wife and child of an officer have been killed with such brutal intent. Clearly, it requires immediate and long-term attention of the state and central government, even while the families of the dead and their friends and relatives, and the nation, mourns the tragic loss.
More bad news is coming from the Northeast with bad memories of a polarized past and multiple conflict zones, and these are ominous signs which no responsible government or civil society can ignore at its own peril. Those who are actually master-minding these diabolical and polarizing fissures, doing provocative and inflammatory acts, using divisive and sinister politics as a trump card, or indulging in violence and arson and are surely aware that they are creating a deadly volcano which can burst anytime. The border states in the Northeast have had a long history of strife, conflict and violence, including militancy and terrorism, and the social fabric can often become fragile and vulnerable. In the final run, innocents across the region are made to suffer. Hence, it is all the more important to restore peace and harmony, and follow the fundamental directives of the secular pluralist Indian Constitution, including the rule of law and the basic tenets of justice.
In Tripura, things are turning from bad to worse. Two women journalists were detained by the Assam police on the instructions of the Tripura police, before a local court granted them bail. The charges against them seem to be utterly preposterous. Earlier, some journalists and scores of social media users have been charged under a draconian law, even while certain fanatic organizations have allegedly indulged in communal violence and arson, as retaliation to the violence against Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja.
They seem to totally ignore the fact that the Awami League government in Dhaka reacted with a strong and secular response, protecting the minority community, reassuring them of their dignified status as equal citizens in the country, and clamping down on the Islamic fundamentalists with an iron hand. Such a scenario seems to be starkly absent in Tripura and many parts of contemporary India, when Right-wing vigilante groups and mobs go on the rampage or attack the minority communities. Instead, civil society activists, scholars and students, intellectuals, filmmakers and actors, and human rights activists are under assault, hounded, trolled, with many of them languishing in jail, often without trial, and perhaps on very weak evidence. There is a method in this madness, even as the loyalist media plays footsie 24X7, ignoring, both, media ethics or the ideals of objectivity and non-partisan journalism.
Now, it seems, the discredited BJP government in Tripura is setting an example by targeting journalists. Earlier, indeed, opposition politicians, including from the CPM and Trinamool Congress, had to face attacks at the hands of certain elements in the state. So why is the Tripura government running amok, and why is the Centre allowing things to move from bad to worse?
The Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) has demanded the release of two women journalists detained by Tripura and Assam Police. It has said in a statement: “The Indian Women’s Press Corps stands in solidarity with Samriddhi K. Sakunia and Swarna Jha, the two women journalists who have been harassed, intimidated and detained for doing their job.
Earlier, the Editors Guild of India had issued a strong statement on the worsening situation in Tripura, even while the Supreme Court is hearing a case on the current acts of injustice by the Tripura government. The Guild has stated that one of the journalists, Shyam Meera Singh, has alleged that he has been booked under the UAPA for merely tweeting “Tripura is burning”.
Indeed, the Tripura Police had earlier registered a case on four Supreme Court lawyers under the same stringent act and other sections of the IPC, because they were reportedly part of a fact-finding team to Tripura. Now journalists are under the scanner.
Surely, the ruling dispensation is aware of the ramifications of this continuous process of throttling of freedom of expression and the basic principles of secular democracy. The point is, will it continue to bulldoze without such impunity, or choose to change its stance, introspect, and restore the faith of the entire society in the secular social fabric, the rule of law and justice, and the non-partisan and fair conduct of a secular Indian State under the directive principles of the Indian Constitution. Surely, they should know that if the North-east starts simmering again, it will be difficult to reverse the situation. Therefore, it’s time to change the narrative, and without losing a moment.