New Delhi: Assam journalist Milan Mahanta, 42, who was allegedly attacked by a group of assailants Sunday afternoon in Kamrup district, claims he was assaulted for his reportage on local gambling and land-grabbing activities. He works with the leading Assamese daily Pratidin.
“I angered the local goons — Sanjay Thakuria, Budu Thakuria and Diganta Das. They not only gamble but also indulge in land-grabbing activities. I reported on them and they were angry that I brought their activities into focus,” he told ThePrint in an interview from hospital, where he is recovering from his injuries.
“Local residents also know these goons and how they have disturbed the law and order situation in the whole area.”
A video of the suspected attack, showing Mahanta being tied to a pole and beaten up by five men (Mahanta said he identified only three of them), has gone viral, stoking concerns about the safety of journalists in Assam. The alleged attack came just days after a senior Assam journalist, Parag Bhuyan, was run over by a speeding vehicle in an incident many have labelled suspicious.
Local journalists claim attacks on the media fraternity in the state have increased, and have requested Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to take immediate action in the matter. Media organisations based in the state also held a protest in Guwahati Wednesday to raise their concerns.
Police say they have arrested one of the assailants allegedly involved in the attack on Mahanta — Das — adding that others are on the run.
“We are trying our best and the culprits will be punished as per law,” Parthasarathi Mahanta, Kamrup district superintendent of police, said.
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‘It was a planned attack’
According to Mahanta, he was attacked when he made a stop at a paan shop near Mirza Teeniali, a popular spot located in the heart of the town, while on his way to attend a meeting. He said the route he took that day was the same one he takes daily.
The men, Mahanta added, were already waiting for him when he arrived at the shop. He was then tied to a pole and assaulted by the men.
“Just when I was leaving the paan shop, the accused surrounded me and started beating me up. The severe blows made my head spin and, before I could realise it, my hands were tied behind the pole with a cable,” he said.
Throughout the assault, Mahanta said, the accused “kept hurling abuses”. They boasted “that they are ‘invincible’ in the area and no journalist association or police can save me”, he added.
“One has to note the audacity with which they conducted the attack on me. Their faces are visible in the video and viral photos, it happened in broad daylight,” he said.
Mahanta added that the attack was planned, citing his reports on illegal gambling activities that he claims increased during the festive season.
“The accused kept telling me that they have been waiting to teach me a lesson and use me as an example for anyone who dares to write about them.”
“They came with all the arrangements… They (the attackers) kept a car idling nearby to take me away and dump my body after lynching me. This was an attempt to kill me but it was foiled as the local residents interfered,” he added, describing how the people who tried to save him were attacked too.
In the video, the men can be heard saying that the journalist had demanded money from them, but Mahanta denied the claim, as did his five colleagues that ThePrint contacted for this report.
“It was an excuse to take their revenge on me,” Mahanta said.
A resident of Mirza, situated around 35 kilometres from Guwahati, Mahanta lives with his aged parents, two brothers, his wife and a two-year-old daughter.
He has sustained injuries on his ears, neck, back and head. Speaking to ThePrint, he said the injuries on his ears have left him scared he might lose his hearing.
‘Immediate action needed’
With the attack on Mahanta coming just days after Bhuyan’s death, journalists in Assam are outraged and concerned about their safety. Some of Bhuyan’s colleagues have suggested that his reports on certain illegal activities in the Kakopathar town of Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district may have led him to be targeted.
Guwahati Press Club president Manuj Nath said the attack on Mahanta should be treated with utmost urgency. “It is extremely unfortunate that attacks on journalists have increased in the state. If this continues, how can anyone report? We have written to the Assam Police and also requested Sarbananda Sonowal for urgent action in the matter,” Nath said.
Senior journalist Rajeev Bhattacharya said media personnel in the state need to be given protection and justice. “The attack on Mahanta attack comes just four days after Bhuyan was killed. Police need to get their act together. This pattern of attacks on media persons needs to be acted upon immediately,” Bhattacharya said.
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