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  Asia-Pacific
Northeast India: Waiting for Justice for 18 Years and On
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Northeast India: Waiting for Justice for 18 Years and On

Finally the bereaved family of journalist Kamala Saikia, who was murdered by separatist militants 18 years back, has seen a ray of hope. The Assam-based freedom fighter turned teacher-journalist, Saikia fell prey to the conspiracy of the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA, which admitted to it 15 years later in an official statement) on August 9 1991. After all these years, with the investigation process taking its own time, the Indian Prime Minister has promised to take initiative on the process to nab Saikia's killers.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was briefed about the professional hazard posed to media persons in Assam - where more than 20 editor-journalists lost their lives to various anti-social elements in the last two decades - by the Editors Guild of India President Rajdeep Sardesai during a meeting on August 14 in the Prime Minister's Office.

Interacting with the Editor’s Guild President, Dr Singh assured the guild that he would raise the matter with the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi once again. Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha, also expressed his willingness to meet a delegation from the Kamala Saikia Memorial Trust during his next visit to Guwahati.

It needs to be mentioned here that Sardesai had come to Guwahati to deliver the 8th Kamala Saikia memorial lecture on August 9 to commemorate the death anniversary of Saikia. The Kamala Saikia Trust has been organising the memorial lectures annually with the support from Guwahati Press Club. Rajdeep Sardesai, who is the Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN, was handed over a memorandum by the JKSM trust during his stay in Guwahati. Soon after the murder, the family members of Saikia lodged an FIR at Sivasagar police station in Eastern Assam.

But the police closed the case on September 5, 1998 citing insufficient evidence and witnesses. The inaction on the part of police created huge public fury and shocked the media fraternity of Assam. Frustrated at the development, Saikia’s family appealed to the government to re-investigate the case. The case was then handed over to the CID of
Assam police.

The investigating agency interrogated many individuals including some former ULFA militants including Kushal Duori, Raja Mumin, Jit Shyam, and Netra Chetia. Today, except for Kushal Duori, who is now an MLA from Assam, all three are dead. The agency submitted its report in 2008 saying that they could not arrive at any conclusion as there were no such evidence against the accused. Following this, the eldest son of Kamala Saikia, Dhananjoy, appealed to the designated court on June 27 2008, seeking justice. Finally, the Assam police chief was ordered to re-open the case and re-investigate the issue.

A prompt investigation into this case was demanded and a memorandum was submitted to the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi on August 3 2003. Over 30 editors, journalists and intellectuals signed the memorandum, which expressed resentment against the fact that even 12 years after Saikia’s assassination, no visible progress had been made
on the investigation. Later the Journalist Kamala Saikia Memorial Trust, established in 2002, once again submitted a memorandum to the chief minister on August 6 2006 on the same issue, but no visible outcome resulted. “It is a matter of grave concern that the family of a journalist, who was killed to stop his critical writings against the banned outfit, has had to wait for justice for all these long years,” said Kanaksen Deka, a Senior Editor and the President of JKSM Trust, adding, “Even today, the family and the entire media community of Assam do not have any idea, if justice will be delivered in the coming days.”

In fact, working in insurgency stricken Assam is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists. The ongoing insurgency and unrest among the youth of this region, where a number of armed outfits have been fighting New Delhi on various demands varying from sovereignty to self-rule, put tremendous challenges on the journalists based in the State. They are subjected to numerous threats from insurgents, surrendered militants and even the anti-insurgent security personnel.

The statistics reveal that the trouble-torn State has lost a good number of dedicated editor-journalists besides Kamala Saikia. Other victims include Deepak Swargiary, Kundarmal Agarwala, Manik Deuri, Prarag Kumar Das, Ratneswar Sarma Shastri, Nurul Haque, Jogesh Uzir, Dineswar Brahma, Girija Das, Monikan Das, Ranbir Roy, Prahlad Gowala, Maslimuddin Ahmed, Bodosa Narzary, Jagajit Saikia, and Anil Majumder. Shockingly, not a single perpetrator has been punished to date.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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