On the evening of April 17, the house of the Shillong Times editor, Patricia Mukhim, came under attack. According to the police, two unidentified persons hurled a kerosene bomb at it around 8.35 pm.
No one was injured and apart from a small blackened patch of wall, there was no damage to property, said Shillong superintendent of police Davis Marak. “A case has been registered, but we have not made arrests yet,” said the police officer. “Preliminary investigations have revealed that two men on a motorbike had hurled the bomb, but they could not be identified.”
Marak said that the police had not ruled out the possibility that Mukhim’s house being attacked for what “she has written or said”.
The written word
Mukhim was in the house at the time of the attack. The editor said she could not “pinpoint any group or any threat from any quarter” as she wrote on a range of issues which are “troubling for society”.
The recent attacks on journalists in India, Mukhim said, pointed towards a “culture of impunity”. “The target is journalists so that we fall in line,” she said. “This is a message that is being sent to us – that you don’t take up any issues. That’s why many now toe the line. But I think there are still many journalists who believe in the power of the pen and continue to write.”
Other editors echoed the belief that Mukhim had been attacked for her journalism. Monalisa Changkija, editor of the Dimapur-based daily, Nagaland Page, said it was an obvious attempt to intimidate the editor. The fact that Mukhim’s detractors chose to express their dissent by hurling a crude bomb at her house, Changkija said, pointed to their lack of ability to engage with her intellectually.
A dangerous region
While journalists across the country have faced attacks in the last few years, the states of the North East are particularly perilous. Just last year, two journalists were killed in Tripura. First, Santanu Bhowmik, who worked for an Agartala-based news channel, was hacked to death while covering a road blockade by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. Then, Sudip Datta Bhaumik, a 51-year-old crime reporter, was shot dead at the Tripura State Rifles’ 2nd battalion headquarters. The police arrested the battalion commandant for the murder.
In Assam, the government recently announced compensation for the families of 32 journalists murdered in the last three decades. Militancy, land mafias and drug cartels had made the state a dangerous place to work in.
“One is only too aware of the atmosphere and environment of threats and insecurity in which we work here in the North East but one learns to live with them and pretend one is safe,” said Changkija, reflecting on her own experiences as a woman journalist in the region. “Besides, anywhere in the world, this atmosphere and environment of threats and insecurity comes with the Fourth Estate’s turf.”
Tongam Rina, associate editor of the Arunachal Times, said the attack on Mukhim was a sign of the times. “Imagine the audacity of the attackers. There is such disregard of the system that criminals hop on to their bikes and hurl bombs at the home of one of India’s leading editors,” she said.
Rina herself was once shot at outside her office. Did she still feel like doing what she did after almost having to pay with her life? “I don’t think any journalist feels absolutely safe anywhere in today’s India,” she said. One absolutely feels the suffocation – unwritten, unspoken threats from almost every corner. Journalists are aware of consequences of reporting. It’s no different in North East.”