Guwahati: Thirty-year-old TV journalist Kabir Mondal was on Wednesday forced to bow down his head in front of AIUDF chief and Lok Sabha MP Maulana Badruddin Ajmal and say ‘sorry’ in front of hundreds at a function in lower Assam’s South Salmara district. His fault: asking the lawmaker a few ‘tough’ questions.
Ajmal, also a the perfume baron, was caught on camera abusing Mondal after the scribe questioned him over his party’s stand in the ensuing general elections slated next year. The veteran leader lost his temper and went on using foul language for him.
“My job is to ask the tough questions. Being a seasoned lawmaker, he could have easily avoided my question if it was unpleasant for him. But instead, he abused me and also threatened to break my head. His violent outburst immediately encouraged the supporters of All India United Democratic Front who wanted to thrash me if I didn’t apologise. Frightened and outnumbered, I had to say sorry,” said Mondal, who later filed a police complaint.
Condemned and slammed for his behaviour from all parts of the country, Ajmal subsequently apologised for the episode. He tweeted, “Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and I have always respected media persons and everyone knows that. I have sincere regards for them. The Mankachar incident was an unintentional aberration and I sincerely apologise for that to all concerned.”
His online apology, however, could not save him. The incident triggered protests across the state and in Delhi. While political rivals took a jibe at him, the journalist fraternity came out in large numbers in the state and protested the incident by wearing black badges. Effigies of the minority leader were burnt at many locations across the state, in addition to FIRs against him. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader Akhil Gogoi demanded his immediate arrest.
Backing the journalist, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi stated, “It’s unacceptable on the part of a lawmaker. Ajmal is not an ordinary person but an MP. How can a political leader of this stature use such foul language and attack the media? The government must act.”
The incident comes just a month after Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a Manipur-based journalist, was detained under the National Security Act (NSA) for criticising the Manipur government as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Facebook video.
Although Wangkhem’s detention was challenged in the Manipur High Court and objections were raised by top bodies like the Indian Journalist Union (IJU), the Press Council of India and South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN), Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh asserted that those in power cannot be abused on the pretext of ‘freedom of speech’.
Singh said, “Though the constitution of India has guaranteed freedom of speech, every individual must exercise their rights within limits. If you think you can say anything to those in power, you can’t. Abusing the Prime Minister is not acceptable.”
However, these were not isolated incidents of attacks and atrocities against journalists in the region. Last year, too, two Tripura-based journalists — Shantanu Bhoumik and Sudip Datta Bhaumik — were allegedly killed under political patronage.
“These instances were examples of erosions of moral values amongst our leaders and politicians. Those in power can’t tolerate any criticism nowadays. The standard of our politicians was exposed from time to time during the parliament sessions when these leaders were seen cheap quarrelling and even vandalising the parliament house. People with criminal cases have been flooding our politics,” said Haider Hussain, political analyst and veteran journalist.
Criminal backgrounds of the politicians in the country can be easily gauged in the report of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organisation working on electoral and political reform, which revealed that around 33 per cent of the legislators in India’s Parliament and state assemblies have criminal cases pending against them.
“The region, especially Assam, has been one of the most dangerous places in India for journalists. Militants, mafia and sometimes ‘unknown’ forces have been targeting the media fraternity for decades. In Assam alone, some 30 journalists have been killed since 1991 and sadly, none of the investigations into these killings has reached a logical conclusion so far,” said Nava Thakuria, senior journalist and secretary of Guwahati Press Club.
Journalist groups in Assam have been asking for a specific law to protect the journalists on duty from assault and abuse, but the demand continues to remain unheard. “Had there been a journalist protection law, Ajmal would have faced stern action rather than only facing criticism,” said Electronic Media Forum Assam (EMFA) in a statement on Thursday. Joining the demand, the United Television Media Association (UTMA) also shot memorandums to Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.