CPM PUBLICITY DRIVE: Cadres break reporter’s arm – CM responds: I don’t know – great way to consolidate public opinion by attacking Bengal’s 4th Estate – with sticks and stones, illiterate power and a lost consensus ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY PRONAB MONDAL
Seven journalists, including a reporter and photographer of The Telegraph, were pulled out of a car and assaulted with rods on Friday while they were returning from an assignment to cover the CPM’s “recapture” of Dharampur in Lalgarh.
The attack took place in Pirakata area, specifically Chandra, about 40km away from Dharampur. From the way the attackers obeyed the orders of local CPM leaders, it was apparent that they were supporters of the party, which has been trying to contest charges that it is running armed camps in the region.
Later, in Midnapore town, it was diagnosed that the left forearm of Pronab Mondal, principal correspondent with The Telegraph, was fractured. Photographer Amit Datta was injured in the elbow.
Mondal, with his broken arm in a sling, filed over a borrowed phone a news report on Friday evening, completing his assignment despite the attack. Mondal also filed a first-person account, which appears below.
The first blow came from the back. As I slumped to the ground, I could hear the abuses being hurled at me.
“Cut his hands so he can’t write any more copies,” said one of the men towering over me, the red flags of the CPM fluttering in the background. “So he wants to report on harmad (mercenary) camps! Show him what the harmads are like.” (Harmad is a term the Trinamul Congress frequently uses to describe armed CPM cadres.)
Alarmed at the brutality and the suddenness of the attack, I feebly said that we would go back but nobody was in a mood to listen. More blows and abuses followed.
“Let’s smash his head, nobody would know.” As a man raised an iron rod and swung it fiercely towards my head, I raised a protective left arm, letting the rod smash against it.
For a moment I blacked out.
Seven of us, our photographer Amit Datta, and five other journalists from STAR Ananda and Times Now, had left Dharampur, reclaimed by the CPM on Friday, about two hours earlier, around 12.45 this afternoon.
After covering the events in Dharampur from where the CPM had fled last June and returned victorious yesterday, we decided to verify information we had received about the presence of armed CPM camps in Chandra, about 40km away.
We set out in two cars, a Scorpio and an Innova, and 15km down the Lalgarh-Pirakata road, we hit Rameshwarpur, a Maoist stronghold. Finding it devoid of Maoist presence, I wondered if the armed CPM camps, of which I had heard so much and one of which I had seen in Enayatpur, had moved so close to the Maoist heartland of Lalgarh.
We decided not to stop but to push ahead as we wanted to return to Midnapore town before sundown. Around 2.30pm, we reached a police checkpost at Pirakata, from where Chandra is less than 1km away. At the checkpost, the police asked us about our identities and where we planned to go. When we informed them that we were going to Chandra, they waved us through.
We had barely travelled half a km when we saw a couple of closed shops with the CPM’s red flags fluttering atop, a clear sign that the party had reclaimed territory here. As we neared the shops, four young men in trousers and shirts approached us.
The conversation between the men and us went something like this:
Men: “Where are you going?”
Us: “We are from the press.”
Men (more belligerent by now): “Go back”
Men (again): “No, we won’t let you go back. Give us your cameras.”
By now we had begun to smell trouble — and liquor —in their breath.
More men then emerged as though from nowhere and began smashing our cars with rods, sticks and bamboos. The windscreens and windowpanes instantly became crumbled glass.
“We are not going to leave you alive, we will cut you into pieces and bury you here in the jungles,” shouted one of the men.
Another screamed: “Know who we are? We are Kishanji’s fathers! Write as much about the harmad’s camps as you want to.”
Through the smashed window panes, the men, who seemed to number about 25 by then, started beating us with rods and sticks. They pulled us out of the two cars and started beating us up and demanded our cellphones and our cameras.
Photographer Datta, anticipating that our belongings would eventually be snatched, had taken his camera out of his bag and kicked it under the seat of the car.
“I knew this was bound to happen,” Datta said. “So I dropped my camera to the floor of the car and kicked it under the seat. When they asked for our cameras, I just handed over my bag which contained some lenses.”
The beating then continued for the next 10 minutes, by which time the iron rod swung at me had fractured my left arm. All the others, including the drivers of the two cars, suffered injuries of varying degrees, most of them on their arms while protecting themselves from the blows.
After a while the attackers stopped and said that for “justice to be delivered”, they would call their netas. The leaders were called on their cellphones and within a few minutes, they appeared, one in shirt and trousers and the other wearing pyjamas and kurta.
They were later identified by a local journalist with us, Amitava Rath of STAR Ananda, as Madhusudan Mahato (shirt and trousers), a local committee secretary of Pirakata, and Jagannath Mahato, a CPM leader of Salboni.
The two leaders asked the men who were beating us to immediately stop and leave the spot, which they obediently did.
Then the two apologised, saying: “Please don’t mind. These are the outpourings of the anger of local villagers.”
They directed a few of their cadres to return the cameras and cellphones that had been snatched from us. In a few minutes, our belongings were returned but not three cellphones.
One of the leaders, taking some money out of his pocket, said: “Please accept this on behalf of our party. This will help pay for the missing phones and the damage to the cars. See, we are CPM men who have been able to return to our territory after a long time.”
When we refused the money, he said: “After all that has happened, we would have been happy if you did accept it.”
He told us to get into our cars but leave only under the escort they would provide. Soon, we were following two motorcycles through the village.
As we passed, my last image of the place was the Buripal Primary School which had been turned into a fortress by the CPM. Sandbags protected the building and armed men milled around. Red flags fluttered all around.
At least we got to see an armed CPM camp that we had come looking for.