At long last the bereaved family of journalist Kamala Saikia, who was murdered 18 years ago, sees a ray of hope for justice. The freedom fighter turned teacher-journalist was killed by the Ulfa on 19 August 1991 (the outfit admitted this 15 years later in an official statement). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken the inititive to go into the matter. All these years investigations had been very slow. The Prime Minister was briefed about the professional hazard of media persons in Assam — over the 20 years as many 20 editor-journalists have fallen to the bullets of anti-social elements — by the Editors Guild of India president Rajdeep Sardesai during a meeting on 14 August at the Prime Minister’s Office. Interacting with Sardesai, Dr Singh promised to take up the matter with 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.
Sardesai came to Guwahati to deliver the eighth Kamala Saikia memorial lecture on 9 August. The trust has been organising the lectures annually with the support from the Guwahati Press Club.
Sardesai, who is editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, was handed over a memorandum by the Trust expresing dismay over the tardy progress of the investigation to identify and punish the killers. Soon after the murder took place, Saikia’s family lodged an FIR with Sivasagar police station in eastern Assam. But the police closed the case on 5 September 1998 citing insufficient evidence and lack of witnesses.
Frustrated, the Saikia family appealed to the government to reopen the case. It was then handed over to the CID of Assam police. The agency interrogated many people, including some surrendered Ulfa militants like Kushal Duori, Raja Mumin, Jit Shyam and Netra Chetia. Today, except for the first named, who is an MLA, the rest are dead. The agency submitted its report in 2008 saying that it could not come to any conclusion as there was no evidence.
The eldest son of Kamala Saikia, Dhananjoy, appealed to the designated court on 27 June 2008 seeking justice. Finally the Assam police chief ordered the reopening of the case.
On 3 August 2003 a memorandum signed by editors, journalists and intellectuls, was submitted to the chief minister expressing concrn over the delay in the investigation. On 6 August 2006, the Trust, set up in 2002, submitted a memorandum to the chief minister, but there was no progress. Senior editor and president of the JKSM, Kanaksen Deka, said “It is a matter of grave concern that a journalist, who was killed to silence his critical writings against the banned outfit, has to wait for justice for all these years.” He continued, “Even today, the family and the entire media community of Assam do not have any idea whether justice will be delivered in the coming days.”
In fact, working in insurgency-infested Assam is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists. The ongoing insurgency and unrest among the youth of this region, where a number of armed outfits are fighting New Delhi for sovereignty and self-rule, pose a tremendous challenge to working journalists in the state. They are subjected to numerous threats by insurgents, surrendered militants and even the anti-insurgent security personnel from time to time.
Statistics reveal that Assam has lost a good number of dedicated editor-journalists besides Kamala Saikia. The 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 till date.
Nava Thakuriar is a Guwahati-based freelance contributor.