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The girl with a brave heart

Chow Bilaseng Namchoom

Quiz any wannabe journalist in Arunachal Pradesh as to whom they consider their ‘idol’ and perhaps this is the name that you will hear the most. She is very much a humble soul and carries no arrogant air around her. She is the sort of person who would never give you the chance to feel uncomfortable around her. She is one lady who can truly be termed as the perfect combination of beauty with brains. She is none other than the girl with a brave heart Tongam Rina, the associate editor in the first and one of the oldest English newspapers of the frontier state ‘The Arunachal Times’.

The daughter of Mrs. Banyak Rina and Mr. Kento Rina, Tongam has been around, breaking and covering major news stories almost since the very advent of journalism in Arunachal Pradesh. What strikes your attention at first glance at the ‘The Arunachal Times’ is her column the RINGSIDE VIEW. Her columns in the RINGSIDE VIEW are so precise and written in a lively, exciting and attention-catching style which has earned her universal adulation. Aside from satisfying the public insatiable thirst for news and analysis Tongam’s column ‘RINGSIDE VIEW’ with its extensive and resilient communications infrastructure also serves as a vehicle for public safety and business information, supplementing government and corporate channels or serving as the primary vehicle.

Although she was attacked, harassed and opposed for her views, Tongam continued ‘to speak, to write and to publish whatever [she pleased] on any subject’. A role model for women journalists the brave defender of freedom of the press, Tongam in yet another incident of violence was waylaid and shot by two men, the bullet tearing through her stomach and hitting her vertebrae. She was shot at from point blank range by an unidentified gunman around 6.16 pm while she was about to enter her office premises. She was immediately rushed to Ramakrishna Mission Hospital Itanagar, where she remained in intensive care and is said to have sustained serious injuries to the spinal cord and intestines. But Tongam being Tongam, she just woke up after surgery and asked for a glass of beer. That’s her, courageous of spirit and action, just like her writing. The reason behind the attack is unknown, though Rina has reportedly received threats in the past.

Threats would be a common feature for her for years. Those threatening her would call her, send her messages, and try their best to intimidate her. However, Tongam couldn’t care less. She would soldier on, the intrepid reporter chasing every lead that came her way.

Extremely moved by the tremendous amount of support and goodwill extended to them by people from across Arunachal and from the country and abroad, it has been a moving moment for Rina’s parents who had a heart-wrenching experience to see the love and affection that their daughter Tongam has received.

The People’s Governor Gen (Retd) J.J Singh and Chief Minister Nabam Tuki – in tandem with the sentiment of the civil society strongly condemned the incident through which Rina sustained the bullet injury. Expressing his deep anguish over the attack on Rina, the Governor termed it as “an act of cowardice” and “an attack on the freedom of the media.” Conveying his concern to the Chief Minister, the Governor said that the people’s confidence should be strengthened. “Those involved in this shameful act should be arrested as soon as possible and made to face the law of the land,” said the Governor even as he appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.

 Tongam Rina being admitted for medical care Chief Minister Nabam Tuki held a high - level security meeting with the state police chief and other top-ranking administrative officials to assess the situation. He condemned the attack in the strongest of terms saying “An attack on the media is an attack on the people and therefore, an attack on the government.” Tuki, who is also the Minister in-charge of Home, made it crystal clear to the law enforcing officials that no matter what, the person responsible for pulling the trigger on the journalist has to be arrested and punished. The Chief Minister also directed the Chief Secretary to sound a red - alert in and around the state capital complex and launch an extensive manhunt to nab the culprit. A case has been registered at the Itanagar police station and a non-bailable arrest warrant issued against the unknown gunman. He also said that the government will bear all expenses of her treatment.

DGP Kanwaljeet Deol informed that ITBP and CRPF personnel are assisting the state police in the manhunt. All entry and exist points to the state capital had been sealed. The Arunachal Pradesh government announced a cash award of `2 lakh for providing clues to identify the person who shot Tongam in Itanagar recently. “Anybody who can provide us a lead to identify the culprit will be rewarded with the amount and his or her identity will be concealed,” said Capital Complex SP Hibu Tamang.

Deeply concerned about journalist Tongam Rina’s well-being, a US - based media watchdog has asked authorities to investigate the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice. “We are deeply concerned about Tongam Rina’s well - being and wish her a swift recovery,” said Bob Dietz, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia program coordinator. “Journalists working in the north east states of India are vulnerable to attacks that too often go unpunished. We urge police in Arunachal Pradesh to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Dietz said in a statement.

India is ranked 131st out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters without Borders press freedom index.

After more than 72-hours of the brutal attack, police with their perseverance, zeal and dedication and with the help of the civil society apprehended 10 accused in the April 15 attack and vandalism on the Arunachal Times office on July 25th. Those arrested were given a 14-day police remand by the local magistrate, the SP Hibu Tamang informed, adding that Itanagar PS case No 86/2012 was registered u/s 454, 427/34 IPC-all non-bailable sections - before launching the investigation. Police also suspect that the same group may be linked to the July 15 assassination attempt on journalist Tongam Rina while she was entering her office. SP Hibu Tamang disclosed that the modus operendi was the same in both the cases, and both incidents occurred on a Sunday. He, however, refused to divulge the names saying that more arrests and disclosures, particularly on the possible link between the two cases, are expected during the interrogation.

For months, journalists in Itanagar and her paper had been at the receiving end of several threats. Her office was ransacked by unidentified people on April 15th and several of her colleagues had been receiving death threats. After the attack, The Arunachal Times took the unprecedented decision to suspend publication for a day on June 17th as a mark of protest and refuse all government releases till the culprits are brought to book.

For Tongam, also the president of the Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, this is her finest moment. The attack has fired up her colleagues to take on the threats and keep writing with the same courage that she has graced the pages of her newspaper. It is hoped by the news lovers that her column RINGSIDE VIEW appears again and that her pen returns to the newsroom soon to prove that the Pen is mightier than the Sword.