India

BBC journalist's 'typically Indian' beating

Amarnath Tewary
Image caption Amarnath Tewary was subjected to a prolonged assault in a public area

Last month journalist Amarnath Tewary, a BBC contributor in the Indian state of Bihar, was beaten up by a baseball bat-wielding gang as he was tending to his roses in the gardens of his flat. Amarnath Tewary suffered severe bruising and cuts in an attack he says was carried out by members of the local Bharatiya Janata Party party. Police have so far made no progress in tracing his assailants, and the exact motives for the assault are not entirely clear. Here he describes events in the run-up to, and aftermath of, the attack.

You might expect that as the BBC correspondent in Bihar I would only be assaulted for exposing large-scale wrongdoing.

But, if the police are to be believed, the truth to my assault is much more trivial than that.

They say that I was assaulted because of my criticism of the inept running of the management association of the block of flats where I live.

That may be true, but what they have refrained from mentioning is that the target of my disdain just so happens to be a leading local member of India's BJP party who has in the past been the subject of my reports about the scourge of corruption in Bihar.

Harsher punishments

My ordeal began on a quiet Indian winter's day two weeks ago, when I was watering the plants in the gardens of the block of flats where I live in Patna, the state capital of Bihar.

The scene was in many respects quintessentially Indian, both in the tranquillity of this night-time pursuit and in the sudden and brutal violence that ended it.

Absorbed in the gardening, I only half-noticed a group of people - some armed and some carrying baseball bats - had suddenly surrounded me.

They set upon me, raining blows in a prolonged assault. I received injuries to my face, chest and legs. But by Indian standards, I suppose I got off lightly.

I have no doubts as to who was responsible for the attack. It was orchestrated by the local political leader who has, for some reason, taken a dislike to me - either because of disagreements over the running of the management association or because she disliked the overall tenor of my political reporting. I suspect the latter is a far more credible explanation.

Similar but far harsher punishments have been meted out on countless occasions to braver individuals in India who are courageous enough to take on politicians and big business.

They are often forcefully removed, usually without much subtlety and usually without the police wanting to get involved.

I am determined not to let my attack wear me down.

In some ways I was more concerned about my broken plant pots and the long-nurtured plants they contained.

Reign of terror

The police investigation has ground to a halt.

Image caption Nitish Kumar has made progress in turning Bihar into a more developed and less lawless state

I cannot help thinking that this can only be because the politician I believe organised the attack - who denies any involvement - is an influential member of the BJP, a junior partner in Bihar's coalition government.

The police response can only be described as lethargic. It not only took more than 12 days to send an officer to the scene of the crime, but they also turned a blind eye to what I believe is a blatant intimidation campaign against me and potential witnesses at the housing complex where I live.

A group of heavies - all associated with the perpetrator of the attack - have begun patrolling the area, creating what in effect is a reign of terror to bring pressure for the allegations to be dropped.

But there is some good news.

The assault has received saturation coverage in the press, creating such a stir that even Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has personally pledged to take action.

Mr Kumar has over the years earned himself a creditable reputation for re-introducing the rule of law in Bihar, a state that is still known as one of the most lawless in India.

Bihar to many people is synonymous with murder and extortion, its fertile soil the scene of bloody caste wars. The Economist described it as a place which "everybody avoided visiting and dreaded becoming".

Mr Kumar has said he wants to restore Bihar's reputation - it was supposed to be the place where Buddha attained enlightenment and was at the forefront of India's freedom struggle against the British.

But before Bihar can be restored to its golden age, violent attacks with impunity will need to be forever consigned to the past.

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