Why was Chaitali killed?

Felled by a parcel bomb, her death focuses, yet again, on the dangers faced by the activist-journalist.

Mystery shrouds the gruesome killing of Chaitali Santra,a freelance journalist-cum-human rights activist by a  bomb in a parcel she was opening exploded in the back bedroom of her large three-storey home in a quiet bylane in Howrah's Bakshala neighbourhood on September 26.    

Police have arrested four men in connection with the murder. However, the dual nature of Ms Santra’s work  as a journalist as well as for a local human rights organization,  left unclear the motivation for the extremely violent killing.

Her last report appeared to have been filed for a Delhi-based magazine ‘Julm se Jang’. Her daughter, Ms Satabdi Santra, said her mother had received a number of threats over the last few months.

In the early afternoon of Wednesday 26 September, the doorbell rang at her Howrah home. Satabdi's mother opened the door, said the family maid Madhumita Manna. A short time later, there was an explosion.

Chaitali Santra's body was found pushed against the wall in the back bedroom, thrown by the force of the blast. Her father, who was also home , was seriously burnt. The windows were all blown out. There are still cracks in the rose-coloured walls, and stains on the marble floor.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police for Howrah, Mr Nishat Pervez, said that the four men arrested, Debashish Dey, Abhishek Roy, Biswajit Majhi and Subhankar Das,  had conspired to kill her over a “personal grudge”. Ms Santra had helped Mr Dey's wife send him to jail for abuse, the deputy commissioner said.

When Mr Dey met the other three men in jail, the plotted the murder, he said.

Ms Satabdi Santra, who is a student of journalism and mass communications at Ashutosh College, said her mother had been working on as many as 200 different cases in the run up to her death. “She was involved in crime, civil and family cases,” the daughter said.

Ms Chaitali Santra started her working life as a social worker and a CPI-M party member, Ms Satabdi Santra said. The daughter said she later worked for a non-governmental organisation, the Bureau for Protection of Human Rights and Analysis Wings, and also served as district secretary of the local Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) for nearly eight years.

Alongside this, she wrote about crime. Her most recent writing assignment in June for ‘Julm se Jung’ had been ‘Asahay ma ki insaaf ki pukar’ about the murder of a man named Surajit Dutta, who was allegedly shot by a group of people in Domjur over a love affair. Surajit Dutta had been in a relationship with a woman who later committed suicide, Ms Satabdi Santra said, and the girl's father was a suspect in the case. Satabdi said she felt something about the case had been worrying her mother.

(Ironically, she hadn’t even been paid for her piece, said the magazine’s editor Rajeev Dhingra. Chaitali freelanced for the New Delhi-based newspaper and had contributed only this one piece, he added -  ed)

The reporter had also been perturbed by a marital dispute she was working on in her capacity as an activist, the daughter said. “The husband kept calling my mother,” she said.

Satabdi said her mother had frequently said she was worried about threats. “She told me to give all her files to responsible people if anything happened to her,” the daughter said.

Whether the files will tell a story or not and establish whether her murder was a violent reprisal for her writings or her human rights activism is anybody’s guess.


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