Monday, December 31, 2012

Role of media in covering Bodo-Muslim ethnic conflict in Assam

Have we forgotten that 2012 was the year which witnessed one of the worst ethnic clashes in the country that had continued for weeks and caused hundreds of thousands leaving their homes?

Now six months have elapsed since the clashes in Bodoland in Assam led to large number of deaths and lakhs getting displaced in their own country.

Those affected included both Bodo tribals and Muslims. The minorities suffered much more but overall it was a huge humanitarian tragedy.

As always, North East remains a 'faraway' place for mainstream media. Channels need 'TRP' [eyeballs or viewership], which they believe doesn't exist in NE.

For them, a Delhi or Mumbai based report is more important, because it fetches them more TRP and hence money [advertisements]. National newspapers' reports were unclear.

They didn't put in perspective the entire issue. Few media groups even though of sending their teams to cover the ethnic conflict. But Dainik Bhaskar, a leading Hindi newspaper, decided to send its journalist. The paper earned praise for publishing the series of reports.

Will displaced Bodos, Muslims able to return to their homes?

These stories from the ground not only revealed how Bodo militants were involved in killings, but also the fact that how the BTC leaders had misused their power.

Until video of Pradeep Brahma, a Bodo MLA from the region who was seen moving with AK 47 in hand, appeared and was showed by certain TV channels, the excesses in BTC administered hadn't been talked about much.

The Bodoland Peoples Front, which he represented, is actually an ally of the ruling Congress government in Assam. It should not come as a surprise.

Journalist Sharad Gupta's eyeopening report [see above] reveals the clout wielded by Hagrama Mohilary, the chairman of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

Mohilary was commander of the Bodo Liberation Tigers, which was considered responsible for series of violent incidents in Assam from 1993 to 2003.

There is a revelation in the Hindi report that the journalist of a leading English newspaper worked as spokesperson for the Bodo leaders. Can one expect unbiased coverage then? The front page report clearly says that line between journalists and party activists has ended here.

This second report clearly suggests hardening attitudes. It shows how people are being termed 'outsiders' whimsically. The State government doesn't seem to have the necessary will to act. Else, it could have taken stern action.

Six months later, no serious steps for lasting peace!

Nor it does act directly in the districts under BTC. Even if the incidents of firing or burning that keep occurring irregularly are ignored and we accept that there is peace, the fact is that the humanitarian crisis continues in the relief camps in Assam.

In camps in Kokrajhar and other neighbouring districts, people are living as refugees on their own land.

They have nowhere to go and can't imagine going back to their burnt homes. Still, the issue seems to have faded and is not on the agenda of governments.

The administration in BTC areas was repeatedly accused of acting in a clear partisan manner.

This was corroborated by independent fact finding teams that visited these areas. Militants are yet to be disarmed here.

But aftermath of the violence is not a priority with the media anymore. The clashes led to deepening prejudices and feeling of mistrust among both the sides.

There is need for PEACE INITIATIVE. Will Centre and State take serious steps! See earlier report on this blog:

Congress can't escape blame for communal violence in Assam
The Myth of the Bangladeshi by Nilim Dutta

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Viqar-e-Hind: A fresh Urdu news magazine in India

Viqar-e-Hind is published from Hyderabad
When I visited the bookshop, the owner of the shop handed me Viqar-e-Hind, a news and current affairs magazine.

Though I was familiar with it, but hadn't seen it on stands yet. I bought it instantly. The contents and the quality of printing impressed me. This 68 page magazine is published from Hyderabad.

For years, Urdu speaking populace expected a magazine that would be of the standard of English magazines like Outlook and India Today.

In terms of paper quality, it not only matches them but, in fact, its printing quality seems better. The magazine clearly looks chic and smart.

Apart from politics, there are analyses, sections on women, culture, history, society, health, business & sport. What most newspapers and magazines ignore is the important segment--Children.

Viqar-e-Hind has two pages for kids that have stories and colouring activity. I congratulate them. But I would suggest that they should add at least one or two pages for children and include certain cartoons and activities.

These brain teasers or activities [as in English magazine, Magic Pot] draw the children and preteens towards the magazine. It is this young generation that will later become a dedicated reader.

After corporate groups had turned attention towards Urdu, the standard of printing also improved. In the last few years, there have been several new magazines. Readers today are aware because they get news from diverse sources including 24/7 TV channels.

What they really need is more neutrality stand and objectivity in articles. That the written word shouldn't inflame passions [or increase sense of persecution], rather, give the readers a food for thought and awaken them. The editor Mr Azim-ur-Rahman has done commendable job in bringing out such a magazine.

Already, it has carved a niche for it in the last few months. The magazine has a section on international news, as also column by famous satirist-humorist Mujtaba Husain.

We hope that Viqar-e-Hind would continue its forward march. There is no dearth of weeklies or periodicals in Urdu.

They include Nasheman to Nai Duniya and The Sunday Indian to Alami Sahara or the more political Afkar-e-Milli and Chauthi Duniya.

But this new magazine that comes twice a month looks promising and adds to the growing number of news and current affairs magazines in India.

We need media that is positive and constructive, rather than plain emotive. If you are an Urdu reader, do subscribe it, rather than getting content by reading the online edition [website].

Viqar-e-Hind is a fortnightly magazine and is priced at Rs 20. The annual subscription is Rs 480 within the country, and is not much, if one goes by the standard of the magazine.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pronouncing 'Triple Talaq' in one sitting to end marriage: Time for Indian Muslims to say goodbye to this practice?

The Jammu & Kashmir High Court recently gave a landmark judgment on 'triple talaq', the abhorrent practice of giving divorce to woman by either uttering the word 'talaq' thrice in one sitting or through any other form of communication--letter, phone, SMS or email.

Justice Hasnain Masoodi clearly said that as per the Holy Quran and Shariat, the Muslim male doesn't have absolute power to give 'talaq' unilaterally, in one sitting.

In fact, the husband has to give a reason for it. Besides, the woman has to be given an opportunity to present her side before the qazi.

It is not that a man simply utters the dreaded word thrice and it severs the relationship. Rather, there should be attempts for reconciliation [or arbitration]. If one attempt fails and after a period of one month, the man again insists on divorce, then there should be a hiatus of one month again.

Further, just like there are witnesses during 'nikaah', where woman has the upper hand, and it is her assent after which the marriage is solemnised, the correct procedure in ending the marriage is that there should be witnesses.

In the end, when everything fails, the divorce is final. This is the process in accordance with Shariat. However, due to lack of awareness and social acceptance, the 'triple talaq' is not only practiced, it is commonly believed that verbal 'triple talaq' in one go, is right.

Strangely, there have been cases where a man, who was drunk, uttered the words and later regretted it. But the qazi gave fatwa that the relationship was over. Even though, it was in one sitting, and while drinking is prohibited in Islam, his action [in inebriated state] was considered as legal.

Clearly, there is need for reform. The voices should come from within the community. Unfortunately, there has been no such strong movement. The clergy [Ulema] are not too sympathetic towards the plight of women and kids who suffer because of this malpractice.

The learned judge cited that 'Talaq-e-Ahsan' is the only form of talaq that finds mention in Quran. The reason for duration of one month between separate sittings for pronouncing talaq is because often people utter the word without realising consequences, and later realise their mistake.

It is possible that after a period when anger subsides, the couple decides to remain united. Sadly, as soon as the verdict was known, some Ulema didn't react positively. The judge has quoted exhaustively from the religious texts and hasn't left any point untouched.

It's time that like other Muslim countries where the 'triple talaq' is not accepted, Indian Muslims also shun this  tradition. Talaq is considered one of the most despised acts in Islam and there is a provision for it, in extreme situations. However, this form of talaq has become a joke. Innumerable women suffer as a result.

Organisations working for women's rights are quite buoyed by the ruling. One hopes that the verdict in the case of Bilquis Akhtar, would help in clearing the misconceptions regarding the 'Triple talaq' as well as educating Muslim society in this regard.

Read post on this blog over the issue of Talaq in the past:

The practice of triple talaq: Is Talaq=Mazaq?