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