Assam Riots And The Media Prism
A terrible tragedy has been unfolding in the North-Eastern state of Assam for close to a week now. The bloody riots between the native Bodos – a predominantly Hindu tribe, and the Bengali Muslims have exposed the failure of the Indian state to guard it’s International Borders (IB) , and the failure of the Indian media to provide a factual account of the incident . The North-East continues to be a blind spot to our national vision and the blame for this must be shared by both the Indian state and the media establishment. According to the latest estimates more than 40 people have been killed, many more injured and close to 2 lakh people have been displaced from their homes . The violence is centered around the district of Kokrajhar which is also the headquarter of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Days after the riots taking the ugly turn the Army conducted flag marches and the paramilitary forces have been deployed in the troubled region to check any further escalation of violence.
Despite the volatility, gravity and the extreme relevance of the incident, it received precious little attention from the Indian media during it’s initial days. Faint reports and sketchy accounts of the riots have started appearing in the print since yesterday. No media outlet or any govt agency has yet managed to trace the cycle of events and point to any specific trigger which set off the chain reaction of violence and counter violence. We are yet to be presented with the complete data on the number of victims and affected people from each group or other such details. The first and foremost responsibility and expectation of media outlets would be to furnish these information, instead today we have a situation where the media is indulging is selling a pre-determined narrative and opinions even before the full set of facts are out. The vector of opinions and editorials dished out without any factual basis seem to point in one direction – “Suppress the issue of illegal migration and turn the debate in any other possible direction”.
Today, The Hindu carried – what I think is the first report providing information on the number of Bodos and Muslims affected and displaced in the riots and the prevailing sentiment . Sri Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, who reported this frontpage story provides his own version of the chain of events and then finally reports the following
Of the 27 camps in Kokrajhar, 21 are being used by Bodos and five by Muslims. The remaining one is occupied by others. Of the 33,517 people residing in these camps, 26,117 are Bodos, 5,700 Muslim and 1,700 others. This just gives the magnitude of the scale of human suffering.
A few kilometres away, at Magurmary High School, the violence has brought Bodos, Adivasis, Nepalis and Bengalis together like never before. For, they have a common enemy in the invaders who made them flee their homes
Everyone who has read The Hindu can vouch for it’s leftist and Marxist leanings. I am making this point clear only to rule out even the slightest possibility of biased reporting. However, the editorial which appeared in the same edition of The Hindu seemed to echo and uphold a diametrically opposite line of analysis and even contradict their own lead story .The Hindu’s editor’s wrote :
The confrontation has been labelled ‘ethnic,’ but economic and even educational anxieties are as much at work as the desire to preserve socio-cultural and ethnic identities. Insecurities relating to land, forest rights and a shrinking job market have created a combustible mix
The state needs to keep working on achieving the right balance of development activity. The key to this will be restoration of mutual trust. This should be based primarily on systematic measures to address fears over loss of ownership and right to land, and concerns over denial of access to resources, development, and means of livelihood.
The word the editors of The Hindu have tried so hard to suppress is – ‘Communal’ and cunningly substituted it with ‘Ethnic’; which is debunked by their own lead story which reads – “Bodos, Nepalis, Adivasis and Bengalis coming together to face the common enemy”. For the sake of clarity I would like to note that there’s only a very fine line between ‘Ethnicity’ and ‘Religion’. According to dictionary.com there is none . That however doesn’t hide the intention behind these misleading opinions, because in the Indian political vocabulary the term ‘Communal’ is singularly reserved to describe any Hindu-Muslim strife and all the editors and even the readers are aware of it.
If this was the sample of ‘opinion’ being circulated by the national dailies, the national TV channels were miles ahead of them in presenting their ‘opinions’ sans any facts as accurate analysis. Upon being questioned on Twitter on the reasons behind under-reporting of the Assam riots , Shri Rajdeep Sardesai the Editor of CNN-IBN was candid enough to admit the limitations of his channel, and said:
There are limitations when it comes to getting breaking stories from the north east. But no national channel has tried harder than CNN IBN
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) जुलाई 25, 2012
The very next day the Deputy Editor of CNN-IBN Sagarika Ghose seemed to have the whole situation figured out and tweeted that most of the affected and displaced people in Assam were Muslims. When she was confronted with The Hindu report and the actual numbers presented there she deleted her blatantly biased and ill-informed tweet, and switched to presenting the violence as an entirely ethnic affair and attributed the cause of violence to the migration of Indians from other parts of India to Assam. She also had a word or two to say about the imaginary villain which she alone seems to see and fear.
S Kabilan: not illegal immigration thats created the problem, but migration from the rest of the country that has led to ethnic multiplicity
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) जुलाई 26, 2012
Assam’s complex sociological profile, mosaic of identities,land disputes are being pushed into a religious narritive by Internet hindus
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) जुलाई 26, 2012
Clearly, India is missing a channel or media house which would be sober enough to report accurate facts and accounts from the ground without any fear or concern about who would benefit from such stories. The foremost concern of those in control of the media is no longer reporting on events and issues but about constructing and sustaining a narrative at any cost. Since most of the individuals occupying the commanding heights in the media world are deeply invested in protecting the prevailing status-quo engineered the left-liberals, it only seems to make sense that they are indulging in such acts. The social web has already made it difficult for the mainstream media to get away with such bunk. But the job of reporting accurate stories is something too critical to be ignored. While the social web is a vibrant place to present ones opinions and analyses it is yet to evolve a functioning and independent reporting framework. The day is not far when the oped’s and columns in newspapers will become irrelevant, but we will still have to rely on them for stories and reports. The kind of ecosystem prevailing in India clearly doesn’t inspire much hope or optimism.