Saturday, August 21, 2010

Prime Time privilege

Forget about Parliament, even the mainstream media, meaning the news channels and newspapers that have a pan-India reach and outlook, have always tended to overlook the North East region, in its coverage. There could be many factors for this such as the limited market and the general lack of awareness of the region amongst the newspaper readers or news channel watchers in mainland India, or it could just be a case of “North East ? Where is that ?,” where people from this region are identified by their Mongoloid features. Chinky is the term used to identify the North East boys and girls in places such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai etc and while most of the youths from this region have managed to come to terms with it, the overt derogatory tone accompanying this term cannot miss the eye. To draw a parallel, it is like using the term Hao Macha to describe the hill men in Manipur, particularly by the Meiteis, and we have seen and experienced, how the usage of such terms can lead to deep wounds and scars that refuse to go away. Even in the West, the Blacks are no longer referred to as Negroes or the more discriminatory Niggers. Even the term Blacks now come with another more acceptable name, which is African Americans. In fact so deeply is the modern world against racism or racial discrimination, in the post Apartheid era, that any comment which is construed as racially demeaning or discriminatory, is most likely to land the person responsible in a soup ! We have just made a general observation of where the North East, including Manipur stands in the overall mental make up of the people of the so called mainland India. The fact that the term North East is used particularly to refer to the seven States, eight if Sikkim is included, is in itself some sort of a “Us and Them” syndrome. This reality that we see all around gets reflected in the manner in which the media, which have an all India audience or readership, overlooks many critical issues besetting this region. So while the marriage between Sania Mirza and a cricket player from Pakistan made it to the prominent pages of all the newspapers and occupied prime time slots in the news channels, critical issues like the humanitarian crisis arising out of the economic blockade imposed on the highways leading to Manipur, the stand off between the Government of Manipur and the NSCN (IM) over the proposed visit of Th Muivah to his birth place in Somdal, the mautam or bamboo flowering phenomena which has come back to haunt some States in the North East are stashed away in the cold storage. The mainland media or the media which has an all India reach seemed more concerned over the movements of former junior Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar ! Some years back, it took Rajdeep Sardesai of CCN IBN to personally explain the stand of the news channel why the same coverage was not given when Assam and Bihar faced floods of the same magnitude at the same time. This time too, Sardesai has anchored a show, “Is Manipur India's Forgotten State ?” These measures though welcome seem to be more like some damage control exercise rather than trying to sincerely look into the situation and bring it to the knowledge of the people, to whom North East is as alien as China or the most isolated Nation in the world North Korea.
This is the general scenario, including the coverage of the North East in the mainstream media (We are using this term for want of a better alternative, much like the term Bollywood) and merely digesting the fact that two of the leading fortnightly magazines in the country, India Today and Outlook do not have their correspondents in the North East is an exercise in itself. Yes, earlier there were correspondents of these two publications based in Guwahati, but for reasons best known to them, the job of covering the North East has now fallen on the correspondent based in Kolkata. It is amid this climate of seeming indifference, not only among the political circle and the media, not to talk about the public of India, that Manipur figured prominently just the other day on the floor of the Lok Sabha. It is not often that critical issues besetting the State or the North East region get prime time slots in Parliament, but this time, it was a bit heartening to see Union Home Minister P Chidambaram put to rest certain issues, by speaking bluntly and without trying to confuse the public. These issues pertain to the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the creation of a Greater Nagalim, where Naga inhabited areas from Manipur, Assam and Arunachal are sought to be brought under a single administrative unit. To the people of the North East and Manipur the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is not something new and it is perhaps this Act which propelled Manipur into one of those prime time slots in the news channels and precious column in the newspapers. This happened way back in 2004, when people rose as one to demand the revocation of the said Act, after the bullet riddled body of Th Manorama was found the day after she was whisked away by a team of Assam Rifles personnel. The nude protest in front of Kangla will remain etched in the minds of everyone and the said controversial Army Act will always be associated with this historic and never before seen demonstration by women folk in India. Yes a debate on the controversial Act is raging and Home Minister Chidambaram took pains to explain that the Government needs to consult all concerned. It should be obvious that the concerned here is the defence establishment. Ironically everyone seems to have forgotten the lone woman, who will continue to be seen as the inspiring force behind the anti-AFSPA movement, Irom Chanu Sharmila who is set to complete ten years of fasting to demand the revocation of the said Act. History will not judge India favourably, if it ignores the gutsy mission of this lone crusader, when it comes to the question of AFSPA. And for the records, Manipur too was in the limelight during the months of June and July in 2001, when the Bangkok Declaration between India and the IM group was announced.

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