Media spotlight on Northeast

By HH Mohrmen

In the last few weeks the North Eastern region of the country has received the media attention that the people of the region had wished for so long but for the fact that the media glare is for all the wrong reasons. The people of the North East have blamed the national media for neglecting the region, and the common refrain is that many important stories from the here go unreported. There were also those who suggested that perhaps we need to buy space in the national press for stories from the North East to appear in the national media like we do for advertisements. But in the last few weeks the northeast received more than its fair share of media attention.

The first story that captured the limelight was the coal mine tragedy in Nengkol near Baghmara in Garo Hills, in which precious lives were lost and the fate of the 15 miners is uncertain. The situation has put the state government and the mining department in particular in an awkward position; it only goes to show how ill-prepared the government is to meet such eventualities The incident also brings to the fore the farce about local governments in the state where the nokmas or the headmen are said to be all in all in the area of their jurisdiction. Yet in this case they failed to do anything to rescue the miners. The delay in reporting the unfortunate incident and the effort to cover-up can only happen when the nokma or the headman is involved in the incident. And because the government is yet to have a mining policy in place everything went haywire. The saving grace for the government of Meghalaya came from the unfortunate incident of molestation of a girl in Guwahati. This incident pushed the mining disaster to the backburner. The media spotlights shifted its focus to Guwahati.

The incident exposes how ill-prepared the state is in case of such eventualities but more importantly of the sheer absence of any rule of law in the mining areas of the state. There were also reports that the roads caved-in because of mining activities underneath them. Then there were reports of mining in the heritage sites where caves are destroyed, trees are cut and forest was cleared for mining, and yet for reasons best known to the Mining Department, the policy is still being kept in abeyance. One hopes that this will be a wakeup call for the minister in charge of mining and hopefully make him realize that the state cannot afford to delay the implementation of the proposed state mining policy any further.

The two incidents in Assam which captured the spotlights are the molestation case and the assaults on the lady MLA. Both incidents are cases of moral policing. The MLA was assaulted because she allegedly committed adultery and married a Muslim. I don’t see why people should have a problem with the personal life of an individual, if she is not happy with the marriage; what right do the goons have to assault her, how she lives her life is her choice. If she converts to another religion again that is not only her constitutional right but also a basic a human right. From the legal point of view the problem is if she enters into a marriage without divorcing her previous husband. But again there is the law of the land to deal with such issues. The matter is a private affairs of the couple so how does it concern the thugs who assaulted her and the new man her life? But the incident that has shocked the nation was the molestation of the young girl in the heart of the city of Guwahati. I remember while watching the un-pixilated youtube video, the first word that came to me was barbaric and that was what I posted on the Facebook. The young men who attacked the girl look like wolves to me; I can’t think of them as human beings. Who gave them the right to touch a woman? Who gave them the right to mercilessly assault and abuse a hapless girl? No one has the right to even assault a relative. How can anyone treat a human being like a toy? For one who has a daughter of a similar age I feel like this is happening to her. I can feel the pain and the anguish of the parents of the girl, but the big question is what does it say about our society? If this is happening is Guwahati it can happen in Shillong, Tura or Jowai. What kind of young men do we have in the society today? This is a big question that the society at large needs to address. It is also a question for every parent. Are we not to blame when such incident happens?

Such incidents shows that there is something wrong with the way we bring up our boys. It also confirms that the same archaic attitude which exist in every religion that the girls or women are subordinate to men, hence men folk have the right to do moral policing on the fairer sex, is still alive. Yes, some would say that the woman are to be blamed too, they attract undue attention to themselves when they act and dress strangely and do not conform to the traditional lifestyle. But are we not living in a free country where each citizen is entitled to live one’s life according to the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution? As long as the person does not infringe on the rights of another citizen, I don’t see why one’s way of life should be a problem for any individual or the society at large. When I think of those who justify what befalls a woman and blame the way women dress for all the crimes committed against women, I say thank goodness there are no beaches in the northeast otherwise there will be a rape case every second (because then women will all dress in bikini) and police will indeed have to be like ATMs, to borrow from the police officers phrase.

I have to be careful with my comments on the role of the video journalist who recorded the incident knowing that many journalists are in the job without any formal training. I can only put myself in the journalist’s shoes and think what would I do if it was me in his place. If I were in the video journalist shoes, I would immediately call the police (before I even start rolling the camera) because a crime has been committed. In the meantime I would record the video footage or the photograph of the incident which is my duty. And I don’t think I need a 30- minute footage for my story, so after recording the incident for few minutes I would stop, intervene and try to stop the goons from molesting the girl.

Then there is the question of identifying the girl. It is wrong to disclose the identity of the girl, first, because she is still a juvenile and second she is a victim and by naming her we do more harm than good. It reminds me of a similar incident in Shillong where the identity of boys who were caught smoking in the toilet was not protected, the private channel did not even pixilate the faces of the boys to protect their identity.

The last story on the national media was the attempt to kill a female journalist in Arunachal Pradesh. The incident also brings to light the fact that journalists are treading on a dangerous track. I therefore salute all the women who have taken journalism as their profession. Yes, you can say that this is for the other half of humanity.

(The writer is a researcher and an environmental activist)

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