Missing the insurgent angle

BY Surekha Sule| IN Media Practice | 28/06/2009
The articles written after the Imphal NWMI meeting do not cover the issues of havoc caused by umpteen insurgent groups, which is no less in measure than the human rights violation by the AFSPA,
says SUREKHA SULE

An opportunity for some 60 women journalists from all over India to visit Imphal for the 7th Annual Conference of Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) seems to have been lost by the Indian ‘mainland’ media in highlighting important issues in this area. The English, as well as the regional languages media, should have been flooded with various reports on the strife-torn Manipur viewed from close. However, some dozen pieces that appeared in Hindu, Indian Express, DNA, Deccan Herald, The Week, Telegraph in print, and on the website, www.indiatgether.org and few pieces in Marathi, Hindi and Telugu described only the grim situation in the state, and none attempted a balanced, all-round view of the highly complex situation.

 

On March 7, 2009 in Imphal, 60 visiting women scribes witnessed the farcical ritual of the release of Sharmila, who has been on a fast unto death demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) which gives unquestionable powers to security forces to arrest, shoot, kill on suspicion, search and destroy any structure. Many of us cried at the sight of this frail, pale lady, who has been force fed in custody for the last 8 years, yet is unable to open her eyes to the glare of the light after the long spell in confinement.

 

The week spent by us in disturbed Manipur after the annual conference of Network of Women in Media in March 09, left a deep impression on the women writers, sensitive as they were to the unending trauma of the people in the north-east, particularly in Manipur.  Subsequent articles written on this area, mostly unknown to ‘Mainland’ India, gave vent to these feelings. Most of these women writers have been independent, and do thorough research on the topic of their writing, since, unlike working journalists they do not need to meet deadlines for daily reports. Perhaps after the first round of emotionally charged reporting, these writers will study the complex issues and present more rational, balanced versions. Otherwise, it would be an opportunity lost in focusing on the real issues in the strife-ridden state.

 

 The articles written after the Imphal NWMI meeting do not cover the issues of havoc caused by umpteen insurgent groups, which is no less in measure than the human rights violation by the AFSPA ( Armed Forces Special Powers Act). Some dozen articles carried by various media are listed on the website of Network of Women in Media, and, but for one blog in Hindi and one in Telugu, all are in English. Besides these, there may have been articles on this issue in regional media, but these are not listed on NWMI website. All the articles include voices of members of the Meira Paibis (Women Torch Bearers) and many civil society organizations, and naturally, have common threads - difficult situation in Imphal (heavy power cuts, water shortage, curfew after 5 or 7 pm, heavy presence of security forces, rounding up civilians on roads etc), descriptions of Ima Market, women’s solidarity with a focus on  Meira Paibis and vivid details of Sharmila’s release and re-arrest. All writings deplore the draconian AFSPA under which unpardonable excesses - killings, rape and violence have been committed, making the life of common people, especially women, miserable. All the writers support Sharmila and Meira Paibis’ demand for peace, and the end of AFSPA. 

 

People, specially villagers, are caught in the crossfire between security forces and underground groups (UGs). This fact is mentioned in these articles but nothing beyond that. In fact, countless insurgent groups are literally holding the entire population, besides the administration, to ransom demanding ‘tax’ and resorting to violence. Every vehicle has to pay ‘tax’, not just to one group but to many groups en-route. There is an organized racket of taking share from government spending under every head – be it for road construction, water schemes or even salaries of government employees. Even the brutal killing of SDO Dr Kishen reportedly by NSCN (IM)  (Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isaac Muivah)) was on account of denial of such a share by the upright Dr Kishen.

 

The various configurations and alliances between security forces, underground groups, politicians, administration, contractors add to the complex situation. As a result, there is a general atmosphere of distrust; outsiders are especially approached with caution.

 

For most of us, a tour to the north-east corner of the country was by no means easy and affordable, and it took months of planning and arrangements. After the 3-day conference, few meetings with a cross section of people, civil society groups, administration, security forces would have afforded different views to arrive at a balanced picture. The trip to Manipur could not materialize in moving around freely –for both security reasons and want of time. The organizers of the conference did the best they could to facilitate our exposure to the reality in Manipur. Yet within these limitations, discussions with civil society organizations, media persons, local people gave us valuable inputs to present a balanced view.

 

Some of the issues that need to be looked at are:

  1. Why are there a multitude of underground groups (UGs) and why the youth is getting attracted to them?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to veer away the misled youth?
  3. What alternative livelihood options are possible and how to facilitate them?
  4. If AFSPA is repealed, will insurgent groups stop their notorious activities of extortion and killing? Will they allow good governance and honest administration?
  5. What are the aspirations of the common persons in Manipur?
  6. Role of civil society groups in peace process.
  7. Activism by groups like Meira Paibis to stop violence – not only by security forces but also by underground groups. 

 

Intense media focus on these issues would generate interest at least among sensitive readers/listeners and evoke a widespread sympathy and understanding of the problems in the north-east, especially Manipur. Many of us who visited Manipur could write on these issues, but what about our own struggle to find space in the mass media? My piece on Manipur appeared in www.indiatogether.org and the responses I received asked why I do not send such articles to the mainstream print media! I did send its Marathi version to a leading daily over a month back. To my inquiries about its status, I keep getting replies that there are many other important issues, meaning this issue, for over a month, is relegated as not so important or timely!

 

On the one hand, regional media have neither enough staff nor affordability (it cost us over Rs 20,000 for a week in Manipur) to send their own staff members to the farthest corners of the country, and on the other hand, there is no recognition for independent writers’ efforts to do such exclusive stories for which they will be paid Rs 200-1000. Ultimately, a rare visit by a huge representation of the mass media sadly became an opportunity lost in focusing the nation’s  attention on the serious concerns in the North-east.

 

 

 

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