"Bodos kill 65 in Assam"

BY Anuraag Baruah| IN Regional Media | 27/12/2014
This headline in the Assam Tribune was a reflection of the state of English journalism in Assam -- mindless and communal,
says ANURAAG BARUAH
For someone outside Assam and for some even inside Assam, the “Bodos kill 65 in Assam” might not ring a bell of alarm. (The paper has changed the headline subsequently in its online edition -- Ed.) Well, let me ring it for you, to make things clear, ‘Bodos’ is not the name of some insurgent/rebel/militant organisation in Assam. Bodos are one of the oldest indigenous communities of Assam, in other words -- the sons of the soil. Wikipedia will tell you: “The Bodos (pronounced BORO) are an ethnic and linguistic community,most aboriginal tribe of Brahmaputra valley in the northeast part of India. The Bodos are recognized as a plains tribe in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Udalguri and Kokrajhar of Assam are considered the centre of the Bodo area. Historically the great Bodos were known as the Mech.”
 
“They extort money from us, harass us and life is a hell there,” one friend from the Bodo community blurts out his frustration before me. I tell him about the Assam Tribune headline and he is shell-shocked. “That’s what I fear all the time,” he tells me, “that we Bodos, all of us will be tagged terrorists one day. If we blame the national media for not being competent enough, we also have to keep in mind that regional media is not playing its role too in this saga of confusions.” The national mainstream media is unreliable enough and this unreliability and negligence of the regional English media has culminated in a Hindustan Times headline that says “Over 70 killed in Bodo attacks”. “Next time when I am in Delhi nd I tell someone that I am a Bodo, I don’t know how he or she will react!” he tells me alarmed.
 
Ethnic clashes in Assam is nothing new and the mishandling of such news by the regional TV channels misguided by certain political and economic interests is nothing new too, but what comes as a surprise is the fact that a 75-year-old newspaper whose Platinum Jubilee inauguration celebrations was recently attended by the PM Narendra Modi himself recently has turned communal too. 
 
NDFB (Songbijit) is a breakaway faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and what goes often unnoticed is the fact that this particular terrorist organization -- irrespective of their claim of representing the greater Bodo population -- has little support of the Bodo people. The All Bodo Students’ Union, the Bodo People’s Front and the Bodo People’s Progressive Front strongly oppose it. On December 24, a day after the NDFB (Songbijit) massacre, a rally in Kokrajhar condemning the outfit’s actions was attended by 5,000 Bodos. Also, the very fact that NDFB(S) has only around 270 cadres out of which 150 are in Myanmar makes their claim of representing the greater Bodo population questionable. 
 
The Indian government has launched Operation All Out to eliminate the NDFB militants as 66 Army columns (70 personnel in each column) have been deployed in Assam. Time will tell about the success or failure of this operation, but what makes us apprehensive is the fact that like any other counter-insurgency operation in the Northeast, the common people -- Bodo people in this case -- may come under the firing and later dismissed as unavoidable collateral damage of a war that never seems to end. Operation Rhino and Operation Bajarang have been forgotten and all those rapes and molestations are only database now. We only hope Operation All Out won’t make those forgotten dreaded memories fresh again. Such communal headlines by the so called leading newspaper of the state that declares a whole community killers is unfortunate. Going by that headline, shall we regard this Operation as against all the Bodos in Assam then?
 
Assamese intellectualism has been always accused of being biased towards the upper caste for whom anything tribal is suspected and alien. Most of the reporters and editors of the regional media either belong to that privileged class who have no idea whatsoever about the reality in the peripheral areas where vested interests often take the guise of ethnic clashes.  Perhaps it’s time to stop and ponder. Ponder if the so called leading newspaper of the state, that boasts around a lakh copies in circulation per day, is playing its role. Choosing to stay neutral (read silent) on certain issues and jumping into communal propaganda on certain other issues is simply not done. 
 
The Bodos are demanding a separate state, Bodoland, and they no longer want to be in Assam. But that demand of statehood is a separate issue and can’t be related to inhuman killings by militants. At a time when Assam is going through a deep identity crisis where every community is demanding a separate identity, thus threatening the very existence of Assam as a state, such mindless, communal and yellow journalism will only make matters worse. 
 
And, last but not the least, this is not only about the Assam Tribune; this is about the common psyche of the average middle class Assamese now in Assam. This is a worrying trend.
 
(Anuraag Baruah has a master’s in English literature from University of Delhi. His writing has appeared in Himal Southasian, Kafila, Assam Tribune, the Northeast Review, the Morung Express, the Eclectic Northeast and other forums.)
 
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