Some five years ago, there was this huge Bollywood blockbuster – Chak de! India. The Shah Rukh Khan starrer showcased Mary Ralte (Kimi Laldawla) from Mizoram and Molly Zimik (Masochon Zimik) from Manipur who are both treated as ‘foreigners’ in the Indian women’s hockey team. It’s a different thing that the team in reality has two or three players from the Northeast, which is also true for the women’s football team.
Last year, sometime immediately after the Guwahati molestation case made it to the national news, no less than Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, while holding the national media responsible for the alienation of the people of the Northeast, also accused it of projecting the region for all the wrong reasons.
So is it true? That the Northeast alienation is not only by the rest of the country but by media also? Is it true that the Northeast, with merely 20+ members in Parliament; more than a 100 millionaires, most of whom are hoarders or criminals; less than a billion in revenue generated; most of the people have such distinct different features than the rest of the country; with a high rate of drug and alcohol abuse among the youngsters, are rarely considered worth the mention by the national media.
Ugen Bhutia writes in The Hoot, the media-watching site for the subcontinent, “The Northeastern part of the country is getting negligible space and time in national newspapers and on television channels. The reason for such an attitude can be found in the book, ‘Manufacturing Consent’ by Herman and Noam Chomsky in which it has been described how “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print’’. Northeast India is a part of the country where there are at least 200 ethnic minority groups. These groups have nothing to do with the commodities produced by multinational corporates which advertise in such media. Naturally, these ethnic groups are of little significance to our national media. It’s only when there is a huge chaos in the Northeast that media gives its minute focus to the region.”
Added to this is the fact that there is a preconceived notion about the people of the Northeast among rest of India. The region has long been fighting terrorism. Long before the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba or Jaish-e-Mohammad were ever heard about, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the United Liberation Front of Asom, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) were active with deep roots in different states in the region. What worsened the situation were the news of number of abductions, ambushes against the army, bombings and terrorist acts in the 80s and the 90s. Even government department officials feared postings in these regions and the Central Government begun giving out of turn promotions to officers who agreed to work in the Northeast.
One can say that there have been certain quotients of ‘tagging’ these regions have suffered in the hands of journalists.
What has added to the lack of interest in the media of the Northeastern regions is that for a long time there was nothing else but insurgency to write about, for industrialisation suffered irreparably. Further, investors have shown scant interest even in the cheapest of resources available here; be it education, health, research and development, all the areas are largely dependent on state and the central government initiative, therefore, there is little to write about here.
But should that stop media stop or dither in covering the Northeast? To the best of my knowledge – no. But what we have on the ground, as far as I can understand, is quite lopsided in the presentation of news, views and reviews from the Northeast.
Broadly, the national media, whose presence is marked in the region, include The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Asian Age, The Statesman, The Telegraph, and the broadcasting media – CNN-IBN, Times Now, NDTV, Headlines Today, AajTak, IBN7, Sahara Samay, ABP News, News24 and India TV. As news and current affairs from the region is supposed to impact nationally, the viewers and readers from rest of India have the right to know what’s happening in the Northeast; most national newspapers and TV news channels only have permanent journalists stationed only in Guwahati to cover the contiguous Seven Sister States — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura— and the Himalayan state of Sikkim!
This in itself has been attributed to media’s myopic vision. No wonder then that dailies with multi-editions and news channels have only one journalist to cover the entire Northeast region. Some, like NDTV, have two journalists while many dailies make do with regular stringers. The Times of India and The Telegraph have their own editions in Guwahati, while the Hindustan Times launched its Guwahati edition sometime in 2006 only to wind up in about a year. Rarely, newspapers like The Statesman, dailies which have footprints outside of the region, have a dedicated Northeast page in their editions.
There is an argument here – an anti-thesis to the thesis. According to it, if the national media subsists on shocking news, how come the Northeast is not represented, for there are enough emanating from there – be it in terms of insurgency or news like a senior Congress leader being thrashed in lower Assam for allegedly raping a woman (Yes, it did get prominence in news reels and pages, perhaps because it had a sleaze appeal) Further, detractors say it’s not media to blame but the lack of marketing Northeast India suffers.
Be that as it may, one cannot deny the fact that the Northeastern states are neglected by the national media. And there are statistics to prove that, indeed, such is the situation. Sometime early in 2012, the North East India Image Managers (NEIim), a group of media and communications professionals hailing from the Northeast and working in metros, revealed that a staggering 87 per cent of professionals couldn't name all the Northeast states among respondents in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
The survey further found that 93 per cent of the respondents wanted to know more about the region, while 56 per cent felt that government should run special awareness campaigns using various media vehicles at national level to educate people about Northeast. About 43 per cent suggest that school/college curriculum should include more information pertaining to history, geography, culture and economy of the region.
Interestingly, about 52 per cent of the respondents have a ‘negative’ perception about this region with their immediate recall of it as “a region riddled with insurgency and most unsafe place in the country” or “people with mongoloid features and weird food habits and an alien culture”.
When asked as to why the respondents could not give much information on Northeast India, an overwhelming 61 per cent squarely blamed media. They said they did not see much of region on national media.
If that's not all that would take to convince us of media ignoring the Northeast, there was the case of the Brahmaputra ferry tragedy last year.