Talibanism in Guwahati – An Ode to Media

Protest against NewsLive

About 19 years ago at a famine-affected area in Sudan, world-famous photojournalist Kevin Carter had shot a photograph of a vulture approaching a withered baby. For the photograph, he waited for the vulture to enter into a frame with the baby, for which he was asked questions later on whether he was a Human first or a Photographer first. This photo won him the highest honor, – a Pulitzer but the incident led him to such depression that he committed suicide a year later.

The Guwahati girl molestation incident was different than Kevin’s photo of vulture with a live baby only because Kevin did it for a cause,- to show the world the real picture of famine in Sudan; while much controversial NewsLive reporter Gaurav Jyoti Neog shooted with the intention of TRP, cheap entertainment and lack of thoughtfulness. No matter what Nitumoni Saikia, Executive Editor of NewsLive (who has always maintained a clean image and is known for his talk show with Dr. Homen Borgohain) claims now, it is very evident from the video footage and from the history of NewsLive that the shooting was not meant for identifying the culprits.

Rather it was to show “A drunken girl in streets of Guwahati” as done numerous times in the past by the channel. Just a day earlier than the incident, the channel had shown video footages of Young women wearing shorts or skirts, focussing unethically on their bare legs and trying to be moral police! An online petition against unethical journalism of NewsLive which recently campaigned in Facebook highlighted this incident and questioned who gave the right to NewsLive to suggest what dresses a woman should wear when even the Indian constitution does not say anything on the dressing.

Protest against NewsLive
Protest against NewsLive

Assam is now up and against NewsLive, – Facebook pages and streets of Guwahati are up in roar to ban the channel NewsLive. But would it lead to anything meaningful is a question whose answer is negative. Such an eruption in Assam is not new. It happened about a year ago against NewsLive’s Editor in Chief Atanu Bhuyan’s alleged Facebook comment against an Assamese Ahom lady. The police then washed off hands by nabbing and blaming Times of Assam’s Chief Editor Dhruba Jyoti Deka as a scapegoat (who was actually picked by IB personnel suspecting him as ULFA Publicity Commander Arunodoy Dohotiya) but till now there is no proper charge or proof that anyone could gather to prove that Mr. Deka was the culprit. None of those who called for Assam Bandhs then, now even bothers to know what happened with the case. The same would happen again in all likelihood now; the forgetful Assam would forget NewsLive and this incident and we would probably come to see protests for some other reason in future.

The best, as well as the worst part of the entire molestation row, is the way it was picked by the National Media, who is always known to have ignored important news and reports of Assam and rest of North East. It was good that they brought such a sensation and highlighted the incident that it got the right attention of Government and people. But it now also allows us to question why this incident was picked up alone.

The next day after this incident, there was another incident in Assam in Sivasagar district where a flood-affected girl was picked by Army Jawan and was attempted for molestation. Some 200 locals had to block an Army vehicle protest at the Police station for justice. No National media highlighted it for even a minute. Was it not aired because of the lack of ‘spicy footage’ or because media thought a village woman getting molested in some corner of a place is not important?

In 2004, there was long Assamese-Bihar clash which had sparked off because a disgusting incident of Assamese woman passenger getting raped by a mob in Bihar who also parading her naked while traveling in Assam bound Avadh Assam Express. The clashes broke out, Hindi speaking people were beaten off and thousands of them were sent off from Assam and militants started killing some Bihari labors in Assam. All that happened in Assam against the Hindi speaking made big headlines in National Media and Cabinet ministers of the Centre flew in from Delhi to meet the Bihari victims in Assam. But at the same time, attacks continued to Assamese and North-Eastern travelers in trains. Many women were molested and raped too. But this did not find footage in the media! None of the ministers too came to meet the victims from North East! Incidentally, Mr. P A Sangma is now contesting as President using the ‘sentiments of North East’ with the support of the same BJP who was in power those days and the same lot who never visited a single victim of North East.

In recent days, Assam has been devastated by floods, millions have lost their home, crops and Assam’s pride Majuli is on the verge of extinction. No National Media covered it to details (except for a few words on a day or two), no talk shows were organized, no call for relief, no experts opinion invited on Majuli. Issue of Mega Dams, Land transfer to Bangladesh, etc never found any focus in National Media.

Less than a week ago, Assamese innovator Uddhab Bharali from North Lakhimpur town in Assam has been shortlisted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for its prestigious NASA Technology Award. None of the National Media News Channels gave any importance. Same happened with Dr. Bikul Das of Assam, who recently made a breakthrough discovery regarding Altruism, which could change Cancer therapies all over.

The same day of the Guwahati molestation incident, most National News Channels were airing continuously news about Chinese Celebrities making a song for the London Olympics. But none of them aired a word about the honor to Ranjit Gogoi and his Bihu troupe, who have been invited to perform during the Olympic Torch event. These are just very few of hundreds of other examples of the Media bias towards Assam and North East. In recent times, thanks to Arnab Goswami, news channel Times Now has changed the scene to a small extent but even his opinions are accused of being biased.

On the other hand back in Guwahati, the Administration’s methodology to control such menace in the future is the most disgusting. There would be now no live or DJ music in Bars and Pubs of Guwahati post evening, closures have been re-defined to earlier hours and most shamefully, women have been advised to refrain from Pubs as far as possible!

The festive and party spirit of Assam, which even the fear of militancy and bomb-blasts could not tame, is in the risk of getting a bad image, thanks to the lack of foresightedness of our Government who has always knelt down in front of every small evil that threatens to destroy our society and harmony.

Closing down pubs at early hours and advising women not to visit them is Talibanism. It would not do any good for Guwahati, being one of the fasted growing city, upcoming trade and tourism hot spot of South Asia and for a progressive blend of people of the region.

It is not a crime to have pubs and discotheques that runs at night unless a specific one indulges in unlawful activity. It is not immoral for women to wear what they find comfortable and for them to have a few drinks at a pub. The only issue is safety and acceptance in some section of the society. Safety can be improved through better regulations:

Why not make a rule that every customer to a pub show a valid photo id proof of age and address to get an entry and record the details (A matter of a minute per customer entry)?

Why not regulate bars and pubs to have better security arrangements such as bouncers and guards who accompany the woman customers to their vehicles when they leave?

Why can’t we have women security guards at night unlike other cities of India such as Mumbai or Pune?

Why can’t we have specific women helpline numbers at Guwahati that works 24×7?

Why can’t bars and pubs have customer service executives that give a courtesy call 30 minutes after women customers leave their premises, to confirm their safety (It would increase Customer Satisfaction levels and hence sales too)?

It is time to change the way we think. We can’t stop driving because of fear of accident. Similarly, we can’t ask women not to have a good time because of fear; we need to change the outlook, attitude and existing systems. The acceptance in society cannot be forced; it will come through the eyes of the next generation and through the proper role of the media.

Unfortunately, the media thinks differently – a woman wearing shorts in the streets or found drunk in front of a pub becomes ‘Prime Time Breaking news’.

What a shame!

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Talibanism in Guwahati – An Ode to Media

By: Priyankan Goswami Read time: 25 min