Defying the militant diktat on Independence Day

BY Nava Thakuria| IN Media Practice | 19/08/2005
After 1998, this is the first time journalists that celebrated Independence Day in the Guwahati Press Club complex.

Nava Thakuria in Guwahati

Every year as Independence Day approaches militant groups in the North East issue their ritual diktat for its boycott. This year too the demand was couched in harsh words and accompanied by the threat that celebration in any manner would be prevented. But Assam was not intimidated this year. While the local people attended the government functions organised in different parts of the state, journalists gathered in Guwahati Press Club to observe the 59th Independence Day. They arrived at the press club complex in the morning of August 15 following an appeal from a group of senior media persons led by the senior journalist and former editor of ?The Sentinel? D N Bezboruah, present editor of ?Dainik Asom? D N Chakrabarty and the editor of ?Dainik Janasadharan? MK Goswami.

This year the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) with Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), Manipur People¿s Liberation Front (MPLF), Tripura Peoples Democratic Front (TPDF) had issued a release asserting to boycott the country¿s Independence Day celebration. In an e-mailed press release to Guwahati based scribes, the militant groups made a combined ¿appeal to all the peoples of the Region¿ to boycott and observe general strike throughout Northeast from 01:00 hrs to 17:30 hrs of August 15.

The dictate invited critical comments for the militants from the local media. ?The ULFA, in an apparent move to deter the people of Assam from celebrating the day, even went to the extent of claiming that it would attack the venues of the Independence Day celebrations. But on the positive side, the number of militant outfits giving calls for Independence Day celebrations is coming down with every passing year with more and more militant outfits coming forward for talks with the Government of India for political solution of their problems and the possibility of the ULFA being totally isolated in the days to come cannot be ruled out,? said the editorial of ?The Assam Tribune? on the morning of August 15.

Elaborating the fact that the boycott call (for both Independence Day and Republic Day) by the insurgent outfits had become the order of the day, the editorial of the oldest English daily from Northeast, however criticized the move in strong words, ?The threat by the ULFA to attack the venues of the Independence Day celebrations also exposed the fact that the frustration level of the outfit is growing with every passing year. The ULFA can give boycott calls, but the people of Assam have the right to decide whether to attend the celebrations or not and no one has the right to use force to compel anyone from attending any function. The gruesome killing of 13 women and children in Dhemaji during the Independence Day celebrations last year is still fresh in the memory of the people of Assam and the ULFA should remember the State-wide public outcry against such kind of mindless killing before issuing any threat to the people who decide to attend the Independence Day celebrations.?

However, the underground group, which is fighting New Delhi for a homeland in Assam since 1979, tried its best to justify the boycott call against ID celebration. In its latest issue (Volume 7, Issue 6, August 15 ) of Freedom, the mouthpiece of ULFA, the armed outfit reiterated that the celebration of Independence Day by ¿colonial India¿ in ¿dependent and exploited¿ Asom is an act of ¿branding¿ the peoples of Asom as Indians like branding of horses by a ranch owner. ?ULFA is determined to continue the armed struggle till this colonial domination is overthrown. The first step is to liberate oneself from the mentality of ¿being Indian¿. The boycott of independence day is one such step,? the monthly newsletter Freedom added.

Meanwhile, noted intellectuals of Assam including Jogendra Narayan Bhuyan, Saurabh Chaliha, Nagen Saikia, and Rupam Baruah had criticized the dictate of the militants through their writings in local newspapers. They were unanimous in their views that the violence would serve no purpose and ULFA would never be able to justify the killing of any innocent person to achieve its goal. They had expressed serious concern about the series of bomb explosions that took place in different parts of Assam prior to August 15 celebration. The ULFA militants started its violent activities in the Brahmaputra valley of Assam since the first week of August killing and wounding at least 20 people. The police recovered a few bombs before they exploded and that way saved precious lives of many others. Of course, August 15 passed off peacefully.

But the ¿pre-August 15¿ violence did not deter journalists from hoisting the national flag. ?The martyrs embraced death during the freedom struggle so that we can live today. This day is an occasion to express our gratitude to them. We cannot forget them just because a group of militants want to terrorise us into forgetting them. We must inculcate a sense of patriotism in our younger generation and teach it to respect the Flag. No terrorist threat will work if all of us observe the day in our homes,? said D N Bezboruah, while unfurling the triclour in the press club campus. The former president of ?Editors Guild of India?, Mr Bezboruah also added, ? We may not be happy with a particular government or successive governments. Governments come and go, but should that make us blame our glorious history of freedom struggle that has given us the right to determine our own future, or even to change the governments we dislike??

Earlier, senior journalist Rupam Baruah , in a brief speech condemned the militant diktat not to observe the day and asserted that it is our right to observe the day ?no matter what the militants think or choose to do.? After 1998, it was the first time; the media persons had celebrated the Independence Day in Guwahati Press Club complex. The pertinent program was attended by the senior media persons including Ajit Patowary, Champak Borbora, Ranen Goswami, Geetartha Pathak with reporters and photojournalists of the respective dailies from Guwahati.

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