Guwahati violence and the media

BY Nava Thakuria| IN Media Practice | 02/12/2007
A section of media projected the incident simply as an unprovoked attack on the Adivasi demonstrators by the residents of Guwahati.
NAVA THAKURIA disputes the accuracy of this.

"Asom (Assam) is the land of anti-Adivasi people and the residents of Guwahati have  no respect for women". That was the picture that emerged from the contents of some metropolitan dailies and satellite news channels during the coverage of the Guwahati violence in the third week of November. Though the Northeast Indian State is no stranger to violent demonstrations, the unruly situation created on November 24 in the heart of Guwahati city following a procession of Adivasi people, was really shocking for the Asomiyas. It was in fact a Black Saturday, with at least one death, hundreds injured, and a young girl stripped in broad daylight were reported within a few hours of chaos.



The incidents of the day have shaken the conscience of the residents of Guwahati, which have now been reflected on in the public meetings, organized thereafter, as also widely in media columns and editorials in the newspapers published from the virtual capital of Northeast. But it was the coverage of  the incident in a section of media outlets, which has shocked the Guwahati people more, as they blatantly blame the residents of Guwahati for the unfortunate developments that day.


The residents of the Beltola area of the city witnessed a procession of around a thousand Adivasis, both male and female, from Beltola to Dispur. The demonstrators, equipped with traditional bow-arrows marched to the State Secretariat at Dispur to add voices to their demand for inclusion the community in the Scheduled Tribe list. The duty police on the street tried to prevent the demonstrators, which angered the participants and many of them continued the march.


Meanwhile, some of them turned violent. "The angry demonstrators started damaging the vehicles parked at roadside, shops and even private properties. Pedestrians were also not spared by them. Many of them carried their traditional bow-arrows, but few of them were equipped with stick and hammers too," said an eye-witness of the Beltola incident.


Soon the protesters faced another batch of police near the Secretariat complex and this time the police with the help of paramilitary forces dispatched them. Facing the harsh police force, which later used teargas to disperse the protesters, they started fleeing. But more cruel strikes were waiting for the demonstrators as some local people retaliated by attacking them. For around an hour there were public clashes in full view of the media people, where Adivasi demonstrators were mercilessly beaten up by some youths.


Amidst the chaos, a girl was stripped of her clothes by some unruly youth. The victim was identified as a high school  student from Biswanath Chariali locality. However, many of the local residents braved the rowdies to come out and gave shelter to the humiliated Adivasi protesters. One Bhagiram Barman, a local shopkeeper, risked his life and saved the girl from more physical and mental assault. Later she was handed over to the police.


However, a section of media projected the incident simply as an unprovoked attack on the Adivasi demonstrators by the residents of Guwahati. They remained silent on the courage of some Guwahati  residents who came out to give shelter to the victims. Moreover, the same media space was full of the description and images (with some portions blurred) of the girl, who was stripped during the chaotic situation. The Telegraph published her picture on the front page, 3 days after the incident (November 27).   


Questions have been raised in public meetings, media columns and Internet outlets, on whether any newspaper or TV channels (which used the image repeatedly for a day) took the victim’s permission to do so? Would they have done  the same if the victim was from a better off family (and not from a less privileged community)?


Meanwhile, the State government led by Tarun Gogoi has received brickbats for the sadistic incident from different sections in the society. The condemnations were poured from the main opposition party Asom Gana Parishad with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Condemning the violence, the party leaders demanded the resignation of the Congress-led coalition government at Dispur.


Social organizations including Gauhati University Teachers¿ Association, Asom Mahila Samata Society, Sodou Asom Lekhika Samaroh Samity and Brihattar Guwahati Sachetan Mahila Samaj Umaihatia Mancha with many others came out with demands to take actions against those guilty of creating the violence and vandalism on the day. Public meetings organized by the Concerned Citizens Forum as well as other organizations concluded with strong words of resentment against the Gogoi government and also resolved in appealing peace and harmony among the people of the State.


The AASAA leaders later called for a 36-hour Asom bandh, beginning on November 26, to protest against the mugging on the Adivasi protesters in Guwahati. The All Assam Tea Tribe Students Association supported the bandh call. The strike concluded with few unpleasing incidents in some parts of the state. Normal life was affected in Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Tinsukia, North Lakhimpur, Kokrajhar districts during the period, though it had no impact in Guwahati, where the incident took place. Incidents of violence were reported from Tezpur, Kokrajhar, Golaghat, Jorhat and Dibrugarh districts.


The powerful students bodies of the State, All Assam Students¿ Union and Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chatra Parishad not only condemned the government for its failure but also criticized a section of media for allegedly exploiting the gory incident for their benefit. The leaders of both the students outfits alleged that a section of metropolitan dailies and electronic media repeatedly depicted the image of the Adivasi girl in an obscene way. Surprisingly the same media persons had not reported that the victim girl was immediately rescued by a local youth and gave her shelter.


"The media has every right to inform the society about the happenings. But they should not take a way that only humiliate the victim once more or escalate an ongoing tension. After all the same media outlets never bother to cover about the genuine grievances of the Asomiya society since the days of Independence," said a student leader.



Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More