Journalists in the Northeast fight back

BY nava| IN Regional Media | 20/03/2006
Assam and Manipur have witnessed strong responses by journalists to attacks from militants as well as police and security personnel.


Nava Thakuria



Journalists in Northeast India have been opposing both insurgents and government excesses. Two trouble-torn states of the region, Assam and Manipur have witnessed strong responses by journalists against the attack and attrocities by the militants as well as the state police and security personnel. While the media in Manipur is fighting against the Kangleipak Community Party (KCP) for attacking the Imphal- based journalist Ratan Luwangcha, their counterparts in Assam have raised voice against the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA )  for its ill time attempt to malign the late Assamese journalist Kamala Saikia and also the police atrocities on reporters in different parts of the state.


It all started with `Freedom` (February 1, 2006 issue), the mouthpiece of ULFA that termed Kamala Saikia as an informer for security forces and also accused him of being corrupt.   The banned outfit, which is fighting New Delhi for a homeland of indigenous people since 1979, killed the journalist almost 15 years back. But their sudden revelation with an attempt to justify their acts terming the journalist as a spy raised eyebrows among journalists in Assam.


The late Saikia was killed by Ulfa cadres on the night of August 9, 1991. The 65-year-old teacher-journalist was dragged out from his residence at Sivasagar Melachawk in upper Assam and his body was recovered from a nearby location. He had been brutally tortured before being killed. ULFA leaders were angry with late Saikia for a series of articles condemning the misdeeds of the outfit, which   were published in a number of prominent Assamese dailies. Though the militants came to him from  time to time and asked him to stop writing against their activities, Saikia did not bow to their diktat.


A Guwahati-based daily carried a news item in its 2 February issue with the outfit`s claim on Mr Saikia and the debate gained public domain. Challenging ULFA immediately, Ms Akashitora, a popular film personality of Assam and Mr Saikia`s daughter, asked the group to show its real face to the people of Assam. "Calling my father as corrupt, the ULFA leaders have tried to justify their actions now. But do they have moral courage to explain to us, how many corrupt people are being punished till date by ULFA?" Akashitora stated in a clarification, which was published in the front page of the daily.  


Earlier a protest rally was held at the Dikhowmukh High School, founded by Mr Saikia. The 2 February rally was attended by a number of distinguished figures and the attack on Saikia was described as unfortunate and motivated. The Sivsagar Press Club also organised a protest meeting on 5 February at Sivasagar Natya Mandir. The Kamala Saikia Memorial Trust also condemned the unwarranted allegation asking why "ULFA (has) taken over 14 years to disclose that Saikia was a spy and a corrupt teacher?" In a press statement, signed by the chairman of the trust, Kanaksen Deka, who also heads the   Asom Sahitya Sabha, it also commented, "It truly doesn`t make any sense for ULFA alleging Kamala Saikia as a corrupt teacher. The time will judge him as a dedicated teacher and committed journalist."


The journalists of Manipur, on the other hand, are agitating against the attack on the Poknapham scribe Ratan Luwangcha on 9 February by cadres of KCP. As the entire media fraternity of the state went on agitation, no dailies hit the stand on 10 February. Ratan, who is also the general secretary of All Manipur Working Journalists` Union (AMWJU) is still recovering and kept under tight security at the Shija Hospital at Imphal. The KCP leaders accused Ratan of being corrupt, as justification for the assault, a charge which Ratan strongly denied.


Meanwhile, Assam erupted at the custodial death of Ajit Mahanta, a local from Kakopathar   and  the subsequent killing of several people by the police and security personnel on February 10. Two local correspondents of Guwahati-based dailies were also mishandled and beaten up by the police, while they were on duty to cover the post Kakopathar killing development. The media persons under the banner of Journalists Action Committee, Assam had boycotted all Assam government related news on February 19 and 20. Moreover, the agitating journalists took out a protest rally on February 21 in the streets of Guwahati and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh through   the Kamrup district magistrate.


Still then, the people in general and journalists in particular of Assam   continued  their  protesting voice against the ULFA for its attempt to malign the image of late Saikia. More recently the agitated citizens of the locality had started circulating their anger through SMS. The message poured in the handsets of thousands read,  `Dubious ULFA`s allegations on late journalist Kamala Saikia after over a decade neither justifies its actions nor clears its image. ULFA  is not Assam and we cannot let such elements decide the history of an individual or of community. Is not it funny that those who speak of freedom, deny the same to others?`


(Nava Thakuria is media activist based in Guwahati and can be contacted at

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