Of the people, and for the people

IN Regional Media | 18/04/2015
The mouthpiece of the people in Golaghat district in Assam, the weekly Saptahik Dhansiri has just turned 35.
TERESA REHMAN explains what makes it special and loved. (Pix: Foreground: environment journalist Mubina Akhtar being honoured by Jiban Das, 95, the third editor of the weekly; credit: Sasanka Barooah)

 At 82, Apurba Barooah is brimming with energy. Running up and down the stairs of Golaghat Municipal Building, co-ordinating with everyone, making last-minute phone calls, he is trying to make sure that everything is in order. He has a huge responsibility on his shoulders. He had promised the founder editor of the Golaghat district newspaper, well known writer and Padma Shree Syed Abdul Malik a few days before he died in 2000 that he would not let his beloved weekly newspaper die with him. 

Barooah has been true to his promise. He has diligently been editing and bringing outSaptahik Dhansiri, the mouthpiece of Golaghat district, one of the few district-level newspapers in Assam. On 12 April, the weekly crossed 35 years, a milestone for a newspaper with meagre resources. 
The newspaper chose to celebrate the anniversary with the theme “Women Journalists and the Empowerment of Women”. Several women journalists were honoured on the occasion, held at the small auditorium at the Golaghat Municipal Board building. 
Women journalists from mofussil towns and villages from all over Golaghat and adjoining districts came together for the celebration. Bina Kotoky, a journalist in Bokakhat sub-division, has been reporting on more than 100 villages and towns for over 14 years, often in the face of many challenges. She was among those honoured for her dedicated services to journalism. 
Saptahik Dhansiri could survive for 35 years only because of its dedicated team and their adherence to the ethics of the media. The fact that they recognised the efforts of women journalists from remote areas is a commendable,” said Kotoky. 
Environmental journalist Mubina Akhtar felt honoured to be recognised in her hometown for her reports.  “Half of our population is women and we need to create more women reporters and empower them with the pen. Fourteen of our reporters are women. One of them, Ranghang of Karbi Anglong district who teaches in the local college has written about many aspects of the place like the leprosy centre and the fluoride affected people of the region,’ said Barooah. 
From time to time, the weekly has been coming up with innovative events such as the 2007 event to thank the district postmen, the ‘unsung heroes’ and the lifeline of many small newspapers. “We send the newspaper to the nook and corner of the district through post at concessional rates. Therefore, the postman is vital to our survival,” said Barooah. 

Sultan Ali, who was the assistant editor of the newspaper from 1994 to 2008, talks of the prominent role of the paper in the social and cultural life of the district.  “We have been nurturing writers, poets and journalists at the local level. We have been a platform for them to hone their talents,’ he said. 
In fact, many reporters have been village headman, entrepreneurs, small tea growers, or farmers, a fact that has lent credence to the paper’s reputation as a ‘grassroots’ publication. As Justice G. N. Ray, former Chairman, Press Council of India, has written, these papers ‘speak the language of the locals and are thus capable of influencing their opinion.’ 

The founding team realised that the newspaper could emerge as a ‘think-tank’ for Golaghat district. They made a system whereby they ensured that the paper managed to reach every school and college in Golaghat and its contiguous Karbi Anglong district. “Our regular readers wait eagerly for our newspaper. They complain if they miss out on any issue,’ added Barooah.

Saptahik Dhansiri prints 1200 copies. They send 50 copies to the RNI, National library, Kolkata, the Raja Ram Mohun Roy Library, Delhi, and Delhi Public Library. “It goes to the Assam state library, the Golaghat district library and all college libraries. It’s a huge responsibility on my shoulders now. I have to run the newspaper and ensure that its objectivity and integrity is maintained. We have done so many stories in the past 35 years, yet we have not received a single defamation notice. We always try to get our facts right and confidentially verify through our sources,” said Barooah. 

Like most small newspapers, it receives hardly any government advertisements. Other small newspapers such as Vatavaran in Dibrugarh have died. Others -- Mangal Vartafrom Mangaldoi and Jonaki Baat, a women’s newsletter from Dibrugarh -- survive.  

Saptahik Dhansiri has been following the old-style school of journalism and maintained its objectivity at all costs. But they have to move with the changing times and improve their look, increase the number of their pages and ensure that it is available in the leading bookshops,” said Bobita Bora Saikia, a Golaghat-based journalist.

Change is certainly due. At the moment, Barooah and his team maintain their records, old books and rare documents in eight old almirahs. They realise they need to go online and are working on it. But newsgathering techniques will remain the same because, as Barooah says, ‘news chases us, we don’t have to hunt for news’. 

(Teresa Rehman is Managing Editor of www.thethumbprintmag.com.) 
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