Row over 'crow'

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Regional Media | 30/03/2012
Likened to the ubiquitous Indian black bird, the Opposition MLAs in the Assam Assembly boycott the House for two days in a row.
The television channels unleashed a “cawing” debate on the issue, writes TERESA REHMAN.
The television studios in Guwahati turned into a virtual zoo in the past few days with heated debates on the Common Indian Crow (Euploea core). Politicians of all hues and political analysts argued whether the word “crow” was unparliamentary or it had positive connotations associated with it. And one could not miss the background sound effects of the cawing of the crow and a popular Assamese song associated with the bird.
This was a reason enough for a debate as the entire Opposition boycotted the Assam Legislative Assembly for the second consecutive day protesting against the Speaker of the House, Pranab Gogoi, comparing Opposition All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)’s noisy protests inside the House with cawing of the crow. This followed suspension of the AIUDF members by the Speaker, which triggered a walkout by the members of the BJP and the AGP.
The AIUDF legislators found the comparison with crows “unparliamentary” and wanted the word expunged from the records of the Assembly. They feared that retaining this word might set a wrong precedent in any future convening of the Assembly session. For a change, the inert Opposition in the Assam Assembly came together to protest against the Speaker’s comment: he had asked the legislators not to behave like "crows". And the local media, especially the television channels aired from Guwahati, played to the ruckus created over the row.  
The channels had been having talk shows and discussions on whether the word “crow” is actually derogatory. Some tried to harp on the fact that as a group, crows show remarkable examples of intelligence and are known for their unity. Crows and ravens often score very highly on intelligence tests. With the television camera on and the mike thrust to them, everyone had their share of “fun” –specially the legislators from the ruling Congress. The Congress MLAs came out with various proverbs associated with the word crow, some singing paeans to the winged creature.  
The Opposition MLAs were further incensed when Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, in a television interview, questioned if they would have reacted similarly had they been compared to a raj hans (swan)? Bordoloi listed the many qualities of the crow. He cited Kalidas, who, he said, used the crow to describe the beauty of a woman. He said, “A crow helped in protection and conservation of environment. It is revered by both the Hindus and Parsis while conducting rituals associated with death, such as offering “pinda”’. He added, “It is also known for its team spirit and camaraderie. You will find its reference in the Panchatantra. In short, there is nothing unparliamentary about it.” He further taunted the Opposition MLAs if they were annoyed because of the colour of the crow? He even invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and the issue of discrimination on the basis of colour, stating that the crow’s black colour perhaps made the Opposition to take offence.
As a counter, BJP legislator Prasanta Phukan told mediapersons that the boycott would continue, harping on the negative connotation associated with terms such as crow and monkey. “Will it be okay if I call somebody monkey and then defend it by saying they were our forefathers?” Phukan said. 
Speaking to the media, Speaker Gogoi asserted that it was not his intention to hurt the sentiments of anyone and that he was the last person to bow to pressure tactics. “I have not done anything unparliamentary. They have misunderstood me and some people have misled them. I have heard that they (the AIUDF legislators) asked some persons what I actually meant,” Gogoi said.  
There were some sane voices condemning the Speaker’s comments as not befitting the dignity of the House. An editorial in The Assam Tribune wrote: “Coming to the acceptability or otherwise of the comparison with ‘crows’, it has to be said that the Speaker’s choice of words was not the right one inside the sanctified precincts of the House. The Speaker has sought to defend his uttering by referring to a proverb in Assamese involving the word crow but that does not sound convincing. Even more intriguing have been the attempts of the Treasury Bench to justify the Speaker’s remarks by harping on positive attributes of the crow (which the bird undoubtedly has) that are totally out of context of what happened inside the House. In the maze of all this, proceedings of the House have become the biggest casualty, as without participation of the Opposition the very purpose of having an Assembly session gets frustrated.”
With spirited debates missing from the House with a weak Opposition, burning issues of the State take a backseat when such bickering plagues the proceedings of the House. The three-day non-cooperation of the Opposition parties with the Speaker over his “crowing” comment ended after a post-session brief meeting of the Opposition parties with the custodian of the House at the latter’s chamber. However, the controversy was like a bonus for the television channels whose TRP had been feeding on the “crow” for three hectic “crowing” days.  

(Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in Northeast India. She can be reached at Teresa Rehman Journalist and Media ConsultantWriter, Reuters AlertNet http://teresarehman.blogspot.com

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