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Massacre of journalism in India
A senior TV journalist recently reported the Nellie carnage with three-year old facts. He did not bother to update the story. Is it ethical to package old wine in a new bottle? Why does the Northeast receive such treatment: A review.
NORTHEAST INDIA has turned in to a land of happenings. From insurgency to ethnic tension and economic activities to cultural discourses, it started drawing the attention of media worldwide. The alienated region of the country has suddenly woken up to an anniversary of a massacre that took place 25 years back in Assam. A senior Indian journalist released a book on the issue in the national capital recently and suddenly a group of reporters began to pile up their reporting space with the memory of the carnage. Many of them even did not bother to check the old information, while putting those in their fresh columns (as might be nobody bothers about Northeast).
 
Meet Nitin A Gokhale, the senior editor, defence and strategic affairs of NDTV (New Delhi), who has recently contributed a column for the portal of the satellite channel (http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/showcolumns.aspx?id=COLEN20080042819). But out of callousness, the editor-journalist copied and pasted more than 70 per cent of the text from one of his earlier articles, released by an Indian portal (http://www.tehelka.com/story_main13.asp?filename=Ne070205The_simple.asp) three years back. He even used the same quotes, where one of them was a local Panchayat member. Assam had the Panchayat election three months back, but Nitin did not bother to check his present status (whether he was re-elected this time). More over the entire situation was re-created for Nitin (must be by God) when he had recently visited, Nellie, the place of the carnage.
 
It may be mentioned that Nellie, a sleepy village of middle Assam witnessed a horrifying massacre of thousands of Muslims in 1983. The village, nearly 90 km away from Guwahati became a center of media attraction during the period, when the Assam agitation led by All Assam Students Union (AASU) reached the peak. It was the time, when New Delhi imposed an election in the state against the will of the indigenous people. The memory of Nellie massacre still haunts the Assamese psyche irrespective of caste, creed and religion.
 
But surprisingly enough, this sensitive issue was also taken for manufacturing stories by the journalist, who used to stay in Assam for some time. Now based in New Delhi, Nitin had contributed a piece for NDTV with his three years old information. His column (with an ’I-Know-All’ air) titled ’Nellie revisited: 25 years on’ uploaded on Saturday (March 1), tends to analyse the situation after his recent visit to the location. The writer also described the consequences of the carnage and its implication on today’s changing demographic pattern in the state. But leaving aside first few paragraphs of the write up on NDTV portal, the entire text was simply added form an earlier article (by him of course) used by Tehelka. In fact, besides a little introduction of the Nellie massacre in reference to a book release by Hemendra Narayan in New Delhi recently, Nitin picked up his old text with minor updating.
 
The journalist picked up all the quotes (as he did three years back), and used for his March 1 piece on NDTV. One of his quotes (Mohammed Nuruddin Munshi, the all-powerful leader of the community in the area) described, "We now number about 12,000-14,000 as against barely 3,000-odd in 1983." The old article contained the same line with the same description. So the man must have taken help of his memory to reveal the precise statistics to Nitin ’during a recent visit to Nellie’. The next quote (Suruj Konwar, a veterinary department employee) said exactly the same thing to Nitin, as it was reported in 1983.
 
The editor provided some space to elaborate the profile of Nuruddin, who was ’then a 20-year-old having just completed his schooling in Arabic’ and later ’began taking active interest in politics’. The next lines say, "Today he is the member of the Anchalik Parishad and a leader of the community." The old article (uploaded in July 2005) also described Nuruddin as the member of the Anchalik Parishad (a part of Panchyati Raj system in India). So he must have been re-elected in the Panchyat polls of Assam that took place during December and January 2007. But there is no mention about it. It simply implies that Nitin does not care about the authenticity of a quote in his column. The NDTV editor was communicated with his personal e-mail address as well as official feedback format, but no response was coming from him.
 
Now the pertinent question that arises, whether a journalist is allowed to manufacture quotes for his write-ups those might speak biased information? Moreover, is anyone is permitted to copy and paste almost 80 per cent of his own write up, even though the situation had been changed in three long years. Are these not a clear case of unpardonable offence by the NDTV editor, which could definitely hurt the moral and ethical values of journalism?
 
 PS. The readers may check out both pieces, where paragraphs lifted from the earlier piece are in italics.
 
Nellie revisited: 25 years on
Nitin Gokhale
Senior Editor, Defence and Strategic Affairs
Saturday, March 1, 2008 (New Delhi)
 
On February 18, 2008, the Delhi Press Club was the venue for a small function organised by Hemendra Narayan, a veteran reporter, who works with The Statesman in New Delhi. The Occasion: Release of a monograph on one of independent India’s darkest chapters: the massacre of over 3,000 people at Nellie in Assam. Exactly 25 years to date, Hemendra Narayan and a couple of other journalists - one from Assam Tribune and the other from ABC news - witnessed the cold blooded murder of migrant Muslims by a rampant mob.

Narayan was then reporting from India’s northeast for The Indian Express. Could the reporters have done anything to save even one life? Could they have played saviours at a time when police and para-military forces failed to act? For over quarter of a century, Narayan battled with the ghosts of that day and played and replayed the horrific images in his mind’s eye and finally decided to come up with the monograph as if to rid himself of the burden of the guilt that he carried for so long.

Super Cop KPS Gill, who was Assam’s Inspector General Police for Law and order during that period was present at the function to release the monograph. He recalled the tough times and the circumstances under which the Nellie massacre took place. There are no clear-cut answers to what went wrong that time. But this is perhaps an appropriate occasion to look back how Assam’s political landscape has changed over these intervening 25 years.

Nellie was the turning point in Assam’s body politic. On a more personal note, I started my career as a journalist in Assam just two months after the infamous carnage. Since then I have visited Nellie a number of times and have found that in the past 25 years, the ground reality has undergone a total transformation.

The Assam agitation (or movement as some people prefer to term it) was a result of the fear that the indigenous population had against large-scale influx of Bangladeshis into Assam. But this migration was nothing new. In the early 20th century hordes of people from what was then East Bengal in undivided India migrated to the sparsely populated yet fertile Brahmaputra Valley.

They came in such large numbers that CS Mullan, an ICS officer and the then census commissioner, observed in 1931: "Probably the most important event in the province (Assam) during the last 25 years - an event, moreover, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilisation - has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry Bengali militants, mostly Muslims, from the districts of Eastern Bengal in general and Mymensingh in particular. It is sad but by no means improbable that in another 30 years Sibsagar district will be the only part of Assam in which an Assamese will find himself at home."
 
Mullan’s prophecy did not come true as early as he predicted but at the turn of the century, the ground reality in most parts of Assam resembles what the ics officer had foreseen more than 70 years ago.
 
Today, the Assamese indeed finds himself outnumbered in at least nine districts; most of the state’s agriculture production and its vegetables are in the hands of the migrants. The migrant also makes up the largest chunk of labour force engaged in construction activities; over 80 percent of the state’s cycle-rickshaws are pedalled by the migrants. The truth is today’s Assam cannot do without this hardworking section of the population.
 
The flip side is that even politicians cannot do without them. The ruling Congress goes out of its way to appease the migrants and therefore wants to believe in the myth, perpetuated by its own propaganda machine, that there is no influx from Bangladesh. Sadly, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), midwifed by the once powerful All Assam Students Union (AASU), also did not do much to deport illegal migrants during its two stints in power. So what’s the reality a quarter century after Nellie?
 
During a recent visit to Nellie, I found the tide has truly turned. Muslims are no longer a minority there. They are also politically savvy. Most of their leaders realise that their safety lies in numbers.
 
The change is apparent in Nellie. In 1983, the Muslims were outnumbered by the Tiwa tribals; today the situation has completely reversed. Says Mojen Konwar of Nellie, who was witness to the massacre, "What happened then cannot happen again because the minority has become a majority. There are bound to be problems in the coming years." The wizened old man, however, hastens to add that the killing of the Muslims in 1983 was the handiwork of ’outsiders’. Narayan Radu Kakati, chairman of the Tiwa Autonomous Council, meant to offer constitutional protection to the tribals, concurs: "Our people had no clue to the killings. It just happened as part of a larger conspiracy."
 
The Muslims, however, are not interested in knowing who the killers were. All they know is that the best protection they can have in the areas is to become a majority. The large-scale relocation of Muslim peasants from neighbouring Morigaon and Nagaon districts has fulfilled that plan. Admits Mohammed Nuruddin Munshi, the all-powerful leader of the community in the area: "We now number about 12,000-14,000 as against barely 3,000-odd in 1983." Mohammad Moinuddin, a 70-year-old father of 10 children, says he shifted from nearby Jagiroad to the Nellie area and bought several bighas of land to support his family. "With so many mouths to feed, I needed to get more land and the land was available aplenty here," he says. Most of the land earlier belonged to the Tiwas who, for lack of enterprise, are simply selling it for short-term gains.
 
The root of the problem is in fact the alienation of tribals from the land. The Tiwas, hopelessly outnumbered now, say their land is being gradually bought over by the Muslims. "When people get Rs 30,000-40,000 per bigha, they simply sell their land," says Suruj Konwar, a veterinary department employee. As a result, today Nellie’s demography has completely changed.
But most people have not forgotten the 1983 massacre. For Nuruddin’s elder brother Mohammed Tamiruddin, the memory of February 18 is as painful and vivid as if it happened yesterday. "Between 8am and 3pm that day, a mad frenzy had gripped the attackers. They came, armed with daos (matchet), country guns and lathis and surrounded us. First they started burning our hutments. We thought our lives at least would be spared but after a while the attackers started killing systematically. In our village (Basundhari) we lost 1,819 people that day. I and my brother Nuruddin were hiding in a pond. When the attackers started coming closer, we ran to the nearby railway bridge and hid there till the CRPF came to our rescue. Between us, we lost 26 family members," Tamiruddin says, his eyes moistening at the painful memories.
 
After the killings, Nuruddin, then a 20-year-old having just completed his schooling in Arabic, began taking active interest in politics. Today he is the member of the Anchalik Parishad and a leader of the community.
Despite the harrowing experience he had to go through, he holds no grudges. "We have very cordial relations with our Hindu brothers here. There is no tension. In fact, 30 percent of our children study at a school located in a Hindu majority area," he emphasises.
 
There may not be any tension but the residents are always alert. As I ventured into the interiors, leaving the NH37 passing through Nellie, word reached Nuruddin, who was some 10 km inside that strangers were coming to meet him, courtesy the ubiquitous mobile phone. Someone had called up Nuruddin to inform about the strangers’ arrival.

Afraid that something was wrong, Nuruddin waited for us near the mosque in the village instead of his house. Many others were around him as we reached the village square. The safety in numbers theory was very apparent. As we talked, the tension gradually faded but it was clear that no newcomer could now enter the Muslim villages of Nellie without being noticed.

Clearly, Nuruddin and his fellow men have learnt from the 1983 experience. None of them want to be at the receiving end. Indeed, most people in Assam now know that the outcome of a Nellie repeat would be much different. That’s the ground reality today.
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