Assamese media has been time and again criticized for sidelining media ethics while reporting. In a latest case, they have continued with such behavior. A month back a meeting was held in Delhi to discuss some important issues related to Assam. The updating of National Register of Citizens and the persisting delay in the process was to be discussed. Some eminent personalities from Assam like Dr Hiren Gohain, Dr Apurba Kumar Barua, Haider Hussain, Manjit Mahanta etc were invited to the program. Along with them Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav and Prof Apoorvanand also spoke on the occasion. The meeting was organized by Delhi Action Committee for Assam and held in the Constitution Club. The aim of the meeting was to raise awareness about the raging debate surrounding NRC and also further assert the demand for a correct NRC which will incorporate the names of all genuine Indians.
However things took a different turn when before the meeting began, a press interaction was held and it was attended by Arshad Madani, Jamiat Ulema I-Hind’s President. Responding to a question on NRC, Madani stated that if Muslims who have lived for centuries in Assam are left out of the NRC, the situation will take a worse turn and one might witness a condition like Myanmar. This comparison with Myanmar was soon picked up by the Assamese media and portrayed as a threat that Madani issued. However media selectively blacked out the fact that Dr Hiren Gohain immediately clarified that he did not support that statement and he believed that nobody in Assam wants further violence. That did not stop various politically motivated sections in Assam from attacking Dr Gohain in the vilest manner possible. Dr Gohain’s contribution to the socio-political life of Assam was brushed aside based on a single comment of Madani.
The role of Assamese media in this incident needs special condemnation. It successfully veered the entire focus on Madani’s problematic comment while the main discussion of the meeting was sidelined. The media did not bother to engage with the important questions that the meeting raised – on the persistent fear of a large number of Muslims being left out of the National Register. A large number of people mainly uneducated married women provided certificates issued by the Panchayats to prove link to their father and husband. The very authenticity of the certificates has been questioned and the matter is sub-judice. While the judgment has been reserved for later, the future of a large number of women continue to be ambiguous. But media did not bother to focus on this very real threat that many citizens in Assam are facing. The fourth pillar of democracy failed miserably in bringing forth these crucial issues. A section of electronic media indulged into a campaign to vilify the image of the six eminent personalities who attended the meeting. Everyone was held equally responsible for Madani’s statement.
Social media was filled with vitriolic comments about Dr Hiren Gohain and others. He was declared anti national along with the others. Leaving aside the common and habitual offenders of Facebook, senior journalist of Assam Dhirendra Nath Chakraborty, elected BJP legislator Kamakhya Prasad Tasa also used abusive words for these people. Dismissing the contribution of Dr Gohain and others, Tasa even commented that Dr Gohain should be thrown in Bangladesh! An elected legislator is expected to behave more responsively. While the government and police was too quick to start treating those who participated in the meeting as criminals, there was silence on the hateful comments of Tasa and others.
The organizers of the meeting also did not escape the media’s wrath. The Delhi Action Committee for Assam (DACA) was formed in 2011 to protest the death of four protestors who were shot while participating in a rally of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS). They were formed to oppose the state terrorism of the then Congress government. Few students from Assam who were studying in Delhi that time came together and DACA was formed. Since then DACA allied with other human rights organisations like National Alliance for People’s Movement and People’s Union for Democratic Rights etc. DACA time and again gave voice to various socio-political issues of Assam in Delhi. While we often complain of mainland India not paying much heed to Assam, DACA did play a role in bridging the gap. However this time they were targeted for taking help of Jamiat in organizing the said meeting. While they clarified that they did not invite Madani, their hounding continued.
Madani’s comment has been condemned by one and all. Everyone clarified that they want peace to prevail in Assam and they have full faith in the Judiciary. Having said this, can an organisation be criminalized for holding a meeting with Jamiat or inviting Madani? Jamiat Ulema I Hind actively participated in the freedom struggle of India, it even opposed partition and believed in the idea of a secular India. Jamiat is not a banned organisation and Constitution gives it the right to assemble peacefully and organize meetings. In such a scenario can people be criminalized for merely being in Madani’s presence? This is what exactly the invited guests from Assam have been going through.
When it comes to the leadership of Muslims, there is often a vacuum. As such people like Madani often look for opportunities to promote themselves as the leader of the community. Madani might have made the comment on Muslims in Assam to portray himself as the saviour of Muslims. But should Dr Hiren Gohain be held responsible for Madani’s own ambitions? Most Muslims in Assam have outrightly condemned the comment of Madani.
Many have also opined that such a meeting was not necessary when the issue of NRC was already in Supreme Court. However those who attended the meeting did in no way oppose the NRC or belittle its importance. In fact they reasserted the need to ensure that a correct NRC is prepared on time. The role of Assam police has also made many wonder about their priorities. While they flew all the way to Delhi to question Dr Gohain and Madani, they never responded to the open communal remarks of members of the ruling party. Elected legislators like Shiladitya Deb, Mrinal Saikia gave open call for violence against Muslims, in some instances citing the Rohingya massacre as an ideal solution, but for Assam police this was not inciting communal hatred. On the other hand the opinion of few academicians is being shown as the biggest threat to the nation. This double standard of police is sure to raise serious questions.
One should remember that those who are questioning the delay in preparing the draft of the NRC, questioning the ambiguity surrounding the identity of bonafide citizens, questioning the dubious procedure of marking genuine Indian citizens including ex Armymen as D voters, are not opposing NRC. But they are ensuring that NRC is prepared following the proper procedures. That is why the focus should have been on what was discussed in the meeting, instead of who booked the hall and who paid for the tea. While the harassment of genuine Indians in the name of weeding out Bangladeshis has become a daily affair in Assam, media’s failure to ask the right questions and speaking truth to power has worsened the situation.
Parvin Sultana is working as an Assistant Professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur)