If a rape is recorded in India every 22 minutes then it is impossible to cover and report on even a small percentage of them. That is why the protests in Delhi have been as angry and loud, as if to speak for all the cases of violence against women which get the least space in our preferential and discriminatory media. At least I would like to think that some of the “outrage” speaks not just for Delhi, but for women across the country and beyond.
The story here is a little different though. It is of a young video journalist shot dead on Sunday’s police firing in Imphal. News which was lost in the din at India Gate. Surprisingly, most of the regional newspapers the following morning had just a corner column on the freak killing of one of our own community. He was covering a protest which turned ugly, with protesters clashing with the police, and the police with all their impunity and immunity used live bullets on a crowd. Khwairakpam Dwijamani (Thangjam Nanao Singh) took one in his chest and died.
Yet with so much expert opinion on the social media, I was disappointed that a journalist’s death was neither mourned nor questioned. In the age of 24 hour news flow, even the digital space was not exploited. I am not sure Mr Prime Minister in his “deeply sad” message on Monday morning cared to mention this – which in a way is related to what is happening in Delhi. Maybe he is not even aware that his country’s policemen used live bullets on a small crowd of protesters before trying other methods of calming down a mob. The Home Minister’s Chattisgarh example made his case even worse. He clearly shouldn’t have even tried speaking. But the point I am making is whether the media will raise Dwijamani’s case when referring to the Prime Minister or Home Minister’s speeches. The studio debates will not touch upon this story. The social media celebrities will “retweet” this as a moral responsibility but not initiate a “sign the petition” movement. Other platforms will ignore it as usual.
The sequence of events is disturbing. Early last week, a 22-year-old Manipuri actor was assaulted by a Naga over-ground militant on stage in full public view in a town called Chandel. I had covered the story and with the protests gathering momentum in Delhi, my story was played up well. I had the young girl speak on camera and she insisted that her identity be revealed. She was brave and led a protest that afternoon to the chief minister, who like the politicians in Delhi refused to give an ear and instead had the protesters lathi-charged. The level of government and bureaucratic indecision is in equal measure whether in Delhi or Manipur.
The protesters were demanding the arrest of the accused who is one self-styled Lt Col Livingstone Anal of the armed group NSCN(IM). The NSCN(IM) has a record of decades of genocide, murder, extortion and abduction. But more than a decade ago, they entered into a ceasefire and then negotiations with the government of India. Under the ground rules they are meant to be inside designated camps only in Nagaland. But they have been in Manipur in large numbers, openly moving with arms. In this case too Livingstone tried groping the actress, pulled her by the hair, threw her on the stage and kicked her several times and hit her left eye. All because she resisted him touching her. The audience at the fundraising event included security persons who sat and watched. They said the accused belonged to a group which was on ceasefire, so they didn’t have the right to arrest him. This is incorrect, because the ceasefire is applicable only in Nagaland and the ground rules don’t allow cadres and leaders to grope or assault women. Therefore, the Manipur government should have been able to arrest Livingstone in a few hours, but the delay and hesitation for whatever reason has led to the protests, bandh – and then a death.
I have two concerns with this story. Last month, I was speaking to my colleagues in an on-camera interaction about how Indian media has neither policy nor training on hostile area coverage or mob reporting or even disasters. Journalists in these situations take too many risks because they are not trained to be covering such situations. My second concern is that this death raises several very important questions but I fear that it will be forgotten after passing mentions or will only be posted as updates of the law and order situation.
The questions in this case are: i) How can the police use live bullets on a small unarmed mob? They should be tried for murder. ii) Why have the Central and state governments allowed armed groups on ceasefire in another state to roam around freely with arms and intimidate and extort and assault? iii) Why don’t politicians meet and address genuine concerns and demands before the protests are hijacked by vested interests or hooligans? Is the death of a journalist by police bullets more honourable in and around India Gate than in another capital city of the country?
I will be questioned more than anyone else on why I did not cover this enough. In my defence let me say, we have followed the story which otherwise may have been entirely lost in Chandel, and wouldn’t even have come to the streets of Imphal. But it is not the extent of coverage, but the tone and tenor, the focus, the sincerity and intent of how it is broadcast and how much space it is given that lends credence to our media. When television and print fails to do that by merely mentioning such an incident, digital media should be able to occupy that space. Unfortunately that is not the case yet.
Image By – Bijoykrishna Aribam
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