Trafficking of Assam tribals: Whose exclusive is it anyway?

Trafficking of Assam tribals: Whose exclusive is it anyway?

Cobrapost and Outlook came out with remarkably similar stories today

By Kshitij Malhotra

Published on :

Cobrapost is calling it ‘Operation Shuddhikaran’. Outlook, meanwhile, has dubbed it ‘Operation Baby Lift’, an exclusive. While the stories are not identical, the premise is. Both charge Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) affiliates with trafficking 31 Assamese tribal girls to Gujarat and Punjab on the pretext of providing them education. The real motive, the stories allege, is to bring the tribals back into the Hindu fold, on the lines of the RSS’s ‘ghar wapsi’ programme.

The girls arrived in Delhi from Assam on June 9, 2015, with two female handlers named Korbi and Sandhya, both of whom are associated with Sewa Bharati, an organisation affiliated to the RSS. The girls were temporarily rescued by Childline Delhi and taken to Paharganj police station. But pressure was allegedly exerted from above and the girls were shipped off to their respective destinations – 20 to Halvad, Gujarat, and 11 to Patiala, Punjab.

The parents of the girls were made to sign affidavits in English, which most of them don’t understand. The affidavits stated that since they didn’t have any source of income, they were willing to send their daughters away to study outside the state. However, in place of receiving a proper education, the girls are instilled with so-called Hindu values, and taught to protect the country against outsiders – Muslims and Christians. The stories depict a disturbing scenario where tribal children are systematically turned into instruments of propaganda, with the tacit support of government agencies.

However, a less important – nevertheless interesting – question that arises is that both media outlets published similar stories on the same day. While Outlook claimed its story was an exclusive, Cobrapost used the term ‘expose’. In an email response to Newslaundry, Aniruddha Bahal, founder and editor-in-chief of Cobrapost, called it a “good coincidence”. “We have just redesigned and revamped the Cobrapost website and were waiting for the technical aspects to stabilise. We would have run it the next week. But yesterday I saw the Outlook cover promotion on Facebook and so had to prepone (sic) our release date,” Bahal clarified.

Neha Dixit, who reported on the story for Outlook, said that Cobrapost has “followed up” on the story. She added that her story was much more detailed and expansive, with document proofs of Child Welfare Commission (CWC) officials from Assam writing to their counterparts in Gujarat in relation to the matter.

While Outlook started promoting the story on Thursday, it uploaded the story in a dozen parts on Friday afternoon, starting with an introduction at around1pm.

By then, the story was already up on Cobrapost — a video on its Hindi site and the full story on its English site — for a few hours, taking the wind out of Outlook’s ‘exclusive’ tag. Just a ‘good coincidence’, we guess.