“When editing a story today, I want the contents of the work to be truthful,” says Lalbiakthanga Pachuau, who was recently awarded the Padma Shri and is called “the oldest working journalist in India” at the age of 94.
“It should not contain words which can hurt other people and it should not lead the readers to have a negative mindset,” the veteran Mizoram journalist tells Newslaundry over the phone from his home in Chanmari in Aizawl.
Among 141 Padma awardees, Pachau was honoured under the category of ‘literature and education-journalism’ on November 8.
But he was not always a journalist. More than seven decades before the Padma award ceremony, he was fighting the Japanese forces as a member of the Assam Regiment of the British Indian Army during the Second World War in 1945, the Burma Star among his many military accolades.
Born at Saichal village, 80 km from Aizawl, in 1927, he had joined the military at the age of 18, according to East Mojo. It was only after a 17-year career in the forces that he decided to venture into journalism and even social work.
What prompted that shift in 1953?
Pachuau says it was his father who first paved the way for this long journey. “Before my enrolment in the army, my father used to subscribe to a monthly magazine which I was quite fond of. It influenced me to subscribe to other regional magazines and newspapers after I joined the army.”
He says he soon developed a deep connection with those works. “They helped me acquire knowledge of more languages which later on helped me establish my own newspaper.”
Now, his newspaper has become a part of him, he says. “Without it, I feel lonesome. Not only do I still edit my newspaper, till today I have never missed the news broadcast on the television. Editing newspapers, listening and watching the news on the TV is more than just a hobby, it is my life.”
Pachuau founded Zoram Tlangau in 1970 and edits it to this day. He launched the Mizo daily after working at another vernacular newspaper, Zoram Thupuan. He believes a newspaper in one’s mother tongue allows for the most effective and genuine expression of feelings, he says.
“If I were to publish in other languages, it would not have the same impact because most readers here would prefer Mizo to other languages.”
Talking about his long career as a journalist, Pachuau counts his paper’s editorial policy during the Mizo National Front uprising in 1966 as a highlight. “While the items to be published had to be edited carefully because the views had to be neutral without favoring both parties, the truth could not be compromised. This required a lot of courage.”
Pachuau says he strongly believes in standing for the editorial decisions one makes. While one may face many obstacles for standing for what is right, it ultimately leads to the people trusting your newspaper, he says. “For those who seek financial profit from publishing newspapers, the outcome is different.”
The 94-year-old has also been a social activist, working for the Association for Voluntary Blood Donation established in 1991. He recalls how as the association’s general secretary in 2000, he managed to achieve a 94 percent increase in voluntary blood donation. And then there was a stint with the Social Defence Union, which Pachuau says “was set up so that we could fight against the prevailing alcohol and drug abuse in Mizo society during the 90s”.
“We would gather alcohol and drug sellers and would lecture them to get on the right path in life. We would work day and night along with the Excise Department to save even one soul from the path of alcohol and drug abuse.”
In 2016, Pachuau was declared India’s oldest working journalist by the Mizoram Journalists Association. Having seen the news media sector undergo paradigm shifts over the decades, he says that he appreciates that there are more articles being written through various perspectives, but the sensitivity with which topics were being covered was lacking.