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Assam Floods, National Media And Its Triple Stand

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Every year the North-eastern state of Assam and its various districts are affected by the floods. This year, too, the heavy rains continue to wreak havoc in the state for the last couple of months. Heavy monsoon rains and the water from the two main rivers: Brahmaputra and Barak and their tributaries have devastated 25 districts of the state. The death toll in the state has mounted to 36, and 14 lakhs people have been affected by this calamity. The Brahmaputra river has swamped 2,168 villages and 51,752 hectares of cropland. 70% of the Kaziranga National Park and its 95 camps are submerged in water.
Image via Getty

But as usual, the North-eastern region didn’t get much attention from the National media. One may wonder, why this region doesn’t get enough attention in comparison to other mainstream states? Is there something wrong in the manner in which the national media covers the news? Shouldn’t they pay equal attention to every region of this country? Or, is there a bigger systematic fault which we are not yet aware of?

To understand the issue, perhaps we need to have a look at the national media’s attention towards this region. In the context of the presentation of news in India, it is generally observed that most of the news is circulated, analysed and discussed within the sphere of mainland India. Apart from two-three states, the attention of the national media is primarily hovering around the activities and incidents of Hindi heartlands. Geographical remoteness of the north-eastern states of India and their distinguishing cultural elements with other parts of mainland India, make it a major constraining factor towards the recognition of their problem as the problem of greater India.

When a youth icon from Northeast India, Mary Kom represents India in the forum of world boxing or Hima Das, an emerging sprinter makes India proud in the sphere of global sports, it appears that all the distinguishing markers of cultural and geographical differences get disappeared, or the North-eastern states become assimilated to the greater identity of India. It’s surprising to observe that geographical remoteness and cultural differences of this region is instrumentally used by the national media to portray a stereotypical image of it. Whenever a natural disaster or severe natural calamity occurs in this region, the national media tries to overlook these incidents. So, it can be argued that the people of this region and their agonies are being eclipsed in the deliberately designed policy of cultural othering and regional disparity of the Delhi-based national media.

The way national media covered the recent flash flood in Uttarakhand or Kerala is praiseworthy. But even after the people of Assam have been struggling in the devastating flood, their coverage of these incidents is not at all satisfactory.

It can be argued that the national media plays a dual and hypocritical role in terms of coverage of the news related to the northeastern states. In contemporary times, the political-economic angle of this discrimination merits separate analysis. It is wrong to assume that national media shows total reluctance towards the covering news in Northeast India. In some incidents, they left no stone unturned to get single coverage. For instance, in last few years, we have seen how national media houses have given maximum coverage to some famous incidents like GS Road incident, Karbi-Anglong lynching, terrorist activities in Manipur, riots in northeastern states etc.

From all these, a general characteristic appears which signifies that national media houses are keen to depict a lynching-prone, xenophobic, primitive image of the people of Northeastern states. Their enthusiasm to cover those incidents is clearly visible in terms of their presentation and analysis of the news. But it brings to light an important question: where does this enthusiasm disappear when people of this region are enduring national calamities like flood, landslide or forceful displacement, etc.?

It compels us to feel that at one hand, the national media tries to build up a primitive image of the people of this region by continually focusing on the coverage of some brutal incident. But on the other hand, severe problems faced by these people are totally undermined or being presented as a general everyday incident. In a way, they categorize people of this region as committers of heinous crimes, but on the other hand, they refrain from publishing news about the basic problem like flood, erosion or landslide in this region. If the national media considers the lynching-prone image of this Northeastern region as part and parcel of the everyday lives of these people, how can they be totally indifferent to publishing the genuine problems of this region?

All this points to the controversial “triple stand” of the national media towards the people of Northeast:

1. When somebody from this region achieves something with flying colours on an international platform, then his/her identity gets assimilated to the more significant identity of the Indian nation. National media readily accepts him/her as a national hero. We appreciate their positive and encouraging stand.

2. When two or three individuals or a small group of people commit a severe crime, national media tries to depict it as a crime committed by the people of this whole region. For any cruel acts or deviated behaviours, no matter whether these incidents are committed by an individual or a small group of people, the entire region is portrayed as the committers of that particular crime.

3. On the other hand, we get to see a different picture of the national media in terms of publishing genuine problems in the region. For instance, when lakhs of people in Assam have been displaced from the floodplains, in terms of coverage, the national media doesn’t provide much value.

We can’t merely conclude by criticising the role of national media. We the people of this region are the victims of this reluctance and stereotyping of the national media. At this present juncture, we must remind all the stakeholders of the national media that the problems of the people of this region are equally important as any other parts of the country. Therefore, they must think that the projection of a stereotypical image of this region might lead to a negative image of the country as a whole. On the other hand, national media’s indifference towards the basic problem of this region would result in total discrimination of the overall interest of the country.

Note: The above article has been co-authored by Pariz Pikul Gogoi ((MA Student, Sociology) and Priyanku Hazarika (PhD Research Scholar, Sociology), Tezpur University, Assam.


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