Friday, October 23, 2009

Displaced in Media Space as Well

Chitra Ahanthem

As I sit down to write this post on the nature of media reporting on the issues faced by people living in border town of Moreh (on the Indo-Myanmar border) in Manipur, it would be pertinent to state that no newspapers have hit the stands today. The All Manipur Working Journalist Union took the decision of not publishing newspapers following the assault and harassment of two journalists by police commandoes. This is another ‘normal’ scene from Manipur but before one assumes that the media representatives in this highly militarized state bear the brunt of covering issues faced by the people consider this: a senior reporter from a Manipuri daily paper was apprehended by security personnel while ferrying underground rebels of a particular group about two weeks back. There was a shoot out in which two civilians were killed in the said incident. Last year, a lethod bomb was gift wrapped and delivered to The Sangai Express for failing to carry the press release of a particular group while there have been too many instances of newspaper going off the stands in protest against attempts to muzzle free press to be considered news or write home about (pun intended).

But why is the media being talked about in a posting that is supposed to look at media reporting of displacement and their impact on women living in border areas? Precisely because in the scheme of things that happen on a daily basis in Manipur, it is the “breaking news” of grenades lobbed at residences of Government officials/businessmen/contractors/private entrepreneurs (for failing to pay extortion amounts); shoot outs between various security personnel and militant groups or between the different militant groups itself; calls for bandhs/rallies/general strikes etc that makes it to newspapers. With the daily and regular chain of breaking news taking place on one hand, small media houses which are understaffed and mostly underpaid (often with no money kept aside for traveling to remote areas), it goes without saying that Imphal, the capital city remains the center of attention. Rural reporting or in the case of Manipur, writing about interior regions in the districts is made possible only when reporters accompany a Government official on tour or when they are taken along by NGOs or other civil organizations going to the said regions for their program coverage.

It is thus not surprising then that there has been no issue based reporting so far on women affected by displacement, either in Moreh or elsewhere in other parts of Manipur. A media scan of three newspapers: Imphal Free Press; Sangai Express, Huieyen Lanpao shows that the only news reports that mention “Moreh” are all of shoot outs or people being killed. The reports are all based on press releases sent by various security personnel including militant groups.

A scan of media reporting going back by a few years did bring up two stories (one of which is my own). “Desperately Seeking Samte” (IFP, Sep 21, 2008) is about the fate of Haikhohat Samte a 25 year old girl who was caught in a cross fire between the Army and an underground group. A bullet pierced her spinal chord when she went back to her house to collect household items and some food grains that the family had left behind while running away across the border. It also talked about how the displacement from their house also meant being uprooted from all things familiar to them and having to shift from one makeshift camp to another before finally taking refuge with a relative living in Moreh.

The second feature story (Refugees in a Supermarket, Anjulika Thingnam for Women Features Service, webcasted in 2007) is about the travails of being refugees, a situation brought about by intense militarization: the sprouting of land mines in the villages of Moreh and intensified firing among security forces and underground groups. The story also talks at length about inadequate facilities at the “refugee camp” (a supermarket) and hence the lack of toilet space.
Apart from the above two stories, there is little about the people of Moreh and the issues they face in their lives. Yet again, there is little about most other interior parts of the state as well apart from the regular news reports of people getting displaced due to pressure points going off.

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