Terrorists or secessionists?

There were a lot of things buzzing around in my head when I thought of what to write about in my first post. Then surfing through those dime-a-dozen news channels I came across a story, rather a headline that said, “Nagaland assembly praises terrorists”.

Terrorists? Who is a terrorist? The screaming headline sent my mind racing back to an incident some years ago. I had just joined an English daily in Hyderabad as a trainee. Campaigning for assembly elections in some states was on and one of the states was Manipur. The paper had carried campaign stories from all the states that were going to the polls except for Manipur.

It was the last day of campaigning and I somehow realised that we had not carried any story on Manipur polls. So I compiled a three-column story from the agencies and put it on my page. Even though I was a trainee I was allowed some freedom to choose stories not because I was good but because I worked in the Dak edition!

And so I felt happy that I was doing something right. Enter the chief sub-editor. I showed him my page and he said, “Why you taking this story?” pointing to the second lead on my page on Manipur polls. I gathered some courage and said, ” Sir (he was twice my age so I couldn’t bring myself to call him by name) we haven’t carried any story on Manipur polls, it is the only state we left out.”

He smiled and said, “Son who’s bothered about Manipur? Or for that matter any state in the North-East? You remove that story and put this.” He gave me a two-day old Delhi-centric story from our Delhi bureau as a replacement. I was stunned to say the least.

That day I understood how and why the Seven Sisters were neglected in the mainstream media. It was an early lesson for me as a budding journalist.

I had been an avid newspaper reader long before I even knew that one day I would be working in one. I used to notice the lack media attention towards the North-East unless of course there was insurgency-related violence. Although I had no connections with the region and had never been there, I felt a certain affinity for the region and its people.

As a journalism student a year before I got my first job, I wanted to write my dissertation on “Media Blackout of the North-East”. But our dean persuaded me to drop the topic saying I didn’t have enough time to do justice to the “vast” topic I had chosen.

So, that afternoon I saw it as a chance to contribute my bit to an issue I strongly felt about. But I was a mere trainee and couldn’t argue with my chief sub.

Watching the news item on Nagaland today on Times Now, I couldn’t help but feel that things haven’t really changed much since that day.

I wondered if the person who put the headline knew the difference between terrorism and secessionism. The Naga secessionist movement is as old as our country’s independence. The government acknowledges that there is a problem and hence there are regular talks held with the NSCN(IM).

The democratically elected Nagaland assembly passing a resolution praising the rebels may not be in line with the central government’s policy. But does that mean we should call the Naga rebels terrorists? If a well respected channel like Times Now does not show  sensitivity in dealing with the region it will only add to the alienation that the Nagas and indeed the rest of the North-East feels towards mainland India.

The point I’m making here is purely from a journalistic point of view. By all means sensationalise a news if that is what sells but please don’t show your ignorance.