Owner of Imphal Free Press and its former editor Pradip Phanjoubam talks to The Hindu on what it takes to be a journalist in the troubled States of the North East.
The 50-year-old scribe was recently in New Delhi to discuss election results. Looking at the affairs of his newspaper Imphal Free Press for over 16 years, Pradip Phanjoubam admits that journalists in the region live under the constant shadow of fear from various pressure groups. Each one, including the government and the opposition party has a press release to send which they expect should be carried without a change. In case a reporter detects a story out of it and writes objectively, he is either beaten up, kidnapped or in the worst case scenario, killed.
“There are all kinds of pressures on a journalist there. Reporting objectively is extremely difficult, any idea we write on is scanned by the pressure groups from both the ruling party as well the opposition. Anything you write that doesn't please one group, leads to massive violence and closure of the press,” he says. Pradip has lost count of how many times the press in Manipur has been closed down by the outlaws. Six editors in Manipur from different newspapers were kidnapped and killed some years ago. “Then the Manipur Editors Guild took the matter to the Prime Minister.” The result is awaited.
“We write almost under constant threat to life. One of my own reporters Konsam Rishikanta was killed by unknown militants in 2008. A CBI inquiry was also held but it was shocking for all of us.”
Today, writing under the shadow of the gun is nothing new to journalists there. Pradip says rather stoically, “We have got used to it now. The situation is the same in the entire North East region. It is only when we come out of the State that we realise what we have been missing in terms of journalism.”
Pradip rues the fact that less young people want to pursue journalism in the State. “Now, it is only the activists who take up journalism there. Salaries are low, staff is less, working hours are erratic, working conditions poor and communication facilities meagre, so most of the youngsters look for safe options -- government jobs,” he says.
Frustrated with the situation in the region, Pradip has taken a year's hiatus from his newspaper to write a book; not only on the state of media affairs there but also the intangible issues neither discussed nor written about. He is also bringing out a book on culture of the North East very soon.
“There is a sense of frustration and indignity among the people there. They have come to realize how the troubled history of the North East is ignored in important national discussions. They talk about the partition of India, Pakistan, Bengal but the North East is conveniently overlooked. Policy makers and the intelligentsia have not been able to diagnose the ‘real problem' of NE as to why this culture of protest and discontent has sprung up. These are the blind spots in history. People detest the fact that the Government only reacts when some violence breaks out performed by the militants, or when females protest bare-bodied (in an anti-AFSPA demonstration, old women protested nude against the autocratic Army recently) or someone breaks the news of Irom Sharmila's endless hunger strike.”
Skeptical about the future of journalism in the region, Pradip says disseminating information may remain an act of dare devilry in the near future.