Opinion » Lead

Updated: July 18, 2012 01:16 IST

The dark shadow of impunity

Sanjoy Hazarika
Comment (31)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The northeast used to pride itself on its gender equality. But the gory sexual violence against a teenager in Assam shows the region is no different from the rest of India

The sordid sexual violence by a group of thugs against a young woman in Guwahati has stunned people not just in India but across the world with reports of indignation, anger and disbelief as well as verbal exchanges between members of social networking sites, especially from Assam.

Charges of media involvement as well as of police incompetence are flying fast and furious; demonstrations have taken place in Assam and New Delhi against the alleged molesters, whose leering images have swamped the Internet, street hoardings and print and broadcast media.

The News Live reporter who called his office to summon a camera team has since quit, denying any charges of involvement although he did qualify his statement by declaring that the “incident was a heinous display of humanity.”

One presumes that he actually meant inhumanity — this is a real problem: many reporters and editors these days do not seem to understand the difference between what they mean to say and what they actually say or write. The reporter even tried to claim credit for the detentions, saying that the “culprits have been identified” because of his footage.

We shall come to that point later. But what needs to be reflected upon is a set of very fundamental issues which are not being adequately discussed, especially in the northeast, where the furore is the strongest.


The first is that the incident has shown up the degree of hypocrisy that exists in society, in Assam or elsewhere. The outrage must be tempered with the realisation that we are not very different. Drunken thugs are drunken thugs, in the northeast or outside. A molester does not recognise borders of state, caste, creed, age, geographical location or ethnicity. One recalls incidents of this nature taking place in Mumbai, Delhi and the National Capital Region.

For decades, the northeast rightly prided itself on the equality it shows to women compared to many other parts of India, forming part of a “unique” image. The recent incident and others show that the social fabric is not just under stress but is being torn apart, especially in its urban centres, where new trends extolling violence and lawlessness have taken root.

Take the following events: On November 27, 2007, a young Adivasi woman, who was involved in a protest march demanding rights, was stripped and chased in broad daylight through the streets of Guwahati by groups of thugs who filmed her. The media, as in the recent case, also filmed the horror and broadcast it. The leering faces of the perpetrators were captured on camera. There was an outcry then too. The young woman, who was saved by an elderly man who wrapped her in a cloth, was 17 years old at the time. Only three persons were arrested although dozens were involved.

Four major incidents have been reported since then, including the most recent assault on the teenager on July 10. Three of these took place in Guwahati. How many remain unreported one does not know.

There are many factors at play here: from the collapse of social systems, under strain for decades by a deep sense of alienation, injustice, imbalance and confrontation and conflict. The sense of societal stress has been accentuated by extensive migration to urban areas from the 1990s by people, young and old, in search of jobs, education and space, fleeing poverty and insecurity. We cannot forget the violence that plagued Assam during those terrible years of conflict. Many poor rural households and villages suffer from an acute feeling of desperation; from a clutch of districts, there are regular reports of displacement by flooding and erosion in addition to trafficking of women and children.

Add to this dangerous cocktail the all-invasive presence of a powerful new visual media where no limits are observed in reporting or even during discussions, where anchors and editors position themselves as demi-gods to declaim on any issue, drawing in more and more people who watch in fascination, actually beginning to believe that the media is above the law.

There is another issue at the heart of a growing darkness: put simply, for decades, many of us in the northeast, especially in Assam, have either turned our backs or closed our eyes to the kind of violence that is perpetrated on “the other”, whether the “other” belongs to a different ethnic, religious or linguistic group. Our intolerance levels have increased. We extol the rich heritage that saints like Sankardeva and others bequeathed over the centuries. But we refuse to condemn the discrimination and violence against “the other” in our midst — in the hill states or the plains.

We are swift to sit in judgment on other parts of India, and rightfully so: the discrimination and molestation of women in Delhi, not just from the northeast, and other metros are visible and must be resisted. But how long can we go on blaming others? The Guwahati incidents and others elsewhere in the region have shown that seeping intolerance and sexual violence that go hand in hand have established deep roots in our own region.

Strengthening this is a growing belief that violence and breaking the law actually pay. A sense of impunity is visible and flourishing, partly due to the short-sighted policies of the Centre and the State governments. This cloak of impunity is not selective: it wraps itself around those in the government as well as those outside of it — and even some who are completely opposed to the state.

But there is a common connection: all of the above believe they can get away with violence, extortion, corruption and intimidation of every kind. Those involved in aggression against the state are rewarded with a share in political power, for short-term gains. They certainly, on the whole, have not been punished. Land grab is easy and getting your rightful property back is no easy task, as some of us have personally experienced.

Remember the “Secret Killings?” So many deadlines have passed in the process of catching (forget about punishing) those who murdered family members of leaders and cadres of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). And despite the agitation against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for so long, by so many, in so many places, it continues to haunt and brutalise the innocent although the courts finally are stepping in to denounce it, saying that such a draconian law cannot condone murder and rape.

Disturbing trend

In addition, a most disturbing set of silent social trends is emerging: we find that the ratio of girl children being born is falling in Assam and Manipur. We note that despite the government’s best efforts, the maternal mortality rate in Assam remains the highest in the country at 380 although this is a dramatic improvement, the best in the country, from the 480 per 100,000 births a decade back.

These trends are connected and hence all the more challenging. They show that discrimination against women is a bitter reality and our romantic notions of a just and equal society are just that — notions.

In this climate, what chance does a child, alone, outside a bar, have against those who break the law with impunity, in a situation when law breakers are supported, not just condoned, and where most people remain onlookers?

Finally, a word on the duties of journalists and the media, an issue that is discussed often. If our job is to report the facts as we see them, it is also to save lives, to speak the truth to power and protect the vulnerable. That comes with sensitivity, understanding and learning on the job. It’s a daily test and most journalists and editors fail it on a regular basis.

We are human beings first; our duties lie as much in protecting rights as in exposing their violation. That’s our talisman, the core of the code of conduct that journalists and editors wilfully and obdurately oppose but which they should willingly embrace.

(Sanjoy Hazarika is Saifuddin Kitchelew Chair and Director of the Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and founder of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in the northeast.)

More In: Lead | Opinion

What is the author trying to say in this article? He touches upon so
many sensitive and important issues but the way it is written, it
doesn't convey any concrete message. It would be great if the editors at
The Hindu ensure that high standards of writing are maintained in each
and every article.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Jul 20, 2012 at 14:56 IST

The problems of these mentally ill monsters is deep rooted. Such heinous act is stemmed not just by hormonal boil but by many other
problems like lack of education, unemployment, poverty and numerous
others, which are often talked about but not being dealt. We cannot
pin the cause to be the dress up or the mentality. To eradicate this
plaque we have to do our every duty, let it be from choosing the
government to stopping anyone doing immoral act. Its high time the
youngsters stop pointing fingers at others and prove our mettle in
framing the society, the way it should be.

from:  sabyasachi sahu
Posted on: Jul 19, 2012 at 14:04 IST

The incident is very sad . We are citizens of a country where Kasab is still alive. Taking cue from this, people do not care an iota about the law of the land. Government will have to play a very positive role to change the judicial system.

from:  Simanta
Posted on: Jul 19, 2012 at 13:07 IST

Such molestation must be occurring every second day in Delhi or NCR.
But people are not provoked as there are no videos to show how they
have raped or harassed them. Our national capital is becoming
precarious day by day. Talking about impunity, everybody is saved in
most of the cases in NCR.

from:  Manish
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 22:39 IST

The Guwahati incident is symptomatic of the degeneration of the
Assamese society. Morals matter little and goons who carry out such heinous acts as Sanjoy says "can get away with violence, extortion,
corruption and intimidation of every kind". To a large extent it is
the Congress government's fault. With no opposition worth the name the
congress have been ruling the state for far too long and have become
complacent and do not care about the people or the development. Their
concern is only to line their pockets.
The people in NE India have too many 'available hours' to spend on
anti-social activities and unless this is curbed by bringing forward
the time in NE India by an hour during the summer months and two hours
during the winter months we will see NE India degenerate financially,
socially technically and morally.

from:  Ronjoy
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 22:32 IST

What we are witnessing is absolute insensitivity of a human towards another human. Are we different than animals? The situation around us has become so vulnerable that we are scared of sending our sisters out into a world of hooligans. The anti-social elements are blessed with impunity backed by the powerful factors of the society. Is it possible for us to live a comparatively safer life?

from:  Satyaranjan J. Gupta
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 20:19 IST

A journalist job is to report and not induce or prevent news making
events. If they act like police, they will be targeted for reprisals and
no one will come forward to report news. It is the job of police.

from:  Jayanthi
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 18:32 IST

I fully agree with the view...and the root of the entire problem summed up well with the following statement
"But there is a common connection: all of the above believe they can get away with violence, extortion, corruption and intimidation of every kind."

from:  Amit
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 18:21 IST

Such kind of happenings is no longer a region or state specific incident, it is now happening in every where irrespective of the kind of history they have had. Where north-east region is known for equality as far as the gender based discrimination is concerned, repetition of such heinous crime in past year is moral breaking, now the only way to stop such barbaric act is not to leave the perpetrators scot free, as they have always been. Except making every one aware of such crime, One more important role which our media will have to play, which is to overcome its “Short term memory” problem & to carry the associated news till the time the victim doesn’t get the justice, that too on time.

from:  Vishal Shukla
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 18:04 IST

I notice that some people are using the word 'drink.' I think it has got nothing to do with it. Basically, this is about two things: 1. The strong will abuse the weak when there is no fear
2. The strong do not have any sense of morality
So, the answer is two pronged: 1. Keep educating people about good moral behaviour - by parents, religion, etc. 2. Robust methods to detect and punish swiftly - the errant behavior. (Will include making it easy for people to prevent, report such instances. Not always waiting for police. Quick judiciary, etc.)

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 16:25 IST

Allegations against the person who shot the video. Interesting.
What about the Girl???
10 people against One girl.
Inhumane activity.
forget about the allegations.
Coming to think about it, just live your life. If it happens to u, fight back. Else just walk away. Cuz i see all cowards in my country including me who just sit, watch, discuss, type and dont do anything. Our's is not a Social Country but a "Save your own A**" country. So stop playing blame game.
That being said,
People of Assam, Family member and loyal freinds of the girl, the girl herself, PLEASE FIGHT BACK. If u dont take out a eye for an eye, most probably u will lose your Soul.
The law has lost its grip. Now its just a puppet for Socially unfit people.
What we good people can do is Punish the next unsocial person around ourself.
Isolate them. Do not cooperate. Do not Interact. Given the opportunity, please kill them.Go to jail. Create a safer place for the next generation.

from:  Srikanta Mohaapatra
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 15:48 IST

It is shocking to find that one of the journalists who filmed this
ghastly incident has been arrested on charges of instigating this.
Judging from the comments of the Chief Minister, it looks like they
want to muzzle the press who exposed this total failure on the part of
the State.
While I understand the criticism that the reporter should have called
the police first thing, I do not believe it is a cognizable offence.
Even if it is, there were several by-standers who were equally guilty
of this offence. Singling out the reporter sends the clear message that
the State is not happy that its failures are being exposed by the
I do not condone the liberty taken by some of the media in broadcasting
material which can be insensitive in nature. Whether that happened in
this instance is another matter. First things first. If the State
continues to drag its feet, the public might lose its patience and
start taking direct action leading to vigilante attacks. There is a
limit to anything.

from:  dr.r.venkataraman
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 15:21 IST

While the incident is to be condemned, teen age girls should desist
from visiting pubs in the late hours. Women should stop aping the
western culture.

Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 14:17 IST

Few days back I saw a video put on BBC wherein a Taliban gunman was
shown firing bullets form 1 meter distance at a woman in Afghanistan.
Many were standing there and they just remained onlookers. At that time
I thanked God for making me an Indian where such incidents are not
common. But this incidents jolted me to reality. These drunk brats
should be given exemplary punishment so that nobody dare to repeat such
crimes. The degree of punishment would determine whether we are just
onlookers of such inhumanity. These handful of errand,drunk brat should
not be allowed to kill the spirit of India.

from:  Ajeet Tiwari
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 13:20 IST

Its not about the reporter , not about the news channel , about the girl who was a prey to such nymphomaniacs. Alcohol should be banned , but how can this happen when the govt. is getting such good revenues feeding it to such nymphos.The problem with our youth is they objectify women. Examples must be set so that even a drunkard must think twice before attempting anything like this , moreover there is something called moral responsibility that our media must carry before professional responsibility.

from:  G.Meena
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 13:17 IST

the very basic issue why such a discrimination still exist in our
society 60 years after may be either gender,social it really shameful when we say we are growing and developing
globally.It is quite heart wrenching incidence happened,and what we
are discussing why media person captured it live or on camera. it is
our indian mentality ,when their is a need of action we concentrate on
such things which actually divert from main issue.It is not the case
of assam only it is very common phenomenon across.We have so many
commissions but they are toothless.Such heinous butchery and barbaric
act only stopped when local police will give strict punishment .Which
can become a examples to perpetrators who do not dare to do such crime

from:  Shadman Ansari
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 11:44 IST

Impunity is becoming a central stage now through media. The incident has been condemned and will be condemn forever till the shadow of incident fades. Basically, we are not focusing on central issue of why such a incident occurred? what made group of thungs go fearless and inhuman in committing this incident.. Is it a pre-planned? gaining media attention?? I these question is most fundamental question which require an answer. I understand the incident is occurred. But steps have been averted to stop this? Any outcome? Can only foresee people passing bucks till the shadow evades completely. It is very important we as citizen ensure with help of the government to minimize these incident going forward. How do we do that? It can be done by protecting the human values which we had a decade ago. We should not give up our values of humanity towards gender equality.

from:  Gururaj
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 11:38 IST

This type of violence happens everywhere Sometimes we,girls feel fear for walking lonely even at the morning time.If we alone they do verbal voilence.boys will give so much respect to mothers ans sisters even for others why can't for known girls.Educated or Illterate or every person treats women in worst way.please respect individual and please respect women .

from:  Divya
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 11:32 IST

I am sorry but what exactly is the message in the article, as its
happening in other places also it should not be taken as big deal if it
happens in North East, Or as North East had its share of issues in the
past this kind of "instances" are to be expected?

We need to take the regional aspect out of the controversy and should
concentrate on why such incidents are happening repeatedly and how to
prevent them

from:  Arun MP
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 11:27 IST

The thing is we expect our sisters to be respected but how can it happen when we do not respect other people's sisters? It is an infinite loop, but it has to start somewhere. This problem of men eying Girls and Women just has things has to be stopped. Parents are the first teachers and schools the second. A boy learns and implies when parents say that this job is not for girls or you and your brother are different there fore he can do this but you cannot. From here all this starts. Until this attitude is stopped no change will happen.

from:  Manya Sharma
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 10:28 IST

Every word and line in this article is to the point but there is one weakness among we Indians that we never accept the facts.

from:  Pankaj Arora
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 10:08 IST

Our society always blames women when something of this kind happens.For a change, it was good to hear that the victim received support from all over.There is a need for implementation of stringent laws for protection of women. I hope that she gets speedy justice.

from:  Devika P
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 09:31 IST

With a few singular incident you can't blame North east..These sporadic things keep on happening every part of this nation.And it's not about gender equality..It's about the security of Women in this country...In such a notation other parts of the country are way far from the modernisation where such activities are a regular job.

from:  Manoj Chanda
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 09:23 IST

"But the gory sexual violence against a teenager in Assam shows the region is no different from the rest of India" - does that mean that at long last we are getting 'integrated' into the mainstream. Something that our rulers in Delhi had always tried, initially by flooding our region with people from the mainland, then by stationing an army with extra-ordinary powers but the objective was accomplished only with the influx and mass proliferation of cable tv.

from:  Monikut Sharma
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 08:55 IST

This incident is a pretty sad and obnoxious thing. The journalist had the time to call his team to cover the sordid incident but he did not have the courage to call the police and security personnel. Look at the perverted mind set of youth today. All those arrested by the police including the journalist must be severely punished.

from:  Jojo
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 08:54 IST

We as common people are so used to blame others for the disrepect of the dignity , law and order of a particular segment of society, that we ourselves have just become observers over the time & are not able to conjure strength to take a stand against such heinous deeds. But, at the end of all, state government has to take responsibility to protect women & bring the criminal who consider all women as their personal plaything, to apt jurisdiction. At the same time , these incidents are clue for us to introspect as citizens of this country. Why are there so many incidents of similar kind in particular states? what compels these people to do such lowly acts? Is it the fearlessness from the law authorities that gives them enough confidence to molest a girl & still get away with it? or Is it the power that they believe them to have being part of a particular group which makes them feel superior & lord of all other fellow citizens (particularly women).We must act these root cause.

from:  Mahesh
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 08:48 IST

I am a regular reader of The Hindu.We ,neighbours of India consider it if not global ,a regional leader in socio economic uplift.
But the incident in Assam and also cutting of hair of underpriviliged schoolchildren in High-tech city of Bangaluru evoke doubts whether it is a land of so many Gods and saints.Such incident needs to be adressed socially.A complete overhaul of mind set is urgently needed at different levels of society.Such incidents,which are increasing in all accounts undermine all th greatness India deserves.Afterall it is not the military might or economic prosperity but social serenity that makes japaneese or Scandinavians look different from their american counterparts.

from:  Dr. Q.M. Ohidul Alam, Bangladesh
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 08:04 IST

Our moral universe is shrinking. We as Indians no longer have any ideals and public values. There was a time when we stood for something - socialism, equality, respect, tolerance. In its place we have hedonism and individuality. The signs are ominous. It is troubling to note that there is so much darkness in our hears and we are demented in our minds. What has come over us? We as a society fetishise women's body and five least respect for them as individuals. What should we do to teach ourselves tolerance, respect to everyone? I don't know.

from:  Aswin
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 08:03 IST

now days morals teaching by parents are on decline, we are not respect the women and when those kind of incident occur their family support boys and restrictions place over the girls. till this gender discrimination not remove these kind of incident may take place in future. Also there is need of strong law implementation.

from:  Akhil Gautam
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 07:17 IST

with this few incidents we can't occurring , we can't blame or disgrace
the whole north-eastern states . point is incidents like this may occur
but the respect for the women in our north-eastern states do preserve the editor said, that drunken thugs would always be the drunken
thugs , no matter from whatever place , region or society they belongs
to . they just belong to one place that's hell .

from:  akash patel
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 02:25 IST

The allegation is that a News Live reporter Gautam Jyoti Neog along with
his friend Amar Jyothi Kalita planned and organized this pubic
molestation incident with the help of some drunken lumpens hanging
around the bar. You don't address this central issue - how can you write
a good article when you avoid the central issue? If this is correct, the
channel News Live must be banned and criminal cases must be filed
against Gaurav Jyoti Neog and the News Live management for being party
to a ghastly crime.

from:  Mitra
Posted on: Jul 18, 2012 at 02:04 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

Rohit Dhankar

Another brick in the wall…

Education has been reduced to the level of ‘teaching for testing’. The individual is completely lost. All that is visible are aggregates of a tiny part of the human capability, measured through tools of suspicious reliability »