Why can’t we call a spade a spade
The violence in Assam shows no signs of abating. Despite the centre rushing paramilitary forces and deploying the army, the riots have only spread to newer areas. The Gogoi government has proved largely ineffectual but perhaps a postmortem of its performance can await the restoration of peace.
The Indian media’s coverage of the Assam violence has been marked by two things.First: silence. On the usually voluble CNN-IBN channel, for instance, the headlines have been dominated by either Anna Hazare’s latest fast or the latest episode in the never ending saga of Congress party fights with one of its recalcitrant allies. And this isn’t about ignoring the North East either: Almost all the channels had non-stop coverage of the Guwahati molestation case. For some strange reason, the riots which have displaced close to two lakh people have merited only a limited mention. Though newspapers have performed somewhat better, initially, the riots were almost completely ignored.
The second striking aspect of the media coverage is its insistence that it is some sort of ethnic clash involving Bodos and ‘minorities’. Only recently has the media even mentioned that the so-called minorities are not Indian Muslims but Bangladeshis. And when the Bangladesh angle is mentioned, it is couched in such a language that one would be inclined to believe that Bangladesh is just another Indian state and the Bodo activists are following the MNS zeitgeist. Some have gone even further: This Indian Express story completely ignores the Bangladeshi angle labeling them merely Muslims.
It took the Christian Science Monitor to state the obvious,
It’s an open secret that the northeast is the main entry point for millions of illegal Bangladeshi migrants into India. From there, they travel into Indian towns and cities, providing a cheap, useful work force. But in places like Assam, they also change electoral politics. [link]
So let’s be clear: These riots are not the usual religious/ethnic riots which are unfortunately much too common in India. This conflict is between Indian citizens and illegal foreign settlers whose influx has been deliberately encouraged for electoral reasons. As the Assam Sentinel puts it,
Politicians who are directly or indirectly responsible for creating bizarre demographic changes in any State, should stop to think of not just their own electoral equations, but also of the traumatic effects of such changes on the lives of innocent people. In the last three decades, we have been witness to a callous indifference to the disasters that have overtaken people as a result of the actions of politicians directed solely at electoral gains even with the help of foreign nationals. At this point, any objective and dispassionate penal action against rioters would seem to be quite impossible because of their electoral clout and the inability of the government to punish wrongdoing on the part of the so-called minorities who are actually in a majority in several of the districts of Assam. [link]
Now, violence should not be condoned against anyone. Period. Nevertheless, their status as Bangladeshis and the deliberate and patently illegal government decisions which has encouraged their influx is extremely relevant to the current situation and should be emphasized. Instead, the media has almost completely ignored this angle turning this into just another regular religious riot.
What boggles the mind is that the same elite anchors and thinkers nod sympathetically at the Kashmiri militant leaders with their extremely xenophobic attitude towards their fellow citizens. Recall for instance the fake Amarnath land controversy when Kashmiri separatists incited a massive protest over a temporary transfer of merely 99 acres of forest land. If you believed the Kashmiri leaders heard with much sympathy in some elite circles in New Delhi, it was tantamount to a full fledged Hindu invasion of Kashmir! Yet an actual full fledged invasion by illegal foreign settlers—and this can’t be emphasized enough—is treated as irrelevant. Indeed, as Harsh Gupta and I have argued elsewhere, Article 370—much beloved of the so-called secular intelligentsia—is essentially illiberal.
Unfortunately, the trollish and frequently uncouth behavior of the Hindu Right on Twitter and other social media platforms camouflages an uncomfortable truth: The ‘secular’ discourse in India is often marked by sophistry, infantilism and moral cowardice. Secularism is essential to India’s future but certainly not of the kind often practiced by high priests of New Delhi Establishment. A more honest approach and respect for the maturity of the Indian people—is that asking for too much?