“Hi, I’m from Nagaland.”
“It’s near Arunachal Pradesh?”
“Alright…And where is that?”
“Manipur? Mizoram? It’s near these states.”
“Oh! You’re from Assam?”
“No, I’m from Nagaland. They’re different.”
“It’s in India, right?”
“Apparently, Rahul Kanwal from India Today thinks it is not.”
This is an average conversation which almost every person from the Northeast has had when they move to mainland India. I’m from Shillong, and the propensity of many to liken Shillong to Sri Lanka’s Ceylon is unparalleled. Northeast India has only in the past few years been more normalised as a sovereign and inseparable part of India. Many Indians think it is some foreign land with weird people. That predisposition is changing, but we still have a long way to go.
While discussing the extradition of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi with the author of the book ‘Extradition’ and Nagaland DGP Rupin Sharma, Rahul Kanwal made quite a grand and inexcusable mistake. The Nagaland DGP’s live feed was disconnected for a time, and when he came back on air, he apologised and said there was a power cut at his place. To this very normal phenomena, Rahul Kanwal remarked saying, “Don’t worry, you are in Nagaland, electricity goes off even in India, please go on.”
Yes, you read that right. Electricity goes off even in India, and the Nagaland DGP needed to be told that by none other than Rahul Kanwal due to the fact that Nagaland is a separate country altogether. The matter soon escalated, as many outraged Indians who were well versed with Indian geography took shots at the journalist.
In response to the growing outrage, Rahul Kanwal apologised and said, “This was a slip of tongue. My apologies. Was meaning to say Delhi. My bad.”
People from the Northeast have gotten used to the casual ignorance of many of their Indian brothers and sisters. We also know that the situation is fast changing. However, the absolute ignorance prevalent among Indian mainstream media regarding Northeast India is rather shameful. The media is not an institution which should have people unaware of Indian geography. The Northeast is not a region where there is no power, no roads, no bridges and a general lack of development. People here do not reside in huts only and survive on rice alone. In fact, many might be surprised by the modernity of the region.
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For media professionals whose lives revolve around a two-square kilometre radius in Noida Film City to think so, and brazenly suggest the same on live television is a glowing testimony of the shambled condition Indian media is in. Northeasterners have close to no high-level representation in mainstream Indian media organisations. One man who has made it very big in the industry – Arnab Goswami is hounded by his peers, competitors and even people claiming to be fighting for the cause of diversity.
That shows the disdain Indian media has for Northeast India. Already, the media has a shameful track record of not reporting and covering the Northeast enough. Rahul Kanwal’s colleague – Rajdeep Sardesai once tried to justify the same with the classic “tyranny of distance” bogey. The only occasion when Northeast India was blessed with some coverage in the past was when a bomb blast occurred in the region and people were killed.
Since bomb blasts have almost stopped completely now, the media’s once-in-a-lifetime coverage of the region has too. Mumbai is flooded every year due to BMC’s ineptitude to deal with a few hours of rain. Assam’s Brahmaputra swells and causes mass flooding in Assam every year, causing lakhs of people and animals to be displaced as a norm. Guess which becomes a primetime story for Indian news media organisations?
Of course, during the CAA agitation in 2019, the Northeast was heavily covered. The reason? The Modi-Shah duo was to be targeted using the protests raging in Northeast India – primarily in Assam. Imagine the media’s infuriation when the protests in Assam ended up having no bearing on the recent assembly elections in the state – in which the BJP won handsomely.
Rahul Kanwal’s faux pas is a mere indicator of the levels of ignorance which Indian media is plagued with when it comes to the Northeast. All Indian journalists must be subjected to mandatory tutorials on the Northeast. This brazen approach to a sovereign region of India must not be tolerated any longer. If the media has no idea about the Northeast, expecting ordinary citizens to be at least aware of the nationality of the people from the Northeast is a rather far-fetched dream.