On 13 May, the website of a leading English daily carried a story with the headline ‘Meghalaya landslide toll rises to 13, more bodies likely to be extricated’. The story quotes the Press Trust of India (PTI) from Aizawl regarding the rescue operation of the massive landslide in Mizoram’s capital Aizawl on 11 May. An old office building of the Public Works Department (PWD), lying vacant after a crack developed on it a year ago, had collapsed under the impact of the landslide and damaged nine houses.
Clearly the English daily had mixed up ‘Mizoram’ with ‘Meghalaya’. This is not the first time that such a goof up has happened. Many a time, the media in mainland India has done the same, maybe with no malicious intent, but out of ignorance. There is a lack of sensitisation about the Northeast- a land mass of 2.9 lakh sq km, where a population of little over 40 million people live and speak 400 different dialects.
Mizoram happens to be the most far-flung in this periphery, so most of the national media does not ‘pick up’ the landslide tragedy as it scarcely helps boost TRPs. But even the regional media who claim to be ‘voice of Northeast’, particularly the dozens of satellite news channels based at Guwahati, did not run the story as headlines. Apart from a few, the regional newspapers failed to report the story or a follow up, clearly suggesting that there is a regional disconnect within the Northeast states as well. When it comes to Mizoram, the most peaceful state in the insurgency torn region, this disconnect travels many a miles.
So while Aizawl battled a tragedy last week, the rest of the Northeast was perhaps as equally unaware as New Delhi. Mizoram is a very blurry, distant dot in the national mind space; but it seems that the rest of the Northeast has also failed to take notice. “Mizoram is in a geographical isolation. I lived in Delhi for 10 years and saw how the rest of India simply does not know that we, the Mizos, or our state exists,” says Alan Lalthanzara, a young Mizoram Civil Service Officer. But with the coming of the internet, these geographical boundaries are slowly being scaled. Mizos are getting on the social network, they are interacting with the rest of the country. Facebook and Twitter are popular here as well, so information is now just a click away, photos and videos can be easily shared. “I guess the national think tank does not count a small state with a minority population. This is proved by the way the national media ignores Mizoram. The same goes for the regional media as well. They have to understand that Guwahati is not the end of the Northeast,” Alan adds.
Ever since the tragedy took place, several people from Mizoram shared pictures of the crumbling houses and rescue operations on social media. “We shared lot of pictures, but did not see much of a response from the rest of the country. Only people from Mizoram who stay outside reacted. Had it happened in Kolkata or Delhi, it would have had a bigger response on social media. But when it happens here, the nation is simply not bothered,” says R Pachacau, a businessmen from Aizawl.
So why is Mizoram ignored? Is it because it is peaceful for three decades, or because it is the country’s second most literate state after Kerala where the Church has a huge domination and the people are very disciplined and secluded? Or simply because Mizos cannot speak Hindi or that they look ‘different’ because of which Delhi cannot relate to them?
“It is true that there is a huge regional and national disconnect when it concerns Mizoram. Being a Christian state, they follow certain norms which are different from even other parts of the Northeast,” explains Rajib Chowdhury, Executive Editor of Guwahati-based regional news channel Prime News. “The media inside Mizoram also likes to recoil into a shell. For a regional and national channel to reach here and do a story, involves a lot of logistical bottlenecks. You do not find well trained human resource to cater to the national media, who remain happy to believe that Mizoram is a sleepy peaceful state, that there is no news there. There is also a language barrier. But having said all this, I guess editors in Delhi always like to report about conflicts in Northeast. They love insurgency stories. In Mizoram, they feel there are no stories other then bamboo flowerings, the Bru refuges crisis and the Mizo Jews. There is a stereotype about the place in their mindset,” he adds.
It was in 1987, that Mizoram became a full-fledged state; earlier it was part of Assam. Between 1966 to 1986, Mizoram saw a bloody insurgency by the Mizo National front (MNF) led by Lal Denga. They first demanded Mizoram’s sovereignty and later scaled down to a separate statehood. The conflict ended with the Mizo peace accord of 1986, which is also considered as one of the most successful peace deals in the history of independent India. Post 1987, Mizoram had not seen turmoil apart from the ethnic conflict between the Brus and Mizos in 1997- the repatriation process of Bru refuges from neighboring Tripura is still struck in limbo.
A senior journalist who has travelled extensively in Mizoram says on the condition of anonymity, that it is the design of New Delhi to keep the Northeast ‘disconnected’ with the rest of the nation and create a scope for ‘regional disconnect’ within. The Assamese community could not accommodate other smaller groups and thus Assam got bifurcated into Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh while the cry for a separate Kukiland, Bodoland, Kamtapur is still abuzz. In Manipur, the Meiteis have not been able to accommodate the hill tribes and in Tripura the Bengalis have dominated over the indigenous tribals. “You do not find chapters on the history of the Northeast, its tribes, culture and language in text books anywhere, not even inside the Northeast. So Assam does not know about Meghalaya and vice versa. How then can a child in Delhi know about Mizoram?” the senior journalist asks.
So until the mindset changes, very few people in this nation and the younger generation that makes its new conscience, will ever know that the only time New Delhi used its fighter aircrafts to bomb its own citizen was on 5 and 6 March 1966, when the Indian Air Force conducted air raids on the Mizo hills to flush out the Mizo rebels.
But is there a will for the rest of the Northeast or even a mainland connect to Mizoram? Purabi Bora, an officer with the RBI at Guwahati, feels that the vernacular media in Northeast should start writing about different states and communities. “In the feature section of different vernacular publications, I find stories about places in southern India, south-east Asia and Europe. My son knows more about Bangkok and Singapore than Aizawl or Agartala. This is not the way to protect the culture and language of different communities”.
“But we cannot blame just mainland India, we also have shortcomings. While there are a few national media correspondents here, our youth who are good in English, are not a big part of the mainstream media. Secondly, we are not fluent in Hindi and other languages. Sensitisation should be present both ways,” says young acvitist Dororthy from Aizawl.