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Arijit Sen
Saturday , October 05, 2013

The House With A Thousand Stories captures the historical silence of Assam

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When I came to Assam a few years ago on a reporting assignment, a regional journalist told me that I shouldn't be reporting from this region, on account of not being Assamese. At the time he told me this, we were attending a 'surrender ceremony' of militants, organised by the Indian Army in honour of the new General Officer Commanding-in-Chief. I was struck, and disconcerted at the sudden outburst of resentment directed towards my presence. I have understood over time that his anger was not without reason. Assam is multicultural, multiethnic, and one of the most spectacularly beautiful and green states of India. Yet enormous apathy is displayed towards this region. So, in an age in which geographical distances often hold little meaning, Assam's position on the Indian map, is both literally, and by implication, stuck in a corner. Far from Delhi, away from anything at the heart of mainstream....

Thursday , August 02, 2012

Assam violence: old wounds, new plans and peace hypocrisy

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On the morning of February 18, 1983, Assam witnessed one of the bloodiest massacres of independent India. In a horrific mob attack, babies, women and men were hacked to death in a rural area called Nellie, a few hours from Guwahati. Officially, the number of dead was put at anything between 600 and 1,600. Now, activists point out that the number killed is anything between 2,200 and 3,000. The numbers might be conflicting. What is not is the brutality and the cold-blooded manner with which eyes were gorged out, limbs chopped off, heads severed, bodies punctured with spears, people killed with bows and arrows, swords and houses set on fire. The mutilated bodies were left in the paddy fields. Few survived and some of the ones who did, unable to withstand the shock, even lost their speech, went into deep trauma. If one goes through newspaper archives, the horror....

Thursday , June 07, 2012

How India missed the Burma bus

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It was unbearably hot in Kolkata in May last year when 31 Arakanese and Karen men walked out of Presidency Jail. It took them a little time to spot the TV cameras waiting to record their acquittal, their free walk. Once they knew where to look, they posed with victory signs. Yet, most were too tired to flash a smile or even realise that they were free. Three of their comrades were still in jail. Two others had died over the years. The tiredness was not surprising. It had been 13 years since February 1998 when these men had been allegedly backstabbed by the Indian Army. It was a vicious 180-degree turn on India's part that had falsely turned these men engaged in a freedom struggle into a group of international gun-runners. The rebels were members of the National Unity Party of Arakan and the Karen....

Saturday , May 05, 2012

Richard Loitam: An alien in his own country?

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On the afternoon of July 15, 2004, 12 women disrobed themselves and stood naked in front of the Indian paramilitary headquarters in Imphal. Together they held a single length of white cloth that had "Indian Army Rape Us" emblazoned on it in red paint. No corner of India had witnessed such a display of anger, ever. The Manipuri women were protesting the gangrape and murder of a 32-year old woman, by paramilitary forces. It was only after this protest by the 'Imas' or mothers of Manipur and the publication of photographs of their protest in some newspapers that the rest of the mainstream media woke up. Reporters were sent to Imphal. Stories were carried and awards won. Unfortunately, the principal demand of the protest, the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, fell on deaf ears. Manipur, again, dropped off the national mainstream news cycle. Ironically, in December 2008,....

Tuesday , February 21, 2012

Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea

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In the Bhuvan Valley Tea estate in Assam, temporary plantation workers get paid forty rupees a day. The permanent lot is a little better off. Their wages are fixed at Rs 50 a day along with a princely bonus (in the range of Rs 1,000-1,500) during Durga Puja, depending on union-management negotiations. There are other benefits as well, at least on paper. These include provident fund money, provision of umbrellas, slippers and subsidised ration - three kilos of rice every week on the basis that they should be given 500 grams daily. If a worker is absent for a day, two kilos of rice gets deducted from his weekly quota of ration. According to the standard rules of tea associations, for every extra kilo of tealeaves plucked, 24 paise will be given as extra payment to the successful worker after verification. There are a couple of small nondescript buildings,....

Sunday , April 25, 2010

Big Boys play at night

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India's northeast, like the rest of the nation, seems to be hit by the IPL virus. In Thomas Freidman's flat world, IPL, the pundits tell us, is a genuine global brand India has produced; it is creating opportunities for thousands and cricket, like always, is building bridges. So for the "strangers of the mist"-the northeastern states-to be part of this truth is probably to be part of a wider acceptance of their Indian identity. Local papers in Assam were happy with double columns on a young cricketer who is now part of the IPL gravy train. Not just Assam, which many think is closer to the mainstream anyway. On a visit to Mizoram in 2008, I found little boys and girls swearing by the name of Sachin Tendulkar and Mumbai Indians. Yet something seems to be perverse with this cricket league. The perversion has nothing to do with the format....

Thursday , December 24, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera

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Current Scenario "I am neither in the dark, nor in the knowhow, I am somewhere in-between", was Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's response when I asked him about the coordinates of Arabinda Rajkhowa. This was two days before Rajkhowa was handcuffed and produced at a Guwahati Court on December 5. Over the last few weeks, conspiracy theories, plots and sub-plots about the status of one of India's most wanted militants - Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the banned militant outfit, United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), have been flying thick and fast and from all quarters. One was made to believe that he was willing to talk peace, to put an end to the three-decade-long history of violence in Assam. The prospect of a face-to-face dialogue with the ULFA was, in itself, a significant step forward. It was obvious that something was happening, but there also....

Friday , November 20, 2009

No Time For The Dead

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There is no Northeast beyond Calcutta. That is what many believe and often unfortunately that is what appears to be true. India's Iron Man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the Deputy Prime Minister when informed in 1949 that the "native state" of Manipur might be reluctant to merge fully with the Indian Union came out with the response, "Isn't there a Brigadier in Shillong?" (Baruah: Durable Disorders, OUP). The tone and tenor set by Patel, still rules New Delhi's vision of the Northeastern states and the mainstream Indian perception about the Northeastern States. They are lumped together, all individuality erased when it comes to governance or any other issue be it life, or death. Amidst all the complaints of neglect of the Northeast an unfortunate precedence is being set in the manner India has suddenly started remembering its dead. The context is, of course, the terrorist attacks that took....

Friday , November 06, 2009

Chasing The Old Monk

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Dalai Lama means different things to different people. To some it means that I am a living Buddha, the earthly manifestation of Avolokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. To others it means that I am a "god-king". During the late 1950s it meant that I was a Vice President of The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China. Then when I escaped into exile, I was called a counter-revolutionary and a parasite. But none of these are my ideas. To me 'Dalai Lama' is a title that signifies the office I hold. I myself am just a human being, and incidentally a Tibetan, who chooses to be a Buddhist monk. Freedom In Exile--Dalai Lama In March 1959, a new batch of IFS probationers were escorted by K Natwar Singh for a meeting with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in South Block. Midway the meeting stopped.....

Thursday , April 30, 2009

On the margin

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Sirajuddin Ahmed does not believe in votes. Last time he stood in a queue to vote was on February 14, 1983. Four days after that Ahmed's parents and two of his daughters were killed and his wife's hands were chopped off because they went out to vote. Ahmed speaks very slowly. His words almost come out in slow motion. He is unsure about his age. "I think 65 or 70", he says. "I will show you the place where they killed everyone because they went out to vote against the boycott call given by the All Assam Students' Union. They came at 8 am and it went on till 4 pm." I was with Sirajuddin at the killing fields of Nellie. A quiet village in Assam that shot into unwanted prominence after 3,000 men, women and children were killed by a rampaging mob. Muslims in Nellie were killed because....


More about Arijit Sen

Arijit Sen reports from Northeast India. He was at NDTV before joining CNN-IBN in 2005. A 2010/11 Gerda Henkel Fellow at Oxford University, Arijit received the News Television Award in 2010. He was given the Ramnath Goenka excellence in journalism award twice, in 2008-09 and 2009-10, for his reporting from Northeast India.


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