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Media and Representation of Northeast India

In modern times, when we refer to the word ‘media’, we not only refer to print media like newspapers and books but now the term has acquired a very holistic approach with the addition of digital and visual forms like films, television, web series, internet etc.


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  29 Jan 2023 4:42 AM GMT

Ritika Das

In modern times, when we refer to the word 'media', we not only refer to print media like newspapers and books but now the term has acquired a very holistic approach with the addition of digital and visual forms like films, television, web series, internet etc.

Of all the functions that media performs, one of the most important one is how it acts like a thread that seems to connect the entire nation through its reach and how it is responsible for representing various cultures, states and diversity of India in a sensitive and accurate manner.

But, there have been many debates and differences of opinions about the kind of role that the media plays while covering Northeast India and how it chooses to depict the various demarcation of the concerned seven sisters of India.

Last year, in a popular reality dance show, star host Raghav Juyal had casually made a comment on Assamese girl Gunjan Sinha by introducing her through references like momo and chowmein and comparing her language to Chinese gibberish. Later, even though he clarified it as a light-hearted joke, but it did invoke the suppressed feelings of all the North-Easterners who had been a subject of such comments on a serious basis for years.

As a personal experience, when we had our first offline class interaction in Delhi University, upon knowing my full name, and hearing my language, almost everyone assumed that I am a Bengali. The 'Das' title makes them link me to the East but none tried to link me to the Northeast. When confronted, they bluntly said that 'You don't look like a North-Easterner'.

This made me wonder what is their perception about the Northeast India or more precisely, how do they identify a North-Easterner? Two of the most common stereotypes that North-Eastern people have to battle with almost every day, and which is further fuelled by popular media, are the look and language stereotype. There seems to be a rigid portrayal of Northeast people, with necessary Mongolian features, away from the usual Aryan- Dravidian features of the rest of the population. There are many North- Easterners with mongoloid features, but not all. We often see many web series and movies roping in people with only Mongoloid features whenever they need to show a character from Northeast.

Hence, all thanks to popular media, when a person who doesn't match with the necessary facial features of an 'ordinary North-Easterner', they are welcomed with comments like, "Oh! You look just like us".

Secondly, the Northeast is itself a multi-lingual area and although it is true that many locals are more comfortable with their indigenous language other than mainstream popular language, but it is not true about the majority of North-Easterners. There are many people like us who know and understand Hindi just as a normal North Indian individual would. But we often see many digital media, which can include movies, television or popular series in OTT platforms showcasing North-Eastern characters speaking only English or broken accented Hindi and nothing else.

To further consolidate my point, we can see many artistes from Northeast, for example actor Adil Hussain (acted in movies like English Vinglish, web series Delhi Crimes), Joi Barua (composed many songs for Hindi movies), Papon (sang famous songs like Kyon, Tu Jo Mila and many others), Seema Biswas (popular face in movies like Bandit Queen, Vivah), Zubeen Garg (singer of chartbuster song Ya Ali), Andrea Tariang (acted with Amitabh Bachchan in Pink) and many more exhibiting their talents in the world of Bollywood and beyond. The recent incident of Google paying tribute to legendary singer and composer Bhupen Hazarika through its signatory doodle speaks volume about the fact that there is indeed significant contribution to the Hindi film industry by artistes from the Northeast frontier of India.

There are also difficulties and disparities when it comes to representation in print media. Once, a then 12-year-old girl from Assam wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of India and asked him why the history of North-Eastern states was not being included or taught in her school curriculum or in NCERT books. While a student may vividly know the stories and folk tales of Rajasthan, the valour of Maratha rulers, the age-old rebellion and unrest in Kashmir, but they would sadly not be able to trace the history of the North-Eastern part of their country.

Another reason for less priority to Northeast is the meagre advertising revenue in the market. Even though the print advertising share has increased to 60 per cent, it is still less in comparison to a total of Rs 9,000 crore. Due to this discrepancy, we often witness numerous important news items from Northeast region getting lost in the pages of national dailies.

According to another view, it has also been alleged that the low presence of very minimal TRP boxes in the Northeast is also a probable reason why there is less focus on news concerning the region.

But this article is not entirely intended to play the blame game against the national media and put ourselves on a podium of sympathy because a relationship of any kind should always be from both sides. Now, if we allege that the national media does not give enough attention to the Northeast, we should also highlight our shortcomings. Manipur has banned theatrical release of any Bollywood movies in their local cinema halls. The craze and fandom for Bollywood movies is one thing which unites every Indian, irrespective of any individual or group differences and hence, by restricting its people from enjoying and experiencing the joy and familiarity with Hindi movies, Manipur is only distancing itself more from the rest of the country.

But, there are also some very positive efforts been made through few films and web series like 'Anek' (throwing light on the militancy in Manipur) and 'Axone' streaming in Netflix which talks about how North-Eastern food culture is looked down upon in many parts of India and it is through our different food habits that we are being segregated from the rest of the country. India is a land of diversity with areas demarcated as east, west, north and south. Thus, the feeling of isolation and alienation from rest of the country is very understandable for regions like South and Northeast since they don't share much commonality with the rest of the Indian population.

Under the following circumstances, there should be a balanced and accurate media representation of all the aspects and sectors of a country and its different regions as it is considered as the most powerful entity on earth today, and it has the ability to control and mould the minds of masses.

Hence, correct and factual media representation becomes a very important medium through which people understand and as well know about the Northeast because many a time, what we see, read or what we hear in popular media gets acquired consciously or unconsciously in our day-to-day mannerism and can build a form of dangerous stereotype.

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