‘Bulletproof – A Journalist’s Notebook on Reporting Conflict’ review: An unsettled frontier
SAWM member journalist Teresa Rehman’s book ‘Bulletproof : A Journalist’s Notebook On Reporting Conflict’ is gaining rave reviews. Here is a report published in The Hindu on this book.
Why reporting from the Northeast is like walking a tightrope
The mainland often looks at the region beyond the Chicken’s Neck of West Bengal as a monolith, but the Northeast is vast and each State, Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura, diverse. India’s equation with this frontier has been uneasy — there have been conflicts with Nagas, Mizos and groups in Assam and Manipur. Borders are disputed, people divided. Nagaland awaits resolution of a decades-long strife; Assam is on a drive to update the National Register of Citizens to ostensibly filter out “illegal immigrants”; and though Manipur is going through a period of relative calm, the draconian AFSPA or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is yet to be lifted fully there as in some other States.
For two decades, Teresa Rehman tried to make sense of this large troubled zone which has witnessed “bloodbaths, unrest and violence”, as she recollects in Bulletproof.
There were many firsts in her assignments which included chasing ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) leaders inside a government hospital when they came for checkups; grabbing an interview with one of its top leaders as he appeared in court; meeting a sniper, a senior member of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland.
From Manipur, Rehman narrates the circumstances of writing on an “encounter killing” in Imphal (2009) when 27-year-old Chungkham Sanjit, a former militant, was shot dead by Manipur Police commandos barely 500 metres from the State Legislative Assembly. Thokchom Rabina, a pregnant woman who was standing nearby, also died in the firing.
Just five years earlier, a group of Manipuri women had bared themselves to protest against the AFSPA and the runaway powers it gives the forces.
One of the most heartbreaking stories, however, is from lower Assam, about the Adivasi descendants of “tea tribes” who live in poverty and squalor. The Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam was formed to protest against ethnic riots that forced the settlers, whose ancestors were indentured labourers, into camps.
In 2007, she met Thuingaleng Muivah, chief of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), at Hebron, off Dimapur in Nagaland, headquarters of its government-in-exile. The events that nearly scuttled the journey are as dramatic as what transpired at the meeting. “We want something appropriate to be done on both sides…. If the government of India is prepared to respect the reality of the Nagas, the Nagas will respect the reality of India ten times more,” he told her. Eight years later, Muivah, 84 years old now, would sign a Framework Agreement with the Indian government to find a solution to the issue.
At work, Rehman had to “walk a tightrope — without any safety gear or support system.” The focus was on humanising the conflict, which meant going to remote places, sometimes getting caught in the crossfire. Needless to say, she wasn’t wearing a bulletproof jacket.
Bulletproof: A Journalist’s Notebook on Reporting Conflict; Teresa Rehman, Penguin Random House, ₹399.