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Monkeys wear clothes, women don’t: Shocking Assamese report that has women up in arms

Acting as the ‘custodian of Indian culture’, one of Assam’s leading news channels, recently ran a video report which explicitly showed women, as young as schoolgirls, wearing shorts and short skirts and compared them to monkeys who cannot keep clothes on themselves. The video, which was aired almost a month ago, is being criticised for its ‘misogynistic’ undertones, attempt at moral policing, and for filming young women without their consent.

Watch the full report here:

As the video starts playing, you hear the remixed item number ‘Kaanta Laga’ in the background and the visuals are of several young girls wearing shorts, short skirts and short dresses. Soon a voice breaks in and explains, “Even monkeys from the forests have started wearing clothes. The simians from the woods have also started washing clothes. But the need for clothes has come down in the civil society.”

As the background music fades, the voice over continues: “These are visuals from your favourite city. Now shorts have turned out to be the favourite dress for many young girls in Guwahati. That includes half pants too. As if gradually the dresses of a section of young girls have become increasingly shorter than required. For this breed fashion is perhaps expose. But they want to say that wearing clothes as per their choice is a matter of individual right. Wearing shorts give you comfort.

Not only is the report extremely biased and sexist, it stereotypes women wearing shorts as “indecent” and says that the culture of Assam has fallen due to girls who “wear such clothes”. The report has also quoted men, who are wholeheartedly agreeing with the report. “Assam has lost its earlier etiquette. People get usually angry with the men and blame them for giving a bad eye. But just now a girl passed and the dress she was wearing what should I say? The culture we had… that we should be prim and proper in public is gone now.”

Screengrab from the news report.Screengrab from the news report.

Screengrab from the news report.

A small group of women in Guwahati, although, have decided not to sit quietly after this report. Bipasa Saikia, a journalist, has registered an online petition on Change.org against the vernacular media in Assam.

“Journalism is not about journalists giving their opinions about other people. Journalism is about journalists stating facts and making the people aware of things in the society. However, since the past eight to ten years we have been noticing a trend in the Assamese media where self proclaimed journalists go out and sexually objectify women,” writes Saikia.

Saikia, who is based in Assam, told Firstpost that journalists like Hemen Rajbhonghsi (a Pratidin Time reporter), who upload news like “‘Scantily clad girls, A summer time nuisance’ do not even spare little girls of taking shots that are unimaginably indecent.”

“I want women and girls in my hometown Guwahati to be free. I lived in Delhi for about a seven years, and I was more free there than I am here. Women in Guwahati are subjected to various bullshit. There have been several incidents where girls, who were visiting bars, were dragged out and attacked. The reason given was they were ‘loose’ women.”

A senior journalist based in Guwahati added that vernacular media in the state has taken upon themselves to define the way a woman should “behave” herself in the society.

“It is worse than being repressed. It brings back scary memories of 2012 molestation case. There has been no sentencing yet in that case,” she said on condition of anonymity. The brazenness with which men conduct themselves in this society is nothing short of gross misogyny, she added.

In 2012, a mob had attacked and molested a 20-year-old girl, who was coming out of a bar in Guwahati.

The case had attracted attention across the nation on account of the insensitivity that the local media showed towards her. Instead of preventing the perpetrators from doing the heinous crime, the cameras kept rolling and the questions kept coming.

Another senior journalist, who is based in Guwahati and who did not wished to be named, said that these incidents happen on a daily basis in Guwahati.

“Every week some news channel or the other will carry a report where they shame women some way or the other. The most common are those reports which have both women and alcohol. Every week this happens, sometimes more than once. And this is the first thing you see in the morning.

“Guwahati as a city is suffering because the media here is busy highlighting things that really don’t matter. You should see the sad state of roads, drainage, floods, infrastructure here. But no! The only thing that our media is worried about is why are our women wearing shorts and why are they drinking beer?” she said.

Saikia, elaborating on the mob mentality and the cudgel of moral policing that news channels seem to have readily picked up, said, “It is sick here. You cannot go out and drink. You cannot even think of lighting a smoke on the streets. God know what they will do to you. Most of my friends are backing me up. Most women I know are outraged, but I also know that there is a section of people who agree with the reporter.”

After the Pratidin Time report went viral and social media and the channel and the reporter drew sharp criticism from netizens, Pratidin issued a rejoinder:

“It has been brought to our notice that unwarranted controversy has been created over a news item that was broadcast on ‘Pratin Time’ nearly a month and half ago by a section of the people on social media. That news item was largely based on an issue often discussed in the social and cultural space in Assam. There was no intention to hurt someone’s feelings and denigrate any individual through that news item. If the broadcast of the news item has hurt someone, ‘Pratidin Time’ apologises to everyone concerned.”

Despite several attempts, Hemen Rajbhonghsi was not available for a comment. However, he issued a statement on Facebook too:

“Thanks for being a viewer of our channel. I don’t think my work disrespects my mother and sisters. Because, they never show their legs in public. You don’t know about the male psychology. Men are visually stimulated by nature. And culture! Perhaps you don’t know Assamese culture. As a sister, I respect you. And I also know that learning never ends. So I will be happy if I will be able to learn something from you. Thanks for your comment. But shorts are not symbol of ‘sobhyo’ (the culture). Get well soon.”

The blatant disregard for the outrageous report did not go down well with activists and social media users. Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) wrote on Facebook, “Tell this Assam journalist that he can’t use channel for his voyeurism of women’s clothes and bodies and his moral comments on them. If he finds it a nuisance to see skirt clad women he can lock himself up in his own home or cover his eyes. He and the channel have no business to use the TV medium to propagate hatred against women in this fashion.”

Saikia said there should be laws in place that protect women from such baseless abuse on TV.

“I want there to be a law that clearly states the ethical guidelines of jounalism. Especially something that protects women of smaller cities in our country. If a woman in a place, like say Dhubri, is raped and a woman of say Mumbai or Delhi is raped, the results are going to be completely different,” she added.

Saikia told Firstpost that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has to wake up and take note of the issue. “We are planning for a protest this Sunday.”

Interestingly, the reporter of Pratidin Times ended his report with a very ironical question: “We have sent spacecraft to Mars. But at this time in Assam, the news is on dress code. Till how far is this acceptable? (sic)” We wonder.

Meghalaya to showcase North East India culture in Delhi festival

New Delhi: In a bid to bring northeastern India closer to the rest of the country, a day-long North East festival, featuring food, costumes, music and dance among other features is being organised at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on 11 April in New Delhi.

A dance troupe from Meghalaya. AFPA dance troupe from Meghalaya. AFP

A dance troupe from Meghalaya. AFP

Hosted by the Meghalaya government and sponsored by the North Eastern Council, the festival titled “Songs and Dances of the North-East” is scheduled to be inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee, organisers said in New Delhi today.

Mukul Sangma, chief minister of Meghalaya along with members of North Eastern Council and other dignitaries will also be present at the occasion.

“The purpose of the festival is to connect the unique way of life of north eastern people with the rest of the country,” M War Nongbri, director, Art and Culture, Meghalaya said.

Failing to encompass the vast North East culture in a day’s time, Nongbri said, they settled to focus on the music and dances of the region in this first edition of the festival.

“North East is known for its diverse music, richness of cultures, colours of traditions and the sweet melodies of folklores,” Nongbri said.

Both budding and eminent bands and artistes from across the eight states will showcase their rich, vibrant, cultural ethnicity and diversity through an array of music and dance performances.

Among the popular names are bands like Shillong Chamber Choir (Meghalaya), Imphal Talkies (Aizawl), Tetseo Sisters (Nagaland) and the acclaimed “Indian Idol” winner Amit Paul.

Extending a warm welcome to the rest of India to visit North East, Nongri said they hope that the festival will also act as a catalyst to take up important issues associated with the region.

Besides the cultural performances, for a hands-on experience from the region, free sessions of indigenous dance forms from the North-East will also be on offer.

“There will also be a stall where people can pull on the native costumes of the different states from the region and get photographs clicked. They can try being a North-Easterner for a day,” Nongri said.

About 20 stalls will showcase the cuisines from across the region to provide the visitors a taste of North East.

“There will be three to five stalls from each state displaying food that north easterners have on a daily basis as well as those that are prepared on special occasions,” Nongri said.

Owing to the exotic variety of flowers that adorn North East India throughout the year, a floriculture stall will also be present for the visitors to admire along with a tourist counter that will cater to all travel enquiries associated with the region.

Based on the response that the festival will receive this edition, Nongri said, the North Eastern Council has been mulling over making it an annual affair, with the subsequent editions being hosted by each of the states from the region.

“Also, we would want to consider if it should be taken to other parts of the country besides the capital,” she said.

The festival which will begin at 12 noon, will continue till 9:30 pm with performances by 132 dancers and 26 bands from across the region.

PTI

Delhi University to launch North East India Studies Programme from next academic session

New Delhi: With an aim of encouraging research scholars to study various aspects of North East India, Delhi University is soon going to launch a North East India Studies Programme (NEISP).

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The research programme, which will be a fully funded one, is likely to be started from the next academic session.

“Though concerns have been raised in the past about various issues of North Eastern states, there is not enough understanding about the areas and the people, not just among laymen but also intellectuals,” Kamei Aphun, Convenor of NEISP, told PTI.

“Also, there is lack of research. Hence, we decided to develop this programme,” he added.

The NEISP, which has been approved by the Department of Sociology’s council, is yet to be placed before varsity’s Academic Council following which it will be officially introduced.

“Meanwhile, we are working on a vision document which will be presented to UGC to seek their support.

A five-member committee has been established in the department which is taking care of that,” Aphun said.

With the North Eastern studies finding a bigger space in DU’s curriculum, the varsity is also planning to include syllabi on North East studies in its MA and MPhil programmes offered by the Department of Sociology.

“In 1970, a module called Area Study Programme was introduced by Delhi University under which North East was offered as one of the areas. However, due to some reasons it was discontinued after 7-8 years.

In 2011, I placed a proposal to revive the programme,” Aphun elaborated.

This programme will accelerate Social Science research and learning and promote studying “other culture”.

The department is known for comparative studies of different societies and therefore this initiative would help gain holistic understanding of the Indian society, he added.

However, it will run under the department and the larger vision is to bridge the gap between the region and the rest of the country.

The varsity has also established a “think-tank” featuring academics from JNU, JMI, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Guwahati), media professionals, Delhi Police and representatives from the DONER (Development of North Eastern Region) ministry and NEC (North Eastern Council) to deliberate upon the issues pertaining to the North East.

“The academic curriculum doesn’t talk about the North East, inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the law and order apparatus in the face of discrimination and hate, improper guidelines and policies of the government and the role of the media.

Then I figured out that it is best to bring all the representatives on one forum,” Aphun said.

“Even the DONER ministry, they plan and implement but they do not have a research wing.

So, the think tank will also assist them in formulation of policies and programmes,” he added.

According to university records, around 5,000 students from the North Eastern states are enrolled in various undergraduate and post graduate programmes.

While DU’s linguistic department doesn’t offer any full time courses in the North Eastern language, the undergraduate students have an option of choosing either Assamese or Manipuri as an elective during their three-year degree course.

The varsity had also introduced certificate courses in eight North Eastern languages last year, in its run up to the preparations for a train journey of 900 students to North East.

PTI