Assam situation: Do we really need roundtables?

Posted on: September 15, 2012

Seminars and roundtables are expected to give us a bird’s- eye view on any issue.We attend these discussions for a deeper understanding of current affairs as “experts” invited in these symposiums are supposed to apprise us of a broader view that we journalists ( who usually suffer from myopic vision) may not be aware of.

Two weeks back, I walked into Mir Anis Hall at Jamia Millia Islamia, where the varsity’s NE centre had organised a roundtable on “Assam situation,” with a view to get different perspectives on the recent conflict. Given the spectrum of speakers –  researchers, a Planning Commission member, a Supreme Court lawyer and a journalist- my expectations were high.But much of it transformed into disappointment as we inched closer to the evening.

Curiously, none of the speakers gave any cursory rundown on the recent violence in Bodoland. Instead, some unautheticated facts floated in the three-hour long discussion. Most speakers appeared to be misinformed.

 For example, one of the speakers vociferously pointed out that the development in the Bodoland has gone down since the formation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in 2003. I agree with the statement because I have visited Bodoland. But a mere statement is not enough to convince a room of 200 listeners (mostly students and researchers). The speaker had nothing more to substantiate her observation.

She made a careless mention on Bodoland’s high dropout rate without stating what the actual dropout rate is. (Btw, the dropout rate in Bodoland is 28 per cent and the literacy rate is 56.5%).

Further on, she mentioned that Bodo boys and girls are very good in sports but they don’t get right opportunities to exhibit their talent. I agree with her first part of the sentence but  beg to differ with the second.

 Here is why. For your information, there is a residential coaching centre run by Sports Authority of India (SAI) for honing the skills of the budding talents in Kokrajhar, one of the four Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD).

Archers and boxers hailing from this SAI centre have won gold and silver medals in the international tournaments in the past few years.(For more on this, refer to my story

One interesting point that came out in the discussion was how militant groups operational in the Bodoland have, in a way, aggravated the recent violence. But strangely enough, the issue of illegal immigration –  which is believed to be the genesis of the conflict was deliberately skirted by the speakers.

Nobody pondered over the fact there are several estimates of illegal migration and the courts have repeatedly pointed out that the ineffective mechanism by the state government to detect and deport illegal migrants.

In a bid to convince the audience that the recent rupture is not a fallout of illegal migration, one of the speakers even eagerly stated that the Kokrajhar Foreigners Tribunal has detected just one foreigner. Later, I discovered that number of foreigners declared by the Tribunal is 35 since 2006.No person has been declared a foreigner in the past three months, additional superintendent of police of Kokrajhar told me.

A Jamia friend later pointed out that illegal immigration was deliberately not discussed keeping the sentiments of minority community at Jamia in mind. This argument sounded very puerile because the issue is not about Muslims but about illegal migration from Bangladesh.  Jamia has students from all communities and I believe, a student is a seeker and is always open to hear all sides of a debate.

Needless to mention that  the Assam situation is a veritable tinderbox and one should always be careful while discussing it because political leaders and a faction of “intellectuals” tend to give it a communal colour but then why should we have seminars if the speakers don’t stick their neck out? Why should we abstain from discussing the real issues on public forums?

Another shocking statement by one of the speakers, that too a lawyer, was that Manipur was a part of undivided Assam (FYI, Manipur and Tripura never were part of undivided Assam).  At this juncture, I thought to leave the room but  stayed back  till the Q&A session.

But again, the  other disappointment was that none of my questions on Indo-Bangladesh dialogue on illegal migration and deportation of migrants were satisfactorily answered.

It is true that it is not possible to keep every  data handy but the minimum that a listener expects from speakers of a convention is the correct presentation of facts.

At the end of the three long hour long debate and discussion, I asked myself -Do we really need such roundtables?

4 Responses to "Assam situation: Do we really need roundtables?"

Possibly our sociocultural or historical knowledge about North-East as a whole is not enough. Information about North-East must be incorporated in school books so that children will be aware of the landscape, culture and tribes of North-Eastern people.

The problem is we have very superficial knowledge about a lot of things, not just NE. But I wonder how the so called experts afford talk gibberish, that too on a public forum. And you are right, there is nothing abt NE in our textbooks..that’s the reason why probably half of India didn’t know that Manipur is a part of this country until Mary Kom did wonders in the Olympics!

The credibility of these so-called experts who cannot even corroborate their statements with facts and figures is highly questionable. Agree with you when you say that why should we have seminars if the speakers don’t stick their neck out.

But come to think of it, most seminars and roundtables don’t create a debate. The worst thing is that we have mostly students as listeners in a venue like this and they tend to believe what the experts say!

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