INDIA: Patricia Mukhim is a writer, journalist, social activist, and the editor of the Shillong Times. She is known for writing articles that focus on the situation of the Khasi people of Meghalaya.
Mukhim is now facing criminal charges for a five-month-old Facebook post that condemned the attack on five non-tribal youth by unidentified men. She had also criticized the Lawsuthon village council for failing to identify the assaulters. On Nov. 12, the Meghalaya High Court refused to withdraw the criminal proceedings against her.
Talking to Transcontinental Times about her Facebook post that landed her in trouble, she said, “As a person who believes in equal human rights and justice for all, I put up a Facebook post on July 4 calling on the Chief Minister, the DG Police and the head of the traditional institution (Dorbar Shnong) of Lawsohtun, the area where the incident happened, to make sure those who indulged in such targeted violence get arrested and punished for their crimes. I also pointed out that since 1979 when large scale violence occurred, no one has been arrested and if arrested never charge-sheeted or convicted for inflicting violence on the non-tribal population of the state.”
The systematic discrimination faced by the non-tribals in Meghalaya
An FIR was filed against Mukhim on various sections of law by the Headman of the Dorbar Shnong. She was also accused of instigating communal disharmony.
Talking about the “systematic discrimination” faced by the non-tribals in Meghalaya, Mukhim said, “On July 3 this year, some non-tribal boys went to play basketball in a tribal dominant area of the city. Of the nine boys, five were beaten up with rods and sustained head injuries. Others managed to jump over the basketball fence as the entrance was locked by the assaulters and managed to escape. The others were taken to the hospital.”
According to her, an FIR was filed and after a few days, some people were arrested. However, a few days ago they were released on bail. “This has been the pattern since 1979 when non-tribals were targeted and called ‘illegal migrants’. Many were lynched and some houses of non-tribals were burnt down at the time”, she added.
Mukhim also said that many people had left the state out of fear and sold off their homes at a pittance. She added that due to this the non-tribal population in Meghalaya has dropped to about 11% from 20% in recent years.
Challenges faced by the journalists in the North East
In 2015, the High Court of Meghalaya had passed an order in which they warned the media to not publish any release from outlawed organizations. The North East journalists also have to contend with militant outfits who demand to publish their releases.
“To be honest, in the entire country today journalists are not safe to report the truth. They are termed as anti-national when they take up the cause of the anti-CAA agitators or when they raise issues that are uncomfortable for the ruling government,” she further said.
Irked over the silence of the Editors Guild of India (EGI), Mukhim, on Nov. 16 resigned as a member of the guild. She alleged that the guild only defends high-profile editors and journalists. But recently, EGI came out in support of Mukhim and called the incident a “threat to democracy.”
Talking about EGI, Mukhim said, “I had been an active member of the Editor Guild of India. I also informed them of the Meghalaya High Court’s Nov. 10 order and sent them the link from LiveLaw. I expected them to come out with a statement but a week went by and there was complete silence. So, I felt that it was pointless being part of an association where the executive body does not respond to its members or at least acknowledge the email. They finally came out with a statement after I resigned but that’s too little too late.”
Condition of journalism in Contemporary India
Mukhim believes that the involvement of the government and the ruling party has been a major challenge for journalism in the country. She said that only zealous people will be able to survive this challenge.
“I find that increasingly it is becoming tougher to be a journalist because the media is divided. There is that section of media that is co-opted by the ruling party and government and other sections that still question and resist the pressure to become the mouthpiece of the government. Only the passionate will survive this challenge. We can only hope that things change for the better,” she further added.
Mukhim emphasized the fact that the Freedom of the Press in India is being curbed. “Currently, we rank below Afghanistan, Myanmar, and some of the African countries at 141, in terms of press freedom. This is a cause of great concern because a free press is a pillar on which democracy rests,” said Mukhim.
Journalists being charged or arrested is not something we are unaware of. On Aug. 18, journalist Prashant Kanojiya was arrested for sharing a photoshopped image on his social media account. His case was pretty much similar to Mukhim’s case as they were both accused of instigating communal disharmony.
Talking about his case she said, “I am aware of the horrible experiences in jail that Kanojiya went through for a tweet he had made. I was with him on a panel discussion and I cringed on hearing the agony he had to face and the circumstances of poverty in which he grew up. Now he managed to get admission to LSE London but since his passport is impounded because of the case against him, he has lost the opportunity for career growth. Without free media, we may as well be a dictatorship.”