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Demand to ban mainstream, social media for 'glorifying' separatist Assam outfit, Ulfa-I

Ulfa-I leader Paresh Barua
By Nava Thakuria*  
Latest killing of armed members belonging to the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) or Ulfa-I in their hideouts somewhere along the Myanmar-China border and the subsequent media coverage “glorifying” the brutal acts of separatist Ulfa-I leaders appear to have annoyed several sections in the northeast.
There was live streaming of militant leaders by many satellite news channels, which many interpreted as justifying the murder of Assamese youths in camps. Based on this interpretation, there is now a strong demand to restrict the media outlets which allegedly propagate the culture of violence in the name of freedom movement.
The Assam Public Works (APW), which calls itself anti-militancy organization, has criticised the news channels which interviewed top Ulfa-I leader Paresh Barua, giving him the opportunity to explain why they killed at least two cadres in recent days.
Addressing media in Guwahati, APW president Aabhijeet Sharma said that he was planning to approach the Gauhati High Court to ban both the mainstream and social media outlets of the region in that he called their “unwanted initiative to admire the armed militants for disrupting activities.”
Things surfaced after Ulfa-I leaders announced in the first week of May 2022 that they had ‘executed’ two cadres, Sanjiv Sarma and Dhanjit Das, in one of their hideouts. In a media statement, the militants claimed that both the newly recruits were involved in anti-outfit activities, and were spying for the police, hence they were given capital punishments.
The outfit, which is fighting for a separate homeland for the Assamese people, claimed that both Sanjiv (hailing from Baihata Chariali near to Guwahati) and Dhanjit (from Barpeta in western Assam) had confessed their crimes. It also released two video clippings where Sanjiv and Dhanjit confessed their crimes and stated that the Ulfa-I is a revolutionary organization. It is suspected that the victims read out the lines under gun points in the camp.
Most of the Assam news channels telecast the videos repeatedly, which created sensation across the state. However, the militants remained silent on handing over the bodies to the respective families as the last respect to the victims. Moreover, the outfit did not issue any supporting photographs (or video clippings) of their ‘execution’.
Born on April 7, 1979 at Sibsagar in eastern Assam, the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) pledged for an independent homeland for the indigenous people through armed struggle. For decades the militant outfit enjoyed public support with a unified command, but in 2011 there emerged divisions among the leaders on the ground of peace talks with the government.
Many preferred to sit for negotiations, but Barua rejected the idea and formed a different group in 2012. Soon his faction emerged as Ulfa-I to continue the struggle for what he called Swadhin Asom.
Jumping into the controversy, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, also in charge of state home portfolio, denied that the state police had spies in Ulfa-I. Recently, he attempted negotiations with the Ulfa-I leaders, which recently resulted in unilateral ceasefire by the militants.
State police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta also denied that his department had sent any spy to the militant camps. In his belated official comment, the DGP said the execution of the two youths, if it turned out to be true, was “inhuman and terrorizing”, taking strong exception to the operation of the judicial organ of the Ulfa-I.
Lately, another casualty has been reported from the Ulfa-I camp, where Biju Gogoi was found dead. The matter came to light after an arrested rebel spoke to the police and claimed that he saw Biju’s body with bullet injuries in a camp inside northern Myanmar. 
Biju was associated with the All-Assam Students' Union and joined the Ulfa-I in 2019 following the uproarious situation due to rigorous protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the state’s Brahmaputra valley.
According to the police, the arrested rebel claimed that Biju was gunned down by the militants as he tried to escape the camp. As the news spread, Ulfa-I militants came out with the “clarification” that Biju was not executed but he killed himself on February 12 last. 
The militants remained silent on handing over the bodies to the respective families as the last respect to the victims
The family members of Biju, however, wondered, why the militant leaders did not disclose this earlier. Biju’s mother demanded proof that her son had committed suicide by shooting himself in the camp and was not murdered by the militants.
Facing the heat, Barua telephoned Biju’s brother and asserted that the arrested rebel was not a recognized member of their organization, and that the news of his suicide was being spread behalf of the government so that a wrong message goes to the people.
Meanwhile, an organisation claiming to be a forum of nationalist citizens, reacting to the execution of two cadres by Ulfa-I, said this was an act in desperation meant to gather public attention. The Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA), in a media statement, affirmed that the armed outfit had been indulging in crimes (of assassinating thousands of Assamese nationals) for the sake of revolution since its inception in 1979.
PPFA urged the local media outlets to be “responsible” while reporting the issue of militancy, criticising them for live coverage to the militant leaders as if they were doing some heroic work, glorifying the Ulfa-I for their “inhuman activities.” It added, the news anchors hardly questioned the authority of militants to declare someone as traitors for subsequent execution.
Not just news channels, a city media club also tried to accommodate live space to the militant leader with an arranged media interaction last year, which resulted in a police complaint against the Gauhati Press Club office-bearers.
The complainant, Biswajit Nath, a city based scribe, argued that many journalist-members of the press club once stood against the separatist militants to hoist the national Tri-colour in the club premises on every Independence Day and Republic Day. But now it has “spoiled” the spirit of patriotism with an attempt to organize a press interaction with Ulfa-I leaders, who have been “challenging India’s sovereignty and integrity.”
---
*Senior journalist based in Guwahati

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