In what is viewed as an apparent sign of conflict-induced psychological pressure taking its toll among the Naga 9 IRB personnel battling Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, one jawan reportedly attempted suicide and is under intensive medical scrutiny while another jawan succumbed to complications from food poisoning. Four more jawans are reported to be under intensive treatment for food poisoning. Not surprisingly all this information was to be kept under wraps. At least that is what the State Government (Police officials) may have had in mind i.e. hide information and deny the truth. The manner in which the entire issue on IRB deployment is being handled by ‘officials’ from the State Government smacks of malevolence and amounts to virtually misleading the public. Even the local media has been told on several occasions by the powers that be, to put a lid on disseminating information relating to the deployment of the 9 IRB at Chhattisgarh.
What takes the knock out of the latest incident is that even as this newspaper was making queries about the reported death of the jawan and attempted suicide by another and the subsequent denial, ignorance and refusal by the government officials to admit the same, the funeral service of the deceased jawan was already underway at a Yimchunger village (Showba) not far from the Referral Hospital. It should be mentioned here that the particular news-report “Govt silent on IRB casualties” carried on the May 31, Wednesday issue of The Morung Express had been deliberately withheld by a day as the police officials wanted to ‘check on the information’. Giving the benefit of doubt to the government, the story was dropped at the last hour. The next day when this newspaper got information about the funeral service taking place through its source at Showba village, both the truth of our information and the denial of the establishment had been realized. The question now is whether the government will give an official clarification or a communiqué on the incident as carried in this newspaper or will it continue the game of denial.
The government should understand that the problem of Naxal violence has in many ways also affected the psyche of the people in Nagaland for the obvious reasons that there is public concern over the deployment of 9th IRB of Nagaland Police to Chhattisgarh State. The local media is likewise under it own code of responsibility to inform the public of Nagaland on the well being of its jawans deployed at Chhattisgarh. While public criticism abounds on the decision of the Nagaland State government to send the IRB in the first place, this newspaper also respects the government’s own standpoint on this issue as it did not have much of a choice given that deployment of at least 1 IRB unit outside the State was mandatory as per the conditions laid down by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
However what is disturbing to note is the attempt on the part of the State government to muzzle the local media from reporting information relating to the 9th Battalion of the IRB stationed at Barsoor, Chattisgarh. The newspaper is less interested on information related to security operation. However, in the event of any casualty during operations, does the government expect silence on the part of the press? This newspaper is also duty bound to inform the public about the well being of its citizen.
It is well understood that the government may have some reservation in relation to certain news report. As for the media, its position must be respected. While, there are some limitations even with regard to the freedom given to the press, this would call for self-restraint on its part. But beyond this, the press should be allowed to function independently without being dictated upon. At the end of the day, the government should also go about performing its function while the media also has its own mandate to fulfill.