Stories of Resilience: Media Voices from India’s North East


This report was published on August 3, 2021, by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a non-governmental organisation based in New Delhi. It outlines the “harassment, attacks and intimidation” faced by journalists and media professionals in the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The report reveals the “financial, political, legal, physical and psychological pressures” faced by media professionals working in these states. It identifies the major challenges faced by the local media, made worse due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The report notes that pressures created by state authorities, dearth of infrastructures which enable reporting, gender discrimination and lack of security are some of the major systemic hurdles which obstruct free reporting in the northeastern states of India. The situation is made more volatile by the “insurgencies, political and ethnic strife, conflict and citizenship exercises” that the region experiences. 

Stories of Resilience has been authored by Dr. Piyashi Dutta, assistant professor at Amity University, Haryana, and Aditya Sharma, head of media and advocacy at CHRI at the time of the publication of the report. Sanjoy Hazarika, international director at CHRI and chair of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, has edited the report.

The report incorporates narratives and experiences of five acclaimed journalists from the region: Patricia Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times; Tongam Rina, deputy editor of The Arunachal Times; Teresa Rehman, author of The Mothers of Manipur and managing editor of The Thumb Print magazine; Diganta Sharma, human rights journalist and author of Nellie, 1983; and Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Review of Arts and Politics.

This 82-page publication is divided into six sections: Introduction (Section 1); The Predicament of a Trade (Section 2); Journalism and Resilience (Section 3); Navigating Identities and Diversity (Section 4); Vulnerable Careers (Section 5); and On the Digital Frontlines (Section 6). Sections 2-6 are summarised below:

The Predicament of a Trade

This section focuses on the threats and violence faced by journalists in the northeastern states of India, through the experiences of Patricia Mukhim. It notes the ways in which journalists reporting on terrorism, corruption and human rights violations by the State authorities are targeted for their work. They are either threatened with physical violence or are charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,1967, or Section 124A of the IPC (sedition). Mukhim remarks, “With the kind of cases being filed, anti-national, sedition and all, you can’t even say what you think is the right thing.”

The subject of a defamation lawsuit becomes ‘sub-judice’ preventing the media from reporting on it. The section reveals the strategic use of such lawsuits against journalists and publications to stop reportage on specific issues. The section also notes that the growth of digital platforms has aided in information broadcasting. However, the digital platforms have also facilitated harassment, surveillance, spread of disinformation and increased State censorship over the internet. Much of this is continually used to threaten or silence journalists.

Journalism and Resilience

This section addresses concerns regarding the mental health of journalists working in the northeast, reported through the experiences of Tongam Rina. The psychological effects of journalistic work on a reporter’s mental health are rarely acknowledged. Work-related trauma arising out of the process of covering sensitive stories of “war, murder, mass casualties, and natural disasters” contributes to the mental distress experienced by journalists. The situation is further worsened when journalists face intimidation from the government and other parties. “There are so scarce benefits available for journalists working in the North East region, that tertiary benefits like mental support systems, legal support systems or emotional support mechanisms are utterly unheard of in the media ecosystem,” notes author and journalist Samrat Choudhury.

The lack of job security, especially for freelance journalists, adds to the stress. Mental distress must soon be recognised as a professional hazard among journalists. If left unaddressed, Rina adds, the quality of a journalist’s life and that of journalism itself would suffer.

Navigating Identities and Diversity in Journalism

This section deliberates if and how a journalist’s identity impacts their work, addressed through the experiences of Teresa Rehman. It states that a reporter’s social position, shaped by markers of identity like gender, religion, caste, class and ethnicity determines how they approach a story. These factors also influence the ways in which a reporter is viewed within the newsroom and by their audience. Women and Dalit journalists form an exceedingly small part of Indian media and are often professionally marginalised, the section states. Journalist Priyanka Deb Barman adds that women journalists are often given less significant desk jobs and are “exposed to harassment without legal, emotional, mental or logistics aid.”

Teresa Rehman, who is based out of Assam, states that certain stories in northeast India can only be covered by ‘parachute journalists’ (reporters who visit a place for a short time to cover a story). This is because the social position of the local reporters makes them relatively more vulnerable, often making it difficult for them to cover stories which are sensitive and concern violence.

Vulnerable Careers

The vulnerability of journalism as a career – the lack of job security and financial stability – is discussed in this segment of the report, primarily through the experiences of journalist Diganta Sarma. This vulnerability worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic when journalists were not even provided adequate safety gear while reporting. Many media organisation sacked professionals arbitrarily during the pandemic.

Sarma, who worked for Sadin, a weekly newspaper in Assam, lost his job when the newspaper shut down in May 2020. He, like others who lost their jobs during the pandemic, had not received the retrenchment benefits legally stipulated under The Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 and The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

On the Digital Frontlines

This segment discusses the steady digitisation of news media and its impact on the contemporary media landscape. The theme has been elucidated through the experiences of journalist Pradip Phanjoubam. The section notes that development of new media built on internet access and mobile phone has broadened the scope of journalism by making it easier to report from remote locations. However, digital media has its own hazards. Phanjoubam believes that the internet and digital media is often “too quick and unregulated”. The editing processes of traditional journalism which maintained factual correctness and quality are often absent in the digital space making misinformation rampant.

Focus by Swadesha Sharma.

PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Author: Dr. Piyashi Dutta and Aditya Sharma

Editor: Sanjoy Hazarika


Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi


03 Aug, 2021