Higher, higher, grows the flood-tide.
Deeper, deeper, is the gloom;
Homeless thousands, starving hundreds.
Is the city’s awful doom.

~ The Flood, George C. Rhoderick, jr

On July 26, 2005, when the harsh westerly winds lashed out its fury on the City of Dreams – Mumbai, my childhood memory of joyfully dancing in the downpour, sipping hot chai and indulging in freshly roasted corncob submerged forever. 14 years on, the horror that unfolded back then continues to haunt me. I recall, as a budding journalist my then editor pushed me to gather as many stories as possible. All I kept hearing was, “Let the stories flow like there’s no tomorrow.” As an amateur in the field of journalism, I had no clue if that was a good or a bad thing, but what I did realize was that no other story was bigger than the ‘Mumbai deluge’.

Every single media house in India had a flurry of news reports, opinion pieces, interviews, human interest stories, etc. From the front page to a centerspread, no stone was left unturned to report the many nuances of the Mumbai floods. Back then social media was still a dream - Facebook was only a year old, Twitter did not exist, and the idea of Instagram was perhaps not sown. On one hand I ran helter-skelter trying to source as many stories as possible, while on the other I questioned whether I should be reporting on or helping the ones affected. Who will hear Mumbaikars’ plea? Who will come to their rescue? What kind of relief would the government provide? The questions were many, but the answers were none.

Several years later, on June 16, 2013, when Uttarakhand was hit by the worst rainfall ever, killing more than 5,700 people, I recall the image of the Lord Shiva statue in Rishikesh being washed away, splashed across newspapers and news channels. Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with people offering help, involving themselves in relief operations and appealing for donations. The message was clear – India was concerned, and India cared.

The same sentiment was shared when Chennai drowned in the 2015 floods and Kerala too suffered the wrath of mother universe last year. Traditional media continued to colour its pages with innumerable stories of horror and perhaps a few of hope. Social media was alive and kicking with people of India voicing concern for those affected. There were helpline numbers floating, concern for loved ones stranded soaring, celebrities making donation appeals, politicians carrying out air surveillances, reporters traveling for ground zero reports and much more. The message was loud and clear again – India was concerned, and India cared.

Why alienate the Northeast?

Cut to July 2019, Bihar and Assam, both face a similar situation where floods continue to wreak havoc. While the Bihar floods is being widely reported and spoken about across traditional and digital media, why does the Assam flood find a neglected corner?

Apparently, the fact that over 60 people have died so far and close to 30 lakh people across 19 districts have been adversely impacted isn’t unsettling enough for the rest of India. The         actuality that all the major rivers in the state – the Brahamaputra, Jia Bharali, Puthimari, Beki, Gaurang and Kushiyara continue to flow above the danger mark isn’t disconcerting enough for those in power. The harsh reality that 2,523 villages have been affected, 4,209 houses stand damaged and 1,36,837.55 hectares of crop area lay destroyed isn’t tormenting enough to be reported aggressively. The fact that only 1,03,934 people have found refuge in 659 relief camps isn’t perturbing enough to push for more relief. The truth that Rs 672 crore was allotted as capital outlay for flood control projects in this year’s state budget isn’t alarming enough to question the state government’s long-term strategy to control flood situations.

(Source: Flood Report as on July 23, 2019, released by Assam State Disaster Management Authority)

The distressing images coming in from the state have also not exactly swamped social media feeds, and there aren’t any heartwarming status messages written for the millions displaced. Why aren’t there any mass NGO mobilization efforts, any Television ads appealing for donations towards the Chief Minister’s Disaster Management Fund, any helpline numbers doing the rounds? What has, however, been addressed effectively is the controversial brand ambassador of Assam, actress Priyanka Chopra’s late and lackluster response to the calamity. Well done, India!

It’s truly unfortunate that for most Indians and for the media too, India ends with West Bengal. Anything beyond is most often than not relegated to the inner pages and is only paid heed to when convenient.

In 2016, when the state faced a similar flood situation, a photograph of a girl from Assam, Bandita Barman, went viral. Although the photograph was posted on her Facebook timeline a few months before the deluge, her message struck a chord and echoed the sentiments felt by many. Her placard read:

Mumbai: Rainfall, full media coverage.

Assam: Floods every year, death of hundreds of people; nobody cares.

And we live in a society where we have at least 30 24x7 news channels who can show your horoscopes but not the HORROR OF ASSAM

3 years on, there has been little or no change in the situation. Assam floods unfortunately continues to remain absent from mainstream media and India’s political discourse. The silence endorses the notion that as far as traditional media and digital media is concerned, the calamity in northeast is not worthy of discussion or political attention. Will this lackadaisical attitude ever change, or will northeastern states of India have to continue to suffer the fault of being located in the periphery, more like an appendix that causes occasional spasms?

Oh! sky of dark and sullen clouds.
Give way to sunshine’s rays;
Oh! dashing waves that spread the land,
Give way to happier days.

~ The Flood, George C. Rhoderick, jr