Geeta Seshu’s Documentary Introduces Us To The Only Female Reporter In The North-East In The ’80s
- IWB Post
- July 19, 2019
While we fervently debate the fate of more than 40 lakh people excluded from the National Register of Citizens, there exist rather few who know the in and out of it. Sabita Goswami happens to be one of those few people, who didn’t just witness the Assam agitation but also covered it.
Goswami was the only female journalist on the field in the North-East in the 1980s and during the span of her career covered some of the most tempestuous years of Assam’s history. Right from Chaulkhowa Chapori in 1983 (a news story she broke), the violent state elections in the same year, and the United Liberation Front of Assam and Bodo insurgencies, she covered it all.
The NRC draft controversy that is currently burning Assam finds its roots in the Assam agitation that happened decades ago and was covered comprehensively by Sabita.
Writer and journalist Geeta Seshu was in for a big shock when she got to know about Goswami’s contribution to journalism in 2016 and her unawareness of it till then. Editor of The Hoot, Geetu had been priding herself with the fact that she was up-to-date with the names and contributions of most Indian female journalists. Not even knowing that someone like Goswami existed quickly broke that illusion.
However, things accelerated quickly after that and a chance meeting with Triveni Goswami, daughter of the now forgotten journalist, orchestrated her meeting with Goswami. “Triveni didn’t really tell me much about her mother beyond saying oh my mother is a senior journalist and that she had covered the Assam agitation,” Seshu said in an interaction with Scroll.
Seshu further shares, “Women, gender, and journalism have been areas I have been interested in or monitored in some way or the other. I was very ashamed that I had never heard of this woman. I thought it was just so unfair to history in some way.”
On March 12, 2016, along with journalist Uddipana Goswami, Sheshu finally got the opportunity to discourse with the journalist at her Mumbai residence. Sabita Goswami: A Journalist Remembers, an edited version of that conversation is a short documentary now.
A part of its oral history project, the film has been produced by Vividha and traces Goswami’s journalistic endeavors. The film focuses on her career as a journalist. The 30-minute long film covers Goswami’s memories of the massacres in Chaulkhowa Chapora and Nellie – the most violent parts of the Assam agitation and events that are most vivid in Goswami’s mind.
“On the field, I was the sole person. And if people asked me what are you doing, agitation was there. I’d say I’m not an agitationist, I’m doing social service. Women being in the forefront, as a field reporter, they don’t accept it,” shares Goswami, recollecting her journey with narrative finesse.
In the documentary, she also shares how he would send the copy of her reports to her editors in the times when no internet or mobile phones existed. “Fortunately I had two telephones. I did a bad thing by bribing one lineman,” she says in a light moment.
She also sent rolls of recorded tape through airplane pilots owing to the “very good connections” that she had with them back then.
“I must say I didn’t know she’d be such an interesting speaker on camera. I didn’t expect her to be so comfortable and articulate. Oral history is a difficult area because people tend to forget, they tend to make mistakes on tape of names and things, but there are also very, very vivid descriptions of many things that have happened and they’ve experienced. I’ve always felt that it is important to record all of this – they are really speaking of important things, the manner of news gathering and the different ways in which they’ve done their journalism,” shares Sheshu.
While they extensively covered Assam and the 1980s agitation in the conversation, it actually was not that big an issue in 2016 when the documentary was shot.
“At the time of our conversation, the NRC was not even such a major issue. It was there on the back burner, yes. It only started to develop with the Supreme Court deadline. It was while editing the film that I simultaneously noticed how important the NRC issue was becoming. It wasn’t really the focus of the film. The fact that she spoke a lot about the Assam agitation and her views on it was because they were the most vivid in her memory,” explains Seshu.
Having followed the entire course of the Assam agitation, Goswami is well aware of its course and how it all transpired. She found herself to be supportive of the cause initially because of her belief that the issue was about land and people. But soon enough, the political manipulations and mindless violence made her critical of it all. This is something that she shares in the film as well.
Seshu’s film aims to initiate a conversation on Assam, female journalists, and the state of journalism. Through it, we also learn about Goswami’s non-partisan approach to the agitation in her homeland. The film also covers her response to censorship and threats from people in power. However, her personal life has been kept strictly out.
Seshu explains, “I took a decision to keep this film only to her work as a journalist. I looked at all the footage and there was a lot of material that is personal and candid. I wanted to bring in the personal but not foreground it.”