New Delhi: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, national affairs editor at The Wire, has won this year’s Parag Kumar Das Journalism Award. She is the first woman journalist to bag the prestigious award, given every year for work by journalists reporting on Assam.
The award, given by the Parag Kumar Das Satirtha Mancha in memory of Das, the former editor of Assamese dailies Pratidin and Budhbar and considered an icon in Assamese journalism, was handed over to The Wire’s journalist by celebrated Assamese writer Arupa Patangia Kalita at an event in Guwahati on May 17. The recognition carries a citation, a cash award of Rs 25,000, and a seleng sador, a fabric of respect in Assamese society.
The citation read out to the crowd assembled at the Gauhati Press Club on May 17 afternoon, said, “From the small town of Golaghat in Assam, you rose to the vast world of national journalism with aplomb and thereby have made people of Assam very proud of you…Even if you stay in Delhi for work, your heart lies in your motherland Assam which comes across several of your writings and reportage…Late Parag Das had shown through his work his deep love for his home state Assam. Therefore, we as organisers are extremely happy to confer this award on an upright and committed journalist like you.”
Every year, the award is given on May 17, Parag Kumar Das’s death anniversary. On that day in 1996, he was killed by unidentified gunmen in broad day light in Guwahati. Many in Assamese society believe that it was his courageous journalism that cost him his life. Das’s family attended this year’s award function.
Speaking at the award ceremony, Arupa Patangia Kalita recalled Das’s style of journalism, which she said added a new chapter to Assamese journalism in the tumultuous era of the 1990s that the state had undergone. She took note of today’s times and lauded the organisers for conferring the award to an independent media journalist.
The keynote address was delivered by well-known Guwahati high court advocate Shantanu Borthakur, who talked about Das’s significant contribution to augmenting journalism of courage in Assam during the insurgency years. Borthakur underlined that it was Das who began documenting the human rights violations in the state then and began speaking truth to power in spite of facing jail terms under the National Security Act (NSA). “Though at times, some tend to believe that Das’s journalistic voice was pro ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom), it must be pointed out that he criticised ULFA too in his editorials….he stood for true journalism, had the courage to ask questions to all; could offer a vision to the Assamese society what they must do. His bold writings brought in a new era in Assamese journalism,” said Borthakur. He also added, “Today though, looking at the prevailing situation in terms of free press in India, I doubt whether Das would have been able to run a paper like Budhbar in Assam and pose the questions to power that be like he did then. Not for nothing has India’s rank in the World Press Index slid to a new low.”
Rajya Sabha MP from Assam and a former editor, Ajit Bhuyan, also spoke on the need to support independent journalism. Bhuyan was a former colleague of Parag Das in Budhbar and had been also to jail for their journalism under NSA in the 1990s.
Noted columnist and writer Debabrata Das also spoke on the sinking state of journalism across the country and recalled Das’ courage to ask questions to the government of the day. “The killing of Parag Das was a shock for me. I could not write anything for many days…There was a time when not a word of mine was clipped from my columns in Budhbar and today, we are asked to compromise in our writings. I recently got calls from two journalists to keep out the names of two powerful politicians from my political columns. I decided to step aside from political commentary than compromising. Such is the state of journalism today in Assam.”