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AMWJU: 1973 To 2010

No one , least of all the founding members of the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union would have thought that a body with just a handful of journalists, will one day become some sort of a trend setter among the numerous civil society organizations in the State, besides being the umbrella organization of all the Imphal based working journalists.

Way back in 1973, when a few journalists gathered at the non-descript structure, where the ‘majestic by comparison,’ Manipur Press Club now stands, no one would have thought that the Union will play a vital role in the development of journalism and we say this without a hint of exaggeration. All journalists, that is all those who were in this profession by 2001 or before will remember how AMWJU became the first ever organization to stage a protest against the diktats of underground groups.

This was during September and the very fact that the media houses in the State remained shut, meant that the people were not fully supplied with the development/news/information in the world in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers at New York. This was possible only because the journalists had a roof to come together and take shelter, which is AMWJU.

The code of ethics, the authority given to the Union to censure a member for any act of commission or omission or even to suspend a repeated offender from the primary membership of the scribes’ body, were later additions, necessitated by the changing political and social scenario in Manipur and this has worked fine with the media here as a whole.

Ever since September 2001, AMWJU has had to keep up with the need of the time and this can be reflected in its efforts to reach out to a greater audience through interactions with senior journalists from outside Manipur, sending representatives of the media to seminars and workshops outside the State etc. In short, AMWJU has had to evolve and toe the line of the ‘world becoming a global village.’ This is also in tune with the introduction of modern printing technology sometime in the latter part of the 1990s and from a one paged newspaper, printed on the treadle machines or the rolling cylinder machines, the newspapers in Manipur have jumped to eight or six paged dailies, with most of them coming out in multi-color.

It is against this reality and the changing scenario that the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union celebrated its 37th foundation day on September 16, 2010, complete with all the formalities, such as remembering the members who have passed away and also honoring the veterans who have practically resigned from their job as journalists, but nevertheless continue to contribute whatever they have learnt during the days of their profession to the general public.

It was both a moment of joy and sorrow as well with the members present reminded of the recent passing away of one of the most prominent figures in the field of journalism in Manipur, S Gopal Sharma, whose journey from the grass root level to that of the publisher, printer, owner and editor of one of the most popular dailies in Manipur, Poknapham is an inspiration to many.

The joy, tinged with a hue of nostalgia, which can only be felt internally but cannot be expressed verbally or inked, by the present crop of young and not so young journalists on seeing the honor bestowed on the 15 retired journalists was a humbling experience, a sort of the old order giving way to the younger lot, a law of nature. This was the general observation that enveloped the Manipur Press Club, until the lunch bell rang or announcement for lunch was made.

Now coming back to our earlier observation that no one would have thought the important role that AMWJU would play in society one day, there are many factors for this and the list is exhaustive, so let’s make do with some of the more important points. One of course is the growing realization of the public of the importance of information which has been given a major push with the arrival of the internet, wireless services, 7X24 news channels, newspapers and magazines using the latest high-tech production tools at their disposal and the growing professionalism of journalists across the world.

Since we are talking about AMWJU, let’s concentrate on Manipur. 2010 is not 1973 or 1973 is not even 1978, when the guns started booming and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was extended to the whole of Manipur in 1980. By this time, the hills of Manipur had already faced the ravages caused by the said Act and stories of atrocities and excesses, not to mention rape of women, were plentiful.

Remember Ngaprum Rose, whose memory still stands today as a symbol of the sufferings faced by the people at the hands of the security forces operating under AFSPA. The mortal remains of Rose have been laid to rest, but her memory will not be buried by the sands of time. Like we said, 2010 is not 1973 or even 1978 or the 80s and with the wind of social and political changes sweeping across the land, the role of the media too had to become all that more sensitive and influential, as it was and is still regarded as the only institute, which has not been tarnished by corruption and any of the other ills associated with Government agencies.

If the role of the media has become more crucial then it also stands true that the corresponding obstacles from the State and non-State actors, especially the splinter groups, some of which have as many as eight or nine factions, have also been significantly felt and this will continue. The important thing to remember is September 16 should not be just about celebrating the foundation day of AMWJU but should also be an occasion to remember our forbearers, who felt the need to provide some sort of an umbrella where the journalists can take shelter from the rain as well as the Sun.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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