When in Assam, sing like the Assamese do. That was the message from the separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam to singer Zubeen Garg. The 40-year-old singer, born in Jorhat in Assam, irked ULFA last week when he sang Hindi songs at a Bihu festival.
That’s a poke in the eye for the rebel group. Bihu is a major cultural festival in Assam, taking place three times a year. It’s a big deal for the most populous largest state in northeast India, and ULFA didn’t like Garg’s decision to sing in Hindi (check his song “Ya Ali” here) because its leaders consider doing that an erosion of Assamese culture.
Irshad Hussain makes light of it. “I’m pretending to be a Jew from Bihar. They would not know what to make of that,” said the 27-year-old Assamese man, who works in Bangalore. Behind his humorous tone lies the fear of attack.
Rumours have been circulating that people from northeast India who live in Bangalore — nearly 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometres) — to the south, are about to be attacked en masse. This is because of violence that flared between Bodo tribes and Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants in Assam in July.
I was watching a documentary on Greta Garbo on television. The film was in English with English subtitles for people more comfortable following written English than quick spoken English. Every time the word “sex” or something related to it would come up, the subtitles avoided it. “Heterosexual” became “hetero.” “Her sexuality” became “her femininity.” Dedicated channel surfing revealed similar evasions. In a conversation about breast cancer on an English channel, the station inserted an asterisk to partially mask the word “breast” in the subtitles, even though you could hear it onscreen.
TV stations and networks in India, similar to broadcast TV channels in the United States, remove objectionable content (sex scenes, nudity, some foul language and violence) from movies and other programming (see this recent Reuters story about how it works). This is thanks to the Indian Broadcasting Federation’s Broadcasting Content Complaint Council. The idea is to make sure that public airwaves remain friendly enough for the ears of children and sensitive adults, though it can result in unintentional bloopers like the breast cancer example.