The past decade has seen a wealth of social science research on conflict, identity and development issues in North East India. However, this research has been predominantly published in English, excluding large sections of the population living in the region. Panos London’s Relay programme, funded by DFID, is supporting a publication called ‘Ishan’ (which means North East in Assamese) in North East India. ‘Ishan’ is a unique publication as it translates research articles written in English into Assamese making research accessible to people in a language they understand.
“Research is important in enhancing the quality of discourse on identity-based conflicts in Assam and therefore needs to be made available to the Assamese speaking public”, commented Arup Joyti Das, who co-ordinates the Relay programme in North East India through project partners Panos South Asia.
Two important audiences for ‘Ishan’ are local language media and local civil society groups engaged in rights-based movements. The media can now access research findings in their own language to inform their journalism and engage wider publics in dialogue and debate around the issues. Civil society groups meanwhile have a valuable resource for their advocacy activities and to build the capacity of the groups they work with. Even those who read English can gain a deeper understanding through being able to read the information in their own language, as Sukanya Shamra, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Assam points out:
“When articles are written in English, maintaining an international standard, it is very hard even for the English knowing Assamese to get the actual feel of it. But when these articles have been translated and made available in their mother tongue, the ideas and thoughts penetrate the hearts and minds of the readers.”
The Relay programme is working with its well-established networks of local Assamese media to distribute copies of ‘Ishan’ The first issue, published in March 2009 with 500 copies, was referred to in a TV discussion about conflict in North East India. The second issue out this month is expected to circulate over 700 copies. The first volume is now available online, which is expected to increase readership.
‘Ishan’ promotes Relay’s vision of communicating research to a wider audience. Moreover, interventions by partners in the region have found that vernacular media has played a larger role in influencing policy than media solely in English.
“What we hope to achieve in the near future is to improve the quality of debate on identity, development and right based issues amongst the non-English reading public. That itself would be a major achievement” says Arup Joyti Das.