Archive for the ‘Indian Media’ Category

Indrani Ganguly is the Managing Editor at Readomania

On International Women’s Day I start a series of interviews of women who are fortunate and motivated to be doing what they like doing and what they have always wanted to do. I start the series with the interview of Indrani Ganguly, who was a journalist but editing books gives her the greatest happiness. She is the Managing Editor of the publishing house Readomania. She is a stickler for perfection but not one whose opinion would override others. She believes in her own independence and individuality and respects others’ individuality too. She is one gutsy lady with a great sense of humour, a devoted mother and someone who has the conviction to achieve her goals if she sets her sight on it.

In this interview Indrani talks about the hard work that goes into making a book and her positivity is something to learn from.

How was your experience of editing Onaatah, the National-award winning film converted into a book, which is being launched today?

Onaatah–daughter of the Earth‘ written by Paulami Dutta Gupta is one of the most relevant and sensitive stories that I have edited. Though the peg of the story is dark, the treatment is not. What starts on a poignant note turns into a story of hope. There is no feminist statement or activism in the book. It is a story about simple people and how they help rehabilitate a rape victim by treating her with love and compassion. We see that while the urban educated people treat a sexually assaulted woman as an untouchable and a pariah, the simple rural and uneducated people have better senses. There is a lot of class-based hypocrisy in our country when it comes to a sensitive topic like rape. This book addresses that.

The movie has won the National Award and been showcased in most important film festivals across the country. Rape is a life-altering event, but it is not the end of life. I sincerely hope ‘Onaatah‘ manages to sensitize people and make them treat a raped woman not as a victim but as a survivor.

From being a journalist to a books editor, how has your journey been?

Having done my post-graduation in Journalism specialising in Print media, I started my career in the newsroom. It is one of the most exciting places to be in. The energy is high octane and edition-time atmosphere is insane. Initially I was baffled but soon got sucked into the world of deadlines, minute-to-minute agency wire checking, staying around for run editions and working the graveyard shift. The transition from media to publishing was brought about by a location shift in 2005. Though the pace wasn’t as hysterical, I was doing one non-fiction book every five days. So I wouldn’t call it slow either. I had a very supportive senior editor who taught me the technical nuances and I took to manuscript editing like a fish takes to water. I started fiction editing from 2012 and realised how creative and fulfilling it is. A good editor can turn around a mediocre manuscript to a brilliant one by developing it. There has been no stopping since then. I continue doing academic and non-fiction editing but fiction is what I do every day.

What it is like to be the Managing Editor at Readomania?

Overwhelming actually! Readomania’s Director Dipankar Mukherjee has placed immense faith in me and I cannot let him down. The responsibilities have definitely increased as expected. We have some very interesting titles lined up this year. We also plan to build the children’s literature line. Dipankar wants me to be responsible for that. We are also going big on non-fiction and will also classify our fiction titles. I connect a lot with Dipankar’s vision and I want to stand by him and turn it into a reality. Also Readomania is like one big literary family with a young and dynamic team and some extremely talented authors.

MSQ is your first book as an editor of an anthology and it’s selling like hot cakes. Why do you think people are picking it up?

Technically Mock, Stalk & Quarrel is my second anthology, first as a solo editor though. I was the editorial mentor of Defiant Dreams–Tales of Everyday Divas. That was my first experience as an anthology editor. MSQ is definitely my baby. It is a collection of satirical tales, which emanated from a nationwide contest conducted by Readomania in the summer of 2016 to identify powerful voices that could wage an ideological war against issues that matter. It is an extremely relevant book especially in today’s socio-political milieu. This book takes on some serious issues that ail our country, in humorous, ironical stories. There is a lot of angst in people’s minds and we felt that could be channelled into hard-hitting satire which would not only force people to read but also discuss and debate.

What was the toughest part of editing 29 satires?

We at Readomania are very particular about the quality of our books. Each Readomania book goes through three editorial stages – development, copyediting and finally, at least three levels of proofreading. Things are easier and quicker when it comes to single-author books. Anthologies, however, take a little more time as I had to individually develop each of the 29 stories, send them back to the respective authors for rework and then copyedit the rewritten stories. The manuscript was proofread at four different levels by a team of editors and then finally me. The toughest part, I would say, was harmonising with 29 extremely sharp brains. An editor needs to be very tactful and also accommodating when dealing with so many creative people. She is after all the captain of the ship.

Heard MSQ could make it to the record books? Why is that?

Yes MSQ India’s first satire anthology. We not only created something relevant but also something unique. We will be approaching Limca Book of Records soon for the official endorsement.

You have a fantastic sense of humour and a way with punch lines; how good are you with writing satire yourself?

Ha ha, thanks. Not many appreciate my wry wit though but it is now an intrinsic part of me. If I didn’t have the essence of satire in me, I don’t think I would have been able to develop and edit this book. Satire exists as a way to ridicule and critique the follies of humanity. Through its heavy use of sarcasm and irony, contemporary satire is a sort of glass that reveals some of the silliness of modern life. However, one has to be careful that humour doesn’t become slapstick; irony doesn’t become pithy. I think I have that understanding and feel I can dish out satire too.

Coming to your personal life, you are a single mom with a lovely daughter. Have you ever thought about writing your personal journey?

My life has been quite eventful for sure. A dear friend of mine actually wrote a story on my life which garnered a lot of votes in a short story contest. I think in prose. I always pen down my feelings, although I never share those with anyone. There have been many ups and downs in my life since my preteen days, events which have shaped my personality. Maybe one day I will chronicle everything for my daughter and if she feels it is worth sharing, we can have a book out of it.

How difficult or manageable life has been as a single working mom?

Initially it was extremely tough but now I guess I have got used to it. Work for me was an escape. I used to work for very long hours and it was causing health issues. I still work long hours and most weekends too but I also keep some time for myself. Work no more is an escape; it is a source of tranquility. A child is ideally brought up by both parents, but not everyone is so lucky. I try to fill the gaps in my daughter’s life as much as possible. I don’t treat single parenthood as a handicap. It is in fact empowering. There are some challenges of course. I do wish I could travel a little more though, both for work and pleasure. It does become overwhelming when you have a deadline and also a PTM to attend. Most nights I am busy helping my daughter with her school project after 11pm. But at the end of the day I ask myself—would I have been happier if I had all the freedom in the world but not my daughter with me? Of course NOT! I have now learnt to balance everything in my life and am a happy person. And my happiness reflects in my daughter’s smile.

What would be your message on International Women’s Day?

Your life is your own story. People will come and go just like characters in a story. Do not let anyone’s presence or absence affect you so much that it alters the course of your journey. Stand up for your rights and do not let anyone take you for granted. Love your friends and stay connected with them. And ladies, education is your best friend!

 

 

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn't believe the NASA scholarship news

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn’t believe the NASA scholarship news

Since Ayoti Patra wrote on her Facebook note that Sataparna Mukherjee, the girl from Kamduni in West Bengal, has possibly not got a NASA scholarship, she has been bombarded with abusive messages but at the same time she has shown the right path to the Indian media (here is the original story) who quickly took up her lead. But who is Ayoti Patra and what made her take this step?

Here she is in her own words:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a PhD student of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. I did my M.Sc from IIT Kanpur and B.Sc. (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. I have spent my entire childhood and did all my schooling from Hyderabad. Although I am a Bengali, I have been to West Bengal only to visit my relatives. I mainly spend my time on theoretical research on ‘Optimal Control of Quantum Systems’. Apart from that, I also listen to Hindustani Classical Music being trained in it.

Where did you first read about Sataparna Mukherjee and the NASA scholarship?

I subscribe to a couple of news channels on Facebook. I came across it in the Times of India, The Logical Indian, etc.

What made you doubt the credibility of the news?

The news article had not one but multiple flaws.

-Getting a single offer valid for graduation, post-graduation and PhD without even clearing the 12th boards is something that can NEVER happen in real life.

-One cannot get an offer for studying Aeronautical Engineering for a theory in black hole! To do research in black hole, you need to study Astrophysics which is unrelated to Aeronautical Engineering.

-She will simultaneously study English at Oxford University! This is impossible again.

-NASA, a federal agency of the US making an offer to an Indian for studying in UK! It has to be a big joke.*

* For the sake of completeness, I would like to mention that it is possible for an Indian citizen to work at NASA as a postdoctoral research fellow, as a contract worker or as a PhD student affiliated to a US university. My university is less than 10 miles away from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, where my husband works. He is a PhD student of Astronomy at my university and works on a project at NASA. This is the official page of the project he is working on (http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/bettii/index.html). If you click on the ‘People’ tab, you will find my husband Arnab Dhabal listed there.

 What did you do after that?

At first, I just commented on the news articles that this cannot be true. I did not use any foul language but I was abused by quite a few people. Without doing a basic search about NASA or about my background, they said things like “You are a fool”, “People like you who always find faults and cannot appreciate true achievements are a shame to the country”, “It is because you are so stupid that you are nothing today, and she will go to NASA in a few months”, etc. It frustrated me a little and I became curious to find out some more about the girl. I searched for her Facebook profile (https://www.facebook.com/sataparna.mukherjee.5), through which I got the links of the two videos. Once I watched them, I thought enough is enough. Being a physicist, I took the nonsense about black hole quite personally. I decided that I have enough evidence against this news and I must do something about it.

 Were you aware that you were actually taking on the entire Indian media when you wrote your facebook post? Did you think that your post might go viral?

Definitely not. I am very inactive on Facebook and have a dormant profile. I was not even sure if all my friends could see this post on their wall. I had no idea it would get noticed and have an impact.

Do you think Sataparna has been duped or is she lying?

When I posted the note, I believed it could be either of the two options. But since then, I am gradually inclined to believe that she is probably lying. Since the post went online, I got a few messages from people claiming that they know her and that she plans to file an FIR against me. Some also claimed that she was a poor student who does not have maths as a subject. I have no means to verify if these claims are true. But this morning I received a message (image attached in the email) from her friend (https://www.facebook.com/sangeeta.bauli?fref=ts) which was written in a very bad tone challenging me to meet them face to face if I have guts. If she was duped, she should have clarified that she made a mistake or in the least looked into it herself. Instead, I have seen news reports like this where she still maintains that she did indeed win some NASA fellowship: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-nasa-denies-selecting-18-year-old-west-bengal-girl-for-top-scholarship-2185132

 Does it make you happy that many people and a section of the media followed up your post?

Yes, certainly. I am glad I was able to make a difference.

 Does it bother you that many news agencies are not giving any credit to you but are going ahead with their own stories about the hoax?

My only intention while writing the post was to expose the hoax, not to gain fame. Since that has been achieved, my job is done. However, I did not expect to see my surname changed from Patra to Mitra as in this article: (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/science/science/030316/shocking-nasa-shrugs-off-west-bengal-teenager-s-gip-scholarship-claims.html)

 Have you done something like this before too? (getting to the bottom of a hoax that is)

I always do to the extent I can. The only thing I have done differently this time is to publish my findings, the response to which has been overwhelming. I would like to thank everyone who has appreciated my work. This has certainly motivated me to be more vocal and spread awareness. In fact, let me grab this opportunity to promote Bigyan – a Bengali science magazine for the general audience (https://www.facebook.com/bigyan.org.in/?fref=ts), which was started by some of my friends.

 Your message to the Indian media and young people…

The media is very powerful and should act responsibly. They should not indulge in the race of being the first to get a sensational news out. Proper verification of the authenticity of a piece of news should be done before publishing it. Readers should not blindly trust whatever they see on social media either. A simple internet search can go a long way.

Another matter that I would like to draw attention to is that in India, too much importance is given to personal achievements like getting admission into a top international college, getting a high rank in IIT etc. Even the highest salary package becomes news these days. These are definitely important for the person concerned, but should not be grounds of hero worship. I believe that instead of focusing on these type of achievements, young people should focus more on the actual impact that someone brings about, be it in art, science or industry. Invention of a new technology should be bigger news than someone getting a NASA internship. The reason we have Sataparnas and P.V. Aruns today is because of the glorification of the wrong kind of accomplishments by the Indian society.

 

 

Smita Sharma is a woman with a mission. This young lady has been traveling to remote villages of India to photograph victims of rape and bring their stories to the world.

A rape victim caught on Smitha's frame

One of the rape survivors photographed by Smita Sharma

So far, she has photographed 27 women belonging to different states of India and the photos were showcased at an exhibition held at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi recently.

While the exhibition based on her project got rave reviews, and huge response from international media as well, it made Smita’s resolve to launch her awareness campaign even stronger.

She says: “Whenever I go to meet any victim, the last thing I ask is how it happened. I meet them as a friend. They are so horribly ostracized and shunned that sometimes I am the only one they have probably talked to in ages and shared a hug with. In my interactions with the rape survivors, I have realized there is a trend.

“Among the 27 women I photographed, 25 have been raped by people they knew. The rape was meticulously planned because the rapist kept track of the victim’s movements. In some cases, the perpetrators were arrested. In some others, they were not. In many cases, they were arrested but they are out on bail now.

“But in all cases, the onus of blame and shame has been on the woman. I met the family of a deceased 80-year-old lady, who had been raped by a 17-year-old boy and people laughed at her because they felt she was responsible for her rape.”

For the rest of the article go to Asia Times

Alaka (1)

Alaka Sahani won the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013

Alaka Sahani received the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013. She received the award for her phenomenal writings on Indian theatre and new facets of documentary film making, for writings that took Indian entertainment beyond the staple of glamour. No wonder when entertainment journalists in India are obsessed about chasing glamorous stars for their pictures, quotes and interviews, Alaka chooses to stand apart and says she finds Tun Tun, fascinating. In a no-holds-barred interview Alaka Sahani talks about current state of entertainment journalism in India and why she rarely takes selfies with the stars.

Do you feel that there is an obsession with glamour?

Definitely, yes. As a movie-crazy nation we all are interested in gossip, glamour and stars’ private lives. Most leading newspapers and tabloids cater to this. They have special sections and supplements that feature such pieces along with glamorous photos of stars. An array of websites too feed on Bollywood gossip as well as photographs of stars making an appearance at events, walking the red carpet or sneaking into their lover’s pad. Even an insipid photo of an actor having dinner or coming out of an airport can create a buzz.

However, my understanding is that such obsession is more acute in urban centres. In the Tier-II and Tier-III towns of India, people are more interested in politics, developmental issues and sports.

What kind of articles you feel work with readers but are rarely written or researched?

We hardly come across a piece, unless it’s a blog, which goes beyond an A-lister’s stock replies and brings out his or her quirks, concerns and insecurities (A case in point is this piece I had read long ago http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/may/16/ewanmcgregor). Also, it is rare to find a star who does not stick to politically-correct answers. That’s the reason Kangana Ranaut’s straight-speak on Anupama Chopra’s show The Front Row was so refreshing and went viral in 2013.

Do you feel the internet has changed journalism to a great extent?

Yes, it has. It gives previously unimaginable reach to all kind of film-related writings – be it a news break on Twitter, Facebook post or blogs. The online department of leading publications too religiously upload Bollywood-related tidbits with attention-grabbing headlines. YouTube has been yet another major gamechanger.

Are stars and PR people manipulating the media?

Absolutely, yes. And this is not a startling fact anymore. In fact, both the parties — stars and their PRs as well as media — feed off each other. Today, money can buy the stars, or for that matter anyone, space and visibility in media.

Gone are the days when journalists and stars shared a very informal rapport. Even though some prominent journalists might have access to top stars, the latter mostly speak to the media only when they want to. For example, when the release date of their movies is nearing or they are keen to clear their stand in a controversial matter or they want to push their pet cause/project.

An article/interview that you would want to write but haven’t managed to write yet.

Someday, I would like to write about popular and talented supporting actors of India such as Tun Tun, Mukri, Kanhaiyalal, Leela Mishra, Om Prakash and Iftekhar. I have grown up on a heavy dose of black-and-white classics as well as movies of the 60s and 70s thanks to my parents. So those worlds continue to fascinate me. I find these actors with their mannerisms and character traits so endearing even though they were typecast.

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedian of India

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedienne of India

How has winning the national Award made a difference to your life and work?

It has not made any major difference in my life so far. But, thanks to this, today I am connected to a lot more people from various fields — the film industry, writers and, most importantly, people from Odisha, my home state. After the award was announced, I received immense warmth and love from all around — my office, family, friends, lost friends and cinema lovers. Recently, my father, a former deputy commissioner of Income Tax, received a thunderous applause at the annual meet of his department’s pensioner’s association which celebrated my award. This was priceless.

In an age when journalists are doing everything to show how happening their lives are you are very low profile despite being a National Award winner. Why?

I am a bit inhibited when it comes to showing off every little achievement. I would like to change that about myself to some extent. To begin with, I will post my bylines on Twitter and Facebook more often.

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from the president of India

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India

Most journalists publish selfies with stars on FB I have never seen you doing that. Why?

I believe selfies should be for fun, not to show off that I just met this actor. Since most journalists are fans of stars as well as movie-buffs, I understand there is natural urge to take selfies. Later on, they post it on social media partly due to the pure joy of meeting a film star but mostly to have more followers or grab attention on social media. Stars too understand this and rarely decline a request for selfies.

Having said that, I am not immune to such temptations. I do take photographs with the stars I love as well as with whom I end up having a memorable conversation. In the past, I have put up a photo with Naseeruddin Shah (it’s my favourite. The camera that was focussed on him had caught a hazy reflection of mine on a mirror behind him) and Wong Kai Wai whom I met at IFFI, Goa. I will admit to you that I have selfies with Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan and Dimple Kapadia on my phone. Someday, I should be able to post it on social media. Someday.

What is your opinion on the current state of film journalism?

It is an exciting time for film journalism, given the multiple platforms and wide reach that it enjoys today. While magazines and newspapers continue to carry regular stories related to cinema such as interviews with film personalities, trend stories and gossips, some of the websites and blogs have been putting up in-depth and well-researched pieces. What makes some of them a nice read is the quality of writing.

 

About Alaka Sahani: 

For the year 2013, Alaka Sahani received the National Films Award for the Best Film Critic. She was presented the award for her writings that highlighted facets of cinema beyond glamour and gossip. Currently, she is working as a Senior Assistant Editor with The Indian Express, Mumbai, and heads its Features section.

During her eight-year stint at The Indian Express, she has written extensively on cinema and theatre, apart from covering the Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI, Goa. She have also worked for some of India’s leading newspapers including Hindustan Times (Kolkata and Mumbai) and The Times of India, Kolkata, during her journalistic career spanning over 15 years.

 

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Strangely Suzette has been on my mind for the last few days. Mainly because of everything that’s been going on about the documentary India’s Daughter. Many friends were asking me why I hadn’t written anything on the documentary on my blog.

I hadn’t because I was angry. One interview of a despicable rapist triggered such a debate and such quick action was taken by the government. But if you Google you will find a 100 interviews and articles both in Indian and international media on Suzette Jordan, the woman who had the guts to reveal her face after being gang-raped on Park Street, but the Indian government never bothered to order a probe into her case. Never bothered to check how a Chief Minister could write off a rape saying “it is a concocted story.”

I kept thinking Nirbhaya is gone but Suzette is there – still fighting, still struggling, still facing her rapists everyday in the courtroom, but her case and ordeal continues to be dragged on and on in a sham called a fast-track court. Nirbhaya’s family was given money, an apartment and jobs, but why did it continue to be a lone battle for Suzette Jordan?

Does tragedy work better in India?

Will Suzette’s death now bring the poignancy that her story lacked so far?

Now she will probably be, finally forgiven, for going to a disco late at night (the worst blunder an Indian woman could commit)? Her struggle will now be glorified, help will come to her family or will she still remain an untouchable, like she had become, because one insensitive lady one day had declared that Suzette was lying when she reported her rape?

When I heard about her death my first instinct was to believe that she had probably been murdered because there were plenty of people out there who would have loved her dead. I couldn’t imagine she had succumbed to meningoencephalitis.

We spoke last on Facebook messenger on February 27 and she wrote, “All okay with me except my back problems.”

This was Suzette Jordan. She might have been fighting a thousand battles at that moment but she always had the positivity to say, “All okay.”

Now I see people are writing that she had a contagious laugh had a great sense of humour. Why wouldn’t she? She was every woman and being a rape survivor did not take away her right to laugh and have a life.

I had once gone to interview Suzette on a summer afternoon and their home was like any other household. Her daughters were excited to spot a feline near their pet cat Hunter. They had a friend with them along with Suzette’s nephew. The kids were telling her, “Looks like Hunter’s got a girlfriend”, and all of them were laughing.

Completely unpretentious and at ease in her two-room modest apartment in Behala, Suzette brought up her two lovely and intelligent daughters being the best mother she could be.

On hearing about Suzette’s demise I thought of her daughters, of her mother Gilda Jordan. What they must be going through. Suzette was so protective about them. Once she said, “I am so paranoid about my daughters that because of me they don’t have a normal teenage life anymore. I am perpetually calling them on their mobiles.”

But the girls never held it against her. They loved their mother with all their heart and despite the fact that their life changed completely after that fateful night the girls continued to be the pillar of support in her life, the reason for which Suzette always said she had the will to live, the will to fight.

But very few people know Suzette’s battles brought small victories for Indian women. Even if the Indian Government did not announce a probe into her case the Delhi High Court invited her twice to know her views on her trial. She had told them that the two-finger test was the most humiliating thing any woman had to go through.

Since then the test has been banned in India.

Suzette was the kind of woman who demanded respect and ensured people gave her that. “Rape is not my shame,” is something Suzette always said.

This statement defined her.

It would be unfair to say that Indian society shunned Suzette Jordan completely. She explained her dichotomous experiences best when she said, “On the one hand I have been invited to talk shows on TV, NGO inaugurations, school seminars and award functions but on the other hand despite my work experience I have not landed a job. After the incident happened if I was asked by my landlord to vacate my apartment, the landlord of my current apartment rented this place to me despite knowing everything about me. I have had parents of my daughters’ friends agreeing to send their kids over to my place to spend time with them because I was scared for my daughters to go out.”

In the last interview that I did with Suzette she had said: “If I have come this far, I am not willing to give up hope. There has to be justice. But once the case gets over, hopefully I will be able to find some peace. I won’t have to remember every gory detail of what happened to me that night and talk about it in court day after day. I won’t have to see the people who did this to me, every other day.”

Justice is what Suzette Jordan deserves, not a candle march not flowers at her grave.

 

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

While I have been hooked to the Uber cab issue as I wrote in my earlier post this piece of news in the Times of India caught my attention recently.

Someone threw acid on a lady named Jhuma at  Rishra on December 6, 2014, and her case got a mention in the newspapers but that’s about it.

Another story filled me with hope. Acid-attack survivors have opened a cafe at Agra, near the Taj, few days back. It’s a story of triumph.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

Living with the trauma of rape or living with a face that has altered beyond recognition because of an acid attack – what is more harrowing? I really don’t know.

I have lived with someone very close to me whose appearance was altered completely. My elder brother’s handsome face actually became unrecognizable after his jaw bone had to be broken and a malignant tumour removed.

I never had the heart to ask him how he felt every time he looked at himself in the mirror because every time I looked at him I felt a stabbing pain in my chest.

He took it in his stride and would venture out often not bothering about the glances his altered appearance solicited. He even joked, “People must be thinking I was in a horrible accident or I was at the war where a bomb exploded in my cheeks.”

Added to that was the effort of eating, chewing, drinking, a pain that he never talked about lest his family felt upset.

But what he could overcome mentally he could not physically. My brother succumbed to cancer but never to his changed appearance, even to the last day.

But for him it happened. No one did it to him. He did not have to live with the reality that most acid attack survivors have to live with. The fact that someone hated them so much that they poured acid on them and scarred them for life.

There are acid attack survivors who have been suffering for as long as 15 years and nothing has changed after 23 operations but they hardly get any media attention. On the Stop Acid Attacks website I was reading the story of a lady who actually said no to further operations because it did little to better her appearance and discomfort.

I have never met an acid attack survivor but photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has.

Delhi-based photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay (employed with Times of India) is an activist at heart. He uses the social media to keep reminding us about what’s happening around us through his photographs and keeps doing it even when the frenzy around an issue has died down.

Here Anindya talks about meeting acid attack survivors on an assignment and how it changed him as a person.

Over to Anindya….

A couple of years back I was assigned to shoot acid-attack victim Chanchal Paswan in Bihar. She was a high school student when four guys poured acid on her when she was asleep with her family on the terrace.

I cried after meeting Chanchal Paswan

I literally cried after meeting her. I was ashamed to represent a society that harbours such heartless men who could do this to a young girl.

We are supposed to be objective in our outlook and treat every assignment as a job. But it was very hard for me not to feel her pain. Or probably I didn’t? I would probably never know what she felt or feels now.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

They are about inner strength and beauty

Later I again met her at a seminar attended by several acid attack survivors like her and human rights activists.
This was an inspirational shoot for me. I had interacted with almost all of them for assignments before. So they knew I want to focus on their inner strength and beauty through my lens.

The very definition of womanhood has changed for me
I have a daughter. I couldn’t sleep at night after
meeting Chanchal for the first time. After meeting those survivors I realised what is inner strength and mental power. For me the very definition of womanhood has changed after knowing them. I am grateful to Ritu and Chanchal that they allowed me to pose with them.

It is illegal to stock acid, hope the shopkeepers know that

I refuse to call them victims they are survivors for me. It is important to spread awareness about how
harmful commonly available acid is. Shopkeepers need to be made aware that it is no longer legal to stock these in their stores without a license.

Why can’t we employ an acid-attack survivor?

acid 5 Rupa

Rupa is designing clothes and setting up a boutique

As for the survivors, one should know that they need to be treated with as much dignity as the next physically fit person. They are sometimes turned away from jobs that require direct client-dealing, as
employers feel it will discourage customers. That needs to change. It is the attackers who should be denied opportunities and be sent away
for reformation, not those who are attacked. Any help has to begin with acceptance. It makes me immensely happy to know Rupa has become a dress designer and Ritu is helping her and Chanchal plans to go back to college. This cafe that they have started is a very positive step and I wish them all the success.

Monetary help is important

Surgeries required by acid attack survivors is very expensive and they need stringent post-operative care. Raising funds for their surgeries can be another way of helping them. Right now, there is no
institutional framework to provide acid attack survivors with psychological counseling and monetary help from the state can only go so far. Rs 3 lakhs given by the government is nothing for the treatments they have to go through.

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

When I started writing this post I had meant to write something else, but so much happened in the last few days that I ended up writing something else altogether, changing my mind constantly as I got hooked to the news, analysis and – a letter.

I feel rape has probably become just another morbid story like so many other stories told in India every day. It is something like this: Rape happens, then media goes into a frenzy, helplines, SMS lines, come up, we cry hoarse then we go back to live our own lives, until another rapist strikes.

Women in India live with their instincts. Period! They live on luck too. When luck runs out God help us. (No one else probably will).

I have dozed off in my office car often while returning home after midnight. I just trusted my instincts and the smile of the driver who greeted me every evening.

Are my instincts good? Maybe. My luck? Must be. I have landed in situations too. Many times. But wriggled out using my brain, brawn, threats, other people’s help, mobile calls – and luck of course.

Check: You are lucky if you have not been sexually harassed in Kolkata

So the Uber cab controversy (whether they continue to do business or not in Delhi, about background checks of its employees, about repeated sex offenders being let off on bail) does not seem to bother me because I know one Uber gone will make way for another Unter (German antonym for uber and rightly means “under” and this is a figment of my imagination) and Indian women will be left fending for themselves, as usual. There will be luxury, yes. Safety? Doubtful.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

The media would ride on the controversy wave to do stories but they won’t even know when palms would be greased, permits would be made and the Unter would make inroads into Delhi roads.

In the midst of it all this who is left out in the lurch? The victim, of course. The unlucky one, who was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person and whose instincts just failed her for a moment and finished her forever.

I have been interacting with Suzette Jordan, the Park Street rape survivor. Although she has shown immense courage but it has been a lone fight for her from day one. No one has offered her a job despite her work experience. No one cares how she is surviving with her two teenage daughters or how she is dealing with the trauma of facing her perpetrators in court every day – for more than two years.

Media does not continue to report on the nitty gritty of Suzette’s life because I am sure it is already too mundane to be reported. They took notice when she was not allowed to enter Ginger, a restaurant on Hazra Road in Kolkata. Everyone went into a tizzy, supporting her on social media and some well-known names in journalism, all the way from Delhi, even went on to say that the license of the restaurant should be cancelled,

Does anyone know what happened after that? It’s business as usual at Ginger I suppose.

I read Shenaz Treasurywala’s letter.

I could identify with her letter and I am sure every Indian woman (and sensitive man) could.

If Shenaz writes now about the fear of rape that Indian women feel I had written about it in 2006 in an article in Times of India when rape hadn’t made it to the hot seat of headlines in India yet.

I can see we think similarly and I appreciate she has taken a stand.

But there are people who are saying it’s a PR stunt before the release of her film.

Could be? But would you go and watch some insipid film titled Main or Mr Riight spending Rs 300 from your pocket just because Shenaz here wrote this letter? I wouldn’t. I am sure you wouldn’t either.

And somehow I can’t find the connection how this could help sell her movie unless it’s based on sexual harassment of women.

It is not. And while Shenaz’s letter is still notching up hits on the net the film has already been written off by critics after the first show.

She addressed it to powerful men. Why not? These men have the power to bring change. Don’t they? Amitabh Bachchan’s polio campaign did help eradicate the disease in India. And if the PM of a country does not have the power to bring change who has then?

veeranganas

Veeranganas are an all-women commando team keeping the streets safe in Guwahati. (Picture taken from India Today)

Talking about change. Have you heard of the Veeranganas? It’s an all-woman commando platoon guarding the streets of Guwahati and making it safer for women. Veeranganas have been created as a joint effort by Assam Police and Assam Government after a girl was molested on the streets of Guwahati.

Veeranganas have, for the first time, made me feel that a police force and government are serious about women’s safety. Otherwise if you are asking a woman to SMS before she steps into a cab and then you say you will track her on GPRS I am not sure how serious you are. Would GPRS tell you that four men got up in the cab in between and raped her while it was moving? I would like to know. And would you be able to reach on time to save her? Or would GPRS help you track the rapist after the crime has been done?

When a solution is thrown at us in the name of helpline, SMS et al don’t we need to ask how will it make us safe?

How many of you have used a helpline in times of need? Can you tell me? If you have and help has come your way please let me know. I would like to share your experience here.

Till then I will always side with the Veeranganas  more than the SMS, apps and helplines. The latter create fear for women the former create fear for men.

For me this is being proactive about the issue and not being blasé. And that is what matters.

Tomorrow I will publish an interview of Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay, who talks about meeting victims of acid attack and the impact they had on him.