Archive for the ‘Indian Media’ Category

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.

 

 

 

Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Controversy’s favourite child Salman Khan has done it again. This time he has rubbed the media the wrong way. At the promotion of his film Kick, his bouncers roughed up a few photographers while Salman added insult to injury saying that those who wanted to stay back, could do so and the rest could carry on (read details http://www.ibtimes.co.in/after-shraddha-kapoor-photographers-boycott-salman-khan-kick-actor-says-he-respect-their-604409)

While the photographers have come together and put a ban on clicking this Khan till July 25, the date of release of his film, many Khan friends and associates are putting the blame on them for being too aggressive and high-handed.

While reading this report my interaction with Salman Khan in 2009 came to my mind. He had come to Dubai to promote his film London Dreams. He was supposed to make a late night entry and the PR who was coordinating with us accordingly, even told us that we might have to hop in to his hotel as late as 11pm or even midnight. Salman never arrived and the PR stopped taking calls.

A couple of days later another PR informed us that he would meet the press at Grand Hyatt at a more reasonable time, 12noon, and he was willing to give one-on-one interviews. When I arrived, we were told that he was running late so all journalists were asked to gather together as an informal press conference.

I was particularly keen to meet Salman because most of my journo friends said that he was a delight to interview. One even went on to say that in the explosive quotes department, Salman might just take second place to Rakhi Sawant if he was in the right mood.

I was disappointed that there would be no one-on-one interaction, but I was more than happy to see that I had been given a chair just next to Salman’s empty one.

I always thought among the Khans, Salman was the only one who had really shaped up like good wine – he had become more handsome with age, more entertaining, a better dancer and a better person, considering that when he broke up with Aishwarya he went and broke down her apartment door and then when he broke up with Katrina he let her have a life with Ranbir…or whoever…minus the threats and the persecution from him.

I had really started liking his Being Human endeavours and wanted to ask him a host of questions on that.

Salman entered the room, looking as handsome as ever, his long hair tied back with a hair band – a fashion statement not many people could carry off. He came and sat next to me. Then my troubles started.

Salman lit a cigarette. I was three months pregnant then but wasn’t showing or hadn’t broken the news to my other journo friends present there. And I felt odd breaking the news like that in order to stop Salman Khan from smoking. So I started thinking quickly.

I told him, “I am acutely allergic to cigarette smoke. Can you please not smoke?”

Salman did not say a word but kept looking at me unapologetically as he took another drag from the cigarette.

My mind was racing. I thought that just for sitting next to Salman Khan I could not expose my unborn to cigarette smoke. I quickly got up and told him that I needed to sit far away from him. He just shrugged.

I found a place at the farthest corner of the room. I shouted my questions from there and he shouted back his answers. I even managed to snap him out of his disinterested mood by asking questions on Being Human, the only thing he was ready to talk about apart from London Dreams of course.

Later on I thought would Salman have stopped smoking if I had told him that I was pregnant? I have my doubts. Because allergy to cigarette smoke is a grave enough reason to make anyone stop smoking. In fact, it’s basic human courtesy to stop smoking if anyone says he/she finds it uncomfortable to inhale cigarette smoke for health reasons. I feel this basic courtesy applies to film stars also. And I have met many stars who are actually courteous enough to ask, “Can I smoke?” before they light up.

But Salman treated me with the same attitude he extended towards the photographers at the Mumbai event – stay if you want to, go if you want to. I came back with a very bitter taste in my mouth but I was happy I could take my stand, not expose my baby to the smoke toxins and get my job done, get the interview that is.

PS: It’s another matter that my 4-year-old son is now a big Salman Khan fan.

 

Actress Sudipta Chakraborty turned reporter to interview voters before the Loksabha elections

Actress Sudipta Chakraborty turned reporter to interview voters before the Loksabha elections

Sudiptaa Chakraborty might be a National Award winning actress (Best Supporting actress for Rituparno Ghosh’s Bariwali) and one of the most well-known faces in West Bengal’s film and television industry, but there is a side to her which I have always admired and liked immensely. Sudiptaa is the kind who gets away by speaking her mind all the time and is absolutely clued in about what’s happening around her. So I was not surprised when I found Sudiptaa anchoring the television show Tarokar Chokhey Taroka Kendro (Star constituency through a star’s eyes) on ABP Ananda.

For the programme, Sudiptaa turned reporter and travelled with her boom to constituencies like Midnapore, Dakkhin (South) Kolkata and Tamluk. She travelled to Midnapore town, Kharagpur and different villages of East Midnapore. For Dakkhin Kolkata, she covered Rashbehari Avenue, Behala, Kolkata Port Area (Kidderpore dock), Parnasree, Bhowanipore and Hazra area. For Tamluk she travelled to Tamluk township, Haldia and other villages.

She has come back with a treasure trove of experiences. She shares it all in this blog. Read on, it’s indeed an eye opener….

“Many villagers have no clue that the elections are here”

A large number of people in the villages, mostly women, are not really aware of who all are contesting from their respective constituencies, what this election is for, what the difference is between an assembly election and parliament election and all that.  I have even met a number of people who actually have no clue that elections are at their doorstep.

“Bengal has no major issue”

With my limited knowledge gathered on this tour, all I can say is there is no big issue in Bengal. All that a common Bengali wants is a peaceful life with a decent job, a full stomach and a roof over his/her head. More than 80% voters of Bengal demand nothing more than that. It sounds crazy, yet it is true.

“Most people have no time to think about women’s issues”

Educated lot is really concerned about it. The rest have no time to think over it. They devote the entire day to earn their bread.

This lady fetching fish eggs in chest-deep water told Sudipta her election demand is a big utensil

This lady fetching fish eggs in chest-deep water told Sudiptaa her election demand is a big utensil

“One woman demanded a big utensil”

I met a woman near Haldia, who earns her living by collecting fish eggs from the river. She spoke to me with a wide smile while standing in chest-deep water. She earns Rs 150 -200 per day. She doesn’t have electricity in her home. She spoke her heart out to me and in the end all she demanded was a big utensil (ekta boro handi), in which she could accommodate maximum number of fish eggs each time she went down in the water. She was amazing. I still can’t forget her unconditional smiling face despite the toil she has to do every day to earn Rs 150.

“There isn’t a single commoner happy with a politician”

The party workers are happy for obvious reasons. But barring them, I didn’t meet a single commoner who sounded happy with the politicians. From Midnapore to Kolkata, from a village to a city, only one sentence echoed in my ears, “Vote er aage shobai eshe onek boro boro katha bole, vote chole gele aar tader khuje paoa jaye na.” (They all come before elections and promise big but after elections you can’t find them.)

“This experience has made me a more conscious citizen”

Facing the truth on the ground has made me more conscious as a citizen and as an actress as well. This experience has enriched me as a human being and I am sure it will reflect in my future projects.

 

 

 

Picture taken from the internet

Picture taken from the internet

I had been married for five years then and I had gone for a job interview in a magazine. After checking my CV, the editor (lady) asked me about my capacity to handle the heavy workload in an understaffed department, asked me about my willingness to stay late on most evenings, and asked me if I was available on weekends. Then the editor shot a question for which I was not really prepared.

“Are you planning to get pregnant soon?” she asked. I was tongue-tied for a moment. I wanted to tell her this was a personal question and had no relevance to the interview. But instead I chose a diplomatic path because I knew she wanted to hear a “no”. I laughed and said, “I am extremely ambitious.” (Although personally I believe most ambitious and successful women are great mothers too, but the answer satisfied her.)

The Editor smiled. But later I thought to myself if after joining I had got pregnant in three months would she have terminated my contract?

But that is exactly what happened to a reporter working in a reputed news channel in Mumbai. This piece of news published in the website meant for media professionals, The Hoot, caught my attention recently. It reported that a lady reporter working in a reputed news channel in India was handed the termination letter when she got pregnant.

Why she moved court

The company said that she was asked to leave her job because she was underperforming but she moved court saying that the real reason for termination was her pregnancy. She questioned the company that for the two years she was in the job she had got extremely good appraisals, how come she became an underperformer the moment she informed her boss about her pregnancy?

In an interim order the judge in a labour court in Mumbai has upheld the fact that an unfair labour practice has taken place and has ordered her re-instatement.

For details of the case go to The Hoot

Pregnancy discrimination is rampant

I really appreciate the guts of this journalist, who moved court and is fighting for her rights. I think this is a landmark judgment in a country where many women are forced to leave their jobs because of pregnancy and are often denied a pay hike or promotion when they have a baby. Pregnancy discrimination is something that is rampant around the world the only difference is women in the West are fighting it – in the US more than 3000 pregnancy discrimination cases were filed in 2012 and in UK steps are being taken by the government to stop discrimination– but in India women are still shoving the issue under the carpet.

Sexual harassment that women face in the workplace might be a more serious issue that is addressed these days but discrimination because of pregnancy and child birth is an equally serious issue that people rarely talk about.

Women professionals talk their mind

I asked women from different professions if they had faced any problems from their bosses or management during and post pregnancy. A few said that they had extremely supportive colleagues and management and never had any problems but some said they have themselves dealt with discrimination because of pregnancy and many said they have seen others facing it.

Here is what they said:

A lady doctor: Pregnancy discrimination is common even in the medical profession when men pass comments like “oh she will get light duties now that she is pregnant.” One has to either ignore or challenge these stereotyping.

An IT professional: Though I worked for eight months that year, carried the project on my shoulder and only then went on maternity leave I got a low performance band as my assessor said I had not worked for four months. This was eight years back, since then policies have changed. But IT as a whole is not sympathetic or encouraging towards women going into pregnancy or women with small children.

A risk management expert: I have seen women losing promotions and raises because of their pregnancy. We have a Women’s Council in our company through which we try to push for better rights for women. But most often the person who is pregnant does not raise her voice for fear of losing her job or ruining her future chances. When a woman gets pregnant or has a baby the common perception is they can’t stay late, they have to rush off for doc appointments. After child birth they need to stay home if the maid does not come or the daycare is closed or the child is ill. They can’t take late night calls as the baby needs attention…so on and so forth.

A journalist: When I was pregnant I worked doubly hard so that no one could raise a finger at me. But I wish my company had flexible timings and work-from-home opportunities then I could have continued in my job. When my daughter was three I left my full-time job because I felt I was spending all my time in office and giving her very little time.

An Indian media person based in the US: I got my promotion when I was pregnant. After I had a baby, I was still rated for above target performance and got my bonus. But I wish we had longer maternity leave which is usually between six and eight weeks and one joins back after the doctor gives a fitness certificate. I have to travel in my job but I did not travel for a year after my daughter was born. And when I started travelling I took my daughter and even family along because I was still nursing and my company was perfectly okay with that.

A banker: When I was pregnant I got my raise. I was very lucky to have extremely understanding and supportive colleagues. They made all the difference.

 

Jashodaben Modi

Jashodaben Modi

On the contrary I think she is a woman with a mind of her own. The reports that have come out in the media might say things like:  “the wife of Narendra Modi washes her own clothes”, “she lives alone and survives on a salary of Rs 10,000”, “she is waiting for that one call from Modi”, but if I have read right between the lines, she is a strong-willed woman, who has carved her own niche in her village in Gujarat.

What I gather is Jashodaben Modi did not sit in one corner of her home and cry over her fate when she was sent back to her maternal home by her husband at the age of 19. Instead she found her own calling. She studied and became a teacher. Her compassion and kindness is the talking point among her students, (many of whom belong to the Muslim community) and their parents.

For me Jashodaben Modi is a woman, who has had the guts to turn the circumstances in her favour and live her life on her own terms. Here are five reasons why I find her inspiring.

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

 

  1. She was not afraid to live her life alone: Her brothers said that they proposed remarriage to her but she rejected it. It is clear that she is woman who doesn’t think that the presence of a man is a must in her life to make her feel more secure. Only after retirement she has moved into a house which is located four houses away from her brother’s home, otherwise she lived in a different village.
  2. She is financially independent: All her life she lived in her own small rented accommodation and has taken care of her own expenses.
  3. She has made a difference in other people’s lives in her own small way:  She has been a passionate and loving teacher. She regularly visited her students at their home if they failed to attend school because of illness. The whole village of Rajosana, where she taught, came to attend her retirement function.
  4. She hasn’t used her husband’s power position to get favours: If she had wanted she could have gone to the press long before Open Magazine went knocking on her door in 2009. True Modi is a powerful man, but Modi is also someone who is surrounded by adversaries. Jashodaben could have used her status to her advantage, something she never did.
  5. Modi needs her now, but she doesn’t need him: Modi acknowledged Jashodaben in an affidavit filed before the Election Commission last week. To fulfill his political ambitions Modi had to do this but ironically if Jashodaben never acknowledges Modi as her husband it would not make a difference in her life. And come on, if the phone call from him hasn’t come in 40 years it would probably never come. A woman, who has fought the battle of life on her own, definitely knows that. But she is dignified enough to speak well about him in public and pray for his well being.

sexual harassment3To give an insight into sexual harassment in the Indian media I got in touch with a number of my ex-colleagues, who are all currently well-placed in the industry to come forth with their views and personal experiences. Many said that they have never faced any kind of sexual harassment in the workplace, but have witnessed others facing it. Some men said that they have helped their female colleagues deal with harassment from the department boss and many said that they have faced harassment themselves. Some even said that certain senior people have tried to take advantage of their earlier professional relationship, long after they had stopped working together. Two ex-colleagues, one male and one female, said they have been harassed by their female bosses. A very senior male editor I was talking to yesterday told me in his entire career spanning almost 20 years, he has seen how men got transformed as they moved up the ladder and thought their higher posts also gave them the license to take their chances with women.

And while not everyone in this post has given their name, here it is then, all in their own words:

I told him he should not dare touch me again”- NUZHAT AZIZ 

In my 14 years of work experience as a journalist in Kolkata, Mumbai and now Pune, there have been several experiences which have left me disgusted and annoyed. And in most of the cases, I have managed to put an end to the harassment by putting my foot down; by putting it across very bluntly, that I do not like the advances and am uncomfortable with what is being said or done.

During my stint with a leading daily, I had to work closely with a journalist who was hired to head a business supplement. The journalist in question had a habit of touching me whenever we spoke. Whether we discussed stories or it was a casual chat, his hand would either touch mine, or he would put his arm over my shoulder or around my waist. I did feel uncomfortable on several occasions and I discussed it with my female colleague. 

One day we finished work and he asked me if I wanted to go to the club for some snacks. I agreed to go with him because I wanted to bring up this issue. While we waited for the drinks and snacks to arrive, he casually placed his hand over mine. I removed it and very sternly told him that I did not like anyone touching me. He was shocked and tried to defend himself. I repeated myself and took a cab home. The next day, he refused to talk to me and needless to add, he stopped assigning stories to me. I was perfectly fine with that.

There have been so many instances, where a male colleague has made a pass, cracked a sexist joke and commented on my vital statistics. All this is harassment. So if I were to write all of that, it would have to be compiled into a book. But I would definitely want to mention another incident, where this senior colleague would often send me text messages saying how hot he found me and later laugh it off as a joke. He would often tell us how he was in an open relationship with his wife.

He went on to hold a senior position with a foreign-based organisation. He continued messaging me with polite enquiries about my life and family and once in a while we would discuss about the media industry. In one such conversation he suggested I could get a senior position easily by sleeping around, because it was acceptable and everyone did pretty much the same. I was disgusted and offended and stopped responding to him. I unfriended him on Facebook. Sensing that I was upset, he later texted me saying that he did not mean such a thing and I was stupid enough to deduce something like that. I told him in as many words that I understood exactly what he meant and I was not keen to keep in touch.

My approach has always been take the bull by the horn, there are no two ways about it.

If I had not refused to get into the car with him he would have done something to me”- LM

There was this very senior editor, who was not only very talented, but also good looking and the no- nonsense types. We respected him immensely. When he handpicked me for a transfer to Mumbai I felt very proud and grateful. But after coming to Mumbai I lost touch with him. A few years later I bumped into him in my Mumbai office, we got talking and when he said he had nothing to do in Mumbai, I offered to take him out for dinner. We agreed to meet at a restaurant. He asked me to meet him at his hotel first. When I reached he asked me to go up his room. I wasn’t sure what to do but I went. We chatted in his room for sometime then left for the restaurant. It was a pleasant evening.

The next day he called me and asked me if I was free for dinner since he had another night in town. I didn’t think much of it especially since the previous night was really enjoyable, and hence agreed. He again asked me to meet him at his room when I reached the hotel. Once again I hesitated, but frankly, I was confused and went with the flow. This time I didn’t enjoy his company too much as he seemed to be a little tipsy. We had a light dinner and I said I had to leave because it was getting late. Very ‘casually’ he said, “you can stay back if you want.” I ignored this and just left after saying a polite goodbye.

A few months later he was in town again and called me, this time to his guest house. I was in two minds, but my gratitude for him made me decide to go. But when I reached, my instincts took over. He was already stark drunk and I refused to get inside his room. I told him we had to hurry to the restaurant because we had a reservation. Thankfully he listened. He had his chauffeur-driven company car. As soon as we entered the car, he grabbed my hand. My stomach did a somersault but I didn’t want to create a scene. My mind stopped working and I simply tried to make random conversation. All this while he was holding my hand and I was trying to withdraw it unsuccessfully. It might sound silly, but I just couldn’t think straight.  Thankfully we reached the restaurant quickly. By then he was a mess and was even unable to stand. I just managed to finish dinner and he did the most bizarre thing – he started rocking the table and in between looked at me with stoned and lustful eyes. I don’t know how I managed to get out of there without creating a scene.

I insisted I had to leave and finally walked out of the restaurant with him following me. Outside, he crossed all limits. As I called the driver to get the car, he tried to embrace me. I quickly wriggled out and stepped aside (once again trying not to create a scene). Thankfully, the driver arrived on time, and with his help, I practically shoved him inside the car.  I didn’t get in myself and I jumped into an auto rickshaw instead telling him I had to rush to another venue.

The way he was going I don’t know what would have happened if I had entered the car that night. I was actually his fan – as a junior reporter – but his behaviour was appalling. Probably, you may say I was at fault for going out with him thrice. But it did take me some time to realise that the Dr Jekyll I had known at work would turn into Mr Hyde after getting drunk.

It is possible to create a non-sexual atmosphere where predatory men are intimidated into decorum”- SURANJANA ROY BHATTACHARYA

I don’t recall a single instance of harassment, personally, between 1994-2008, the time I worked in India.

The only obnoxious person I have encountered was this person who was not my boss, but the editor of another department. Since in a newspaper office we mostly sit in an open office, you can see what’s going on in other departments. He would openly hit on the girls in that department. What struck me as brilliant was the way these women dealt with him. From a distance, it seemed to me that these young girls were capable of puncturing his ego, they patronised him and talked him down and kept him in line. I don’t know the actual dynamics, but that is what I perceived and sub consciously rejoiced.

What I am trying to say is that women can and do have ways to deal with men. I was 23 when I joined Indian Express, Bombay as a trainee. I worked night shifts with men who used to drink every night. Yet, not for a single night did I feel any discomfort. I have often thought why that was so, and the only explanation I found is – women can ‘de sex’ themselves and their environment. When you don’t recognise a man as the male of the species, when you don’t recognise his ‘aura’, that man will not have any power over you. I think it is possible for men and women to create a professional, non-sexual atmosphere where predatory men are intimidated into decorum.

My female editor would measure my derriere with her palm”- NAME WITHELD

Sexual harassment need not be physical or coming from a man. Women too can sometimes indulge in it. For example, my female editor would pass lewd comments on my derriere and offer to measure it with her palm to see if I have “put on weight”. In front of male colleagues, this would be thoroughly embarrassing. One night, on a team trip to a nearby resort, she dragged everyone out of their rooms to have a chill-out session. Then she announced to everyone: “X is not wearing a bra!” Her joke was so humiliating. Also, when I needed to take leave for a day because my then boyfriend was returning after a 4-month long trip from Europe, she said, in front of the whole department, “You can postpone your f****** by a day. I need you here at work.” Maybe it was my age that prompted her to say such stuff, thinking I was ‘too young to mind’ or it could be because she believed in the culture of ‘ragging juniors’, with or without realising she was crossing the line and humiliating me. But I mustered the courage to tell her one day that I felt insulted this way.

My friend was asked to perform oral sex”- SARAH SALVADORE

A friend of mine decided to leave journalism for good because of sexual harassment. As a young intern, when she approached her so-called ‘mentor’ to inquire about jobs, she was asked to perform an oral sexual act on him. She walked out immediately and decided to never step into any media house again. Today she is happily working in the literary field, “minus the creeps,” as she puts it.

The editor lost his job due to charges of sexual misdemeanor”- NAME WITHELD

I was working in a newspaper in Delhi and there was an editor and his entire team, who were extremely foul- mouthed in front of women.  I was just on “hi” and “hello” terms with him but still he tried to touch me on many occasions. I had left the organization by then but I heard he eventually lost his job due to charges of sexual misdemeanor.

Many editors have got away with their antics because they were smart, Tejpal acted foolishly”- MOHUA FERNANDES

This kind of sexual harassment is not new in media circles. But it is important to highlight this issue because these editors – who think nobody can touch them and that they can even get away with murder – need to realise that they cannot get away with it every time. They need to practice what they preach, not just support an issue because it makes good copy. Look at their double standards: they cry hoarse when a photojournalist is gangraped by criminals, but when a respected editor violates his employee’s body against her wish, they call it consensual. Many editors have got away with their antics because they were smart. Tejpal acted foolishly, so he got caught. Personally, I have never faced any such harassment. But it is common knowledge that women in the media – like in other fields too – use their sexuality to climb the career ladder. That’s why very often mediocre employees get phenomenal promotions and perks. Of course, everybody else in office knows why.

I couldn’t muster the courage to report my senior colleague”- NAME WITHELD

I had started out as a trainee some nine years back with a leading Kolkata-based media house. The first time it happened was when I was asked out for coffee, to which I went ahead willingly as just another evening out with a colleague I knew well and interacted freely, not realising that was only the beginning of the mental harassment I was to face for months to come.

Five minutes into the conversation, I realised there was something wrong in the way the conversation was going. When I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in anything that he wanted out of me, and that he was just another male colleague, he said, ‘But women don’t come out for coffee with just any male friend. If she does she is plain available and has been asking for it’.

All of 22, I did not know how to react, what to say. All I knew was I walked out on him in the next five minutes. From there on began the stream of messages, morning, day and night, all of which threatened to malign me in public, full of cuss words, etc…if I opened my mouth or dared say a word. I could see a change in attitude in some other colleagues too, a smirk here, a snigger there. On one or two occasions, I did think of having a heart-to-heart chat with the boss and ask him for help, but a mere 8-month-old trainee’s account would perhaps stand no chance against the hoity toity. No, I couldn’t muster enough courage and kept mum sharing my shattered frame of mind with only a set of very close friends.

I was victimised in every possible way, dubbed incapable, inefficient, my copies not good enough, as it had to be passed through that one ‘male colleague’s’ coterie of people. I realised the root of the problem stemmed from that coffee at Flury’s.

I got a better job and moved on. But therein died a chirpy, easy-going 22-year-old, and emerged from the ashes a no-nonsense girl.

Tejpal incident would shake up a lot of people”- MOYNA SEN

Initially I did feel that maybe the Tejpal thing was being blown out of proportions for reasons best known to the people involved, simply because this was nothing new to the media world. But I guess the harassment issue had become so rampant, it needed to be addressed as well. More often than not these skirmishes are brushed under the carpet as run-of-the-mill incidents. Therefore this would hopefully nudge people out of their complacency, given that both Tejpal and his Tehelka are in serious trouble. Talking of myself, I cannot recall of very serious harassment issues. There have been insinuations, but nothing that I could not control by putting up an intolerant front. But I have seen some of my colleagues facing it, snide comments about their physical assets or even being propositioned directly. Some have been shocked, others have retorted and some have actually responded positively.

I went to meet him in his hotel room many times”- NAME WITHELD

He was an editor I had idolized all my life. I was just 21 when I met him at an office party and was over the moon for all the attention he showered me. Finally when he asked me to meet him in his hotel room the next day I said yes. From then on I went to meet him many times and he gifted me books and ordered champagne and we had romantic chats sitting in the balcony. But one thing is for sure. I never used my proximity to him to get a better position at work.

However, I soon realised I was falling in love with him and he was married. I thought if I could not dissociate myself I would be heading for disaster. I told him so and he did not force me to continue, neither did he victimize me in the workplace for not continuing. I soon moved abroad and we never met after that. At that point I thought I was the only woman he really liked but later on I came to know I was just one of the many.

This is a follow up of my earlier post Sexual harassment in Indian media: The inside story (PART I)

 

 
 
 

sexual harassment

Our Editor-In-Chief was in town from Mumbai and he had thrown a party at a city disco in Kolkata, something he always did when he was down and something we all looked forward to. I was in a bit of a hurry to leave because of some pressing responsibility back home and when I went to say bye to him, he said, “Why are you leaving so early?” I gave my reasons. Then he said, “But there will be transfer.”

I froze. I thought now it’s happening to me too, another whimsical editor threatening me with transfer if I did not stay on and dance with him.

Looking at my anxious face he looked puzzled. “Why are you looking so worried? There will be transport to take you home.”

I heaved a sigh of relief – he meant transport then and not transfer. He was trying to be genuinely nice but I think I can’t be blamed for presuming what he said. From the day I joined the Indian media as a trainee journalist I have been fed stories of brilliant editors who were equally talented womanizers. Editors who would unleash their libido in the company corridors, on the office couch, in the lifts, at parties and on working tours. Some accounts sounded realistic, some grossly exaggerated, and some figments of imagination, but like mothers tell children fairy tales and tell them to be scared of the demons and the monsters, our seniors told us tales of predatory editors and our imagination went astray.

So much so that when I was a trainee journalist, all of us would huddle into one room and avoid the Editor-In- Chief, like the plague, every time he dropped into town. Why? Because he had a reputation with women, that walked into a room long before he did. We would even discuss what we would do if he asked one of us to visit him in his hotel room. (Apparently that was his way of making a pass at women journalists and that’s what once again our seniors had told us.) At that point our unanimous decision was: we would obviously leave the job immediately.

Nothing like that ever happened. He didn’t even give us a second look when he rebuked us at the department meetings for all the wrong headlines. Then he walked off in a huff to lunch with our immediate boss, the prettiest woman I have ever met.

So were the stories we heard about him true? I don’t know. Or was our pretty boss the buffer that kept him from turning his attention to us? I don’t know either. But this much I know that we quickly put aside our unwarranted fears. Years later I met a journalist, much senior to me, and I was telling her this story with a laugh, she startled me with her confession. She said she had actually gone to meet him in his hotel room while working as a trainee journalist. (Her account is in my post tomorrow.)

As I gained experience in journalism I realised editors do hit on women, more precisely take their chances with them. It is the most common thing in the newsroom. Some women reciprocate, often looking at it as a good opportunity to go up the ladder, some don’t. But what is incredible is the shockwaves that Tarun Tejpal is sending down the spine of the media people. Isn’t this something we have always known? What has Tejpal suddenly done that has shaken us all? Aren’t we used to discussing stories like this over coffee right there in the office cafeteria? Is it shocking now because this story has spilled over from the cafeteria to the common man’s sitting room?

There is a pattern to the whole thing. Most often the relationships are consensual and when it is not, the woman journalist handles it in her own way. When she can’t, she leaves the job. But sometimes she does complain. It is always dealt with “amicably” and yes, Vishakha (Judgement) is kept out of the door consciously. After it has been dealt with, the woman journalist inevitably finds it tough to carry on in the job and resigns. But I have also heard of editors losing their jobs because there had been too many complaints against them. Also, as a male ex-colleague said, he has seen a couple of cases of false charges. Whatever the situation, it is always an “internal issue”. The only person to have had the guts to move court and fight a case for 10 long years is journalist Rina Mukherji.

Journalist Rina Mukherji moved court against her employer and fought her case for 10 long years

Journalist Rina Mukherji moved court against her employer and fought her case for 10 long years

Personally I have faced harassment too. I have to admit that no one has ever made any overt suggestion but the subtle hints were enough and in one job I have even lost a promotion because I failed to keep the boss “happy”. I never complained to higher authorities because I always felt, apart from making the gossip mills go on an overdrive, it would do nothing for me. There was also the chance of being labeled “the girl who sc***** her boss’ happiness” and my chances of finding another job would have been remote, in an industry where “news” travels fast.

And what would I have complained about, that my boss asks me out for a drink every day? What’s wrong with that? Because I didn’t go, I didn’t get a promotion. Come on, you are not good enough. My boss wants to walk into every party with me. Why, can’t a boss go to a party with a colleague? He often insists on having dinner from my plate at the party. Umm…what does that have to do with sexual harassment?

So in the end I have handled it my own way by sometimes wriggling out of a situation, by putting my foot down or by taking the help of supportive colleagues. In this regard I have to admit that it’s because of sensitive colleagues and some nice, caring, supportive senior people and editors (both men and women) women journalists are thriving in the industry. I remember there was an editor who was not even my boss but whenever I travelled with him in the office car, late in the night, he would step out of the car when I reached home. He stood in front of the gate till I had stepped in and locked it behind me. He got back to the car only after ensuring I was safe.

Sadly these amazing people will never make the headlines for all the good reasons, the Tejpals will. But instead of resorting to Tejpal-bashing (that his closest friends from the circuit are doing and behaving as if they never knew this side of him) and expressing well-rehearsed “shock” and “disbelief” at a fellow journalist’s folly, shouldn’t they be taking a closer look at their own lifts? You never know what’s lurking there.

(I have spoken to 10 journalists, all of whom are currently holding senior positions in different organizations. They have jotted down their personal experiences of sexual harassment which I have published in Part II.)

Check another post about Indian media:

At 23 when I joined journalism no one told me…