Archive for the ‘Indian Media’ Category

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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.

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.

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.

There are stories of hope too. The bustling Sheroes Cafe at Agra, near the Taj, which is run by acid attack survivors is a story of triumph.

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.

 

 

 

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.