She makes herself heard, loud and clear, in turn infusing you with a wave of confidence. Barkha Dutt’s self-belief might be rooted in her job as a television journalist and columnist — her courageous reporting from places of conflict and war having earned her appraisal, but up and close, Barkha does not exude the aura of a goddess, instead being warm and generous with her friendly gestures.
She has worked her way to the top, one of the reasons why Barkha understands better the increasingly unsafe environment that women in India are finding themselves in — not only on the road, but also in relative “safe” environs of an office. The recent case of a woman journalist being violated by Tehelka editor-in-chief (until recently) Tarun Tejpal was shocking for Barkha, she says. However, she thinks it’s not for us to tar a particular profession. “No one profession is safer than another. So, we shouldn’t label a profession as being unsafe for women. However, the media fraternity shouldn’t pretend it didn’t happen to them. I understand and respect the choice of some women to remain silent because they believe that this is already a profession where they have to be better than men to be treated as equals. But, I would want to say that it is very important to speak. We have to remember that it is our right to demand a safe working environment,” she says.
Barkha says there is much noise made when institutions other than the media don’t have sexual harassment redressal committees, but asserts that the media needs to now turn the lens inwards. “We have to critique ourselves in this case,” she says while referring to the Tejpal case.
Women’s safety, says the journalist, is a crucial issue because if they are not given security, they are being denied the right to equality. “We have to demand a mechanism in place to address such issues. Instead of the victim being accused, the stigma should be on the perpetrator of crime,” she adds.
Delhi-born Barkha, a Padma Shri awardee, gained limelight for her reportage on the Kargil war in 1999, though she later also received flak for her reporting during the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Nevertheless, she remains one of the most popular TV journalists.
On the role of social media in helping raise issues of importance, Barkha agrees that the medium is in the focus now. “Everyone with a mobile can take a picture, everyone with a blog can write. However, no one medium cancels out the other; it’s a more democratic place now. When TV came up, the print had to evolve. I think mediums re-adapt in response to the changes around them. I believe that editorial gate-keeping is important, so even in social media, rules will evolve,” she says.