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         Spot the #urbanpredator

Posted on: October 6, 2018

I am not writing it because I want a battery of followers on Twitter as #Metoo is trending on social media. It is important to start with this disclaimer because I have heard comments such as, “now, every woman will share her ‘story’ to become famous on social media.”

I am writing it because I feel empowered today as a woman journalist when I see my colleagues in the media have come out to narrate their horrific experiences in their professional life.  I feel, there is a need to share these experiences in public to make more women aware of the urban predators around us.

As women journalists, we do come across some “embarrassing” or “weird” or “awkward” or “unpleasant” moments in our professional life.  One such moment still lives with me. It was August 2010, I was doing a story on the Commonwealth Games, desperately trying to interview the CWG Organising Committee (OC) chairman Suresh Kalmadi. Despite sending him a questionnaire on mail followed by multiple reminders, he didn’t answer. Then one day, (most probably, it was August 6, 2010) a press conference was called at the New Delhi Centre at Jai Singh Road, the office of the CWGOC. Suresh Kalmadi made a surprise appearance to deal with allegations of his involvement in financial irregularities related to the Games.  After the conference was over, I ran towards him as he was waiting for the elevator. Near the elevator, in the presence of his officials, I told him, “Sir, I am from The Telegraph, I have mailed you some questions related to a story on Commonwealth Games but you haven’t replied.” He looked at me, extended his arms towards me, patted on my right cheek twice and said, “Come, come to my office upstairs.”

As a woman, I felt invaded, I felt miserable. I felt like washing my cheek again and again. But suddenly as a reporter, I thought, finally, I could get his interview. After the interview, I called up my senior colleague, I told her about how he behaved. She said, “Don’t think too much about it. He must be treating you as a kid.” I believed her only to forget this incident. I was 29 then but because of my short stature, I looked younger, perhaps, I thought.

I have not been able to forget this incident. As I shared this experience with a few female journalists, I realised, a lot of us want to forget these unpleasant moments because the ultimate aim is to get the story, and we move from one story to the other. But the reality is, we feel miserable for not doing enough at the right time. And often, while moving from one story to the other, we encounter more such unpleasant experiences.

In 2011, I was trying to interview a Congress MP (And let me clarify, I am no BJP stooge who is blaming a Congress man), who claims to understand the plight of Kashmiris like none other. One afternoon, dressed in his trademark white kurta and pyajama, this politician came to attend a programme at the Constitutional Club. I approached him for an interview.  It was my first meeting with him. He gave a smile and suddenly put his right arm around my shoulder, wanting to know, what this interview is all about. I was taken aback by his gesture. But after about two minutes, I expressed my discomfort by shrugging off his hand a bit but I didn’t say anything to him directly. He sensed my discomfort and removed it.

When I narrated this incident to my senior colleagues in the media, I learnt, he is known for being “flirtatious.” The other day, an ex-colleague while commenting over the #Metoo moment, wrote on WhatsApp —“There’s a thin line between sexual harassment and harmless flirting.” What this politician did was harmless flirting or sexual harassment? So he has been “flirting” with women journalists for years, and no one felt the need to speak up?

As my Twitter timeline is getting filled with the horror stories of women journalists being sexually harassed by their male colleagues, I thank my stars that I have never been hugged or groped or kissed by my male colleagues at any workplace or in their cars in my 15 years of journalism career. But I won’t say, there were no attempts by male colleagues to pull me down by making obnoxious sexist remarks.

I remember, back in 2004-06, when I was working in a newspaper owned till recently by a BJP MP, I was often taunted by a senior male colleague with initials RRR after I was asked by my boss to cover beats he covered. In a way, he was punished for not doing justice to his work; clearly, he couldn’t say much to the boss, so his ire was directed at me. I remember him telling me — “Ladki ho, kaam achha karogi…” What a sexist remark! As a newcomer in the profession and a new migrant to the city, I thought it was better to keep quiet; I kept my focus on work, nothing else. I did commit a mistake. I should have confronted him right there. I should have asked him –what exactly did he mean by “ladki ho…kaam achha karogi!”

Another male colleague in the same department who claimed to have great access to Delhi Police but mostly behaved as its spokesperson used to address me as  “eh ladki…” I did respond to it once or twice before telling him firmly, “I have a name.” “Toh, tum ladki nahin ho kya?” — pat came his reply.

He or anyone else never tried to take any chance on me for sure though, perhaps, because our boss was too protective of his younger women colleagues. But then why do we need these protective father figures to guard us in our offices where all of us are adults?

I never look for a father figure to protect me when I travel to the back of the beyond on Manipur-Burma border to interview a militant or to report on the plight of tribals in Abujmarh or to document the lives of Kashmiris in curfew. I wonder, if I can be the voice of the deprived through my stories, why can’t I speak up for myself, every time, someone is trying to make me uncomfortable? I have realised, I often get perplexed when such “awkward” moments come. I have heard, many women get confused about how to react.

But now with so many of us speaking up, I believe, we must help each other to spot the #Urbanpredator and we must also share a tip or two on how to deal with them right then!

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1 Response to "         Spot the #urbanpredator"

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