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In my journalism career of 15 years, I have come across many men who know how to play the power game. Now at 37, I can identify them readily. You will find many in this profession, I am sorry to say. But I am just listing some early signals to spot a predator in your newsroom or outside when you out to report. This list, based on my experiences and observations (not in that order but), might help young journalists in future.

Here are early signals:

In office — Immediate Supervisor/ Senior Colleague

  1. While shaking hands, either he presses it too hard or squeezes your palm or just rubs it lightly with fingers
  2. Stands in front of your desk, and stares at you without any official work
  3. Stands in front of your desk, holding a book in hand, only to pretend he is reading it.
  4. Comes to your desk, shows you photographs of naked tribals, pretending to help you in your story on tribals!
  5. In a meeting when everyone sits in a circle – he hangs his jacket/coat right behind you and intentionally keeps his pen and diary inside the pocket of the jacket. In the middle of the meeting, he gets up and comes behind you to get the pen and diary.
  6. He indirectly asks you- where you live, who you live with etc during office lunches.
  7. Picks up anecdotes from earlier conversations during lunch and refers to it later, out of context. You will understand that he remembers every word you utter in office. He wants to give you an impression that he is fond of you. Trust me he is not half serious about you. You don’t fall into the trap, he must have done this to many women before you and would continue to do it even later. These are tried and tested methods. They are serial offenders.

How to spot a predator (especially an interviewee) outside?

  1. You approach someone for interview, the person suddenly extends his arm around your shoulder to know more about the interview.
  2. You are in a hurry to get a quote from someone, he (taller men do it often) leans forward and brings his face near your breasts to pretend he can’t hear you properly.
  3. You have gone to interview him at home. He makes you sit on a chair whose height is lower than the one he is sitting on. He keeps coming back and forth towards you, and his eyes are fixed on your breasts.

How to spot a predator outside office (generally an established journalist)

  1. You approach a senior journalist (at least 10 years your senior) known to have covered a certain region/beat for decades for help. He would go out of his way to not only help you with the story but also tries to help you with logistics. He keeps texting you to know more about your movement.
  2. It could be possible after the end of the trip, he would invite you for dinner and coffee to know more. Only a woman would understand how much of this is professional gesture and how much is pure personal interest.
  3. He starts suggesting you to read books with rich sexual content/man-woman sexual relationship. Even if you are attracted to him, and feel elated that an intellectually rich and professionally established man is attracted to you, take a pause. Remember, these men find any woman attractive because their aim is something else, we know what!
  4. If he is a married man, one of the most common ways of breaking the ice is to tell you, he is unhappily married. It is a “dead” marriage, they are together only for the child. For years, he didn’t have sex with his wife. DO NOT try to be his “best friend,” and please don’t tell him, you “understand.” He doesn’t need your friendship. He wants something else.
  5. He uses sexual innuendos in conversations to see how you respond. He cracks jokes with sexual content. If you don’t respond or keep a neutral face, he would say, “You are such a bacchha (kid),” only to provoke you to play with words just the way he is doing! The problem is, in the process, he also plays with your emotions! Remember!
  6. You tell him, you are okay to have him as a friend but you think he is hinting at something more you are uncomfortable with, he will play the victim card! He will say, you misunderstood him and he would also remind you how he helped you with your story earlier only to make you feel guilty.  He will withdraw himself for a while. But he will come back to you with vague things, especially work-related. If you again go back to him, he will resume the game. This is power play.
  7. He will continue to throw advances till he gets you under his fold. But kindly do not think he is serious with you! He will move on to the next woman once he is over and done with you!

Spot them, catch them, confront them if they make you feel uncomfortable!

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Geriatric care is a very sensitive issue and it is being given to people with various degrees of limitations in the later stage of their life. People may need assistance in brushing their teeth or eating or bathing or walking. Some need help to remind them about day to day things or a little assistance in framing small sentences and prounouncing words correctly. But just because they need this sort of care or assistance, they are not “invalid” or “abnormal.”

Trust me, people who need the care also try their best to do things on their own. But they have limitations. A lot of times, they do break their own limitations though.

They remember the finest of things from the pages of history which any “normal” person may not have ever heard of. They can walk miles with the help of their stick on days they feel energetic and happy. They will give a smile and tell you, “What big deal, I can do it,” when you are worried if it is okay to send them for a surgery at this age. They would give the best insight about life when you are on the verge of giving up at work or in personal life.

Those who have not offered geriatic care would not understand it. If you ever get a chance to live close to people who are aging, you must feel blessed forever.

All of us would reach at a point when we need help from someone. Extend your helping hand to someone today so that you get to hold onto someone else’s hand in future.

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!

With no real ground beneath one’s feet, all else loses meaning

 

Images of last week’s mid-air crisis of a Jet Airways flight reminded me of one summer evening when I was flying back to Delhi from Gorakhpur in an ATR carrier (AI 9810) — a small craft running on a twin-engine turboprop. The initial 10 minutes were fairly pleasant. It was late in the evening and there wasn’t much to appreciate in the sky, so I chose to sleep for a while. As I prepared to adjust my head over the tiny tray table, I felt myself flung up for about two seconds. Almost immediately after, I fell back into my seat. Perplexed, I was about to check if my seat belt was still fastened when I was up in the air again. This time, my head touched the ceiling.

By now I could only hear screaming passengers behind me — I was in the second row from the front. My eyes moved around looking for unperturbed faces, I couldn’t find any.

Suddenly, there was an eerie silence. There wasn’t any announcement by the crew preparing us for the worst or trying to calm us down either. I noticed an elderly woman shaking as she struggled to fasten her seat belt. A young girl to my left sat straight, holding the hands of her younger sibling. My gaze turned to the floor beneath and I discovered that my pen, identity card, phone and recorder were all down there.

“My phone, my phone,” I murmured. I didn’t have the strength to unfasten my seatbelt and collect my valuables. My co-passenger, a burly man who looked confident of overcoming the crisis with a Hanuman Chalisa, picked it all up for me.

As I put away my belongings into my handbag hurriedly, I recalled that my mother had warned me not to carry this tote bag without a zipper. It got me wondering for a bit — can mothers foresee things? I could almost hear her saying, “Ei jonyei toh bolechhilam, tora shunish na toh karur kotha… I told you so, but you people never pay heed to anyone.”

For about 10 minutes, there was no up-in-the-air moment but there were sudden drops, jerks, vibrations and swings. Or was I imagining things? As the aircraft kept circling around, the regrets swirled in my head — unnecessary arguments and pending apologies — I suppose, just the way they do in the last moments of one’s life.

From my window seat, I could only see a red light flashing on the wings of the aircraft. Did it mean that the end was near and that the plane would eventually crash? How would I jump off the aircraft at the time of the emergency landing? Why did I never bother to listen to the safety instructions decoded by flight attendants? If the plane crashes, would my colleagues in the media have to cover this accident? Would they be able to locate me in the debris? Would I be able to see my parents ever again? How would my parents cope with this sudden loss? Would this crisis turn out to be a hindrance for my sister who was about to fly off to Singapore, where she had taken up a new job?

As I was battling these thoughts, all at one go, I felt miserable that my Gorakhpur story was only half done and my deadline, two days later. I kept wondering if my sister would be able to access my mail and send the transcribed interview to my editor. That way I would have met the deadline of my ‘last’ story.

I realised this anxiety was making things worse for me. So I started to meditate, trying to connect with my inner self. After a while, a sense of graceful acceptance of the imminent end had set in. “If this is a closure, let it be, I am prepared,” I told myself. My head was not spinning anymore. I was much calmer inside, as if I suddenly conquered my fear. I looked out of the window again — the flashing red light didn’t bother me at all.

I craned my neck a bit to look down. Far off, beneath us, I could see some lights twinkling. On other days, I would have clicked a few photographs. That day, these things didn’t seem to matter anymore. In the meantime, the airplane’s cabin lights had been dimmed — final moments of descent.

The landing was surprisingly smooth. I assumed this was the happy ending to a traumatic flying experience.

I was wrong. Even now, four months later, the slightest air turbulence reminds me of the horrifying experience. But then, I immediately recall how my father was amused to see me scared and hear my presumably “near-death” experience. He simply laughed it off. Surely he didn’t want me to get affected by one bad experience of flying. I remember he said, “Ei rakom hotei pare, kintu eto bhoy pawar ki achhe?… It can happen, but why should you get so scared?

Visuals of 26-year-old Farooque Khan being beaten up by a mob went viral. But the social fracture this has engineered, didn’t

By

Sonia Sarkar

Published 23.09.18, 1:01 AM Updated 23.09.18, 1:01 AM

Dark times: A candle-light vigil in remembrance of Farooque Khan

File Picture

Farooque Khan, a promising entrepreneur of Lilong Haoreibi Mayai Leikai in Manipur’s Thoubal district, was lynched last week. The visuals of the 26-year-old being beaten up by the mob with thick bamboo sticks, in the presence of armed policemen, for alleged vehicle theft, have since gone viral. Soon after his death, all visible action was taken — a special investigation team formed, five men arrested, a torch rally organised by the locals condemning the incident. What is not visible, however, is the fracture this incident has engineered in the relationship between Meiteis (largely animist Hindus) and Meitei Pangals, the Muslims of Manipur.

It was a group of Meiteis that lynched Farooque, a middle-class, educated Pangal. “For years, Hindus and Muslims have lived together. But after the way Farooque was lynched, we have started to realise that Muslims in Manipur too have to be careful,” says Farooque’s uncle, Mohammed Mujibur Rahman.

At 21, Abid Hussain is way younger than Mujibur, who is a lecturer in Manipur’s directorate of education. He is a Pangal of the Chirai Muslim area of Imphal West. He says, “When we were growing up, the only advisory for us was to be careful of the underground groups. Now, when we step out, our parents tell us to avoid Meitei-populated areas at night.”

Locals say lynching has been the in-thing in Manipur for a while now. It has typically been used to punish, but in the past four years it has acquired a communal purpose. Three months after Mohammed Akhlaque was lynched in Dadri for allegedly storing beef in August 2015, a madrasa headmaster in Imphal East was lynched. It was alleged that he was stealing cattle. In 2016, two students were lynched at Mayang Imphal Yangbi Garden. They were reportedly mistaken for bike-lifters. That same year, during Holi, six Muslim schoolboys were beaten up in Imphal. They were suspected of indulging in anti-social activities.

Muslim social activists of the region talk about how things have worsened since the BJP came to power in the state in 2017.

Last year, on Id-ul-Zuha, which Muslims celebrate with animal sacrifice, Yumnam Devjit, son of deputy chief minister Yumnam Joykumar Singh, commented in a Facebook post that the qurbani was nothing but training for Muslims to kill. President of the Manipur Muslim Welfare Organisation, Abdullah Pathan, says, “Devjit’s post had tried to instigate communal sentiments just as the BJP is doing elsewhere in the country.”

In time, Devjit did apologise — there were angry demands — and his sister, Leikei Yumnam, too rapped him on social media. But the damage was done. Says Hussain, an undergraduate student at Manipur University, “The reactions of Meiteis to it were shocking. I never thought they harboured such anti-Muslim sentiments.”

Devjit’s post and Farooque’s lynching have reopened old wounds. In 1993, more than 140 Muslims were killed and their homes torched, allegedly by Meiteis. One version says it began after a Muslim arms smuggler rebuffed Hindu rebels when they went to him for weapons. The other and more popular narrative is that trouble started when Hindu extortionists harassed inhabitants of a Muslim neighbourhood near Imphal. There were also reports that Meitei youth spread a rumour about people from their community being found dead inside a college in a Muslim-dominated area.

To date, Muslim human rights organisations have been rallying with the government for compensation for the families of the dead.

To avenge this violence, various Islamist militant groups — People’s United Liberation Front, Islamic Revolutionary Front, United Islamic Revolutionary Army and United Islamic Liberation Army — were formed. Barring People’s United Liberation Front, all other groups are inactive now.

Over 2.28 lakh Muslims live primarily in Imphal East and West, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts. From time to time they have said they feel alienated. Not long ago, there were protests demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit — the official document required for non-locals to travel and work in the state — to control the influx of Mayangs or outsiders. Says an Imphal-based Muslim advocate who did not want to be named, “The bill defining the ‘original’ settlers of Manipur did not clearly define our case. It was not clear if this bill targeted only Muslims who came from Bengal, Bihar and Assam. As of now, it looks like even indigenous Pangals are being targeted.”

Muslims here claim they have remained backward as compared to the Meiteis. “The welfare schemes barely reach Muslim students. The Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya scheme has been implemented in the hills where mostly Nagas and Kukis live. It should be extended to Muslim-dominated areas,” says a former state secretary of the State Minorities Commission. He adds, “The four per cent reservation in government jobs is not implemented fully.”

Political representation of Muslims has not been so significant, notwithstanding the three seats won by them in the Assembly. Mohammed Alimuddin was the first and only Muslim CM of Manipur and that too way back in the 1970s.

Says Raees Ahmed, president of NGO Manipuri Muslim Online Forum, “Lower middle class Muslims are seen as a community of vehicle thieves and anti-socials.”

But for now dominating all socio-political images is that one image — a young man in a half-torn vest and jeans, lying on the ground, moving his head from side to side, as if waiting for some help.

Past forward

Muslims have been living in Manipur. since 1606 AD

1,000 plus Muslim soldiers from Sylhet, now in Bangladesh, led by General Muhammad Shani were captured by Meitei King Khagemba

These skilled men were encouraged to settle down here

Later, they were appointed to key administrative posts

Historians say Muslim men were inducted into the royal military

Muslim women participated in the second Nupi Lan (women’s movement) against the British in 1939

ENDS

If you think, it is only the Hindu-right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which fans anti-Muslim sentiments, you are wrong. The Communists are no less. The school textbooks in Tripura, a state which was ruled by the Left for over 25 years, would tell you why.

The political science textbook of the state-run schools  labels the “mentality” of Muslims as one of the many causes behind communalism. Plus, it states, the Kashmiris harbour “anti-India” mindset because most of them are Muslims.  This textbook was introduced in February last year by the then CPI(M) government.

As per the chapter titled, “Power division, democracy, gender and caste,” in the English version of the political science textbook of Class X, one of the most important causes of communalism is the mentality of minority communities, “especially the Muslims who could never adjust themselves into the mainstream of the nation.” It further adds, “They have very little interest in involving into the national secular politics. They most of the time try to keep their independent identity. The Muslim intellectuals also have been unable to rouse a feeling of nationalism in the Muslims.”

The same chapter says, “Hindus in India think the Muslims are traitors and fundamentalists. So the Muslims think that they are the second class citizens of this country. And so they are not getting the due respect here. This feeling gives indulgence to communalism.”

Further on, the book listed the “Kashmir issue” as one of the effects of communalism in India. The book states, “As most of the people there (Kashmir) are Muslims, the endeavour to create an anti-India mindset is always there.”

This textbook is written by the former assistant teacher of Calcutta’s Hindu School, Tarak Nath Mallick and published by Calcutta-based Parul Prakashani Private Limited, the leading publisher of textbooks used in all state-run schools in Tripura. The contents of both the English and Bengali versions of the book are the same.

The state education board officials say, they were not aware of these paragraphs in the textbook. “When we had okayed the Bengali version of the book but we didn’t notice this. Now that we have noticed it, we will talk to the publisher and consult our internal expert; we will ensure these portions are removed from the textbook,” Tripura board of secondary education (TBSE) secretary Swapan Kumar Poddar told me on Wednesday.

This book was introduced soon after the new syllabus was framed by the state education board in 2016 keeping NCERT textbooks as a model framework, say officials who served during the Left-regime. Mihir Deb, who was the serving president of TBSE when this textbook was introduced, says, “We didn’t notice this portion but it shouldn’t be there in the textbook. But we always encouraged schools to follow NCERT textbooks.”

Interestingly, the publisher doesn’t think, the content of the book promotes anti-Muslim sentiments. “What is wrong with this? Isn’t it true that terrorist or radical Muslims are not interested into mainstream politics?” asks Gourdas Saha, the director of Parul Prakashani.

According to historian Mridula Mukherjee,  such textbooks would have a negative effect on the minds of the young students. “Such content only promote the stereotypes already existed in the society against the Muslims. Students would start to believe it because it is written in their textbook,” she says.

But interestingly, the same textbook  listed “inter-religious marriages” as one of the methods to prevent communal influences in democracy, an idea highly opposed by the BJP which runs the “love-jihad” campaign to discourage Hindus from marrying Muslims.

Textbooks have created controversies earlier in Tripura too. In 2014, the Left-government had to withdraw the political science textbook of Class XI in which the BJP was tagged as a “communal party.”

Meanwhile, Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb had already announced to replace social science textbooks of Classes IX-XII as he doesn’t want them to study the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Karl Marx.

Here are some of the reactions from people on Twitter when I posted these controversial portions in the textbook on Wednesday.

Calm_Witness Retweeted Sonia Sarkar

Yes, these are simply unpalatable and harmful for the tender minds who would study them and form a dangerous opinion in their formative years.

Calm_Witness added,

  1. Replying to  
  2. Whatever has been written in this book, is right. This is the true fact…. Nobody can deny it. Read your history from 11th century that what you have done with Hindustan, specially with Hindus..


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