'Sexual abuse in Hindi newsrooms are rampant and occur with great ease.'
The events unfolding over the past week have led a lot of people to label it a watershed moment for the India media—maybe even the #MeToo movement of the Indian media. The voices coming out tell stories of harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, but they’re still predominantly the voices of upper-caste and -class women from the English media. There’s a striking silence from Hindi and regional media, or their voices are limited and unheard. Women in Hindi newsrooms have already struggled to get there from the patriarchal atmospheres of small towns and villages, and the harassment they subsequently face is an open secret.
Newslaundry has reached out to some of these women in the space of Hindi media to hear their views on the issue and their personal experiences. Some have not wished to name their harassers or the workplace where the harassment occurred.
Vartika Mishra: Assistant Editor, Rajkamal Publication
A reputed journalist who started his own website after graduating from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) earned applause for starting a separate column for women on his website. I considered this journalist a friend and so, about the same time, I told him about an act of sexual abuse by his friend, who is also a media person. His answer was: “Main maanta hun, koi bhi ladki agar kisi ladke ke kamre tak chali jaati hai, toh apna sab kuch taakha main rakh kar jaati hai [I believe that if any girl goes to a boy’s room, then she leaves ‘everything’ behind]”—implying that when a girl goes to a boy’s room, she is responsible for any mishappening or unwanted behaviour.
As long as we have such newsroom leaders, I doubt if there will ever be a “safe space” for women in the Hindi media, which itself operates as a small ghetto. Take Dilip Khan, a journalist with Hind Kisan. He’s an established journalist and people like Om Thanvi and Amrita Singh like his work. But I’ve heard about five sexual abuse cases against him in the last 10 months. Many women have written about their account on social media. The result of this was only that Dilip was not seen on social media for just 10 days. After that, he returned and things continued as normal as if nothing had happened.
Everyone saw and read these stories. Many senior journalists were aware of this matter, but no pressure was put on Dilip’s social standing. It had no effect on his career. Instead, the girls were subjected to character assassination.
(Newslaundry contacted Dilip Khan for his statement. Khan denied all allegations and has also written a public post on these allegations, which can be read here.)
Pooja Singh: State Correspondent, Shukrawar magazine
I used to work at a reputed national newspaper that in those days was published from Delhi. There were a total of three people in the supplement we worked on—me, my editor and another co-worker. The colleague and I used to reach office by 12 pm but had no fixed time by which we left. On the day the edition went to print, I would go home only the next morning. I’d earned the editor’s trust and almost all the work was my responsibility. He [the editor] used to come to the office late in the evening.
My co-worker and I often went for tea together during work. During one such tea session, he told me, “I love you very much. I have not seen another girl like you. You are exactly like the girl I wanted.” I scolded him and our conversations ended.
The metro station was about 100 metres away from the office. At night when I used to go home, he used to follow me from the office to the metro. He stopped cooperating with me on work and as long as I was in the office, he would stare at me constantly. It became very uncomfortable. In the meantime, some of my friends told me that he used to cast aspersions on my character in the office.
I complained about these things to the editor. He expressed his inability to take any steps and told me that if I wanted to take this up, I could—but that nothing would happen. The editor told me something similar had happened with a girl who had been in the same team before me. He said there is no concrete evidence against my colleague.
At that time, I was young and didn’t have much experience working in the media. I was transferred to another part of the editorial team and soon quit the job.
Iti Sharan: Assistant Editor, Youth Ki Awaaz, Hindi
During my graduation, I did my first internship at Nai Dunia (a weekly newspaper) in Patna. There was only one female staff member and she often went out to report in the field. Initially, I went out for reporting too but my boss suddenly went on medical leave. His responsibilities were given to the bureau chief, who asked me to sit in his cabin while I worked.
I was very young at that time. The bureau chief would come close to me on the pretext of appreciating me, patting my back and touching my body in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. I was sceptical at the time; I could not comprehend that this man who was my father’s age was doing something wrong with me. I had Sundays off, but on one Sunday, he called me to the office. I was unaware of the fact that everyone else was off on Sunday too. Upon reaching the office, I saw there was nobody in the office except that man. I was a little suspicious but thought other people would come after some time.
But that did not happen. The bureau chief asked me to sit in his cabin and then he tried to misbehave with me. He came very close to me. I hastily pushed him and ran away from there. I was so scared that I did not tell anyone about this and stopped going to the office. When my mother persisted and questioned me, I just told her that the person is “not right”. My mother told my father. I really regret being silent at that time.
Pradeepika Saraswat: Freelance journalist
I spent some time in the newsroom of The Quint, and I would say many media houses could learn from them. There is no real hierarchy there but whatever hierarchy there is had women occupy key editorial positions. During my last days there, an editor at an office party tried to misbehave with a coworker. But once others found out about the incident, the organisation took action against the editor and sacked him. Remember, The Quint is a bilingual newsroom, although I was the only female journalist for Hindi.
Hindi newsrooms are more male-dominated as compared to English newsrooms. The number of women in editorial posts is also very low. Women in Hindi newsrooms get neither equal importance nor equal salaries as compared to men. There is an important factor we must remember. Most digital Hindi media outlets don’t give reporters an opportunity to report. A lot of the work constitutes rehashing copies from news agencies and Google news. In such a scenario, we don’t have the opportunity to build our CVs on the basis of our bylines and all that matters are big media outlets that we have worked for. So, if you want to build a CV with important media outlets on it for future job prospects, it is likely that you would not want to jeopardise your current job in any way.
Kumari Sneha: Sub Editor, PTI
My story took place after I had left my first job after I graduated from IIMC. A period of unemployment followed, and then I got a job with Haribhoomi in Delhi in 2014. It was such a job where neither an offer letter nor any other paper was given. On my very first day of the job, I was told by my male colleagues, “We hire girls for entertainment.” There was another girl from IIMC at the office, and the behaviour she faced came under the purview of bullying and molestation. As far as I know, that girl was silent just to keep her job. I’m not naming her or her oppressors because I don’t know if she’s comfortable with that or not. Apart from this, passing cheap comments was a daily routine.
But none of us ever complained about it to the HR or anyone else because we all were afraid.
In the media, such things are heard about every day. At that time I was new, so I can say that I was not unable to respond to such behaviour. But now I am quite strong—I know when a person is crossing the line and when I have to go to the police. I worked for one-and-a-half months in an environment where I had to be alert all the time. I stopped going to the office as soon as I got another job. Despite my hard work at Haribhoomi, I didn’t receive my salary for 17 days of work. The other girl also left.
We reached out Haribhoomi editor Anand Rana. He said he received information about this from Newslaundry Hindi story and said that he checked with members of the digital team where she worked to know of any such incidents or any complaints. Rana said that no one in his office was privy to any such behaviour. When asked if the office has an Internal Complaints Committee, he said he is not aware. He also told us to get in touch with the digital chief who was in charge in 2014. We reached out Rahul Pandey and he confirmed that Sneha had worked with them for a few months but neither she nor anyone else ever complained of misbehaviour. When we asked him about ICC, he has said he wasn’t aware.
Sarvpriya Sangwan: Broadcast journalist, BBC Hindi
Hindi journalists aren’t coming out with their #MeToo stories in the number that English media journalists are, and you have to understand that the backgrounds of Hindi and English media journalists are very different. Although there is no relief for women in any section or society, journalists of the Hindi belt usually come from a very conservative environment from childhood where, in the name of honour, marriages can’t take place with other castes, there is no acceptance of love marriage, honour killings occur in big political families. Journalists in English and Hindi fear that reporting experiences of harassment and abuse will prove fatal to their careers, but journalists from the Hindi belt also carry the burden and fear of image and social repercussions.
The economic situation is different for these journalists: their own financial status as well as their family’s financial status. A good financial condition gives you the courage to fight. If a girl is from a family that asks her not to tell anyone about sexual violence or exploitation, will she be able to speak out without family support?
Sheetal Bohra: Former sub-editor, Rajasthan Patrika
Hindi media represents Indian society where, in most cases of exploitation, people from the family are guilty. In such a case, it is unimaginable that there is no incident of sexual abuse in the Hindi media. One of the biggest reasons why such incidents aren’t reported is because in most cases, the victim comes from a family where it’s difficult to even get permission to stay alone and work in the media. Even if they dared to raise their voices against exploitation, they would face opposition from their families. So for them, silence is a better option than the fear of losing a job, the reactions of family members and so-called infamy.
From my personal experience, I would say there are fewer incidents of sexual abuse in the English media when compared to Hindi media because of potential exploiters in the former fear action and defamation. Most women journalists I have met from Hindi or regional media have suffered discrimination and harassment from people with an anti-female mindset. My educated editor reacted to my resignation by saying, “Your decision is right. Anyway, women are made to handle the household chores. Jobs are not for them. I am against women doing jobs.” Imagine how he must have behaved with his female colleagues.
Jaya Nigam: Freelancer
I found a lot of feudalism in Hindi newsrooms, where a woman’s weakness is a compulsory condition to get a job and sustain it. As compared to the English media, Hindi editors take extra care while hiring girls, and often make sure that these girls would not write or speak against them and these are newsrooms where it’s difficult to move forward without strong support from your editors. Therefore, it’s very difficult for women in these newsrooms to speak against their seniors.
In Hindi, it is a problem of the whole industry, not any particular institution. It’s hoped that progressive journalists will rise above the feudal masculine character of these newsrooms—shaped by the ego of the upper-class male—but unfortunately, these journalists are also at the same level, unable to appreciate the ideas and life choices of female colleagues.
Reeva Singh: Senior Copy Editor, Times Internet
There is silence in Hindi newsrooms because women journalists don’t see an open environment where they can even think about equality. Like their English media counterparts, women also remain silent because they worry about the threat to their jobs and careers and no hope of any action. Any complaint or matter first reaches the team and then goes to HR. Such incidents turn into fodder for gossip. HR usually tries to handle the issue at its own level and avoids taking any action—so the company’s image remains clean.
I myself have been a victim and all this happened to me at a young age, when I used to respect big journalists on the basis of their work. I am not mentioning the name of the harasser publicly because he apologised publicly. These incidents of sexual abuse in Hindi newsrooms are rampant and occur with great ease.