Meet The Fearless Journalist, Who Was Called An “Anti-National” & Abused Online For Honest Reporting
You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
A pantsuit? Too masculine.
A skirt? Too revealing.
Intelligent? Perhaps unhinged.
Good looking? Undoubtedly dim.
The persistent ridicule faced by a woman even after years of human evolution is baffling.
If the five fingers of our left hand represent the typical traits of masculinity – strong, aggressive, non-emotional, independent, and sexual, and the five fingers of our right hand represent the typical traits of femininity – soft, sensitive, emotional, nurturing, and dependent; our hands clasped together are what make us human.
But our society feels otherwise.
Even in media – an industry which stands on the prerogative of expression – a man is judged by his intelligence, while a woman is judged on her appearance.
More than half the journalists in the world are men, who are given 80% of the work pertaining to political issues, sports and opinion editorials. In fact, most serious issues are covered by men, while women are sidelined to cover stereotypical issues of family and the society.
So when a woman accomplishes her goals against all odds and breaking stereotypes, it is a win for humanity as a whole and not for women alone.
“I come from a family of doctors, engineers and bankers. They were greatly conservative in their approach toward the profession of journalism. When I first decided to take up journalism as a career, my family members said that it’s a clerical job where I would work like a stenographer taking commands from bureaucrats. Upset with my decision, my father didn’t visit me for 3 years when I was in Delhi, studying journalism. I was the first girl in my family who moved to another city to study. I didn’t go home until I got a job after completing college. If I’d gone home without a job, my family would’ve married me off. Eventually, as I became more and more independent, the control that others had on me loosened.” – Neha Dixit.
Neha Dixit is an independent journalist who has made outstanding journalistic contributions to the society for 11 years now. She has been writing for The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Outlook magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Foreign Policy, Caravan, and several other national and international publications. She won the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Woman Journalist for 2016.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Ms Dixit expressed her views on the present state of journalism in our country and what needs to be changed.
There is superficiality in news reporting and a lack of responsibility towards any issue
In the mainstream corporate media world of corporate political nexus, cheerleaders of certain ideologies exist. Different world views are shunned when the media should highlight all kinds of opinions, especially from young people who consume more media. There is a lack of responsibility, particularly from bigger corporate media houses who do not deeply research issues. Everything is addressed superficially and that is causing more harm in this kind of 24*7 media coverage – where everything just touches the tip of the iceberg. There is a culture of disassociation that is becoming the norm.
It gets even more difficult for women, as any woman with an opinion is seen as a problem.
When asked what she felt about the present controversies surrounding Delhi University’s Gurmeher Kaur, Ms Dixit said, “I don’t know why anyone should have a problem with young people being idealistic. The fact that they are putting their necks out in this way means that there is a certain degree of positivity in them – they believe that things can change. In the case of Gurmeher Kaur, she is the one who has suffered the most because of her father’s death. Despite that, she had the objectivity to understand that this has to go beyond the usual discourse of animosity between people. She is talking against hate and there is no problem with such idealism. In fact, we should all be idealistic to not promote hate in the manner it is being promoted in the world right now.”
There is persistent misogyny against women having their own agency and exercising their own intelligence. As soon as they express themselves publically, it is seen as a threat. We live in a patriarchal society which has the natural tendency to pull women down who have an opinion, added Ms Dixit.
But with a determined mind and a passion for sincere reportage, Neha Dixit is one among the few who successfully broke societal constraints and covered issues of great importance.
In July 2016, The Outlook magazine published Neha Dixit’s report on how the Sangh Parivar flouted every Indian and international law on child rights to traffic 31 young tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat to ‘Hinduise’ them, leaving their parents forlorn.
The story was broken down into a five-part investigation “Operation #BabyLift” (#BetiUthao).
In the border areas of Assam, there’s a comprehensive network of Sangh outfits which concentrate on welfare activities which are used to zero in on needy families. On June 9, 2015, 31 tribal girls—aged 3-11 years—were made to board a train by two women of two Sangh Parivar outfits, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti and Sewa Bharati, on the promise of education in Punjab and Gujarat. In all this time, the girls’ parents haven’t been able to contact them.
“It will be 2 years this June since the girls were taken away. I was informed on Friday (March 3) that 6 girls have come back out the 31, which shows the lack of responsibility of the government toward the rights of tribal girls in the state of Assam,” said Ms Dixit with a clear tone of disappointment.
For each and every girl that she wrote about, she first got the documents from her source and then approached different child welfare committees and government bodies to confirm. The third check was the parents who said the same thing and the fourth point of corroboration were the girls themselves in Punjab and Gujarat. BetiUthao took Ms Dixit 4 months of research – 3 months of reporting and 1 month of field reporting.
June 23, 2015: Vasuben Trivedi, Gujarat’s minister of state for women and child development, endorses RSSP Halvad for the adoption of “20 orphan girls” from Assam. Calls it the ‘Pride of Gujarat.’
“These days there are fewer media organisations that want to invest in ground reporting. Most of them encourage you to sit and write. In this case, the organisation I wrote for (Outlook magazine) was helpful; otherwise, media houses don’t usually want to invest their money for such stories”, Ms Dixit said.
Recounting her months of investigations, she expressed the difficulties faced by her at the time – “As reporters, we know that a certain topic might attract some kind of attention from particular sections of the society; you have to be careful enough to corroborate every single detail.”
While Ms Dixit was at work in Assam, members of the RSS tried to threaten her. When she went to meet the girls in Gujarat, they locked her inside the Saraswati Shishu Mandir – where the girls were.
“But this happens to any reporter who engages in investigative journalism. Threats after the stories continue too. After BetiUthao was published, some people tweeted my residential address and found out the address of my family members too. There is continued animosity mainly due to the unavailability of government bodies to check on threats and cyber trolling. Maneka Gandhi had launched a cyber-cell to report online trolling but it never worked. We don’t have a separate freedom of press act in the country”, said Ms Dixit.
Muzaffarnagar rape victims
The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots are described as the ‘worst violence in Uttar Pradesh in recent history’. Clashes between Hindu-Muslim communities led to 62 deaths, including 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus.
The months of August-September 2013 saw mass rapes and sexual violence against women which were freely used as instruments of asserting the power and authority of one community over the other.
In 2014, Neha Dixit’s article ‘Shadow Lines’ was published in the Outlook magazine which gave the chilling accounts of rape survivors in the Jat-Muslim riots.
Though official reports put the number of rape victims at 7, Neha Dixit’s visits to Ground Zero and conversations in relief camps suggest close to 100 women were raped.
Seven women dared to come forward and register cases against their rapists. ‘Shadow Lines’ reports the story of their courage.
“As long as we are in a patriarchal system, the society is unequal for men and women,” she said. There are various degrees of sexism depending on the caste, class, religion and geographical location of the person. We are far away from being equal to the other half of the society, she added.
When asked for her message to young women, Ms Dixit said, “The first thing a woman needs to accomplish is financial independence. Not being dependent on your parents or partners lets you be your own agency. For those girls aspiring to become journalists – filter all negativity that comes to your mind from people pulling you down. Engage with larger mass movements which help you become a part of a larger collective – it reduces the loneliness you might feel on the job. If you’re a part of important movements such as woman’s right or Dalit rights, you will feel less isolated and more connected to issues.”
To read about more issues covered by Neha Dixit, visit her blog http://neha-dixit.blogspot.in/.