“Oh, how do you manage being on the field and your home life?”

04 May, 2018

On World Press Freedom Day, a team of women reporters of Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper run by rural women in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, said that if they were to reply to this question, with one of their own, they would say, ‘Dear Male Colleague, Are You Ever Asked this Question?”

Today is World Press Freedom Day, a day to celebrate freedom of thought across media platforms.

For the past 16 years, at Khabar Lahariya, we’ve been putting forth our reports, opinions, commentaries, and analyses in a completely independent manner, right through our print and digital forms. A lot has changed in these 16 years, and a lot hasn’t – our male colleagues in the field and their unending well of wisdom has been unchanging! And honestly, we’re so sick of listening to them give us advice upon advice, always unasked for, that we thought we’d give them some advice of our own, on this day.

So, here’s our Open Letter to all the male colleagues we’ve ever worked with, will work with in the future, across our districts, and indeed, even outside.

First off, please stop telling us how we must cover “women’s issues”. ‘There’s been a rape case, you must go and report on it at once’, or ‘Oh, did you hear about that girl who’s abducted her boyfriend from his wedding? Where have you been all day?’. We want to ask you, is this not a news report for you? And if it is, then may we suggest reporting on it in an unbiased style, free of all your prejudices? Not try and make it into a sensationalist piece of news, for once! We’re quite sick of reading your ‘Mother of three runs off with boyfriend’ kind of “news stories”. It’s high time you put an end to this.

We know very well that you all have friends in high places, and perhaps it’s good to have some contacts being reporters. But it would do you good to demarcate the boundaries between your professional duties and your personal relationships. Your first line of responsibility should be towards your work. So, imagine our fury when all you male reporters laugh along with neta ji (male politician) as he cracks sexist jokes about having two wives –“gharwali” and “baharwali”. Isn’t his something that tarnishes your reputation as a professional journalist?

Please stop interfering in our personal lives, it’s really not part of your job description. So, stop asking us questions along the lines of ‘Are you married?’, ‘How come you don’t wear sindoor, mangalsutra [signs of marriage], et cetera?’, ‘Why are you wearing a [salwar] suit today, no sari?’ Et cetera et cetera.

Do us a big favour and keep your fake concern over our safety to yourself. ‘Sister, it’s midnight and you’re outdoors! All well?’ is a question we never wish to hear again. We’re responsible for our own safety and if we feel the need for support, we know to rally around our sisterhood – we gain courage from it. None of you have ever stepped forward to help us here in any case. If we’ve ever told you about men harassing us over the phone, you’ve asked us, unblinkingly, to ‘change your number, madam’. We ask of you today, is that something you would do? Tell us, why are all these expectations only our burdens?

Plenty among you are editors and senior members of large media organizations. We still recall how you all responded during a research we conducted on the role of local, rural women being potential field reporters. You all said how women are liabilities, how they can’t go into the field alone, how they need maternity leave, and how they really can’t be expected to report on important issues. At the time of this research, we took away a big finding, dear men and that was this: The women reporters we did meet, expressed to us the instances of sexual harassment they all face inside the office, from their own colleagues. They told us they prefer to go out and report, because they feel safer! Food for thought?

We love working on digital platforms and using technology, but you’re all here too, your disgusting, regressive attitudes in tow. If you see us online on What’s App in the late night hours, we’re sure to get texts from you. ‘Nice DP’, ‘How come you’re online at this time?’, ‘Who’re you chatting with?’ Many of you think nothing of video-calling us! We’ve lost count of how many numbers we’ve had to block because of sleazy, unprofessional men like you. But today, we’re really wondering about this: Why must we leave a What’s App group because you men have no control? Because you can’ help yourself from sharing sexist jokes, using swear words, putting up obscene photographs and video clips?

The world is in the churning of a revolution. Women are saying ‘No More’, they’re sharing their pain and distress with movements such as #MeToo, through lists on social media. We are part of this revolution, and this open letter is our contribution to it. Listen hard.

And read it once more, we suggest. You might just be the all-knowing male colleague we want to reach out to today.

For the original Open Letter in Hindi, click here.

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