While journalists in cities, more so in English media, speak out against sexual harassment at the workplace, far into the hinterland, female journalists are beginning to lose their patience against everyday harassment too. The #MeToo movement is trickling down, albeit slowly, but it has begun to leave its mark.
The Quint spoke to Khabar Lahariya Editor-in-Chief Meera Devi, 49, and senior reporter Kavita Devi, 33, to understand if the movement has had any impact outside metros. Khabar Lahariya, an all-woman media organisation that publishes in vernacular dialects, covers Bundelkhand region, with 13 districts spread across Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Local Publications Uninterested in #MeToo
Meera says there are very few people who understand the #MeToo movement in the districts of Bundelkhand as its coverage is primarily in English. However, if and when it is written in Hindi, everyone from the area reads it.
“Local media is barely covering the issue. While discussing the coverage male reporters told me, ‘How can we know if these women are the truth? Maybe it is all a lie and they are taking advantage of the situation.’”
So when Khabar Lahariya and its own reporters wrote an open letter in the vernacular languages to document the everyday harassment they have to go through as female reporters, they expected local media organisations to pick it up. “After we wrote the letter, we sent it to all the local publications. Even though it is written in the vernacular language, only Dainik Bhaskar has published it till now,” Meera said. It was published on 12 October.
Their ‘excuses’ range from awaiting approval, or that they will publish it after Dusshera to delay the matter.
Meera said they have not published the open letter as they do not want stories against them to emerge. “It is their fear,” she said.
Hushed-Up Stories of ‘Everyday Harassment’
But then, what were the stories men were afraid would be out in the open? Kavita and Meera told The Quint how they have had to battle harassment from men within the media industry on a day-to-day basis.
Kavita tells us how in the Whatsapp groups meant for news, for every 200 to 250 men only Khabar Lahariya reporters are the ladies. “Media waale mard bohut line maarne ki koshish karte hain, bolna padhta hain ki humaari shaadi ho chuki hain, bachche hain. Nahin to maante nahi hain. (Men from the media keep hitting on women. Have to keep telling them we are married and have kids. Otherwise they do not back off.)
Porn clips, blue films, naked and morphed photos of women are sent on ‘news groups,’ both Kavita and Meera said.
Kavita added that people take her photos from Whatsapp, edit them and send it back to her after ‘beautifying it.’ “There are male reporters who are very capable of pulling this off considering how little they think of us. They don’t think of us as reporters but as women,” Kavita said.
According to Section 354A of the IPC, if a man shows a woman pornography against her will, he shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment. The punishment for which will be rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or a fine, or both.
Meera adds that their regressive mindsets are exposed every time they speak of women. While there are more serious concerns of porn videos, they also taunt women to ‘show them their place.’
“Navratres are on... so one of the men said that Durga Ma has eight hands and not even one has a mobile phone.” Taunts about how a ‘woman should not use a mobile phone’ are common. Despite these taunts, Kavita and Meera continue to embrace digital journalism as they record videos, check mails, make calls and exchange messages.
“Aadmi mazza lete hain. (Men derive pleasure out of this) They think they can talk to women in anyway and we will not react to them,” both said.
What Happens When They Protest?
Both Meera and Kavita have tried to register their protests time and again. Meera said that when she objected to the morphed and naked photos the last time, the male journalists said things like, “This has happened by mistake” or that they “didn't pay attention to which group they were sending the photos to” – only to casually repeat these ‘mistakes’ again.
Kavita has tried to tell them that these groups are meant for news and nothing else, but the men do not budge. “It is not a serious matter for them. I have told them this is a news group, they should make their own group to talk about these things.”
“Sharmindagi waali baat hain ye, kyunki humaare bolne ke bavajood vo karte rehte hain, kissi ko farak nahi padta. (This is a matter of embarrassment, that despite telling them they keep doing the same thing.)”
Kavita said the last time someone posted a blue film, they complained to the admin of the group but no action is taken against them. Meera added that when action is taken after repeated requests, the man is removed from the group only to be added again a few days later. “They treat this as a joke. The admin is also of the same mindset as them,” Meera said.
While the #MeToo movement has taken urban India by storm, Kavita and Meera said they do not have committees or forums to address their issues. “We have not filed an FIR yet, but as stories from urban newsrooms echo into the districts of Bundelkhand, we might take action soon,” Kavita said.
No More Porn Clips
Despite hiccups, the movement has trickled down. After journalists called out men from the fraternity and the boldly worded open letter by Khabar Lahariya, there has been some impact.
“Men have stopped sending porn videos, blue films and morphed photos for now. We can sense a fear from them that women might speak out of they say or do something objectionable. Hence, they’ve begun to maintain distance,” Meera said.
“When I forwarded the open letter to around 600 local journalists in the region, kissi ne comment baazi nahi ki (no one made any comment). They responded with the emoji of folded hands or did not respond at all,” Meera said.
Keeping the option of taking legal recourse, next time these women are exposed to harassment, Khabar Lahariya reporters have ensured that men around them think twice before they behave disrespectfully.
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