Kajal Iyer is a Principal Correspondent with CNN-IBN and currently handles the Tamil Nadu bureau for CNN IBN. She previously worked for 6 years at CNN-IBN’s Mumbai bureau where she handled courts and civic issues. Here she covered many major assignments including 26/11 terror attacks, 13/7 blasts and also regularly did business features. Her major court assignments include the Keenan Reuben trial, the Adarsh case, the IPL spot fixing controversy and an exclusive story on a MHADA officials links to a prominent realty major. She also covered routine crime and city infrastructure stories in Mumbai. Prior to CNN-IBN, Kajal has freelanced for newspapers like Times of India, Midday in Pune and the Gujarati eveninger Sanj Samachar in Rajkot.
The minute I reached my apartment on Friday night after covering the aftermath of the horrific incident at Shakti Mills, my neighbor came running out from her kitchen to first warn me not to go alone anywhere and then to inquire about the survivor's condition. My neighbor was especially concerned because I belong to the same profession as the survivor. She needn't have underlined that because that was the first thing that came to the mind of every female journalist working in Mumbai that day.
Many of us grew up outside Mumbai, live alone in this city and our parents lived in the assurance that it is Mumbai after all. A lot of us travel alone or with just one video/photojournalist accompanying us during shoots. And in all recent cases of sexual assault in the country, the traditional argument of having a male escorting you in such situations has been proven inconsequential. This survivor's ordeal could have been the story of any of us.
Most vivid in my memory is the night I covered the 13th July blasts from Dadar. A blast had just occurred in the area half an hour ago, but the crowd of men behind me, as I stood in front of the camera; were more interested in jostling and making cat calls. Every time the anchor turned to another location, I would turn back and lash out at the crowd, some of whom were drunk. Seeing how it was getting progressively difficult for me to report, a few of my colleagues from our regional network IBN Lokmat and some good men from the crowd itself, formed a protective ring around me. What appalled and angered me was that even at a time like a blast, they chose to unleash their perversion. Colleagues have gone on shoots for Holi, Kumbh mela, Shab-e-baraat, name any religious procession, riots and other situations, day, night, escorted, unescorted and been molested. A rival network had even shown how men passed lewd comments at a journalist while she was reporting a night after the December 16 Delhi gangrape.
A lot of you reading this might now say why aren't media organisations doing something about this? Some may even suggest that editors should avoid sending female journalists on assignments where trouble is expected. Some editors, do that on their own even, to avoid harassment of their female staff, thereby depriving the female colleagues of important assignments at times. Is that a solution then?
Or should media organisations take home minister RR Patil's advice and call for a police escort every time they send a female reporter to an isolated spot? How practical is this situation? And what about the regular harassment in crowded spaces? The government had made similar promises about stationing cops in local trains, but in an ongoing case in the Bombay high court, the government and the railways have admitted there aren't sufficient cops to guard all the ladies compartments. Even if there were, how would you police every lewd look, statement and pinch in the bottom?
So what is the next logical thing that would come into the mind of representatives of our society? Ensure our women don't work in professions where the hours are crazy and restrict their movements. In fact, I imagine that many a journalism aspirant across the country has been told by her parents after the Mumbai incident not to pursue this dream. But it isn't just about journalists or women in other professions perceived as risky. Many of my friends, with so called regular jobs, living in various cities across the country were asked to watch where and when they went after the Delhi gang rape. I expect this kind of 'precaution' to increase in Mumbai now. After all, we are a society that asks our women to always wear dupattas, (sometimes a ghoonghat) as if the God given anatomy of a woman, is in itself an aberration.
I have no other way, but to end with the cliche, that it is not just the crime, it is the mindset that can manifest and even justify such crimes that needs to be changed. But, to use a counter cliche, we are nowhere close to even comprehending such a changed mindset.