Journalists point to societal prejudices and lack of women in peace process

In conflict areas like Jammu & Kashmir, the media gets squeezed into a tight spot, is subjected to different pulls of political arm-twisting and often offers a divisive discourse rather than playing a bridging role, said Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin. She was speaking at a session on ‘Women in Conflict Zones at the National Consultation on Women and Media’, organised by the government’s high-level committee on the status of women on Thursday.

Ms. Bhasin felt it was important to locate how the media is positioned within the State. Between the three narratives — of India’s nationalist interest, Pakistan’s nationalist interest and the Kashmiri nationalist interest — the human element often gets diluted. This is further reinforced by inherent societal prejudices and the landlocked geography of the region.

The editor recalled incidents of sexual violence in Kunan Poshspora village in 1991 and in Shopian in 2009 that are “etched deeply in the psyche of women in this militarised zone”. She said apart from being the symbol of vulnerability of women, the Press Council report on Shopian had not helped.

Syeda Afshana, who has been teaching media students in Kashmir for a decade, said though women are now more visible in classrooms and also as journalists, there is a serious lack of them in the peace process.

In the same way, there is less coverage of women within the social dynamics of change and conflict — whether it is about widows, rape survivors, missing husbands or orphaned girls.

She said conflict-sensitive reporting should be such that it does not escalate violence and instead tries to achieve conflict transformation.

Jharkhand-based Adivasi journalist Dayamani Barla said forest and water rights were the conflict zone for villagers fighting for their land. While the national media focusses on women when sexual violence takes place, it fails to cover important social issues like anaemia and malnourishment. Ms. Barla said there was a need to understand that the rural population also wanted progress, but not at the cost of serious violations of community rights.

Teresa Rehman, who runs online newsmagazine Thumbprint which focusses on the northeast, felt those reporting from this conflict zone were mostly left to their own devices by media managements. She said the region was ghettoised as a monolith and was out of the radar of the national media. Only myths and stereotypes appear on the region. She gave the example of the shooting incident involving Arunachal Times Associate Editor Tongam Rina and the trauma she is still going through due to a complete lack of support system.

The two-day national consultation saw participation of women journalists from all over the country. The valedictory function was marked by the presence of senior and young journalists looking back and at the future. Among others, the most noted was veteran journalist Usha Rai, who related her 50 years in the profession and how the scenario had changed for women.

“There were two kinds of biases that the early woman journalists had to confront — that of their male colleagues who questioned their seriousness and ability to do a “man’s job”, and that of parents who insisted that even if they worked in a newspaper they must return home before sunset”. She pointed out that though women in English journalism had gone far, their regional language counterparts were still struggling for rights and recognition.