There is no place in the media for meaningful stories: Kalpana Sharma6 min read
Manipal: In a country where journalism is becoming synonymous with Page 3 and paid news, Kalpana Sharma has been the voice of good sense, giving hope to those who still believe that journalism is the mouthpiece of the people of this country. With nearly four decades of association with the media world, Sharma continues to address development issues that need more attention and brings to light the unheard stories of India from a different angle.
Until 2007, she was the Deputy Editor and Chief of Bureau of The Hindu, Mumbai. Her column, ‘The Other Half’ appears in The Hindu Sunday Magazine which focuses on contemporary issues from a gender perspective. Author of ‘Rediscovering Dharavi: Stories from Asia’s Largest Slum’, she has also edited ‘Missing: Half the Story – Journalism as if Gender Matters’ among many others.
Sharma was in Manipal for the media festival of Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC), Article-19. She spoke on, ‘Journalism as if Gender Matters’ and was also a panellist in an expert debate at the festival, which dealt with ‘Spaces for Performing Arts’.
In an exclusive interview with TMJ, she talks about woman-related issues, Indian media and more. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to name your blog ‘Ulti Khopdi’?
I named it ‘Ulti Khopdi’ because I try to see things from the other point of view. I don’t take an obvious position on anything. Even on the woman issues I write about, I don’t take an ideological position belonging to one group or the other. I try to fix issues and write independently. And the name is a humorous and accurate description of what I am.
In one of your articles about Mumbai, you wrote how Mumbai is no longer safe for women. What do you think has changed in Mumbai?
I think there are number of things that have happened in Bombay which has changed it to what it is now. And a lot of it is the general intolerance that has grown in the city. Between all this, it is the women who pay the price. It has nothing to do with the way they dress, as people generally presume. Otherwise, Bombay’scomparatively safer with good public transport; the streets are well lit and are always crowded, which always helps.
Why do Indian women remain second-class citizens in the 21st century? They seem to be protected by law, supported by activists, yet there is no discernible change in their condition?
It is a very complex question and there is no straight answer to it. But in simple words the problem lies with the system of patriarchy. So, as long as this patriarchy, that men are superior and they have superior roles to play, these laws won’t get through to (the women). What you need is a societal change and change in mindset, which has to come through in other ways.
We have seen a particular mindset that believes if a woman get harassed, molested or raped, it isher fault as she wears ‘obscene’ clothes. To top this, some ministers and police officers hold similar views. How do you feel about this?
The easiest thing is to blame the victim. Whenever there is a case of violence where the woman is the victim, they are blamed. This is what has happened recently in Karnataka and other places. Men don’t attack woman because they are attracted to them. They want to show their power. Rape has nothing to do with lust or desire as it is said to be.
Do female reporters have an upper hand in covering gender-related stories? Does gender really matter in this particular beat?
It depends what you mean by gender-related stories. Let’s say, in a conflict situation where women have been raped by the Indian army, certainly a woman reporter has an advantage, because she can talk directly to the woman. Many women in areas like Kashmir or Manipur will not talk to men as they won’t be comfortable being interrogated by a male reporter, who may even use a woman social worker or someone to talk to them. But I don’t think it’s true in every case. In that sense, it is the way reporters conduct themselves that decides what makes people comfortable or uncomfortable.
You write about developmental issues in your column ‘The Other Half’. Why are developmental issues sidelined by the media?
The media has changed since the 1990s. Now media has become more like a product that has to sell. In the post-Independence era, newspapers felt they had a role to play in terms of highlighting the developmental issues, and a social role by writing not just what interests their market. Now it’s all about what will sell. So what is it that sells? Poverty doesn’t sell because your urban reader doesn’t want to read about more people dying. So there is no space now. The paper is so crowded with all celebrity nonsense, there is no space for meaningful stories on what is happening.
You have worked with both The Hindu and the Times of India and now they seem to be taking on each other through commercial ads. Is it not unwarranted and un-called for in journalism? Or is it just a corporate war?
The ad-war illustrates the fact how newspapers have now become a product to be sold. So advertisement is part of that (selling). The smarter the advertising, the more you attract people; at least that is the belief. Ultimately, no matter how smart your advertising, if what you are dishing out is not something what people want, it’s not going to work. But I do feel that there is certain room for Times of India but at the same time there will always be people who would like to read The Hindu.
Over the years, The Hindu has always been above such things and maintained its dignity. Don’t you think it should have taken the higher ground, as always?
If it was in the past, I think The Hindu would have ignored it. But now the new management at The Hindu are professionals and they feel that they should not continue with this image of not caring about change around it. And I think this response is to show TOI that they are not idiots. Personally, I feel it was a good thing and the ads were very clever.
Is Indian journalism destroying its own credibility and consequently the strength of press, bybringing out unsubstantiated gossip and publishing factually incorrect stories?
So far, it has not reached a point that people have stopped reading. Of course, there are people who do that but I don’t think we should generalise. I think there are specific instances and what we need is a much better regulatory mechanism. If individuals are hurt by such kind of inaccuracies, the Press Council in these cases has to be more effective so that people can take the complaints to the Council. I think if that kind of check is there, newspapers will not take chances.
Sub-edited by: Lijo Thampy