Karuna, left, and Jayanti, right
Their backgrounds are different: one joined the Naxalites in revolt against the subjugation of women, starting from her own home; the other was able to become a post-graduate only because her father encouraged her to study.
Both are journalists today, but their experience of the profession has left them troubled.
``When the founder of Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology enthusiastically offered me a job at Kalinga TV (run by the Institute), it was a dream come true. I could report from my area and work for my people,’’ says Jayanti Buruda. ``But now I sometimes feel I should just give up and go back to look after our land.’’
Jayanti, 27, is from Malkangiri, one of Odisha’s most backward districts, recently in the news for the ‘encounter’ killing of 23 alleged Maoists, and the deaths of Adivasi children from malnutrition.
She is an Adivasi and hence automatically suspected by the police of being a Maoist. She was recently questioned by the CBI in Malkangiri after a video containing a threatening message allegedly from Maoists went viral.
Jayanti’s frustration with her work set in when her senior, under whom she was assigned to work as a trainee for the first six months, made it clear to her that taking a girl along while reporting was a risk. ``That became a challenge to me. I had to prove that I could do whatever my male colleagues did,’’ she says. Despite him, she managed to learn the ropes thanks to others in the profession.
Even after completing her training period, Jayanti’s name had not been included in the list of journalists maintained by the District Information Office, to whom invitations are sent for official functions. It was only after she submitted her journalism certificate to the office for the second time, and the officials saw some of her TV reports, that they included it.
This reporter met Jayanti in Hyderabad, where she had travelled by bus and boat for two days so that she could attend the national meeting of the Network for Women in the Media (NWMI), founded by a group of women journalists in 2002. NWMI members listened in amazement at the odds this young woman has had to face to become the first female journalist in Malkangiri.
Ninth among 11 siblings born to parents who’d never had the chance to go to school, Jayanti was encouraged to study by her father, who wanted to see his five daughters educated since, he said, sons could always work on the land. Her elder sister was the first Adivasi graduate in their village and is now working. But Jayanti wasn’t satisfied with just being a graduate. She decided to do journalism at the nearest institute - the Central University of Odisha at Koraput, 150 km away.
Her family told her they couldn’t afford it. But a friend not only paid Jayanti’s fees but also arranged for her to stay with her uncle and aunt, thereby saving her the expense of hostel fees. Her father couldn’t afford to visit her, she says, but her hosts never made her feel the lack of a family.
Financial problems came in the way again during her internship. She got an internship in Bhubaneshwar but had nowhere to stay in the capital so, for the first 15 days, ie, half her internship period, she just didn’t go. Her teachers spread the word and documentary filmmaker Biren Das took her as an intern in his studio, Ajira Odisha, and offered her a room in his home.
Meeting Biren Das, says Jayanti, turned her life around. After finishing her course, she went back to work with him for a year. That one year spent under the guidance of Das and his wife gave her the confidence she had lacked.
``Generally, once people know you are a tribal, they look at you differently. But Sir and Madam made me understand the meaning of being a tribal. For the first time, I felt proud of being one. I learnt about my culture, about the power of the media, and I felt motivated to work for my people. Sir had a lot of ambitions for me. He would constantly give me ideas and chide me for not doing enough. He would tell me, `Time is short. Ask yourself, what have you achieved in life?’’’
Today, Jayanti is brimming with story ideas about Malkangiri which, at 800 km from Bhubaneshwar, is an under-reported area. ``As a local, I have no problem travelling there and talking to people,’’ she says. ‘’But my stories are rarely accepted and I have no one to guide me.’’ She hasn’t been able to afford either a laptop or a camera of her own. Yet, work she must, for her father, who can no longer work, lives with her in Malkangiri town, the district headquarters.
It was to break her feeling of isolation that Jayanti took the trouble of travelling to the NWMI meeting. And it might just have been worth it. Awed by her struggle, Network members decided to connect her with news outlets and translate her stories. Efforts are also on to pool in to get her a laptop and camera.
For Karuna (a pseudonym), a senior sub-editor with Nava Telengana, dissatisfaction with the media doesn’t stem from her colleagues’ attitude to her, but from the attitude of the media as a whole to ``people’s issues’’.
Karuna, 46, joined the Naxalites while still a student at Osmania University. It wasn’t just injustice to women in general that led her to the revolutionaries. It was also anger at the restrictions she faced at home. Her movements were restricted to college and back; she could neither visit relatives nor friends. Her mother too, was kept under her father’s thumb. Ironically, her father was a Naxalite sympathiser.
After working with the Naxalites’ women’s wing for a few years, joining their protests against dowry and the new policy of economic liberalisation, Karuna joined her Party in the forests, living in Ambujmarh in Bastar, known as the Maoists’ citadel. She was just 21.
How did she cope with living in forests, having lived in a big city all her life? ``I knew what I was in for when I left Hyderabad. But I feel life in the forests was easy. It’s living in the city that’s difficult. It’s in the city that you see the full effect of liberalisation and globalisation,’’ she explains.
But surely, the effects of these phenomena are seen most in the way corporates are trying to take over Adivasi land? Isn’t that what the Maoists are fighting?
``Yes, but in the forests, everyone’s there for you. You know if you are in trouble, the others will help. Here, even if you are ill, nobody will bother about you,’’ says Karuna, whose husband was killed in an encounter a year before she came `overground’.
Unlike many other Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh, Karuna did not surrender. She came to Hyderabad to see a doctor. The appointment had been fixed, but did not materialise. With her planning thrown out of gear, she saw no way of going back in, without the risk of leading the police to her comrades.
Though she’s been `overground’ for ten years now, Karuna misses life in the forests. She has no regrets about joining the Maoists. What about the accounts of sexual exploitation of female cadre by male Maoists, which the police keep publicising whenever any female Naxalite surrenders?
``I joined the party as a rebellion against my own subjugation as a woman. And I stayed inside the forest for 14 years. Would I have done so if women were being exploited there? Would we women have kept quiet? Why do we remain in the party? Why do so many of us give up our lives willingly?’’ she asks angrily. ``Naxalites are educated people. They undergo hardship every day. They have to be on the move constantly. They live for the people. Would they exploit women?”
Karuna made an interesting point: such stories by the police are not given much weight by the Telugu media but the English media lap them up. ``Telugu-speaking people know Naxalites wouldn’t do such things. But the English media doesn’t take the trouble to find out the truth about Naxalites. Yes, it’s difficult for journalists to meet them. But at least they shouldn’t believe what the police say,’’ she says.
While Jayanti wanted to be a journalist, Karuna is one by compulsion. Her job enables her to sustain herself. She defines herself as a writer. Karuna is her pen name, but she prefers being called that, rather than by her real name, Padma.
Her short stories had made Karuna famous even while she was underground. Her collection, Thayamma mari konni kathali, was published in 2009 by Virasam, the Revolutionary Writers’ Association. The title story, based on her mother, is still remembered by many Telugu readers. But no one knew who Karuna was.
When she came back to Hyderabad, Karuna identified herself, and that, she says, made it easy for her to get a job in a newspaper. Simultaneously, she enrolled for a post-graduate diploma in journalism.
Over the last ten years, she has worked in many publications: Sakshi, Andhra Prabha, Hyderabad Mirror, and now Nava Telengana, which is a new paper launched last year specially for the new state by the CPI(M).
Karuna’s latest story, `Vaallu’ (`Those people’), completed last week, was on the mother of Munna, a Naxalite killed in the October 24 ``encounter’’ in Malkangiri. He was her only son.