Tehelka photojournalist Tarun Sehrawat’s death has opened a veritable can of worms for more reasons than one. One is definitely encouraging: for perhaps the first time in my over a dozen years in the industry, working journalists are questioning the management’s attitude toward employees beyond the ubiquitous monthly salary cheques.
Are they doing enough for us? Are they thinking enough about us? Heck, do they care at all about us?
These are questions that need to be asked, and answers sought out loud and clear. Another encouraging aspect is, most of those raising these questions, I believe, are young journalists, not shying away from taking their names. While The Hoot has remained on the forefront, giving space to the probing questions, the social media, especially Facebook, has come as a huge platform.
So, on I come to my concern: Are we letting this well-timed rage to go off radar? Is it misdirected? Is it turning into more of a righteous posturing, raving, ranting, and whining against the media industry per se? Like a rebel on the verge of losing his cause?
Without belittling Sehrawat’s death, are we jumping the cliched gun by making him a “martyr”? The idea here is not to put down — I am sure Sehrawat was a very hardworking, conscientious, and talented journalist, as many people have said in the days since the 22-year-old died of malaria earlier this month — but to put up some issues in their perspective so that a similar tragedy does not recur.
First, can we cut out the contention that he was a martyr? I am sure even Sehrawat would be laughing, if there is an afterlife, at the suggestion, which many writers have tapped out over the last few days. By definition, a martyr knows the upshot of the fight for his/her cause/belief.
If Sehrawat knew he could end up with malaria, which would turn fatal, he should have gotten in touch with people who knew the antidotes. If he knew that and still didn’t work on the basics, and ended up being a victim walking the interiors of the Chhattisgarh jungles with zero protection, he was foolhardy, not a martyr.
Second, cut out the ranting against “editors” sitting in plush comforts of their Delhi offices and expecting the poor reporters and photographers to do the dirty work. Let us not turn this into an editor versus reporter/photographer, or us versus them, debate. Both editors and the “field guys” have their work cut out, and there’s no point to be elaborated, or headway made, by taking potshots. Let’s face it, the guys who go out there know what they are getting into when they sit for their first job interview. If things go well, they are the stars; no one out there in the public knows the backroom guys — the editors, or assignment editors, and a zillion such posts with varying prefix and suffix in the hierarchical order.
You decide to be a reporter/photographer because you want to be read, seen, heard, appreciated. There is no point crying victim then for being asked to cover arduous tasks in inhuman conditions. My simple Tebbit test says you will get many, many more applications to be the star, and not the backroom boy/girl despite the purported plush comfort: recall how many young journalists, fresh out of graduation school, want to be a reporter against the number willing to do the hours on the desk. It will be heavily loaded in favour of the former, as any pro would corroborate.
Third, curb that instinct to blame the authorities at the drop of a hat. That’s not journalism; that’s signs of the eager-to-burst-out scriptwriter for seventies-type Bollywood flicks, a la Deewar, residing inside you. A five-year-old falls into a borewell, or a ditch, and the first knee-jerk reaction now is to shout out loud that child after child is falling into ditches across India and the authorities are being silent. It’s tragic, of course, and the guy who dug that ditch should be immediately thrown behind bars, sure enough. But is the Ministry or even the municipality responsible for it?
What happens if your car is parked by the side of the road outside my apartment complex and a child on a bicycle trips and smashes his head against your car? Are you responsible for the mishap? Are the authorities responsible? Is the chief minister sitting in Lucknow responsible (I live in Vaishali, Ghaziabad, just to fill in on details)? It is just an accident. Reading anything in it beyond that is not brave, investigating journalism but waste of adjectives.
Fourth, go easy with the assumption that your office is obliged to train you, arm you with the necessary medicines, or any other gear necessary, before “dispatching” you to a hotspot. It is an ideal, but not mandatory, situation. If you have a problem, please feel free to opt out of the story and sit by your editor in the aforementioned plush office.
My father, who was part of India Inc, suffered two cardiac complications at work, and was attacked by miscreants on duty, leaving him seriously injured and his driver, dead, during his last posting abroad. He contracted Alzheimer’s, which doctors suspect was largely due to that shock, and died recently. Now, my siblings and I do not imagine his office should have, a) given him lessons on cardiac revival, b) kept an eye on his medical bulletin for the next decade and more he worked for the same (corporate) office, or c) issued him a gun in the last case.
They did what had to be done — assign him work, multiple postings outside Delhi, and issue that pay cheque at the end of the month — and expecting more would have been idealistic, not practical.
I am not saying this to draw sympathy, or show what a commendable, impassive, pro-management worker I am/have been. I say this only to save the energy: keep that rage burning, keep those rants alive. They would come handy when the genuine occasion comes up.
And lastly, let us not turn Sehrawat’s death into an opportunity to settle scores with people we believe are making us work/slog for dirt.
Till then, work hard, work smart, think on your feet and stop whining and blaming people without logical deduction. The last is lazy journalism.
And if we can’t, there’s always other another sector that would be ready to absorb industrious journalists.
(Having worked in print media for 14 years, the author is taking a break, calling himself a freelance writer and editor in the interim.)