Threats faced by women journalists are very real and this is the message that was highlighted in journalist Nupur Basu’s documentary Velvet Revolution. Speaking at the screening at Bangalore Club on Tuesday evening, Nupur said that the murder of Gauri Lankesh only reinforced the threat to women journalists in the country was real. On the night of September 5, 2017 journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead right outside her house in Bengaluru.
“It wasn’t something that happened in a remote place or unknown area. It was right here in our city,” said Nupur Basu.
"The statistics are alarming, yet the issue of violence faced by women was still not getting as much attention as it warranted. Until it happened in our own backyard, we did not realize the magnitude of the risks faced by women in journalism,” she said.
Velvet Revolution has been a collaborative effort of 17 journalists across the world which was produced jointly by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT). The costs incurred by the women in the documentary are numerous, but despite such threats and risks, Nupur Basu stressed the importance of getting women to come forward in the field of journalism.
Among several stories in the documentary is that of Bangladeshi-American blogger Rafida Bonya Ahmed. Rafida decided to go to Dhaka in February 2015 to attend a book fair along with her husband Avijit Roy, she had no idea what the trip would cost her. Avijit, a US-based Bangladeshi blogger, who wrote extensively against religious extremism, was hacked to death near Dhaka University. Rafida too sustained severe injuries, but survived and was forced to go into hiding in the United States under the protection of the FBI.
Rafida's story is one of the six shown in the documentary Velvet Revolution by senior journalist and filmmaker Nupur Basu, which was screened on Tuesday evening at Bangalore Club.
Avijit’s murder was one of five attacks in 2015 in which bloggers, who were so outspoken about religious extremism, were targeted. Following the attack on Avijit, Rafida’s life was under threat from several religious extremists, including the Islamic State, as a result of which she had gone into hiding. Today she is relatively safer, but living with the risk of such threats has become almost the norm for women bloggers and journalists and this issue is addressed in the documentary.
Similar to Rafida, but a lot closer to home, journalist Malini Subramaniam was forced to uproot herself from her hometown in Chhattisgarh's Bastar district and move because of the threats she faced for reporting human rights violations faced by Adivasis at the hands of the armed forces.
Malini wrote extensively of the horrors the Adivasis faced. She has reported on a number of human rights violations including sexual violence against Adivasi women, jailing of minors, threats against journalists and abuse by police and armed forces that members of this community faced. She won the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and continues to be an active member of the media today.
“Journalism is truth telling, to pretend to be neutral and blind to what is happening around you, I think that is unnatural,” states Phillipino journalist Inday Espina Varona in the documentary who works out of one of the most unsafe countries for women and men in the profession alike.
Other prominent journalists whose stories are shared in the documentary include Cameroonian radio journalist Moussa Marandata who speaks about the conflict with the Boko Haram and the kidnapping of young girls by the rebels. Journalist Najibu Ayoubi from Afghanistan shares that most of the women she works with don’t know if they will make it to the office on a regular basis because of the constant threats they face. However, even so the women continue to report.
Zaina Erhaim, a Syrian journalist was forced to move from her hometown in Aleppo in Syria to take shelter in south Turkey after she began to report about the civil war.