(Video) Journalist Priyanka Dubey and Author Natasha Badhwar Discuss Gendered Violence, Journalism and Dubey’s New Book
'No Nation for Women' by Dubey takes a hard, close look at what makes India unsafe for its women.
Journalists and Authors Natasha Badhwar & Priyanka Dubey discuss the latter’s book — No Nation for Women — gendered crimes in India, and what it takes to document incidents of rape in India.
Natasha Badhwar: Priyanka Dubey has just written a book called No Nation for Women and here’s what it says on the blurb, “No Nation for Women Takes a hard, close look at what makes India unsafe for its women. From custodial rapes and honour killings and rapes of minors and trafficking, the author, Priyanka, uncovers many unpalatable truths behind what we are familiar with as newspaper headlines only.”
What makes this book really so important, in a sense, Priyanka, is that it’s not just talking about violence against women. As you tell the stories — these horrific, brutal stories — of violence against individual women, what you are uncovering is a web of violence of the “upper-caste” against Dalits in this country, of the state against its own minorities and tribals, of communities with each other, of violence within families. It is really just the bodies of women that the violence is being inflicted upon and actually the conflict is more structural. And as you take us from chapter to chapter, from state to state in this book, that’s what makes this book so important for us.
You’ve spent years as a reporter and many of these stories are stories that you were also reporting. At what point, did you feel that you needed to go beyond the news story? What kind of frustration or wall must it have been that made you feel that you had to write a book about this?
Priyanka Dubey: Thank you, Natasha, for such a beautiful introduction to the book. I agree when you say that when the violence is more structural, women’s bodies are used as a tool in that violence. Before coming to the question I want to say that I feel that from my reporting experience, I feel that women’s bodies have been used as battlegrounds to fight different wars like caste-wars, and class-wars, and community-wars. Violating women’s bodies is a way of showing power, of pulling down a certain community or of just implying torture on the community, to a large extent.
I’ve been a magazine reporter for a long period. When you work in a magazine, we always look for references. We try to take out more information about the subject we’re reporting on. I reported on gender and during my reporting career, I started looking for references for books to enhance my knowledge and my understanding of this complex subject — of gender violence in India. So when I started looking, I could not get my hands on many reportage-based books. There were many books, but they were edited, say, as anthologies. There were a couple of very good books by Urvashi (Butalia) ji but they were about gender violence that happened around the partition. I felt there was a gap. There was a need for this kind of a book because there is a lot of noise about gender violence and we have started talking about it slowly now. But when it comes to solid things — solid material which we can pick up if we want to have a first good knowledge of what is gender violence like in India — there was nothing, and I felt that just like this country, gender violence is very diverse.
We cannot put our finger on one thing and make a sweeping generalisation. So it changes from state to state, from one community to another community. Every case of gender violence that happens in India is very nuanced, its multi-dimensional and I do not agree with sweeping generalisations. The idea of the book originated from that point.
I also wanted to give a longer shelf-life to the work that I was doing. So that there is something for people to read and to understand. And also, there’s a funny anecdote behind it. There was a lot of pressure on me to get married and I wanted to push that away.
Natasha Badhwar: So a book deal was a good way…
Priyanka Dubey: A book deal was a good way to push my parents, to say that I am busy in something, a big project and “so just don’t bother me now because I am occupied for a couple of years”. People write books for different things. It’s ironic and funny in the same way that in this country women have to still…
Natasha Badhwar: It’s like PhD and a post-doctoral project
Priyanka Dubey: Even women who have a lot of control, who have gathered that control in their lives through constant negotiation and constant struggle, they also have to come up with such things to push their marriage away.
Natasha Badhwar: And yet, once you got the book deal and began to write it, there must have been many moments when you would’ve been like, “What have I gotten myself into?”, or it did take you longer than you anticipated. In fact, you were married before the book came out.
Priyanka Dubey: (laughs) Yes, Yes.
Natasha Badhwar: So at the same time that you were trying to avoid the arranged marriage, you did fall in love and got married. What made it so hard to write this book, once you embarked on the journey?
Priyanka Dubey: There were a number of obstacles, a number of challenges — mental, emotional challenges and the physical appearing worldly challenges.
So, let’s first talk about the material, worldly challenges which include the lack of resources. I freelanced in-between because it is difficult to work on a project like this while working full-time. So I was freelancing for a couple of years — from early 2014 to end 2015. In those two years, I generated a lot of material. I reported, which is now part of this book.
But it was difficult to gather, generate money and then to finish this book. I applied for grants. I was living out of a very cheap, rented accommodation in Delhi. I cut down on my budget, I was not going out on holidays and I invested all the money that I got from awards into this book. I diverted everything that I had into the book. For one (of the last two chapters) I had to go to Kashmir, and one was in the north east — these two regions are difficult so you have to take flights and vehicles which are sturdy and big. So there is a lot of investment. In the end, I got a grant, a small grant, to support these two chapters. There was a lot of struggle to generate resources, to sustain myself alone in Delhi, so that was one (challenge) which was very ‘in your face’ and tough.
And then, the second thing was obviously that I used to think “What I’ve gotten myself into?” After every report, when you come back and you’re living in a small accommodation, a small rented room, you feel very alone. Freelancing is very alone, it makes you feel lonely.
Natasha Badhwar: Yeah.
Priyanka Dubey: At times you cringe for that office space. When you’re working full time, you again want to go back to freelancing. I felt very lonely and I felt that I am walking towards darkness…going into darkness and then coming back. And this was always on my head 24×7. I could not enjoy myself. Even at festivals or if you think of taking a break or vacation, you would feel responsible that you want to finish this. And with every passing year, the burden becomes so big and so much…
Natasha Badhwar: What was the emotional difficulty of writing the stories of people who were in so much pain? That must have been… you can sit at your desk but to connect the survivor, the victim and his or her pain, which is what you need to do as a writer every time you decide to write another few pages of this book. Tell us about that.
Priyanka Dubey: I think working on a book like this is a very self-harming process and you voluntarily sign up for it. I did sign up for it because I believed in it, and I still believe, that the stories of these women are more important than my own… I believe that these stories are important, they need to be told, they should come out, people should know about it so that people can know what is happening on the ground, what is wrong. In my head, I imagine that this will lead people to acknowledge the level of violence that is happening to women in India, which will, in turn, lead to course-correction. So I thought that documentation is very important — non-fiction — so that we have something as proof that this is happening. A thing which we can… slap… or give to people — “You need to acknowledge this”.
Natasha Badhwar: And these are the details…
Priyanka Dubey: Details of it. And this has happened… when we acknowledge then the process of course correction starts. But first, we have to accept that this is happening. If you’re living in urban utopias, this is not complete India.
Natasha Badhwar: Or if you’re living in that state of apathy where you say, “Yes, we know it’s happening but what can we do about it,” and then it’s just so pervasive that we’ve normalised it.
Priyanka Dubey: And many people say that aajkal to bada women empowerment ho gaya, ab kahan ye sab hota hai [There is so much women empowerment today, such things (violence against women) don’t happen anymore].
Natasha Badhwar: These are just lies.
Priyanka Dubey: Such ironic lies that ab uspe hanso, ro, sar phodo ya kya karo, aapke samajh nahi aayega (whether to laugh at that, cry, or break one’s head, you don’t know). So I thought this should be a testament to what is happening to women in India and it took me around six years to finish this book. And the situation has not improved, it has gotten only worse in past six years. So I think that that makes it relevant. I think the idea was good, the intention was good and appropriate. But, it (the process of writing the book) was very self-harming. When I would interview — I would be quiet and silent and I am very patient. In stories like this, you have to be patient. And I genuinely wanted to know their stories, to be there, invest time. And when they open up — the person, the survivor, her family opens up, you just listen to them and with great patience, great sense of the human spirit in which we all are bounded by each other as human beings.
Aapko sawaal puchne padte hain bahut aahista se, dheere se..ghatna ke baare mein to hai hi sawaal puchne magar baaki zindagi ke baare mein. Woh ghatna ek ghatna hai lekin uske aas paas ek universe hai, you know, that person is a whole universe. Uski zindagi hai, uske maa-baap hain, jo uski puri zyaati zindagi hai. Ye puri duniya jab aap kaagaz pe utaarte hain to aap usko dekh sakte hain perspective mein. Aapko uska pura 360 degree perspective milega, for that you have to ask questions (You have to ask questions very gently, slowly. Asking questions about the incident is a given but you have to ask questions about their lives apart from it. The incident is an incident but there is a universe around it. That person is a whole universe. They have a life, they have a mother and a father, they have a personal life. When you put this entire universe down on a piece of paper, then you can see this in perspective. You have to ask questions to get a 360-degree perspective).
I was very polite, delicate and restrained in asking (questions). If you give time in the interview, the person speaks, and I would listen and I would tape. I would not take notes because that makes people nervous. And then, with those tapes, I would return home and when I would listen to them again, the first thing that I would do is transcribe. I am very old-fashioned, I will transcribe the whole thing and then I will work on my story.
So, that was very horrible, it was devastating. While listening to the tape, I would look at the photographs on the laptop, while transcribing, so that I can go back into that… I also make small clips for my personal use.. for my reference material..for writing.. so I would go back to that material. You’re sitting alone, in your small accommodation, on your fifth floor of some cheap Delhi suburb..and it’s June and you have a small cooler in your house which is running… uski ghar ghar ki awaaz aati hai cooler ki aur aap sunne ki koshish kar rahe hote ho lagataar… so woh bhot takleefdeh Hota hai… Maine usko likha pura…I would cry… aapka Mann ajeeb sa ho jaata hai… bhot zyada asahej ho jaata hai. (You would try to listen to the tapes while the cooler made a racket, that was very painstaking. I wrote the entire thing down, I would cry. It was unsettling.)
It really impacted my relationships also. I became kind of a dark ball which was in a very weird kind of a lost zone. I also my own coordinates and so I was not the happy chilled-out, twenty-eight/twenty-seven/twenty-six-year-old people are normally in that age. I was a ball of darkness for a long period of time.
Natasha Badhwar: And yet, in this kind of reporting, there are also very deep connections that you make with people. There is also impact, some stories move forward because a reporter has come back… maybe after a reporter has come back maybe after four, five, six years and is pushing to reveal the facts and the families find a kind of succour, a kind of support in just the presence of the reporter. So there’s also that…
Priyanka Dubey: There is a lot of good journalism happening in India, but with that disclaimer, I would like to say that in my limited, humble experience, I went to places where I feel that media has not reached because when I would go and I would interview and I would walk out of the house, I would see mothers and fathers — they would come out with folded hands. They had so much hope from that report. A lot of people ask me, “Kya wo is baat se irritate nahi hote, survivors aur unki families ke aap baar-baar unki takleef… pareshaan Kar rahe hain.” Par ye logon ko malum hi nahi hai ki ye to kuch hi kisso ke saath hota hai jo media mein highlight ho jaate hain. Jo bahut zyada aise cases hain jinko media attention ki kaafi zarurat hai… media jahan tak pahunchta nahi hai, jahan tak aawaaz nahi pahunchti. To agar aap un cases ki baat lein to logon ko ummeed bandh jaati hai aapke aane se, wo bahar tak aate hain aapko chodne. [A lot of people ask me, “Do they (survivors and their families) not get irritated that you’re making them revisit their pain…” But people don’t know that this happens in only a few cases, those which get highlighted in the media a lot. There are a lot of cases that need media attention — cases where media hasn’t been able to reach. In such cases, people get hopeful when you go meet them)
Natasha Badhwar: Aur kuch logon ke liye sirf ye bhot hai ki kisi ne aakar unki kahani suni (And for some people, it is enough that someone came and listened to their story).
Priyanka Dubey: I met survivors who spoke to me and then they would ask me to stay back for dinner, lunch and they would hug me and they will cry and I will cry. The way in which they treated me as a human being, with so much affection and compassion, that also teaches you a lot. That you should also treat them as whole human beings and not melodramatise it as a case or a victim or a survivor but as a whole person who has her grace and dignity, which should be kept intact in the story.
Natasha Badhwar: So on that note Priyanka, I’m going to read a very small passage from your book. This is from the chapter on the Bhagana gang rape case. It’s called the ‘An anatomy of a rape in Haryana’. Here’s a passage:
“Reetika’s younger sister, 13-year-old Jhanvi, is the youngest of all the four survivors in the Bhagana gang rape. She was kidnapped barely 500 metres away from her home, along with Sushma (17), Leela (17) and Meena (18). Reetika points her finger towards the now-deserted veranda and says, “We grew up here. Since she was the youngest child of the family, she was always a bit pampered, but never more than my brothers. We would play together here, talk, laugh, cook and sometimes, even fight. She had a few dolls and sometimes we ran around, playing juggu in this veranda. When we grew up, we would cook, talk and occasionally watch TV serials together. Later, she says, “When I think about her now, all I feel is that she was too small, too fragile to go through such a brutal attack. My mother told me that she was in a bad condition when she returned home after that night. She was partially conscious, her body was still bleeding and she was in severe pain. I know men who routinely attack and abuse girls here and still I feel she was too small to go through that.” “Her despair is so deep,” writes Priyanka, “it’s as if Ritika doesn’t believe that Jhanvi’s fate was avoidable, only that she wishes that it could be delayed till she was older.”
There are so many passages like this in the book. It’s really hard to read the whole book in one go because they way in which you have brought these small moments alive for the reader; you can see two little girls playing together, you feel that you could be one of them, you remember your childhood when you read about a child, and I can see that it has an effect on you. How did you teach yourself, what were the decisions you took when you decided that a book about violence is also going to be a book about deep empathy?
Priyanka Dubey: I was educated in journalism schools but I think everything I learned about journalism was outside those classrooms. There we learned how to make page and what is an intro and all those jargon but I think libraries…I grew up in Bhopal, it’s a two-tier city. And there was a library there… I think that that library was a game changer for me. A lot of this has to do with intuition, its natural and cannot be injected. I remember one of my teachers said that journalists cannot be taught and that you cannot teach someone to make and convert a person into a journalist. There are no factories where journalists are made. It’s absolutely like love — yaa to hota hai ya nahi hota, ya to aapke andar hai ya nahi hai (either you have it in you, or you don’t). So, a lot of this was intuitive…
Natasha Badhwar: And that intuition also leads us in certain directions, and then we find our writing. You know, when we are reading others, there are some things that we connect to and some others that we don’t. And then we go in that direction.
Priyanka Dubey: The British Library had a small branch in Bhopal, later they transferred that branch to M.P. government but that library thankfully was retained. There was a small section on journalism in that library and all the books still have my pencil marks. I worked, lived literally in that library during my university years, and I chaato-ed (devoured) the books, Maine sab padh li (I read all the books). There was one book titled The Great Reporters by David Randall in that library. That was my first window to the world. We were very small… when I completed my 12th, I didn’t even know that St. Stephens… ya Delhi University mein kaise daakhila milta hai. Hum bahut hi protected environment mein bade hue aur bahut hi zyaada reserved aur conservative environment tha. Wo pehli kitaab thi jisse mujhe laga ki main kuch aisa karna (I didn’t know how one gains an admission in Delhi University.
I was raised in a very protected and conservative environment. That was the first book that inspired to do something like this)… 10 great reporters were chronicled in it. I really recommend that book to all people who want to be journalists or do journalism — The Great Reporters by David Randall. It had Nelly Bly, and Edna Buchanan — the great Miami crime reporter. I read all the ten stories. The first war correspondent whose eye got scarred. Such amazing stories, I would read them next to the lake. I was filled with energy and vision. Humare paas koi aise tutors the nahi, hum kabhi Harvard ya aisi badi jagahon pe padhe nahin, hamein kisi ne bataya nahi ke aisa banna hai.. to humein khud hi raaste dhundne pade. To humko jaise hi woh ek Dhaga mila to maine usko pakad liya. Meri puri jo education rahi hai woh Dronacharya form mein rahi hai. Ek-do editros thhe, Bangalore mein Nisha Susan rehti thi. (I didn’t have any tutors, I never studied at big places like Harvard. No one ever told me that this is what you need to become so I had to find your own path. And the moment I found that thread, I caught hold of it. My entire education has been in Dronacharya form. My editors have been — there was Nisha Susan who lived in Bangalore.) She was my colleague at Tehelka, she was a features editor. So when I started freelancing, I wrote a lot for Yahoo Originals. She was the editor there, in Yahoo.
Woh edit karke back and forth karti thi mere saath bhot zyada, jub hum likhte the. Woh 3-4 drafts hote the. angrezi mein riyaaz aapka bahut accha Hota hai jab aap angrezi mein likhte hain. (She would edit and do a lot of back and forth with me when I would write. There would be three-four drafts and it really improves your English). Unki jo drafting process hai (Nisha Susan’s drafting process) really evolves you. To maine unko phir ek din likha jab kahani finally aayi ki, ye kahani unhone edit bhi kari thi ( So I wrote to her when this story came around, she was the one who edited this story also). I told her that you are my Dronacharya, I am your Eklavya. Hume koi classrooms mile nahi, humare koi teachers the nahi. We didn’t get any classroom like that because there were no teachers. We didn’t know how to do things, so we caught hold of things then.
And I had a lot of interest in reporting. Mujhe lagta tha ki paanch ladkiyaan agar ya ek family Jantar Mantar par itne din se protest Kar rahi hain and ye keh rahi hain ki unke saath aisa hua hai.. (I felt that if five girls or one family are protesting in Jantar Mantar and saying that this is what had happened to them) then how to make the world, people who are passing by roads, care about it? Unko Kaise pakad ke hum unki collar kaise hilaayein ke woh ye padhein aur us cheez ko mehsoos karein jo hum is cheez ke liye feel karte hain. (How do we catch hold of them and make them read and ensure that they feel the thing in the manner we sympathise). To mujhe laga ki iske liye details bahut zaruri hain. Aap agar unko sirf 200 words mein dikhayenge ki aisa hai to woh shayad move na hon. Par aap unko puri duniya mein le jaaye, uski duniya mein daakhil karaiye, dikhayiye ki ye khata bhi aise hai; sota bhi aise hai; jeeta aise; iske sapne ye hain; ye iski maa hai inse ye ita pyaar karta hai; ye iski zindagi hai. Usko ek insaan ke taur par jab hum zinda karenge kaagaz par to log relate karenge ki hum sab insaan hain. Ye human connect ka pura cycle hai. (I felt details were important for this; if you try showing them everything in 200 words, then they might not get emotionally moved. When you take the story to the world, make them enter their world and say that this is how he eats, sleeps, survives, these are his dreams, he wanted to become this, this is his mother, whom he loves so much—this is his life. When you give him life in this manner on paper, people can relate to it because we are all humans. And this is a cycle of human connect. It is all about connecting human beings with human beings.)
Iske liye, hamein words ki zarurat hai (For this, we need words). Isliye mujhe lagta hai ki sab reporters ko samajhna chahiye aur reporters ko encourage Karna chahiye. So I feel all editors and reporters should understand this aspect and encourage the same.
In the name of words, we shouldn’t pen down gibberish. There is already a lot of it of unread garbage in the world, some writer had once said, don’t add to it. Agar aap acche se likhenge to log connect karte hain. But, if you write it properly, people do feel connected. I mean what are editors for and what are we for… We are fully ready, make us write five drafts or six drafts, we are always ready to work hard… If someone says that you have written nonsense, I will write it 10 more times, I am ready to work hard, but believe in the long story, give me the space to tell the story. I need space.
Natasha Badhwar: I think it really is great a fallacy of our time that people don’t have attention spans, people are constantly consuming the media, so clearly they are spending enough time trying to find things they connect with. And they accept long form in a video, in film, as well as in the form of books and longer written pieces.
Priyanka Dubey: I think we have competition now from Netflix and all these new formats as well, there are so many avenues and the attention span is so little, the time is little, so how to engage the readers is the question. I think as humans also people should… Matlab agar aap daarun kathaaon pe, itni mushkil ya itni heart-rending stories hain aur agar inpe aapka dhyaan nahi jaa raha, to phir kya kiya jaa sakta hai...ye wahi baat ki ya to Hota hai ya nahi hota. I mean if you don’t focus on stories that are so heart-rending, then what can be done about it? Then again we come down to the same thing either it happens or doesn’t happen.
Natasha Badhwar: Now, somewhere you carry on and somewhere you have to take a decision and say, “I believe this story needs to be told”.. and that’s unshakable.
Priyanka Dubey: I think the first time maybe you are not able to convert a person into your reader, but if you keep doing this kind of work, someday, with every story your readers grow.
Natasha Badhwar: That’s absolutely true. You have to invest in the body of work also, as a writer.
I want to ask you another question, we associate the telling of stories about women, with women writers — but in your actual lived experience, how hard or easy was it for you to write this book because it took you into places where you were vulnerable as a woman. It took you into police stations that were hostile; it made you travel on trains and buses and stay alone in places or have to rely on stringers or strangers who you did not know. So, what was that experience like, how would you look back at it now?
Priyanka Dubey: I think it was very difficult. It was challenging. Two things I always keep in mind that the driver I am picking up should come through a trusted channel, that has to be there. You just cannot… You are yourself a journalist and you know that we just cannot go to a city and pick up any random driver and call a travel agency and say ki humein jaana hai (that we have to go). So the driver has to come through either a stringer or somebody you trust in that area.
And you have to develop… I developed a network of people, stringers, I don’t like to use that word. Local reporters, I think is a respectable word, dignified word. So, I developed a network of local reporters with whom you develop a rapport when you work with them. When they see that what your work ethics are I feel, I felt in my career, in my short span of career, that you get respect and a lot of co-operation if the person on ground feels that she really wants to do the story, she has her mind at the right place, so you get support. I have also travelled on bikes of local reporters. You know, riding pillion for 60-70 kilometres and they have gone to great lengths to support me. And most of them were males; like 90-100 per cent were males. I don’t remember working with a female local reporter ever. That is one stark difference. It just made me think.
Natasha Badhwar: And yet, the stereotype is that there are these disadvantages for reporters where editors are thinking, when newsrooms are thinking who do I send to Purulia, they will think of the young men. Or they will think of the experienced men. That you are a woman, that you have grown up in a city, that you are young, all of these are seen as disadvantages, and I am really keen to hear your experience because my own experience as a cameraperson in my twenties reporting for NDTV is that all of these were literally my advantages. The world kind of responds to you, it steps forward to protect you and get your work done when they see the single-mindedness with which you want to do your work.
Priyanka Dubey: I absolutely agree with you Natasha here, I feel that I got a lot of support from people on the ground. Obviously, the police station is hostile, but you are walking to the station with someone who is a local reporter, you are going to places with someone. So people you have to face obviously, say when I am entering into a police station in Latehar, or Barbaria which is a Naxal-infested area, I am talking to the person on my own, but those places are hostile. But, you still develop a kind of ecosystem with support.
And I think, as a reporter, it doesn’t matter which organisation you are working in. you are working for Washington Post, BBC or Caravan or any other organisation, Tehelka. Your true strength lies in the network of these people. That is what you earn, you don’t earn money, you have to earn people. And that is a long route, a long form, that is a time taking process. But, I have invested all my life in…developing limited but warm friendships with people I work with on the ground. I know their families, I know the name of their children, I often go to their homes. I treat them as human beings as colleagues, as people who are working with me, and that really helps you know. I think we need to give that respect to people we work with.
Natasha Badhwar: As well as gratitude…
Priyanka Dubey: Gratitude obviously, gratitude is most important. And a reporter should not think that we are working in a very hi-fi… Ek reporter ki jo haisiyat hai ya jo uski strength hai woh uska poora system, uske network or uske jo log hain… kuch kuch ye politicians jaisa pesha ho jata hai (A reporter’s status and strength is their system, their network, their people… In a way, the profession becomes like that of politics.
Natasha Badhwar: Yes. Like you become the face, but it is actually your team.
Priyanka Dubey: People are your only strength. I think you are getting what I want to say from that analogy. What I want to say is that people are your strength, people who work with you, like reporters. For instance, I did a cover story on dacoits of Chambal. I was alone with my driver, and that driver came through a channel, he was told that ye ghar ki ladki hai (this girl is from our family) so you please take her around. So 10 din tak ham Bhind, Morena Gwalior ghum rahein hain (we roamed around Bhind, Morena, Gwalior, the entire place for around 10 days). We met former dacoits and we went to godforsaken places where there is no network in both our phones. Whenever we approached a petrol pump, he used to stop, his name was Mohin bhaiya. He used to ask, “Madam aapko washroom to nahi jaana? (Madam do you want to use a washroom)” So, that is the kind of rapport you develop with people. So, that I feel is the most prized, jisko log neglect karte hain (which is neglected by people).
Natasha Badhwar: There is another roadblock that I feel the traditional idea of journalism is in our parts which is that if a story is been done once, or if a story becomes old, then it is no longer relevant for a reporter to do again. So you are told is there a development, is there breaking news, is there an anniversary? What are you adding to it, it is already been done? Even though the story actually continues to be alive, it’s not been resolved, people are living the injustice that you want to talk about. But it’s been carried once by some you know broadcaster or newspaper, and then you are inhibited….you are told that it was not worth doing the story again. But, you have crossed that barrier again and again, what is it that you tell yourself and what is it that you want to tell other journalists.
Priyanka Dubey: I think I, first of all, I do not agree with this thing or idea that the story is old now or what is new in it. It’s a question that we face every day, of course, in our newsrooms and with our editors.
Natasha Badhwar: I think it’s also a very outdated concept that belongs to the time when there was only one channel of news.
Priyanka Dubey: I think as a reporter I feel that question is ridiculous of course. But, we have to face it.
Natasha Badhwar: But, it’s a question that you have to answer constantly in the newsroom.
Priyanka Dubey: Constantly. So, one is that I try very hard to bring something… to find an angle or to look at the story from a certain prism or to look for legal documents or to make it in-depth. When you go in-depth, you are bound to come up with things that have not been reported. So, that is one way… but of course, that is what we do. As a reporter, we are not fools that we will write the same thing that was published yesterday or day before, but we do that much, but on principle, I think till date we keep seeing children asking us for money, Rs 1-2 on a traffic light. The problem of street children is not going anywhere, we need stories. Till date rapes keep happening, till date gender crimes keep happening. We need to do stories. Till the date trafficking keeps happening, we need to do stories.
When we can spend so many pages on celebrity and all these kind of stories then real issues should be reported. If people are dying of malnutrition, then they are dying of malnutrition. They were dying in 2005, they were dying in 2007, they were dying in 2015 and they are still dying, so we still need to do the story, so that is one thing that I tell editors also, tell people, tell myself also, that because people are still dying of malnutrition, we still need to do these stories. Because women are still dying while giving birth, we still need to do the stories, because women are still being raped we need to do these stories. Hum tab hi rukenge jab ye cheezein ruk jaayein (We will only stop when these things stop). So, obviously as reporters we will work on forms, we will work on getting good photographs, we will take a DSLR with us, we will work on clips or audio, video and woh saare hum sajawat kar sakte hain but story ki aatma to wahi rahegi (all that beautification we can do, but the soul of the story will remain the same). We have to do the story because it is still happening. that’s the only reason that I think that drives any reporter.
Natasha Badhwar: To come back to No Nation For Women. How did this book deal happen? How hard was it to get the book deal?
Priyanka Dubey: No. It came my way. I did a series on policewomen which was published by Yahoo Originals. Then Dharini (Bhaskar), she was my acquisitions editor. She wrote to me, she said would I like to do a book around this. She was very impressed with those three articles. And I was also already thinking about doing something. And the thoughts were very raw. They were not shaped, they were only in my head, so when Dharini’s email came, her email came in June 2014. And I think around two or three months initially I was very intimidated by the whole process of a publishing contract and everything. But, I asked her, I am very honest, so I said listen I am very intimidated, so can you explain this to me. So she was very kind and she explained. And I signed the contract and then Dharini changed organisations and so the book came to a new organisation.
It was finally published by Simon and Schuster. My editor here… Dharini left this organisation also. It took so long… then I got married, she (editor) had a baby. And then Himanjali Sarkar… she worked really hard with me on this book. And she was very supportive. The whole team at Simon and Schuster were very supportive. But thankfully I had to do nothing to get this book deal.. it came to me.
Natasha Badhwar: So, there is power in one’s words.
Priyanka Dubey: There is power.
Natasha Badhwar: My final question is so there’s the high that the book is ready. The book launch has happened. And then there are the little, little lows when you’re wondering where the book has reached or how to make it reach the places that you wanted it to go to because you think that the ultimate milestone is getting it published. But then you realise that the ultimate milestone is now standing next to it and making… Either it travels on its own or you make an effort to take it places. How has that been for you?
Priyanka Dubey: I think I was very exhausted after working on this book. When it got published, while working on it, while writing it every day. I imagined myself a lot wearing a saree, and I imagined myself, whenever I would get nervous — I thought I would not be able to do it anymore — I had to ensure that the book comes out, I will be happy that day. I always imagined that I would be happy when the book comes out.
Natasha Badhwar: And you had a great launch.
Priyanka Dubey: I had a great launch. But, when the first public announcement of the book was made I was very exhausted I think at that time. I was not that much happy as I had imagined I would be. There was kind of… I was okay; there was a lot of gravity which I felt in myself for the first time.
Natasha Badhwar: That’s imaginable because it’s also a book that has stories of some many other people. And these are not fictional characters; they are real people.
Priyanka Dubey: So, that’s there… I was exhausted and the launch happened. And after that, I felt more exhausted and I had to continue like there were a couple of requests for a book signing and things like that — small things like an interview or something. And I am doing them, but I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday and we were talking about the same thing, the question that you asked me. We realised that we both feel that the book is like a river, you know. Once you finish it, you leave it. It will find its journey on its own. It will reach people who are thirsty. So that is one way of putting it. If it’s worth it, if it has power, it will reach those who are thirsty for it. And I as a reader also feel that I am reading a book of writers who have written like 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, so a book is something jiska asar bahut saalon baad dikhayi deta hai (whose impact can be seen after many years.)
At least, in this age, it is very difficult. Patience is the most difficult thing to have in this age. But I think that we will see the impact of books in a couple of years from now.
Natasha Badhwar: You are absolutely right about that. This book is certainly like a river. No Nation for Women — I highly recommend it. Don’t be intimidated by the book. As much as it has stories of trauma, it also has stories of the resilience of the human spirit. And you will certainly enjoy the writing of Priyanka Dubey. Thank you, Priyanka.
Priyanka Dubey: Thank you, Natasha. Thank you very much for this lovely conversation