Portrait of brave hearts

IN Media Practice | 07/12/2011
These remarkable women have transcended all barriers of established norms, traditional restrictions, and societal conditions to reach their destination.
TERESA REHMAN profiles three young journalists. Pix: Reshma Aftab

It is inspiring to see Nazia Naushad, sub-editor with the Urdu daily, “Roznama Rashtriya Sahara”, as she gears up to return to office after attending a conference on Women in Media in Patna, Bihar, recently. She wears her ‘naqab’ or the burqa and is set to get on with her daily grind. The first journalist in her family, Nazia had learnt Urdu along with her formal education. Later two of her sisters also followed her in her profession.

Hailing from village Bagwar (Mira Bigha) in Jehanabad district of Bihar, she and her five sisters happened to be the only girls in the entire school. “My mother shocked everyone by taking us to a school which was attended only by boys. Muslim girls were usually not sent to school. Later some other girls followed us,” she says with a sense of pride. She is now the only woman sub-editor of an Urdu daily in Bihar. She takes care of editing of the page which deals with news of Magadh area. Though it is a cumbersome trip to her office everyday as she has to change three autorickshaws to travel the 6-km distance, she enjoys her job.

Apart from her daily editing chores, she also writes features on empowerment of women. Now, she is compiling her writings in a book form which she has aptly titled “Aurat Jise Kehte Hain” (Whom we call woman). She has completed her PG Diploma in Journalism from Patna University and now plans to go for higher education and even get into academics if possible.

There are nine Urdu newspapers in Bihar and there are only two women reporters.

Zarrin Fatma, a reporter with the Urdu daily ‘Pindar’, loved challenges and adventures since her childhood. Her father had always encouraged her. “I always accept challenges and have been fighting to create my own space. I wanted to have a challenging career either in the civil services or in journalism,” she says. This determined lady did a Diploma in journalism from Nalanda Open University after completing her post-graduation. She still remembers one of her senior colleagues who had often discouraged her and spiked her stories. He had told her that her place was at home and not in a newspaper office. But then she took it again as a challenge and has now managed to carve a niche for herself among the Urdu journalists.

She agrees that there are a few Muslim women in this profession, especially in the Urdu media because of the prevalent purdah system and the restrictions on their mobility. She argues that Islam also talks about education and travelling for work. “In fact, Prophet Mohammad’s wife and daughters were well educated. His wife Ayesha Siddiqua used to look after his financial matters, though they were in purdah then. But times have changed, and the essence of Islam is moving with the times. “There is a need to change the mindset of the Muslim community,” she adds. She has written many unconventional stories and enjoys it when she is asked to do stories which are considered to be exclusively in the male domain, for instance politics.

Undoubtedly, it is an uphill task for a Muslim woman to break the established norms and enter into a male-dominated profession. Nivedita Jha, a senior journalist based in Patna, rues that not only in Urdu media, even in mainstream media, Muslim and Dalit women are in a small number. “As it is, the education levels of Muslim women are low and the very nature of this profession is hazardous and it does not suit their societal conditions. Since they are well up in Urdu than in any other language, it becomes all the more difficult to create a space for themselves in Hindi journalism though some have come up in English journalism,” she argues.

Jha says that though a small number of Muslim women are better off in the big cities, the scene is deplorable in the districts and mofussil towns. “There are several reasons: the nexus between politicians and media houses, lack of security, inadequate salary, infrastructural lacunae such as lack of electricity and computers. All these work against the interests of women. A number of things need to change before women step in more numbers into journalism,” she adds.

Braving all odds, however, some Muslim women are trying to create their space in the Urdu media. Reshma Aftab, a reporter with “Roznama Rashtriya Sahara”, calls herself a ‘dabaang’ reporter. She covers all the beats in Patna city sub-division which is a sensitive area. She wraps her Rida (a shawl) around her as she goes to cover everything from murders, kidnappings, dowry deaths, and politics to stories on madrassas or women. Journalism is more of a passion to her. She recalls how once she had gone to the police station to investigate a case and her male colleague asked her: “Why have you come here? You could have taken the information from me.” Reshma hit back angrily and said: “Do you think I am incapable of doing anything that you are doing? Don’t you dare question my abilities again.”

She proudly says, “I have a strong network of sources. Sometimes, I rush to the spot or simply call up the local police station or the DSP.” Apart from her normal reporting beats, she also lays emphasis on civic problems as she feels that journalists represent the common people. She prefers to do stories which are useful to society. Her story on an organisation called “Anjuma Razae Mustafa”, which organises marriages of girls from weaker sections of society was widely applauded and was carried in all the nine editions of her newspaper.

She feels that the problems of women begin and end at home. “A woman is most exploited at home. If she finds support at home, she can do wonders,” she says. Her husband, who is also a journalist, encouraged her to take up this profession and has been supportive all through. For her, no profession, including journalism, is easy. She says, “You will have to carve your own path. No work is easy.”

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