Somewhere in India. She rode her motorcycle through the dusty kuccha roads flanked by greenery on both sides. Her journey relentless, her vision distinct of what lies ahead. In a dilapidated thatched set up, Malini questioned a few forlorn faces about the previous night encounter, in which the head of the family was taken away by the police. She insisted, “Did they have a warrant?” The family gave a silent reply. Malini Subramaniam has however since, been chased out of Bastar and now living in an exile in Hyderabad. Her reports on the human rights violation in Bastar still continues.
Somewhere a few hundred miles south of that village, she cycled to her work-base, which is practically a tiny set up for a press office, with a humble printing machine making noise at intervals and a stack of the morning newspaper, written, edited and distributed by her team, lies beside it. The team here is a group of twelve women, married and unmarried, who remain engrossed in their work, not having an overarching corporate boss ticking over their heads. Navodayum, the first all Dalit women run Telugu magazine started by a group of all first generation learners has now over 2,00,000 circulation. One of the scribes, Bharathi Yendapalli iterates how the bus conductor on her way to work teases by saying, “Now a woman is also a reporter”.
Somewhere in an another continent. She lulled her infant daughter to sleep singing a no-fear anthem reminiscent of her struggle back in the home country which exiled her. She recalls her days of insanity as she reported on the atrocities of the people in the war-inflicted Syria as Zaina Erhaim articulated, “I did not want to be a war correspondent but the war came to my doorstep”.
Somewhere in a furnished radio station in Cameroon, she sat with her colleagues presiding over the editorial meeting of the day. Moussa Marandata, the head of the radio station, narrates how while reporting at night from ground zero, the policemen smirks at her, “You are a woman and you come here at 2 am during Boko Haram?”
Somewhere in the island country of Philippines. She comes to her office telling her colleague about how the state has put up a notice against their organization. Kimberlie Quitacole calmly jibes about “eating threats for breakfast” as a consequence of reporting against the establishment in the most unsafe country in the world.
Not very far away in the same spectrum, the editor in chief insists on continuing her broadcasts even as the radio stations were bombed in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Najiba Ayubi narrates how she voiced her right to broadcast to a big shot state official only to hear, “Always remember Najiba, that first, you are a woman” Ayubi reflects on how the phrase signified much more than what it meant, rather like a metaphorical sexual threat clearly aimed at her if she crosses the boundaries set by the regime.
Somewhere in an isolated exile-home, she looked out of the balcony of her high-rise flat. She viewed the city doldrums in her impeccable solitude. Rafida Bonya Ahmed is adamant in continuing her research on Islamic fundamentalism and working towards safe shelters for atheists, liberal Bangladesh bloggers.
She re-imagines the moments spent with her husband Avijit Roy( founder of Muktomona, a platform for secular and atheist bloggers of Bangladesh) right before he was hacked to death by the fundamentalists in Dhaka, as she outlines her right hand over the curved vacancy of her left thumb which got hacked while she tried to save her husband. “I couldn’t leave my co-warriors in the middle of the battlefield,” she says with a resolve.
These form the recurring poignant scenes stitched together to form the leitmotif for the non-exhausting challenges and subsequent over-comings by the women journalists in the 57-minute documentary Velvet Revolution, which had its world premiere a few days back at the IAWRT film festival in Delhi. The collaborative effort of six women directors from six countries (India, Bangladesh, Philippines, USA, Syria, Afghanistan, and Cameroon) with veteran journalist Nupur Basu who served as the executive producer, Velvet Revolution essentially chronicles the lives of these exemplaries in a celebratory and passionate way. The montage of war-torn Syria with journalist Zarina Erhaim quietly lulling her infant daughter produces an elixir that resonates the untiring struggles of womankind. Whether it is Najiba from Afghanistan or Bharathi of Andhra, the mise en scène is same with the different actors playing the same character. The character of the woman, who the patriarchy sees as someone qualified for intimidation, someone who cannot be a Dalit and a reporter at the same time, someone who cannot step out at night without an approval, least of all to report on the atrocities inflicted by terror groups, someone who should remember first her gender identity before pursuing her desires.
Velvet Revolution provides the binoculars for looking at the break in the structure, the structure of the system where women always have to pay a heavy price even if they think of liberation. Somewhere these women have broken the treacherous path and got up even if they faltered so as to be an inspiration to themselves and to the world. The stories somewhere achieve to provide us hope. So one may ask why was there no outrage by the masses when a woman journalist was being forced to move out of her house merely for reporting on the impoverished lives of the tribals in Chattisgarh? Why did Bonya have to go through the trauma all over again as the reports on bloggers death increase over time?
“We want our country, our society to consider us as their very own,” said Basu. Perhaps there is no better answer than this for now.