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‘Why must we tell you?’

Often people revisit traumatic memories only to tell journalists their stories As journalists, we are often guilty of behaving like an entitled bunch. We ask questions, demand answers, call people at odd hours with or without an apology, or trouble a friend for a phone number we have lost. It is one thing to pose difficult questions to those in power, those who are accountable to the people, or those who think privilege ought not to be challenged. But it is quite another to nudge people who are in the lap of danger or adversity to share their stories with us, so we can tell them. It was late 2003, and I was in journalism school. A group of us were taken to Pappapatti, Keeripatti and Nattamangalam in Madurai district to try to understand, and report on the entrenched caste hegemony that was reflected in the periodic violence that militant sections of the dominant Thevar caste group unleashed on the oppressed Dalits. Despite the panchayats being reserved for Dalit candidates, most were forced to stay out of the contest. The few who took a risk paid with physical injury or, at times, life. We approached a middle-aged woman in the Dalit village, hoping to get her perspective. “Why must we tell you?” she screamed. “Who are you? So many media folk come here and ask us questions, but has anything changed for us? Can you assure me that you can publish the truth and make a difference?” Obviously, we couldn’t promise change, but we reported what we saw. About a decade later, in 2012, I went to Idinthakarai in Tirunelveli district to report on how locals felt about the imminent commissioning of the controversial Kudankulam nuclear power plant. I walked towards a woman seated in front of her house and even before I could say a word, she said: “What? Interview? We don’t need the nuclear plant.” Clearly she was in no mood to tell us. But after some time, when more women joined her, she began speaking with less anger, and explained in painstaking detail why they were opposed to the plant that, they believed, would endanger their health, community and village. From time to time, I sense scepticism among some people I meet in the war-affected areas of Sri Lanka, especially those under continuing military surveillance. After speaking to them, we reporters might come back with a compelling human story, but the residents have to continue living there, at risk and experiencing anxiety everyday. Invariably though, a few minutes into the conversation, they begin sharing very personal stories of love, pain, loss and distress. Retelling them means revisiting traumatic memories but they still do. They let a complete stranger into their homes, serve tea, and are willing to trust sooner than we’d think.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/why-must-we-tell-you/article26179596.ece

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