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Indian female journalists 'must take precautions'

After the brutal gang rape of a photographer in Mumbai which stirred memories of a similar attack in New Delhi late last year, Nivedita Mookerji speaks of the dangers of being a female journalist in India.

According to police reports, the latest incident occurred on Thursday, August 22 in an isolated part of India's business hub of Mumbai, where the 22-year-old woman, accompanied by a male colleague, was on assignment to take pictures of an abandoned textile factory. Five men are said to have confronted her with an offer to help her get permission to shoot inside the building.

The young photojournalist was then reportedly gang raped while her male colleague was tied up and beaten. The case was reminiscent of the fatal December gang rape of a young university student in New Delhi that sent shock waves across the country. In a DW interview journalist Nivedita Mookerji talks about what it's like to be a female journalist in the Indian capital.

DW: How safe are female journalists in India?

Nivedita Mookerji: I wouldn't say the job is fundamentally dangerous, but one must take precautions. For instance, female journalists should avoid walking home alone at night. However, many of my colleagues have no choice since they finish work between 10.00 p.m. and midnight.

Indian journalist Nivedita Mookerji aus Neu Delhi. (Copyright: Nivedita Mookerji)

Mookerji says women are not safe in a city such as New Delhi

It's not as if we would all be attacked and raped, but such incidents occur time and again. We know that women are not safe in cities such as Delhi, especially in busses. The subway is safer as there is more security personnel and better surveillance. There are hence fewer cases of sexual harassment in the Delhi Metro.

How dangerous is the situation for women using public transport, especially busses at night?

There are less people on the streets after 9.00 or 10.00 p.m. and, as a woman, you feel insecure when you are being stared at. When women get out of the bus or metro and start walking home, they feel insecure as the streets are not well lit. There are many things that can happen, ranging from harassment and assault to rape. However, one should not exaggerate as these things don't happen every day.

As a journalist one must often work until late in the evening or even sometimes night shifts. This has led to some in India arguing that this is not a profession suited for women. How are employers reacting?

Nowadays, all media companies in the country provide transportation to employees commuting late at night. After the fatal gang rape of a medical student last winter, security guards are assigned to all the vehicles transporting female employees to ensure their safety. A woman must never be the last person to be dropped off.

Media reported every detail of the brutal gang rape on December 16. Don't you think there is a lack of sensitivity towards the victims in these reports?

Yes, that's true. Sometimes, there is a lack of sensitivity. It's not that these rapes are a new phenomenon.

However, after the gang rape last year and the subsequent protests, more and more cases are being reported and often very aggressively. Indian media organizations are predominantly concerned about ratings and outdoing their competitors, which results in sensationalism. This is wrong.

Could Indian media contribute to bring about a mindset change in terms of how society views women?

There are two sides of the coin. It is indeed a positive development that the media have been covering women's issues and the debate surrounding sexual violence. Previously, these reports only made it to page three, now they are front page news. The government has also become more active, even though they mostly just pay lip service.

Have you noticed any changes?

Generally speaking, I don't think anything has changed. Men who are well-educated and reasonable continue to be sensitive in dealing with women. But others haven't changed their behavior despite increased media coverage on the issues of gang rape and the discrimination of women

Nivedita Mookerji works as a journalist for the New Dehli-based "Business Standard."

The interview was conducted by Priya Esselborn.