Posts Tagged ‘Harinder Baweja’

Jessica Lal, Tehelka, Bina Ramani & the media

15 February 2014

bird-in-a-banyan-tree-bina-ramani

It was in South Delhi socialite Bina Ramani‘s Tamarind Court restaurant that Jessica Lall, a “model who worked as a celebrity barmaid”, was shot dead in 1999 by Manu Sharma, the son of Congress politician Venod Sharma.

Initially exonerated of the charges, the case turned full turtle for Sharma following a sting operation by Harinder Baweja, then with Tehelka magazine. Manu Sharma was eventually found guilty.

As the owner of the restaurant which was the scene of the crime, Bina Ramani spent nine days in jail in the case. She has an interview with Tehelka this week following the release of her book Bird in a Banyan Tree:

You have been sharply critical of the role media played in the aftermath of the Jessica Lal trial. Yet, it was a Tehelka investigation that brought out the truth. Do you think media can ensure justice?

It is not a guarantee that the media can ensure justice but it can certainly carve the path to it. Conversely, it can derail justice when it becomes over-zealous about its point of view. The media in India is extremely powerful and can wield a lot of influence—it should therefore be thorough i its investigation.

For the record, the news channel NewsX is now owned by Kartikeya Sharma, brother of Manu Sharma, through his company Information TV.

The Sharma family’s Piccadilly group also now owns M.J. Akbar-founded The Sunday Guardian, whose chairman is Ram Jethmalani, whose interview with Karan Thapar is must-watch television.

Also read: Note to directors: It was Shammy, nor Barkha

Note to directors: It was Shammy not Barkha

24 January 2011

No One Killed Jessica?

Well, someone ‘killed’ Harinder Baweja.

Raj Kumar Gupta, the director of last weekend’s multiplex marvel—in which Rani Mukherji essays the role of a single, bitchy, aggressive, passionate, foul-mouthed, investigative journalist probing the murder of the model Jessica Lal at a Delhi bar—may have made the world believe that his ‘wet dream’ was NDTV’s Barkha Dutt.

But, writes Priya Ramani, the editor of Lounge, the Saturday section of Mint, the sting operation that was key to the reopening of the Jessica Lal murder case was not Dutt’s (or NDTV’s) handiwork, but of Harinder Baweja’s (and Tehelka‘s). And, Baweja gets no credit in the movie whatsoever.

Writes Ramani:

“What a guy, I thought when I read Harinder Baweja’s riveting post-Babri Masjid expose in India Today magazine in 1993.

“The Bharatiya Janata Party was then claiming the demolition of the mosque was nothing compared to the 40 temples that had been razed in Kashmir. Ask them for a list, editor Aroon Purie told Baweja, and go see if the temples have actually been destroyed.

“It was January and snowing in a turbulent Kashmir as Baweja and a photographer trudged from one temple to another—and found all of them intact. They were nearly kidnapped by AK-47 wielding men; at another temple they had to face a mob and firing.

“When I met Baweja a few years later, he turned out to be a she. A 5ft, 1-inch she who prefers to be called Shammy and always wears saris with sexy, sleeveless blouses in summer and winter. When the Taliban captured Kabul, Shammy almost travelled there with her sleeveless blouses.

“Shammy is also the perfect host and believes her parties are a hit only if dinner is served after midnight.”

Read the full article: Journalism’s real wet dream

Also read: Is abusing politicians the nation’s agenda?

The face behind a famous byline behind an award

An example to emulate for Indian journalists

10 August 2009

basharat_peer

Not too many working Indian journalists are in the book-writing habit. At least not in English. Pesky bosses who don’t give leave from work, the effort involved in finding a publisher, the commitment entailed in pursuing a different form of writing, not to speak of the fear of failure, etc, all play a contributing part.

But it’s changing.

The former Indian Express reporter S. Hussain Zaidi wrote Black Friday on the 1993 Bombay blasts; Srinjoy Chowdhury, then of The Telegraph, wrote Flight into Fear on the IC-814 hijacking; The Times of India‘s Manoj Mitta brought home the horrors of 1984 with When a tree shook Delhi.

More recently, Harinder Baweja compiled a volume on the 26/11 seige on Bombay, and so on.

And there is the odd biography like Alam Srinivas‘s Storms in the Sea Wind on the Ambanis.

The former rediff.com and Tehelka journalist Basharat Peer, who did a scathing critique of Indian journalism’s allergy for “serious, well-researched, long-form reportage” for Columba Journalism Review in 2007, has written a book on his home-state, Kashmir.

Shivanand Kanavi, former executive editor of Business India, who wrote Sand to Silicon on India’s digital rise, reviews Peer’s attempt to fill a vital hole in Indian journalism—and finds three gaping holes.

***

Shivanand

By SHIVANAND KANAVI

Basharat Peer’s “Curfewed Night” is a welcome first-person account of Kashmir of the last two decades. Peer’s book is lyrical, intense, partisan and cynical in varied proportions at the same time.

A simple linear narrative of events since the 1980s as seen by a Kashmiri boy (the author), Curfewed Night will help in educating the vast mass of Indian people who are distant from Kashmir in every way, who are not activists of the human rights movement, and who are the chief target of the Indian State’s one-sided propaganda about what’s been happening in Kashmir in the last two decades.

The book begins at the beginning that is the author’s childhood. This part is lyrical and at times cute. It could have been the retold story of any articulate, sensitive boy from any Indian village to any urban or exotic audience. Then comes teenage and the romance of the Azadi movement; the blind fury and brutality of the security forces clearly reflecting their hate and an occupationist attitude towards the Kashmiris.

Peer tells the story of the emergence of the struggle of Kashmiri youth, armed and trained across the Line of Control (LoC) by our friendly neighbours and the impact of all this on their friends and families. The author’s own brief inner turmoil to cross or not to cross the LoC, the romance of a sexy AK-47, and the pressure from the family to follow a more traditional middle-class road and, above all, a concern for self-preservation, are all conveyed very convincingly.

Then comes the life of a self-exiled student and later of a young journalist in the 1990s, with a longing to tell the “untold story of Kashmir”; the evolution of the author with exposure to a normal life and ‘freedom from searches’; exhaustion setting in about indigenous militancy with no hope of a quick victory and so on, seems a little rushed.

Peer then gives us an invaluable, authentic picture of the emergence of jihadis from Pakistan equipped with laptops and satellite phones ready to unleash terror, where the random victims are not necessarily military targets, while a hapless population caught in the cross fire continues to grieve over the loss of a generation.

Peer excels when he brings out journalistic gems like the story of the ikhwanis, turncoat militants who became a part of Indian counter-insurgency; chameleon-like careerists who smoothly switch roles between militant, reformed militant and politician, a cryptic hint of the alienation of separatist politicians from the ordinary aggrieved Kashmiris; or the schizophrenia of a swaggering para-military officer who unexpectedly melts in a media room when Peer starts  recalling the life he spent in Delhi.

Despite these excellent points, however, there are some rough edges and glaring lacunae as well.

Peer’s style is very uneven and varies between the raw and the sophisticated. It is possible that the account has been written over a long period of time during which the writer himself has evolved. However, that does not absolve the responsibility of the publisher’s editorial team to play their role, which is more than spell checking.

Peer completely omits the Kargil war and is similarly silent about the Indo-Pak peace yatra that started with the Lahore bus trip by Atal Behari Vajpayee and has gone through its yo-yo moments.

These are glaring blemishes to ignore, especially from a trained journalist.

Peer stumbles often in maintaining distance and some circumspection regarding his own emotions and concerns. For example, there is too much shock expressed when a youth who is dandily throwing grenades and sniping armymen gets killed in an encounter.

Surely, Peer did not expect such elements to be given a medal by the army?

I am sure the militant himself was mentally ready for “shahadat”, even though youth are prone to feel temporarily invincible in the early stages of any insurgency. The fact of the matter is in such armed insurgencies there are very few armed men surviving till the end game (say in PLO or IRA).

Peer also exhibits a casual disdain for the changes that are occurring in India in the last two decades and rubbishes them with the label of a discredited “India Shining”, an affliction of many a blinkered anti-establishment writer.

In fact there is every reason to believe that these changes are also occurring at least in Srinagar and Jammu if not in rural J&K, albeit in a small way, and that is affecting the attitude of a section of Kashmiri youth (mostly born post-Gawakadal) who want to move on.

The fact that despite the hysteria of the Amarnath agitation in Jammu and Srinagar, the prime movers of the agitation on both sides viz BJP and PDP did not win either Srinagar or Jammu seats in the general election says something. There are long queues for recruitment into new BPOs opening up in Jammu and Srinagar.

Then again, the recent prolonged strikes in Srinagar post-Shopian and a suicidal destruction of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris engaged in the tourist trade, tells us not to get carried away too much and that the old is still very much alive.

On the whole, Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night is a welcome addition to conte3mporary history, written with passion and pathos.

It is surprising that we have so few of these in India (at least in the English language). Why don’t we have more such attempts to tell the story of Manipur, Nagaland, Narmada valley, the jungles of Orissa/ Chhattisgarh/ Jharkhand, Dharavi, Emergency, Amritsar ’84, Delhi ’84, Mumbai ’93 or Gujarat 2002 in print or in film?

Why don’t we have our Norma Rae, Erin Brokovich or My heart lies buried at Wounded Knee? An Amu (Delhi 1984) or a Parzania (Gujarat 2002) are not enough.

Hopefully, more writers will follow Peer’s lead.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook magazine

Also read: How every journalist can write that dream book

The face behind a famous byline behind an Award

4 August 2009

Indian media advertisements are largely anonymous. When a newspaper touts its circulation or a television station toots its own horn, or a staffer wins any of the many awards, the ads are mostly built around the organisations.

If there has to be a face, it is usually of the founder or promoter or some pumped-up manager. Rarely that of a journalist.

Tehelka, the webzine turned weekly offline magazine, makes a small but welcome change by putting a face to its latest achievement, the Karpoor Chandra Kulish international award bestowed on its news and investigations editor, Harinder Baweja, for her reporting from Muridke, the headquarters of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, shortly after the 26/11 seige of Bombay.

‘Is abusing politicians the nation’s agenda?’

13 June 2008

Harinder Baweja of Tehelka buttonholes Rajat Sharma, the editor-in-chief of India TV that sits on top of the heap of Hindi news channels, with its mix of sleaze, superstition, and “a host of other debatable tricks” that has left its seven competitors playing catch up:

# TV viewership is like a game of cricket. There was a time when Tests were a big hit… Now it is Twenty-20. The content has to change with time, even at the risk of being criticised by other colleagues in the media industry.

# We have changed the definition of news. If people still think that politicians cutting ribbons is news, those days are behind us. And (so are) speeches made in the parliament.

# We are in the business of news and only news. But today, entertainment has become big news.

# What is the agenda of the country? Is it only to keep abusing politicians? Is it only to show long speeches and ribbon cuttings? We have set the agenda.

# At my daily meeting with the editorial team, I tell them “go for the kill”. Don’t do a story that will make me or the chief producer or you happy; do one that will make the viewers happy. This is the formula. Go for the viewer. Speak for them.

Read the full interview: ‘I’ve a channel that tops the ratings. I’m not ashamed.’

Photograph: courtesy India TV

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