Third delegation of Indian Women Journalists Visits Europe

<font size="2">Third delegation of Indian Women Journalists Visits Europe</font>

Bishakha De Sarkar

It was a mixed group of 16 women journalists that gathered at the Delhi airport for a seven-day tour of the European Union on June 25. In a way, the group represented different facets of India: there were women from the southern states, from western and central India and from the north. Some of us wrote in English, some in Hindi, and quite a few in regional languages. Some were young, and a few were in the profession for two decades or more. What united us, among other things, was an interest in journalism, journalists and gender issues. The visit was organised by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the All India Newspaper Employees Federation as a part of the EU-India Economic Cross Cultural Programme.

It was a hectic trip, often packed with back-to-back meetings. We had a series of discussions on our second day in Brussels. We had our first interaction with representatives of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), of the European Women's Lobby (EWC), the Belgian Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, from VRT and Radio France. Leading the discussions were Pamela Moriniere, Cecile Greboval (EWC)and Sophie Matkava (Belgian Institute).

The Indian team had a spectrum of questions to ask, and the speakers deftly dealt with them: how rife is domestic violence in the European Union, is sexual harassment at the workplace a persisting problem, what role does the European Women's Lobby play in the passage of women's laws in other countries, what kind of legal teeth does the Belgian Institute have?

For the Indian team, the discussions were of particular interest, for many drew parallels with the situation back home. It was pointed out that a law on domestic violence has just been passed in India, and that harassment at the workplace is a serious problem. The National Commission for Women, which deals with similar issues as the Belgian Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, often rues the lack of legal power. And the fact that Parliaments in Europe, including the one of the European Union, do not have a representative number of women MPs brought home the fact that a Bill seeking to reserve seats for women in Indian legislative bodies has, for political reasons, been put on the backburner in the Indian Parliament.

There were two more interesting events that day - a press briefing at the EU, and a visit to the European Parliament. Many in the Indian team found the short talk on the functioning of the EU Parliament by British Labour party member Richard Corbett particularly interesting. National lines, he said, were often blurred in the EU Parliament, as members, cutting across countries, united on issues. This, then, was a live example of the merger of borders. Neena Gill, UK Member of Indian origin, spoke of immigrants' experience of politics.

The next day in Berlin on a guided tour of the Bundestag was an interesting experience for most of us, looking as we were at a significant chapter in history. And on the other side of the Bundestag we could see the making of a slice of contemporary history. This was carnival time in Berlin, and a stadium - with colourful tents, flags and children playing football - celebrated the World Cup Soccer Championships then on in Germany.

Discussions followed later in the day with representatives of German unions - DJU and DJV. These were of great interest to most of us, for we were addressing common professional interests. Comparisons were drawn between the status of journalist unions in India, and those in Germany. It was pointed out that in many parts of India, journalists were better off two decades ago - when unions were stronger - than they were now. And the situation in the metropolitan cities of India - such as Delhi or Mumbai - was far better than that in the smaller cities or towns.

Equal work for men and women, the hosts pointed out, was an issue that journalists' unions were campaigning for in Europe. The Indian team pointed out that the disparities were stark in India, too. The highest salaries were in the hands of men, for few women held the top-most positions in media organisations in India. The fact that sexist biases exist in most parts of the European Union was a leveller of sorts for the Indian team. Our experiences, we learnt, were often similar. Are women represented equally in the governing bodies of the unions, a member of the Indian team asked. No, they were not equally represented - but they were better represented than before, we were told.

The team enjoyed a round of discussions with Ulrike Helwerth of the National Council of German Women's Organisations - not just because one of the issues: the threat of an increase in trafficking for the World Cup championship, evoked a heated debate, but because of the ease and humour with which the speaker tackled all issues.

We landed up in London, on the last leg of our trip, and had an invigorating meeting with members of the National Union of Journalists - including Michelle Stanistreet, Jeremy Dear and Jim Boumelha. There were several rounds of discussions, with local journalists as well as some who had worked out of India. The interaction with the Black Members Council highlighted the point that discrimination - it may be race in Britain, or caste in India, or of the sexes in both countries - is a real problem in the north and in the south. The recent stir on reservations in India had reopened an old question: were there any editors of mainstream media organisations who were Dalit - the so-called lower caste? There was a mirror-image question to be asked in London. Did any of the mainstream media bodies in UK have a black editor?

The discussions were rich, as was the informative tour of the UK Parliament. Did any of us know, for instance, that two suffragettes locked themselves in a broom closet in the UK parliament, a day before a national census, to be able to write against the column 'Where were you last night?' the symbolic truth - 'In Parliament House'. The trip was rounded off by a tour of BBC world service, where multi-cultural and gender equality got a big thumbs up, for our interaction was with journalists - many of them women - who had come from different parts of South Asia.

There were light moments, too. Our first evening - a rainy, well-lit night - in Brussels was memorable for the hospitality of Brussels-based journalist Nawab Khan. The Indian ambassador, Dipak Chatterjee, hosted a sumptuous dinner for us the next evening at his residence. We had a leisurely lunch by the river spree in Berlin one sunny day, saw a different aspect of life in Brussels when we walked through the multicultural quarters of the city (speaking happily in Hindi with some immigrants), and enjoyed an evening with friends from the National Union of Journalists at a typical English pub.

It was a trip that we enjoyed, and one that was greatly instructive as well. And the wonderful thing is that the tour is not quite over - we continue to carry vignettes of it with us.

Members of the Delegation:

1. Bishakha Dey Sarkar, The Telegraph, Delhi

2. Aruna Singh, freelance, Delhi

3. Sarvesh, freelance photojournalist, Delhi

4. Geetashree, Outlook, Delhi

5. Abha Sharma, Deccan Herald, Jaipur

6. Ankita Singh, Bhaskar TV, Jaipur

7. Chaitrali, Tarun Bharat, Pune

8. Vidhulata Saxena, Aurat, Bhopal

9. T.N Seena, Deshabhimani, Kerala

10. Sandhya Taksale, Saptahik Sakal, Pune

11. Pratibha Shukla, Jansatta, Delhi

12. Seema Faizee, Sahara Samay, Delhi

13.Rohini Mundaje, Prajavani, Bangalore

14. Vishalakshi Akki, Prajavani, Bangalore

15. Snehlata Shrivastava, The Hitavada, Nagpur

16. Neetu Naik, Sahara Samay, Mumbai