There are days when the mind and heart are in clear conflict. It is that unsettling feeling of things not going as one envisaged.
The naxal attack on Doordarshan team and the security personnel has re-ignited my inner conflict that I presume every reporter goes through - the conflict of where to draw the line.
Just a day before the attack, at the vortex of the Naxal zone in Sukma district, 130 kilometers from Jagdalpur, I was in search of the most striking issues in the run up to the elections. It is the usual grind - maneuver dusty, cratered tracks passed off as roads, hop out at the sight of the most vivid visuals, speak to villagers to get their real stories, uncoloured bytes and occasionally recharge with a roadside snack and tea. That makes the day exciting for me away from Mumbai's loaded environment of meeting corporate executives, press conferences or covering stories from the mundane.
But very far, at a remote location away from that familiar bustle, when the locals warn you to be safe, the mind sends cautionary signals. It's a lurking risk. How much is too much? Can my crew pull it off with thing that makes a great story or am I being too brave for a situation that is highly sensitive? Can journalists be the target?
Our local guide in Dornapal was a newspaper reporter who was to accompany us to naxal affected villages 36 kilometres in to the interiors. His biggest caution was not to take help from local authorities. Having covered naxal villages in the past, I understand the need to be disassociated from government or security personnel to avoid any attacks. But, what if we are caught in a cross-fire?
With these thoughts circling my mind but a trust on my local source, my and a gut feeling that we will be fine, we began. Although reluctantly, my cameraman treaded along, too.
Travelling on practically non-existent roads, we crossed five CRPF base camps where every entry and exit into villages is recorded. On the way were signs, red banners, posters claiming the dominance of naxals in the region. We reached the zero voting village, met locals, recorded their voices and quickly left before dark to avoid any unnecessary attention towards our vehicle.
Head and heart were somewhere in conflict, still. We had travelled nearly seven hours on treacherous roads to spend just an hour and a half in Mukaram. There were so many stories to be told from the village, stories of the people, their trials and tribulations but we had no time. I knew I may not get another opportunity like this again, but...
I am an orthodox and a journalist with a mindset who believes that as a reporter one need to be ready to take some risks. Some risks to get the story that no one is telling, the story that shows the true picture -- be it of sand mafias, fake doctors, droughts, floods or farmers. In achieving all of this the camera crew has been the most crucial, my biggest support on ground zero, who absorb the risks along with me. They are the family away from home and since I have heard of the attack on DD cameraman Achyutanand Sahu, my inner conflict has taken centre-stage.
But, where do we draw the line especially when we have a team? If something happens to the cameraman, assistant or the driver, who will be responsible, I or the attacker?
If journalists keep fearing for their lives, we will be confined to our cozy cities and studios. Who will then tell these stories?
Inner conflict rages on even as I move out of Bastar.
Archana Shukla is the Assistant Editor-Rural Affairs, Healthcare at CNBC-TV18. She has won the Citi Journalistic Excellence Award (CJEA) for the year 2018, for her investigative series about cheaply available medical degrees that put the lives of patients at risk.
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