Making Inroads for the Others
If ever there was a profession suited for women it most certainly is journalism. Women are by nature sensitive, compassionate and lovers of honesty - all attributes needed to be a good journalist. Which is why there are more and more women in the print and electronic media today all over the world. Compared to even neighbouring countries however, the number of women in the news media in Bangladesh is still significantly low and even lower in the newsrooms. Women journalists still have to face discrimination, harassment and deprecation in their work environment. Yet in spite of the chauvinism and constant struggle to prove their worth, there are those who have survived the sexist comments and lack of recognition, holding on to their profession tenaciously and bravely. SWM speaks to a few of these courageous women who have stayed on in this challenging profession and are making inroads for the next generation of women journalists.
Mustafa Zaman, Elita Karim, Hana Shams Ahmed, Shamim Ahsan, KAJALIE SHEHREEN ISLAM and Aasha M. Amin
Taking the First Step
Nurjahan Begum- a pioneer in getting women's voices heard
It was 1947. The British were leaving the then Indian subcontinent. The political stage was full of tension and uncertainty over the coming partition between India and Pakistan. People were crossing over borders in the thousands leaving their ancestors' homes. The bloody Hindu-Muslim riots that raged through the subcontinent also deeply affected people's life in this region.
It was at this juncture that "Begum", the legendary Bangla weekly was published, just one month before the partition.
While women's working outside the four walls of the house is still frowned upon by the society, it is not difficult to imagine the formidable obstacles faced by women wanting to go out of the house in search of stories at that time. It was especially difficult for Bangali Muslim women of the time for whom social stricture was compounded by religious sanction.
But Nurjahan Begum, the editor of the weekly, was extremely lucky on that count. Her father, renowned journalist and editor of the monthly Shawgat, Mohammad Nasiruddin, was a progressive, forward-thinking man and wanted her daughter to be the same. He also did not believe in the social customs like observing purdah. "When I came to Kolkata," reminisces Nurjahan Begum, "my father, to the utter dismay of my mother, had my nose-pin taken off and my hair sheared into a 'China bob' cut!"
Nasiruddin also made sure that his daughter got a good, well-rounded education.
Nurjahan Begum went to Begum Rokeya's Sakhawat Memorial School. Nurjahan loves to reminisce her days in that school. "I had a wonderful childhood," she says. "We did everything, from singing and dancing to acting." She even wrote, directed and acted in college plays. "But it was all within the walls of the school and college," she recalls. She did her Bachelors in ethics, philosophy and history from Lady Brabourne College in Kolkata.
It was her father's inspiration and encouragement that brought her into journalism and later her husband, renowned journalist Rokunnuzzaman Dadabhai, who gave her support to pursue her passion for journalism.
Begum was received very well. There was hardly any magazine, if any, exclusively for women. Begum readily filled that much needed vacuum. Women from all over the country wrote volumes of letters where they not only gave feedback on the various writings published in the magazine, but also wrote about their own ideas and expressed opinions on all sorts of issues. In Begum, Nurjahan offered a unique platform where women could write about women's rights, how women are discriminated, a woman's status in the family and society, their social status, female education etc. Begum developed as the mouthpiece of the women of this part of the world and played a crucial part in advancing women's liberation. It also deserves credit for nursing young women writers. For more than half a century, Jahanara through "Begum" has relentlessly fought to bring Bangali, especially Bangali Muslim women, out from behind the closed walls of their homes and into the wider, changing society of which they are part.
It was not easy to run a women's magazine where only women could write. "There were not many women writers around and hardly any women photographers. But we still managed to bring out an issue every week," Nurjahan reminisces.
Though women are not exactly aplenty in journalism yet, they have certainly started to embark upon this demanding job of a journalist. As for work environment, it is still difficult for women to be in journalism, Nurjahan believes. "Safe transport problems and lack of security are the main problems facing women journalists today," she says. "In the old days, my friends and I used to go watch the 9 o'clock show at the movies, which would end at midnight (albeit with her father)," she recalls. "It can hardly be thought of in our country today."
Women are much more insecure and much less free today, believes Nurjahan Begum. "Sometimes I wonder whether it's a conspiracy to hold women back," she says.
Nurjahan Begum did many things at a time when it was much less easy than it is today, and what many women would not have the courage or determination to do even today.
The goal of Begum as a publication and of Nurjahan Begum has always been to take women forward, by informing and involving them in the society they dwell in and contribute to. "There will always be problems we will have to face," says Nurjahan Begum. "There will always be religious conflict, social bindings and people trying to hold us back. We can lie low for a while, but ultimately, we have to move forward," she says. "It's the only way to go."
A Continuous Struggle
Mahmuda Chowdhury, diplomatic corespondent at Dainik Din Kal also covers just about anything from politics, agriculture to cinema and human rights and has been in the profession for over three decades. For her being a journalist is a life-long passion, one that she has had to struggle and fight for. Although from a conservative family, Mahmuda even as a little child was always surrounded by books, journals and newspapers. Her father was a doctor and paternal uncle a political activist who was constantly reading and encouraging his niece to delve into books. But it was also her mother who got her interested in the world of journalism. "My mother used to avidly read the newspaper the first thing in the morning and was always reading whatever journals or magazines she could find," says Mahmuda. Curiosity prompted little Mahmuda to find out what was so interesting in the papers and before she knew it she was hooked. "My father wanted me to be a doctor but I always dreamt of being a journalist."
Her good grades in science encouraged her to study harder but right after her HSC exams she was married off changing the course of her life. Mahmuda desperately wanted to continue studying and got admitted at Dhaka University's Botany department and was in her second year when her first daughter was born. Mahmuda managed to complete her BSC from Jagannath College but it was difficult to continue as her child would often get sick and depressed. She had to give up continuing studying (she got admitted to Dhaka University to study Zoology) as her absence was beginning to have serious psychological effects on her child. But a break in academic study did not stop Mahmuda to read and go on reading, from textbooks she borrowed from her friends, books on political science, sociology, psychology and Bangla literature as well as film magazines and of course newspapers. She even managed to take a journalism and film appreciation course from the Dacca Film Institute affiliated with British Film Institute and run by Alamgir Kabir. Later in the early 80s she took a course in Bangladesh Film Archives and Film Institute.
Mahmuda Chowdhury- pursuing a life-long passion
When Mahmuda and her husband moved to Maghbazar she was approached by a neighbourhood friend, Dil Monwara Monu then assistant editor of weekly Begum, a women's magazine, to write for it. The first story she wrote was in 1978, a heartfelt tribute to Zahir Raihan, the talented film maker on the anniversary of his disappearance in '72. Begum's editor Nurjahan Begum encouraged her to write more on celebrities and with valuable tips from her friend Dil Monwara, Mahmuda soon embarked on a career that she had so coveted. Mahmuda became a staff writer for Begum doing interviews and starting a film page and an agony column.
In 1981, Mahmuda bumped into Alamgir Kabir, her teacher from the Film Institute who was disappointed that she had not entered into mainstream journalism. Kabir introduced her to Bichitra's editor Shahadat Chowdhury and it was in this popular weekly that Mahmuda started writing fiery film reviews that caught the attention of the readers as well as colleagues. Her witty review of the film Saudagar became the cover story and soon she became well known for her sharp and rather unusual style of writing . Mahmuda also dabbled with film writing scripts and even making a short film. Around '86 Mahmuda started working for Ananda Bichitra but was disappointed when she was not made a regular staff member. In 1988 Mahmuda joined ADAB and became assistant editor and later acting editor of its monthly journal Dev Features. Mahmuda quit this job and 1990 joined World View International as a videographer giving training on participatory video.
But Mahmuda did not find this job challenging enough and was itching to use her journalistic skills. Mahmuda was offered a job at Robbbar, a weekly of the Ittefaq group. But the editor of Bichitra persuaded her to stay on at his weekly. It was then that she got her first big break getting exclusive interviews of Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina after the mass anti-Ershad movement of 1990 for a cover story in Bichitra's special annual publication.
The next year Mahmuda joined the Daily Dinkal as a reporter but was assigned to be in charge of the women's page and film page and doing press releases. "I was very irritated but the chief reporter Shawkat Mahmud told me to be patient and later gave me serious assignments," says Mahmuda. She started covering rallies and meetings of left-leaning political parties which was just what she wanted having leftist ideals herself. It was at that time that Mahmuda got a whiff of the fact that CPB (Communist Party of Bangladesh) was about to break up. She promptly got an interview of one of the CPB leaders and the story was printed along with the leader's picture as a front page story the next day. The CPB stalwart denied his quotes in the story and Mahmuda was called by her editor to explain. But all the quotes were in her notes and Mahmuda was off the hook although a small rejoinder was printed in one of the inside pages just to pacify the leader. CPB did eventually split and it was Mahmuda who broke the news.
Being a woman reporter says Mahmuda is a constant challenge no matter how many years of experience one may have. "Every time a new news editor or chief reporter came, I have had to prove my worth all over again. Even though I have been doing a particular beat for years, a new chief reporter would try to put me to the desk or ask a junior reporter to accompany me as if I couldnt do the job myself. So I have had to fight with them."
For Mahmuda the fight to assert her position continues. She says that women journalists constantly have to face unsavoury gossip and sometimes harassment; but it is important to establish a good rapport with some male colleagues. "They trust me and will even fight for me," says Mahmuda.
Mahmuda adds that it is also difficult for senior women journalists like her to get jobs as most newspapers and TV channels want young female reporters. Mahmuda, however is not too bothered by the lack of job prospects. She is more interested in encouraging and promoting younger women to join the profession. "It is important for women journalists to be united, to interact and fight for their rights together," says Mahmuda. "Women journalists have to earn their respect; they have to be patient. There are many talented women in journalism but they have to stick with it. I think the future is very bright for them; women cannot be held back."
Creating a path with our footprints
Nasmun Ara Haque-defying conventional expectations
It was the time when women were hardly seen on the work front and taking up journalism as a profession would be the last thing they would think of. Nasimun Ara Haque had just joined The Daily Sangbad office at the news desk. She was asked after a few days whether she would be able to work the night shifts. There was just one woman before who had worked night shifts. Nasimun Ara, a brave woman coming from a journalism background, agreed unfalteringly.
Nasimun completed her Masters in Political Science from Dhaka University and joined them Soviet Embassy. She worked there for five years in the embassy periodical. During those five years it was always on her mind that she wanted to do something different. In 1979 she found the right break and joined The Daily Sangbad office at the news desk. She worked there for 13 years. For the last nine years she has been working at The Daily Janakantha as a shift-in-charge at the news desk.
Nasimun is very specific about why she chose such a distinct profession. "If a woman wants to work, she is expected to take up a teaching job. It's a safe job for a woman. I never wanted to stick to this tradition."
Over the years the security condition has hardly changed for the journalism profession. For women it is an even bigger problem. Nasimun was at an even bigger risk as she was working night shifts. Work at these night shifts sometimes concluded at 12AM and sometimes went on to as late as 3AM. "There was no particular time limit. I could only come back once the work was completed," she says.
This was during Ziaur Rahman's regime when there were regular curfews at night. She recalls when one day she was coming back from work with some of her male colleagues very late at night in an auto-rickshaw and a bunch of young men held them up with knives and daggers. "It was a very terrifying experience for me and after
that I decided not to go back to work," she recollects, "but eventually I was back on the scene."
"I have never had any problems about working as a journalist with any of my family members," says Nasimun. Her husband is the literary editor at The Daily Sangbad and has always stood by her. "I have never heard anyone of my in-laws' say anything about my work. As for other relatives and neighbours, they have never said anything to my face."
Wherever she has worked so far, her male colleagues have been very easy-going. She never felt under-estimated from when she first joined but she agrees that men find it very difficult to accept a woman as a superior. She also says that this easy-going behaviour is sometimes hard to define because although men show that they accept women as their equal, underneath they are not really comfortable. "When a man makes a mistake", Nasimun says, "he is excused by the fact that everyone makes mistakes, but when a woman makes a mistake it is turned into a big deal. No one likes qualified competitors and when that person is a woman she is put under further scrutiny."
Nasimun believes that it is also very important for women to enter the media because women by nature are more honest, caring and sincere. "Women will fight for good governance and human rights," says Nasimun, "I'm not saying that men do not have these qualities but women have it in them naturally and media is the best means of exercising these qualities."
Even though more women are coming to the media these days, there is still a lot of discrimination even in this field. "Most women are still assigned to cover women's issues and seminars," says Nasimun, "but I know of women who are doing extremely well in mainstream reporting. Shahnaz Begum of the Independent is one such person working as a political reporter. Women, Nasimun believes, are missing out on proper training and opportunities. "Through the Bangladesh Nari Shangbadik Kendra (a centre for women journalists of which she is the president) we are setting up workshops and giving training to women," says Nasimun, "we are also trying to set up a rule for there to be at least 25% women journalists in every newspaper".
She believes that as more women start coming into this field, they will create a balance in the work environment. "Although since the 70s and 80s many women have come into the work front, the society of the country is still backward. People are still curious about women's involvement with the media," says Nasimun, "The electronic media has opened up vast opportunities for women journalists to confirm their rightful status. I think of the process as an empty ground. A path is automatically created when we start walking there regularly. And one day this path will turn into a highway. More women need to come forward to make this happen."
"Women are still there to fill up the gaps"
Seated in her small office room in Iqbal Road, Tasmima Hossain, the editor of Anannya, plans out various events to be carried out the following week with a colleague. After a last minute decision regarding colours, flowers and the other little elements to be used, she finally takes a moment to catch her breath and move on to the next item in her schedule.
"I was always a mischievous child and would always manage to shock everyone around me," she smiles. "I was the black sheep in the family, always very vocal about my thoughts, would fight rowdy boys on the street and had learnt to drive the car at a very young age," she adds. "At the time when I was growing up, these would certainly worry any parents to exhaustion!"
After getting married into the family running the Daily Ittefaq, Tasmima eventually got an opportunity to be exposed to the world of media and printing business. "I was just 19 when I was married," she remarks. "and very opinionated about everything. I continued with my studies and looked after the household. Often, I used to accompany my husband to the office and watch him work late at night. When my husband had gone abroad to purchase machinery, I had to look after his work at office for a while."
Managing the family business and learning the trade gave her enough confidence to start something of her own. "Everyone wants a little bit of credit for his or her own potential and I knew that I had the potential to do something on my own," And thus, in 1988, began Anannya, a fortnightly publication that voiced women's issues and expressed their innermost thoughts. "We discuss about many issues that a woman faces in the society in Anannya, other than articles about cooking, design or fashion." She adds. "We also bring those women into the limelight who have successfully built a niche for themselves in fields of photography, art, business, politics, media, journalism, medicine etc."
Of course, having this publication come to being was not as easy as it sounds. "The first question that I was asked was why I needed to do it," she says. "I didn't need the money. The household and the children required my attention. Why would I waste my time on this? When I realised that I would never get the positive assurance that I was looking for, I just went ahead and started off with my own savings." Tasmima rented the first floor of her widowed sister's building and began the work with just three in the house. "It was just me, Mohammed Jahangir and a professional accountant," she says.
Some of the female staff working for the publication face problems while gathering stories or information regarding their stories. "But they make their own choices, decisions and go on with their work," she smiles.
How did she balance out her work and her household? "I used to start my work after 4 pm every day," she remarks. "Of course, my children were very important and their upbringing was something that was on my mind. I would drop and pick them up from school, make sure that they did their homework properly, had their meals and spend some quality time with them. However, I would always move on to my work after getting done with all that. My work was something that made me feel satisfied and confident about myself."
Tasmima was never trained to be a journalist; rather she had become actively involved in politics at one point of time later becoming an MP. "I would make things go, make them work, take decisions and think through what I was going to do next," she says. "It's very sad to see that even today women don't grab on to the opportunities only because of lack of confidence in themselves and the uncertainty of the consequences she will have to face after taking a certain decision. Every woman is expected to be the silent partner or just a mere observer, as was my mother, her mother before her and as I was expected to as well. It's surprising how women in this society still have the stamina to stay mum and watch all the wrongdoings around her."
Now a mother of four daughters and also a grandmother, she encourages the young generation, especially young girls to start thinking seriously about what the future holds for them. "Women are still used to fill up the gaps and that should stop," she exclaims. Everyone is born with a brain, the desire to do something in life, to feel good about themselves."
"Make your own decisions"
Growing up in the Dhaka University campus (her father was a university professor), Samia Zaman was well exposed to her surroundings filled with culture, politics and a spur of activities going on every now and then. "I was also inspired by a lot of people there who were vocal and expressive in their own ways," she says.
A household name, Samia Zaman is known as the smart, classy reporter and newscaster of ETV, the very first private television channel in Bangladesh, which was eventually shut down for political reasons. She started out her career as a producer at the BBC International World Service in London in 1989. In 1987 Samia had worked in the film, 'Suchona' with Morshedul Islam as an assistant. "I was always willing to learn, work and experiment in various projects," she exclaimed. "So I grabbed this opportunity and took every advantage of it."
As a person, Samia hardly ever faced any kind of obstacle regarding her work, since she had learnt to carve her own path in her own way, "I had learnt very early that you have to be your own boss," she explains. "Otherwise, you will have just about every Tom, Dick or Harry taking advantage of you."
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain
Working in a 'man's world', she had seen several female colleagues of hers unable to stand up to various kinds of verbal abuse. "Female journalists seem to experience some common problems in their profession," she explains. "Their ability is always questioned merely because of their gender. Very little is expected from them especially when a late night report is to be done. The sad part is that the women are still told to do everything even in their work areas. They are hardly ever consulted with before taking a decision."
While working as a journalist in London with the BBC, she talks about the meticulous training she and her colleagues received. "Everyone had to go through several stages to confront all kinds of issues in one's career," she says. It's different for a female reporter here. One has to think twice before handing over an assignment to a woman. Will she be able to communicate properly, will she be able to handle the technical aspects of the assignment, will she be able to defend herself when the need arises to and so on. "However, we simply have to stop thinking so much and just move on with what we want to do at that particular moment."
As she moved on to film production from journalism, her experiences shifted to a different mode. "There was a young girl who wanted to work with me in my film," she relates. "She was very enthusiastic about it and very eager to work immediately. My crew and I were going for outdoor shooting for about 10 days and asked the girl to prepare for it. As I figured a long time ago, she dropped out a day before the trip because her parents would simply not hear of it. What saddened me was that about 20 years ago, I had gone on a similar outdoor shoot with Morshedul Islam to work on the set with him. It's a wonder how two decades later, women still have to depend on others to decide their fate and what they should or should not do."
A mother of three daughters herself, she believes that a proper balance between work and home is in fact very encouraging for children. "I fixed my schedule in such a way that I could easily balance between my work and home," she says. "In fact, my children are helping out in my current film production after school and they are very excited about it!"
A woman does not have to be the best in anything she does, says Samia. "Since women are taking up unconventional career choices as opposed to the family's decisions, she is always expected to be a superwoman," she says. "In that case, I would probably be a super-reporter, a super-newscaster, a super-film producer and a super mom which is impossible!"
"Make your own decisions and suffer the consequences of the mistakes that you make," is the motto that Samia Zaman lives by.
"Men are still confused about how to respond to a female colleague"
--Luva Nahid Choudhury
She joined the Bengal Group in the year 1998 after leaving ten years of government service. Graduating from BUET in architecture with flying colours, the obvious decision for Luva Nahid Choudhury was to work as an architect. "The good part about being in the government service is that you learn to appreciate things more in life," she says. "A private service holder would never realise it, since he or she has almost everything to his or her beck and call, unlike a government service holder who sometimes has to go through the ordeal of having no chair or a stapler in the office." This, according to Luva, not only makes her appreciative as a human being, but also helped her grow as a woman in the society.
In-charge of glitzy and trendy publications - Ice Today, Jamini and Kali o Kalam, Luva balances out her options in life and makes choices according to her own judgement.
"If we talk about a woman's plight in society, then we would have to take some time and gaze out of our windows at the women who work at constructions sites, garment factories and at people's homes," she says. "Most of them are very young and already single parents. One can just imagine the everyday ordeals they have to face in order to survive the world." A single parent herself, Luva has a teenaged son. "At least an hour a day with your child would make all the difference in the world," she exclaims. "One just has to figure out a way to do it between work and home," she smiles.
Unlike her fellow mates at school and college, Luva had very encouraging parents who were always supportive of her schooling and career decisions. "My mother, who recently retired, was a school teacher and was always serious about my schooling," she says. "I was always an only child and hardly faced any kind of problems at home regarding my education or the other activities that I was always involved in."
However, living in a four-walled society, does put thoughts into the minds of confident women. "I think men simply do not know how to deal with women," she explains. "Most of them are still not used to women working with them in the same office, how to handle a situation where a woman colleague is involved or how to respond to a journalist who simply happens to be a woman."
According to Luva, it is up to the woman to make her position prominent in society and to build her own platform with the limited resources that she has. "Today every other man on the street is used to seeing women coming out of their factories after office hours and walking home," she adds, "Even a few years ago, this was not the case. There were a lot of women getting eve teased or mentally tortured on the streets which would keep most of them away stuck at home. However, the more women come out today, the more accustomed men become to them."
Luva mentions the many women who work in her office. "We have had situations where a young journalist had gone to cover an assignment and her mother would be worried the whole time, calling the office every now and then trying to figure out what is going on," she says. "We have had women working on reports at the office with very disappointed husbands waiting at home. However, these hurdles did not stop them from doing their jobs. They, in turn, went on with what they had in mind and tried to balance out their lives at home as well."
One should know what one is worth, says Luva. "Every woman should realise what her potential is and work on it accordingly," she says. "If you want to speak your mind and show the world what you are underneath all your so called frailty, then you cannot depend on others to provide you with all the luxury. You have to earn it yourself."
"All women need is an agreeable environment"
Shumana Sharmin bringing real issues to the forefront.
Shumana Sharmin decided on her future course at an early age. She was a student of class nine when she came to the realisation that her métier was in the field of journalism. "I was weak in math and it helped me to decide on my career much early on. My father Dr Shakhawat Ali worked as a journalist before finally taking up the profession of teaching; as a child that had an influence on me," says Sharmin.
Her career in journalism was launched in 1991 by way of joining as a sub-editor at the reporters' desk in the daily Ajker Kagoj. In 1992 she joined the then newly launched daily Bhorer Kagoj. Two years went by working at the reporters' desk, and then came a proposition from the editor to start a weekly supplementary page solely for women. "My spirit sagged; I thought after graduating from the journalism department and working as sub-editor for years, I was being relegated to the 'in-charge' of a supplement that would cater only to women," Sharmin recalls her reaction to the scheme. But her mentor as well as the editor of Bhorer Kagoj Matiur Rahman pesuaded her by saying that the challenge that faced her was to introduce a new concept of a women's page. Sharmin successfully whittled out a new concept for women's page. She headed a page that she called Anyopokhkho, meaning "the other party" and it hinged on journalistic reports and other newer ideas that strove to dispel the very concept of women as having a house-bound, attenuated existence.
"The first lead that we decided on was titled 'why should not there be a page for men?' and a cross section of celebrities both men and women contributed," Sharmin recalls. In her effort to break out of the stereotype she strove to fashion a women's supplementary page of which the contributors as well as the readers would be made up of both women and men. "I thought it would have to be relevant from the journalistic point of view, so I wanted the page to be a vehicle for hard-hitting reports on women-related issues," she adds.
In 1998, when a group of journalists broke away from Bhorer Kagoj to join the newly established daily Prothom Alo, Sharmin too tagged along and was given the charge of the women's page that was dubbed Narimancho and the lifestyle page called Naksha. Since then her name has become synonymous with the former which give in-depth writing on women's rights issues.
But is there a need for a separate page solely for women she says, "My realisation is this that there are many social issues that remain underreported in the main paper, and you need a special page for that. If there wasn't a women page there would be a lot of women-related issues that would not be addressed in the main paper." However, about the content of the women's page she is in favour of a clear dictum. "The approach would have to be journalistic," she says.
After years spent at the helm of Narimancha, Sharmin feels that her day-to-day emotional scenario has been reshaped. "Now I'm emotionally influenced by the plights of a lot of people. There are stories that we don't publish but I personally become involved in. Like a girl once called to ask for help in dissuading her parents from marrying her off at an early age, and I had to become involved. In fact we are providing advice to many women who are not willing to see their plights flashed across the pages of any newspaper but are in need of assistance," she says. So, Sharmin's Narimancha has not only become a means for publishing elaborate reports on social discrepancies it also has become a platform for her to get in touch with women in distress. "I've recently published a letter from a mother facing extreme financial hardship in my page, which is an exception, just because I felt that people would be willing to lend a hand if they saw it in print' she says. She was right; readers started to call Sharmin up to inquire about how they could help.
As her concern for people in distress make her extend her role, in the Prothom Alo, too, Sharmin's duty stretches beyond the two supplementary pages that she looks after. She is the deputy feature editor of the house, and all the feature pages that comes out fall under her jurisdiction.
Sharmin got married in 1992 and it was not until she had her child, a boy named Srijon with a congenital respiratory problem, that she started feeling the pangs of guilt for not spending enough time at home. Her four-year-old son needs constant looking after, and Shumana and her artist husband divide their time in their effort to provide the best of care. "I went to Oklahoma for a training course and found that the major daily of the city had women in three major posts and one of them left AP to join the daily. When I asked her why she did so she said that on the ground floor of the office there was a children's corner where she could leave her little child while at work," says Sharmin who feels that all women need is an agreeable environment "as they naturally posses the three qualities needed to pursue a career in journalism -- patience, a strong common sense and honesty."
A Voice from the Heart of the Crowd
A few months back, when Munni Saha interviewed Matiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, whose name is connected to war crimes, she started to get phone calls from well-wishers. They all wanted to be sure that no angry backlash befell her. "Everyone was caring. It can only happen in Bangladesh. It made me feel that I, as a reporter, belonged to the people," says Munni who as a child always wanted to be a doctor.
It was her failure to get admission in the medical college in 1986 that made her choose a different course. She completed her Bachelors in science from Eden College and enrolled in the department of journalism at the Dhaka University in 1989.
It was Naimul Islam, a senior student of the department who was always on the lookout for students with the ability to write, who initially helped Munni find her footing in the field of journalism. "When I was in the second year he asked me to join Ajker Kagoj and I went to the newspaper office and joined the next day," remembers Munni whose childhood mentor was her dada (brother) Dipak Shaha.
"Dada used to take photographs and it was I who used to give captions to his snaps. When I was in college I used to translate articles from foreign magazines as well as write pieces for children. My dada usually helped me to find newspapers that accommodated these write-ups," says Munni who was involved with the Kochikachar Mela, a cultural organisation, and was in the habit of writing since childhood.
What put her through proper grounding in journalism was her time spent in the daily Bhorer Kakoj. "I joined the paper when it was launched in 1992. There was a core group made up of young journalists, for all of them Bhorer Kagoj provided an opportunity for a kind of 'schooling' in journalism," recalls Munni who admits that even today she sometimes introduces herself over the phone as "Munni from Bhorer Kagoj".
Her young colleagues at Bhorer Kagoj who were in the core group are now holding important posts both in print and electronic media. "We all went through a slow step by step process in our ascent to today's position," says Munni who left the print media to join the then newly established television channel Etv in 1999. And it was not until 2003, one year after the closure of Etv, that she joined the ATN where she currently works as a reporter.
Though she feels that "one picture can tell a thousand stories" Munni still affectionately remembers the hectic days of jotting a story down while she was in the print media. "The job of putting down a thousand words in a hurry, or even cutting it down to fewer words to fill a certain given space is one thing I used to miss a lot at the beginning of my career in the electronic media," she says. However, she is happy with the situation that prevails in the electronic media which, she feels, is more accommodating to women journalists. "At Bhorer Kagoj, the authority felt that having one woman reporter at the desk was enough, the scenario is totally different in the electronic media where I work side by side with many other women," she says.
At Bhorer Kagoj, Munni failed to secure an important beat. "It was Matiur Rahman, the then Editor of the paper, who came up with the idea of 'women and children beat, especially for me,'" she recalls. After several years working for the paper her name become inseparable with the issues relating to women and children. It helped her earn considerable renown as a reporter. But whenever she ventured out to cover issues that had nothing to do with women and children, she was considered ill-equipped by many of his male counterparts. "I heard that a veteran journalist of Sangbad once expressed his disappointment when Bhorer Kagoj assigned me the job of covering the month-long book fair on the occasion of 21 February," she recalls. But she disproved her detractors by showing her prowess in other fields of interest. Since she always wanted to be a reporter who would choose her own subject, from the day she entered the domain of electronic media she let her employers know that she would be covering a wide compass of subject matter: and they agreed. From that point on she never had to look back and rue over what she missed out in the past.
Today, she is one of the most recognisable faces on TV, one who has touched the deepest recess of people's psyche by her distinct style of reporting and her extraordinary features. Yet, there are events that make her feel awkward, and also realise that all is not well in the state of our polity. "It was in 1995, when I went to cover a programme of the prime minister that I came to know that I was not allowed to attend the programme on the ground that people at the helm abhorred my presence," she recalls. "Till this day I am not allowed to attend the programmes that are attended by the prime minister. I realise now what being black-listed means, as I was not even allowed to cover the Saarc Summit," she says with a hint of dismay. But the widespread popularity that she has earned reporting on varied subject matters in the last two years far outweigh the disadvantages the ban has brought upon her.
Looking Boldly through the Lens
"This isn't true, anyone can become a photographer," retorts Farjana Khan Godhuli while faced with the question whether she feels lonely in a profession dominated by men.
She is a photographer who enamoured the camera at an early age. "As a child I always found the camera to be fascinating -- you press a button attached to the small box and it takes a picture -- this very idea was inspiring to me," says Godhuli. She has been a photojournalist for nine years. At present she works for the AFP.
As a child Godhuli's escapade with the camera was limited to taking family pictures. It was in 1994, after she appeared in the SSC examination, that she had the first chance to hone her expertise by enrolling in a course at Beg School of Photography. However, the year 1996 was a turning point for her. It was the time after the intermediate exam when she was lured by a proposition to take a course in photography that would later lead her to the path of professional photojournalism. "There was an advert announcing a course by the Photographic Association in a daily and I enrolled myself. The basic course was one-month long and I opted for that. At the end of the course there was show of all the students whose number stood at 68," she recalls. What really pickled her young mind at that time was that she stood second with her entry in the exhibition that followed. It was during the exhibition that she met Zahirul Haque, the photo editor of Janakantho. "He said if you really think you would like to pursue a career in photography you can join the Janakantho," she remembers.
But Godhuli did not follow suit. It was not until she met Haque a month later that she realised the prospect that lied ahead of her. On the insistence of Haque she kept visiting his Janakantho office. It was during one such visit that the editor of the paper confronted her. "He asked me to join Janakantho, and I did. Though at the onset my parents were skeptical about my future in photojournalism, I pressed on," she says.
"I was young and I resorted to all sorts of crafts -- from crying to even going without food for days on end," she remembers. After she received the parental nod things went her way. Now, she recalls how supportive her parents were throughout the years of her ascent to fame. She left the print media only to pursue her education. After obtaining an Honours degree in political science from National University she entered into a short course on reporting and editing. She thought she would turn to reporting and joined the Dailly Sangbad in 1999. But her temperament made her think twice.
"The feel was not right. The excitement of taking photographs didn't match the charm of writing reports," she now exclaims. After a two year stint she left reporting for good. She went on to complete her Masters and once she was back she was sure of herself and the pen was replaced by the camera forever. Her subsequent jobs -- one at Channel i for one month and the other at DRIK for eight months -- made her realise that her destiny was sealed with the camera.
She got married in December, 2001. And her husband, who is also a photojournalist, joined the AFP's Pakistan Bureau in 2003. His visits back home were few and far between. He has been supportive to the extent that once when Godhuli was hesitating to go abroad on a professional trip, which would have meant that he would not see her upon coming back home from Pakistan, he insisted that her professional duty take precedence.
Godhuli joined the AFP on September 2003. She turned her talent to good account by becoming a photographer for this international organisation.
She is considered something of an oddity among her fellow photojournalists who are mostly men. It is also for her dusky skin that she stands out in a crowd. She feels that for any woman it is the acceptance by the male counterparts that counts in the end; and the rest lies with the person who must have determination and confidence to make it through the highs and lows.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006