Opening the Doors

That journalists are certainly not equals I realised the very first day of walking into the portals of a news agency office in the early eighties. Striding into the large-lawned Lutyens office building of the United News of India in response to a letter to “come and meet the chief news editor” one was a bit petrified. It was the first foray in job hunting. Stepping into the noisy editorial room clanking
with loud teleprinters one handed over the letter to the CNE (chief news editor) busy in the corner of the room. He looked at the letter and then in disbelief at me clad in a saree: “No, but we have not called any girl,” he declared. He pointed out that my name was prefixed
with a “Mr.” in the application – something that had skipped my notice too. Adjusting his specs that had almost fallen off in shock, he gathered his wits to add benevolently, “But we have a written test on Tuesday. You may take it.” I am sure he hoped I wouldn’t come
but I did and sat with all the male applicants. I not only cleared it but topped making it that much more difficult for them to refuse. So it clearly was an entry by fluke and default in the male bastion, but staying on in journalism was diabolically both challenging and
smooth. Challenging because one had to constantly prove that one knew one’s job. Smooth because there always were many willing to teach and guide. In fact, one sensed that colleagues were always vying with each other to be the one to guide.
So, faring well in the male world was not exactly tough but rather pretty comfortable – probably by making them uncomfortable and compelling them to be at their best behaviour. Also, with time I realised that the male preference was not essentially out of prejudice, but more due to the necessity of manning, literally, the night and the graveyard extra night shifts. Soon that too was taken care of to a limited extent by making the girls work till midnight. And it was not long before the flood gates were opened for women in news agencies with more being
recruited consciously and not by default. And a time came when girls outnumbered the men at the Desk during day shifts. But for long, women remained confined to the editorial responsibilities till they once again proved their mettle by getting interesting exclusives while being at the Desk. Slowly they were moved to reporting and the bureau too where eventually it was a woman who headed the Bureau. Some accomplishment that was, and a long battle fought from the “No Entry” phase of the early eighties to the now “woman preference”
phase. All because the women proved and established their credibility, despite the bias, prejudices and the odds that they inevitably had to face. And their presence and supremacy in the media world now is something to be surely proud of

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