Local Challenges, Global Solutions
I come from North east India– a cluster of 7 hill states bordering China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh on 3 sides and mainland India on the other. Underdeveloped and largely inaccessible, this region is home to over a hundred tribes speaking over 800 languages, following 6 religions and are united by a single political sentiment: a strong anti-India stance.
There are dozens of armed separatist groups in the North east. Besides fighting the governments, they are also fighting each other over ‘homeland’ territories, control of the economy and a thriving drug trade.
It is against this backdrop that I report and it’s like playing with fire; whatever I write, may please one militant group and annoy another. Besides, there is the fear of the army linking me with a militant group and putting behind the bar.
I have been already kidnapped once, by a group of arms suppliers to a militant outfit. Luckily, I managed to break a window of the room they had locked me in and escape.
This is a challenge that has no quick- fix solution. So, I try to be careful: never travel without my mobile phone or my pocket size video camera, build a wide network of friends and, avoid being political as far as possible.
My second challenge is something that any development and environment journalist faces in a developing country: lack of space.
For years, I worked as a staff reporter and each day, it was a struggle. Sometimes, I was denied equipment (“live event, all cameras are busy”), sometimes, I faced straight rejection (“our readers won’t read this”) and, other times, neglect (“we did a similar story once already”). This summer I found a solution to this nagging challenge: work independently.
The challenge before me now is the proverbial daily struggle for ‘roti’, ‘kapda’ and ‘makan’ (bread, cloth and home).
My solution is a medley of actions: Research on issue-based media, pitch story ideas to the editors and develop a network of takers. Also, be more active on social media, be more regular with my personal blog (http://stellasmusings.blogspot.com) and Pulsewire, and write in the most popular citizens’ journalism sites. Of late, I have also started searching for journalism fellowships.
And this is how I have just got the biggest break of my life: win a contest to cover the forthcoming UN Climate Summit in Durban. I found the information online, applied and now, will be the first reporter from the North east - home to thousands of climate refugees – to cover the biggest exercise in fighting climate change.
I believe, becoming a VOF will help me get new writing assignments, expand my audience’s base, enable me to channelize my energy into telling more stories instead of hunting opportunities. Above all, it will help me tackle my biggest challenge ever:continue my journey towards the risky, but the urgent goal of making marginalized voices heard.