This article was originally written for and sent to TheHoot.org, a media watch portal. But the editor of the portal has responded with the following questions: “Will be able to see the video only tomorrow or day after and then i will assess you piece, but the personal behaviour of a reporter which is politically incorrect is not a matter for comment on the site. How she shaped her story, yes that is relevant but how do I take one journalist’s word for it? Were other journalists present from reliable publications/channels?”- Editor
It was August 18th, 2013 in Sirkepadi village of district Raygadha, Odisha where the cameras of NDTV rolled to catch one of the most unreported tribes of India typically known as Dongria Kondh. It was around 4.30 in the evening when we saw a white scorpio being parked outside this small tribal hamlet of just 11 homes (NDTV says 10). A smart lady in off-white shirt and black trousers rushed inside the village with her cameraman and assistant following. The village that was in usual peace till then- just a few tribal women and children, some cultural activists from Lok Sangram Manch, some leaders of anti-Vedanta movement and few journos (two from DD News, one from Odiya “Samdrishti” magazine, a freelancer who accompanied me from Delhi and two independent researchers)- all of a sudden ran helter-skelter. We were introduced to the lady as reporter of NDTV Anchal Vohra. She was initially busy ascertaining the identities of outsiders gathered there and all of her men were on prowl clicking on the unusual faces of Dingria Kondh, making way into their narrow hutments and following mam’s orders.
At that time no one including myself knew the purpose of just one private channel i.e. NDTV getting into the awesome wilderness of Niyamgiri hills to cover the last Gramsabha in a nearby village Jarpa scheduled the other day. At the outset, anyone there would have been pleased at the sight of NDTV team in an undescript tribal hamlet, thinking at least there is someone who cares about these almost unreported tribals and has come 1700 kilometres far away to cover a judicial process that may prove to be a final nail in the corporate coffin of mining giant Vedanta which had invested 40,000 crores in nearby Lanjigarh, but seemingly all in vain. DD News was there, but that is altogether different story. It was primarily the result of choice and concern of senior reporters Ritu Verma and Manjit Thakur that they had come all the way to cover this event. So, Sirkepadi was a sort of base camp for moving to Jarpa next morning. Here everyone was supposed to stay this night. But the story would not have been if “everyone” was sans NDTV!
Let’s directly come to the video i.e. the program telecasted on NDTV’s “India Matters” named Battle for Niyamgiri(see on NDTV website). In this more than 20 minutes video, what Anchal shows us, narrates and infers is basically a concocted and manipulated version of what happened there. Just keep aside interpretations and journalistic analysis, the very facts that Anchal mentions in her narration are false. Watching the video, the first sticky note comes at 2:01 when the reporter pronounces “Udisha” instead of Odisha. This is repetitive throughout. Let’s not mind this, move to 4:26 on timeline when NDTV team enters Sirkepadi village. The reporter says. “We are greeted by the villagers with a Lal Salam and a revolutionary song, one they have learned from a communist booklet”. Actually what happened, when she entered the village, local leader Bhalchandra Shadangi greeted her usually and introduced to others. Anchal asked, “Aap log Lal Salam nahin bolte?” (Don’t you greet with a Lal Salam?) Mr. Shadangi promptly replied, “Wo hum apne sathiyon se kahte hain, aap to bahar ki hain…”. (That is the greeting within our comrades, you are an outsider) So, there was no Lal Salam, as the reporter seems to satire at in her story.
The very next shot is a drummer singing song and some girls standing around. This is clever editing indeed. Before she had reached, the cultural team had completed its rehearsal and was resting. At least not before an hour passed that the song and drums started, that too on her personal request to shoot. So there was no greeting with “Lal Salam” and “revolutionary song”, as the reporter claims. As far as the “communist booklet” is concerned, it is a grave irresponsibility on her part that she credits a local Odiya song dedicated to Niyamgiri to “communist booklet”. This is indeed a prejudiced script. We had heard the same song in Rajulguda village that is situated on the foothills of Niyamgiri and our bilingual activist companion Angad had translated the complete text that is devoted to Niyamgiri hills and against Vedanta company. This song is a result of a decade long movement, not the legacy of communist movement.
Let’s move ahead. At 7:45, we could see a bonfire, drumbeating and some locals dancing around it. It was again at the request of the reporter that the bonfire was made and activists were asked to dance so that some “revolutionary touch” may be provided to the whole story. However, in the same sequence, one could see Anchal with a “pattal” (plate made of leaves) and saying, “These people are poor but kind enough to feed us their share of rice”. And with a compassionate face, she asks for some rice in her plate and says, “Bus Bus, thank you”. The camera quickly moves towards the dancing team and bonfire where reporter says, “Tonight they are preparing a cultural program for the D-Day…”. Again clever piece of editing that misses out the basic morale of the whole story, of which everyone there including was witness of. Actually, she passed on her plate to someone else as she was not ready to eat that food. She had Marygold biscuit packets inside her cab that came out after we had completed our food. Before this, when she was told by Bhalchandra that they will have to eat the local food only, she asked in awe, “Hum gareeb logon ka khana khayenge to hamare upar inka karz nahin chadh jayega?” (We will be indebted if we eat these poor peoples’ share). Then Bhalchandra replied, “koi baat nahin, aap in adivasiyon ke paksh mein story likh kar inka karz chuka dijiyega”. (No problem, you undebt yourself by doing a positive story on tribals). Here, not just me, many were witness to this conversation when Anchal gave the final verdict, “No, No, inke paksh mein likhna to unethical hoga”. (Writing in their favour will be unethical)
After this almost half video, NDTV cameras move to Jarpa on 19th morning where last Gramsabha was to be held. It’s of no use writing the fact that I was repeatedly insisted by the lady to take her snaps with tribal women and girls. Once she was almost abused by young tribal girls when she was insisting them for a photo- op in their narrow hutment. She calmly turned her back. After all it was a request from a fellow journalist, so I took a few comfortable snaps and also mailed to her after returning to Delhi. But it was disturbing to know that the same day i.e. on August 19th, when Jarpa had voted out Vedanta from Niyamgiri, Dr. Pronnoy Roy was sharing dias with Mr. Anil Agrawal in Hotel Leela at Delhi to launch a joint campaign to save girl child.
The story of Vedanta-NDTV tie-up is a chrony narrative of corporate interests, so not much to cry about. I am more worried about journos like Anchal Vohra who with all superficial compassion and in-built hatred sellout poor indigeneous peoples for their group’s interests. Why should we cry for these heftly paid byte collectors and manipulators if some of these are really chopped off in the name of recession? Any second thoughts?