The untold story of NDTV’s Niyamgiri special!

Abhishek Srivastava

AbhishekAbhishek is a freelance journalist, translator, photographer and above all, an avid traveler. He has recently returned from Niyamgiri and is been writing about life and resistance movement there.

He blogs at junputh.com and can be contacted at [email protected]

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?

  • Simply Sayin

    This is a weak piece of writing and I do hope that the Hoot turns it down permanently. The author seems to have developed a personal dislike for the NDTV reporter, Ms. Vohra, who he also refers to as “mam” and a “smart lady in off-white shirt and black trousers”. What is the point of that I do not know.

    I think the crux of his argument (there is hardly any) is that Ms. Vohra said that it would be unethical to show the tribals in a positive manner. But you see, you have to put it into context. She only said this AFTER she was asked to undebt herself by showing the tribals in a positive manner.

    And eating Marigold biscuits or whatever is not a crime, I have done it a hazaar times, especially when I am traveling in rural India and am not used to the food being served. It may come out as rude to you, but it is much better than risking having an upset stomach on such a trip. The point is petty.

    Sorry, but I am not having it. You seem to have developed a personal dislike for her, maybe it is professional jealousy – but in no way was I convinced from this article that the author had “superficial compassion and in-built hatred”. Ha, I chalk it down it jealousy, she is wildly successful and you are struggling. I did watch the piece on NDTV, and I think it could have been much better. I think some senior activists from the area should have briefed her better.

    A better story would be why there were 7 outsiders inside a hamlet of 10-11 families plus the NDTV team that caused helter skelter, and how they were all their to exploit the tribals, albeit in different ways?

  • Amitabh Patra

    I also was there for some time, moving along with her in her cab… translating a few things, She told me that why they do not want development, they eat only rats !!! and all the time she was trying to hunt Mao & Naxal links asking everyone to take her to maoists as if maoists are roaming around to meet her and all those present there were maoists… on the way she was talking to her back office – “we are going to meet sexy SEXY dongria girls, keep in touch”. When I focussed my camera on her once she got irritated and responded – why are you capturing me ? If she can run behind tribal “SEXY SEXY” girls to catch them on her camera and that too when they are reluctant, how does she refuses to be caught on camera of anyone else ?

    • Just Sayin

      Wow, I think both the author and the commenter, who probably know each other given that they were both there at the time, have some serious issues with modern women.

      It is also hearsay, on both parts, one saying she was saying “Sexy sexy Dongria girls”, and the other saying she was a smart one with pants on. And seriously, if you think that a NDTV journalist is in Orissa seriously (or is it Udisha?) to film sexy Dongria girls, you need to have your head checked by a gynaecologist. Maybe you are not accustomed to interacting with women reporters, that too from urban areas, and having them cut jokes on their phone?

      There is nothing wrong with journalists wanting to meet with the so called Maoists and Naxals in such areas, especially if they are active. Any journalist worth their name would try.

      And just why the hell were you taking her picture? Was she the subject of your news reporting? You come off as a creep.

      I googled this man and he is identified as a journalist and a rural banker (probably microcredit loans that rip off the poor).

      But seriously, why were you taking her picture? Sexy sexy NDTV is it? Utter nonsense. Both of you.

      • Birsa

        Main stream media/journalism- big name , big lie, go on justifying your misdeeds

      • Ms Vohra.. why use fake names in commenting.. if you’re so proud of your paid journalism go ahead face the allegations and reply as what you are.

  • Udisha Udisha

    Your critique is that the NDTV reporter seemingly said Udisha? Get a life.

  • Seeker

    Simply sayin aka anchal vohra nice try 🙂

  • Kee Hocche

    You are described as a “freelance journalist, translator, photographer” in your bio above.

    Were you making any money from your assignment at Raygadha, Odisha? Yes or No?

    If not, just how do you allow yourself to be a “freelance journalist, translator, photographer” AND an “an avid traveler”? What is the source of your income?

    You accuse the NDTV reporter of “‘sellout’ poor indigeneous peoples”, which, by the way, is a wrong way to use sellout, and most Indigenous peoples I know want it capitalised as I just did, but nevertheless.

    Again, did you make any money from reporting in the Dongrias? Yes or No would suffice, and actually should have been made clear in your article attacking the NDTV reporter.

    Any sell out sir, on your part, I mean?

    BTW, just where is your story that you went there to get? Its been a while since you were there, NDTV has broadcast the story and another program with Vedanta, and now you have this story going, about NDTV. But where is the story that you and your friend went to get? Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Indian Express, Outlook, Frontline, where, where, where? I have not seen any, and I AM A SUPPORTER OF THE STRUGGLE IN NIYAMGIRI AGAINST VEDANTA.

    Your best rebuttal would be to post your own story or film or whatever, and see who is convinced by your version or not.

  • एक पाठक हैं -‘की होच्छे?’ यानि क्या हो रहा है। उन्हें अखबार और पत्रिकाओं के नाम पर सिर्फ अंग्रेजी पत्र-पत्रिकाएं दिखीं। दरअसल प्रोणोय रॉय किस्म की पत्रिका को भारतीय भाषाए नहीं दिख सकतीं । उनके लिए दिल्ली से प्रकाशित अखबार और पत्रिकाए ही ‘राष्ट्रीय पत्र-पत्रिकाएं’ हैं।उनमें लिखने वाले राष्ट्रीय स्तर के पत्रकार! इस आन्दोलन के दौरान वैकल्पिक मीडिया का भी विकास हुआ और उसका नमूना अभिषेक-द्वय की रिपोर्ट्स की कड़ियां देने के पहले दे रहा हूं। NDTV की कवरेज से तुलना उसी माध्यम से हो ।
    Only English dailies and magazines published from Delhi are ‘National periodicals’.Journalists who write for them are ‘National-level journalists. Kee Hochhe? Shudu Ingrajee dekhte parchho. Abhishek Srivastav and Abhishek Singhs reports are published in Janasatta,Dainik Jagran,Prabhat Khabar and Shukravar.The story published in Prabhat Khabar was the cover story in its Sunday Supplement. The movement has also helped in evolving alternative media and link to one such video clip is also being given.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLDLosiKMEI&feature=share
    http://epaper.jansatta.com/c/1538880
    http://epaper.jagran.com/epaper/29-aug-2013-262-edition-National-Page-1.html
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200292456306012&set=a.1579014327231.2070367.1591858246&type=1&theater
    http://prabhatkhabar.com/news/37895-story.html?fb_action_ids=10151927660483646&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

  • banbasi

    essentially these are the lesser of the perils of parachute journalism of the elite corporate media but nonetheless Abhishek’s write-up reveals the prejudices, condescendence and patronization inherent in upper class/caste city people against adivasi/dalit… her views about ‘poor tribals being large hearted to feed her’ and things like jumpin on people’s toes to get a pic clicked with ’em are all typical feudal tendencies, well the not so ugly side of feudalism i think… also, why expect a ndtv journo to be pro-people? ndtv has been promoting vedanta for a very long time but quite like ind nat congress also reserves some space for some sort of distorted representation of dissent… when vedanta built its illegeal refinery in lanjigarh ndtv flew down there with anal agarwal and featured him in ‘boss’s day out’ (essentially an uglier tv series than big boss or whatever)… that was way back… and i wonder what would we be like if a male NDTV journo was saying ‘i am checkin out sexy tribal girls’… that would have been a scandal then… its not just NDTV, a large number of media houses are openly siding with vedanta… indian express sent a journo who turned out to be fashion inspector and was utterly dismayed that people in tattered clothes were given the opportunity to kick out big boss… later his editor too puked out his utter agony that his friend anal was (interestingly the ind exp editor had flown down to niyamgiri with anal or ndtv)… begum tavleen of dilli durbar was also in tears for her dear friend naveen… while the grandmaster, his fuzziness, sir verghese has just delivered yet another banal op-ed.. he insists that bauxite hills should be bald… and he refuses to go to niyamgiri to be proved otherwise… poor fella… but surely anal agrwal got the media up his… err… sleeve for a long while now… there was a piece in tehelka a few years ago about the welfare they have brought to niyamgiri… and this was pre-essar/tata think fest… and wherever they cant get their press releases passed off as news they simply invest a lot in ads… why even down to earth became a carried of vedanta’s ads…

    • banbasi

      AND NOT TO FORGET NIRA RADIA-ACTIVE’S MACHINATIONS FOR ANAL.

  • dee bee

    Nice article. The NDTV documentary was not reporting at all!!!! It is a stage managed drama. Shameful.

  • Abishek

    The only outrage that I see here is that you call yourself a journalist. Because if you were you would be a shame to the trade. You are a man with an agenda.

  • Soumitra Bose

    We know Prannoy Roy – the filthy CPM stooge who goes around with the filthiest of rich and famous! that is what the real face of Prannoy Roy and his wife [ the sister or Brinda bannerjee alias karat]

  • Rohit

    Hi Abhishek

    Anchal claims that you are not posting her response to your story in comment section. https://twitter.com/anchalvohra/status/380946073876848641 Hope you allow other view to be heard.

  • UO

  • In Harms Way

    The serious problem I see on both sides is that you are still so brainwashed to use the imperialist, fascist and colonialist term “tribe” with such easy that you can not talk about this ethnicity by their real name and/or the rightful term for their nation or clan thereof but just refer to them in derogatory fashion as “tribals”.