“In those times, you didn’t simply get the job, you had to work doubly hard to prove that you are as good as a man for doing the same job,” says Rashmi Saksena, who became India’s first woman crime reporter in 1971 when she started working as a journalist with Hindustan Times. She has recently published her first book, the subject of which well reflects her career as a crime-reporter—She Goes To War: Women Militants of India.

In a free-wheeling conversation with SheThePeople.TV, Saksena goes back to her crime-reporting days and also delves into why she wrote this book.

BREAKING GLASS-CEILING AND PROVING HER WORTH

About her time as a crime reporter, she says, “In those days in newspaper offices, the junior-most person got the crime beat. So when it came to me, everybody said that ‘oh, you’re a woman and you need not do it’, but I accepted it. I didn’t feel that as a woman I couldn’t do the crime beat. Let alone crime, when I became a journalist there were anyway very few women reporters. I was the third female reporter in the country back then.”

“So even otherwise I had to prove to everybody in the office that despite the fact that I am a woman, I can do any job and don’t require any concessions just by the virtue of my gender.”

first woman crime reporter
Rashmi Saksena at the Times Lit Fest-Delhi

COVERING CRIME

She remembers that while on the job, she learnt many things. However, she was treated differently because of her gender by the people who she dealt with mostly, like the police. “They would ask me what I was doing in the police headquarters. Questions like ‘what’s a woman’s job here?’ were common phrases there,” she recollects. Being a 21-year-old at the time, the first crime scene she was reporting for left her “a bit shook up” as she saw dead bodies. Reporting on crime also led to Saksena’s first brush with women criminals.

“Before I started doing crime reporting, men did not see the gender issue in crime. But since I am a woman, I was probably more sensitive towards recognizing it. My first experience of seeing a woman criminal was when a tragedy happened due to illicit liquor. Then my source told me that it was actually the women who supplied and brewed the liquor. My initial reaction was ‘no way! Women can’t do this sort of thing. Women won’t do something that could kill children etc’. My next encounter was the women in a red-light area and I found that the pimps in the brothels were women and they pushed other women into such jobs,” says Saksena.

She even interviewed the women dacoits who surrendered or were negotiating for it. Beyond crime, Saksena took up challenging assignments, including elections, insurgencies, international events, floods, Kashmir earthquake etc.

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After her stint with crime reporting, Saksena went on to work with several publications like The Sunday Mail, The Telegraph and The Week. Currently a consulting editor with The Hitvada, she is also on the Editorial Advisory Board of India Review & Analysis, a journal of the think tank, Society for Policy Studies.

WRITING ABOUT WOMEN IN MILITANCY

In her book, she explores the stories of 16 militant women. She has met around 80-100 women associated with different facets of militancy. She states that all these women belong to different geographical areas and different organisations. The book is also a conclusion to what she as the first woman crime reporter noticed about crimes—the women in it and then discovering their position and how they aid militancy in the country.

“Before I started doing crime reporting, men did not see the gender issue in crime. But since I am a woman, I was probably more sensitive towards recognizing it. My first experience of seeing a woman criminal was when a tragedy happened due to illicit liquor.”

On what she wants the readers and the government to take away from her book, she says, “After talking to these women and their male colleagues and leaders, I realised the vital role women play in keeping insurgency alive. The idea that women are forced or sexually exploited by men or lured into organisations, it is completely untrue. These women are independent and aware of what they are doing.

I also want my reader to see these women as human beings and then understand the measures that must be taken by the society and state to see that these women don’t join these movements. I realised while talking to them that in the end, they basically don’t want to be killers. They are normal people who leave the organisation and come back to have a family, raise children just like any other woman would. They also finally want an end to violence because they also want their children to grow up in a peaceful world.”

With her book, Saksena tries to push the bar and start discussions around women—one that would make people uncomfortable, but need to be talked about.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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