Kabul killings: New dimensions in today's journalist copybook
News reporting has always been hazardous work. I learnt this first hand when barely four years in the field as a cub reporter in Delhi. It was the 1970s and bomb explosions like the recent one in Kabul which killed nine, including a woman, journalists, were yet to be listed as dangers in a reporter’s copybook.
May 2, 2018
By Rashmi Saksena
News reporting has always been hazardous work. I learnt this first hand when barely four years in the field as a cub reporter in Delhi. It was the 1970s and bomb explosions like the recent one in Kabul which killed nine, including a woman, journalists, were yet to be listed as dangers in a reporter’s copybook. Reporters of those days were cautioned only about the police lathi, mob stampede, tear gas, occasional blackmailers and abusive telephone calls. A selected few learnt to keep themselves safe at a course run by the Indian Army for war correspondents.
I knew nothing of what to do when fired at. I was covering one of the Nirankari agitations of the 1970’s. The Ashoka Raod stretch between the Gole Market Post Office and the Bangla Sahib gurudwara was surprisingly empty. Still somewhat wet behind the ears I did not realize that there was something eerie about such a silence and inactivity at the scene of a protest expected to be violent. Instead it made me more confident and I decided to walk close behind a police jeep that was moving at slow speed down the road. As it crossed the Gurudwara there was a loud noise like a cracker burst. The police officer in the jeep who I was talking to, toppled out of his seat. The jeep swerved. The driver slumped over the steering wheel. Somebody shouted lie down on the road, this is firing from the gurudwara. I was rooted to the ground involuntarily looking at the direction of the sound. Then as if in a trance I took a step towards the motionless policemen lying on the road near their vehicle. A uniformed form leapt out from somewhere, pinned me to the ground face downwards ordering me not to move. I heard bullets whiz past and released I was bang in the middle of cross fire. It stopped suddenly. I got to my feet and ran in the general direction of my Hindustan Times office on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. I entered the reporter’s room and was told that two policemen had been shot dead by firing from the gurudwara. “I saw it happen” I blurted out. “What are you waiting for then. File first-hand account quickly” ordered the News Editor. Next morning as my Editor praised my copy he advised “The prime job of a reporter is to stay alive to tell the story and not become the story. You owe this to your readers”.
That is what I tried to do when later I covered a police lathi-charge and lobbing of tear gas shells on blind protesters at the Parliament Road Police station. Instead of running right into it I watched from a nearby building doorway dabbing my eyes with a wet handkerchief. When a student’s march at Delhi University turned violent I stepped aside, jumped over a fence and watched to be able to go back and file copy. Tragically the journalists in Kabul could not. Today’s news gatherers face more sinister challenges than police batons, tear gas and stampedes. Terrorism has added a lethal dimension to our jobs. It gives few chances to file a story.
(Rashmi Saksena is a veteran journalist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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