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THIS UNQUIET LAND

— JASMEEN DUGAL

In 'This Unquiet Land', Barkha Dutt begins on an intensely personal note describing childhood molestation that left her emotionally scarred and then moves on to life as a journalist and the invaluable knowledge her experiences lent on political, military, economic and cultural complexities. Dutt has been a witness to some of the most important struggles of our time, from Kashmir to Kargil, and narrates what happened from her point of view, when she was sent to some of the most dangerous places in the world.

 

Some chapters made me numb, others made me reflect. It's the latter in 'The Cost Of War' where she reminisces, 'We were huddled together in the safety of a tiny underground bunker, high in the Himalayas. In a space not larger than a double bed, eight of us—soldiers and journalists… The silence of the night was broken by the intermittent thunder of the Bofors gun and the sharp snap of the multi-barrel rocket launcher… 'Run, Run, Run, Now, Now, Now, Run' shouted out an anxious voice behind us, and so we did, with bodies bent over, our hands forming a useless protective cover over our heads, our cameras shaking…' What she wrote next left an indelible impression as she 'humanised the narrative': 'In my coverage of Kargil, what I was really trying to understand was the complex relationship between valour and vulnerability in times of war. These young men—boys-who-would-be men really—were among the bravest people I would ever meet.' Describing what we had experienced through newspaper and television coverage which she admits could not show how brutal it could be at times, she reflects, 'To meet hundreds of young men at the battlefront and talk to them about the possibility of imminent death changed me—and my beliefs—fundamentally. A soldier's motivation and readiness to die came first from the need to uphold the honour of his paltan, his platoon… everything else came next.'

 

The next chapter made me numb with disbelief. In 'Terror In Our Time' she narrates the brutality she witnessed while reporting. 'Sometimes a walk in the park, an evening out with your children—or even just the simple act of crossing the road—could place you in the line of lethal attack. Syed Raheem discovered that in Hyderabad. When I first met him, he casually took out his left eye'' and held it up for me to see on the palm of his hand. Just like that. Startled, and unable to look at the hollow, purplish red socket that was left bare for millions to see on live television, I reached out and tried to cover the raw flesh he had left exposed. 'Please don't do this Raheem Bhai' I implored. We couldn't even look at his damaged eye—he had to live with it.' The admiration for Dutt who had faced brutal situations and stayed put grew as I read ''In The Name Of God''. 'Charred and bloodied beyond recognition, the body showed signs of a final struggle—mouth open and one hand outstretched in an unanswered plea for help or maybe mercy. The head lolled sideways on the tarred road and the legs were brutally parted. For the man or men who had done this, murder was not enough. Rape was the preamble… the truth, in this instance, was too graphic to be telecast.' Barkha recalls the difficulties faced. 'According to an archaic press council advisory, naming religious groups during a conflagration of the kind we were witness to was to be avoided. But to omit mentioning the community under siege… would have been sanitising the truth.'

 

This was India through the eyes of a journalist reporting from the front lines. A good read if you have been following her reportage.
 

THIS UNQUIET LAND BY BARKHA DUTT
THIS UNQUIET LAND BY BARKHA DUTT
 
13-SEPTEMBER-2020
 
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