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Now you see me, now you don't

paromita vohraThe most important thing about visibility may well be what it renders invisible. Like a story mysteriously absent from our very noisy screens, of Tanu Sharma, an India TV anchor who attempted suicide, having left social media messages blaming her superiors, on June 22. Slighter allegations would have sent the nation-informing anchors into paroxysms, but it seems they think the nation does not want to know about this case. Why would that be?

In an interview with the web portal, News Laundry, Ms Sharma alleged that she was subjected to constant abuse at work, demeaned and humiliated and asked to go ‘meet’ powerful people, with shady, possibly sexual, implications. India TV responded by saying she was over-stating what had actually happened. Only an investigation will show the truth — not that such niceties usually come in the way of breaking news.


Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Interestingly, in its response, India TV volunteered the information that they were among the first of their kind to instate a sexual harrassment committee (on another note, it’s mystifying how people always seem to want points for merely doing what’s legal).

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how, to prove one is above board nowadays you can just put on the air of one who cares about women’s safety. There’s nothing new in this self-serving use of women by men to make themselves look good. But well, even America claimed it was bombing Afghanistan to save the women.

But in addressing this aspect of Ms Sharma’s claims, they coolly don’t address another part and obscure or make invisible the real issues brought up by the story, which is of employment practices in the highly unorganised media industry. Parts of Tanu Sharma’s contract have been shared online.

There will no media person who has not been expected to sign a contract with such clauses. You cannot leave and must do everything you are told to. But you can be sacked at a moment’s notice, without the employer giving any reason for it. When I refused to sign one such contract, the company lawyer tried to chivvy me into it by saying: it’s just on paper, it’s not meant like that. Doesn’t mean anything, come on. Really? If it doesn’t mean anything, why is it there?

It’s there because contracts don’t exist in a vacuum, but in fact, in a context of a huge power imbalance. They are not there to ensure the rights of both parties, but rather, to demonstrate who is the boss man, and who is the plantation slave. They exist to reiterate the feudal basis of much hiring, especially in contract jobs, which nowadays is a lot of jobs. And every day, this power will be asserted in little, over-seering ways. For instance, I once worked in an office where work days routinely stretched to 12 or 15 and sometimes 20 hours. We staggered back to work after grabbing a little sleep each day — yet, one day we were told we must sign in each morning. Of course, there was no need to sign out. Just a little crack of the whip for reminders.

One of the reasons this cycle continues, is because especially among middle-class people in these sorts of jobs, there is a reluctance to push for unions. By doing this they fear being singled out for discrimination, but also of identifying with ‘workers’. They believe that by virtue of their class, if they keep their heads down long enough, they will eventually inherit the post of oppressor — also called hacking it. But perhaps it’s time they stop hacking it and looked their invisible reality in the eye.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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