Scene 1 : I was interviewing the leader a political party for a story. As I was packing up, he told me, ‘you are so smart! Join our party and we will make you the head of our North-east (the region of India bordering Myanmar, China and Bangladesh. I come from there) unit.
First I was flattered. I thought, by making me an offer like that he was complimenting my intelligence and my knowledge of the North east - a cluster of 7 hill states with cultural complexities and therefore seen as a difficult domain by almost all the parties.
But as hours passed by, the feelings started waning as his word ‘smart’ kept ringing in my ears. I asked myself, 'how could he offer a complete stranger to head a regional unit?' 'What qualifications did I have, other than being a local?' And then I knew what he meant: a colorful element.
Scene 2: My news editor called. The leader of India’s largest political party was launching a cross country road show and he wanted me to join the team to cover it live. For any political news reporter worth her salt, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime; the road show, coming up weeks before the general election would attract millions. Covering it meant travelling with the OB van, doing multiple sign offs a day, rubbing shoulder with the who’s who in the media.
Suddenly, I heard my editor talking about tasks: X does the interviews, Y gets the audience’s reaction and you take care of glamour quotient’ he said bluntly.
Smart. Beautiful. Glamorous. Colorful. The adjectives vary, but women are often seen as an added element – be that in politics or media. In India, film actresses with absolutely no connection with politics whatsoever, are suddenly given tickets by political parties to, hold your breath, fight parliamentary elections! After winning (they are offered ‘safe seats’or stronghold of the parties) they hardly ever attend the parliament, and the parties seem perfectly ok with that. After all, they women did their expected bit by adding the ‘glamour quotient’ to the election.
And to think how millions of dedicated, but ordinary women political workers slog for years to inch forward!
Coming back to my story, I said no to the political party when they called me again. And though I did go to cover the road show, I did what my male colleagues did; interviews, breaking news and news analysis. My furious editor called me back on the 4th day (while others stayed for the entire stretch of the show). But a few weeks later, I was selected by the managing editor to cover the general election. He selected me after watching me reporting on the road show.
Have you ever been asked to play an extra? Have you been asked to contribute your physical appeal to an office/event, despite possessing enough skills and intelligence? If yes, what did you do? I would like to hear your stories.