BlogHer '10 brought women bloggers from every corner of the blogosphere to New York in August 2010. The ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in New York was jam packed with women bloggers.Four women activist bloggers from Afghanistan, Argentina, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka were selected out of thousands of applicants from around the world. These four outstanding women bloggers were invited to participate at the 6th annual BlogHer conference held in New York.
BlogHer was founded in 2005 in California, USA. It encourages young and upcoming women bloggers, especially those who are engaged in activism through blogging.
Following is the International Activist Blogger Key Note by DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai at BlogHer’10 Conference held on 7th of August 2010 at Hilton Hotel in New York.
LISA STONE: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is a gifted journalist and photojournalist, and does a lot of courageous and of course challenging work in Sri Lanka. Her blog is very educative, informative and dedicated to ethical journalism. And I would love it if you could share with us your experience as a journalist and photojournalist?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Thank you, Lisa. Journalism is my PASSION. Journalism has been my childhood dream. I am very passionate about what I do. I have been working as a journalist for more than 17 years. I come from a minority community which is known as "Tamil". There has been a civil war which continued for nearly 30 years and was brought to an end in May 2009. I have traveled widely around the country as a journalist.
LISA STONE: You wrote some really beautiful slides about your goals for the site, talking about how it is non partisan. What are the advantages of that for a site like yours?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Well, Upholding my principles of ethics in journalism, I have decided to give a platform to all views. I want to be credible and unbiased. I don't like to break it at any given chance. I want to be balanced. I want to cover the issues related all communities in my country, which are Sinhla, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher.
I report what I see and hear. I want to be independent and I don't want to be seen as somebody else's product or somebody else's work. I don't want to be stamped! It's quite difficult. My work speaks and says it all!
LISA STONE: Fantastic. You know, it's interesting as a woman, as a Tamil minority journalist, was it easy getting your by line?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Not at all, I had to fight for my space and my byline especially in men dominated field of journalism. Being a woman and being a woman from a minority community, there are a lot of challenges which I have to face. I earned my byline and credibility through extended hard work.
LISA STONE: Well, I have put up some of the headlines that you shared with us. These are hard hitting pieces. I think that,it was very difficult for me to pick between these stories for one, but I'm glad we arrived at this one which is the story of the Jaipur Foot Center in north of Sri Lanka. The images are very powerful.I wonder if you could put this story in context. Why is there a foot center?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Because of the prolonged war in Sri Lanka, we have a lot of people who are disabled due to landmines, booby traps, unexploded ordinances and so on. Jaipur Foot Center in Jaffna was started in 1987 to serve the people who were in need. I thought of covering their untold tragedy. The task wasn’t easy. It was so painful for them to share their unforgettable experiences with me.
I had to spend a lot of time to get these photos as a photo journal, because at that time the war was still on in Sri Lanka in 2005. It's far from where I live and I had to travel by road. These are war victims, and I captured them in the north of Sri Lanka, which is called Jaffna. There is a big center for the disabled people where they make artificial limbs for the war victims. I really spent a week convincing them that this is neither political nor commercial. I simply wanted to help them through my journalistic work.
It was also quiet difficult as I was a woman holding my camera and covering the injured men amputees. They were paranoid and shy. And, I am glad to share that I managed to help them.
LISA STONE: Really? Do you know how much?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I don't know the exact amount, but they have a bank account that they gave me. I have included the bank account details along with the photo essay. People started contributing money to the needy in the north of Sri Lanka even from abroad. It's just expanding.
LISA STONE: Can you describe why it would be dangerous for the Jaipur Foot Center to appear in a blog? Why were they concerned about that? Why were they asking you for that assurance?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: They are from the minority Tamil community, and they are based in north of Sri Lanka where there was war. They probably would have thought that it was too dangerous for them to speak to me at that time. Although I come from the same community, I had to really spend hours and hours sitting with the director to get the permission. But at the end it worked out well and they managed to help more needy people.
LISA STONE: Good. Do you want to talk about the land mine issue related to this?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: The war was brought to an end in May 2009. Since the was has been going on for a very long period of time,it is quiet difficult to say how long it will take to demine the whole area. The demining is underway in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
LISA STONE: Will it ever end?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: We don't know actually. Demining process is progressing. Mine awareness activities have been carried out by various orgainsations. And, there are mine signs put up in those areas as well.
LISA STONE: These are just five pictures from about 20 photographs in the post where you track the creation of a prosthetic device fitting, painting, how many patients did you meet when you were doing this story?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I managed to meet at least five, but they were camera shy, I had to spend more time with them to gain their confidence and not to break their privacy. Two men said yes to take photos of their activities after the artificial limb is fixed. So, I just followed them through and I spent two days with them at the center to capture the correct moments.
LISA STONE: Does your family support your work?
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Of Course! my family has been supporting me tremendously from the beginning of my career as a journalist.Their everlasting encouragement makes me feel truly energised.
And, I like to thank my few selected fiends who support.
LISA STONE: Thank you Dushi. You have some really fantastic advice for other activists around the world. I'm sure the other women bloggers will be inspired by your courageous and challenging work. Good Luck Dushi.
DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Thank you Lisa.
DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is the first Sri Lankan woman blogger to be selected and awarded scholarship for the BlogHer conference.