BARKHA DUTT makes strong remarks on Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and her online trolls. By Karan Bhardwaj
Renowned television journalist Barkha Dutt discussed her latest book This Unquiet Land, and shared fascinating anecdotes from her illustrious career of almost two decades. The audience at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival was clearly riveted by her behind-the-camera stories, which ranged from Indian political figures Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, to burning current debates around intolerance and the recent beef ban.
Shobhaa De asked Dutt if she had ever faced gender-based prejudice in her reporting career. Dutt refused to play the victim card, but observed that inequalities in society still existed at many levels. She said she believed that women in the public eye were scrutinised in a totally different language to men: ‘look at the way I’m trolled online. According to my Wikipedia page, I’ve got married thrice. It’s highlighted that one of the husbands is a Kashmiri Muslim. Now what’s important here is not the fact that it’s a complete crap, but the way they are fictionalising my life and maligning my character.”
Barkha Dutt’s recent interview with Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan sparked major controversy. The actor faced a fierce backlash for his candid comments about the growing atmosphere of intolerance in India. However, he backtracked on his views at the time of his movie’s release. During the interview, a clearly disappointed Dutt urged him to own his earlier remarks: ‘There’s absolutely nothing wrong in having an opinion about national issues. Shah Rukh should have stood by his comments. Sometimes you can let a few films flop for the larger good of the society.’
Commenting on the gender-based issues in This Unquiet Land, Dutt made a rare revelation to the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival audience, about the sexual abuse she herself suffered as a child and a young woman. She admitted she had beenunsure about sharing that part of her life with the world, but realised she had a duty to: ‘I have reported a lot about violence against women. It would have been hypocritical of me if I didn’t talk about my own experiences. That’s my contribution in encouraging women to stand up and speak against violence.’
Dutt is as famous for her incredible journalistic talent, as she is for the controversy she stoked with her Kargil War reportage in 1999. Dutt was accused by critics of putting the lives of Indian soldiers in danger by misusing her satellite phone. She stated that ‘it is factually incorrect. The army chief in his memoir clarified that there was never any mistake on my part. However, I understand that trolls would not like to believe me, so I have learnt to live with it.’
Dutt elaborated on her views on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, noting that although he was very careful not to make statements on controversial topics, the same could not be said of his colleagues, who embarrassed him with illogical remarks: ‘During the campaign in the state elections of Bihar recently, one of the BJP leaders commented that there would be firecrackers in Pakistan if they lose the elections.’ Dutt predicted that Modi would win the next Lok Sabha elections, since there was no possible alternative in sight, including Rahul Gandhi.
Dutt’s candour was a real treat for the festival audience, giving us a rare insight into the personal life of this most public of figures.