No Rubber Stamp Women

BY Rajashri Dasgupta| IN Media Practice | 04/07/2004
No Rubber Stamp Women


Women editor-proprietors have either inherited the family business, or used family resources to launch new media products.


Extracted from  Status of Women Journalists in India, produced  by the Press Institute of India, under the aegis of the National Commission for Women  


Rajashri Dasgupta, with inputs from all  

The going is far from easy for the few women who are active in the business of press management. They too have had to prove to their colleagues and employees - many unaccustomed to taking orders from women - that they are serious, full-time professionals who care for their work as much as they do. 

Most of these women publisher-proprietors in India have entered the business through the family route. They have either inherited the family business, like the well-known duo Nirmala Lakshman and Malini Parthasarathy of The Hindu, or used family resources to launch new media products. Whether it is press business or journalism, these women learnt hands-on the tricks of the trade and when the opportunity arose, they grabbed the right moment to showcase their skills and over the years, earn the respect of their colleagues. 

Imrana Samnani taught herself Urdu and took over the control of her father-in-law’s newspaper, Kashhmir-based Sandesh after his death. So did Surubhi Surjan from Deshbandu when her father fell ill. She used her management training to encourage and improve the status of women journalists in her organisation.  

Despite the family connections, it was not smooth sailing for these women.  Imrana experienced a stiff resistance to her presence in the newsroom but persevered to gain acceptance. It is said that Nalini Gera, who got involved in the management of the Maharashtra Herald, would wear only saris to office to project a serious image and at the same time, sub copies so that her staff would accept her.  

It takes guts and grits to carry on in this profession, especially in regions where conflict and turbulence is a way of life. Both Imrana and Valley Rose, editor of Aja newspaper from Manipur, have faced a barrage of threats and letters dictating to them what they are to publish in their newspapers, whether in Kashmir or in Manipur. For years they have been caught in the crossfire between various insurgent groups advocating causes and the Indian army trying to curb their activities. But, stresses Imrana, she has never shut down her newspaper for a single day or asked the army for personal security. 

Nor did Jaysree Khadilkar-Pande, editor of Navakal, buckle under pressure of a different kind in a busy metropolis like Mumbai. She was perhaps the first woman-editor to serve a jail sentence for contempt of court. But she used this to her advantage and turned the tables by writing extensively and sympathetically about women undertrial prisoners. However, not all have taken advantage of their position to improve the conditions for women and one such is Reeta Patel, who sees no point employing women even in a busy city like Ahmedabad because she feels there is very little scope for them in Gujarati journalism.  

Mrs Lapang had no particular interest in journalism, but found herself managing the Khasi newspaper her husband started in Meghalaya when he decided to join politics. Keeping in mind the fate of her employees, she has not taken the easy way out by closing down but continues to run the paper successfully. 

 While these women may not have had to struggle like other women in the media to enter the profession, they nevertheless had to work hard to learn their job, to prove their worth, and most important, to multitask so that they are equal to handling any aspect of running a newspaper. 

Surubhi Surjan 

Armed with a diploma in management from Moscow State University Surabhi Surjan today is in an elite league. In Chhattisgarh, Surabhi is probably the only woman journalist, who has not only has been working successfully for the last 10 years but also has the additional responsibility of being the proprietor of Deshbandu. 

After completing her masters degree in history, her diploma in management along with a certificate in Russian language, today as Managing Editor of Deshbandhu, Chhattisgarh, it is almost as if Surabhi was initiated into the profession right from birth.  

Earlier, her father ably handled the paper as a proprietor. Although she had been exposed to the industry early in life, she was dabbling in management, when fate forced her to make a final decision. While she was studying in Moscow, her father fell ill and Surabhi put her interests aside to take up her father’s responsibility. Even though she was raised among journalists and journalism right from her young days, and many would say she inherited the skill of writing, today she has put into use her management skills. 

With her father’s guidance, Surabhi may have never faced professional struggles in the industry but she says she is committed to improve the conditions and image of women journalists in the State. She says to do so she tries to give equal responsibilities to both women and men in her organisation. But she admits that there are very few women who are able to face challenges of the profession and underscores the need to encourage women to match their status with their male colleagues. 

Vineeta Shrivastava 

Following her father and brother’s footsteps, Vineeta Shrivastava completed her LLB but an interest in journalism saw her enter a vocation that she now realizes is ‘showy and sparkles from the surface. A person can understand the realities in journalism only after entering the profession, she says. Caught in an environment with no work culture, frustration got the better of her forcing her to the leave the newspaper industry to strike it on her own. 

For the last 10 years she has worked with a number of newspapers-- as a sub-editor in ‘Chautha Sansar’, ‘Swadesh’ and finally joined Nava-Bharat (Bhopal) in the hope of ‘making a career with a big banner’. However, the attraction of the big organisation soon wore off as she faced ‘cold and competitive’ colleagues, management indifference and what she calls ‘mental torture’.  After having worked there for five years managing the women’s magazine and the children’s page, she left Nava-Bharat in frustration.  

After the death of her father, a writer, and her brother, a journalist, she has left the ‘glamorous’ news industry and struck out on her own to run her own magazine - Tulika. She has also taken on the responsibility of looking after the family. 

Jayshree Khadilkar-Pande

Jayshree Khadilkar-Pande shot into fame when she served a six days jail sentence on charges of contempt of court in Mumbai. Jayshree has an executive editor’s responsibility for the Marathi newspaper, Navakal, while her father Nilkanth Khadilkar is the editor/proprietor of the newspaper published from Mumbai. Mr Khadilkar had commented in his editorial on the Srikrishna Commission report on the communal riots in Bombay after the blasts of 1992-93. Finding the report pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim he had lambasted it and commented on the justice of Srikrishna. The Mumbai High Court on its own filed a contempt of court petition objecting to the reference ‘Justice.’ The editor of Navakal was sentenced to a week’s jail. Jayshree preferred to accept the court verdict, maintaining that they respect the judiciary and since Srikrishna happened to be a Justice, he was referred to in that way.  

She was the first editor to go to jail and she became a celebrity. She used the opportunity to see the jail conditions and talk to the women undertrials and wrote 11 stories on their plight.  

Jayshree  and her sisters were groomed into the family business of running the paper. Vasanti looks after administration, Jayshree is the editor of Navakal and Rohini is the editor of the eveninger, Sandhya Kal. Their mother has been looking after the finance. The father has the responsibility for all their publications and writes the edits, which are popular among the masses. Navakal has a tradition of carrying editorials on the front page. Khadilkars consider Navakal as the voice of the downtrodden and the working class.  

Navakal’s stand on hot socio-political and communal issues is indeed debated and there are staunch supporters as well as vehement opponents. Jayshree believes and follows her father and takes pride in their strong convictions as also in their tradition of the family business of running a newspaper started by her great grandfather.  

Reeta Patel  

Reeta Patel, editor of Stree - a Gujarati magazine from Ahmedabad - is daughter of Chimanbhai Patel, owner of the famous Sandesh group of publications in Gujarat. Stree was the first woman’s magazine started by Reeta’s mother Leelaben Patel in 1963. Reeta took over the magazine after her mother and simultaneously helps her father run the newspaper business. After her BA (English), Reeta started work with her parents.  

Four journalists, two men and two women, help Reeta bring out Stree. She says she protects her ‘girls’ and does not allow them to go out for interview etc. Instead she sends the men for outdoor work. Feeling particularly responsible for the girls, she sends them out only when she is confident of their security. While a woman journalist has been with the magazine since 1975, the other joined 4-5 years ago.  

Reeta feels that there is not much scope in Gujarati journalism for women. The main paper Sandesh prefers men and has no women journalists.  Even today, when women journalists are in scores in other vernacular papers, the Sandesh group does not employ women and maintains Gujarati journalism has no place for women.  

Compare Ahmedabad to Mumbai and Sandesh to Maharashtra Times. There are at least a dozen women journalists in Maharashtra Times in Mumbai, whereas Sandesh has none even in Ahmedabad, forget other towns.  

Begum Imrana Samnani
(Proprietor and effective, functioning editor)

Begum Imrana Samnani, Proprietor and Editor-in-chief of the Urdu daily ‘Sandesh’, has nurtured the paper "like the child I never had", since 1973 when her father-in-law entrusted her with it. 

Imrana inherited a daily that had started off as a weekly ‘Naya Kashmir’. In 1952 ‘Sandesh’ began its life as a daily and was published simultaneously from Jammu and Srinagar till the Indo-Pak war of 1965 when publication was suspended for a short period. The Jammu office was soon operative but the Srinagar edition has never been revived. 

She moved to Jammu in 1966 after her marriage into the Samnani family of politicians and intellectuals. Her father-in-law, Sayyed Nazir Hussain Samnani, had started the paper and was a great proponent of and spokesperson for small newspapers. Though not very comfortable with Urdu, she taught herself and soon started writing for Sandesh. After his sudden demise in 1973, in accordance with his wishes, she assumed control of the paper.  

"Printing an Urdu daily was a tedious process of kitabat where everything had to be handwritten. Ours was the first Urdu daily to be computerised in 1997. Sticking it out throughout the militancy period was tough since threats and letters dictating contents were frequent but I did not buckle and never asked for security. I did not stop press even for a single day. Mine is a moderate paper that upholds democracy and the Indian nation state" 

Imrana functions with a strength of 24, which includes eight journalists, three of them women. Some of 33,000 copies of Sandesh are sold, mainly in J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. "Initially I was a rarity and the attitude to my presence in press-conferences and other media happenings was negative. But my attitude was - I’m here to stay so you have got to accept me. Mr Saraf, a senior journalist, was a huge source of courage and encouragement, she says. " 

"The attitude to the Urdu press is negative here," she maintains. We are not informed about important conferences, briefings and are often excluded from schemes to help the media in functioning efficiently. As President of the Jammu wing of the All India Urdu Editors Conference she once asked Dr Farooq Abdullah, when he was the Chief Minister, if there was a conspiracy to close down the Urdu press. All he said was - "Yes there is." A memorandum was given to the Ministry of Information but no action was taken. 

"Just guts and confidence don’t work", observed Imrana who is founder-member of the Jammu Press Club and now part of" its executive committee. "Assertiveness is a prerequisite for women journalists," says Imrana. 

Valley Rose H Hungyo: 

Valley Rose H Hungyo, Editor of ‘Aja’ an English-Tangkhul bilingual daily published from Imphal, Manipur, is a fiery Naga activist in her mid forties. She makes no bones about the fact that the daily newspaper she started in 1992 is an extension of her activism. The paper has a circulation of 5000.


In Manipur where every facet of life revolves around the chaotic ethnic/tribal identity politics, having a newspaper where you can publish your ‘own point of view’ is very important, specially, if one side feels that ‘their’ side of the story is not being covered by the other newspapers, which are under the control of other groups. Valley Rose believes that the newspaper is an important tool to further the cause that is being espoused. 


She runs the daily with the help of four assistants, including her husband who is the joint editor. Valley Rose does most of the writing and the reporting, including the editorials for the two-page daily. She ensures she maintains a level of ethical objectivity, a must for every editor over and above the ‘cause’.  

Valley Rose also found that being a ‘press person’ gave her the passport to cross various levels of social and tribal boundaries, ask questions, raise issues and interact with the high and the mighty as well as the disadvantaged. There are disadvantages at times though, when she finds that the credibility of her reports may be questioned. " For example, during a communal situation being a Naga, even if I write something that is true and shows Nagas in a positive light, people will think that my report is biased," she said. 

In Manipur, Valley Rose is the only woman journalist at press conferences and workshops dominated by men. There are several young women entering journalism but they are confined to the desk or column writings and are yet to step into the tough field of reporting, she says. 

A L Lapang:  

In her sixties, Amythest Lynda Lapang, popularly known as Mrs Lapang, is the first woman to hold editorship of a Khasi newspaper in Meghalaya. Like other women heading their newspapers, Mrs Lapang also took over the newspaper, The Pietngor, started in 1972 by her husband, veteran politician and chief minister D D Lapang and Dr H W Sten, a Khasi author and educationist. It is one of the oldest newspapers in the state.  Mrs Lapang said that they handed over the management of the newspaper to her when Mr Lapang decided to join politics in 1980. A month later, Dr Sten also decided to leave and she was left holding the nascent newspaper. 

"I had no real interest in journalism and no training either, but began to do the work somehow," she said. Eventually, with a helper she learnt to manage the newspaper, which was then a weekly. She controlled the newspaper as the editor-proprietor till 1997 when an editor was appointed. Mrs Lapang said that the Khasi newspapers had grown in readership and circulation but still lacked quality.  

She said that most newspapers, including her own are barely managing to keep financially afloat. The newspapers are unable to pay the journalists and other staff adequately and are unable to attract qualified and trained people. In fact, many a time she had felt that it would be wiser to shut down the paper, but had stopped short because of the ten people employed in the unit. The newspaper has a circulation between 5000-8000. 

(This chapter has been edited to reduce its length)


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