Indian reporter goes from front lines to U. fellowship

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

At the age of 28, Barkha Dutt found herself dodging bullets while reporting on the 1999 India-Pakistan war. Since September, she has been at Brown as the first recipient of the Meera and Vikram Gandhi Fellowship, which brings important journalists and public figures to campus through the Brown-India initiative. 

“Barkha is a household name in India,” said Professor of Political Science Ashutosh Varshney, director of the initiative, adding that he hopes the Brown community can benefit from learning about the experiences of the fellows.

Dutt will add to the discussion during public events and educate the Brown student body on some of her work. “She has a very vibrant presence at Brown,” Varshney said .

Dutt will dedicate the majority of her time to writing and gathering material for her upcoming book, “The Unquiet Land: Exploring India’s Fault Lines.” Dutt believes that India, the world’s biggest democracy, isn’t infallible. In her book, Dutt will analyze delicate regions within India that have the potential to push the country into more conflict. 

Encapsulating Dutt’s personal experiences as a reporter, the book will cover issues ranging from secularism to urban rage. It will also incorporate several of her personal beliefs and philosophies about Indian politics into her narrative. 


On the frontline

Dutt, who grew up in New Delhi, attributes her journalistic abilities to her mother, Prabha Dutt, who was a well-known journalist with the Hindustan Times and a pioneering figure for Indian women in journalism. Dutt started her career with NDTV, a leading Indian News Channel, and later rose to the head of the English New Wing.

Danger has been a constant threat in Dutt’s career. When the tsunami struck in 2004, she was reporting from South India and swam to a blocked coastal entrance with a cameraman and captured the destructive influence of the tide. Determined to reach out to the masses, in particular the elite of India who were away on vacation at that time, Dutt wanted to find ways to make people care, she said. Making sense of conflict has always driven Dutt as a journalist, she said. For her coverage of the tsunami, Dutt won the Padma Shri, the most prestigious state honor given by the Indian government. 

“For about a decade I covered tragedy and war,” she said. Dutt entered the battlefield because she wanted to capture the humanitarian side of war, one that brought to life the stories of young men who were about to walk to their deaths. Dutt does not believe that death is something that should be glossed over by the glory of the battlefield. “I believe that valor and vulnerability co-exist,” she said.

When she was assigned to cover the India-Pakistan war in 1999, beyond the immediate threat of possibly being killed in the war, she first had to convince the Indian army that “it was okay for a woman” to be present on a battlefield. Dutt recalled a moment during the war, when her male colleagues couldn’t hold back their tears after the soldiers entered the battlefield. “I decided not to cry,” Dutt said, because she wanted to remain strong in the face of conflict. Dutt’s reportage from the battlefield paved the way for other female journalists in India to do the same.

“You are always scrutinized for your gender,” Dutt said, but “if you’re good at what you do, it really doesn’t matter.”

The no-cellphone, no-telephone policy in Kashmir at the time made it difficult to report in India. Communication systems were poor, and there was no wireless internet. “Occasionally we would ask pilots who carried the body bags back to India if they could carry home a tape with the recording,” Dutt said. 

Dutt, a columnist at the Hindustan Times, a daily newspaper in India, has also met figures of international acclaim such as Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama. 

She started “We the People,” currently India’s longest running television show, in an attempt to ignite a spirit of inquiry among Indians. Named after the first three words of the Indian Constitution, “We the People” brings together an audience of a 100 people who engage in a conversation with the guest speaker.

“The Top Guns of India are still stuck in the formal protocol,” Dutt said. “They need to know that it is okay for them to come out and talk to journalists.”


Kashmir to Providence

At Brown, Dutt is working with student research assistants, who will help her collect materials for her book. They are looking into literature about the India-Pakistan war by academics, the U.S. government and Indian and Pakistani politicians.

Arshiya Mittal ’15, one of Dutt’s research assistants, said Dutt is “able to articulate the complex workings of the Indian polity in a manner that is both understandable and engaging for anyone.” Mittal in fact appeared on Dutt’s talk show four years ago, after bomb blasts rocked Mumbai, India Nov. 26, 2008. 

Brown has provided a significant change of scene for Dutt, who says she’s “absolutely mesmerized by the fall in Providence.” Like some authors who escape to the countryside to write, Dutt too views her sabbatical at Brown as a healthy break from the din of Delhi. 

Dutt said she spends a great deal of time observing the leaves change color from the slanting windows of the Watson Institute for International Studies and meeting some “really bright minds” while strolling around campus. 

Dutt will be giving a lecture in Barus and Holley 166 Friday, during which she will read an excerpt from her book and reveal two or three of the “fault lines” that she has written about.

“This is the first time the content that lies between the covers of my book is going to be shared with an audience,” Dutt said, adding that Brown students are some of the most intellectually-driven she has ever met. “The event will be a test as to whether I’m communicating effectively through this book. If it doesn’t strike the right chord, I know I’m doing something wrong.”

  • Anonymous

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  • Meidacrooks.com

    Read more about Indian journalists on http://www.mediacrooks.com

  • Anonymous

    I have known Barkha Dutt for over 35 yrs and seen her covering 911 in New York and Presidential elections etc. etc She makes all Indians proud.Dennis Daniel

    • Himanshu

      well have you heard os Radhia tapes ? she is just a corporate lobbyist dressed up as a journalist. she puts Indian journalism to shame

  • sachin

    “For her coverage of the tsunami, Dutt won thePadma Shri, the most prestigious state honor given by the Indian government.”…Dear Author, Padma shri is not the highest civilian state honor, it is Bharat Ratna, One more term to the corrupt congress , you will see the corrupt Bharka and her corrupt cronies bestowed with “Bharath Ratna”

  • Jusslikethat

    Barkha is a HH name probably amongst the elite and qualified class and those who used to watch NDtV…But many of them also know the fact, that she parrots for CONgress party and is a loyal stooge of MADAM SONIA and her DYNASTY

  • Veeru

    Barkha Dutt is a stain on Indian journalism. Only thing she is good at is sucking up to Rahul Gandhi & Sonia Gandhi. It’s going to be end of the road for this b*tch soon, bloody soon, as soon as SC takes up Radia tapes issue.

  • Indian

    Please do not employ this black blot on journalism, she has caused the death of our soldiers, death of civilians in a terrorist attack, financial irregularities and is extremely close to the corrupt ruling establishment. Please do not employ this disgrace