I feel that there comes a point in everyone’s life where they discover something new which gives meaning to their lives and for me it was Journalism, and learning about it for the first time changed something inside me. I was lucky to get introduced to Journalism as an ancillary subject while studying English literature. I was fascinated by how a journalist carries the truth to the public. There was a voice inside me that pushed me to try and learn more about the subject and thus I decided to do my master’s in it. When I was not thinking about Journalism, I was clicking photographs. Gradually, my love for photography grew and I taught myself the technicalities of photography which enhanced my skills. I don’t know if I would’ve taken my love for photography so seriously if my friend didn’t notice my talent and motivate me to work on it.
While studying Journalism, I got to know about the concept of Photojournalism. But everything is not black and white for an Indian who belongs to the middle-class. You always have to go past the obstacle known as Indian parents. Being from a lower caste Bengali family, my parents wanted their children to find respectable jobs. My only challenge was to make my parents adhere to my decision to be a photojournalist which was not that difficult because they are quite supportive. Things got a lot smoother after I got placed at ThePrint and they started to see my work and how it has the potential to change the lives of people.
After I got placed at ThePrint, I was buzzing to start working on my first assignment. My first assignment was to cover the JNU protests and when I reached the spot all my excitement turned into nervousness and fear. I experienced how brutal the police can be to students. I was stunned and confused about what I should do. After some time, I realized that I am a photojournalist and I have the power to document all the wrongdoings. I had the responsibility to use my photographs to showcase to the public the reality of the situation. I understood that day that you don’t become a journalist by just obtaining a degree, incidents like these make you one.
As I grew in the field of photojournalism, I got to do many assignments, some are pleasant while some of them can be heart-wrenching. I still remember one assignment that still gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it. I was covering the Hathras case where I experienced the lowest point of humanity. In the dead of the night, at approximately 2:30 A.M. I saw the last rites being performed in secrecy on the corpse of the victim by the so-called defenders of the law. No one from the family was there. I was shocked and emotionally shattered. That day I realized how important a journalist is to society. If not for journalists people would not have known about the case and the cover-up. I remember calling my father at 4 in the morning crying. The sort of support I get from my family helps me tremendously to get through these kinds of incidents.
When the Covid-19 outbreak started, I was extremely scared, but as a photojournalist, I had to do my job and travelled to different states. The most bizarre thing happened to me during the first lockdown. I went to Rajasthan to cover the Covid outbreak there and after I returned the authorities in my hostel barred me from entering my room. They just casually assumed that I had caught the virus. To enforce my right to enter my hostel room I had to call the police. This is where things start to get unusual and worrying. The hostel authorities, with the consent of the police, decided to lock me inside my room for a week. I had no other option but to agree to their proposal because I had no other place to stay. Thankfully, after three days, my boss came to my rescue. He reasoned with them and I was ‘released’ from my ‘prison’. I wonder, if that happened to a journalist, what would be the condition of the people who did not know better?
After working as a photojournalist, I realized how every photograph is important and that most of them have a story to tell. While covering the Delhi Riots, I saw an overhead bridge being set on fire. It was such a powerful and nerve-wracking visual. While I was capturing the overhead bridge, I saw a person on top of a white horse pass under the bridge. I thought of it as aesthetically pleasing and took a photograph of that person with the burning bridge in the backdrop. I decided not to submit the photograph and kept it in my collection because I thought that it was not that important. Later, a colleague of mine saw the photograph and told me how relevant that photograph was because it showed a reference to the Doomsday Horsemen from Christian mythology.
Once you start seeing the change you are capable of doing as a photojournalist, there’s no turning back. While on the field, I see that there are only a few women photojournalists working. I hope that more women in India can gather up the courage to start their journey as a photojournalist.
- Manisha Mondal