Indian TV anchor Barkha Dutt's sex-abuse revelations win praise

A generation of Indians has grown up watching Barkha Dutt on TV. In her book, she talks of how her decision not to get married and have children was simply the result of being too busy.
A generation of Indians has grown up watching Barkha Dutt on TV. In her book, she talks of how her decision not to get married and have children was simply the result of being too busy.PHOTOS: ALEPH

In talking about her childhood sexual abuse and of later violence by a boyfriend in her first book, India's most well-known TV anchor, Barkha Dutt, has shown how these experiences are common to Indian women from every social class and background. Nothing acts as a shield - not education, money, or influence.

Dutt's courage in speaking about her experience of physical and sexual abuse has won her praise. In This Unquiet Land: Stories From India's Fault Lines, she has aimed to write not a chronicle of what she witnessed in her long career as a reporter but rather to reveal how the stories she has covered have shaped her larger views on India and its complexities.

So, for example, the account of sexual abuse by a trusted male relative who used to stay in the family home is linked with stories such as the first government survey in 2007, showing that more than half the children spoken to (53 per cent) said they had experienced some form of sexual abuse.

 A generation of Indians has grown up watching Dutt, 43, on their screens every night. She began her career in television when private television news channels were just starting in India in the early 1990s, ending the government monopoly on news.

She joined the NDTV channel as a young reporter in 1994, covered nearly all the big news events, hosted a hugely popular Sunday talk show and, along the way, won numerous awards - national and international - for her work.

In 2012, the Association for International Broadcasting awarded Dutt the title of TV Personality of the Year with the following citation: "A reporter of considerable stretch and depth, still passionate and fearless in bringing the issues closer to her viewers."

 Dutt was strongly inspired by her pioneering mother, Prabha Dutt, one of the first Indian women to enter journalism.

Growing up in New Delhi, she also absorbed her mother's feminism as a young girl. On her 18th birthday, she writes, her father asked her to choose two books as a present. She asked for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Daughter Of The East and a collection of essays by Germaine Greer, The Madwoman's Underclothes.

After graduating from St Stephen's College in New Delhi with a degree in English literature, she went on to do a master's in mass communications from Jamia Millia Islamia, also in New Delhi, and later, after having started her career with NDTV, also went to Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Being the first top anchor and journalist has brought praise but also criticism, especially on social media where the abuse can be venomous and include comments on her personal life - she has remained unmarried and lives alone.

As she has pointed out, no male journalist has to endure comments about his personal life, who he is seeing or why he is not married.

Rumours of a colourful private life have circulated in the city's media drinking bars for years but in her book, she talks of how her decision not to get married and have children was simply the result of being too busy.

How could she get up and run off to Libya (as she had for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's fall in 2011) if she had a young child at home? How could she take risks in conflict zones knowing she had another life to care for?  

Earlier this year, Dutt resigned as NDTV's group editor to start her own multimedia content and policy group, but she remains with the channel as consulting editor and continues to host her talk shows.

As consulting editor, she hopes to have more time to explore non-TV projects - perhaps digital news or events and conferences. Dutt says she is not leaving television, but rather seeking ways of re-inventing herself.

Whatever she does, it will be done with tremendous energy. Even her detractors wonder at her stamina and unflagging energy. And no doubt the stories about her too will keep circulating. Her reaction to them - her favourite is the one that has her marrying a Kashmiri carpet seller - is to smile and not get hurt.

What the rumour-mongers do not realise is that given the amount of time she spends on her work, she would have to have a doppelganger to do everything she is believed to do.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'TV anchor's sex-abuse revelations win praise'. Print Edition | Subscribe