Put freedom and safety in perspective
Sep 01 2013
My question is about work policies. The young photojournalist was sent to take photographs in the ruins of Shakti Mills. Not just the young lady photojournalist, but also her young colleague went on an official assignment, not a hobby shoot. My daughter has interned with a Sunday magazine of a national daily and I know how casually she was given assignments and how she was under pressure to perform. No one pushed her, but the pressure was self inflicted. That Shakti Mills is an abandoned mill now turned to ruins is known. Were the journalists cautioned? Or were they just told to get photographs of the ruins in the twilight? What if instead of what happened, a portion of the ruins had collapsed upon them? Were they told to always be aware of their surroundings and to evaluate the situation with regard to their safety? Did their employer have a policy on how much risk the employees should take and where to draw the line?
If the first information report of the incident is to be believed, the young lady and her colleague walked about a 100 metres from the Mahalakshmi station, on the railway tracks to reach a breach in the wall of the Shakti Mills compound and accessed the area from there. It’s not only a grave risk to walk on the tracks, but a crime too. Were they aware of the personal risk and crime? Shouldn’t the employer be responsible to provide such education? Then the two of them entered an unknown compound with not a very savoury reputation. Had the employer bothered to find out the situation inside the Shakti Mills compound before they sent these two young persons and put them at risk? Shouldn’t the employer be held responsible? A few years ago, a young assistant director was killed at Bombay central station, who was participating in a shooting and was fatally hit by a train. The director was held responsible for the misdemeanour, and rightly so. Not only was the lady photojournalist subjected to a beastly assault and trauma, but even her colleague was brutally assaulted and had to undergo the trauma of witnessing the brutalisation of his colleague. Both their lives were also put to a grave risk; the felons could just as well have murdered their victims.
If one looks at the frenzy of the 24X7 TV news-chasing crews, one wonders what are the work ethics in these outfits. TV journalists and cameramen take such risks just to capture that one exclusive shot for their channels and their studio heads screaming for more and more such photos. Cameramen and correspondents have faced injury and in a few cases, even death in the pursuit of that one precious ‘exclusive’ for their channel. Dedication to one’s work is good, being passionate about it is excellent, but not at the risk of one’s self.
The UN has an induction programme for their recruits and they are made aware of the safety work ethics policy the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ are established, conveyed and are strictly adhered to. Their staff is very much responsible to act accordingly and stepping out of line or taking risks is punished. One of their edicts is that while travelling in certain nations, they are not to step off the road they are travelling on. This is so strictly enforced that even if they sight an ongoing violation, they are not allowed to intervene even if it is a few feet off the road. They can witness and report, but they must never ever intervene. No one, however senior, is allowed to or will violate this edict.
It is time Indian employers and organisations evolve an organisational code of conduct for the safety of their employees, implement it and take employee security and safety seriously. Women must, if they wish go head to head with their male colleagues. Nevertheless, both of them must also, as a measure of safety, evaluate a situation before exposing themselves to the risk and be equipped to face a situation that arises as a consequence of their action. The two young photojournalists may overcome their sufferings and lead a normal life, but the scars inflicted by the shock they faced will remain forever. Their employer will get away scot-free. Mine is not an attempt to curb individual freedom, it is a concern for individual safety.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)