Delhi Violence: When the Cost of Reporting Is Trauma

Journalists recount the horror of reporting on the Delhi violence and the psychological impact of it.

Mind It
3 min read

Camerapersons: Abhishek Ranjan, Shiv Kumar Maurya

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

Producer: Saakhi Chadha

(On 23 February 2020, violence broke out in Northeast Delhi and caused massive destruction and bloodshed, claiming 53 lives. FIT is republishing this video on the trauma of conflict reporting, from the eyes of journalists on the ground.)

As we sat in the comfort of our homes, reading about and watching the horrific visuals of violence that enveloped parts of northeast Delhi, there were journalists right at those places, taking those videos and pictures, and bringing them to us.

Standing amidst fire, ashes, burnt houses and armed mobs, these reporters saw and witnessed scenes that they would perhaps never leave their minds.

The indelible impact that such experiences could potentially have on individuals is often overlooked. But research suggests the trend is much more common than we know of:

  • A safety guide by UNESCO and Reporters Without Borders states that journalists are just as vulnerable to emotional injury as soldiers, firefighters or other frontline participants in tragedy.
  • Research suggests that between 80 and 100% of journalists have been exposed to a work-related traumatic event.
  • In one study of 977 female journalists, 21.9% reported experiencing physical violence in relation to their work.

FIT spoke to four journalists who covered the Delhi violence. Runjhun Sharma from CNN-News18, Ayush Tiwari from Newslaundry, Ismat Ara, a freelance journalist, and Shadab Moizee from The Quint. They narrated what happened with them, and how they may never get over it.


“I Fear Violence Every Day”: The Aftermath

Being personally attacked and assaulted because of their professions, and for a few of them, their religious identities — meant that the scars of the incident had left a deep mark on them.

Runjhun could not help her tears when she visited a school that had been burnt and destroyed. She sat there and cried for almost an hour - looking at the report cards, drawings and imprints left by the little children who would have studied there.

“When you cover violence so often, you get immune to it. But then, when you cover a story like this, of mass violence, you realize, oh no, I am not immune to it, and I don’t think I ever will be.”
Runjhun Sharma, CNN-News18

For Shadab, the incident left him questioning what his job required him to do. He met a woman who had just lost her husband, and was blank on how to approach her and what to say to her. It’s become difficult for him to forget everything and move on with his daily life, but he knows he has to.

“I keep getting invited to college functions, felicitations, alumni meet. I was supposed to go. But I didn’t want to face people. But then, I thought that if I don’t go, how will I ever move on?”
Shadab Moizee, The Quint

Ismat still has nightmares, of men with rods knocking at her door at night. She says that all that she saw there is like a running film inside her head. She will visit a psychologist to help her deal with her feelings.

“Whenever I go to any other place to report, I am immediately reminded of those incidents. Those people telling me not to be scared because I was a Hindu. Those people openly calling for the murder of Muslims. Those people openly attacking Muslim households — not knowing that I am a Muslim myself.”
Ismat Ara, freelance journalist

Ayush shared how the only way to not let it affect his job was to shut everything off and take notes. But he also feels that the actual effects of reporting from conflict areas could appear months later — so he still doesn’t know how it will really pan out for him.

“After a while, you had to just shut yourself somewhere in your mind and just stick to writing down everything. So it was almost like channelling everything right from where you heard it, back to your notepad and not let it enter your head.”
Ayush Tiwari, Newslaundry

The feelings of guilt, anger, helplessness and hopelessness, when you see death, destruction, and pain so closely — are natural accompaniments. For journalists, whose jobs require them to do this on a regular basis, the mental health impact is real — very very real.

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