People

Tusha
Mittal
Special Correspondent, Tehelka
Country of Origin: 
India
Sponsor: 
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Date of Fellowship: 
Michaelmas and Hilary term 2013-2014
Research Paper Title: 
India's missing watch-dog: How the media frames internal conflict and what it means for democracy. (working title)

Tusha Mittal is an investigative journalist, reporting since 2008 for Tehelka, a leading English-language news weekly in India. As part of the core news team, she covered major national stories – the 2009 General Elections, the Delhi serial bomb blasts, the Mumbai terror attacks. What matters to her most, though, is reporting on people and places that exist on the fringes of modern India, far outside the radar of 24-hour news.

Through her work, she attempts to understand the environmental, social and human cost of India's development policy. Traveling across the Indian hinterland, into the country's poorest, most disenfranchised areas, she has reported on the key fault lines of India's growth story: the forced displacement of agricultural communities, debt-burdened farmers, the ecological hazards of mega-dams, illegalities in major development projects, indigenous people's movements demanding their right to land, forests and rivers, 'honour' killings of young women who dared to love, the intimidation and murder of whistleblowers and civil rights activists, the indoctrination of children in religious camps, and the uprising in Kashmir.

In 2009, Tusha began reporting on the armed left-wing Maoist insurgency in Central India, drawing its support from the indigenous communities she earlier covered. As the government deployed thousands of paramilitary troops in counter insurgency, Tusha found herself on the front lines of what some call India's "hidden civil war." Her reports have exposed widespread human rights violations, extra judicial killings, the burning of entire villages, forced relocation of tribal communities, the false arrest of innocent locals as Maoist insurgents, and the rape of tribal women by uniformed men.

In 2010, Tusha was awarded for excellence in reporting armed conflict, jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Press Institute of India. In 2012, her stories won the Chameli Devi Jain Award given annually to an "outstanding woman media person". Her work has also resulted in public impact. A story investigating extra-judicial killings by the Border Security Force along the Indo-Bangladesh border led to litigation in India's Supreme Court. Another story on political violence, the setting up of secret armed camps by a political party, was part of heated debate in the Indian parliament. Recently, her story on the victimisation, police hunt and torture of a tribal woman named Soni Sori has been part of national and international human rights campaigns for justice. When Tusha broke the story in 2011, Sori was a little known tribal woman fighting a lone battle. Since then, Amnesty International has declared Sori a prisoner of conscience, pleading her case at the United Nations, and petitioning for her release.

Research Paper Title: 
India's missing watch-dog: How the media frames internal conflict and what it means for democracy. (working title)

Project description: Media scholars have widely accepted that a sense of patriotism and allegiance to nationhood has led to a distorted reporting of international conflicts. The American media's coverage of Iraq is a recent example. While the scale and nature of India's internal conflicts is certainly different, I ask whether here too there has been an uncritical acceptance of the government version? If so, has that been triggered by a sense of being first an "Indian", then a journalist? As the editor of a major national television channel once told me: "In covering Kashmir, we have worn our national identity on our sleeves."

This project emerges out of my own experience reporting on internal conflict in India. I hope to examine media coverage of the Maoist insurgency, the Kashmir conflict, and the conflict over 'development' that has led to violence across India. All three represent situations where the larger State machinery has been guilty of excesses and human rights abuses. Has the media attempted to hold the State accountable, and in doing so, played out its fourth estate role? If not, what ails its willingness or ability to do so?

For instance, on the Maoist insurgency: barring a few exceptions, national media coverage has largely relied on police handouts and official sources. While excesses and brutality by Maoist rebels often make shrill headlines, there are rarely any reports or independent verifications of State violence. How has this influenced popular perception of the conflict? What role has the media's framing played in shaping public opinion and policy for or against peace negotiations ?

These are some of the questions I hope to address through interviews and content analysis. Ultimately, this project will examine the role of a free media in communicating a conflict ethically and accurately, and assess what is at stake if it fails.

Internet Picks: 

http://caravanmagazine.in/ - A monthly journal of politics and culture, modelled on the New Yorker. Read this for detailed long-form narratives, richly reported and written.

http://www.newslaundry.com/  - A fun media criticism platform. Interviews reporters and editors, hangs them out to dry.

http://www.thehoot.org/ –  Who will watch the watch-dog? A power house of information and essays on the Indian media.