Bulletproof: beyond the conflict stories


Dr. Samhita Barooah

Teresa Rehman’s recent tribute to fearless journalists reporting from the middle of nowhere during the conflict stricken contours of North East India is a compelling read.

As the title suggests, women journalists have never been aware of bulletproof jackets while working during the troubled past of the fragmented North East region. Women journalists like Rehman had the advantage of being a woman which became a bulletproof jacket from a gendered understanding of conflict in the region. Women have been the human shields and negotiators of peace for a long time during conflicts in North East India. But Rehman’s account humanises conflict and brings out the stories beyond the death tolls and ambush attacks.

Pic: Anisul Haque

One is reminded of Bertil Lintner’s ‘Land of Jade’ while flipping through the Diamond Diary chapter in Bulletproof. It is an account of the strategies used by a relentless reporter whose hunger for a conflict story doesn’t end with one scoop but the journey remains infinite. As a reporter, Rehman presents a self-reflexive account of her dilemmas which grapples her in both her personal and professional roles when she shares her internal trauma of facing the court hearing even during her pregnancy. It reminds one of Vidya Balan in the film ‘Kahaani’ which challenges gender stereotypes around women’s pregnancy. Bulletproof is a blend of both biographic diaries of top notch non-state actors like Hira Sarania and autobiographical travelogue of Rehman behind the making of the headlines. It is definitely a third wave feminist journey of a woman reporter whose personal sphere defines her political, social and cultural spheres. This book reveals the nuanced diversity of context in most critical conflict zones in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and other parts of North East Region. The stories reveal the power and charm of media whether it is print, magazine or web which provides the bullet proof armour for a journalist to reach out to the most dreaded spaces of the world. It upholds the fact that women journalists in the North East region are safeguarded even when they are reporting from high intensity conflict zones. The divide between conflict reporting as hardcore and culture, environment and politics as softer is intricately bridged by Rehman when she weaves the stories of sanitation in conflict areas.

The uncomfortable intrusion of a woman journalist during the secret meetings of outfit leaders at the hospital, point blank questions to armed group leaders across the region and safeguarding the common people sources indeed elevates Rehman’s work as a source of inspiration for aspiring journalists. Bulletproof is also a serious documentation of the hard-hitting realities of the region which uncovers the rotten sores of public apathy and inequality leading to armed struggles in the region. Nine chapters traverses through the conflicts within and outside the state borders of the region but the commonalities of freedom, assertion of self reliant identities, masculinity of powerful leadership, striving for social justice and indomitable resilience of local people trapped between different players seems evident in all the chapters. As an objective journalist, Rehman remains unperturbed by diverse conflicts, political and cultural contexts at the cost of her personal health concerns. In recent years, stress disorders affect people at diverse workplaces due to interpersonal issues and power dynamics, this is an account of a woman journalist who absorbed all the stress which emerged from her fearless reporting and which also accounted for the uncovered concerns of people in the margins of this vast nation called India. Every dissenter in today’s era is assumed to be a hardcore villain for the mayhem attached to the decisions they take in their personal or political life. But Bulletproof provides the reader with an opportunity to understand the humane elements of militant camps, culture of hospitality, women cadres supporting care work within the camps, animal care and support for children, elders and women during armed operations. Sometimes it also makes the reader lament from a socialist lens of understanding the gruelling inequalities which germinates conflicts of any kind to begin with. This Bulletproof book is meant to split open the controlled culture of silence which has gripped the region under the veil of power and penny.

Title: Bulletproof: A Journalist’s Notebook on Reporting Conflict

Author: Teresa Rehman

Publisher: Penguin Random House India


Book Pic : Nasima Parveen Aman

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Dr. Samhita Barooah
 is Educator and QueerUp Founder