First Tamil woman journalist to visit the war zone, DUSHIYANTHINI KANAGASABAPATHIPILLAI.
Journalism has been my dream job from childhood onwards. I always knew what I wanted to do with my life… But I could never have come as far as I have without my overriding passion for it. I have written many articles and won many awards, right from schooldays till now, but as a Tamil journalist, I have primarily moved in areas previously thought the exclusive preserve of men. It has not been easy to fight my way through or find a place. Citing reasons of my sex and ethnicity, I was not allowed to do the kinds of stories I wanted to do – covering the war through on-the-spot reporting. I was told that it was dangerous for me as a woman and a Tamil to do those stories. When I went ahead and did them on my own initiative, it was difficult to get them published, or when published, have my byline credited. Many of my much lauded exclusive stories in my initial days went without a byline – and were picked up by other media outlets, again without a byline. I have stuck to journalism over the past 20 years only because of a burning zeal for it; it certainly wasn’t the absurd rates of pay that barely covered my expenses for the job that kept me at it. But it was very hard not to be able to make a name for myself and build a reputation with my stories, although the stories themselves were much admired and appreciated by the public.
In addition to the dangers and difficulties of being a Tamil woman journalist in the war zone, I also had to contend with many skirmishes and oppressions back in my air conditioned office in Colombo. Despite this, I managed to cover the kinds of stories I wanted – many of them, I am proud to say, exclusive stories at the time they broke. I was given exclusive access by the LTTE in both the North and the East when they were in control of both those parts of Sri Lanka. I also cultivated contacts within the Army and government to get their sides of the story. My first loyalty has always been to my profession and the audience it served. As such, I have tried at all times to be an objective unbiased reporter. Unfortunately, trying to report the truth from the war zone always meant one party or the other was offended and in the course of my career, I have received several death threats. Despite requests from many of my colleagues and friends to leave, I chose to stay on and continue my work because for me, living my passion was more important than living in exile. It is that dedication and passion that has enabled me to reach out to all communities in the land and report on all their hardships, wherever it is and whoever it is. I am grateful to have been there for them and be able to give them their much needed publicity. Since the media is not always willing to publish my stories, I started my blog (www.humanityashore.org) in 2005, which has quickly become popular among people interested in knowing about the North and East of the country. I am proud to be a woman and a journalist.
Photograph by Gerald Pereira