Delhi blasts: A reporter’s dilemma

September 17, 2008

I will have to respect the Indian Standard Time for once.

I was to meet a friend at five in the evening on the day of the serial bombings in New Delhi. But the meeting got delayed — she could not leave office on time and my office elevator kept me waiting for twenty minutes.

Delhi BlastWe were chatting about good times together in college, how classmates have done well by themselves and making plans to catch up with other friends at the café inside a popular bookshop when the bomb at Barakhamba Road went off.

I had only read reports of how bombs exploded near cafes as people sat there sipping coffee discussing mundane things in life or shopped for household goods or just walked by. Never had I imagined that one day I would find myself in such a situation.

Within moments of the explosion, I saw people crowding the area, police men trying to control the situation and cameras furiously clicking away. The window panes of the cafe were shattered by the impact of the explosion and given that it was a low intensity bomb all of us in the place were safe.

I guess it was sheer luck that saved both of us — I take an auto rickshaw every day from the spot where the bomb exploded. Had we met a little early, or a little late, we might have been caught up too.

I assured family and friends about my safety and headed back to the office. It was the call of duty.

I chose the back alley while the sirens wailed and people jostled at the blast site. As a journalist I helped put out the story on the blast, which is fast becoming the norm in the country — scenes of destruction, loss of lives, grieving relatives and sense of helplessness.

I have been thinking ever since — as a human being and as a journalist — what should have been my priority. To help people who were injured or to report about the blood and pain?

Delhi BlastI discussed my dilemma with my mother-in-law and she said I should have lent a hand. It could have been a friend or a family lying on the road crying for help. But I chose otherwise.

I put into practice the training I had received as a reporter — to tell the world about how the series of bombs went off in quick succession killing, maiming and scarring innocent people for life.

Ever since I have been asking myself — what if a friend was involved? What if someone even remotely known to me had been looking out for help that day?


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I can undertsand what you were going through. If I had been there, I would have been petrified. You chose to go back to office and do your duty. There’s no shame in that.

Posted by Natasha | Report as abusive

Its the same dilemma that a doctor would face when his locality is facing some terrible death/disease/trauma.

But, it is the call of duty!

Posted by Amit | Report as abusive

Be humane first. Help a fellow human being and that is the first job and duty. Not the job/duty which gives you money.

Posted by Gopinath Billavara Annu | Report as abusive

Well you did the right thing, journalism gets into ur blood after few year and you rush to tell stories no matter how much it might have personally affected you. But its tricky what if a friend or family member been there, I suppose you or any one else would have surely stopped and helped that I am sure anr dare say no one can disagree If he does he is just not human. But again you never know you might have been used a “Reuters witness”. Remember “Mumbai Meri Jaan” starring Soha Ali Khan as a journo, every which way news follows you..

Posted by ONP | Report as abusive

I would say it was very inhumane not to let a helping hand, in such cases a few seconds can decide between life and death.
But then you had your “job” to be completed and to earn stars for it , rather then be a real life hero.

Posted by rich | Report as abusive

Meenakshi, it was tough call but you did the right thing. You got the news out so the world knew what happened.(That was the professional thing to do). More so, you also alerted people that there was a threat in the city–after all, the terrorists did plant more bombs in other places.

But it is not easy not to help those suffering–if you don’t have that inclination, then there is something wrong with you. My advice: now go and visit the injured, take them a gift, and spend some time talking to them. The kindness of a stranger hopefully would give some emotional comfort to them. And help you deal with your dilemma.

Posted by Syed Mansoor | Report as abusive

Well i know about the dilemma, had to do almost the same. A hack myself, my office is almost walking distance from the blast site and i could easily have gone down there or the hospital to help the needy but i chose to stay back in office and chose to continuously update the death toll and upload pictures of the ghastly act on my organisations’ website. I still haven’t figured out what i should have done?

Posted by soubhik | Report as abusive

No duty can be important than saving human lives. It is so sad to see journalist moving around with their cameras clicking pictures of disasters but never lending a helping hand to people dying. What kind of professionalism is this which takes us away from saving someones life.

Posted by Anupam Vasdani | Report as abusive

I agree with the comments posted and I would also agree with what you did Meenakshi.

You are a professional Journo and your duty is to report news and that is exactly what you did! So, nothing to feel guilty about. Even if you were in the scene helping someone, assuming you are not a trained paramedic or a medico, how could you have contributed to the rescue scene? You did what you are best at, which is reporting the news!

I am divided too on this thought – what if a know person were to be directly affected? This is a tough call.

Posted by Venkat | Report as abusive

Your report might help the victims and help in curtailing the violence in long run.So you have done the right thing. I think. c k nayak

Posted by c k nayak | Report as abusive

If you are the only one around, you should definitely help the person in need (if it is safe to do so). Because whatever you are by profession, you are a human being in the first place.

Posted by Niranjan | Report as abusive

This is a typical dilemma journalists/photojournalists have to face. I remember seeing a gruesome picture once of a child in Somalia dragging itself towards a relief camp and a vulture sitting nearby, waiting for it to die. The caption said he didn’t make it. I couldn’t help thinking ‘what kind of man would photograph a dying child instead of helping it?’

But that was Somalia, and probably there was nobody else around to help the child either. In your case, there were professionals taking care of the situation, who would do a much better job than you and probably consider you a hindrance. So I think it’s your duty to do what you can do best and you made the right choice.

Posted by Shrabonti | Report as abusive

Call of duty? Please don’t blow yourself out to be someone out to save the world. Such megalomania from a two-bit journo is the reason why you guys have no credibility anymore. Thanks for sensationalizing trivial issues and trivializing important issues. We need superheroes like you to run our country to the ground.

The next time around, stop selling opinions and start reporting news.

Posted by Sudarshan | Report as abusive

The dillemma to report or save is always a question that hovers in a reporter’s mind. I have been in similar situations and i would suggest if you could keep reporting and also make few quick calls either to cops, docs or even to a victims family member then the pressure eases a bit. Whether we know them or we do not. The idea is to save and even report.

Posted by rupam jain nair | Report as abusive

I have found myself in a similar situation once in a northern state. And it was my first and only experience covering ‘bomb blast’ and at the time I was also terrified seeing scattered bodies. But I knew I was to report the event, do my job. And I did, while the debate we had had with the ‘Reporting’ teacher, on Reporter’s dilemma, still went on in my mind. She had cited an instance where one reporter reported the rail mishap first and then helped the passengers later. So I think you did what you were first required to do – Report. (As for dilemma, it always remains.)

Posted by Sameer Kumar Sharma | Report as abusive

I’ve seen reportages from Bosnia, of people reaching out for help, looking the journalist in the face and begging for help, because a shel had injured them badly. The journalist however went on, walked by to film the other victims as well.
I was horrified by that. If victims have the idea that they’re about to die, it’s awfull to only show them a camera and take from them their diginity, because, be sure of that, no one wants to be filmed or photographed in such a situation, especially not, when a journalists helping had could save someones life or limp.
When, however, your help is not immediatly necessary, because others are there and already helping out, and you may only stand in their way. Everybody may best do what they do best. To be a reporter is someones own choice, in making a living. There is no obligation to be reporting for 24 hours a day. If you yourself belong to the group that experience the blast, you may also take the role of fellow victim, and be with the ones who share in it. You may see an obligation there too.
Every bom blast situation must be different. Make no rules for things that are always different. One time you’re the reporter, the other time you’re the life saver or comforter. Do not decide on that on forehand!

Posted by Rob, from Amsterdam | Report as abusive

Those who can, they do. Those who can’t they report, debate, comment, pontificate, philosophise etc.

Posted by Ravi | Report as abusive

Thanks to journalists, who in fact must grapple with the emotional impact of what they see, allow us to see and bear witness to far too many horrific events. That is why they are there in the first place. Many have been injured and killed for their efforts. Do you think they were in harms way because the pay is so great?

Unfortunately information of any kind can be, has been, and will continue to be manipulated. Fortunately, thinking, and analizing, and utilizing widely varied information sources will offset information manipulation.

Posted by jroadrash | Report as abusive

Your mother in law was right. You could have helped others physically and also reported your story afterwards. But we don’t always do the right thing, which is why God forgives then promises help for us the next time if we will accept it. He delivers from the wounds of wrong doing.

Posted by sunni | Report as abusive

The reporter could have done both; he could have helped the people then written his story. It might have delayed him 10-30 minutes. Probably would have increased the accuracy of his story. I do not think the choice would have been difficult at all. He was likely simply afraid to help, which is understandable.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

These bloody 786’s, neither they live life peacefully nor others. They are just like cancer on our society, sorry not only on our society but to the world too.

Posted by vicky | Report as abusive

Well, there is no such thing like right of wrong in such situations. you did the thing that stuch first in your mind. Usually, people are confused and don’t think twice how to react responsibly or sensibly. Had I been there at that spot I would have done what had come to my mind first. However, if i have to sit at my computer desk in a nice cold room I could give many comments about what you should have been done at the spot.

Posted by Murtaza | Report as abusive

Tisk ,Tisk , you are writing this question to get opinions but deep down you know the answer!-or you would not have even asked this question. Of course you should have helped first,even if it was just holding a hand.(and why do you have to know them)..a 30 min delay in your story! whooptie doo! but even more appalling than your lack of humanism is that so many people are writing in supporting your reaction. until all human beings put other humans first we are doomed as a society. I know you were scared but fear only hurts everyone involved.

Posted by lesley Schwab | Report as abusive

Didn’t you say there was a crowd jostling?
They could have helped. Were they simply spectators of a killing sport? Weren’t there police?

Too many cooks would spoil the broth.

Were the police blocking the crowd and hence anyone else who could have helped could not?

Then, therefore, you need to proceed with you work as a journalist. To tell people what happened. To let people realise that they should not hamper disaster sites where the police were used to control a crowd rather than for helping victims. That your community is encouraging the misuse of valuable human resource.

As a journalist, your story could illustrate how those crowds should back-off unless they are willing to help.

Posted by miamidot | Report as abusive

like a case study, there are no right or wrong answers!

if i would have been in your place, i would have immediately started helping and would have in the mean time started calling my colleagues to come at the particular place and lend a hand. as far as breaking story is concerned, others were any how going to do!
also, i would have called my family members to know about their ware abouts!
but then, neither i am a reporter nor i was at the scene :)

Posted by rishi | Report as abusive

You said it. There is a contradiction in being a journalist and being a human being. That’s the reason why journalists fail to capture the reality on the ground.

with or without you telling the world about it the world would have learnt about it. Let’s not kid ourselves, a page one byline is what motivates journos.

Stop shedding crocodile tears. Leave that for the activists. And if you want ever to be a human being forget the glory of a byline and jump in to help someone.

You don’t have to wait for the next explosion, you can be a human being even today.

Posted by paloma | Report as abusive

You are a human first and a journalist later. As a human it comes first that you help save some one’s life that is in peril. Reporting about the blast and the death toll comes secondary. You stood true to your job but where do you stand when it comes to humanity? This time you missed helping someone, hence the line “what if a friend was involved?” at the end of your article. This proves that you have got a good inner self. I hope this does not repeat in your life but even if it happens again, listen to your inner self. I believe your pen, paper and camera will take a back seat then.

Posted by Harjinder Singh | Report as abusive

As I went through all the comments, I just wondered whether all the people who appreciated the JOB n DUTY delivered by Meenakshi would remain as sincere and as committed towards their job as a reporter or journalist (if they were one) if someone from their family or their friend is one of the victims in front of their eyes? And if one would still go ahead filming the person just b’coz one swears by her/his DUTY? I am sure…none of us would ever give a damn to our JOB, DUTY or CAMERA at that moment (leave aside the lessons learnt during journalism)!

Another question…..what about all the kind people who selflessly and bravely came up to help the victims…..was it a part of their JOB PROFILES or DUTIES? I am sure those common people who came up to help and rescue, some of them would have been teachers, some shopkeepers, some business people, some IT professionals or anything else and as far as I am aware none of them have SAVING HUMAN LIFE as any of their job responsibilities…..why did they come up to help?

I understand the pressure which must be on reporters like you in a scenario like today’s where hundreds of news channels are competing with each other to come up with the most impressive news and shots. The more distressing and deplorable pictures a news channel shows the more success and appreciation for that channel!! But I swear…I and many others in this country would love to hear stories from news channels describing how their brave reporters, not just delivered best of their duty in a deadly situation but also struggled to save a life or two! I would also love to see some soothing shots of common people coming for rescue of thevictims, lending a helping hand, acting as humans; rather than just those heart shacking scenes of bleeding half naked people crying for help which are so mercilessly and proudly aired by TV channels! Even good things can make news…cant they?

Lets not just be inhuman professionals…let’s put ourselves into the shoes of those who have actually suffered and lost their loved ones in such disasters and then make a comment. Let’s cultivate within ourselves a blend of humanity and professionalism. I think that would be much more satisfying and would prevent many of us from being trapped into dilemmas like the one Meenakshi at the moment is into.

Posted by Chhaya | Report as abusive

What if we were not in such a rush to publish the “news” of attacks like this? Isn’t this the purpose of inhumane attacks like this, to attract attention to one’s self or their “cause”. What if they got no press coverage?

We as humans tend to gravitate towards the gruesome, and the terror vendors use that to gain attention and notoriety. How about we stop making it “news”?

Posted by Doug | Report as abusive

While appreciating your attachment to the journalist job, I feel that you should have lent a helping hand to save life. The pictures are not very important and this will only provoke the anger or will make us more sorrow. Instead you should have engaged yourself in the act of lending a helping hand and described the incidents later.

Posted by vanchiprakash | Report as abusive

Why would knowing the person who is injured affect whether you should have helped or not? Clearly, you should have helped rather than run away.

Posted by Leonard Walstad | Report as abusive

……ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
Another question the world press can ask itself. “If terrorism is propaganda of the deed, then do we have a responsibility to NOT report these incidents, as reporting them furthers the killers’ design?” This is not a suggestion, just a question.

Posted by Joel Adams | Report as abusive

When i watched the news that day on TV, all the channels were repeatedly showing the dead body of a woman and an injured man nearby. The first thought that came to my mind was why the hell the person shooting this cant help the injured man.

Maybe its right to say that reporters are bound by their duty but isnt it a matter of life and death where we can clearly decide the priority.

Why do reporters are always able to reach on time and to the place where help is required but why cant help reach first?

Posted by Sonal | Report as abusive

i think every what you did was right,its your ultimate duty to inform others and you did!no regrets need to be did what was required of you then as a journalist.rather it is appreciable that the incident didn’t really make you sit and ponder over what was happening and what you should do and no sentiments came in and you followed your profession.

Posted by B.Lavanya | Report as abusive