From current affairs to social issues and human interest stories, Pakistani journalist Kiran Nazish has written for Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Forbes and a host of other local and foreign publications on hard-hitting socio-political issues and poignant stories of those affected by war.
In an interview with The Diplomat, Nazish speaks about the challenges of being a female journalist in Pakistan, and reporting on sensitive issues in a country that has been called “the most dangerous for journalists.”
You recently traveled to Peshawar to report on the deplorable state of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the Jalozai camp. As a journalist, how important is empathy and compassion when interviewing those affected by war and tragedy?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Empathy and compassion are imperative for journalists to nurture. If you are reporting about victims of war, ethnic violence or displacement – such as the IDPs – and you are not compassionate, you are missing the whole point.
The absence of empathy and compassion will also paralyze your reporting and you will never get to hear the complete story and hence never get to tell the complete truth. Often when I interview people who have been affected by war and tragedy, they complain about how journalists come to them and ask brutal, insensitive questions and take photos of them without their permission. They feel used and deceived. That is absolutely unethical and undermining.
Do not doubt me when I say, I have learnt the greatest lessons of courage and wisdom from invisible people we often ignore thinking they are dumb and poor and weak, because they are victims. Trust me, they are smart, and they know a lot about the world.
I understand that you’re currently traveling for work. What story are you working on?
I’m currently working on a story about Veeru Kohli, a bonded laborer in interior Sindh who was freed with the help of an NGO in Hyderabad called Green Rural Development Organization (GRDO). She is standing for elections now against established, powerful and rich feudals who have been threatening her and her supporters.
Kohli now lives in a place called Azad Nagar with two beds, five mattresses, cooking pots and a bank account with life savings of Rs. 2,800 (approx $27). Wanting to interview her took me to Azad Nagar in the outskirts of Hyderabad, where I met dozens of landless Haris [members of the scheduled Hindu caste] and farmers who had been freed either by Kohli’s activism or by GRDO.
They all had gathered to greet me at the arrival, and complained about the media ignoring them (save news reports of Kohli standing for elections) and not supporting them when powerful politicians threatened their lives.
I hope to help them by writing about their stories, the strength that they show by standing with each other between threats on their lives and hefty offers of bribes. These are the people who change the fate of a nation: the poor, the dignified and the powerful.