'Caravan' Magazine's Apology For Not Putting A Woman On The Cover For 5 Years Is Hogwash

06/10/2015 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Sanjukta Basu

In December 2014 I started subscribing to the print edition of India's first magazine dedicated to narrative journalism, The Caravan.

Launched in 2010 the magazine's similarities to The New Yorker were obvious and somewhat impressive. Within a few months it had positioned itself as a magazine with sophisticated, deep and intellectual content, the likes of which were rare in the market. It was, what they call in Bollywood, a "zara hatke" (slightly different) magazine. What I liked most about The Caravan when it was launched was that they called it a Journal of Politics and Culture as opposed to just a news magazine because that gave it a much larger scope in terms of stories they could cover.

My pet peeve, of course, is the absence of women's stories in the media. I thought if they are going to cover culture, they are bound to cover women's stories, inspirational women figures and many diverse topics.

"Please Madam Editor, say what it is, Caravan didn't run women's stories because they didn't care to."

But I am disappointed and how.

Don't get me wrong. The magazine is indeed exceptional. It is brave and intelligent journalism and deserves all the awards it got including the law suits from Essar and Arindam Chaudhuri for writing the truth. But it failed to address my pet peeve.

Since December 2014, issue after issue I have been disappointed by the gender gap. Their cover stories featured personalities such as Arun Jaitley, MS Dhoni, Akhilesh Yadav, Naresh Trehan, Jiten Ram Manjhi, Shekhar Gupta -- all of whom might be very important figures but they are already always in the news and they are all men. The last 10 cover stories have neither represented women nor any other regional or topical stories that are routinely marginalised by mainstream media, the Northeast or queer issues for example. The choice of cover stories has been largely mainstream and populist, with just a bit of unpredictability (Essar story, Aug 2015; Story on AIDS program, April 2015; Conservative intellectuals, March 2015) so as to retain the hatke tag.

Finally, in the current issue (October 2015) they put a global female icon, MS Subbulakshmi on the cover accompanied by a certain kind of apology published on their website titled, "Why It Took The Caravan Five Years to put a Woman on Its Cover."

As it turns out that it was not only these past 10 issues that I was getting frustrated about; they actually didn't have a woman on any of their covers ever. And don't presume that most covers had issue-based images. No, they mostly featured a personality. A male personality. Associate editor Supriya Nair makes a sad attempt at saving Caravan's face and renders a terrible apology for this gap. There are two main reasons cited by her: "contingency" and "individual profile versus group interest" or something of that sort which I couldn't properly understand. So while I cannot intelligently comment upon the validity of her reasons, to say that in five years you couldn't find one woman figure worthy of the cover page, well that is just a dumb lie.

Please Madam Editor, say what it is, Caravan didn't run women's stories because they didn't care to. Caravan's gender representation is no better or worse than any other run-of-the-mill magazine and to try to justify that by saying things like "The Caravan has worked with many women editors and reporters" is even worse. Women are always toiling to further men's cause, what is so great about that? How is Caravan any different?

"It was Caravan's moral responsibility to go deeper, work harder, probe further and find women's stories. They didn't."

It is not just the cover stories from which women were missing; they were missing from inside pages too. In the last 10 issues, except for the book review section in February 2015 and an essay by Devika Jain in July 2015 there were no other women's stories. And by women's stories I mean stories with gender and feminist perspective and not stories like Tamil Nadu's political problem owing to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's health. Sections like "Lede", "Letters From", "Perspective" in the last 10 months featured a plethora of issues from freedom of speech to secularism, government policies, health, hockey and so on but not a single feminist issue. The "Photo Essay" section at least could have taken up women subjects but edition after edition it treated feminism like a non-issue.

Ms Nair makes a statement in her justification which sounds so awful that I don't even know what to make of it. She writes:

"There will be more women on The Caravan's covers when there are more women in the stories."

It just sounds so downright misogynistic that I really hope I am misinterpreting it. How does she suppose there would be more women in the stories and therefore more women on the covers? Did she mean that women have to come forward and make more headlines? Or is she accepting Caravan's utter failure in finding women's stories? I hope it's the latter.

The gender gap we see everywhere in the world, in every field, can be explained and justified in exactly the same way. People who have the authority and responsibility to fill the gap will always say there will be more women when there will be more women. Nobody wants to talk about the enabling affirmative actions that are required.

It was Caravan's moral responsibility to go deeper, work harder, probe further and find women's stories. They didn't. I hope they do a better job in the coming years. As for now, I am not going to renew my subscription and will continue to mourn the lack of women's stories in popular media.

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