A personality that reflects compassion, warmth and determination together – the lion-hearted Environmental journalist Bahar Dutt is known for her exceptional works on conservation and environmental journalism. Born and grown-up in a family of eminent journalist like Prabha Dutt ( Mother) who was also among India’s first female journalists and Barkha Dutt (sister) – well-known journalist , Bahar has always felt attracted towards world of nature, wildlife , conservation and she calls herself an “accidental journalist” . Winner of over ten national and international awards Bahar is still remembered for her uncompromising and fearless endeavors in stopping the construction of illegal shopping malls in Yamuna river beds, her taking on the then the most powerful man of Uttar Pradesh who wanted to drain the wetland inhabited by saras cranes for an airstrip, helping rope bridge for the colombus monkeys in Africa, long association with the communities of snake charmers for their alternative livelihood and much more. The winner of Wildscreen ( the Green Oscar ) she has indeed re-position the image of investigative environmental journalism. In a candid interview with TW Bahar Dutt has shared her views, works and how she has repositioned herself with time:
Being a member of the legendary family of journalists, you have continued the legacy with your own brand of investigative journalism. But , as you have mentioned a few times , environmental journalists are indeed , as threatened a species , in the age of corporatization and materialism , as a Royal Bengal tiger or a Black Rhino in the diminishing forest land – how challenging the journey has been so far ?
The journey has started with more of a passion than profession and whatever followed after that most of it was not planned in the true sense. I have started with community services and then worked with wildlife trust of India for some time. It was indeed an unconventional jump from there to the media industry- into the world of environmental journalism. In fact, while I was doing my research and working with the communities closely and studying their relationship with nature, I found there were some other changes happening around. Uncontrolled urbanization was happening at a rapid pace, road are being made cutting the trees, diverting the forest’s natural paths. That was the moment I felt the need to act on these stories – the urge to make people aware what actually is happening behind the scene and the connotation of the same on nature and eco-system in the long run. Perhaps, that was how my journey as an environmental journalist, as they call it today, has started.
As you have rightly said that there has been a scenario where environmental journalists has indeed become a threatened species, but, the good news is with the advent of digital media there has been a number of journalists and environmentalists who are coming forward and sharing their views and works with millions of people. This is also exciting to see that there are many people from various professions like lawyers, doctors, theater artists etc. are contributing to the cause of environment through the digital media.
These days I am teaching at Shiv Nadir University on the subject of Media and climate change. Along with that I also balance my first love which is “story-telling” by writing stories for various digital platforms. Besides, I have been trying to make some impacts, wherever possible, by stopping a power-plant, resisting illegal mining companies etc. So, here I am now, from someone who did not want to come to journalism to a 15 years’ journey in the world of Journalism with two books and 12 national awards.
How and when you made up your mind to make it a career goal to be with nature, environment and wildlife conservation?
I did never set out to be a journalist. While I have seen my mother in active journalism and then, ofcourse, my sister in the same field I always wanted to do something different. And so I call myself an accidental journalist.
I always felt a strong inclination towards environmental issues, wildlife conservation and community development. When working with snake charmers for over a decade helping them for livelihood options in tune with wildlife laws, I realized the truth that in a country like India, if we do not address the livelihood issues of these people on the ground, no amount of superficial works and projects would have an impact. At the age of 22, I started my initial journey working extensively in the rural areas and forest lands of UP, Haryana, Goa, North East etc and the invaluable experiences and knowledge of the power dynamics and how it works, that I gathered those days helped me all along in my life and career path.
From being surrounded by mining mafias to trekking down the rain forest of Indonesia , exploring Antarctica, or framing the ‘last dance of the saras’ – you have experienced it all ; share with us some of your most memorable experiences :
I think your first story is always your first love. So, I think Saras Crane one is my favorite. I still remember that I had no clue what I was doing and what I was getting into. It was about a powerful politician that time, you all know. Luckily I had well wishers, people from TV channels, my producer Rohit Khanna who was constantly warning me about the possible danger, my fantastic cameraman – it was a great team work at the end of the day. I at one point I ended up arguing on air with the powerful Politician who even went to the extent of calling it “conspiracy of the opposition”.
The uncertainty and endurance of the entire episode made it so memorable for me. But those were the early days of my time with then CNN IBN. But, there are so many of unforgettable experiences with nature. Watching a leopard hunting in Kabini, watching hornbills in western ghat, Gangetic dolphins in ganga- all of these are goose bumps moments for me.
What’s your favorite wildlife destination?
This is like asking a kid to go to a bakery and to pick up the most favorite cake. I would say my favorite wildlife destination is not one but spread through five states of India and that is none other than Western Ghat. The 160,000 square kilometers of mountain ranges that runs through the entire south west of the country is the store house of amazing bio-diversity, cultures, communities, wildlife. The amazing varieties in landscape are very unique there. I would rather suggest travelers to not to visit only state or one part of the western ghat but try to cover as much as possible.
Mainstream media is not known for investing much for conservation related productions or initiatives. Do you think that is one of the reasons for people being not sensitive enough in India for wildlife and nature?
I agree that as a part of mainstream media we should introspect as story teller of environmental issues. This is very crucial to keep on reinventing. I believe in my journey I have reinvented myself. From a pure broadcast journalist at one point time, I have learnt to manage everything of my own… to become a multimedia complete journalist.
To answer your question in a deeper perspective, media is going undoubtedly through the most difficult phase. Even when we are talking, there are hundreds of journalists losing their jobs across the country. While digital media is showing a fare amount of hope, but it lacks the financial support it requires at this moment.
Your book “Green Wars” is not simply an account of events but a journey of an individual towards her dream facing the challenges and complicacies of the socio-political system. What advice you would like to give our readers and young bloods wanting to make a mark in the field of environment and conservation?
My second book which is called Rewilding -India’s Experiments in Saving Nature is about a story of my transition as a journalist who was exposing narratives to someone who went on documenting all that is right also in the world. It is about resetting or restocking the bio-diversity. Thus, it is at the end of the day, how you are telling your stories. For example, you are telling your own stories through your digital
platform encouraging people to experience the travel and nature. My conservation stories would aim at making people motivated enough to get into some action. As a journalist it is our job to also make the people in power and policy makers to think and do the meaningful jobs. There are people who are doing great in the area of conservation and environment and I hope their works are going to inspire many others.
The good news is I found the younger generations are far more sensitive to the issues like climate change, bio diversity etc. You are right, where people get lost is finding the ways or how to do it. So, my advice would to the younger generation, if you are a good story teller, tell stories about this wonderful world – the way you perceive it. And that would make a difference. Climate change and our relationship with nature are going to be the big stories in the time to come.
I would also say that we should stop complaining too much and try to focus on what we can contribute in our own ways.
What’s next for Bahar Dutt ?
I hope I don’t become boring and predictable and I can continue reinventing myself.
Couple of things that I am doing presently- One is working on a Mitti- project. There is a place in south Delhi where we have kids as well as university students from different spheres coming to learn things like how food is grown , organic farming, interacting with farmers, small nature trails, understand the aspects of bio diversity. This is a passion project for me.
I am also teaching at Shiv Nadar University on environmental subject .Although this is quite a new profession for me but I am enjoying…
I am part of a show called Earth Talk. I do it for the Observer Research Foundation. It is a reality talk show where we profile people for discussion on topic related to climate change, environment and other issues.
Although the pandemic has been cruel to the travel industry but, I think, the good thing is travel within India is going to pick up much more. Recently I drove in my own car with my two kids to Bharatpur and from there to Ranthambore. It was after a long time, a beautiful experience for me. We went off the highway, drove through the village roads; saw the tiger in the forest. More than anything else, the scent of the forest and the feel of pure nature felt like I was back- in- home after months!
I think the post pandemic period people would be longing for these kinds of experiences and platforms like Travellers’ World is going to be helpful.