"Journalists must seek and speak the truth, for we are the voice of the voiceless millions." --- Razia Bhatti

Razia Bhatti

The Brave Journalist, Who Could Not Take it Anymore

Those who met Razia Bhatti for the first time, could never imagine that in the personality of a very soft spoken women, hid a bold and a courageous lady of very strong conviction in whatever she did. Some even described her as a crusader or torch-bearer to lead her way through and say what her conscious pricked her to say - never for a moment hesitating of the consequences. Despite constant harassments and threats from those she targeted, she wrote bravely unveiling the political corruption and injustice in society, specially against the women. Two of Pakistan’s leading English language publications bear her name with the editor's seal, "Herald" for 12 years and then of "Newsline" for another eight. In 1994, Razia Bhatti was a awarded with the Courage in Journalism award from the New York based International Women's Media Foundation. She kept fighting for her cause, cause of free and fair journalism, till she could no longer bear the pressures and injustice to her and finally her voice was silenced in 1996 for ever. This is what Razia Bhatti was, but would always be remembered as a symbol of courage.

Razia Bhatti Her Maiden Journey Razia Bhatti did her Masters in English and Journalism from Karachi University and then decided to join the professional journalism. In 1967 she joined The Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan, a reputed magazine later renamed as The Herald and turned into a monthly publication. In 1970, Razia Bhatti became the assistant editor of Herald and then became editor in 1976. The censorship imposed on press during General Zia-ul-Haq's martial law did not deter Razia and she continued her valiant reporting. "General Zia once got so infuriated that he waved a copy of her article at a press conference and said he would not tolerate such journalism," recalls Beena Sarwar in her article, Razia Bhatti and Najma Babar: Two Champions of Independent Journalism in Pakistan. When pressured to curb her writing and support the policies of General Zia's regime, Razia resigned from the magazine. Most of her team of journalists resigned with her and together they established a new current affairs magazine called Newsline. In July 1989, the first issue of Newsline was published with an editor’s note written by Razia which began, "Forty-two years down the road from independence, this nation seems to have bartered away the promise of its birth. To a whole generation of Pakistanis, fear, violence, authoritarianism and deceit represent the norm, for they have known no other." She also added, "The press in Pakistan shares the guilt of this nation’s state. It has been silent when it should have spoken, dishonest when it should have been forthright, succumbed when it should have stood fast."

Awards and Rewards? In December 1994, Newsline published a story about then Prime Minister’s inaction in stopping the rampant riots, killings, and looting, that were terrorizing the Karachites. The Prime Minister responded to this criticism by banning Newsline from all Pakistan International Airline flights. This action of the government did little to quiet the Newsline and Razia and her staff continued reporting on the weaknesses of the government including its foreign policy. Razia Bhatti It was the same time when she was selected beside Christiana Amanpour of CNN and Kathrine Graham of the Washington Post to receive the Courage in Journalism Award in 1994. But this recognition had little effect on the harassment by the government ands the corrupt politicians. In August 1995, police raided Razia Bhatti’s home demanding her appearance at the police station regarding a criminal case filed against her. The case was brought about by then Sindh Governor, in retaliation for a story published about him in Newsline. The news of the raid on Razia’s house resulted in protests from journalists and human rights activists from across the country, following which the Governor retreated and completely withdrew all charges against Razia and the journalist who wrote the story.
But the harm had been done. The consistent pressure since her stint in Herald was taking a heavy toll on her health. The raid on her house and dragging a respectable lady to police station was too much for her. Her health started deteriorating and on 12 March 1996, what every one thought of rising blood pressure was in fact brain hemorrhage and within hours she was no more.

Tribute to Razia Bhatti Razia , through her integrity and dedication, furthered the cause of women's rights and reinforced the importance of free press and journalistic integrity in a country where honesty and free speech are often overrun by corruption and fundamentalist ideals. Razia's willingness to question powerful government officials without fear is the reason that respected Pakistani philosopher and author, Eqbal Ahmad, wrote in his tribute to Razia Bhatti, "She was always in official disfavour. She understood better than most of us, that the relationship between power and the press must necessarily be adversarial if the latter is to fulfill its professional and moral obligation to the public."

Razia Bhatti She is often quoted as the editors' editor. Gifted with the eye and the instinct to sift important from heaps of unimportant trash. Nearly every copy of the magazines she edited was a news breaker, every issue was worth preserving on the shelf. Razia linked contemporary events to the past no less than the future. In a country where incidents of violence against the press were among the highest in the world, Bhatti took on drug cartels, ethnic and fascist political parties, militant Islamic groups, a president's son-in-law, a prime minister's spouse and successive governments. Bhatti wrote of her mission, "Ours is the venture of a team of working journalists who want to serve this nation in the way they know best: to seek the truth, to spotlight injustice and to fight for redress. We hope not only to appeal to the reason, but to touch the heart."

How right she was - she not only touched our hearts with her pen, but also when she bid us farewell without giving us time to tell her how great she was and how she really touched our hearts all along our lives. How many people mourn the death of a journalist in Pakistan, one may wonder. But while writing these closing lines on this exclusive site on Razia Bhatti, I am very certain that a large number of people would have cried on her untimely departure, leaving behind journalism in Pakistan to be steered by those who need easy money by reporting what a few people want, while turning a blind eye to the realities and sufferings of the voiceless millions.


WASHINGTON, Nov 13, 2000: Pakistan's ambassador Dr Maleeha Lodhi to US and a colleague and friend of Razia Bhatti placed a memorial plaque honouring the crusading journalist, in a corner of a Virginia Restaurant that has become a haunt of Pakistani journalists, writers and concerned individuals based in the Washington area. The plaque recalls Razia Bhatti's brave and trailblazing role in establishing a tradition of principled journalism devoted to the highest public interest and opening the doors of the profession to women, "proving they could not only be men's equals but their betters if given the opportunity". Shandana Minhas writes about Razia Bhatti,"It was her spirit that helped create, and sustain, a magazine that told the truth. Ugly truths yes, and depressing reading, but made easier to swallow by the beauty of the thought behind it. Sometimes, in an avalanche of too much (negative) information it’s easy to forget that ‘the truth shall prevail’ is valued as an ideal not because the truth ‘must’ prevail but because only the truth will lead us on to better things. There is hope behind that avalanche of negativity, the hope lies in the fact that we criticize in the hopes of salvaging something we believe in."


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