'Rajuma's Story Stopped Me': Veteran Reporter Can't Shake It

Jeffrey Gettleman of 'New York Times' recalls wrenching interview with Rohingya woman
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2017 2:13 PM CDT
Reporter Had Seen It All. 'But Rajuma's Story Stopped Me'
Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar walk toward refugee camps in Bangladesh.   (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Last week, reporter Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times wrote a harrowing account of how Myanmar soldiers ripped a baby boy from the arms of his Rohingya mother and threw the child into a fire before raping her. Now, in a first-person account, Gettleman writes that his interview with the woman shook him to his core. "I’ve covered genocide in Sudan and children being blown apart in Iraq," along with "earthquakes, hurricanes, civil wars, international wars, insurgencies and famines." In other words, he's seen it all. "But Rajuma's story stopped me." He remembers her sobbing as she told him the story, backed up by witnesses, and second-guessing himself for putting her through it again. But he then realized that ignoring it, and the larger story of the Rohingya ("probably one of the most unwanted ethnic groups on the planet") would be worse.

The details themselves were brutal enough, the boy screaming for his mother as he burned to death, but Gettleman writes that ending the interview also was wrenching, because he had no idea what to say in parting. "I wanted to give her every dollar in my wallet. Or hug her. Or punch someone in the face." It's one of the worst parts of being a journalist, he writes, the obligation to stay removed from the story. If Rajuma were bleeding in front of him, of course, he wouldn't hesitate to help. "But that wasn’t the situation here; her baby was dead and she would be traumatized forever." In the end, he settled for the Bengali phrase “Ami dukkhito," which he'd been using over and over in the Rohingya camps. It means, "I'm sorry." The full account is well worth a read. (More Rohingya stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.