Stories behind the story

Ram
From tracking down a rebel leader in the North-east to reporting on the water wars of Bundelkhand, the third Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism (2007-2008) recognised real stories that were waiting to be told. The winners and their prize stories

P. Sainath

The Hindu

Journalist of the Year (Print)

During the Lakme Fashion Week, 2006, when many a pen was busy recording every costume ruche and ramp twirl, P. Sainath was doing a head count. "While the Lakme Fashion Week was on, farmers were committing suicide in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, to the tune of seven a day. Yet, there were all of six journalists covering Vidarbha in the mainstream press, while there were 512 covering the Fashion Week. The theme of the Fashion Week was cotton; yet within that time frame, nearly 50 cotton farmers killed themselves," Sainath says. The facts led him to write a news series on the agrarian crisis that made the world sit up and take notice. His work on rural issues over 2007-08 earned him the award. His next series tracks the migration of those who have lost their jobs. "The stories are out there," he says. "We just have to resist scoop logic."

Dnyanesh V Jathar

The Week

Reporting on HIV/AIDS (Print, english)

The story of AIDS orphans was close to Jathar's heart. Coming from rural Maharashtra, he was keen to tell the stories of these abandoned children. "I come from Sangli district and an NGO there has 700 children who have been orphaned due to AIDS. People who run the NGO sometimes take leftovers meant for animals and feed it to their children," he says. People reporting on health issues, especially HIV/AIDS, usually focus on the stereotypes, he says. "Most reports talk about the problems faced by commercial sex workers and trouble in getting treated. But the human face of any disease are the women and children. Children are helpless and suffer for no fault of theirs," he says. For his story, Jathar travelled in rural Maharashtra for a month. "Most of my case studies have come from rural areas and compared to cities, the effect of any disease or epidemic is magnified there," he says.

Sonu Jain

The Indian Express

Environmental reporting (Print)

Sonu Jain paid heed to signs around her which everyone ignored: that India's air and water were being brazenly polluted. "A bit of digging showed that there was a danger of India becoming a dumping ground for toxins—be it ships headed to ship-breaking yards in Gujarat, unregulated imports of mercury and asbestos or just old waste oil being shipped out from developed countries to be burnt here. While the rest of the world considered these to be dangerous, India seemed to be living in denial ," she says. Her investigations led her to bylanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi where crude cans of mercury sat in shops, to the corridors of the Supreme Court where copious petitions had been filed by activists. Her exemplary news series, 'Tolerating Toxins', opened many eyes and initiated public discussions.

Sreenivasan Jain

NDTV

Political Reporting (Broadcast)

When the nation saw the Ram Setu issue in black and white, Jain explored the grey strands instead. "The nuances of the debate were being missed out totally. Tamil Nadu has a strong tradition of Hindu religion and yet the government is avowedly atheist. However, though they openly criticise religiosity, internally they are religious," says Jain, managing editor, NDTV 24x7. Jain's Ram Setu report explored these very inherent contradictions alongside DMK's ideology of rationalism in Tamil Nadu. "What we tried bringing out was how Ram is looked at in India and how the Dravidian party looks at Ram. In this entire debate, Ram was actually demonised too," Jain says. Doing such a nuanced story for television was a real challenge and Jain came out with a winning story.

Karan Thapar

BBC News

Journalist of the Year (broadcast)

With Devil's Advocate, Karan Thapar took off from where he left with Hard Talk India, his talk show on BBC where guests rarely make it past his incisive questions. "My objective is to make people in power accountable," says Thapar. "I am simply persistent with the guests. If I put a question worth asking, they must answer it as the audience deserves to hear those answers," he says. However, his questions—often uncomfortable—have never upset his relationship with any of his guests, he says. "All my questions are based on facts and I ask them within my professional capacity. My guests understand it is not a personal attack. Although there have been instances of brief friction, they have always come back for more interviews." The biggest sports, he says, are politicians. "They have this amazing quality of pitching in at the last moment. They never duck," says Thapar.

Umashankar Singh

NDTV India

Journalism in Hindi (Broadcast)

It was the murder of four people in Bundelkhand that set Umashankar Singh on a trail that brought the magnitude of the region's water crisis to the national consciousness. The water wars in Madhya Pradesh had resulted in looting, riots and murder. "When we reached Bundelkhand, we were told that families do not want their daughters to marry boys from this region because living here would mean walking hours every day to fetch water. There were so many facets to the water crisis that we kept shooting for three days," says Singh. Though he had set out for a three-four minute report, he came back with a half-hour bulletin on the crisis. The assignment was a challenge. "We didn't even have water to drink but we continued shooting because going back to the closest city would have meant that we lost close to 10 hours," he says.

Punya Prasun Bajpai

Pratham Pravakta

Journalism in Hindi (Print)

"One day, a woman came up to me and said that her husband, a naxalite, had been murdered by the state police. Following her trail, when I visited some villages in Chattisgarh, I realised there were hundreds of such cases," Bajpai says. "Women were being raped, young men were dragged out of their houses, labeled naxals and killed by the police. I soon realised political and commercial agencies were also involved." Bajpai went from house to house, making a list of the number of women raped and the number of persons killed. When he managed to get both parties to talk to him, he "realised all the violence had a simple cause—it was about getting two square meals a day. The struggle was all about securing sustainability for themselves."

P. Vaidyanathan Iyer

Business World

Business and Economic Journalism (Print)

He broke the story of the economic downturn in India in late 2007, at a time when every one was praising India's spectacular growth. "Industrial production had come down, but in October and November 2007, RBI Governor Y.B. Reddy kept increasing interest rates. Despite the fall in production, the monetary policies were only being tightened further. There was something wrong," Iyer says. "It was difficult to convince my editor that everything wasn't the way other news stories were portraying it. There was scepticism about the story. Also, there was initially only two months data to prove the trend," says Iyer, who was then with Business World. "Even now, people may not want to address the slowdown. But as a journalist, it is imperative to look beyond the obvious," says Iyer, now the national business editor of The Indian Express.

Savita Vikram Karkare

Lokmat

Reporting on HIV/AIDS (print, Marathi)

Her story underlined the effect of HIV/AIDS on middle-class families and newly married couples. She interviewed over 50 HIV positive women—mostly married to HIV positive men who did not reveal their status before the wedding. "A majority of these women found out that they were positive when they became pregnant. Many had been infected by their husbands. After the death of their husbands, these young widows were abandoned by their families," says Karkare. Getting an HIV positive person to talk about the illness was not easy. Karkare finally found a young woman who was willing to talk. "That gave confidence to a lot of women to come forward. The woman I featured has now moved out of Pune and runs her own positive network," she says.

Sandeep Dwivedi

The Indian Express

Sports (print)

After being defeated by Ireland and making an exit from the World Cup, journalists following the Pakistani team did not have much on their plate. That is when news of coach Bob Woolmer being 'rushed to the hospital' trickled in. "At first we were told he was unwell, then news spread that he may be dead," says Dwivedi. For someone who had covered sports all his professional life, reporting on a crime scene was challenging, he adds. "It was interesting and challenging because it was a foreign country and we had no sources to speak to. It was during dinner with other journalists that we were told about the conference in which the police said that it was an unnatural death," says Dwivedi. With the entire world's media covering the story, the pressure to get it right was big. Dwivedi kept close to the facts.

Ramachandra Guha

Books

(non-fiction)

Peter Straus, a publisher who formerly worked with Macmillan, London, noticed how Indian history was unaccounted post Independence and was on the lookout for someone who could tell the story lucidly, yet explore it in all its complexities. And that's how Ramachandra Guha was commissioned to write India after Gandhi. It took him eight years to conceptualise the chapter scheme, research extensively and then write and rewrite. "Working out the architecture of the book was the most difficult part as it was a massive conceptual challenge to tell the history in a readable, logical way," Guha says. Five sections in the book recount the history of India right from 1947, ending with the train bombings of 2006. "This was clearly my most ambitious and intellectually challenging project so far. I hope this book becomes the beginning of a rich and deep conversation and debate," he says.

Muzamil Jaleel

The Indian Express

Reporting on J&K (Print)

It was Muzamil Jaleel's hard investigations that led him to an internal police report, blowing the lid off one of the biggest scandals to rock Kashmir. Top officials in the Valley were all part of a sex scandal, trading girls for official favours. "The story blew Srinagar away. The city shut down for a month and people were out in the streets, protesting," Jaleel, head of the Kashmir bureau of The Indian Express, says.

He got death threats from unknown numbers. The government was in denial, but he followed up with more hard-nosed reporting. "Eventually, two former ministers, one DIG and top bureaucrats were sacked.

We did 60 stories in all." Jaleel and his bureau in Kashmir also exposed how the police and the army, in connivance with each other, were picking up poor people from the streets, killing them in fake encounters.

Neelesh Mishra & Nagendar Sharma

The Hindustan Times

Uncovering Invisible India (Print)

During a conversation about insurgency, Mishra and Sharma realised that one-fourth of the country was at war from within. They found statistics from the Ministry of Rural Development which said that in 2006-07, Rs 58,000 crore had been allocated to insurgency-affected areas and nearly half of it had not been used. "We decided to follow the money. It was clear that insurgency was a convenient excuse for misgovernance in these areas. Over the next few weeks, we travelled to seven states," says Mishra. This was not easy. "We were right in the heartland of insurgency. We had no credible sources and journalists mostly refused to talk. Our agenda was not to focus on insurgency. Our only concern was governance," says Sharma. The result was a nine-part series on how government money was used as directed by insurgents.

Nidhi Razdan

NDTV

Reporting on J&K (Broadcast)

When Nidhi Razdan was working on 'A new Kashmir', a series on the youngsters of Kashmir and their aspirations, the challenge lay in "capturing the complexities of their lives and translating it through video—for nothing is black and white in Kashmir." What followed was an "eye-opener". Like in any other state, the youth of Kashmir wanted to move on. They wanted jobs, they wanted development. Razdan says that while filming the series, she realised that though the Kashmiri youth did not really like India, they had had enough of the principle of separatism and the ensuing violence. The residents came out openly to meet her and to answer her questions, to share their dreams and aspirations, Razdan says.

P.K. Prakash

Madhyamam Daily

Journalism in a regional language (Print)

Cases of farmer suicides were rising in Kerala during 2005-07. While Prakash began to keep a watch on the numbers, he realised that the agricultural sector in Kerala was in a deep crisis. Through the next one month, Prakash travelled across the major agricultural districts of Kerala—Idukki, Alappuzha, Palakkad and Wayanad—witnessing the pathetic situation that finally led farmers to commit suicide. His series, 'Gambles of the market', showed how globalisation was impacting the remotest corners of the countryside. "Most of Kerala is linked with the global market. Hence the stability of crop price is essential to the existence of farmers," Prakash says. After his stories were printed, the government released agricultural relief packages for the districts of Idukki and Palakkad. "The misery, however, continues. Agricultural packages without assuring price stability will never help," Prakash says.

Sayli Udas Mankikar, The Hindustan Times

Prakash Kardaley Memorial Award for Civic Journalism

It was when Sayli Udas Mankikar questioned the policy of 20 Gymkhanas in the city, which despite standing on the Collector's land, were not open to common people, that she discovered a political nexus behind the unfair government policy. Her reports forced the state revenue authorities into bringing a new gymkhana lease policy. Today, Mumbai has a government policy, which gives 20 per cent access to citizens. "There was a lot of political pressure to keep the issue under the wraps as most of these spaces were owned by political bigwigs and they didn't want a change in policy," Mankikar says. Such was the opposition that she was even gheraoed and threatened at a press conference. Though the whole year that she chased the stories was nothing short of a nightmare, when the policy changed, she won her award.

Subrata Nagchoudhury & Ravik Bhattacharya, The Indian Express

Political reporting (Print)

When Subrata Nagchoudhary and Ravik Bhattacharya decided to cover the Nandigram clash, they knew the road ahead would not be smooth. They remained persistent, gathering crucial records from the tight-lipped administration. CPI(M) cadres and members of the Trinamool Congress kept an eye on them. "Once, while we were on our way to Nandigram, fully-armed CPM cadres appeared from nowhere and attacked us. Our driver immediately took a U-turn and saved our lives," says Nagchoudhary. On a visit to a hospital where victims of the clash had been admitted, Bhattacharya met a woman who alleged that she had been raped by CPI(M) cadres. Subsequent visits to the villages brought out more tales of gruesome atrocities committed by state forces and the Opposition.

Mridu Bhandari

CNN-IBN

Uncovering Invisible India (Broadcast)

In her series on child labour for CNN-IBN, Bhandari looked beyond the obvious. So instead of going to factories, she walked into the homes of children, where she found shocking cases of exploitation. "We ran a series on the eve of Children's Day, focusing on the bangle industry in Ferozabad, the brass industry in Moradabad and carpet weaving in Mirzapur. We found children between five and 14 working from their homes, where their parents got them to do the work," says Bhandari. Her story on women manual scavengers in the villages of Madhya Pradesh was another narrative that was waiting to be told. "Two decades after manual scavenging was banned, it is rampant in the villages of Madhya Pradesh, where lower caste women have failed to get out of the trap," says Bhandari. Bhandari is now associate producer, ET Now .

Shital Morjaria

TV9

Journalism in a regional Language (Broadcast)

When Shital Morjaria started a women's show in Telugu called Naveena in 2006, she was clear it would be different. "I knew the show would have no cooking, no jewellery, no interior design. It was to be a show on real issues." She then visited Medak, about 100 km from Hyderabad, and found an Ayurvedic doctor doing illegal vasectomies on women. As Naveena gathered steam, it touched on issues like marital rape and NRI brides, focusing on the issues of urban and rural women. Her inbox is now full, both with enquiries from women and hate mail.

M.S. RagHavender

TV9

Journalism in a regional Language (Broadcast)

When television journalist M.S. Raghavender noticed a strange trend in northern Karnataka, he decided to look harder. "I found that women were being sold off to Marwar in Rajasthan, where the sex ratio was very low. It was done in the guise of marriage but the practise was different from Vadhu-dakshina or even Kanya Shulk, where the father of the bride is paid money to marry off his daughter. Here, the fathers knew that their daughters were going into the flesh trade," he says. Raghavender's stories had an impact. "There was a case in Hubli Court and the kingpin, Raju, was arrested," he says.

Rudraneil Sengupta

CNN-IBN

Sports (Broadcast)

In a country where cricket is religion, Sengupta, senior producer and correspondent with CNN-IBN, chose to shift the limelight to river rafters at the National Rafting Championship held in Ladakh. The story caught wide attention as the cameras followed the otherwise conservative Ladakhi women rafting in one of the highest gorge rivers in the country. With their cameras wrapped in plastic and bubblewrap, the crew kept their spirits high. The story covered not just the fun part of rafting but also took a close look at the safety angle. "We were faced with new challenges while covering this story," Sengupta says.

Abhishek Upadhyay

IBN7

Business and economics (broadcast)

Abhishek Upadhyay was on his way to cover the strike called by medical students in Gujarat against reservation, when at a traffic junction, a man gave him a pamphlet and told him he had been tricked by some stock brokers and that the Income Tax Department had refused to help. A trip to Mehsana, in Gujarat, followed, and it led to the uncovering of the parallel stock market run by brokers in the state. While meeting them, Upadhyay pretended to be an investor, smoking Marlboros and driving a big car to appear rich. Undaunted by threats, he blew the lid off the whole scam—which he realised extended all the way to Mumbai—in a month's time.

V.K. Shashikumar

CNN-IBN

Reporting on the north-east (Broadcast)

The fact that there were so many stories of the "hidden wars" in India's north-east that remained untold inspired Shashikumar to begin a series on the region. For his special investigation team, it entailed spending six months tying up contacts and an arduous, five-day trek across Manipur before he could meet United National Liberation Front Chairman Sanayaima. "While talking, we realised both of us had studied at Jadavpur University," he says. Sanayaima then immediately opened up, agreeing to talk on national television—in his first interview to a TV channel. "The interview made us realise Manipur had a serious insurgency problem," he says.

Joseph Johnson

Financial Times

Foreign Correspondent Covering India

Coming in the wake of the Sachar Committee report, Joseph Johnson's story for the Financial Times located the Indian Muslim in his complex environment—riots, terrorism, poverty and occasional stardom. "I was trying to look at what sociologists called upper class inclusion and lower class exclusion and found it to be true," he says. Over two weeks in 2007, Johnson travelled across the country, visiting Muslim ghettos—Juhapura in suburban Gujarat and others in Mumbai and Kashmir. From here, he told the story of the faceless, lost Muslim placed in contrast with the Muslim intelligentsia and the reigning King Khans of Bollywood.

Shoma Chaudhury

Tehelka

Film and Television (Print)

In an age when you know everything you want to—or don't want to—about a celebrity, how does one bring freshness to an interview with the stars? Chaudhury managed the impossible in her interviews with Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, talking on subjects ranging from journalism to politics to Islam.

"I was clear that I did not want to cover the same ground and follow stereotypes in the interviews. I was looking mostly for definitive episodes in their lives. They are both media saturated public figures and both are very clever. So it is difficult to be personal and contemplative with them," says Chaudhury. But she managed to be both.

Swati Thiyagarajan

NDTV

Environmental reporting (Broadcast)

In her long career in wildlife journalism, Thiyagarajan was no stranger to Orissa and its wildlife. She was shocked when she learnt that as many as nine elephants were electrocuted in the state in 2007. "I went to the Keonjhar area to find that wild elephants and tribals were locked in a battle not of their making. The conflict never existed before. It was because of mining. Elephant corridors had been shut off." For the story, she and her cameraperson parked themselves in paddy fields. "There was a risk involved, yes," she says . Now based in South Africa, Thiyagarajan is exploring wildlife conservation strategies in Africa.

Vaishali Sood

CNN-IBN

Film and Television (broadcast)

In a report called The 70-mm Myth, Vaishali Sood exposed the dark underbelly of the glamour industry. She showed exploitation in Bollywood featuring line workers like spot boys, production crew and extras and also musicians and actors. "Production houses make these people work for hours on end and then there are stories of actors and workers fainting on the sets. We felt that sometimes in our coverage we tend to ignore the darker aspects of film making, focusing only on the glitz and glamour instead," says Sood, an associate features editor with CNN-IBN.

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