P. Sainath in a Meeting at Attappadi, Palakkad
Madras, Tamil Nadu
|Alma mater||Loyola College|
Jawaharlal Nehru University
|Genre||Non-fiction, political commentary|
|Notable works||Everybody Loves a Good Drought|
People's Archive of Rural India
|Notable awards||Ramon Magsaysay Award|
PUCL Human Rights Journalism Award
|Relatives||V.V. Giri, Palagummi Harish |
Palagummi Sainath (born 1957) is an Indian journalist who focuses on social & economic inequality, rural affairs, poverty and the aftermath of globalization in India. He is the founder editor of the People's Archive of Rural India, he was the Rural Affairs Editor at The Hindu before resigning in 2014,. The website India Together has been archiving some of his work in The Hindu daily for the past six years. Since late 2011, he has been working on People's Archive of Rural India, PARI, of which he is the Founder Editor.
Amartya Sen has called him "one of the world's great experts on famine and hunger". In June 2011, Sainath was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree (DLitt) by the University of Alberta, the university's highest honor, he is one of few Indians to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which he accepted in 2007 in the category of Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts.
Sainath went to Loyola College, he is a history graduate of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi He was awarded a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) honoris causa by the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 2011.
Sainath started his career as a journalist at the United News of India in 1980 where he received the news agency's highest individual award, he then worked for the Blitz, then a major Indian weekly tabloid published from Mumbai with a circulation of 600,000, first as foreign affairs editor and then as deputy editor, which he continued for ten years. Since 1988 Sainath has trained well over 1,000 mediapersons, he was a visiting faculty at Sophia Polytechnic's Social Communications Media course and also at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai where he taught the course, "Covering Deprivation". He was the McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University Fall (2012). On June 1, 2015, Sainath became the first ThoughtWorks Chair Professor in Rural India and Digital Knowledge at the Asian College of Journalism, he is also the holder of the Coady Chair in Social Justice at St. Francis Xavier University, Canada.
Sainath toured ten drought-stricken states in India, about which he recalled: "That's when I learned that conventional journalism was above all about the service of power. You always give the last word to authority. I got a couple of prizes which I didn't pick up because I was ashamed."
He was awarded the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's most prestigious prize (and often referred to as the ‘Asian Nobel’), for Journalism Literature and Creative Communications Arts, he was given the award for his “passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India’s national consciousness.” He was the first Indian to win the Magsaysay in that category in nearly 25 years (after R.K. Laxman), he was also the first reporter in the world to win Amnesty International's Global Human Rights Journalism Prize in its inaugural year in 2000.
He won the inaugural World Media Summit Global Award for Excellence 2014 in Public Welfare for exemplary news professionals in developing countries, his other awards include: the United Nation's Food & Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Boerma Prize (the foremost award for development journalism) in 2000; the Harry Chapin Media Award in New York, 2006; and was the first and only print media journalist until now to win the Inspiration Award at the Global Visions Film Festival in Edmonton, Canada in 2002. He was also the first Indian reporter to win the European Commission's Lorenzo Natali Prize for journalism in 1995. Apart from the 40 plus print media awards, two documentary films on his work, ‘Nero’s Guests’ and 'A Tribe of his Own,’ have between them picked up over 20 awards across the globe.
As a development journalist
The International Monetary Fund-led economic reforms launched in 1991 by Manmohan Singh constituted a watershed in India's economic history and in Sainath's journalistic career, he felt that the media's attention was moving from "news" to "entertainment" and consumerism and lifestyles of the urban elite gained prominence in the newspapers which rarely carried news of the reality of poverty in India. "I felt that if the Indian press was covering the top 5 per cent, I should cover the bottom 5 per cent", says Sainath.
In 1993 Sainath applied for a Times of India fellowship. At the interview he spoke of his plans to report from rural India; when an editor asked him, "Suppose I tell you my readers aren't interested in this stuff", Sainath answered, "When did you last meet your readers to make any such claims on their behalf?"[This quote needs a citation]
He was awarded the fellowship and took to the back roads in the ten poorest districts of five states, it meant covering close to 100,000 km across India using 16 forms of transportation, including walking 5,000 km on foot. He credits two sympathetic editors at the Times with much of his success in getting the articles published in their present form, since it is one among the very newspapers that has been accused of shifting the onus from page one to page three; the paper ran 84 reports by Sainath across 18 months, many of them subsequently reprinted in his book, Everybody Loves A Good Drought.
For more than two years, the book remained No.1 amongst non-fiction bestsellers on diverse lists across the country. Eventually, it entered the ranks of Penguin India’s all-time best sellers; the book is now in its thirty-first edition and is still in print.
Canadian documentary film maker Joe Moulins made a film about Sainath titled "A Tribe of his Own"; when the jury at the Edmonton International Film Festival picked its winner, it decided to include Sainath in the award along with the maker of the film because this was 'an award about inspiration'. Another documentary film, Nero's Guests, looks at inequality (as manifest in India's agrarian crisis) through Sainath's reporting on the subject. Nero's Guests won the Indian Documentary Producers Association's Gold Medal for best documentary for 2010.
His writing has provoked responses that include the revamping of the Drought Management Programs in the state of Tamil Nadu, development of a policy on indigenous medical systems in Malkangiri in Orissa, and revamping of the Area Development Program for tribal people in Madhya Pradesh state; the Times of India institutionalized his methods of reporting and sixty other leading newspapers initiated columns on poverty and rural development. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Agriculture Commission in Andhra Pradesh to suggest ways for improving agriculture in that state:
The crisis states are AP, Rajasthan and Orissa. In the single district of Anantapur, in Andhra Pradesh, between 1997 and 2000, more than 1800 people have committed suicides, but when the state assembly requested these statistics, only 54 were listed. [see 29 April and 6 May issues of The Hindu, for more details]. Since suicide is considered a crime in India, the district crime records bureaus list categories for suicide – unrequited love, exams, husbands' and wives' behavior, etc.; in Anantapur, the total from these categories was less than 5%. The largest number, 1061 people, were listed as having committed suicide because of "stomach ache"; this fatal condition results from consuming Ciba-Geigy's pesticide, which the government distributes free, and is almost the only thing the rural poor can readily acquire!!
One of his more recent projects, on dalits, for The Hindu, is nearly complete, and he is planning a book based on this work; this project covers a gigantic area across 15 states in India. He has already covered 150,000 km and has five more states to go; when the newspapers were unwilling to fund beyond a point, Sainath spent from his own resources, his savings, his provident fund, his gratuity – avoiding corporate sponsors.
Sainath also takes all the photographs that have accompanied his reporting for the past 30 years, his exhibition Visible Work, Invisible Women: Women and work in rural India has been seen by more than 600,000 people in India alone. A public space exhibition, it has been shown at factory gates, village squares, bus and railway stations, colleges and similar venues in India, but also at galleries overseas, including at the Asia Society in New York and others in Japan, Canada and elsewhere.
Sainath's most important work from the past decade focuses on India's agrarian crisis, with roughly 200 exclusive field reports and news analysis and hundreds of photographs; this work established – entirely using official government data – that more than a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995, many of these due to debt-driven distress.
On World Trade Organization (WTO) and Capitalism vs Socialism:
The WTO and GATT type of agreements are very undemocratic. Corporate leaders make policy, not the elected representatives; when people in Geneva draw up regulations, some local panchayat leader cannot be asked to address the consequences of those decisions, when his/her input was not sought in making the decision itself. The idea of different systems is superficial, the most striking aspect of free-market capitalism is that it has benefited the exact same people who gained from socialism! It isn't unexpected, either. After all, the South Commission report was signed by Manmohan Singh 90 days before the liberalization process, can he really have changed his views that much in that time? Political opportunism and media management have provided the appearance of different choices and systems, without any meaningful changes in outcomes.
On the condition of law and order maintenance in India:
"All the judges of the Supreme Court do not have the power of a single police constable. That constable makes or breaks us; the judges can't re-write the laws and have to listen to learned lawyers of both sides. A constable here simply makes his own laws, he can do almost anything." With state and society winking at him, he pretty much can.
Even a call for discussing this amounts to demanding ‘obsolete’ practices of the interventionist state. If we hadn’t mucked around trying to get the state to play God for 50 years, none of this would have happened. If only we had got it right and let the market play God instead.Based on the premise that the market is the solution to all the problems of the human race, it is, too, a very religious fundamentalism, it has its own Gospel: The Gospel of St. Growth, of St. Choice...Welcome to the world of Market Fundamentalism. To the Final Solution.
On the absence of reporting on the poor in India:
"You see it in the simplest and most direct way: the organisation of beats. Many beats have become extinct. Take the labour correspondent: when labour issues are covered at all, they come under the header of Industrial Relations, and they’re covered by business correspondents; that means they’re covered by the guy whose job is to walk in the tracks of corporate leaders, and who, when he deigns to look at labour, does it through the eyes of corporate leaders. Now find me the agriculture columnist – in most newspapers, the idea doesn’t exist any more. If you lack correspondents on those two beats, you’re saying 70 per cent of the people in this country don’t matter, I don’t want to talk to them."
Honours and awards
In June 2011, Sainath was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree (DLitt) by the University of Alberta, the university's highest honor, he is one of few Indians to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which he accepted in 2007 in the category of Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts.
In January 2009 Sainath was reported to have declined a state award, but he has received close to 40 other national and international journalism awards and fellowships in 30 years as a journalist, including the Ramon Magsaysay journalism award in 2007, the European Commission's Natali Prize in 1994 and the Boerma Journalism Prize from the UN FAO in 2001 (along with CNN International's Jim Clancy), the Amnesty International global award for human rights journalism in 2000, the PUCL Human Rights Journalism Award, and the B.D. Goenka award for excellence in journalism in 2000. In June 2006 Sainath won the Judges' prize (newspaper category) in the 2005 Harry Chapin Media Awards; this is for his series in The Hindu on the ongoing agrarian crisis in Vidharbha and other areas. The Harry Chapin Media Awards honour print and electronic media for work "that focuses on the causes of hunger and poverty," including "work on economic inequality and insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, domestic and international policies and their reform, community empowerment, sustainable development, food production."[This quote needs a citation]
In 1984 he was a Distinguished International Scholar at the University of Western Ontario and in 1988 a visiting lecturer at Moscow University, he was also a Distinguished International Professional at Iowa University (Fall 1998), the first McGill Fellow and lecturer at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut (Spring 2002), and visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley at the Graduate School of Journalism (Fall 2008). He has participated in many international initiatives on communications such as the second and third round table on Global Communications sponsored by the UNESCO (1990 and 1991) and in the UNHCR sponsored World Information Campaign on Human Rights (1991), he was conferred with the prestigious Raja-Lakshmi Award in the year 1993 from Sri Raja-Lakshmi Foundation, Chennai.
He is also the only journalist to have won awards from his newspaper's rivals in the north, south, east and west of the country: from the Indian Express in Delhi, the southern edition of the Indian Express now known as the New Indian Express, the Statesman in Kolkata and the fellowship from the Times of India based in Mumbai.
Sainath, at an interaction program in Bangalore, revealed that the People's Archive of Rural India is going to commence operation on an experimental basis from June 2013. According to him this meant to serve as "an archive and living journal of history of rural India", he also clarified that the archive will not accept any direct funding by the government or corporate houses hence it'll be an independent body. Sainath cited "Rural India is the most complex part of the planet" as the reason for launching PARI. 
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