Honouring Sainath

Published : Sep 21, 2007 00:00 IST

P. Sainath has given voice to the poorest in rural India.-ROMEO GACAD/AFP

P. Sainath has given voice to the poorest in rural India.-ROMEO GACAD/AFP

P. Sainath has

IF this silly fellow keeps writing the things he does and saying the things he says, then he has no future at all. Certainly no one in power or positions of authority can ever forgive him, said the late writer Khwaja Ahmad Abbas of his proteg, journalist Palagummi Sainath.

Yet, if Abbas were alive today, he would not have been surprised to know that Sainath has been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts for his passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to Indias consciousness, moving the nation to action. Sainath is Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu.

This boy is brilliant, Abbas said in 1984. Sainath represents not only journalisms most well-informed radical face, but also its most humane stream; the traditions of a generation to which he did not belong, the freedom struggle generation, with a willingness to sacrifice and be defeated, but not to surrender. Sainath comes from a family of freedom fighters. His grandfather, a former President of India, V.V. Giri, was a freedom fighter and one of Indias foremost trade union leaders .

In his 26-year career, Sainath has been not just a journalist but an icon for the underdog. He has persistently given voice to the poorest in rural India and has been instrumental in going beyond bleeding heart stories to expose the structural inequalities and the policies of economic liberalisation that have aggravated social injustice.

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Before the Magsaysay award, Sainath won over 30 national and international journalism awards and fellowships, including the Harry Chapin Media Award in 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisations (FAO) Boerma Journalism Prize 2001, Amnesty Internationals Global Award for Human Rights Journalism and the B.D. Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2000, and the European Commissions Natali Prize and the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties Human Rights Journalism Award in 1994.

Sainath is a passionate orator and teacher. His talks on globalisation, deprivation and the media attract thousands across the globe. He has inspired an entire generation of young journalists. Sainath teaches journalism at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, and Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai.

Born in Chennai in 1957, Sainath completed a masters degree in history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi before joining the Press Trust of India as a journalist. Later, he worked at Blitz, a Mumbai tabloid, where he rose to be Deputy Chief Editor and became a popular columnist. During his years at Blitz, Sainath wrote on foreign affairs, with revealing insights on U.S. imperialism, media monopolies and nuclear relations. This aspect of his work is not widely known or read since it was before the advent of the Internet.

Currently, Sainath has been working on the agrarian crisis across India and has relentlessly embarrassed governments. His reports induced the Prime Minister to visit regions in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh where there are alarming rates of farmers suicides.

Sainath plans to use a part of his prize money from the Ramon Magsaysay Award to help the widows of suicide victims. A large part of the award will go towards creating an oral and visual archive of rural India and of the last surviving freedom fighters. The project on freedom fighters is currently being serialised in The Hindu.

Dionne Bunsha
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