Most Read

Josy Joseph’s Feast of Vultures

An award-winning journalist draws up on the stories of anonymous poor and famous Indians to weave together the challenges facing the nation.
Read More

Mahasweta : Life And Legacy

Mahasweta Devi's ideas and writing will continue to be the guiding principle for generations of writers, activists, academics and journalists.
Read More


P. Sainath, one of India’s most respected journalists and former rural affairs editor of The Hindu, recently won the Public Welfare Award for exemplary news professionals in developing countries. The global awards for excellence, launched by the World Media Summit, honour “truth, objectivity and excellence” in journalism, and are the first comprehensive news awards covering multiple media formats, including press, photo, video and integrated media.

Palagummi Sainath is a trendsetter in journalism. The 2007 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism Literature and Creative Communications Arts, calls himself a rural reporter or simply a reporter. Asia’s most prestigious prize (and often referred to as the ‘Asian Nobel’), was a recognition of his “passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India’s national consciousness.”


In a 34-year career as a journalist, Sainath has won over 40 global and national awards for his reporting, including the Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Journalism Prize in its inaugural year in 2000 and a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) honoris causa by the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 2011 — UAlberta’s highest award. In fact, he had to turn down several, including one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan, which he declined because, in his view, journalists should not be receiving awards from governments they cover and critique.


His latest project, about to launch, is an online archive – the People’s Archive of Rural India. It aims at capturing the labour, languages, livelihoods, arts, crafts and many other aspects of rural India. This will be a platform that combines video, audio, still photography and print. Public access to the archive will be free.


Sainath’s best known work is ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought,’ a non-fiction bestseller by an Indian author for nearly two decades. It has been published in multiple editions and in ten languages. The book is in its 34th printing and is presently being used in over 100 universities in India and overseas. It was declared a Penguin Classic and had a special edition issued this January with the ‘Classic’ cover.


Working on this book involved covering 100,000-km across India, using 16 forms of transport and walking over 5,000 km on foot. Nikhil Chakravartty, India’s senior-most editor, had described Sainath’s work as “the conscience of the Indian nation.” The leading Scandinavian publishing house, Ordfront, included one of Sainath’s reports in its volume: Best Reporting of the 20th Century. In doing so, Ordfront chose to feature his work alongside that of giants like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Studs Terkel and John Reed. All royalties from the book go towards funding two to three prizes for rural journalists in India each year.


Sainath himself continues to report passionately, undertaking a nation-wide project on dalits for The Hindu, and interviewing and recording the testimonies of the nation’s last living Freedom Fighters, mainly little recognised ones from rural India, who fought the British Empire in India’s struggle for Independence. He hopes to develop an online archive for those he calls ‘The Foot Soldiers of Freedom.’


His other important work involved a series on the devastation of Indian agriculture by anti-farmer policies this past decade, also for The Hindu. Consisting of detailed reports from the households of landless labourers and marginal farmers across the country, the series set the agenda for investigative rural reporting.


It was of this work on India’s agrarian crisis that the jury of the Prem Bhatia prize said: “Rarely has an individual journalist gone so determinedly against the current of entrenched official orthodoxy, bureaucratic apathy and intellectual smugness.” Sainath’s work on the agrarian crisis has produced the largest journalistic body of work ever on the Indian countryside in terms of the problems faced by farming communities. It is also a body of work that goes far beyond the realm of journalism, capturing issues and complexities that academia and policy makers have failed to.


One of the most critical aspects of Sainath’s work has been its impact on public policy, related in particular to the plight suffered by rural India since the nineties. No other phenomenon symbolised this situation as much as the tragic suicides of thousands of farmers in several states of the country.


Through several years, Sainath kept at the issue unrelentingly. Today, if the farmers’ suicides are a huge issue in India — as they were in the 2004 elections which saw the defeat of the incumbent government — it can be said that one journalist contributed to that more than any number of politicians did.


His work has also had a major influence on the worlds of activism and NGOs, where many use his ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’ as an activist’s handbook.


Sainath is actively involved in the training of journalists in the poorest regions of India’s countryside. Some of the finest reporters to emerge from rural and non-metro India proudly write of earning their spurs travelling with Sainath in some of India’s poorest villages. He has also been teaching journalism at the Sophia Polytechnic in Mumbai for over 20 years and at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai since 2001. Many of Sainath’s students have themselves gone on to win major national and international awards.




Add comment

Security code