AS part of the centenary celebrations of its founder, Ramnath Goenka, The Express Group instituted in 2004 the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award, and no better way to celebrate the centenary could have been thought of. Never in the past had excellence in journalism been considered worthy of appreciation. Excellence in acting, yes, Excellence in Management, yes. Even excellence in sports, yes, yes, yes. But excellence in journalism? That was almost taken for granted. The Express Group took up the challenge and the award is in the name of Ramnath Goenka, the only publisher, for all one knows who, during the Emergency, had the courage to stand up to the Indira Gandhi government’s blatant terrorism. Ramnath Goenka, in that sense, is the ultimate journalism icon.
The Awards in his name, therefore, are a way to salute courage, commitment and concern for values shown by reporters, both in the print and broadcast media. This book is a collection of the best samples of their work. And what a delight it is to read it! According to Dr APJ Kalam, journalism is truth expressed in intelligible language for the information and education of the readers. Which is precisely what this collection of articles is all about. Represented herein are the contributions of twenty awardees and they make fascinating reading, sometimes even painful reading.
There is Zaffar Iqbal’s story about how he was shot almost to death, but survived to tell the tale. It is heart-rending and reminds one of what tellers of truth have constantly to face in a wicked world. Bhasha Singh writes about an unusual subject, manual scavengers and cleaners of toilet, of whom, one can be assured, there are thousands all over India and no one has ever bothered to give a thought to them. And what are Bhasha Singh’s findings? “The batliwalas continue to go through daily hell, unaware of the fact that crores are being allocated for their rehabilitation and more than 50 per cent is being spent on other activities”. If that is not a story, what else is? Then there is the story of poor villagers in Manipur who have to suffer at the hands of valley based militant groups who raped more than twenty five young women. Two militants mercilessly raped a 13-year old girl to the point of her losing her senses. Her traumatised family contemplated migration to a far-off place, only they had no money to do so.
Does anyone remember the story of businessman Mohinder Singh Pandher and his servant Surendra Kohli who were arrested on suspicion of murder? Ritu Saran, working for The Indian Express, pursued the story and came across shocking instances of children missing. Would anyone believe that the average number of children declared ‘missing’ annually in the country is around 44,476 or 122 each day? Or that 15, 407 children supposedly get ‘lost’ annually from just six metropolitan cities? Ritu Sarin has to be read to be believed. According to her, if one reports the case of a missing child to the police, the general response is that that child itself is to be blamed for running away from parents. In one case parents went to the Supreme Court.
There is that other story concerning environment. The wetlands of Etawah district in Uttar Pradesh, a natural habitat of the sarus crane became a political issue as the state government decided to build a state-of-the-art airport around there Bahar Dutt, working for the CNN-IBN found that, were the airport to the built, it would be the end of the sarus cranes and the destruction of the local environment. She called on the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh. He dodged the issue and charged her with being a stooge of the Opposition. When she went to the place where the airport was supposed to the built, she was followed by some goons who tried to snatch her camera. Nothing daunted, she carried out her investigation and ran the results on CNN-IBN’s prime time. There was tremendous public oustery. Ultimately the project for building the airport was given up. A journalist has a duty to perform and that is to uphold public interest in a meaningful way, irrespective of threats from whatever party. Bahar Dutt did her job.
As did all the reporters. whose stories are presented in this volume which are a delight to read. They are gems of their kind. No wonder they won prizes. And very deservedly. The United States has its Pulitzer Prizes. Well, now India has its Ramnath Goenka Awards which should serve to encourage newspersons to rise to greater heights. This book should serve as an inspiration to them all.
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