It was in May 2016 when within 24 hours, two journalists were shot dead in the Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand by people linked to those against whom they had been reporting. As a college student, when I discussed these murders with my friends and spoke about the increasing attacks on journalists, many said I was exaggerating the situation.
They demanded evidence. I had none.
This forced me to research about similar attacks over the past two decades. The result was a data mine. I realised that data on such attacks was available but hidden in unvisited government websites and Parliament records. It remained unreported.
Armed with this data, I put forward a compelling case in a data-driven article titled ‘Who cries when a journalist dies?’ for Outlook magazine.
Throughout my under-graduation, I had been contributing to leading Indian publications as a freelancer. So writing wasn’t new for me. But what was new was finding meaningful patterns in an unorganised dataset and writing an article based on it.
The job was done well and I could provide my friends empirical evidence of attacks on Indian journalists.
This was when my love for data started. In it I saw a powerful tool using which I could tell a story and explain a situation, not just by subjective anecdotes and quotes, but by using hard numbers as irrefutable facts.
For past three years I have been a journalist and have been actively working on data-driven reports since 2019. I do not hold any formal training in data analysis. Hence, much of what I do is self-taught or learned from publicly available sources like data journalism websites and observing what leading organisations in the field are doing.
My data driven articles for India Today have brought to light uncomfortable truths about a wide range of subjects.
Many of these articles have been cited/referenced by publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Conversation, Quartz, Pacific Standard etc.
As a journalist, I believe my duty doesn’t end with just reporting an issue. I want to contribute in finding solutions too. And that’s one another reason why I fell in love with data journalism.
When presented with creativity and context, data-driven reporting can turn numbers into meaningful stories that otherwise remain hidden in Excel sheets and PDFs. It can turn unstructured data into solution-oriented stories and make pro-active decision-making possible.
This is of great importance for the Indian state of Uttarakhand where I come from and is located in the ecologically fragile central Himalayan region.
Growing up in the Himalayas, I have seen nature from close quarters. It is one of the regions on Earth where the impact of climate is profound and visible. In my own village water in the two perennial rivers has halved over the past two decades, fish are scarce during summers and spotting migratory birds have become rarer. This part of the Himalayas also faces the problem of large-scale human outmigration due to factors that are both climatic and economical.
In the long run, I aspire to use data journalism to tell the everyday stories of everyday people from my region and beyond so that people from other parts also know what climate change and outmigration are capable of.
The beauty with data analysis is that besides ensuring reliable and effective communication, it also contributes in finding patterns and loopholes that can be harnessed to find solutions on ground. And that is what makes me all the more excited to learn and experiment more with data and stories.
Description of portfolio:
My first data story is about the condition of undertrial prisoners in India who often languish in jails for years (at times decades) not because they are convicted by a court, but because they are so poor and illiterate that their socio-economic condition doesn’t allow them access justice.
Analysing data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, my story revealed that 68% of Indian prisoners are in jail even though no court has held them guilty; that 70% of these undertrials are barely literate; most of them are from the weakest economic sections of society; and a majority are young people.
This lack of resources means many of them would spend years of their productive age in jail. Many don’t see their first court hearing in decades.
My second story is a data-driven fact check of the claims made by the Narendra Modi government in the Indian parliament. While moving a controversial amendment to the citizenship law, the government told Parliament that one of the important reasons for the amendment was the widescale persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It said share of non-Muslims in Pakistan’s population has fallen from 23% at the time of Independence to just 3% at present. It made a similar claim about Bangladesh.
To verify these figures, I dug out data from old census records in Pakistan and Bangladesh to establish that the government lied to the Parliament. Unlike in India and elsewhere, Census records in Pakistan aren’t easily available. I had to dig through tens of public sources to collect data from government records for this story.
My third data story is a review of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Campaign) launched by the Indian government that has been showcasing it as one of its great achievements.
My report revealed that despite the government’s tall claims of having built millions of toilets across India and making the country open defecation-free, 38% of government health centres in rural India don’t have toilets for their staff. I found that in some states this figure is more than 80%. Besides, there are many states where more than 40% govt health centres in rural areas don’t even have regular water supply. In states like Bihar and Jharkhand, over 605 of these health centres are operation without any electricity supply.
These centres form the backbone of rural health in Indian and cater to emergencies including pregnancies.
I also did a story on terror attacks world over in the past 50 years using the Global Terrorism Database. My report revealed that despite the so-called global war on terror, the world is a more unsafe place in the post-9/11 era than in the past. My story found that 60% of terror incidents between 1970 and 2017 took place after 9/11, indicating that terror attacks haven’t decreased in the post-9/11 period. On an average, there were 19 terror incidents world over daily between September 12, 2001 and December 31, 2017. In comparison to this, the average number of terror incidents per day was six in the 31 years before 9/11 (1970-2001).
Audience matrics (Google Analytics data AMP+direct website):
1) Story on undertrails (Pageviews: 54,041, Total time spent: 79,899.53 min)
2) Story on Modi govt’s claim on Pakistan (Pageviews:
3) Story on rural health centres (Pageviews:529,157, Total time spent: 1,668,767.78 min)
4) Story on terror attacks (Pageviews: 8,697, Total time spent: 38,486.99 min)
5) Story on how veteran politician LK Advani was sidelined in his own party after Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister (Pageviews: 38,833, Total time spent: 164,180.15 min)
*Total time= Pageviews X avg time spent