For the three months of April, May and June of 2021, the second wave of covid-19 devastated the countryside in India. It penetrated the rural areas like the first wave had not. And exposed the inadequate public health infrastructure.
This project looked at the fallouts of that second wave.
We picked a region that was already struggling with debt and distress, and wrote a series of stories examining how an impoverished region deals with a raging pandemic.
Through this project, we did reports on child marriage, migrant labourers, rural journalists and so on.
Central to this project were people living on the margins of the society. The people that are hardly covered in the mainstream media.
This project made them visible. It gave voice to the voiceless in the society, where the readers could read their raw, unembellished and compelling stories.
The stories were noted by some of the lawmakers in the state and country.
After each story, readers reached out to the writer and organisation to help out the people we quoted in our stories. The help, in most cases, exceeded $1000, which is about as much as the people concerned earned in a year.
Several NGOs reached out and offered to look after the education expenses of children we had written about.
It was good old fashioned, shoe leather journalism with eyes and ears on the story.
I did not use any extraordinary tools or technologies or techniques. The most important tool during this project was a pen and my notebook. The stories came through conversations with local contacts, sources and activists.
The pictures taken during the course of this project were taken on my smart phone, which has one of the better cameras around.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of the project was to keep your own anxieties in check. I had been on the road through the second wave and after that as well. I visited hospitals, met relatives of covid-19 patients, spoke to healthcare workers. And I was not vaccinated at the time.
One of the biggest challenges during that period was to deal with the possibility of catching covid-19, and worse, passing it on to people you love. It was particularly a traumatic thought, considering several journalists had died reporting on the second wave of covid-19.
During that period, the state governments and lawmakers were being extremely inaccessible, for there was considerable data fudging happening at the time. Authorities were trying to downplay the number of covid-19 deaths.
So an important challenge was to overcome that and source accurate data points to explain the gravity of the crisis unfolding in rural India.
It was not easy to navigate these obstacles. It was mentally and emotionally draining.
The project should be selected because it worked out in spite of these challenges. The stories are in depth, compelling and hard hitting. The data points are revealing. And it talks about the region that relatively less explored in the mainstream media.
What can others learn from this project?
The most important aspect of this project was profiling the marginalised sections of the society — a bit of a lost art in the age of social media.
What this project tells you is that there is no substitute to good old fashioned reporting. Visiting the remote areas in person and spending time in the field will never become outdated.