Indian Journalist P. Sainath Gives Lecture at UT

April 17, 2015

Award-winning Indian journalist P. Sainath spoke Thursday night about his most recent project, an online collection of rural Indian people’s lives and experiences.

Sainath is known internationally for his work in uncovering issues in rural India. His career started years ago when he reported on India’s agricultural drought problem, and he has also brought to national attention the number of farmer suicides caused by a poor agriculture economy and high debt. At the event hosted by the South Asia Institute and the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, he shared his latest work, a multimedia archive called People’s Archive of Rural India run by part-time volunteers. Its purpose is to document “the everyday lives of everyday people” in rural India.

Journalism professor Bob Jensen, faculty adviser for the Society of Professional Journalists, introduced Sainath as a “distinctive journalist because, on at least two separate occasions, shifted the national conversation in India based on his reporting.”

Sainath explains that, although most of the world’s food comes from small farmers, these small farms barely have enough income to survive.
“Small farms are still in a state of collapse,” he said. “Millions of farms have gone belly-up.”

According to Sainath, India’s economic growth in recent years has been misleading, and 830 million Indians still live in poverty. He demonstrated this point dramatically by comparing a construction plan for a 37-story building with over 70 swimming pools and a photograph of a woman suffering from the drought collecting water from a leaking pipe.

“The most ugly things are getting reinforced,” Sainath said. “It doesn’t find its way into the media.”

The Society of Professional Journalists president Charlotte Burnod hopes that the talk by Sainath inspires others to document the world around them.

“Learning more about P. Sainath’s work is just fascinating,” Burnod said. “It’s very inspiring how he not only covers these difficult issues that can sometimes be depressing to think about, but he also shows all these examples of joy and courage of regular, ordinary people.”

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