Renowned Indian Journalist, Palagummi Sainath, has been awarded the Fukuoka Grand Prize in 2021. The Fukuoka Prize is one of Japan’s top awards open to everyone from Asian countries. It was established by Japan’s Fukuoka city and its International Foundation. The award is presented to individuals and organizations for their efforts in preserving Asian Culture. P. Sainath received the prize for his investigation of poor farming villages in India and for bringing forth the voices from the country’s rural population.
The Fukuoka Prize is presented across three categories: Academic Prize, Culture Prize, and Grand Prize. While P. Sainath received the Grand Prize for this year, the Academic prize and the Culture prize for 2021 were awarded to Japanese scholar Mio Kishimoto and Thai writer-filmmaker Prabda Yoon, respectively. Kishimoto was facilitated for her research on the socio-economic history of China during the Ming-Qing period and Yoon for familiarizing Thai people with Japanese culture. The award ceremony will be held virtually in September this year.
The award takes place once a year. In its thirty-year history after its establishment in 1990, the award has been presented to 115 people from 28 countries. Until now, 11 Indians have received the Fukuoka Prize. Some notable Indian names that have won the Fukuoka Prize in the past include Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (Culture Prize, 2004), Professor Romila Thapar (Academic Prize, 1997), Historian Ramchandra Guha (Academic Prize, 2015) and A.R. Rehman (Grand Prize, 2016).
Sainath says that the Fukuoka prize committee citation for his award was, “A passionately committed journalist who has continued to investigate impoverished farming villages in India, listened to the voices from the rural population, capture the reality of the people lifestyle, and reported rural stories. It observed that as Asia makes its way through tumultuous times, he has sought to promote civil cooperation and explore new knowledge. All these reasons establish him as a deserving recipient of the Fukuoka Grand Prize."
The committee statement also noted his contribution in educating the young generation about social inequality and rural society, through teaching in Indian and foreign universities. Sainath has received honorary doctorates from the University of Alberta and University of Saint Francis Xavier and taught courses at world-renowned universities like Princeton University, University of Iowa, and UC Berkeley.
Even during the pandemic, Sainath has been encouraging people to help one another and has reported on rural areas which are doubly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and poverty, the statement said.
Sainath has travelled great distances across rural India, often on foot. On average, he has spent about 270 days per year in India’s rural areas for 20 years. During his four decades as a journalist, Sainath focused extensively on issues affecting rural India. He reported widely on the crisis in India’s agrarian economy. For his exemplary journalistic work, he has been presented with several national and global accolades. Some of these awards include European Commission’s Lorenzo Natali Prize for journalism in 1995, the inaugural Amnesty International Global Human Rights Journalism Prize in 2000, United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Organization’s Boerma Prize in 2001, and Ramon Magsaysay Award for outstanding contribution to Asian journalism in 2007. Sainath has also turned down several awards, including India’s highest civilian honour — the Padma Bhushan. In his opinion, journalists should not accept awards from someone they critique and write about such, as the government.
Sainath has written several books. The most well-known work of his is the 1996 published Everybody Loves A Good Drought. In the book, Sainath writes about his research work on poverty in the rural districts of India. It is, in fact, a collection of 84 articles Sainath had written in a series called 'The Face of the Poor India' for The Times of India. It was for this book that he was presented the Ramon Magsaysay Award. His work has inspired documentaries like 'A Tribe of His Own: The Journalism of P. Sainath' and Nero’s Guests (2009). Sainath is also the founder of PARI (People’s Archive of Rural India), a digital journalism platform established in 2014 that focuses on reporting from the countryside.
In his acceptance speech, he expressed thanks to the city and people of Fukuoka and said he was honoured to join a distinguished cohort of past winners. He dedicated the award to PARI and fellow journalists reporting from rural India. Drawing attention to the below-par coverage of rural issues in journalism, he noted that the award shows support for such work. He observed the pandemic, during which the need for public-spirited journalism has been the most acute, has witnessed thousands of journalists and workers being laid-off by corporate-owned media groups.
With the award prize of 5 million yen (33 lakh Rupees), Sainath hopes to begin a fellowship for journalists belonging to Dalit and Adivasi communities and start a fundraiser to help families of freelance journalists who have died due to coronavirus.
Sainath was born in Chennai in 1957. He is the grandson of the fourth president of India, V.V. Giri. His higher education from Loyola College, where he completed his BA in History and later at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where he undertook his postgraduate studies in History with Professor Romila Thapar.
His journalistic career began in 1980 at the United News India. He then followed on to Blitz, a Mumbai-based political magazine. He started as a foreign affairs editor at Blitz and moved on to the post of deputy editor, a position he held till 1993. Following his time at Blitz, he became a full-time freelance rural journalist in 1993 and continued his freelance work till 2004, a little over a decade. Then he continued to work as the rural affairs editor for The Hindu for over ten years, from 2004 to 2014.
Since 2014, he has been the founder editor of People’s Archive of Rural India and teaches regular courses at Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai and the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.
Image Source: People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI)
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