The following is the full text of the acceptance speech made by PALAGUMMI SAINATH, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, while accepting the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication category for his “passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India’s national consciouness” in Manila, on 31 August 2007:
“This is the 60th year of Indian independence. A freedom fought for and won on a vision that placed our humblest citizens at the centre of action and of the future. A struggle that brought the world’s then mightiest empire to its knees. A struggle which saw the birth of a new nation, with a populace overwhelmingly illiterate, yet aiming at and committed to building a democracy the world could be proud of. A people who, one freedom fighter predicted, would make the deaf hear and the blind see. They did.
“Today, the generation of Indians who took part in that great struggle have mostly died out, though their achievements have not. The few who remain are in their late 80s or 90s. As one of them told me recently: ‘We fought to expel the colonial ruler, but not only for that. We fought for a just and honourable nation, for a good society’.
“I am now recording the lives of these last stalwarts of a generation I was not part of, but which I so deeply admire. A struggle that preceded my birth, but in which my own values are rooted. In their names, with those principles, and for their selflessness, I accept this great award.
“In that great battle for freedom, a tiny press played a mighty role. So vital did it become, that every national leader worth his or her salt, across the political spectrum, also doubled up as a journalist. Small and vulnerable as they were, the journalists of that time also sought to give voice to the voiceless and speak for those who could not. Their rewards were banning, imprisonment, exile and worse. But they bequeathed to Indian journalism a legacy I am proud of and on behalf of which tradition, I accept this award today.
“For the vision that generation stood for, the values it embodied, are no longer so secure as they once were. A nation founded on principles of egalitarianism embedded in its Constitution, now witnesses the growth of inequality on a scale not seen since the days of the Colonial Raj. A nation that ranks fourth in the world’s list of dollar billionaires, ranks 126th in human development. A crisis in the countryside has seen agriculture—on which close to 60 per cent of the population, or over 600 million people, depend—descend into the doldrums. It has seen rural employment crash. It has driven hundreds of thousands from villages towards towns and cities in search of jobs that are not there. It has pushed millions deeper into debt and has seen, according to the government itself, over 112,000 farmers take their own lives in distress in a decade.
“This time around, though, the response of a media politically free but chained by profit, has not been anywhere as inspiring. Front pages and prime time are the turf of film stars, fashion shows and the entrenched privilege of the elite. Rural India, where the greatest battles of our freedom were fought, is pretty low down in the media’s priority list.
“There are, as always, exceptions. The paper I work for, The Hindu, has consistently given space to the chronicling of our greatest agrarian crisis since the eve of the Green Revolution. And across the country are countless journalists who, despite active discouragement from their managements, seek to place people above profit in their reporting. Who try desperately to warn their audiences of what is going on at the bottom end of the spectrum and the dangers to democracy that this involves. On behalf of all of them, all these colleagues of mine, I accept this award.
“In nearly 14 years of reporting India’s villages full time, I have felt honoured and humbled by the generosity of some of the poorest people in the world. People who constantly bring home to you the Mahatma’s great line: ‘Live simply, that others might simply live.’ But a people we today sideline and marginalise in the path of development we now pursue. A people in distress, even despair, who still manage to awe me with their human and humane values. On their behalf too, I accept the Ramon Magsaysay award.”
Text courtesy: The Hindu