in the cool water of an early winter morning, an Indian woman
stands in the river up to her waist, bathing and washing her
sari. She puts her wet sari on and waits for it to get dry in
the cool air. That is her only sari.
This image can be seen all the time in rural India. The image,
though common, bothers Palagummi Sainath, who was born in an
upper middle-class family and who is internationally recognized
as one of the "most-committed-to-the-poor" journalists
in India today.
"A lot of things I saw in the poor villages made me angry,"
says Sainath, 41, the Mumbai-based freelance journalist who resides
in Iowa City this fall after traveling thousands of miles across
India to cover India's largest industry--poverty.
"The Iowa program is very good for me because, in a way,
it's like a break after five years on the road," says Sainath,
who is teaching a third world development support course at the
UI this semester. His visit as the International Programs Distinguished
Visiting Professional is funded by a National Resource Center
(NRC) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
Sainath, who has a master's degree in history from Jawaharlal
Nehru University and who is a lecturer at a women's journalism
school in India, says he strives to give students a different
outlook on development in third world countries.
"I want to give the students some ideas about why things
go wrong in development, to answer questions like 'Why has the
World Bank failed?' 'Why has the West failed?' 'Why has the Indian
government failed?" Sainath says. He also asks, "Are
there other possibilities? Are there any optimistic possibilities?"
The class Development, Dissent and the Media is attended by 12
students of different majors who come from 10 countries including
Mexico, Sudan, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Norway.
The course looks at 50 years of development in Asian, African
and Latin American countries, critically examining development
from a "down-up view," Sainath says. He emphasizes
the role of the media, its relation to power, and its function
in pressing a corporate-led vision of development as the most
"I see him as somebody who never takes things for granted
and who always questions," says Mansuetus Setonga, a third
world development support program student who is from Tanzania.
"That's what I like about the course.
"I learned a lot about third world countries, especially
to look at another side of policies and programs like those of
the United Nations or the World Bank, and the bias of the media."
Talk to Sainath and you will be convinced by his enthusiasm as
a critic of the multi-corporate control of the media.
"I find mainstream American media really boring," he
says. "They are just like canned food. What is really interesting,
fascinating are the small newspapers, not the corporate-owned
ones. American press has the biggest newspapers in the world,
but the least informed public."
Unfortunately, he says, this common phenomenon of concentration
of ownership in the media is happening not only in the Western
world but has also started in third world countries like India.
He says while new brands of automobiles and stories about weight-loss
clinics are dominant in Indian newspapers, poverty remains largely
invisible. The growing gap between the rich and the poor is rarely
addressed, he says.
Frustrated with Indian newspapers' choice of coverage, Sainath
decided to portray the faceless poor in rural India by traveling
to India's poorest villages and put this "unfashionable"
subject back on the national agenda. His series of articles in
the Times of India and his book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought,
the result of his journey of discovery, have drawn an overwhelming
response not only from readers and young journalists in India,
but also from politicians and state governments. To Sainath's
surprise, the book also has been used in 30 universities around
the world in different disciplines including journalism, economics,
political science, and development studies.
Presently, Sainath, who has won dozens of awards for his work
in pursuing the subject of poverty, is working on Dalits 1998-2000,
a project funded by the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship. His first
10 pieces of the project have been published in Indian newspapers
and explore why discrimination continues against the "dalits,"
known as the "untouchables" in India. Sainath is using
his Iowa break to organize the material he collected from the
road, including thousands of words and hundreds of photographs
that will result in another 20 to 30 stories in Indian newspapers.
Although Sainath is angered by what he saw in the poor rural
areas, he offers a hopeful view of the future.
"A lot of things I saw on the road also made me feel optimistic,
such as the poor's struggle for dignity," Sainath says.
"I believe that they will win. Maybe not now, not tomorrow,
when, I don't know. But, ultimately, the people will make change."
by Thi Nguyen
Award-winning Indian journalist P. Sainath will speak from
noon to 1, Nov. 30, in 230 International Center as part of the
International Mondays lecture series. He will discuss some major
issues of contemporary journalism and development and his book,
Everybody Loves a Good Drought. The event is free and open to
the public. Lunch will be served. For more information, call
Jocelyn Cullity at (33)5-0637.