Given the decay of the corpses, Bihar officials suspected they had come from further upstream, possibly from Uttar Pradesh, the heavily populated state where Gaur is based. Thus, he sent a team of 30 journalists to more than 27 districts to investigate them.
After hours of searching, the team found more than 2,000 bodies floating or buried along a 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) stretch of the Ganges, which is considered a sacred river for most Hindus. Dainik Bhaskar, one of India’s largest Hindi newspapers, published his story last week with the headline: “Bargain is embarrassed”.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 35-year career,” Gaur told CNN Business.
For weeks, India has been surrounded by a brutal second wave of Covid-19 infections, with millions of new cases. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been about 300,000 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began, although the actual figure is likely to be much higher. While the human weight of the disease has been immense, journalists like Gaur don’t just cover the tragedy of the situation. They are also fighting for transparency and accountability for a government that has tried to curb criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his treatment of the pandemic. As the crisis unfolded, Modi was initially assassinated by the international press for not doing enough to prevent the catastrophe and minimize the death toll. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is a close ally of Modi, has been accused of intimidating citizens and journalists who reported the lack of oxygen in the state. New Delhi has even asked Twitter to remove tweets about Covid-19, including some criticizing Modi: “People have told me not to fight with the administration,” said Gaur, who has not only written about alleged falsification of data by the administration, but has also criticized the authorities for the insensitive way in which the discovered bodies were eventually incinerated. Now the state has begun patrolling the river to prevent the dumping of bodies.
“State officials have tried to stop our coverage several times in recent days and have even threatened us with a court case,” he added.
Since that first article, his article has continued to count the bodies of the Ganges and hold politicians accountable for the crisis, not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in other parts of India.
Leather shoes journalism
The expanding crisis has overwhelmed India’s healthcare system in several states. Beds, oxygen and medical workers are scarce. Some patients die in waiting rooms or outside overflowing clinics. In cremation grounds, bodies accumulate faster than workers can build new pyres. While the situation is improving in larger cities now, it is possible that the country’s rural areas will continue to struggle: government critics, from opposition politicians and judges to ordinary citizens and even a medical journal of prestige, they say the country’s leaders have focused more on image management rather than dealing with disaster. Meanwhile, the government has said it wants to prevent people from spreading false or misleading information.
To get the real story, many media outlets have been doing it the traditional way leather shoe journalism.
This report has surprised many readers: India’s major media outlets have become increasingly subordinate to Modi government since the Hindu nationalist was elected prime minister seven years ago. The ruling party has used a variety of tactics, ranging from forcing advertisers to cut critical outlets with their policies to turn off the channels to make sure the press is transformed into your cheerleader.
“Conventional media, especially the media, really analyze the failures of the Modi government, even when they seem neutral,” said Abhinandan Sekhri, CEO of Newslaundry, an award-winning independent news website that focuses on the media and journalism.
But roles like Dainik Bhaskar “have not thrown up it has really gone after the government “with its pandemic coverage, even as some prominent television channels remain” as sophisticated as ever, “he added.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, three of the leading local-language newspapers – Sandesh, Divya Bhaskar and Gujarat Samachar – have constantly questioned the official statistics of the second wave through its coverage.
Divya Bhaskar reported in mid-May that nearly 124,000 death certificates had been issued in the 71 days prior to Gujarat, some 66,000 more than during the same period last year. The state government reported that only 4,218 were related to Covid. The most recent deaths have been attributed to conditions or underlying comorbidities, Divya Bhaskar said, citing doctors and families of victims.
The newspaper said its journalists excavated the data by going to districts and municipal corporations.
In the same way, Sandesh, a Gujarati newspaper dating back almost a century, has been sending its journalists to funeral homes, hospitals and crematoria to count the dead so the newspaper can publish daily figures. And, on May 9, the The Gujarat newspaper Samachar criticized the Modi government’s decision to carry out a planned $ 2.8 billion renewal of Parliament, with the headline: “Even though people are fighting death or death, the civil servant becomes a dictator. “.
Have Indian media owners really become bolder?
This type of accountability reporting has not been the norm in many leading Indian media in recent years. But it is difficult to sell the government’s narrative to readers, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise uncontrollably across the country.
“The file the pandemic affects 99% of the population. They [media owners] they are also shrewd businessmen and know that it is not logical for them to touch the government line at this point, ”said Mahesh Langa, a Gujarat-based journalist with the English newspaper The Hindu, who has also written about the large number of subreports But Modi’s decline can also be bad business for newspapers, as government ads are a major source of revenue, especially because the pandemic-related economic slowdown has hit other advertisers hard, and while there are firewalls for isolate business interests from publishing operations, these barriers can sometimes come under pressure in times of trouble.According to a Reporters Without Borders report, prominent Indian media groups also have interests in other industries, according to which most of the leading companies are owned by “large conglomerates that are still controlled by the founding families and invest in a wide range of non-media industries “. For example, the family that owns the Dainik Bhaskar group also has businesses in sectors ranging from real estate to power. Reliance Industries, the conglomerate headed by Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, owns Network 18, which includes CNN-affiliated CNN television channel18.
Proponents of many television and newspaper channels must remain in the good books of the ruling party, Newslaundry’s Sekhri said. They “step on eggshells” when it comes to government because they need favorable regulatory policies for their various companies, which can range from telecommunications to oil, he said.
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many media platforms to be servile when public anger is manifested against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, Sekhri added.
“They realize their journalists will be beaten if they take to the streets” and they don’t denounce the truth, he said.
But telling the truth can cause problems for journalists. “India is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists trying to do their job properly,” according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranks the nation’s 142 out of 180 regions in its global press freedom index. “In the last decade, 154 journalists in India have been arrested, detained, interrogated or notified on the grounds of their professional work,” according to an analysis by the Free Speech Collective. “Sixty-seven of these were recorded in 2020 alone.”
There is also the mental weight of making these reports. “If you are not mentally strong, you will not be able to withstand the scenes unfolding in the field,” said Dhaval Bharwad, chief photographer of Divya Bhaskar, which is also owned by the Dainik Bhaskar group.
Despite the challenges, many Indian journalists seem willing to keep trying to get to the truth. In the capital, Delhi, Outlook India magazine caused a stir on Twitter last week, when it used the cover of its new issue to criticize government inaction and designed it in the form of a poster of missing persons.
“This is not an act of bravery on our part,” Ruben Banerjee, the editor-in-chief of Outlook, told CNN Business. “We just report objectively. There is a sense of abandonment in the country.”
– Jyoti Jha contributed to this report.