“I never wear my medals or awards. I am just completely overwhelmed with the goodwill,” journalist Palagummi Sainath told Newslaundry on being awarded the Fukuoka Grand Prize for 2021 yesterday. He said he was “honoured” to be given the award and to join the list of past winners.
Established by Japan’s Fukuoka city and the Fukuoka City International Foundation, the award is given to individuals and organisations for their work in “preserving Asian culture”. that Sainath is a committed journalist who has continued to investigate impoverished farming villages in India, while also capturing the reality of the lifestyle of the residents in these areas.
On reasons why Sainath is a “very deserving recipient” award, the statement said: “As Asia goes through turbulent changes, Mr Sainath has been seeking new ‘knowledge’ and promoting civil cooperation.”
Sainath was awarded the European Commission’s Lorenzo Natali Prize for journalism in 1995 and the Amnesty International Global Human Rights Journalism Prize in 2000. He also received the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation’s Boerma Prize in 2001 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for outstanding contribution to Asian journalism in 2007. He established the People's Archive of Rural India in 2014.
Sainath told Newslaundry that he has won awards before and this is just the biggest cash award. “What the award means to me is what I am doing with the money,” he said. The cash prize totals up to 5 million yen, which is around Rs 33 lakh.
Dedicating the award to his colleagues at PARI, he said, "We are extremely concerned with the journalists dying of Covid. We believe the nation-wide list is around 700-plus. And many of them get unlisted and unnoticed because many stringers are not even part of any journalistic associations. The death of these families has thrown these families into horrible debts due to health expenditure. Mostly these journalists are breadwinners.”
Which is why, he said, he will be starting a fundraiser and will personally given Rs 10 lakh to 20 such families. With the remaining money, he plans to start 10 fellowships for rural journalists from Dalit and Adivasi backgrounds.
Sainath also pointed at the meagre salaries paid to rural journalists. “How pathetic our journalists’ salaries are," he said. "There are journalists earning about Rs 4,000 a month. This concerns us greatly.”
In his acceptance speech, Sainath said that the award being given to him shows that there are institutions with strong progressive internationalist ideals “who do not want journalists to be mere stenographers to [those in] power”.
Awards were also handed out in the fields of academics and culture. The academics prize went to professor Kishimoto Mio, a historian from Japan who specialises in the socioeconomic history of China in the Ming-Qing period. Thailand-based writer and filmmaker Prabda Yoon won the arts and culture award.