The Pulitzer… so that we don’t forget this time last year

10 May,2022


By Ranjona Banerji
Ranjona BanerjiThis year’s Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography went to the Reuters team in India – Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Amit Dave and the late Danish Siddique – “For images of Covid’s toll in India that balanced intimacy and devastation, while offering viewers a heightened sense of place.”

The photographs are moving and horrific. For the human cost and suffering. And because they reveal what government tries to hide.

This award is also important because we forget so easily, especially us in the media. We forget that this time last year, we were losing count of our dead. From across the country, the most terrible stories emerged. Of undercounting, of bodies piling up, of mortuary, cremation and cemetery numbers not matching “official figures”, of mass graves and abandoned bodies, of desperate family members scrambling for oxygen and medicines…

It was not so long ago.

And yet, we have forgotten.

And because of those convenient memory losses, we argue with the WHO over death figures. We – and this includes part of the media – sees the “excess death” count by the WHO as an assault on our image as a great nation.

This opinion piece from The Telegraph puts government fiction against researcher fact:


That huge numbers of people died from Covid-19, comorbidities, other illnesses and conditions neglected because of the pandemic are not assaults on our great nation’s image. Oh no. We are philosophical, we accept life and death, karma and dharma. But how dare anyone else point out that anyone died in India?

This is our truth, repeated across the country last year, the year before and even to this day:

That Covid-19 figures were under-reported is a reality. As were test results. In fact, here in Uttarakhand, The Times of India exposed how to ensure that the Kumbh Mela ran in spite of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of RTPCR test results were forged. As it panned out, many attendees did get Covid and the Mela was truncated.

Apart from a few mealymouthed opinion pieces on how India’s counting systems must improve, the Indian media has largely bought into the fake nationalistic government response to the WHO’s report.

It shows not just bad journalism but an extreme insecurity about the reality around us and how people perceive us. The Pulitzer for Reuters has enraged our little “bhakts” the way that the Covid deaths did not. Of course, if you go through the Pulitzer list, several journalists have won awards across the world and hardly any for toeing government lines or pouring out endless praise. Normal journalism is adversarial, in a normal non-dictator world that is.

This piece in The Wire reminds us of our failures during the second wave of the pandemic:

One might also recall that last July, after Dainik Bhaskar’s relentless reporting on fake Covid figures especially in Gujarat, and after its editor wrote a piece for The New York Times titled, “The Ganges is returning the dead”, the newspaper group was subjected to “raids” by the Income Tax department.

Thus, the media is kept under control.

The people who died are forgotten.

India’s pride is not blighted by the large numbers of deaths.

But only when you mention that a large number of people died.

Heartiest congratulations to the Reuters team. To all journalists who fought against the tide to report on Covid in India.


And thank you to Pulitzer for a prize on a subject barely mentioned in the Indian media.

Congratulations to Quanta Magazine and Natalie Wolchover for the “explanatory reporting” award: “For coverage that revealed the complexities of building the James Webb Space Telescope, designed to facilitate ground-breaking astronomical and cosmological research”.

There’s still a story I’m waiting for on the LIGO facility in Maharashtra… Okay, forget it.

Back to Modi rah rah rah, na?

No one died. The government never lied.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal


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