Living in: Hyderabad, India
Priyanka Kotamraju is an independent, bilingual journalist from India with over five years of experience in journalism and a total of eight years in the media industry. In her eight-year career, Priyanka has shifted gears from marketing to journalism and from working at highly respected, mainstream print media groups such as The Hindu and the Indian Express to managing a hyper-local, women-driven and cash-strapped newspaper in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, India.
Khabar Lahariya was her most recent assignment, where she served as Co-Editor and Programme Coordinator. Khabar Lahariya (which literally translates to waves of news) is a feminist news organisation run entirely by women, most of whom are semi-and-neo-literate, self-taught, Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim reporters, who produce a weekly newspaper and daily digital news in Hindi and local dialects. Its operations are based in one of the most backward regions of India, Bundelkhand, which comprises seven districts in Uttar Pradesh and six districts in Madhya Pradesh. The region, which fares extremely poorly on social and economic indicators, is also known as one of the two drought capitals in the country. Khabar Lahariya is read in 800 plus villages across this region in Bundeli, Awadhi and Hindi languages. The newspaper’s reader is the farmer, the migrant worker, the community health worker, the teacher, the weaver and the small entrepreneur, for whom development is designed and for whom information is most important but scarce.
At Khabar Lahariya, Priyanka managed a team of more than 20 rural women reporters, training them in tracking social policies, understanding and investigating the targeting and implementation of social policies. She has reported on the impact of drought on marriage, malnutrition, education, and farm debt from Uttar Pradesh. Her earlier assignments with Hindu Business Line included writing on sociology of ‘dark’ villages, the impact on school attendance in human-animal conflict areas, and the relationship between violence and women with the right to land. In the last two years, Priyanka has also mentored young rural and urban women reporters, training them in rural journalism and getting their investigations into India’s development model published in English and Hindi mainstream newspapers.
Since September last year, Priyanka has been working as an independent journalist. She has started a collective of young women journalists, the objective of which is to research, report and write on rural affairs, gender and social justice. Uttar Pradesh in India remains the focus her reportage.
Priyanka was also a member of a civil society delegation that visited Jammu & Kashmir last year and the co-author of a report documenting human rights violations in the Kashmir valley. She is also working on a paper studying spatial inequalities in access to nutrition programmes in Uttar Pradesh. Her reports have been published in Scroll.in, News Deeply, Indian Express, Jansatta (a Hindi daily) and TwoCircles.net (Hindi).
Last year in April, during one of the worst droughts Uttar Pradesh had experienced in a decade, I met Geeta. She is an 18-year-old Dalit girl from Ajnar village, Mahoba district. The district and her village were reeling under a severe water crisis brought on by the drought. Geeta told me that she had spent most of her summer at the only functional hand pump in the village, queuing up for hours to ferry 35-40 litre of water, three-four times a day. Over the course of the summer, she developed chronic back pain, usually accompanied by fevers.
Slowly, Geeta - who is a biology graduate student at a private college in the district head-quarters - replaced going to college with going to the hand pump. Last year, she was able to attend only 20 days of classes. The Dalit colony she lived in is crowded with young girls like Geeta who had to drop out of college to meet with the basic need of collecting water. Geeta’s social locus – her Scheduled Caste background, the location of the hand pump and the college – determined her access to education.
That summer, I also met Sushila Pintu, an adivasi woman who lost her child when she couldn’t make it to the nearest government health centre. Her neighbour’s twins, born malnourished, also have never been to a health centre. In these cases also, the family’s social locus and physical location determined their access to decent healthcare.
What determines access to good healthcare, education and food security? What role do caste, gender and geography play in determining access to economic and social security for families? What are the inequalities that arise and how do they shape an individual’s life choices? In my journalism career, I have often found that inequality lies at the heart of uneven development and the life choices people make. What the life choices of women like Geeta and Sushila are, what the inequalities in opportunity and access there are for them, are questions that deeply interest me.
The Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity aims to address the deepening problem of inequality by building a ‘cadre of social change leaders’ who can conduct rigorous sociological inquiries into the nature of inequality and advance solutions to the many problems it poses to the human condition. I believe I have devoted my career in pursuit of the same – to document the causes of inequality, how it manifests and its consequences on the lives of rural Indians in particular. My motivations for undertaking graduate studies and to be a member of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity are to build a career in social science research, to track the lives of families in rural regions of South Asia, and to study the long-term effects of inequality on healthcare and education, especially for women and adolescent girls. I hope to also pursue the path of academic activism to bridge the gap between research and public awareness and to build public discourse around inequality in communities.