It was inevitable that India’s most professionally produced rural newspaper Gaon Connection would win excellence in journalism honors. It has just managed its first and that too the one regarded as the country’s most prestigious—the Ramnath Goenka Award instituted by the Indian Express newspaper. Quite appropriately, Gaon Connection has won in the ‘Uncovering India Invisible’ category.
Gaon Connection is a result of the singular passion of its founder Neelesh Misra, ably aided by his brother Manish and father, Dr. Shiva Misra. It is Neelesh’s sensitivity towards the India that is marginalized and often disenfranchised, not to mention frequently derided, that led to the founding of the newspaper. In keeping with Neelesh and his team’s open-minded view of rural India, Gaon Connection has consistently produced reportage that is consciously shorn of condescension. When the paper was launched on December 2, 2012, this is what I wrote about it.
In a country where the tail often wags the dog it is hardly surprising that 31.16 percent urban population also sets the national agenda for the whole of India, including 68.84 percent rural population.
In cold statistical terms a little over 377 million urban Indians dominate more than 833 million rural Indians when it comes to the country’s development discourse, policymaking and economic direction. You can also think of this as the tail leading the cow.
Although successive Indian governments have poured hundreds of billions of rupees in rural subsidies since India’s independence in 1947 and made a significant difference in rural poverty, the country’s 640,867 villages remain visibly backward compared to its over 14,000 towns and cities.
The rural-urban divide has always been so stark in India that Indians make a distinction between Bharat (the country’s traditional name) consisting of its vast rural, often impoverished and toiling masses and India consisting of its urban, often prosperous population.
My friend and fellow journalist Neelesh Misra (Read The mayor of Memory Town) and some of his close associates will launch “Gaon Connection” (Village Connection), described as “India’s rural newspaper’, tomorrow. The basic idea is to create an entirely rural-focused newspaper staffed predominantly by rural journalists. Its mission is to “Give a voice to rural India” and help bridge some of the rural-urban information divide.
While some of India’s 11,000 newspapers and journals do have elements of rural focus, there are not too many that are entirely driven by rural content and concern. ‘Gaon Connection’ begins first in all the 40 districts of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh, home to over 155 million rural population which is India’s largest in a single state accounting for over 18 percent of the national total.
Only those who work at Gaon Connection know what a tough slog it has been for a newspaper that eschews the shallow glamor so evident in the blather that the country’s 24/7 television news channels produce. I know for a fact that Gaon Connection has survived only because the whole team has put excellence in journalism before the size of their remuneration. I am sure this award will come as a shot in the arm for the youthful team. It is eminently deserved. So here is to Gaon Connection going national soon.