When Scroll began covering the news in January 2014, India was months away from the Lok Sabha elections. Acrimonious debates were taking place about whether Narendra Modi, the principal challenger to the ruling Congress regime, represented a new economic vision or carried the spectre of an old divide.
A decade later, the stories we have covered say it all.
Economic growth has not dented India’s fundamental challenges of unemployment and hunger. And the country stands divided like never before.
We know this because we have invested in ground reportage – our small team of reporters has travelled to almost every corner of India.
In March 2014, Supriya Sharma boarded a train in Guwahati and spent the next month travelling 2,500 km, listening to conversations about the Lok Sabha elections. From tea garden workers in Bengal to sex workers in Bihar, bahubali politicians in Uttar Pradesh, drug addicts in Punjab, her stories spanned a wide range with the journey ending on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir. The series, called The Window Seat, fetched the first Ramnath Goenka award ever awarded to a journalist working in the digital media.
After the Modi government took charge, the first challenge to India’s diversity came from a spate of attacks on Muslims by cow vigilantes. In 2015, barely an hour from Delhi, ironsmith Mohammad Akhlaq was killed by his neighbours who suspected his family had killed a cow and stored beef in their fridge. We reported on the hateful politics that had built the ground for Akhlaq’s murder – and the countless such cow-related killings that have followed since.
Far away from Delhi, in 2015, Malini Subramaniam reported on how Chhattisgarh police were staging fake Maoist surrenders in the Bastar region. Months later, acting in tandem with vigilantes, the police forced her to leave Bastar – intimidation that did not stop our coverage of police violence in the insurgency-hit state.
On the policy front, the Modi government decided to ramp up the controversial Aadhaar project, making the 12-digit biometrics-based identity number mandatory for accessing a host of benefits and services, even while legal challenges were underway. In 2016, Anumeha Yadav and M Rajshekhar produced a definitive series on the ramifications of Aadhaar for welfare, citizens’ privacy, state surveillance, among other aspects.
The year 2016 saw a wave of anger in Kashmir, after security forces gunned down a young militant named Burhan Wani. Ipsita Chakravarty and Rayan Naqash wrote about what had made Wani a household name in Kashmir, as well as what his brand of militancy represented in the region.
In a televised address at 8 pm on November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a stunned nation that the high-value currency notes they held were no longer legal tender. Within an hour, Rohan Venkatramakrishan had written a lucid explainer on the shock move called demonetisation which went on to paralyse India for months, impacting its poorest citizens the hardest. We covered every aspect of the crisis, following its impact for years on end.
2018 began with reports of caste violence in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune – Dalit visitors participating in the annual commemoration of a 1818 victory for Mahar soldiers came under attack from saffron-wielding men. Ignoring eyewitness accounts, the Maharashtra police swept down on the houses of activists, lawyers, academics across India, arresting and charging them with instigating the violence and – more bizarrely – plotting to kill the prime minister. We reported on the gaping holes in the police story. In the years since then, we have followed every turn in the Bhima Koregaon case, which critics say reveals the extent to which the state can go to falsely implicate and incarcerate political dissidents.
The clampdown on dissent in India in the past decade has come alongside a rise in crony capitalism. Well before international media trained its spotlight on the Adani Group, we investigated several allegations of the conglomerate benefiting from government favouritism. In 2018, Aruna Chandrasekhar reported on the questionable decision of the BJP-ruled Jharkhand government to dilute its energy policy to make it profitable for the Adani Group to supply electricity to Bangladesh.
Also in 2018, Sruthisagar Yamunan investigated the BJP’s claims that 23 of its workers and associates had been murdered in Congress-ruled Karnataka. He found one of those workers was still alive. Mridula Chari and Vinita Govindarajan produced an award-winning series on how the lack of pesticide regulation in India was resulting in the death of farmers.
The summer of 2019 brought another national election. Shoaib Daniyal produced insightful political reporting from West Bengal, a state that the BJP considered a prestige battle. In its bid to woo voters, then BJP president Amit Shah played a dangerous card – he announced that the Modi government would bring a new Citizenship law to make it easier for Hindu migrants from India’s Muslim-majority neighbouring countries to become Indian citizens.
Already, Assam was on the edge – millions were scrambling to produce documents to prove they were India citizens as the state finalised the National Register of Citizens. For one month, we published a story every day as part of a series called The Final Count, throwing light on the unprecedented humanitarian crisis the NRC had created.
By December 2019, the Citizenship Act – passed by Parliament – and the NRC had intersected to spark a wave of fear among Indian Muslims that they would soon be denied citizenship rights. We covered the nationwide protests – and the brutal police crackdown that followed in Uttar Pradesh.
In February 2020, hate directed against the Citizenship protests led to the worst communal violence seen in Delhi in four decades. Aarefa Johari wrote a horrifying account of how an 85-year-old Muslim woman was burnt to death in her house by rioters. Arunabh Saikia interviewed Hindu men who boasted about the violence they had carried out.
The next month saw India close down on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. We reported on the plight of migrant workers who walked and cycled long distances home and the shortage of protective gear for health workers. The health emergency did not stop the Delhi Police from launching a silent crackdown on those who had participated in the Citizenship protests.
In 2021, as a deadly second wave of Covid-19 swept through India, with even hospitalised patients dying of a lack of medical oxygen, an investigative report by Arunabh Saikia and Vijayta Lalwani revealed that the government had failed to set up oxygen plants in time.
To ensure sustained and in-depth coverage of underreported areas like health, education, environment, gender, and labour, we launched the Common Ground project in 2021. Ishan Kukreti’s 2022 report on how India had squandered millions on ghost plantations won a major international prize.
We did not take our eye off the authoritarian excesses of the Modi government.
In 2022, Supriya Sharma and Arunabh Saikia reported on how the government had turbocharged the Enforcement Directorate to use the draconian money laundering law to go after India’s Opposition.
The depth and range of our reporting is evident from this small sample from 2023: Rokibuz Zaman and Arunabh Saikia’s reports from conflict-torn Manipur, Vaishnavi Rathore’s report from Madhya Pradesh on the deaths of cheetahs translocated from Africa, Johanna Deeksha’s report on how the hijab ban resulted in Muslim women dropping out of college in Karnataka, Nolina Minj’s endearing account of a doctor and a priest came together to give birth to a script for an Adivasi language in Jharkhand, Tabassum Barnagarwala’s report on the sham of new medical colleges in Maharashtra, and Safwat Zargar’s report on illegal sand mining in Kashmir.
With 2024 bringing yet another national election, our small team of reporters is gearing up to bring you the stories that matter in a democracy. Please continue to support our efforts by contributing to our election reporting fund.