Award-winning independent journalist Priyanka Borpujari recently spoke at Nazareth about “The Human Cost to India’s Race for Development.” Based in Mumbai, India, she documents human rights abuses around her country, but is currently here in the United States on a prestigious fellowship. Nazareth student writer Amy Gallo sat down with Borpujari before her lecture for a Q&A session.
Q: What’s the one thing you would want people to take away from your lecture?
A: India is seen as one of the emerging countries in the world, but I’m talking about the other side of why it’s such an emerging country. There is a situation where there are human rights violations that are taking place – which is completely ignored by India’s media and international media, as well. So yes, India is developing, but it’s coming at a huge human cost. Most economic benefit usually comes at a huge humanitarian cost, whether it’s housing, food, health, or the environment. Often, government systems try to cover that up. It’s up to us to read between the lines of news reports. And while I’m trying to give everyone a picture of India, I also want people to go home and look in their own backyards. This is happening in Rochester, as well. People don’t think their actions affect others, but I want people to remember that everything is interconnected.
Q: What is the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship? How were you selected?
A: The IWMF is an organization which works with female journalists to promote women in media. Every year, IWMF grants the “Courage in Journalism Award” to one woman who risks her life for journalism. In 1998, Boston Globe reporter Elizabeth Neuffer was the recipient of the award for her coverage of the Rwandan and Bosnian wars. She was later killed in an accident in Iraq in 2003 while covering the Iraq War. Her family and friends, along with IWMF, wanted to honor her work and her vision by honoring one woman journalist every year who is dedicated to covering human rights and social justice. It’s a very prestigious fellowship – there were 85 applicants this year, and then out of three finalists, I was finally selected. It’s like being a Miss Universe but I don’t have to care about how I look!
As part of this fellowship, I get to spend seven months here: six months in Boston and one in New York. Since September, I have been able to audit courses across the Cambridge area – it was so difficult to choose because I wanted to learn everything! I have also been interning with the Boston Globe in the editorial department. I’ve never written editorials before; I’m more of an on-ground reporter, so it is quite interesting and a very great learning experience for me. In March, I’ll be spending one month in New York interning at The New York Times. I’m really excited about that!
Q: Was there a specific event or moment that sparked your interest in human rights? Or is it something you have always been passionate about?
A: I have been passionate about it all my life, but I didn’t know it was called human rights or social justice. My parents were very careful in bringing me up – my brother and I didn’t have an opulent childhood, but we had more than enough. We also had to earn things - we were always being asked if we really needed something or if we could do without it. Then, one of my first reporting jobs as a crime reporter with a tabloid in Mumbai taught me that people don’t want to talk about social justice. It was a great learning experience, but I knew that only one class of people would be written about and another part of the population would be completely ignored. I knew I had to leave and write about what no one else was talking about.
Q: Do you have any advice for students who are interested in human rights and social justice?
A: Get out of your university when you graduate and see the world! Talk to anyone and everyone – do you know the guys who clean your streets? Do you talk to your neighbors? Do you know their stories? Try not to think of social justice as a career, because often they do not go hand in hand. Do not stop questioning yourself and the world. Even if the questions seem stupid – ask them anyways!
And for all students: find your own passion. You will have a lot of noise around you, but you have to figure out what drives you. Think back to the earliest time in your life when someone asked you what you wanted to do when you grew up – what happened to that answer? What really drives you? Listen to what your soul craves for – and work towards it!