To round up our year in long-form journalism, here are some of our stories from 2016, selected by The Caravan‘s editors.
In just five years, Ranveer Singh has gone from anonymity to superstardom. While his cinematic successes have won him adoration, his ribald public image has sometime occasioned contempt. Fuelling his rise, Khan reports, is an intense love of the spotlight, and the giant promotional machinery of modern Bollywood fame.
How big pharma and the Indian government are letting millions of patients down
Mandakini Gahlot and Vidya Krishnan in March
For decades, India maintained a fiercely independent approach to intellectual property rights. Recently, however, it appears to have yielded to pressure from Western corporations and governments. Gahlot and Krishnan report on why this is apparent in one corporation’s efforts to control the production and distribution of a blockbuster new hepatitis C drug.
India, like much of the world today, faces a chronic shortage of organ donors, and is home to a thriving illegal trade, particularly in human kidneys. Kerala has managed to reign in the black market and increase legal transplants by building on a popular movement for organ donation to strangers that is unlike anything the country has ever seen before. Choudhury reports on how the state’s organ donation movement became a success, and the people who spearheaded it.
Nakul Krishna traces the journey of the renowned Indian scholar MS Srinivas, whose unique contributions to sociology and social anthropology were closely linked to his questioning of pre-existing intellectual moulds, and included an emphasis on field work. Krishna reflects on Srinivas’ excitement to live in and observe the newly independent country, and his radical perspective on the ethnography of rural India.
Rohith Vemula’s suicide in January threw a spotlight on the treatment of Dalit students at the University of Hyderabad, and on other campuses across the country. Though the students in Hyderabad suffered under an oppressive administration , they formed a potent force in the university’s politics. By bringing together diverse groups with a “universal language of discrimination”, their example offers a hint of what one future counterweight to the prevailing politics of majoritarianism could look like.
Arundhati Roy chronicles the rise of the RSS and the communal violence that followed, placing it alongside the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the recent developments in student politics at JNU and the University of Hyderabad. Roy recounts history in an effort to undercover patterns, and questions what it means to be “seditious.”
Has Shah Rukh Khan copied a Shah Rukh Khan lookalike?
Tanul Thakur in May
In his movie Fan, Shah Rukh Khan plays both a movie star and a lookalike on a quest to spend five minutes with the man he emulates for a living. This story is eerily similar to the life of Raju Rahikwar, a professional Shah Rukh Khan impersonator who has spent years trying to get two minutes with the movie star. This story chronicles Rahikwar’s journey, his fascination with Shah Rukh Khan and his subsequent attempts to meet the actor, along his reaction to a film, that he believes, is based on the story of his life.
Law of the Land
How the Vyapam SIT chief, judges and journalists benefitted from government largesse in Madhya Pradesh
MD Hizbullah and Atul Dev in June
When Devendra Mishra, a lawyer and RTI activist, looked into a seemingly unclaimed plot of prime land in Bhopal, he found that the Madhya Pradesh government had leased it at an exceptionally low rate to a cooperative housing society for judges—which included a retired judge who oversaw an official investigation into the Vyapam scandal. The same rate had been approved for two societies of journalists too. “Why would the government want to give land to judges at throwaway prices?” Mishra asked. And why would the judges—and the journalists—accept it?
RK Pachauri’s reign at TERI
Nikita Saxena in July
In February 2015, a 29-year-old researcher at the Delhi-based think tank The Energy and Research Institute filed a case of sexual harassment against its then director general, RK Pachauri. Though Pachauri has denied her allegations, the researcher’s decision to come forward has emboldened other women employees of TERI to also speak up with claims of sexual harassment at his hands. Together, their accounts present a disturbing picture of an organisation that was in thrall to its leader, and that looked the other way as he bent it to his ends.
In the Name of the Mother
How the state nurtures the gau rakshaks of Haryana
Ishan Marvel in September
Ishan Marvel recounts a night spent accompanying Haryana’s Gau Raksha Dal, a group of cow-protection vigilantes, as they patrol the highways looking for beef- and cattle-traffickers. He investigates the rise of gau rakshaks in the state, and the support they receive from the Haryana government, in funding, manpower and infrastructure.
The Iron Cage
Why the Indian state is failing in Kashmir
Praveen Donthi in October
In July, protests erupted in the Kashmir valley after Indian security forces killed the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. In the past, leaders such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani had exercised strong influence over popular resistance in the valley, and especially over Kashmiri youth. But since July, Donthi reports, protests have raged on without clear leadership or strategy, even in the face of shocking official repression—portending a new and turbulent phase in the Kashmiri struggle.
The Last Dispatch
A reporter’s memoir of her struggle against cancer
Sumegha Gulati in December
On 29 July 2016, the journalist Sumegha Gulati died at the age of 26, after suffering for four years from Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a type of blood cancer. Gulati did not stop working, and produced several pieces of journalism during her illness, two of which were published by The Caravan. In her last three months, she worked on a story for this magazine on cancer treatment in India, based on her own time as a patient. She could not finish the project, but managed to record a part of her experience. This essay is an edited version of that record, which Gulati’s family recovered from her computer after her death. The drawings accompanying the text were made by Gulati during her days in the hospital.