AMRITA RANGASAMY CAN USUALLY BE FOUND in the library of the India International Centre (IIC), on Lodi Road in Delhi, poring over reports as part of her research into famine and governance. In the evenings, she shifts to the institution’s lounge, where she reads periodicals, or catches up with friends who drop by to meet her. Small, silver-haired and bespectacled, there is a scholarly air about her. But engage her in conversation about her career, which began in the 1960s, and she is seized with a childish glee, as she rattles off tales from decades of reporting, during which she marked herself out as one of the country’s foremost journalists on development and governance.
Rangasamy is one of the breed that the journalist Shahnaz Anklesaria Aiyar described in her essay in Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way, a collection of essays by winners of the Chameli Devi Jain awards for journalism. “After the initial reports of riots, droughts, and floods had made the headlines,” Aiyar wrote, “it was often women journalists who went back to the scenes of carnage or devastation and gave its victims a voice.”
When I met Rangasamy in the IIC in November, she recounted one of her early stories, from 1966. At the time, there was a statute in force in Madras requiring rice to be rationed due to a food shortage in the region. Waking up at around 3.30 am on the morning of the assignment, she wore a silk saree and diamond earrings, and told her mother that she was going to cover an event attended by the “chief minister”. “Why alarm people?” she said of her lie. “It was best to tell her something that will keep her calm.”