As the second wave of COVID-19 ripped through India, leaving the world horrified at the death toll, Divya Bhaskar, a Gujarati newspaper from the Dainik Bhaskar group, published an astounding report. “Gujarat issued 1.23 lakh death certificates between 1 March and 10 May, compared to 58,000 certificates issued in the same period last year,” the report, published on 14 May, stated. The Gujarat government had evidently issued sixty-five thousand more death certificates this year, even though its data “showed that only 4,218 patients had died of COVID-19 during that time.” The government’s mismanagement of the crisis and the ways in which it was trying to cover it up were becoming plain to see.
On 17 June, the New York Times published a piece with the scathing headline, “The Ganges Is Returning the Dead. It Does Not Lie.” It was written by Om Gaur, the national editor of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s premier Hindi newspaper. He detailed the ways in which his team covered the crisis. In Uttar Pradesh, thirty reporters were dispatched to walk along the river’s banks. “We might never have heard of this tragedy but for the weather,” he wrote. “Rains in early May swelled the Ganges, tossing corpses up to the river’s surface and onto its shores … The rains also laid bare the government’s colossal failure to strengthen rural health care or ensure adequate vaccine supplies—or take responsibility for its shortcomings.”
Over the next month, the Dainik Bhaskar group scaled up its coverage and followed the same methods of reporting in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, publishing significant exposés of the various state governments’ complicity in the crisis. Their reportage on COVID-19 deaths was widely hailed in a media environment that, in the past few years, has become mind-numbingly propagandist.