Migrant labourers’ “messiah” wins journalism award

A Catholic nun who braved the coronavirus pandemic and official apathy to reach out to hundreds of stranded migrant labourers during lockdowns has won a prestigious award from the Indian Catholic Press Association.

Nov 19, 2021

Sr Sujata Jena at a bus stand in Bhubaneswar, meeting some workers of Kalahandi, Odisha, in India, who returned from Tamil Nadu, some 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) away from Odisha. She shared some food packs with them as they didn’t have money to buy food during their two-day journey. (Global Sisters Report photo)


NEW DELHI:
A Catholic nun who braved the coronavirus pandemic and official apathy to reach out to hundreds of stranded migrant labourers during lockdowns has won a prestigious award from the Indian Catholic Press Association.

The national body of Catholic journalists on November 5 chose Sr Sujata Jena for the best reportage on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The Bhubaneswar-based member of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary was chosen for “authentically and consistently being the voice of people’s rights, especially the poor Dalits who are more susceptible to exploitation and injustice,” a statement from the association says.

The award is sponsored by the Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. It will be conferred on Dec 1, at the National Convention of Christian Journalists in Bandra, Mumbai.

Sr Jena contributes regularly to news portals such as Matters India, especially on Dalit issues. “Through the power of reporting and storytelling, (Sr Jena) amplifies the various aspects of Dalits and Tribals, women, children and the homeless, who have been sidelined by the elite, powerful, and societal structures,” says the press release signed by ICPA president Ignatius Gonsalves and secretary Capuchin Fr Suresh Mathew.

The association also says Sr Jena’s reports focus on voiceless people. “Her deep sincerity and perseverance in highlighting the rights of Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes shows grit, courage and conviction. Her writings showcase hopes and resilience that the deprived people and communities show despite many challenges, deprivation, and exploitation. Her writings have shed light on issues that no secular journalist has ventured to report. It takes both courage and professional excellence to do so.”

Sr Sujata said she was not sure if she was worthy of such a prestigious award. Thanking the ICPA for the recognition, the 39-year-old nun said, “All I tried to do was to highlight the struggles and aspirations of my people.”

She said she dedicates the award to “my brothers and sisters who are victims of structural injustice and every calamity, be it man made or the result of the fury of the nature.” She also said that she was proud to be identified as a Dalit and Tribal journalist.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Sister has been involved in the safe return of the migrants.

She continues to work for their rights through advocacy and lobbying through networking with government administrations and civil society groups.

She said she felt compelled to help migrant labourers as many fell prey to road accidents, sickness, starvation, and death.

Currently, she is working as the deputy director of the Excellent IAS Academy in Bhubaneswar, capital of the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She also coordinates her congregation’s social projects. --mattersindia.com

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