From a human rights commission notice to the Assam government on harassment in the name of weeding out illegal immigrants, to bringing women panchayat leaders in Tamil Nadu to the fore, and from awards for our health coverage to starting the first endeavour to document hate crime, 2017 has been a year of impactful journalism for us at IndiaSpend and FactChecker.

At IndiaSpend, we do not like adjectives, we do not like opinion. Emotion is not our thing. Data are. Facts are. Reportage is. Using data as our core, we focus on topics of public interest, topics that should be in the public domain but, usually, are not.

Over the past few years, we have brought to your attention the stories of the people behind these data.

Assam govt’s harassment in the name of weeding out illegal immigrants

Moinal Molla’s children and parents are Indian. But he was twice declared a foreigner, revealing the perils of Assam’s latest effort to sift illegal immigrants from Indian.

Over 51 years, only 89,395 people have been declared foreigners in Assam, where an estimated 5 million Bangladeshis are thought to reside. Thousands of officials, using computer programs and face-to-face meetings, have been involved in a race to meet a December 2017 Supreme Court deadline for a new citizenship list; 64 million documents have been submitted by about 32.5 million people in what is India’s largest move to disenfranchise voters.

But, as our investigation found, the new list may be of limited value in identifying and expelling illegal immigrants. In the process, the lives of thousands of poor people, mostly Muslim, are being upended, as they are picked off the streets and asked to prove citizenship.

Following our investigation, in November 2017, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the Assam government.

Documenting India’s rising hate crime

The year 2017 recorded the highest death toll (11 deaths) and the most number of incidents of hate violence (37 incidents) related to cows and religion since 2010, according to an IndiaSpend database that records cow-related hate crime.

To build our database, our team collected, analysed and verified print and online news reports in the English media, which tend to have the widest nationwide coverage. All reported incidents were cross-referenced to eliminate discrepancies and, where needed, verified with local reporters or those who had filed original stories.

National or state crime data do not distinguish general violence from cow-related attacks and lynchings, so the IndiaSpend database is the first such statistical perspective to a growing national debate over such violence.

What it means to live with disability in India

In April 2017, in a three-part series, we examined what living with disability in India means, particularly with regard to access to education and employment, 22 years after the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act was passed.

The first part of the series looked at education: Whether the current system allows equal access for children with special needs to various education-related programmes. In the second part, we looked at the “inclusive education model” through the lens of one differently-abled boy’s life. The third and final part examined employment opportunities for people with disabilities through the story of a visually-challenged community living in Vangani, 80 km east of Mumbai.

This series won the Special Jury Award at the Press Institute of India-International Committee of the Red Cross Awards.

Women panchayat leaders in Tamil Nadu

Earlier this year, we interviewed 40 past and current women panchayat, or village council, leaders in six Tamil Nadu districts analysing how the decisions made by female village leaders might be different from men. We found a majority of women now work independently of the men in their lives and despite a series of hurdles that deny them access to finances, male-dominated political networks and limited powers, they had carved out distinct identities for themselves and overtaken men in building roads, providing drinking water and toilets.

Tamil Nadu has India’s lowest fertility rate–lower than Australia, Finland and Belgium–second best infant mortality and maternal mortality rate, and records among the lowest crime rates against women and children, but caste discrimination is entrenched and women in rural public office still face resistance from men. But the rise of women panchayat leaders indicates the benefits that reservation for women bring. We told some of their stories in a four-part series.

In the first part, we told the story of a woman who lost fingers, a ear and was left for dead when she challenged caste and gender hierarchies in a Tamil Nadu village. But P Krishnaveni, the Dalit former president of the Thalaiyuthu panchayat at India’s southern end, eventually won the support of other castes and communities by focussing on the development needs such as providing water.

The second part followed Sidhamallamma Kanchappa who never went to school, was married at 11 and had her first child at 12. In an inaccessible region in one of the poorest Tamil Nadu districts, panchayat president Sidhamallamma trained herself to be a health worker.

The third part was about Tenmozhi, 39: Nestled in a sylvan valley in northwestern Tamil Nadu, the village council of Sittilinghi struggled to bring to state attention the infirmities obscured by its natural beauty. That began to change in 2011 when Tenmozhi, a soft-spoken, mathematics graduate and former hospital administrator was elected panchayat president in a seat that was not then reserved for women. She built a Rs 30-crore bridge, health centre, battled child marriage and now lobbies fiercely for a higher-secondary school that will allow girls an alternative to marrying early.

In the concluding part, we told the story of Mazharkodi Dhanasekar of Melamarungoor, a lost panchayat at the fag end of the Kalayairkovil block of Sivagangai district--she built 650 toilets making the panchayat open defecation-free, brought water to villages that were dry and set up a reverse osmosis system worth Rs 600,000--all with funds that she had to lobby hard for.

While media houses picked up these stories giving them the much-needed national attention, local newspapers interviewed some of these women, setting the stage for many more of them to follow their path.

India’s failing primary health infrastructure

The National Family Health Survey showed that the country’s infant and maternal mortality declined, but there were several infant deaths in major tertiary care centres in many states.

Our September 2017 investigation went beyond the preliminary enquiries and found a failing healthcare system that stacks the odds against a child’s survival even before she is conceived.

Poorly-fed young women are married off too early, remain underweight when pregnant and get little prenatal care and nutrition. Babies are born underweight (less than 2.5 kg) and live in conditions where they are exposed to high risk of infection, getting inadequate nutrition that limits their ability to develop the strength to fight disease. Government-run community and primary health centres are dysfunctional, while tertiary care institutes, both private and government-run, are overburdened and mismanaged.

The cancer-care crisis

Run by the Department of Atomic Energy, the 76-year-old Tata Memorial Hospital--India’s leading tertiary referral centre--is ground zero of India’s unfolding cancer-care crisis. Although India’s incidence of cancer is still low compared to the West, it is spreading, and the lack of quality cancer care sets patients on trans-subcontinental journeys that end on the pavement of Jerbai Wadia road in Mumbai.

In the first part of our September 2017 series on cancer treatment--the first of its kind--we described the journey of an aspiring soldier from Bihar who was diagnosed with oral cancer. In part two, we calculated the economic and social cost of cancer through a survey of cancer patients living on Jerbai Wadia street’s pavements. In the third part, we investigated the government’s programmes for cancer care for its poorest patients.

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