Veteran journalist Rabi Das is one of those few faces who have given a new dimension to journalism in Odisha. Mr. Das has been dabbling in various roles as a senior journalist, political analyst, columnist and social crusader over the last four decades. He was mostly known for his investigative style of journalism during his heydays. The septuagenarian journalist continues to be an inspirational figure both for the aspiring journalists and peers alike.
Mr. Das was never destined to become a journalist. He was a science student and aspired to do higher studies in Physics. But a sudden turn of unexpected events got him into the world of journalism. “I hailed from a humble background. During my final year of B.Sc studies, I lost my father. He was the only breadwinner of the family. I could not muster courage to go outside the state for higher studies. So I decided to study law at MS Law College, Cuttack,” he reminisces.
Mr. Das was a meritorious student and hence popular among his friends and seniors at college. It was during this time when a massive student unrest against the government took place in 1968. He was one of the student leaders who took part in the unrest and got arrested twice. “My father was a freedom fighter. I had inherited the leadership qualities from him. I always stood for what was correct for the society. So, I led from the front whenever required,” he said.
Meanwhile, after losing the elections, Biju Patnaik wanted to revive the Congress in Odisha. So he called up a meeting at his residence in Cuttack and asked all the student leaders to join the meeting. Mr. Das also attended the meeting. “For the first time, I had the opportunity to meet the Congress leaders and student representatives from across the state. I also came in contact with Pradyumna Bal, who was at the helm of Odisha Youth Congress then, and got influenced by his personality and philosophy,” says he.
Soon he was inducted into the Odisha Youth Congress and made the joint-convenor of Cuttack district. During that time, he also actively took part in several AICC meetings across the country. At a very young age, he was elected as the President of Odisha Youth Congress after the 1971 Odisha elections. Due to certain political disturbances, Mr. Das was relieved of his duties a year later and a new President was elected in his place.
With no burden of political assignments on head, he met Pradyumna Bal again and both decided to launch a weekly newspaper. Thus Mr. Das took a plunge into the world of journalism and Pragativadi took shape in 1973. “Initially it was challenging for both of us. We both had to look after the editorial and managerial responsibilities of the weekly. But we never gave up,” says he.
But in 1975, India saw its darkest phase since Independence after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency. The Emergency led to suspension of elections, curbing of civil liberties, violation of human rights and mass-sterilization campaign across the country. “Even the government imposed censorship of press during that period. The journalists were barred from reporting on parliamentary affairs. But the emergency did not deter us. We used to publish news on emergency. But one fine day, our office got raided by the police officials and they locked it citing violation of censorship laws. After six months of struggle with the senior officials of the state, our press got opened. Interestingly, the weekly again published details on the emergency. We were again asked to stop publishing the weekly. A chief sensor officer was assigned to take stock of our work,” he laughingly said adding that he enjoyed that phase the most. Notably, the Emergency was withdrawn on 21st March 1977.
After garnering immense popularity among the readers, it was decided to make it a daily paper. Thus a new office got opened at Bapuji Nagar. But the breakthrough for the daily came in the mid-80s. The infamous brutal rape and murder of a female journalist in Jagatsinghpur had sent shock waves across the country. It was during this phase that the daily reported nitty-gritties of the incident fearlessly. “No other print or electronic media was covering the incident like ours. We wanted to ensure that the accused was caught immediately; hence we also involved ourselves in the investigation process to unearth the mystery,” he recalls.
The daily, enjoyed patronage and support of the readers largely due to its rich content and investigative journalism under the watchful guidance of Mr. Das. Further, the office of Pragativadi got permanently shifted to Mancheswar in 1989. With time, his role and responsibilities also grew and he strived hard to make the daily as the voice of common people.
Subsequently owing to some professional differences, he left Pragativadi and started his own daily, Parjyabekhyaka in the latter half of 1998. Mr. Das left no stone unturned to bring his daily to the forefront. Everything went smooth until the 1999 Super Cyclone. After the 1999 devastation, his misfortunes started chasing him. “The cyclone had a deadly impact on my office. My wife, who was quite unwell over the years left for the heavenly abode forever. The loan burden was piling up. I was making huge losses. There was none in the family to support me to run the paper. Clueless, I decided to shut down the daily in 2009,” he said with a heavy heart.
Ever since Mr. Das has parted ways from the mainstream journalism, he has been quite actively taking part in news channel discussions. Be it on any social or political issue, he has always been vocal and taken his stand for the right cause and people. “I felt TV was the best possible medium for me to voice my opinion and put forth what was right or wrong for the society,” he said. That apart, his analytical articles and columns are a regular feature in various newspapers, magazines and journals.
His commitment for the society cannot be undermined as well. He is closely associated with several non-profits and has always stood for the rights of the underprivileged and marginalized. From the land movement of tribals in Narayanapatna to raising voice against the chit fund menace, Mr. Das never fails to lend his support despite his hectic schedule.
Mr. Das was visibly worried when asked regarding the advent of digital media. He said, “The meteoric growth of digital media has taken place. That has jeopardized the future of print media. Today getting a news is just a click away. Even the spread of fake news on social media is on the rise which is not good for journalism. The youngsters have a major role to play here and I’m hopeful they will keep alive the ethics of journalism in the future.”
The veteran journalist now has only one aim- to inspire the younger lot to become perfect role-models for the society. “I’ve no regrets in life. I would like to guide the young journalists and serve the society as much as I can till my last breath,” he signs off with a smile.
By Subhojit Panda