Alok Gupta’s parents wanted him to be an engineer. He studied science and math but when he reached college, he took a journalism course on the sly. “I told them, ‘I’m enrolled in an engineering course,’” Alok says. That journalism class changed the course of his life.
Alok grew up in Patna in the state of Bihar, India, an economically poor area. Getting an education provided a crucial doorway to gain employment and escape poverty. Sponsored by wealthy benefactors, Alok studied hard and pursued his college education.
In the meantime, poverty in Bihar had led to crime on a massive scale in the area. Young men formed gangs and began kidnapping people, holding them for ransom. Kidnapping and extortion became profitable industries in the area. The government turned a blind eye to the growing kidnapping problem.
Alok became more involved when his benefactors were kidnapped. He says, “The only people who were interested in wiping out the kidnapping were journalists. That was the moment I realized I wanted to be a journalist.” His family was upset, concerned that journalism did not pay well. Alok swapped his degree from engineering to journalism and studied at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He returned to Bihar as a reporter.
Reporting on kidnapping was dangerous — Alok received many threats. He did not take them too seriously. The kidnappers realized that were they to follow through and harm a reporter, the government would crack down. Alok feels that his work as a reporter helped reduce kidnapping by increasing public awareness beyond Bihar. Once the government realized that it had to do something to save face, the kidnapping problems began to disappear.
Alok was transferred from Bihar to New Dehli. He did not feel that New Dehli fit his goals as a reporter. He went back to Bihar to report on education, poverty, national disasters and government policies. Reporting was challenging at times.
On one assignment, Alok had to cover refugees who had escaped the effects of a disastrous flood. Alok says, “My photographer and I could not find food — just water and more water.” Social mores also affected the things Alok could report. He could not report on the need for medical care for pregnant women due to the society’s general unwillingness to discuss gynecological issues.
One of Alok’s assignments led him to begin writing about poor students who were academically successful but could not afford to pay for school. He feels these articles helped influence the government to fund education for impoverished students. Alok’s reporting made him well-known in the Bihar. This ultimately opened doors to his securing a scholarship with the Ford foundation to come study in the United States.
Alok is pursuing his masters at the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism. He has been in America for a year. Appreciative of how professors at KU want students to participate, Alok says, “In our education, professors speak and we listen. So, professors are like God in our country. Here, the professors are much like a friend.”
While Alok does not see many cultural similarities between India and America, he does see commonalities in journalistic style. He notices a big difference in how newspapers cover news of developing countries like India and China. He sees a huge gap between developing nations and the USA. “I still think journalism needs to relate to developing nations.”
In his opinion, many of the American college students he has met seem unaware of, and detached from, world news. However, he has met many professors at KU who are deeply involved with developing countries. Alok values the theories of news-making that he’s learning at KU. Alok says, “I know the kind of resources that this university has. I’m not going to get it in my country, say in terms of libraries, Internet connection, in terms of quality of professors. I am desperate to take in all the knowledge I can, because I know when I go back to my country this kind of library, these kind of resources won’t be there.” He feels that responsibly framing stories will help his writing become more effective and increase local and global awareness within his Indian readership.
Alok tries to detach himself from the comfortable American lifestyle. “I’m just worried about the reverse culture shock that I’m going to face when I go back to my country. I have never seen the power cut here, water is 24-7. In my state, we get power for say, 8-10 hours, and for the rest of the time there is no power. Water is a scarcity in our region,” Alok says.
Alok thinks that Indian media has stereotyped Americans and westerners as being sex-driven and rich. He appreciates American values like the cultures of work, punctuality and respect. He hopes to take back to India with him and share with his fellow citizens.
Alok says, “I say thank you to a janitor, I say thank you to a bus driver, I say thank you to anyone on the street who’s helping me. But that is not the case in India. In India, the bus driver will generally belong to a lower caste or the janitor will belong to a lower caste. These are the classes who are never looked at with respect. So, the kind of respect that Americans give to each other is one of the things I will try to bring into Indian culture.”