Interviewed by Conor Deane and Alexander Purnell, MA Journalism Falmouth University
“You keep doing the work, because in the end, you don’t know what else to do. This is the job you do best,” said Rohini Mohan, an independent journalist in India. Mohan is a finalist for this year’s Martin Adler Prize for her contribution to the international news industry, including her story Inside India’s Sham Trials That Could Strip Millions of Citizenship.
With India’s nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, the state of Assam increased its use of ‘Foreigner’s Tribunals’ and Mohan set out to investigate the practice. She found evidence that tribunals dealing with citizenship cases were rife with “bias, inconsistencies and error” and could be used on a mass scale against ethnic and religious minorities.
Mohan sifted through opaque legal documents dating back to 2009. “Judges speak a completely different language in terms of what is acceptable as evidence, so I had to navigate that, it’s really death by bureaucracy,” she said.
Mohan found Dilap Biswas’ family, who had been declared ‘foreigners’, split up and driven from their home in Assam. The family fought their tribunal ruling and had it overturned, but she found continued and widespread fear the legislation could be used by nationalist groups.
Knowing the story had international resonance – with the UK’s Windrush scandal and the case of Dreamers in the US – Mohan worked with editors from Vice News to widen the scope of her investigation. The support of Vice News was key: “It is so important to have this backing, especially in a country where you don‘t even have to make a mistake to have a case made against you,” she said. In July 2020, India arrested dozens of journalists in a clampdown on critics of the state’s COVID-19 response, and is currently ranked 142 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.
Mohan said that being a Rory Peck Awards finalist also affords a measure of protection. “It’s encouraging, but it’s also like armour, you can continue to work with more protection, and more people who will root for you if something goes wrong.”