Monajat Uddin

Ashoka Fellow
Bangladesh,
Fellow Since 1991
RUSTIC

Citation

This profile was prepared when Monajat Uddin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Monajat is a working rural journalist. Over the course of twenty years, he has developed a uniquely detailed, investigative grassroots method of reporting that he calls "situation reporting."
Monajat immerses himself in the communities he writes about, but he maintains an unbiased detachment by collecting extensive objective data for his reports. This method allows him not only to write in-depth on socioeconomic conditions but to present his readers with a rare understanding of the realities Bangladeshi villagers face, both natural and manmade, and how they perceive and feel about their lives.
Situation reporting is essentially journalistic blitzkrieg. Monajat will suddenly appear in a village and settle in an ordinary villager's home as a paying guest. After an initial period of wandering the village and its fields, probing a broad sample of the residents to spot issues, he recruits and trains a team of ten or so educated young villagers to conduct an extensive and vigorous interview program following a set of questions that he has developed. This list typically covers basic topics such as health, income, and current and past land ownership. It then goes on to draw out the facts surrounding whatever issues Monajat plans to make the focus of his forthcoming stories. How have the villagers responded to the new family planning program? Why? What has actually happened with the flood relief funds? And so on.
As his volunteer army is out interviewing, so is he. He carefully seeks out all sides--those with and without land, government officials, housewives, etc. However, because he has his volunteers, he can do a thorough job of fact gathering in two days rather than the two weeks he estimates it would otherwise take him.
Using local young people serves several other important purposes as well. It protects against anything important remaining hidden long. It gets a group of the village's most able and aware young people to look sharply and think about what is going on in their community. In effect, the process allows Monajat to hold a mirror up to the community he visits, which is not always a comfortable sight.
Week after week, Monajat inserts into the country's thinking his factual, quietly stated pictures of reality where it matters most. The reports are beginning to have measurable impact: new legislation regarding child marriage is one change that is largely attributable to Monajat's influence.
The area where Monajat would most like his influence felt, however, is in the field of journalism itself, especially rural journalism. "Rural journalism in Bangladesh is not a proper profession," he says. "I dream of changing that. Rural journalists now simply report events--an epidemic or a disappointingly small harvest. I want them to be aware of the social and family changes taking place."
To make this impact, Monajat wants to expand his informal, albeit increasingly frequent, hosting of visiting colleagues who come to see his technique in action.
To reach the country's five thousand rural reporters, he is thinking of a formal on site apprenticeship program backed by a number of publications.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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