Last year, Bengaluru-based Vasanthi Hariprakash felt dissatisfied with the mainstream media’s coverage of the Karnataka Assembly election with Delhi or Mumbai-based ‘experts’. A journalist with years of experience in several fields including radio, anchoring and TV, Vasanthi then took it upon herself after a friend’s suggestion, to cover Karnataka in an authentic manner. And this Lok Sabha election, the Pickle Jar Poll Express is bringing voices not just from Karnataka but also Tamil Nadu and Kerala to the fore.
Pickle Jar, a platform to curate programs and conversations of social relevance, was started by Vasanthi three years ago. It debuted by curating a film festival in April 2016, followed by two more; and last year, its founder went on to independently travel to 11 districts of Karnataka to bring forth marginalised voices on the ground. Thus, the Pickle Jar Poll Express was born.
This year, she is joined by another seasoned journalist Preethi Nagaraj, formerly with Deccan Herald and winner of the Sahitya Akademi award for her work in Kannada. The women plan to traverse over 3,000 kilometres across three southern states. Their motto, Vasanthi tells TNM, is simple: “We say what we see. We don’t add wings to it.” The idea behind Pickle Jar Poll Express, she adds, is “to make sense of south India, which is deeply under-represented in largely Delhi-based media, by being on ground.”
“We go on ground and have conversations with people, many of whom are on the periphery. We do not alter their lived realities but merely reflect their voices,” Vasanthi says.
Vasanthi speaking with BJP's Tejasvi Surya
What makes Pickle Jar Poll Express stand out in the din of election coverage is the fact that it’s an independent platform, and features conversations with sections of the population that are often marginalised. Their team is a small and motley group of people too – volunteers, a homemaker, a chartered accountant, techies, film graduates, people juggling their day jobs to pitch in, among others.
Preethi points out that women often don’t get to cover politics, especially as independent journalists. And so, Pickle Jar has set out to shatter this glass ceiling and get more women’s voices into the narrative. “Politics is one thing that affects you before you are born and after you are dead. Women are interested in politics too and can talk about it too, though they may be hesitant. We hope to highlight their voices in our journey,” Preethi says.
Preethi speaking to Kodagu flood survivors
Further, Pickle Jar’s election coverage is also different because it is not being led by salaried journalists affiliated to an organisation, Preethi says. “You aren’t looking for quotes; there aren’t any plugs. When it’s not a reward-based assignment, there is more freedom and time to look for interesting people and diverse narratives,” she explains.
And unlike last year, when it was just Vasanthi sharing videos on her Facebook timeline, this time it’s a small team of 18 people driving the project. Among them, three other journalists, four people doing research, two managing social media and so on. Apart from text stories and videos, Pickle Jar Poll Express will also have a podcast and video stories in Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada. The latter has been commissioned by Daily Hunt, an online news curating platform.
So far, the journalists have covered Mandya, Mysuru and Kodagu. Tumakuru and Hassan are on the cards next. Soon, Vasanthi will also be travelling to Tamil Nadu and plans to cover Kanyakumari, Thoothukudi, Madurai, Pollachi and Coimbatore. She will then return to Bengaluru to cast her vote, before heading to Kerala which will vote on April 23.