New Faces at KF: Chandra Shekher

Chandra Shekher is KF’s new Katherine W. Fanning Fellow this year. We recently sat down for a quick chat with Chandra to talk about his work back home in India and what he hopes to accomplish during his stay in Dayton.

KF: How did you first hear about the foundation?

Chandra: I was Googling. I was doing a kind of Web search on opportunities which are available to me as a journalist. I work with a TV station which is run by the Parliament. So, I Googled a couple of words. I said journalism, democracy, and fellowship. And I came across this opportunity. That was sometime in March 2013. And then I wrote a couple of sentences saying that I'm a journalist from India and I would be interested in whatever you have to offer. And I remember after a month I got an email. By that time I had even forgotten that I wrote an email to someone, because I kept on writing to a lot of people. The email said, "When can you be interviewed?" So, I went back again to my sent mail and then I figured it out. I was interviewed telephonically by Alice Diebel and David Holwerk. And then I was invited to DDW in July 2013. Subsequently when I went back to India, I sent a proposal saying that I was interested in the fellowship. Then the proposal got approved and I was invited for the fellowship.

Really? Just a Google search?

Yes. Democracy, journalism, and fellowship. In fact I did not come across it on your website. There was some other website that listed this opportunity.

What kind of work were you doing before you arrived in Dayton?

I work as a television producer and I work with a TV station, which is run by the Parliament of India by the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, which is like the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. And I do documentaries on my own. But most of the time, I'm behind the camera. I work with TV presenters. I work with cameramen. I produce TV programs and I have done TV programs on international relations, on social issues, on problems like corruption in India, on poverty, and on the environment. So as a TV producer I deal with almost all kinds of issues.

What was it about Kettering’s ideas that you found most appealing?

What appealed to me was citizen-centric democracy. Most of the time as a journalist, we tend to look at things from the point of view of experts. And we feel distanced from the common people and that they are just the people who will watch the programs which we produce or write. But then, I've always thought that we exist because of people who are watching us. And so they should come first, not us, because we exist due to them. And the citizen-centric democracy is something that really fascinated me. I want to know how my TV programs, the programs which I produce, can contribute to the development -- to the economic development of the society and to the social development back in my country. I mean, for me, I really want to learn how to involve people, you know?

And what are you learning while you’re here?

I'm coming across new things like public judgment. Public judgment is something which is new to me, because back in India, we normally talk about public opinion. But public judgment is something interesting, and because normally as professionals or as journalists, we tend to know what people are thinking, or we think that people cannot decide, and we are the experts. But that’s not true, because democracy is about people. So, they have to decide. They have to judge. But I think as a media professional, as a journalist, we tend to decide what we want the public to think about, and then we deliver it. And then we claim that this is the public opinion. So public judgment is something which I would like to understand while I'm here, the whole process behind public judgment.

How do you hope to be able to apply what you’ve learned here to your work back home?

We have a huge audience back in India. The TV station that I work for can reach about 400 million people. I'm very excited. My goal would be to include people in our programming and to reach out to them. I’m already thinking in terms of conceptualizing programs which I'd like to do once I'm back. Only thing is that it may take some effort to persuade people back in the newsroom. My boss is very kind and he was very happy and supportive about sending me here.

What’s something you think Americans would be surprised to know about democracy in your country?

There are a lot of problems in India. You may read it in the newspaper that we are a fast-growing economy and all that. But still, a lot of people live on less than one dollar a day. But even then, the democracy works because people are normally nonviolent and peaceful. And they're optimistic. One thing which is very positive about being Indian is that most of us are very positive people, and we believe that we have the power. I mean, India is an example where democracy has been working despite all the challenges. We got independence in 1947. In the 1960s many commentators said that in 1964 or 1965 when we were having elections this might be the last election in India, the end of democracy in India. But then, I mean, it is working because people are optimistic, and they're nonviolent.