Lakshmi Chand Jain, who passed away on November 14 at 85, was not a media person, but his father Phool Chand Jain, a Delhi freedom fighter, was. So Lakshmi learnt early about the importance of free speech and media freedom as he joined the Quit India struggle. This was to be a lasting influence on his life.
He was closely associated with the Media Foundation and, in a sense, a patron of this 31-year organization. And thereby hangs a tale.
Lakshmi was most concerned and supportive when I was removed as Editor of the Hindustan Times in 1975 and, like other liberals, felt the heat of the Emergency. The weight of the Emergency fell on Jayaprakash Narayan-affiliated Gandhians who, like others, found censorship being used to suppress their views and paint them black as prime agents of disorder.
The Emergency over, I was invited by the Combined Opposition to stand as an Independent candidate from Mavelikara in my 'home' state of Kerala. The expenditure ceiling for a parliamentary seat at that time was Rs 35,000, but the funds had to be raised. Lakshmi, his wife Devaki, and other friends in Delhi and elsewhere quickly formed a support group to solicit funds from libertarians, media person and friends.
The Rs 35,000 target was soon oversubscribed and further collections were stopped. But the kitty had by then swelled to over a lakh of rupees against my resolve not to spend more than Rs 34,500 ??" allowing for my poor mathematics and unforeseen cost overruns. In the event, an unspent balance of around Rs 80,000 ??" a very goodly sum in those days ??" remained. The question was what to do with it. Taking counsel with Lakshmi and others it was resolved to devote the amount to establish a registered Society to defend and promote the freedom and independence of the media and uphold professional standards.
Thus was born the Media Foundation in 1979, with Lakshmi Jain among the founding trustees.
Ruminating over the programmes that might be taken up by the new Foundation, Lakshmi suggested encouraging women in journalism by instituting an annual prize for an 'outstanding woman media person, for her qualities of excellence, integrity, courage and social concern. He went further in helping endow the Award with initial funding and supplementaty contributions from the family from time to time over the years.
The Chameli Devi Jain Award was instituted in the name and memory of Lakshmi's mother, a simple housewife turned freedom fighter who exemplified the values the Award symbolizes. The first Award for 1980-81 was presented in March 1981. A succession of iconic women mediapersons and media collectives in print, radio, television, film and photography have followed.
The third Award, in 1983, went to Shakuntala Narasimhan of the Deccan Herald.
Quite out of the blue Shankuntala sent me a card 23 years later to say that Doubleday had just published her book on Sati. Two other volumes by her on consumer issues had also won her the K.S.Aiyar Memorial Award for 'outstanding socially relevant writing'. All this, she concluded, 'I owe to the Chameli Devi Award, which broadened my horizons'.
Lakshmi, are you listening?