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Usha Rai - Session 02, 2022-03-16

Identifier: OH-003-9-2

Interview Summary

(00:00:45) Marriage, divorce and its effects on her children and her career and asking for maternity leave Rai speaks about getting married to Raghu Rai. She describes writing an article on the hopes and expectations of a marriage as being cathartic for her and how it was received. After her divorce, she shares that she has continued to be in touch with her ex-husband professionally and for their children. She talks about how her divorce affected her professionally. She shares about her experience with asking for maternity leave when she was pregnant with her son. [00:02:05 - 00:10:58 - Restricted Access. Contact for details]

(00:16:58) Working for the Times Educational Supplement, London Rai begins to recount a stint at The London Times for the Times Educational Supplement in the 1980s. She details experiences she had while in the United Kingdom and points out the contrasts with her experiences in India, such as lunchtime at the office, the style of reporting and the access to education. [00:20:19 - 00:20:45 - Restricted Access. Contact for details]

(00:23:43) Beats covered upon return to India and the importance of friendship Once back in India, Rai continued to cover the social and environment sector. She refers to her home as having been as an adda for journalists, and shares the pluses of being single. She emphasises the importance of friendship.

(00:26:07) Stories with an impact Articles on thresher accidents in north India are what she attributes as the ones she wrote that have had the biggest impact, and she gives details about this, such as the reasons behind these accidents and changes that came about as a result of her work. She goes on to mention another set of articles that also had an impact, in that it enabled some children getting adopted when their father was unable to care for them.

(00:33:34) Environmental issues and disillusionment She voices displeasure over a number of environmental issues such as disappearing coastlines, erosion, deforestation and threats to wildlife, to name a few [Archivist’s note: the World Bank assignment that Rai mentions was from 2006-07, not earlier, and they worked on a communication strategy for Coastal Zone Development]. She attributes the fact that it is her profession and that she loves what she does as what keeps her going in her endeavour to write about these issues.

(00:42:05) Working for Hindustan Times, WWF-India and CARE India Rai talks about her professional journey while sharing a few details about her work, moving from The Indian Express to Hindustan Times, to the WWF-India, and then to writing a book on 50 years of CARE India’s work in the country. She touches upon issues she faced such as the reception of development issues and workplace politics.

(00:47:32) Press Institute of India After her work for CARE India, Rai moved to the Press Institute of India. Here, aided by UNFPA, Rai was able to bring out newsletters, increasing coverage on issues like population and health, amongst others. She was able to host workshops across different states for journalists on these issues. She was also able to create a directory of development journalists, photographers, etc.

Once, Rai was very amazed by a doctor from Punjab working on vasectomies, and she invited her to a workshop in Bihar (processing note: the doctor’s name was Baljit Kaur). She laments the lack of women continuing to report on development issues in light of wanting to cover other important beats. She talks about bringing out a report, Status of Women Journalists in India and leaving Press Institute of India in 2004.

(00:55:41) Work with Rimjhim Jain and Swapna Majumdar Her next assignment, along with Rimjhim Jain and Swapna Majumdar, was to do with HIV/AIDS reporting in the country. Together, they brought out a study titled Journalists as Catalysts. She goes on to share about the work she continued to do thereafter with Jain and Majumdar. She talks about having done three reports for United Nations Development Fund for Women on widows and one for International Labour Organisation on child labour. She mentions doing work for National Foundation for India and others on issues such as development, gender and health.

(01:03:15) Awards received and books published Rai speaks about her work that won her three major awards- Chameli Devi Jain Award, FAO Science Writers Award and the Stree Shakti Lifetime Achievement Award. She recalls some of the books she has worked on in the past and states that she has recently finished a book on child labour in Bihar- Meri Pehchaan.

(01:08:55) Rai speaks more about freelance work she has been involved with. For the Aga Khan Foundation, she travelled across three states of India and wrote articles about their work. Having witnessed work on the ground by way of the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana in Uttar Pradesh, she expresses her disbelief with the election results of 2014.

(01:10:58) Changes and challenges in regard to journalism She reflects upon changes and challenges with regard to journalism from around the 1980s to the present day.

(01:15:35) Friendship with Prabha Dutt She fondly recalls her best friend Prabha Dutt and also speaks about Dutt's children, Barkha and Bahar. Rai mentions a fellowship that she helped set up in her honour. She shares about opportunities provided to journalists with the fellowship set up to honour Dutt and highlights the instance of the fellowship being awarded to Rajni Bakshi.

(01:21:00) Human-animal conflicts in Uttar Pradesh, M. K. Ranjitsinh’s influence, and membership of wildlife boards She talks about two stories on animal-human conflicts in Uttar Pradesh, to do with tigers and wolves, and expresses her gratitude for the chances to cover such stories. Rai alludes to M. K. Ranjitsinh's influence on her writing on environmental issues. She also speaks of stints with the Indian Board for Wildlife and the Rajasthan State Wildlife Board and says that while she was unable to contribute much, she certainly learnt a lot from her time spent on them.

(01:26:33) Reflecting on her life When asked about whether she has any regrets in life, Rai says that while she has none, she would like to be a forest officer in her next life and have the chance to work directly with wildlife and work from within the system.

(01:28:00) Clippings of articles, Limca Book of Records and plans for the immediate future

She begins to share about stories she has covered by referring to clippings she has kept. She says she writes two chapters- one on nature and another on environment and development for the Limca Book of Records. Referring to clippings of her articles, Rai talks about pieces she has written on solar power, wetland protection, human bondage, widows and female foeticide. She shares what she will possibly be working on next – editing work for the Real Estate Regulatory Authority.


  • Creation: 2022-03-16



Usha Rai is a veteran journalist who began her career by working as a journalist with The Times of India. She then went on to work for The Indian Express and Hindustan Times. For over 40 years, she was a pioneer in reporting on women’s issues, health, environment and development. For the Times of India and the Indian Express she has covered several international conferences like the Earth Summit at Rio, The World Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, and The International Development Conference, Copenhagen. Some of the organisations she has done work for are the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, India, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-India, United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Development Fund for Women, Plan India, ActionAid and Aga Khan Foundation. She has written the text for coffee table books on Taj Mahal, Vijayanagaram Empire and Khajuraho by Raghu Rai. Other books she has contributed to are The Wonderful World of Wall Paintings, Man Mettle and Steel and A Fragrant Journey of 50 Years. She is the recipient of awards like the Chameli Devi Jain Award, FAO Science Writers Award, Media India Award and the Stree Shakti Lifetime Achievement Award. She currently works as a media and communication consultant. She does freelance work and contributes to The Hindu Business Line, The Asian Age, The Hindu, The Sunday Guardian and The Tribune.


95 Minutes

Language of Materials


Repository Details

Part of the Archives at NCBS Repository

National Centre for Biological Sciences - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Bangalore Karnataka 560065 India
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