‘The sight of people waiting in long queues for food is one I can’t forget’

In today’s edition of ‘First Responders’ we speak to Rijo Joseph, Chief Photographer, Malayala Manorama, about his experiences while covering the COVID-19 crisis

e4m by Eularie Saldanha
Updated: May 1, 2020 8:36 AM
Rijo Joseph

In our special series ‘First Responders’, we feature media professionals who are putting their lives at risk while uncovering stories about the COVID-19 crisis - from the affected areas, hospitals and even crematoriums.

In today’s edition, we speak to Rijo Joseph, Chief Photographer, Malayala Manorama.

Capturing the right emotions in a photograph sometimes calls for being chased by stray dogs, finding food in the middle of nowhere and dealing closely with people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, says 41-year-old Joseph. 

He has been associated with the organization for the last 18 years, and lives with his parents, wife and three daughters. Although his family is aware of his professional commitments, they are nervous about him mingling with people while covering the pandemic.

Speaking of his personal challenges, Joseph tells us that he has to make sure his children don't come anywhere near him upon returning from his assignments, which is a difficult task, especially with the younger ones who get extremely excited to see their father after a long day.

Over to Joseph...

What have you been covering specifically during the COVID-19 crisis and since when?
I started working on the COVID-19 coverage in March, in the second phase of the pandemic in Kerala. My focus areas are hospitals and their staff, health workers, the police force and the various situations they face on a day-to-day basis. These people also monitor whether people are adhering to the new rules, and bring to book the reluctant ones. The social commitment shown by them is amazing. This is a strange situation with lonely streets and temples, churches and mosques without community participation. As a photo journalist, I have to record all this.

Covering the pandemic from Ground Zero, what has been your biggest challenge?
Being a photographer, maintaining social distancing is one of the major challenges. I also feel helpless as I am unable to even console fellow people in their difficulties. Getting access to food while we are out at work, meeting different people who are in crisis, vacant roads and dealing with stray dogs chasing us at night while we ride out, are few of the challenges.

What moved you the most - tell us about the experience.
The plight of daily wage-earners whose livelihood has been affected due to this pandemic is the one that moves me the most. Even though the state has many plans to mitigate their sufferings, the sight of starving people waiting in long queues for food and other essentials is one that I cannot forget.

What kind of support are you getting from your company?
The support that we have been receiving from Malayala Manorama is commendable. From the very beginning, the authorities have strictly asked us to give preference to our safety while taking photos. The company has provided work from home facility to everyone who can manage their daily activities remotely. Precautionary measures like masks, hand sanitizers, etc., have been provided to us in abundance. The company has also made sure that we do not have salary cuts or lay-offs on account of this situation.

Your message at the end of the day...
COVID-19 is a new virus and we are still learning about it. We need to think about ways to help the many people around us who are struggling to get their basic needs in place. We are all inter-connected and need to adhere to the instructions of the authorities and help the needy, in order to better protect ourselves and also those around us. Together we can and will break the chain.

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