NEW DELHI, August 23 2013 — Suneeta is a 27-year-old from Banda district in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Born a Dalit (untouchable), she left school at the age of 9 and was married at 12. She goes often to Bhagolan, a village that has no water, electricity or roads.
In March 2012, Suneeta wrote about the long delay in highway construction in an article for Khabar Lahariya, a weekly newspaper published in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The highway was constructed a few months later, reducing travel time to this drought-prone area.
Suneeta is one of 40 rural women who function as editors, reporters, photographers and designers for Khabar Lahariya that literally means ‘news waves’ in Hindi, the language spoken in these two states.
There are many reasons Khabar Lahariya stands out in India’s rich media landscape of almost 70,000 newspapers. To start with, it is the first multi-edition local language rural newspaper run entirely by women, many of whom have had little access to formal education.
“Khabar Lahariya is composed of a collective of rural women journalists, most of them from marginalized communities - in terms of their caste, religion and ethnicity. This collective reports, writes, edits, designs, takes photographs and illustrates for the newspaper and then distributes it far and wide at the end of the week,” says Shalini Joshi, the co-founder of Khabar Lahariya. Shalini is part of the Non-Governmental Organization, Nirantar, and The Women, Media and News Trust (WoMeN Trust), which trains and mentors Khabar Lahariya journalists.
11 years of distribution in media dark areas
The newspaper is distributed to 600 villages in media dark areas of northern India. It is often the only source of information for its 80,000 readers. “Like its reporters, the readers are also those in media dark areas. We distribute the newspaper to daily wage earners, farmers, teachers, activists, members of the panchayat (village council), village administration, politicians and students in remote rural areas,” adds Shalini.
Over 11 years, the newspaper has grown immensely and is now published in 7 local languages. Khabar Lahariya currently has editions in Chitrakoot, Banda, Mahoba, Varanasi, Lucknow and Sitamarhi. New editions will be launched in Pratapgarh, Lalitpur, Azamgarh and other districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Covering local issues in local languages
Khabar Lahariya covers issues from governance to development, gender, politics, entertainment and sports.
One of the latest stories in the newspaper is about the challenges faced by villagers who have to cross five rivers to reach the nearest town. In the story, Aniriya Devi, Suneel, Ram and Seeta Devi from Indarva village stress the need for a bridge. Another story from Chitrakoot district discusses the negative effects of building a local dam.
“Through the newspaper, we are able to give women access to information they didn’t have earlier. The reporters travel to isolated areas to report on everything from rural infrastructure, water to sanitation,” says Shalini.
Changing their own lives
Many of the women feel that becoming a journalist has changed their own lives. They now have stronger self-esteem.
For Shyamkali from Banda district, being a Khabar Lahariya journalist has helped to strengthen her self-confidence. “Earlier I used to be hesitant when gathering news. I couldn’t speak with confidence when visiting government offices. I used to wonder how I was supposed to speak, what I should and shouldn’t do. I used to constantly have a fear inside of me, but I don’t have it anymore,” says Shyamkali.
Another journalist, Shivadevi says, “ It was only after I become a journalist that I was able to buy land. Earlier I did not have the belief that I could become a journalist because I am not that educated. Standing on my own two feet, I have done it.”
Most feel that they now have the confidence to take charge of their destinies. “Since I started working with Khabar Lahariya, I make my own decisions about what I want to do and what’s most important in my life,” says another Khabar Lahariya journalist.
“My main identity in every zilla (district council), every block and every police station is that of a Khabar Lahariya journalist,” says Shanti.
Khabar Lahariya goes online
Khabar Lahariya is in the process of becoming an independent organization. Each newspaper is sold for INR 2, and efforts continue to seek funding to make the newspaper autonomous.
In a bid to inform the outside world about their villages, the newspaper now even has an online edition and is actively using new media to promote stories and garner revenues.
Despite the setbacks and disappointments in India, there are still many reasons to celebrate.
Khabar Lahariya and its army of determined journalists is definitely one of them.
The author would like to thank Shalini Joshi for her input and collaboration. Quotes and case studies in this article are drawn from videos on Khabar Lahariya’s You Tube channel.
You can fund equipment for the reporters or editions in the districts:
- Rs 1,20,000 ($2000) towards the annual salary of a reporter.
- Rs 5000 ($75) for a camera.
- Rs 25,000 ($420) for a computer.
- Rs 30,000 ($500) for a two-wheeler.
To make donations, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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