Rural women with a nose for
Against all odds, an eight-member team of women drawn from Dalit and
Kol tribal communities in UP have started a newspaper that is all set to give
mainstream publications a run for their money, says Geeta Seshu.
papers don't talk to everyone. Usually, they talk to the 'sarpanch'
(village head) and a few other important people. But we talk to everyone.
We are interested in everyone," said Shanti, 45, ace reporter of 'Khabar
Lahariya', the country's first and only newspaper brought out by women in
Bundeli, a dialect of Hindi spoken in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya
Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Against all odds, an eight-member team of women drawn from Dalit and the
Kol tribal communities of Chitrakoot and Banda districts of UP began 'Khabar
Lahariya' in Chitrakoot in 2002 and, consequently, launched an edition in
November 2006 in Banda. The paper is supported and funded by Nirantar, a
Delhi-based centre for gender and education. The eight-page broadsheet
that is full of news, photographs and illustrations covers the gamut of
local to national and global issues with a special focus on local
With a print run of 3,500 copies, and an estimated 10 people who read each
copy, priced at Rs 2, 'Khabhar Lahariya', or KL, as its team calls it, is
all set to give mainstream newspapers a run for their money. Especially
when it will shortly turn into a weekly from the fortnightly it is at
Fully living up to its name — which translated reads 'waves of news
and information' — the publication is managed by feisty women who take
on the roles of reporters, editors, illustrators, proof-readers, print
production workers, marketing executives and distributors. 'Tazaa Khabar',
a documentary on these women, made by Bishakha Datta, captures
wonderfully, an amusing scene of reporter Shanti making her way through a
crowded train, hawking copies of the newspaper.
bhi taash khel rahe hain (Even here they are playing cards)," she
says, as she comes upon a group of men playing cards. One of them says the
card game is 'time pass'. In a flash, Shanti fishes out a copy of 'KL'
from her bag and tells the group to read the newspaper, saying it is the
best way to be entertained and informed.
Kavita, 28, who, along with Kiran, Meera and Nazneen, looks after the
Banda edition is proud of the fact that sometimes, reporters of the major
mainstream newspaper 'Amar Ujala' have picked up stories that appeared
first in KL. Interestingly, the Chitrakoot edition, looked after by Meera,
37, who is the editor-in-chief, Shanti, Mithilesh and Tabassum, carries
reports in Bundeli too, but the language of the reports is in the dialect
spoken in this district, slightly different from the version of Bundeli
spoken in Banda.
Its news is varied but, at all times, the focus is on the 300 villages —
there are at least 220 in Chitrakoot district alone. The team comes from
different villages in and around Karwi, the newspaper's head office and
the headquarters of Chitrakoot district. The reporters travel extensively,
juggling with aplomb their duties at home and their assignments.
Most of the women that are a part of the KL team are moderately
educated with the exception being Meera, who has done her Bachelor of Arts
in Sanskrit. Shanti learnt to read and write in a formal school only 10
years ago while Kavita had not even completed her primary education till
she prevailed upon her in-laws and husband to let her go to a non-formal
school and study further.
Initially, the women say, their families were skeptical and even
frightened at the 'dangerous' nature of their work. But they soon gained
the respect of both their families and the community. In fact, now they
are approached for help, and even feared.
A clip from the documentary shows, a reporter covering a local 'panchayat'
(village council) election and the seat is reserved for women. As the
result is announced, guess who is adorned with garlands and heaped with
congratulations? The victorious woman's husband, of course. And guess who
makes it into a story? The KL reporter, but naturally.
Like all newspapers that report on controversial issues, KL has also had
run-ins with the authorities on several occasions. For instance, in 2004
in Manikpur, Chitrakoot district, the death of a woman over dowry demands
was not written about by any mainstream papers in the area because it
involved a local 'sarpanch'. When a KL scribe reported it, she was
threatened with dire consequences. More recently, in Ramjupur in February
this year, when the mainstream press wrote about a woman, who was actually
a victim of a rape and assault, as if she were the culprit, it was only
the KL news team that broke the news as it was.
In a marked departure from the single-issue focus of most news bulletins
brought out by NGOs, this newspaper has separate pages for national and
international news, development, women's issues, the 'panchayat' and
a letters column. Sensitive to the needs of newly-literate readers, its
font size is larger and column-width wider than regular papers.
Photographs and illustrations accompany the text, again to make it
visually interesting for readers.
It has taken a while for KL to work out all these formulae. Its
precursor was 'Mahila Dakiya', a single-page broadsheet brought out by the
government-sponsored Mahila Samakhya, a women's education programme.
'Mahila Dakiya' was produced between 1993 and 2000, along with Nirantar,
for newly-literate women readers.
"It closed down along with the project but people continued to ask
for the paper. Chitrakoot is such a remote district and people really have
no access to information," said Shalini, who works with Nirantar.
"'Mahila Dakiya' was, of course, for women, but when we thought of
starting a newspaper, we sought feedback on the kind of newspaper we would
have, the profile of its readers and whether we would only target women
and women's issues. We then decided that our paper would be for general
readership," she added.
Today, Nirantar funds KL as a project and pays the salaries for its
reporters, though the organisation hopes to make the newspaper sustain
itself with subscriptions and sales . Nirantar hopes to explore different
forms of organisation like trusts or cooperatives to help the barefoot
reporters ride the waves of information revolution.