Sunday, March 23, 2008

And now the good news

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, March 23, 2008

The Other Half

If you were a woman journalist, based in Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, what would be your take on the Scarlett Eden Keating rape and murder in Goa? Would you consider it front page news? Would you conclude that all of Goa is now unsafe for white women? Would you think it is national news?

For the eight Dalit and Kol women from Chitrakoot, who bring out a fortnightly publication in the local language, Bundeli, called Khabar Lahariya, Goa is a long way away. But rape and murder of women is something they know, that is not unusual. White women might not visit Chitrakoot, but the colour of your skin matters little if you are a victim of rape. You just have to be a woman. The editors and journalists of Khabar Lahariya know and understand this.

One of the more unusual interactions I have been a part of was a meeting between these eight women and Mumbai-based women journalists. We were worlds apart, literally. And yet, as journalists and as women, we spoke the same language.

An experiment

Khabar Lahariya began as an experiment in 2002, aided by Nirantar, a resource centre for gender and education. It is based in Chitrakoot district, one of the 200 poorest districts in India, where there is practically no industry and the majority of
people survive on rain-fed agriculture. Literacy rates are lower than the national average; female literacy is only 35 per cent. The sex ratio is also below the national average, only 872 women to a 1,000 men. Incidents of sexual violence are high and
the justice delivery system barely functions as criminal gangs operate with impunity under the nose of a complacent and often complicit administration.

Against this background, a group of Dalit and adivasi women felt the need to start and run their own newspaper because the existing media in the area did not report on the issues that concerned them. They wanted to break the stereotype that lower caste women like them would not dare enter the public domain. Despite their lack of education, they wanted to prove that they too could be journalists.

Meera, who is the editor-in-chief of Khabar Lahariya (they now have a second edition from Banda), says that initially women like her faced an identity problem. For instance, she had worked with the Mahila Samakhya programme and was known in the
district as an activist. How could she establish that she was now a journalist? How could she tell people that she was there to report on what was happening but was not in a position to solve their problems? Would she be able to report with objectivity, she wondered? Also how would she tackle the feudal, patriarchal system? How would she and her team deal with opposition and criticism?

These and other related issues formed the subject of training workshops for the budding editors and journalists. In the initial years, they stuck to familiar areas — violence against women, developmental stories etc. They steered away from politics and other contentious issues. But a survey of readers shocked them into realising that no one was taking their efforts seriously. That their paper was being seen as a publication only for women and about women when they wanted to make it a rural
newspaper that would be read by everyone, men and women.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

1 comment:

Aswin said...

I came across this piece on India Together and made my way to this blog. Thanks for a very informative piece on other sites of journalism in India.