Riding The Waves
Dil Mein ik lahar si uthi haai abhi
Let us tell you a story. This story is about a new breeze blowing in the hinterlands of Bundelkhand .
This is the story of a newspaper’s journey in the Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh.
This is also the story of voices from the margins; these voices are from a poor, drought stricken, caste ridden, feudal and patriarchal landscape.
This is the story of a few women newsgatherers and newsreporters and news distributors.
This is the story of a new rural discourse in a rural language.
This is all India radio----
Chitrakoot has been in the news recently.
Chitrakoot has been in the consciousness of Indians since time immemorial. This was the legendary land of great sage Valmiki who wrote the epic Ramayana but was once the dreaded dacoit Ratnakar .This is the legendary land where Lord Rama spent twelve years of his exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. This is the land where the 16th Century bhakti poet Tulsidas rewrote Ramayana as Ramcharit Manas in Avadhi, the local dialect and hence made it accessible to the common man.
Kavitas song on Tulsidas etc
This is also a story of the common man. This is the story of a media collective run by twice disenfranchised poor, rural, dalit and tribal women who bring out a Bundeli language newspaper ‘Khabar Laharia’from the Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh. In March 2004 these women proudly received The Chameli Devi Jain Award for excellence in journalism-one of the highest journalism awards in the country. Mr.B.G.Verghese, Chairman, The Media Foundation, New Delhi, highlights the reasons for which the award was given to Khabar Laharia in 2004.
B.G.Verghese applauds them on Chameli devi jain Awards
Day 1-We are at an editorial meeting on a Saturday morning in the Khabar Laharia office, which is close to Chitrakoot dham, Karvi station. The office is situated in the bylanes of the town but everyone seems to know of its location. We arrive in the middle of a four hour loadshedding. We are greeted with hot mugs of tea and biscuits.
Editorial Meeting ,Meera edits and issues instruction.
Meera the editor, Manju the associate editor, Shanti the newsgatherer and the saleswoman, Mithilesh the illustrator cum correspondent, Tabassum the correspondent, Pramila and Kiran all are sitting on the floor and discussing the 14th August 2008 issue. We can hear the whistle of trains arriving and leaving the station, Manju’s eight month old daughter is blissfully sleeping in the middle, oblivious of the editorial meet. Meera is in command; we can see her insistence on punctuality and determination of purpose. The work culture and professionalism is palpably present.
Q.We ask her about the lead stories for the next issue.
Like many of her colleagues in the Khabar Lahariya team, Meera is a Dalit. She is an MA in political science, which happened after marriage, because of a supportive husband. She manages a household of five daughters and travels a distance of 50 km from Mau to Karwi, a two hour bus ride each way. Meera tells us that she needs to be with the computer technician to finalise the next issue of the newspaper the moment the electricity supply is renewed. She calls the electricity office to find out the timings. She informs us that she will now only be available after four p.m. that is when the next four hour of electricity shut down begins.
She has chalked out our schedule too.
Arati at the ghat
It is seven thirty in the evening, the city is plunged in darkness, we make our way to Ramghat, on the banks of Mandakini river. The river bank is dotted with numerous temples. We hear the conches and cymbals in the distance in anticipation of the evening of Arati. The priest lights the 108 wicks in the silver lamp and begins the Arati of Mandakini. At this twilight hour, hundreds of pilgrims float lamps in the river Paisuni(Mandakini) in reverence to Lord Rama.
We ask a motley group of readers for their opinion on Khabar Laharia .We speak to Shri.Subhash Bharadwaj, a graduate taxi driver, Shri Prakash Gupta the proprietor of a Medical store, and finally to Shri, Amardeep Bhatt, Chief of Bureau, Amar Ujala , Chitrakoot.
Day 2- We arrive in the Khabar Lahariya Office to see that fresh recruitments for correspondents are in progress, the candidates are busy taking a written as well a spoken test. Meera has been up till three in the morning, finalizing and dispatching the next issue for printing.
The eight page newspaper is divided into eight different sections. The first seven sections are dedicated to topical news, International news, developmental news, women issues, panchayat issues, regional news, and some news miscellany funnily titled ‘from here and there’ news respectively. The last page is for the Editorial, letters to the editor and advertisements. Here’s a sample of a an article published on the age old tradition of women of Chitrakoot playing a game called Kabaddi. All the women assemble in the night, in the month of Kuar, which falls sometime between October and November to play this game. On the day of the game, kitchen chores are finished quickly, kids are put to bed, and when the men are asleep, and women come out of their house, clap their hands and start the game.
Main toh khelan gayi rahi kabaddi,Mundariya meri khoye gayi re! (I had gone to play kabaddi,but in the gameI lost my toe ring.)
Kavita’s song on Kabaddi.
Q We ask Meera why does the paper have a dedicated page to women’s issues and how is it different from the news usually associated with the women. Meera’s explains why and how of women’s issues.
Sounds of waves of ocean
Why is Khabar Laharia making waves?
Besides it local flavour the paper has hit upon a unique USP, the readers not only know the reporters personally but love the idea when the newspaper are delivered by hand by these same reporters. This personalised service,and easy accessibility goes a long way in building of trust within the community. With the combined role of a newsgatherer ,newsreporter and news distributor ‘Khabar lahariya’ has made inroads not only in the remote regions of the district but has earned for itself a unique brand loyalty by being transparent and accountable. This close identification not only with the news but also with the news reporters has its downside too. The reporters are constantly hauled up by the hostile parties:-
Meera’s story on the man with a pistol.
Hand pump Sound
Let us travel back in time to trace this long journey of ‘Khabar Laharia’. It all began with the journey in search of water, in this parched land. There was severe water scarcity in the region and the work of procuring water as usual fell on women and young girls who often walked for miles under the hot sun, balancing pots on their heads.
A government initiated rural programme for women’s empowerment called Mahila Samakhya programme (1989) introduced in the area, prioritised the issue of Water. The MS scheme then took a novel initiative to train women as pump repair mechanics. This proposal was completely in opposition to society sanctioned gender roles. In coordination with UP Jal Nigam and UNICEF, Mahila Samakhya trained 45 women mechanics, and 500 women hand pump caretakers.
Hand Pump followed by sound of waves crashing.
The thirst for water now led to thirst for communication.Thus Mahila Dakiya was born within the Mahila Samakhya programme to provide these women with a means to share their experiences in the public sphere.. Mahila Dakiya was a one pager broadsheet printed and published once a month in a mix of Hindi and Bundeli.
The hand pump programme initiative had silently started a revolution at the grassroot .These low caste women who were thought only to be fit for cooking, and making cow dungs cakes, were very soon redrawing the social hierarchies of caste and gender.
Mahila Dakiya closed shop in the year 2000 due to various administrative hiccups, it however sowed the seeds for ‘Khabar Lahariya’.
Waves of change had gathered momentum.
Sounds of WAVES
Khabar Laharia was a full fledged newspaper launched in 2002 by Nirantar, a resource center for gender and education. The name Khabar Laharia in Bundeli meant, a paper that would spread waves of news and information.
5.NIRANTAR Nirantar has single-handedly for the last six years trained Khabar Laharia’s reporters in journalism, shaped its organizational structure, and has provided funding for printing publishing and salaries for its eight permanent employees. Nirantar, which means continuous, has a vision of providing education that enables individuals to access information and develop skills of critical reflection which in turn helps them to positively transform their lived realities. Khabar laharia is a concrete manifestation of that vision.
Ms Shalini Joshi Co Director of Nirantar, mentions the initial hiccups in the project.
Day Three-The Khabar Lahariya Office has many hand drawn charts of printing and production schedule, ready reckoner charts listing the names of states and their capital and the names of their Chief ministers. There are some general guidelines to be followed by the reporters;
1. Please do not comment on the news item. 2. Please do not use conventional formats for news. 3. News items should create interest and have fun element.
We take lots of snaps and settle down for a trip down the memory lane with Meera. She tells us that reporting is taken seriously by khabar Laharia correspondents. Regular workshops are held for sensitising the journalists on issues of gender, communalism, and caste. This has transformed their worldview which is clearly visible in their choice of news, and also in their intervention in areas of public governance. They realise that a newspaper can be a powerful tool in shaping minds and ensuring developmental work. She recounts one such episode.
Meera recounts the road construction episode.
One of the key reasons for Khabar Laharia’s popularity is its bundeli dialect which has evolved into a journalistic language. Language is a tool for identity and power and any experiment with language for which there are no blueprints can be fraught with risks. A spoken dialect without a written script transforming into an acceptable language is in itself a landmark achievement. Khabar Laharia with its popularity has provided a new status, an easy acceptibillity to a Dehati or a rustic bundeli dialect spoken by the dalits.
Centuries ago, the popularity Tulsidas had achieved by writing Ramcharit Manas in common man’s Avadhi, seems to have gone right once again in this journalistic experiment with the bundeli dialect. Mr. B.G.Verghese says:-
Disha Mallick________________________ of Nirantar spoke to us about the difficulties that Nirantar faced in standardization of the bundeli dialect in the devnagiri script.
Experts say that there is a dearth of rural newspapers in India because of the rampant illiteracy. The rise in literacy never ensures readership of newspapers because the neoliterates cannot identify either with the language they are written in or the issues they highlight.
We try to explore the scenario of rural journalism in the above context.
AMAR UJALA/ Disha talks about how it occupies a different space in rural journalism /Urvashi
8.INDIVIDUAL STORIES Khabar Laharia is not only a story about rural journalism but also about individuals. The journey of this newspaper is inevitably linked to the personal journey of the women who made it possible.
KAVITA-The Editor of the Banda edition of ‘Khabar Laharia’ is the proud face of Khabar Laharia.She is an epitome of sheer grit and determination against all odds. She recounts with pride how she received the Chameli Devi Jain award on behalf of her team. Her voice is an interesting blend of pathos and defiance which verbalizes her years of struggle for dignity through education. Her unwillingness to accept social codes both in her professional and personal life is a case in point.
Kavita’s sawan song and her comment on being a better editor
MITHILESH Srivastav is a grandmother and has been associated with Khabar Lahariya since its inception as correspondent and an illustrator. Her illustrations are deceptively simple. They eloquently visualize the issues highlighted in the accompanying articles. Her illustrations have a rustic charm and are reminiscent of chalk and charcoal drawings during local festivals and rituals.
Mithilesh recounts about initial and personal difficulties
TABASSUM is a young widow who is single handedly bringing up three children in Karvi town of Chitrakoot. Her struggle against caste and religious discrimination and her status as a single woman has not deterred her from being a reporter with Khabar Laharia.
Tabassum’s comment on discrimination by the upper caste.
SHANTI , is from the tribal kol community and is a dedicated reporter. She trudges for miles around the difficult and dacoit infested terrains of the district to gather and distribute news. She goes where the postman does not go. She alone sells 2000 copies of KL in a month. We accompanied her on one such beat with policemen in tow. She was received warmly and eagerly at the Manikpur railway station. Villagers flocked to her and informed her about administrative irregularities as if she could provide immediate redressal. While Shanti fearlessly went ahead we were asked to refrain from venturing into the Chitrakoot hills the domain of dacoits.
Shanti recounts her encounters with police and dacoits.
9.KHABAR LAHARIA- THEN AND NOW
Khabar Laharia is a eight page, 11x16 inch sized paper in Bundeli dialect. It has come a long way since its inception in 2002, it has grown from being a monthly, to a fortnightly to a weekly newspaper. It now prints and circulates 2500 copies every week in 300 villages of Chitrakoot.
Its popularity among the local readers has increased to necessitate yet another edition from neighbouring Banda district . The Banda edition prints 1500 papers, caters to a larger district and uses a different form of Bundeli language to accommodate the linguistic diversity of the Bundelkhand region. KL is now on its feet, independent in many ways and trying to carve its autonomous existence within Nirantar. KL is now riding the waves.
What began as an experiment to sustain readership among neo-literates and also ensure communication within the local community has today taken the shape of a newspaper. This newspaper not only sustains its journalists economically but also provides them with an identity and respectability which they are not willing to let go at any cost. They have collective and individual dreams and they clearly see how things have changed for them in these last six years.
Kavita,/Meera. Song on Dowry
We ask How does one sustain a vision of rural regeneration, We ask the experts, how does one continue with that vision.?
Verghese on replicating models/ Amardeep newspaper as a product/ Verghese on newspaper as product/ Shalini for marketing and showcasing efforts at various forums.
This is the story of a common man in his own language, This is the story of rural journalism in a new avatar, This is the story of a journey from margins to the centre. This story has no ending and it will be in present continuous, This story will continue its journey, riding the waves of newer challenges.
Dr.Anubha Mukherji August 2008