09 / 2011
Khabar Lahariya - Bundeli for ‘News Waves’ - is a weekly rural newspaper written, edited, illustrated, produced and marketed by a group of women - most of them from marginalised Dalit, Kol and Muslim communities - in Chitrakoot and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh in north India.
The publication began in May 2002 in Chitrakoot and a second edition was launched in the adjoining Banda district in October 2006. Presently, between both editions, Khabar Lahariya has a print run of almost 5,000 copies, and a readership of over 25,000 in over 400 villages in both districts.
In 2008 the Khabar Lahariya group registered as an independent organisation, Pahal - one of the only rural women’s media collectives in the country.
With the growing popularity and recognition that Khabar Lahariya has achieved, Nirantar is now working on expansion of the newspaper. A women’s collective will soon be producing an edition of Khabar Lahariya from Sitamarhi district of Bihar. Nirantar organises Rural Journalism Courses to train other women’s collectives to bring out editions of Khabar Lahariya.
Nirantar has won the prestigious King Sejong Prize for Khabar Lahariya, its rural newspaper project run by Dalit and tribal women in UP. The prize also recognises Nirantar’s ‘well-structured method of training newly literate women as journalists and democratizing information production provides an easily replicated model of transformative education.’
This year’s prize is an affirmation of Nirantar’s work with Dalit, rural women on issues of literacy and information creation. The UNESCO International Literacy Prizes are awarded every year on 8th September in recognition of excellence and innovation in literacy throughout the world.
About Khabar Lahariya
Written in the local language, Bundeli, Khabar Lahariya provides a mix of news, information and entertainment specifically for its Bundelkhandi audience - rural and with mostly low levels of literacy. The eight-page newspaper covers current political news, stories on the functioning of panchayats, the bureaucracy, schools and hospitals in the region. Its distinctive reportage of atrocities on women and marginalised sections of society critiques the tendency of contemporary media to sensationalise such incidents. Also distinctive is Khabar Lahariya’s collective process of production, which takes place over a two-day writing, editing and illustrating workshop.
Khabar Lahariya’s objective of reaching out to villages in which other forms of information and entertainment were limited has been enthusiastically worked at, and now the paper is something of a name in the area. Khabar Lahariya is sold by the reporters and by other agents of the newspaper; copies are also available at small shops and tea stalls in the block headquarters and in remote villages and hamlets.
Khabar Lahariya is a unique example of transformative education. It has enabled rural, Dalit, newly-literate women to enter and transform the public arena of media and information creation, a space traditionally dominated by ‘upper-caste’ men. In a crucial, innovative way, it strengthens grassroots democracy and challenges gender and caste relations. Its investigative style of reportage not only makes it popular with its readers but is also important in putting in place a culture of accountability and transparency. Several reports published in Khabar Lahariya have enabled people to act and demand redress.
The Khabar Lahariya team includes women from marginalised communities, with differing levels of literacy and information. Considerable effort is made, therefore, to develop their literacy skills as well as build other capacities: for instance, their abilities to move around and interact with various people in the public sphere, their levels of information and understanding on politics; inputs on writing and editing and so on. Another considerable challenge has been the lack of established systems of distribution even for mainstream newspapers beyond the towns. Efforts to try and set up distribution mechanisms have had limited and sporadic success, though now a more streamlined plan for marketing has been put into place. Recently, efforts towards expansion of Khabar Lahariya have included increasing the periodicity of Khabar Lahariya by making it a weekly publication; and registering the paper as an independent legal entity (under the Societies Registration Act) to enable the group to function as an independent production unit.
In March 2004 Khabar Lahariya received the prestigious Chameli Devi Jain Award – an annual award for outstanding women journalists from Media Foundation, New Delhi. For a rural women’s media collective to get an award of this nature constitutes an important breakthrough in the male-dominated world of rural journalism. Three members of the group have also received fellowships from the Dalit Foundation in 2004, for reporting on issues related to rights of the Dalit community.
Producing Khabar Lahariya
Khabar Lahariya has a weekly production cycle. After meeting to plan the issue, the reporters chalk out their beats. They visit villages or government offices to follow up on leads, gather information and interview people. They scan mainstream newspapers and magazines for story ideas. Mid-way through the production cycle they hold a daylong editorial meeting, at which the stories being pursued are discussed and editorial content is decided. A few days later they meet again at the Khabar Lahariya office for a two-day production workshop – a high-intensity spell of writing, giving feedback on others’ stories, editing, designing, illustrating and proofreading. Once done, one of the women takes the paper to Allahabad (the nearest big city, 100 kms away) to be printed. After two days, when the paper comes hot off the press, the reporters double up as saleswomen. They collect their copies from the office… and the cycle begins again.
Khabar Lahariya carries primarily local development news and information. The newspaper reports on cases of violence against women and on Dalit issues, as well as exposés on bureaucratic corruption. There are pages on current news (Taaza Khabar), national and international news (Desh Videsh), women’s issues (Mahila Mudda), panchayati raj, entertainment (Idhar Udhar), regional news, and an edit page (Hamaar Sandesh) .
Khabar Lahariya also produces quarterly special issues - these could be themed around topical issues like local, state and national elections, or investigate important development issues from a feminist perspective.
- Challenging gender relations
Entering the field of political journalism has been a major breakthrough for the Khabar Lahariya team. The newspaper did not report on political news, and not without reason. Politics in the traditional sense was not a domain in which the women, belonging to poor, marginalised communities, had engaged. So when the women decided to ‘blank out’ the Lok Sabha election because they felt under-confident and lacked information, we tried to remedy that. We conducted a crash course on politics, then planned and produced three ‘election specials’ with the team. These were not only popular with the readers but left the team feeling empowered. What could Khabar Lahariya offer that other newspapers did not? Clearly, a great deal. The three special issues contained interviews with local candidates from different political parties, information and opinion pieces.
This marks an important shift in Khabar Lahariya’s journey – by reporting on national-level politics from their own locations, women were actually commenting on macro-political events and making their opinion available in the public domain. Naturally this challenges the hegemonic control of knowledge by powerful sections of society.
- Strengthening grassroots democracy
Articles in Khabar Lahariya have both highlighted cases of violence, bureaucratic negligence, and official apathy as well as simply provided information that the community did not have. Readers have used some of these articles to demand action or greater information. Khabar Lahariya has made it a point to follow up on these stories. Not all the articles can claim to have generated ‘positive results’ but they have, in several cases, sparked off a process of questioning.
Examples of the effectiveness of Khabar Lahariya reports:
A report on stone quarrying in nearby Bharatkup highlighted its disastrous impact on the environment as well as the nexus between the contractors and administration. Farmers in the area began raising questions.
A report on Sukhrampur village where nearly all the villagers had tuberculosis resulted in some health officers being pulled up for negligence and the villagers receiving treatment.
Khabar Lahariya reported on police brutality against a Kol woman. The case was taken up by a local NGO and the reports added to the pressure on the police.
- Changing lives
Apart from all the wider impacts of Khabar Lahariya in the world of rural Uttar Pradesh, the newspaper has had a very crucial impact on the lives of the women who work as its editorial and distribution team. They’ve had to push at the boundaries of the spaces they are conventionally expected to inhabit – whether to study further than they have been given the opportunity to, or negotiate the public sphere in an active sense.
More fundamentally, all the members of the team have become reflective about their gender, class and class identities, and the way in which this moulds their lives and work. Take for example Kavita, who was married at 14. Inspite of much resistance to her studying, and financial constraints, she studied at a residential school and completed her education. After almost ten years of being in a marriage where she had no support or respect, she was able to make the decision to leave and live independently. Shanti, another senior member of the team, is from the Kol community, a scheduled tribe. She had had no access to education as a child, and began to study in her mid-thirties. This had a huge impact on her life: it gave her a confidence she never had before, and allowed her to take up a job, become informed and articulate and give her a mobility that she had never experienced.
- Learning Journalism
Over the last five years, several inputs have been organised for the Khabar Lahariya reporters to build their skills in various areas. Efforts have been made to strengthen technical skills like reporting, writing, editing and production, as well as to facilitate an understanding of current issues and politics. These inputs have been structured to cater to the specific needs of the women, many of whom have low levels of literacy and little access to other sources of information. Interactions and discussions with other media groups, women’s collectives, academics and other external resource people have also provided an excellent learning opportunity for the group.
Inputs are provided to the team periodically on various current issues that hit the national headlines. Examples of some of the issues discussed have been the Right to Food, the debate on capital punishment in cases of rape (which came up around a case that hit the national headlines), child sexual abuse, rights of sex workers and issues around producing information in the local language have been held with the team so far.
This article is available in French: Khabar Lahariya, un journal rural produit par les femmes d’Uttar Pradesh en Inde
For more informations, read:
Farah NAQVI, Waves in the Hinterland. The Journey of a Newspaper, Zubaan Books/Nirantar, 2008
Nirantar, Khabar Lahariya. A Rural Newspaper