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How Tribal Journalists Are Proving That Journalism Is Not Just For Elites

By Rachit Sharma:

It was not long ago when the political editor of one of my favourite political magazines asked me to show a journalism degree when I went for an internship interview. What I wanted to put across was how passionately I believe in the values of journalism, how over the years I conducted my own little experiments with society and would like to learn under their guidance. But to my dismay, the interview didn’t last long enough for me to say these things. No degree means no internship today. The rustle of my grass root experiences cannot find a voice behind the sound-proof cabins of these offices.

With a heavy heart, I continued roving for experiences in the hinterlands of India. My journey took me to the Red Corridor, spread across a substantially large part of central India. I didn’t know then that I would come across a practice of communication where the ‘deprived’ are the chief stakeholders.

Image source:
Image source:

On my journey from Raipur to its younger brother, Naya Raipur, I encountered greenery that was filtered through the raindrops on the windows of the bus. Naya Raipur is an upcoming city, one gets the sense that it is a child that just learned to gallop through green fields and landed up on a carpet of concrete.

The organisation that I was about to explore had inspired me to break the belief that communication or journalism can only be governed by elite groups. It was there that I realised the power of communication, which lies in sharing, where the message is more powerful than the medium.

CGNet Swara is a voice based mobile portal, freely accessible to anyone who wants to report or listen to the issues of local interest. It has a team of tribal journalists who organise frequent Citizen Journalism Awareness Yatras to sow the seeds of power of communication among the tribal population inhabiting Maoist areas. The organisation gets hundreds of calls each day reporting civic, and law and order issues in local areas. These reports are put on the website with the names and phone numbers of the officials who were unable to acknowledge the issues due to sheer apathy or ignorance.

The website gives a person sitting thousand miles away the power to question the authorities, as to why a government school in a far-flung village in Chhattisgarh has not been working for months, or why there has been no electricity in a remote village of Madhya Pradesh or Jharkhand.

I remember, while working on a villager’s grievance of not being paid his wages of MGNREGA, I called up the collector of a small district called Rewa of Madhya Pradesh and questioned him about the issue. The collector was shocked as to how someone out of the blue is advocating for an unknown villager but promised to look into the matter right away. Stories like these are tracked persistently unless they reach their justified conclusion.

While living with tribal journalists of the region, Maoism always spurted out when conversing. They would tell how they are governed by two governments and bear the brunt of both. Some of the educated tribal journalists’ would argue that the whole world squanders billions of dollars on conventions for environment protection but when an adivasi raises his voice for jal, jungle, jameen, he is labelled as a terrorist instead of an environmentalist. They would say that the only time when mainstream media took notice of the tribal region was when they discovered Gotuls, which are amusingly seen as sex hostels by the outside world, but in fact are community centres of villages in tribal region, where people come together to discuss matters that concern them. Gotul serves as a guest house for people in villages, is a home for tribal music and dance, and it provides sex education, which involves discussing premarital sex as well. However this fact shouldn’t overshadow the belief of community building for which Gotuls are established.

During my stay in Chhattisgarh, I realised that the situation, which the former Prime Minister had called ‘the biggest internal threat to the country’, is as much a result of a gap in communication, as of apathy and neglect. It was appalling to observe that in a region inhabited by millions of people there was no trace of media or journalism. The people who chiefly speak ‘Gondi’ language are secluded from the communication scene itself. But journalists like Monika Marawi, Sarla Biswas and other tribal women, who have hardly studied up to high school, restore my faith in journalism when they journey to the remotest villages, and ask tribal people to raise their voices and demand their rights, besides eloquently reporting issues of grave concern.

The best thing is that there are plenty of journalists like these working with CGNet Swara who define the real meaning of journalism. These remote regions are turning into breeding grounds for development of communication and journalism and these journalists did not require any fancy degrees to do what they are doing. The ripples of change are wide and deep, if not loud.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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