By Manjari Singh:
It was busy day for Lalita, 23. After a long day covering gram sabha elections she heads to her one-room office to work on the production of the newspaper she is employed with. “We have our production day on Wednesdays. It’s been a busy month because of elections but I believe this is what it means to be a reporter,” she says as she punches keys on keyboards and writes the perfect headline to fit in the story for Khabar Lahariya, a weekly newspaper established in 2002 and published from the rural areas of Faizabad, Banda, Varanasi and some parts of Bihar, entirely by rural women who are mostly Dalit.
A typical day of reporting starts at 7 am when she visits the villages assigned to her to gather stories. “I try to visit villages where mainstream media can’t reach and talk to people about their problems,” she says. “During elections I visited the polling booth and spoke to young voters about their aspirations and expectations,” she adds.
“You know I didn’t know a thing about computers when I joined in 2012. I was afraid to touch mouse, the cursor wouldn’t just stay at one place,” chuckles Lalita. But she is not complaining because of the perks that come along with a tag of a ‘reporter’. “I am an inspiration to many in my village at Taarun block where I report from. A lot of girls want to be a reporter like me,” she beams. And not to forget those cops who tell her stories on WhatsApp and always call back no matter how busy they are.
Lalita and her sister Sangeeta were both looking for job opportunities after completing their graduation in 2012 when their brother’s friend told them about this newspaper. “I thought we will be asked to roam around villages holding mikes and cameras but no were just asked to write a small piece in Awadhi just to test our writing skills,” she recalls. She wrote a small piece on the kind of problems the women face in villages and then next thing she knew that both the sisters have been called for interview. “We both cycled 18 KM from our village to the place where the interview took place. Again we were asked to write in Awadhi and after few days we got to know that we are selected,” she says. “We were so happy because we were selected amongst some 40 women who came for the interview,” she adds.
After an initial training of six months both the sisters were assigned blocks at Faizabad along with two other reporters. Her sister soon got married and left, but Lalita decided this is what she is meant to do. “I feel good when I do women oriented stories,” she says. And that’s the kind of stories she enjoys doing the most. “I write about women harassed for dowry, those who are beaten by their husbands and those who are not allowed to study after certain age,” she says. Her most memorable story has been about a pregnant woman who was denied a bed at a community health centre and delivered on the way to another hospital. “She was even denied an ambulance. I wrote about them and soon I started getting calls from the superintendent and the Pradhan asking me about the credibility of the story but I wrote the truth,” she says.
Krishna, who looks after the office at Faizabad tells how often Khabar Lahariya reporters have to face brunt for writing truth. “There was this Gramin Bank at Karvy who would charge money for each withdrawal, the poor villagers thought it was a norm, when Khabar Lahariya learnt about him, we immediately wrote about him,” she says. When the man came to know that KL reporters were going to expose him, he offered to buy the entire newspaper. “The story was out and soon he was suspended,” adds Krishna.
She furthers tells about this MLA from the opposition party how he threatened to shut down the newspaper when KL did a sting on him. “Khabar Lahariya reporters have braved it all, including the recent harassment where a man named Nishu Shah used to call reporters from Banda, Chitrakoot and threaten to rape and kidnap,” she says. He had been calling the reporters for six months and got arrested in September only. “He would call us every day, almost after every 10 minutes from different numbers and talk dirty,” says Kavita, an editor who heads the team from Banda. Filing an FIR at local the police station didn’t help, neither did the revolutionary 1098 helpline number at Lucknow run by state government that claims to help women in distress. “When police and helpline number didn’t help, we contacted this news website that helped us with further media coverage,” she says.
After the story came out in the media, everybody came into action, right from SSP to CM. “He was immediately arrested and he is in jail right now,” she adds.
Kavita, a mother of two, joined Khabar Lahariya in 2002, the year it was launched. After some training she started reporting from Banda in Bundeli language about the issues that were mainly ignored by the mainstream media. “I was 10th pass then, now I have a master’s degree in political science. It was during reporting that I realised the importance of education,” she beams.
Kavita’s journey of being a reporter was never smooth like Lalita. “People in villages had a problem with Dalit women going out and doing something of their own and that too a job that required them to stay outdoors for long hours,” she says. “Also they would angst about the fact that they were reporting about people belonging to upper castes,” she adds.
But things have changed now. Khabar Lahariya and its reporters are well known and accepted by villagers. “The demand for our newspaper is rising. It feels good when people gather around tea stalls to discuss our stories,” she says.
But as they say everything comes with a price, Kavita finds it hard to juggle between work and home. “Being an editor, I have to work a bit more than others. I have to travel to different districts and train reporters and sometimes it really gets late,” she says.
Not to forget reviewing those hundreds of applications that come for the post of reporter. “Seems like everybody wants to work with Khabar Lahariya now,” she laughs. To be able to work with the newspaper, one has to be confident, energetic and of course, have a good command over the regional language. “Earlier we used to hire 10th pass or so but now we seek for reporters who are at least 12th pass. Since we are venturing into video journalism now, good speaking skill is a must,” she says.
Like most of the journalists at KL, Kavita also likes to report about issues related to women and also writes a column on the same.
The one major issue that women in villages face that both Kavita and Lalita both agree with is – “Most of the villagers don’t have toilets in their houses and women have to go outside. Even I have to go outside,” reveals Lalita hesitantly as she adjusts the font size of a headline at the computer. “Whatever funds come for the toilet construction gets eaten up by Pradhans and others.”
“The houses that have toilets are not usable, it’s just a pit with no water connection,” adds Krishna. “It’s unfortunate that families that don’t even allow girls to go outside to study have to send the girls at distant fields to attend natures’ call,” says Lalita.
Lalita reports, edits, distribute and now days even learning to shoot videos to upload on YouTube and all the work for Rs, 5500. “We have a team from Delhi which is training us to shoot videos, soon we will have our YouTube channel,” she says. She has hardly anything to complain about except for one thing, “It’s a weekly newspaper, no matter how soon I break the story, it is always printed at the end of the week.”
A product of Nirantan, an NGO based in Delhi, Khabar Lahariya is published in local dialects like Awadhi, Bhohpuri and Bundeli.
The eight page newspapers has two local pages in regional languages, two pages dedicated to national, international and entertainment stories and rest are the pages translated in Hindi from the other editions. “You might want to know why a newspaper in Awadhi when there are many Hindi newspapers available but let me tell you, since we have been assigned the responsibility of circulation also, we try to distribute our newspapers to the villages where popular brands don’t reach,” Lalita says. “These people like to read in Awadhi and also I believe we are taking a great initiative in preserving the local dialects which are slowly dying,” she adds.