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Khabar Lahariya: Making rural media a force for change
Sunday March 2, 2014 2:45 PM, Rupesh Dutta, IANS

It was never easy for Meera Jato, 42, to confront her in-laws' taunts, deal with household hassles and start the country's first rural language weekly "Khabar Lahariya" (News Wave) run only by women. It has in its short existence carved out a clear niche for itself in the ever-expanding media space in India.

Being tied up in household chores and remaining confined to the four walls of the house prevented Jato and Kavita, both Dalit women from Uttar Pradesh's Bundelkhand district, from pursuing their interest in writing. But they stuck on resolutely.

Like them, a few others from the same region collectively took a decision to start the rural language weekly in Hindi's Bundheli dialect and now in Bhojpuri, Hindustani, Bajjika and Awadhi languages.

Khabar Lahariya, started in 2002, has now almost become the backbone of the people of the rural areas in Bundelkhand and Awadh - extremely backward and impoverished areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the country's two most populous and yet socially backward states.

The weekly, initially started by seven women with a limited number of copies, now boasts of 40 women journalists, a print run of 10,000, and 80,000 readers.

The eight-page weekly is distributed in all the Hindi-speaking states. The onus of editing, publishing and marketing is on the women journalists of Khabar Lahariya.

Khabar Lahariya has also launched its web site - wwwkhabarlahariya.org.in.

"It has given us a new identity. I never thought the initiative taken by a few deprived women like myself would take us to such heights," Jato, who hails from Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh and is chief editor of the weekly, told IANS here.

"It's a matter of great pride that when we meet political leaders and police officers, they recognise us," said Jato, adding that because of such recognition, even her in-laws don't argue with her or demand she quit the profession.

From reporting on local issues such as education in villages, water condition in tubewells, veterinary issues and other informative and useful content, the weekly also covers the crime incidents in nearby towns.

These women reporters from the rural parts of UP and Bihar have broken every social stereotype to set an example for other women in the villages and rural towns and enthused others to join the profession, which even now in most parts of rural India is not considered to be a woman's profession.

One major problem the women reporters faced during news gathering was being continuously mocked at by the people.

"Pursuing journalism in rural India is completely different from the big cities. We were often scoffed at by people while asking questions and also mocked at," Shanti, senior reporter and the founding member of the weekly, told IANS.

The women journalists were in the capital for the launch of the web site.

Many a times, the women journalists had to travel as far as 10 km for news reporting.

Khabar Lahariya has won several awards, including Laadli Media Award in December 2012 and the Chameli Devi Jain and UNESCO awards.

"In the male dominated society in the villages, women can't be seen showing power or domination. In towns and cities one does not face such problems. In villages one has to contend with very oppressive forces," Kavita, executive editor of Khabar Lahariya in Banda in Uttar Pradesh, told IANS.

"If setting up a network and reporting in small towns require hard work, then confronting a patriarchal society that questions your ability and credibility at every step is even harder," Kavita said.

Despite all the difficulties, the women journalists are determined to pursue the profession and remove every iota of stigma that still remains in the minds of the people.

(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at rupesh.d@ians.in)




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