There have been a number of commentaries of late criticizing the logics of mainstream journalism in contemporary India. In one widely circulated piece, Naresh Fernandes, editor of Time Out Mumbai, reminds us about P. Sainath’s “rural journalism” and how the space for such writing does not exist anymore (here). It is, as Fernandes points out, quite clear that English-language urban dailies like the Times of India operate with a very specific and narrow notion of who the reader-consumer is. Given this state of affairs, non-market and local initiatives become increasingly important.
Via India Together, I learned about one such initiative – Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper run by women for audiences in the Bundelkhand region of India. Kalpana Ram provides an overview of how this initiative came to be and argues that more than circulation figures, Khabar Lahariya is important simply because it exists.
Khabar Lahariya began as an experiment in 2002, aided by Nirantar, a resource centre for gender and education. It is based in Chitrakoot district, one of the 200 poorest districts in India, where there is practically no industry and the majority of people survive on rain-fed agriculture. Literacy rates are lower than the national average; female literacy is only 35 per cent. The sex ratio is also below the national average, only 872 women to a 1,000 men. Incidents of sexual violence are high and the justice delivery system barely functions as criminal gangs operate with impunity under the nose of a complacent and often complicit administration.
Against this background, a group of Dalit and adivasi women felt the need to start and run their own newspaper because the existing media in the area did not report on the issues that concerned them. They wanted to break the stereotype that lower caste women like them would not dare enter the public domain. Despite their lack of education, they wanted to prove that they too could be journalists.
You can read the rest of Ram’s piece here. The Nirantar website carries more details, and to get a sense of how these women cover current affairs (taaza khabar), national and international news, women’s issues, panchayati raj, and much more, you can read an entire issue of the newspaper here (Hindi).