The nominations for the Academy Awards 2022 were announced yesterday, and Writing With Fire, a documentary feature based on the newspaper Khabar Lahariya, has made it to the final list. Khabar Lahariya is the only Indian news organisation that is run by Dalit women and tells the stories of rural India.
Khabar Lahariya started because of a literacy program for rural women. Participants wrote about social injustice and other societal problems that affected them. In order to continue the journalistic efforts of these women, a weekly newspaper was started. Since 2002, Khabar Lahariya has been publishing in various Hindi dialects such as Bundeli, Avadhi, and Bajjika.
Initially, it was launched as a fortnightly newspaper by Nirantar Trust, a Delhi-based NGO. In 2016, Khabar Lahariya switched to a digital platform to make it accessible to a much wider audience. The aim behind Khabar Lahariya was to bring about a grassroots level media revolution. It did not just aim to tell stories of rural India, but bring out the stories by the people on the ground.
The women behind the scenes
The team of journalists here consists of 40 women who come from heavily marginalised communities. These journalists came together to form a collective that becomes the voice of their community. Khabar Lahariya gives them and others an opportunity to fight against oppression while also being able to earn a livelihood.
The staff of Khabar Lahariya take care of every aspect of every story. From interviews to writing the stories to designing the layout, they do it all. They are also given frequent training by more experienced journalists and activists.
Rural journalism that tells everyday stories
Khabar Lahariya focuses on everyday stories that do not get the attention of the mainstream media. Stories of corruption in rural India, caste and gender-based violence, and discrimination in education have finally been heard because of this collective. Among other accolades, Khabar Lahariya has been called “a powerful local watchdog, an instrument for enforcing robust grassroots governance and accountability”. Their journalism is feminist in nature and they often tell stories of power and inequity in the family as well as the public realm.
Their stories are published in video, text, and audio formats, and often throw light on the promises made by the government for rural development and the reality on the ground. Armed with a mobile phone, microphone, and a small tripod, these journalists travel as far and wide as they can to tell their community’s stories.
National and global recognition
It wasn’t always easy for the women of Khabar Lahariya to do what they do so fearlessly. Despite constant criticism from their husbands and community, they pushed forward with grit and determination. Their challenges did not stop them from gaining the international recognition they deserve.
In 2004, the collective won the prestigious Chameli Devi Award for Journalism. In 2014, they won the Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum Award for their community journalism. UNESCO’s King Sejong Literacy Prize was awarded to Khabar Lahariya in 2009 for training women as full-time professional journalists and running their own language editions of the newspaper. The year 2021 saw Khabar Lahariya winning the Courage in Journalism Award. The Oscar-nominated Writing With Fire, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, is another tribute to the continued hard work and courage of the Khabar Lahariya women.
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