Launched in 2002, Khabar Lahariya (which means news waves in Bundeli) has come a long way from the days people didn’t take its women seriously. “When we went out to gather news, people wouldn’t talk to us,” recalls 33 year-old Kavita (she does not wish to use her last name), regional editor of the paper. “They wondered why we were doing a man’s job.
They thought women weren’t supposed to be journalists.” People in positions of power didn’t feel like they were accountable to these women. “They were threatened, ridiculed and even pressured to not write about certain things,” elaborates Shalini Joshi, who works with Nirantar, the Delhi-based organisation responsible for launching the newspaper.
Ten years later, with its focus on localised content and investigative stories, the weekly newspaper has become firmly entrenched in the areas it covers. Khabar Lahariya currently has four editions coming out of Uttar Pradesh’s Chitrakoot, Banda and Mahoba districts as well as Sitamarhi district in Bihar.
But with plans to increase editions and maintain a digital presence, the future looks bright for this social initiative that provides employment to a variety of women, most of whom belong to the Dalit, Muslim and Kol tribal communities.
Responsible for highlighting women’s issues and offering a female perspective in a traditionally patriarchal society, the newspaper has been shortlisted for an award that invites entries from non-profit initiatives. Winning the popular choice vote will mean much-required financial aid as the newspaper gets ready to launch new editions in Lucknow, Faizabad and Benares.
“We’re also formulating a new marketing plan to ensure that the newspaper reaches remote rural areas where the people have no other source of information,” explains Joshi. Currently the women, who not only produce all aspects of the newspaper and its design but also double up as its distributors, find it difficult to reach these areas on a regular basis. “Separating the marketing and editorial departments should help,” Joshi adds.
A digital expansion will coincide with the physical one. The women are involved in all aspects of conceptualising a Khabar Lahariya website which will be run by the reporters themselves. Apart from featuring the women’s stories and their experience while working for the newspaper, the website will also have an online edition. “The website will offer stories that other newspapers or news agencies could use,” says Joshi. “It will act as a kind of news service for Hindi language media.”
The newspaper hopes to not only reach a national audience but also highlight the effectiveness of the Khabar Lahariya model. “Our readers appreciate that they can read about issues that concern their daily lives,” explains Kavita. “Mainstream newspapers don’t understand how important these issues are.”
The newspaper has also had an impact on gender roles in the rural society. “It has propagated a reading culture among women in the rural districts,” explains Joshi. “The journalists themselves enjoy the fact that they now have access to information they weren’t exposed to in the past and are responsible for disseminating this information to others in the society.” And, as Thomas Jefferson once said, information is the currency to democracy.