Started as a two-page, black and white newspaper in 2002, Khabar Lahariya has stuck to its course of reporting hyperlocal issues, telling the stories of Bundelkhand, a hard, hilly region that spills over from north Madhya Pradesh into southern Uttar Pradesh. When it was launched, the only journalists in the region were upper caste, educated men. But, says Kavita, “We wanted to challenge the idea that women are weak, could not do journalism and were only suited to 9-5 jobs like teaching and nursing.”
There was no precedent, so Khabar Lahariya drew up its own blueprint. They would hire Dalit, Muslim and Adivasi women where possible. Conduct their own training. Take all editorial decisions collectively. And, perhaps most crucially, look at stories through a ‘nariwadi chashma’ (feminist lens) whether it’s Chitrakoot’s erratic water supply, a mental health crisis among Bundelkhandi youth or what women farmers think of the farm bills (timed with Women Farmers’ Day on October 15).
If India’s largely social-media driven MeToo movement was urban and elite, Khabar Lahariya’s Disha Mullick filled the gap with #MeTooBundelkhand, asking: “What does the workplace look like for women who are resetting centuries of gender, class and caste oppression?”
The idea of a feminist framework might not always fit into mainstream media’s understanding of rural life in India. Priorities—unemployment, migrant labour, farmer issues, caste—will invariably differ. But, says Pooja Pande, Khabar Lahariya’s head of strategy, change will come when we straddle both worlds and understand that urban or rural, we face the same enemy–patriarchy. Meanwhile, KL continues to shape its world, and ours, one story at a time.
This column was first published in the Hindustan Times on October 17, 2020