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How a Newsroom in India Gave Rural Women a Voice


The Indian newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, is staffed by an all-women's newsroom in India. (Photo courtesy of Khabar Lahariya)

An all-women's newsroom in India staffed by members of the country's marginalized communities including Dalits, has been attracting international attention this year.

First, the Indian newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, was featured in a documentary produced by an independent group that won the audience award for world cinema documentary at the annual Sundance Festival this year.

And now the newspaper's female journalists are being honored with a Courage in Journalism award from the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) on November 4.

The recognition cements nearly 20 years of hard work at Khabar Lahariya, during which staff members have had to overcome obstacles and discrimination because of their gender and for being members of India's Dalit community.

Members of the Dalit group, who predominantly live in India's Uttar Pradesh state, have faced decades of discrimination and harassment under India's caste system. The Hindi word Dalit literally means oppressed.

But Khabar Lahariya has pushed back against these barriers, training rural women to produce local news for their communities.

The paper's co-founder and editor-in-chief, Kavita Devi, told VOA that while the news outlet has been operating for around 20 years, in the past five years it has started to attract attention more widely in India and internationally.

Kavita Devi, co-founder and editor of Khabar Lahariya (Photo courtesy of Black Ticket Films)
Kavita Devi, co-founder and editor of Khabar Lahariya (Photo courtesy of Black Ticket Films)

"It's still a very male-dominated field and we still have to fight," Devi said. "But now there's a sense of confidence, of having been there for some many years, that we know how to navigate these barriers and get the truth out from the story."

In honoring Khabar Lahariya, the IWMF said that its journalists bring "a feminist voice to local media, interrogating and disrupting the status quo."

The foundation also cited the paper's work in breaking barriers to employment in journalism in rural India, and said that "as rural Dalit women, the paper's staff are pathbreakers across gender and caste."

Other 2021 Courage in Journalism awardees include Vanessa Charlot, an Army veteran from Miami being recognized for her work covering race and identity; Belarusian journalists Darya Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreyeva who are currently imprisoned; and Paola Ugaz, an investigative journalist in Peru.

"The current winners of this year represent situations that are happening all over the world and I think that we can all relate to," IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz told VOA. "We have our winners from India who are facing extreme misogyny and classism, fighting for just social justice in their countries."

Pooja Pande, the head of strategy at Chambal Media, a digital media company founded in 2015 that oversees Khabar Lahariya, said that the organization's focus has been on training women for journalism and providing them with financial security. Unlike many local news outlets in the region that rely on freelance reporters, Pande said their journalists all work full time and are on the payroll.

"Financial independence and economic stability in the hands of women and marginalized communities, [we know] how important that is to build the new world order," Pande said.

Meera Devi, chief reporter for Khabar Lahariya (Photo courtesy of Black Ticket Films)
Meera Devi, chief reporter for Khabar Lahariya (Photo courtesy of Black Ticket Films)

Based in New Delhi, the independent Chambal Media is the parent company of Khabar Lahariya and the Chambal Academy, which offers digital media training. The company's website says it helps the paper distribute content and collaborates on research and documentary projects. Khabar Lahariya has an office in Banda, Uttar Pradesh.

The award-winning documentary "Writing With Fire" followed the news outlet as it moved from print to the digital age, training women journalists how to record interviews on their phones and upload news content to YouTube.

The documentary also focuses on the vital issues these journalists cover in their communities, including gender or caste-based violence.

For co-founder Devi, training rural women to be journalists helps amplify voices of marginalized communities.

The media company's planned academy would train more women to be reporters.

The news outlet needs to "build up that cadre of women reporters from the classroom in India, who are in a position to tell their stories, in their voice, and report on stories that matter to them and their communities," Devi said.

By helping these women use digital tools and smartphones, Khabar Lahariya's hope is that it will "ensure that the next generation of voiceless, marginalized communities are able to tell their stories," Pande added.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the newspaper is staffed by members of several marginalized communities, and to clarify the parent company's role and the description of the Dalit community.

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