Reporting live, from Bundelkhand!

Kaumudi Kashikar Gurjar
Thursday, 7 February 2019

Meet two reporters of Khabar Lahariya (News Waves), a multi-lingual, multi-media news network that is run by a collective of rural women journalists

Last year, on Makar Sankranti, a man was arrested for raping and murdering a 12-year-old girl in Karwi Tehsil of Chitrakoot district in Uttar Pradesh. The arrest happened due to the repeated follow-up done by Nazni Rizvi, a senior reporter with Khabar Lahariya, a community news website covering Bundelkhand. Rizvi and her colleague Suneeta Devi were in Delhi last week to attend the 14th national meeting of Network of Women In Media, India. Both the rural reporters shared the challenges faced by them while reporting from Chitrakoot which was declared as one of the 250 backward districts in India by Ministry of Panchayat Raj and has a poor sex ratio — 879 girls per 1000 boys. 

Rizvi is among the 30 odd women journalists working in the Bundelkhand area covering parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Most of these scribes belong to backward, tribal and minority communities and cover issues that matter to rural women.
 
Khabar Lahariya was started in 2002 as a newspaper by Nirantar, a Delhi-based non profit governmental organisation, to amplify women’s voices from the most ignored districts of UP and MP. It published news in rural dialects of Hindi including Bundeli, Bhojpiri, Vaijjka and Avadhi. Meera Jatav, founder and editor in chief of Khabar Lahariya, run by Delhi-based NGO Women Media News and Press, shared that since 2017, Khabar Lahariya has turned into a news website. 

When we chatted up Rizvi, she spoke about the rape of the minor that took place in January 2018. “The minor girl’s parents had given a clean chit to the accused in their statement given to the local police of Karwi Tehsil in Chitrakoot, paving his release the first time. Since the father of the accused had provided them with accommodation on rent, they were not ready to believe the man’s role in the crime but I had a hunch about it and was determined to give justice to the small girl. It was later proved that she was brutally raped and murdered after being lured by this man with the promise of a sweet prepared on Makar Sankranti,” Rizvi (37), a reporter with Khabar... since 2007, recalled.

Rizvi repeatedly urged the top cops from Chitrakoot district to look into the matter and they finally rounded up the man who confessed to the crime. “With the arrest, I hope the girl will finally get justice,” said Rizvi.
 
She came into journalism by accident. A mother of three girls and two boys, Rizvi hails from Paprenda village, Banda district in Uttar Pradesh. After completing her studies till Std VIII, she was married off at the age of 14 with a person from Moradabad. Her husband used to work in a utensil factory like many other labourers in this metal town of UP. But after losing employment and failing to earn a stable income, he disappeared for several months, leaving her and their five kids in the lurch. Rizvi had no other choice but to return to her father’s house in Banda.
 
Through a kind-hearted neighbour, she got a job at Khabar Lahariya office in Banda as a paper woman. She used to sell 700 copies of this local newspaper in a week. Soon, the paper provided her necessary training as a reporter. Said Rizvi, “Initially, I used to cover 53 villages in Badokhar Khurd block in Banda district. Several villages were not connected by roads and I had to walk 6-8 kilometres one way, to reach there in order to cover the issues faced by villagers like electricity, water, sanitation, roads, safety of women and so on.”

The reporters, added Rizvi, are instructed to take at least 10 quotes, five each from men and women for a story. And her job does not end after flagging off these issues but reporters like her are trained to make authorities accountable and resolve these issues faced by villagers.

Another senior reporter Suneeta Devi (29) too had similar stories to share. Hailing from a small hamlet called Bargarh in Mau block of Chitrakoot district, Devi joined Khabar Lahariya published in Bundeli, in 2011. Like Rizvi, Devi too was married off at the age of 16 and was desperately searching for job after her husband, a tuberculosis patient, became jobless. 

She used to work as a daily wage worker — loading and unloading stone grit off trucks. “A local teacher helped me to fill up application form for the post of reporter at Khabar Lahariya. After receiving training, I started working as a full time reporter covering two blocks, namely Mau and Manipur in Chitrakoot. Each of these blocks has 57-62 villages,” she said.

Devi, who completed her graduation during the course, added that to reach villages located at remote places, she has to leave home early and sometimes returns home only after 7 pm.

Speaking about how local women reporters like her are bringing some ray of hope in Chitrakoot, she shared, “I came to know that a local gas agency owner had collected Rs 1300- 2000 from 50 persons, promising them to give gas cylinders which are given free of cost to those below poverty line under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. I published interviews of the people who despite paying the money to him, had not got cylinders. On camera, the man denied having collected money and even said that he had only collected Rs 200 for filling up forms and he would return that money too. The news was reported on Khabar Lahariya. A team of government officials from Lucknow came to the village and carried out an enquiry. The man was asked to return money and all the villagers were given cylinders under the scheme.” 

According to Devi, this proved the power of ethical reporting and she is determined to continue her good work. She even wishes to climb the ladder of hierarchy in her organisation.

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