Deep in rural Uttar Pradesh, there’s a small army of women who have committed their days to uncovering the untold stories of their villages, speaking their own truths, and amplifying not only their own voices, but the voice of their community, across India. They have been working tirelessly for more than a decade and a half, traveling, writing, shooting, sharing, and building, always building. This is the story of Khabar Lahariya.
Khabar Lahariya is a rural-focused weekly newspaper started in 2002, published in rural dialects of Hindi, and produced, distributed, and curated by a collective of women journalists actually from the villages they cover. But what it represents is so, so much more than that - an inspiration for all those communities neglected by traditional media and urban centers to come together, raise their voices, build solidarity, strength, and knowledge, and speak truth to power. Honestly, goosebumps.
For context, they began their work in Bundelkhand, known as one of the most economically and socially backwards areas in India. Even now, many of the journalists tell stories of being ignored, patronized, or insulted when they travel for coverage, or even in their own villages. But they can’t be stopped! These women have fought and persevered and raised their voices for more than a decade, and have now reached almost 100,000 people with their print newspaper and an incredible 50 MILLION with their digital platform. They have an unwavering dedication to their ethos: that any woman, from anywhere, any class, any caste, can become a journalist, can uncover important stories and make change through telling the truth about her surroundings. And this isn’t just something that the organization passively believes - they’ve built their entire team through training programs, rural women teaching other rural women the basics of video and photo and written journalism, and incorporating them into the collective, growing their organization and their impact. Going into new places, and talking to women who would never have considered journalism as a potential path for them, and in ten weeks seeing those women become published journalists with thousands of views from across India.
This organization makes change on so many levels, it’s unbelievable. Of course, just putting out neglected stories from neglected areas into the world, and making sure people read them, is fundamentally important. Only with knowledge and attention and facts can we start making change. And this process is not easy, at all. But in creating an organization that truly reflects the kind of world they want to see - one where women are given the agency to tell their own stories, and lend their perspective not just towards traditional ‘women’s issues’ but to the world at large: local political news, crime reports, sports, entertainment, and social issues - is truly prefigurative politics at its best. Because at the end of the day, Khabar Lahariya isn’t just great because it’s rural focused, or run by women, or anything. It’s great because it is a genuinely incredible news organization, telling important stories, a crucial part of enforcing government and grassroots accountability in the regions where it works. It’s a media revolution played out in the most media-neglected areas in India - and they’re not even close to finished. In the next year, their focus is on expanding to ‘media-dark areas’ in other parts of India, and on training hundreds of more reporters to travel to these areas and bring back the truth. I, for one, can’t wait to read what comes next.
(Note: what are prefigurative politics? The idea is that, when creating a political or social organization to advance some positive agenda in the world, you make sure your organization reflects the world it is fighting for. That is, if you’re running a feminist advocacy group, you run it on feminist principles, of equality and justice and self-care, etc. Basically, be the change you wish to see in the world. And treat your employees and collaborators with respect and dignity.)
Read their incredible work here:
Their Stories in Hindi
Their Stories in English
Feminism in India : An Interview with Khabar Lahariya