Wave of enlightenment: Khabar Lahariya
Like any average homemaker in Chitrakoot, she can cook,
clean, wash and sew. She can also cycle through a 15 km stretch of thick forest
to meet victims of group clash, share pleasantries with friendly neighbourhood
dacoits, village pradhan or the police chief.. all in a day's work. Meet Meera
Jatav, the 37-year-old editor-in-chief, lay out artist, marketing manager and a
door to door hawker of Khabar Lahariya -- the first newspaper in Bundelkhand
brought out in the local dialect.
The eight-page paper with editions from Chitrakoot and Banda, priced at Rs 2,
has been able to carve out a niche for itself over the past eight years of its
launch by Meera and her colleagues -- a band of Dalit and Muslim women. And now,
they are getting ready with an ambitious expansion plan. "In the first phase, we
propose to launch editions from UP districts beginning with Kaushambi and also
plan to take it to a few districts in Bihar," says Meera. With her senior
colleague Shanti assisting her in the venture, it should not be much of a
problem, she is sure.
The duo stepped into the profession in 2002 as apprentices, with staff strength
of eight which has now gone up to 21. Each woman has come up hard way. For
instance, like Meera, Shanti also learnt to read and write quite late. But now,
this grandmother has turned quite tech savvy and handles emails and internet,
Meera points out.
"I was never sent to the school and married off at the age of 12," Meera
recounts. She had to beg, plead and cajole her in-laws to allow her to attend a
women's literacy centre. After eight months training, she enrolled in class
sixth, and gradually went on to complete her graduation. There were short
intervals like pregnancy and child birth. But her husband, she says, has proved
to be extremely supporting. Shanti has a near similar tale to narrate.
But all the trial and tribulation has been worth it, she says with satisfaction,
adding, "we are known to everyone and from local baddie to the most dreaded
bandit, no one takes us lightly. In fact, Meera claims to know quite a few of
"decent dacoits". "I have readers in the class.. They buy my newspapers and even
discuss issues at times, you see not all dacoits are bad. Some are actually
concerned about public good. And yes, they also respect people who are honestly
doing their job," she declares.
With a UNESCO award for promoting literacy and awareness last year under their
belt, and a recent fellowship from the Centre for Social Development, even the
advertisements, she says, have started coming their way despite their strict
policy. "We do not, as a rule, take any ad promoting or selling firearms,"
Shanti says. This could mean quite a dent to the coffers in the belt known only
for `bandook' (gun) and bandits, "but then rules are rules."
What they lose out in ads is more than covered by their ingenuous marketing
skills. In the morning, the women reporters can be seen stalking the markets,
village fairs, offices and even train compartments, with their bundles. They
coax, banter, wheedle and even crack jokes and going by the spiralling figures
of circulation, the marketing strategy is paying handsome dividends.
The sale has gone up to 5,000 weekly prints in 300 villages, though readership
figures are well over 20,000 (an in-house survey revealed with one copy being
scanned by at least five persons).
The job has its own highs, claims Meera. Their expose on the scams and scandals
in the district, tehsil or block levels have made the Lahariya team a force to
reckon with. "The criminals and mafia dislike yet fear us... the pen in our
hands is more potent than their `aslah' (weapons), after all `to aakhir mein
jeet hamari hi hoti hai (in the end, it's we who win)," she says with a laugh.
Fearless journalism, typical Bundela style.