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ICGE-II: How Woman in Rural Bundelkhand Became Editor of Niche Weekly

In Kerala
February 13, 2021

When plights of the residents of her village never made it to the media, an exasperated Kavita Devi decided to start a journal with help from fellow women. Thus, a group of homemakers with basic education launched Khabar Lahariya in 2002.

Two decades on, the weekly publication is making waves across the Hindi belt. Not only has it developed into a collective of 40 rural women journalists, the establishment regularly brings out an eight-page broadsheet newspaper and has went digital in 2015, a global summit in this city was briefed today.

In fact, today marks the eighth anniversary of Khabar Lahariya’s website, which was launched on February 13, 2013 from Mumbai. Kavita Devi, as editor of the publication based in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh, addressed the three-day International Conference on Gender Equality (ICGE-II), narrating her story as an empowered woman from the meek house-wife she used to be at the start of this century in patriarchal village, Bundelkhand.

“When we sought to bring out a journal highlighting the news around, there was ridicule from society. Men said media work cannot be women’s domain. None would reveal us any news. It was tough initially,” recalled Devi, speaking at a weekend session as part of ICGE-II organized by The Gender Park, under the Kerala government’s Department of Women and Child Development, in partnership with the UN Women, a body of the United Nations.

Slowly, the scenario changed, Devi said. “We managed to start the paper in a modest way. People got a pleasant surprise on seeing news about their village printed for the first time anywhere,” she noted, speaking at a panel discussion on ‘Challenging Gender Powered Structures in Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Social Business’ at the February 11-13 conclave held at The Gender Park campus in Kozhikode. All the professional experience she had till 2002 was a brief apprenticeship with a newsletter named Mahila Dakiya.

Khabar Lahariya, headquartered in Karwi which is 225 km south of the state capital of Lucknow, is uncompromising in its attitude, winning both public opposition and applause. “We do face protests against the kind of news we give (on scandals ranging from petty corruption to instances of wife-beating). As an independent endeavour, we don’t accept grants from anyone including the government,” said Devi, reiterating that Bundelkhand in the cusp of UP and Madhya Pradesh is yet to emerge from its feudal features.

Born in backward Kunjan Purwa district of UP’s rugged Bandan district, Devi received no formal education before she was married at 12. An NGO named Nirantar came to her help in starting the publication, with funds coming in from Dorabji Tata Trust as a non-sectarian philanthropic organisation. Devi went on to win several honours, including the first Dalit to become a member of the Editors’ Guild of India.

“As we also fight for gender equality, we provide mental counselling for village women,” said the editor, whose publication in six dialects is printed from Bihar besides UP. “We also stage street-plays and sift fake news from real. Our videos, too, are a hit,” added Devi, about Khabar Lahariya which has massive following on Facebook and Instagram.

The 100-minute session, with the objective of discussing power structures in sustainable entrepreneurship and social businesses, was chaired by policy analyst Dr Meera Velayudhan, Advisor, The Gender Park. The other speakers were anthropologist Dr Dolly Kikon (University of Melbourne), inclusion advocate Sophia David and Priyanka Dutt, Country Director, BBC Media Action, India.