India’s only newspaper produced exclusively by women, Khabar Lahariya (New Waves), continues to break down barriers by going digital, posting video reports and instant updates on WhatsApp and Facebook. The paper’s all female reporting staff seeks to examine local power structures based on gender, religion and caste.
Khabar Lahariya was founded in 2002 by Nirantar, a women’s rights organization, to provide a feminist viewpoint in reporting, a perspective that is typically neglected by news outlets. In its early years, the paper was staffed by seven female reporters who hand delivered the then local-language, bi-weekly publication to subscribers and buyers. Today Khabar Lahariyah publishes six weekly editions in multiple languages to a loyal readership 80,000 strong. Currently the paper has over 40 women who work to write, edit, illustrate, and print the different editions.
These women come from the most marginalized populations in India. Some are Dalits, people considered to be at the bottom of India’s rigid hierarchical caste system. Others come from areas of India where women typically have very little autonomy and suffer from some of the worst gender inequalities in the country.
Khabar Lahariyah operates in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar. Going digital, however, allows Khabar Lahariya to spread its feminist journalism across India and deeper into rural communities through the country’s rapidly growing audience of smartphone users. Mobile companies report that the number of rural internet users in India increased 93 percent to 87 million users between 2014 and the end of 2015. Going digital still faces challenges, such as access to 3G; reporters sometimes have to walk or ride a bus for some distance in order to send video files.
Access to technology has been critical to the empowerment of women, and the impact of going digital has not been lost on those who staff the paper. Meera, a chief reporter for Khabar Lahariyah, recalls when she first encountered computers in school: “I always wanted to touch a computer, but the operator never used to let me touch it. He used to say that it will break down if you touch it. But I was so impatient to touch a computer!”
Working for the paper has dramatically changed the lives of these women. Lakshmi Sharma, a video producer, comes from a village which still observes purdah, the practice of cloistering women away from men and the public sphere. “When I started working, it was the first time I had ever left my house alone. By the time I took my year eight exams I was already married, and by the time I was 15 I had my first child. But I couldn’t just sit at home and do housework all day.”
Speaking about the impact of Kharbar Lahariya on the community Lakshmi Sharma said, “The villagers were not supportive at first, but now they say, ‘You’re the first woman from our village to do this kind of work.’ They cut out my articles and frame them and put them up on the walls. Young girls in the village come to me and say, ‘Sister, we want to be like you.’ It makes me very proud.” Going digital is the next step to elevating the lives of even more Indian women and their communities.