Extraordinary Places, Ordinary Reporters

Amateur journalists in remote and conflict regions are effecting developmental change by harnessing the power of local media

After 20 years as a tailor, today Riyaz Malik is a journalist in Kashmir.

A batch of young students training to be journalists by Charkha, a not-for-profit, in Poonch district of Kashmir

How did this happen? Mainly because he attended a writing workshop organised by Charkha Development Communication Network, a not-for-profit that teaches people from poor communities how to use the media to better their lives. It was founded in 1994 by Sanjay Ghose, who recognized the potential of local writing to solve critical development issues. In his words, he founded Charkha ‘to change the world and make a difference in the lives of the ordinary people.’ After Ghose’s assassination by United Liberation Front militants in Assam, his father Shankar Ghose led Charkha’s work to develop community journalists such as Malik to advocate for their own social development.

Riyaz Malik, a 45 year old erst-while tailor now-turned journalist, writes about local issues in Poonch, Kashmir — a conflict region bordering Kashmir

Malik writes from the Poonch border area of Kashmir. This is a place, like many others in India, from where little news ever trickles out. Mainstream media in India often ignores such places citing a ‘tyranny of distance’ from major cities which provide most of our daily news.

Riyaz Malik is proud that he is able to bring change to his local community through his journalism. For instance, last year when an electrician Nizam Din, who worked as a part-time help in the local government, was seriously injured at work, Malik fought for the man through his words.

The government was refusing to pay Nizam Din for his treatment — which ran into lakhs of rupees — saying that the electrician was only employed on an ad-hoc basis. But when Malik started to write about the case in Charkha’s publications and numerous other dailies, the local MLA Shah Mohammad Tantray woke up Nizam Din’s cause and made sure that the electricity department not only paid for his treatment but also gave him a full-time job.

Like Malik, more than five hundred rural writers have published over five thousand stories in Kashmir, Ladakh, Bihar, Chattisgarh and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands through Charkha. Pir Azhar, another reporter from Kupwara in Kashmir, covers stories ranging from the impact of terrorism, especially the plight of widows and orphans, to bad roads in the area. The impact of his advocacy has led to the building of a tar road, a luxury in Kupwara.

Pir Azhar, another local journalist in Kashmir, covers the issues of widows’ helplessness in face of terrorism in the local regional daily.

In Patna, Nikhat Perween, another Charkha reporter, had pushed change by focussing on deaths of mothers and infants due to missing local health workers called aanganwadi workers.

Community level advocacy for local problems by Nikhat Perween, in Bihar, with her young friends

This kind of much needed hyper-local reporting has given voice to the unheard even in the world of ubiquitous 24/7 breaking news. It has shown the potential to provide a platform for dialogue on social issues that matter to the people in remote areas of India.

Anshu Meshak, CEO, re-enforces this mission in a matter-of-fact manner -

Charkha’s world begins where the highway ends. We work with those whom the governance mechanisms have simply forgotten, either because they’re too remote to count or because it is too much of a risk and effort to reach them in conflict affected areas. We give such people a voice and teach them how to be heard. We give them the information, skills and resources to actually change their circumstances themselves. We tell them, ‘We don’t do charity. You must take charge of your own development.’

Call to Action: Charkha Development Communication Network is actively seeking funding to empower more rural writers. Please contact Mario Noronha, Operations Head, to support the cause by writing to him at mario@charkha.org. For more information on their work and their ‘ask’, please read here.