Grassroots Journalism ka Asar, Or Why We Do What We Do

Rajjo works as a barber in the Kulpahad kasba of Mahoba district. Last month, he came home to a shock, literally: A whopping electricity bill awaited him, to the tune of close-to 4 lakhs. Rajjo lives with his wife Bela and kids in his house with meagre facilities.There are only the bare minimum of lights and fans, and the estimated monthly electricity bill comes to about 300-400.
Assuming the best-case scenario – that this was an error – Rajjo went to the electricity department, but was turned away. A few times.
He was informed that this was a cumulative bill and was the total for two months. Rajjo was aghast, “This was a bill I wouldn’t be able to raise in two years!” Bela broke it down, “First they sent a bill for Rs. 1, 70, 000 and then in the next month, a cumulative figure of 2, 80, 070!” Adding that it was impossible for them to ever be able to pay it, “Do we live, or do we pay this bill?”
Swaying between anxiety, frustration and depression, Rajjo was on the verge of giving up. He had knocked on the doors of all sarkari departments possible, after the bijli vibhaaghad turned him away so many times. There had been endless rounds of requests to the village pradhan and other authorities, but to absolutely no avail.
The deadline looming close, Rajjo and Bela had run out of ideas. The “lakh rupaiyya bijli bill”, meanwhile, had buzzed through the local Mahoba grapevine and set the ball rolling for some media intervention by Shyamkali, Khabar Lahariya reporter.Inviting herself inside Rajjo’s home – as women reporters working in rural Bundelkhand, a specie as rare as a sensitive feminist male in these parts – she documented visual evidence of the state of Rajjo’s house, in terms of their consumption of electricity, which rendered the bill even more ridiculous than it already was. The story, published on April 17, gained traction and caused sufficient embarrassment to the concerned authorities who heard of people watching Rajjo’s tale of woe on their phones.

Cut to late April this year. The reporter was called back for a thank you and greeted with cheers and smiles – the bill had been corrected.
The thrill of grassroots reporting is embedded in this very aspect – its ability to affect grassroots impact.This month gave us a double whammy in this department!
Once again in Kulpahad in the blistering heat – Bundelkhand on the brink of what’s likely to be another unrelenting summer – where at the local market, also the congregation point for the residents, a water cooler was being sorely missed. And demanded. “The public needs one”, said Anil Kumar Namdev, “a sip of water in this heat is like man ki tassalli (peace of mind).” Sarman Lal agreed, terming it a no-brainer, while Beti Bai cited the inefficiency of the nagar palika in the matter and rattled off the uses of a pyaau, “Besides being able to quench your thirst, you can fill up bottles for later. Thande paani ki zaroorat toh lagi rehti hai is mausam mein.”
Just as the Delhi heat wave took over, the newsroom got a call from Mahoba: An excited Shyamkali telling us how the story went viral in and around Mahoba, causing considerable pressure to be built, which granted the locals what they’d been asking for. “Chilchilati garmi” as it’s referred to, has finally got the much-needed respite. The water cooler takes pride of place in the market area now and a few young ‘uns even pose for selfies with it too!
A khabar ka asar is still rare enough for it to really feel special. Government apathy blended with living lives in severely neglected areas of the hinterland often leaves the kasbah dweller helpless, and hopeless. When endless amount of tweets and tags and social media campaigns to government after government seem to all collect in a black hole,we are glad for the on-ground calls to action that translate into real-time impact, real-time change. And when it happens in the span of a lunar cycle, there truly is nothing like it.