Resuming our recurring series featuring conversations between Disha Mullick and Kavita Bundelkhandi, Khabar Lahariya’s co-founders, in times of the new normal.
Aiming to focus on the myriad meanings of keeping safe and sane, Delhi-U.P., while reporting in the north Indian hinterlands during the ongoing global health crisis, these dispatches are illustrative of the unique diverse identity of Khabar Lahariya, and the bonds we forge as women at work
K: How are things there? How’s your mum?
D: Sigh. Difficult. But the weather’s amazing and the birds are too.
K: You shouldn’t fight with her!
D: Well. If the world functioned in the way it was meant to, what would we do with ourselves! Has N filed a complaint against the neighbour who molested her?
K: Sigh. You’re right. The amount of energy I use in trying to set things right. Sometimes I feel my sanity bursting through my head. No she hasn’t. We had a long counselling session with a caseworker, laid out all the options for her. She said she doesn’t want to take legal action, but she did want to have him warned that his actions were illegal. But she never showed up when she had to provide permission to the caseworker to proceed.
D: I guess it isn’t our role to pressure her to do it, Kavita. She has to take that decision herself. But it’s sometimes impossible to be a friend and colleague and witness this violence and intimidation and then not be mad with her for not taking action…
K: I told her to move house, I told her to get the locks changed at home…
D: But I understand her resistance – it was so hard for her to find a room in the first place. Now someone intrudes and she’s the one who is punished. She’s the one who has to take a public stand.
K: But at least making a complaint will warn him that she’s not alone, that she has support.
D: Talking of which, how’s the lower back?
K: Everything feels bad after I stopped yoga. There’s no time anymore.
D: That’s crazy. I sent you a very sweet and very short practice to do – that woman, Adriene has gone viral in lockdown times. She’s just the kind you like. Do it right after this call.
K: I have a meeting! Anyway, the last few days I’ve been in the field all day and then wake up in the morning to these horrendous social media posts… and so I haven’t had time. Today someone sent me a post about some woman reporter in Chitrakoot being slapped with an FIR for asking the Raipura pradhan for a 1 lakh bribe…
D: Tell me it’s no one we know. And I can’t even believe it, when this is what most local reporters do for a living, the cases are slapped on the lone woman who may be reporting…
K: It’s a fake case and a fake reporter. It’s striking how many of these cases we’ve seen of late though. I don’t know if it’s a particular kind of desperation because there really is no work for people. So people are stooping to even lower levels. There’s a reporter I know in Jaspura, where the sand mafia is very strong, who is on protest for being roughed up for making videos on the illegal movement of sand trucks at night. And he gets his bread and butter from payoffs from these mafias, so obviously there’s been some disagreement about the money…
D: Jaspura is where the Dalit boy is from, who was stripped and beaten last week?
K: Yes. It’s the same police post, with the same harami Thakur constable, who refuses to report most cases against Dalits or the less powerful. He chases them away. It’s the same police post where Shivdevi had gone to report on the alleged rape of the 65-year-old woman…
D: Yes, I saw that bite, so powerful. I was very struck by her ability to use social media to tell her truth.
K: That woman was chased out of the police station by this constable, who told Shivdevi, who rapes a 65 year old woman! She was sitting outside the mahila thana with her family when Shivdevi found her. Because of our story, they were forced to file the FIR and the woman has had her medical check up.
D: And what happened about the case of the boy?
K: Such a heartrending story. He’s just 17, and there’s no work in the village, he failed out of high school and his sister is to be married. So he was convinced by a few Thakur boys from the village to come to Ahmedabad to work and they’d get him a 15,000 rupee salary. He went, was locked up in their room, beaten and traumatised. He said he didn’t even know the half of what they did to him. And when his mother went to complain to this same daroga, she was abused and chased out. While we were reporting, the Additional SP told me that this was a matter for the Ahmedabad police, but once we published the story, I’ve got some calls saying they’re looking into the matter…
D: COVID is making the stubbornness of the legal system even worse. I’m glad some of our reporting is moving things. But you be careful, please, and keep all your evidence handy. It’s not like the truth and the facts are at a high premium these days.
K: Don’t I know it. I wanted to tell you the updates on the ex-DM story that we were being pressured to delete. I went to the Information/PR department to submit our new letters of affiliation there. The additional Information Officer, a young woman who is on video chat with her boyfriend all the time, asked if I’d had the story we’d done about the ex-DM deleted – since it showed him in a poor light, and he was getting an award. I said no, and we reported for the public and not as PR for the DM. So she wouldn’t accept my affiliation letters. Why don’t you have a newspaper, she said. I said because we don’t take advertisements, and we don’t roam around the sandbanks at night so we can make a living off bribes from the sand mafia, and run our newspapers and channels that way. And if we don’t report, who is going to tell you the truth about the villages in your district? I told her when she’s free of her video chats and has some leisure time, she should open up the Khabar Lahariya website and Twitter handle, and see what we do. Then she said, Kavita didi, aap toh bahut jaldi naraaz ho jaati hain! Took my letter and invited me over for dinner!
D: Kavita, you have me rolling on the ground, but seriously, we’d be able to do so much more if we weren’t stuck in this region where people are either stealing our stories or asking us for bribes or offering us bribes to delete our stories…
K: I think we are what we are because we’ve been in Bundelkhand so long, rubbing up against these sorts. We shine because of it.