In India, low-caste Dalit women take up journalism, have different focus

An all-women, all-Dalit team works for Khabar Lahariya (News Wave), a regional-language weekly that reports from disadvantaged areas that do not generally make the news.

Pawan Kumar/Reuters
Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party president and chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, addresses an election campaign rally in Sultanpur, India, on Jan. 24.

Covering elections in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, seen as the country's key battleground state, is generally a test for journalists for its intrigue and drama.

No one is more prepared for the upcoming poll than the all-women, all-Dalit team of Khabar Lahariya (News Wave), a regional-language weekly that reports from some of the state's most disadvantaged areas that do not generally make the news.

It was founded in 2002 by a non-profit group, Nirantar, that works in women's literacy and with low-caste Dalits, who are on the bottom rung of India's social hierarchy and find little representation in the media.

"The mainstream media only carried stories about the big cities, and the reporters were mostly educated, English-speaking men belonging to upper castes," said co-founder Shalini Joshi.

"Dalit women are the most marginalized, so we made a conscious decision to only hire them, so they could report news that is truly local," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Initially, six women with some basic education were hired in Chitrakoot in southern Uttar Pradesh, and trained to report and write stories, and take pictures.

The publication was printed every week in the nearest big city, Allahabad, five hours away by road. From a print circulation of about 10,000 copies, readership has grown with the digital shift, Joshi said.

Published in the local languages of Bundeli, Awadhi and Bhojpuri, the topics range from dowries and farmer compensation to politics and cricket.

"To people in these districts, English and Hindi are the languages of the elite, of those in power, whereas the local language is seen as second-class," Joshi said.

Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, also has among the highest crime rates, with violence rife against women and lower-caste people.

The month-long Uttar Pradesh polls starting Feb. 11 will see Mayawati, a former leader known as the Dalit Queen, pitted against the ruling party.

Khabar Lahariya's reporters struggled initially, as they would not be invited to press conferences, and their calls not be returned, Joshi said.

But they persisted, taking on politicians and local leaders. There are now 30 women reporters in 10 districts in the state.

"It's very hard to be a journalist there, (especially for) a woman of a lower caste. They have been threatened and intimidated many times," Joshi said.

Dalits and other lower-caste people make up nearly a fourth of India's 1.3 billion population.

As far back as 1996, Kenneth J. Cooper, then a reporter for the Washington Post in India, wrote about being unable to find a single Dalit journalist in the country.

Ten years later, a survey found no Dalits among more than 300 senior figures in the media.

Meanwhile, Khabar Lahariya plans to expand to more districts in Uttar Pradesh, and other states including Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Joshi said.

"After all these years, they are still the only Dalit women journalists in their districts," she said.

Reporting by Rina Chandran, editing by Ros Russell. This story originally appeared on the website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change, and resilience. Visit

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to In India, low-caste Dalit women take up journalism, have different focus
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today