Taaza Khabar: Sati and Birth of Khabar Lahariya
Director: Bishakha Datta; Cinematographer: Ranu Ghosh
Duration: 00:36:56; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 33.063; Saturation: 0.169; Lightness: 0.315; Volume: 0.139; Cuts per Minute: 6.471; Words per Minute: 70.529
Summary: Part of the footage of the film Taaza Khabar directed by Bishakha Datta and produced by Nirantar. The film is about the journey of a team of all women journalists of Khabar Lahariya (a grassroots newspaper published by the women themselves) through several obstacles. The determined efforts are to ensure the 62nd issue of Khabar Lahariya reaches its readers on time. The women are from Chitrakoot district in U.P. who report stories that find no space in mainstream media. It also portrays how these women have created their own space and established their identity in a context where patriarchy and caste-based discriminations are dominant.
The event captures an old man talking about his daughter-in-law’s death by observing the ritual of Sati ("Sati" means a virtuous woman. A woman who dies burning herself on her husband's funeral fire was considered most virtuous, and was believed to directly go to heaven by this "meritorious" act. The woman who committed Sati was worshipped as a Goddess, and temples were built in her memory. Sati was prevalent among certain sects of the society in ancient India, who either took the vow or deemed it a great honor to die on the funeral pyres of their husbands.)
Manju, one of the Khabar Lahariya journalists, visits the temple built in honor of the old man's daughter-in-law. She later talks to a woman who tried to get information about a Sati incident that happened in a nearby village.
The clip then shows the interview of Malini and Renuka from Nirantar, who talk about the history and evolution of the birth of Khabar Lahariya.
Night lights line the banks of the river Ganga as devotees and visitors walk past the long stretch beside the river. Devotional songs play in the background as devotees walk along the bank at dawn. Some of them take a holy dip in the river, while others perform aarti (Aarti is a Hindu religious ritual of workship). Aeriel shots of the ghats (A ghat refers to a series of steps that lead to a water body, usually a holy river) show the explanse of the place and the huge number of people present in the area.
[In Hindu tradition, this place is called the "Triveni Sangam" which means the confluence of three rivers. "Sangama" is the Sanskrit word for confluence. This point of confluence is a sacred place for Hindus and a bath here is said to wash away all sins. In Allahabad, the Triveni Sangam has two physical rivers, Ganges, Yamuna and the invisible or mythic Saraswati river. It is located at "Prayaga" meaning "place of sacrifice" which is the city of Allahabad's original name.]
Old man (OM): 21 years ago
Voice: What happened to your children?
OM: The ruffians killed them, they were coming in a motorcycle and they killed my children. What do you tell people who are ruffians?
Voice: What was the name of your sons?
OM: One of them was Ramakant and the other was Devkant
Voice: And that was your daughter in law who…
OM: Yes, Savitri.
Voice: How old was she?
OM: She was seventeen
Voice: We wanted to know the story
OM: What about the story that the girl was seventeen, the elder son was twenty three and the younger son was nineteen
Voice of a man (VM): Here truth is worshipped, the human kind, all the children of Bharat is Ram.
What Ram did was to awaken the…. (Camera moves to the sadhu) do not take my photo. My guruji said never to give my image anywhere. So you take his picture. Here we try to seek what is truth. Truth does not enjoy wealth; it is beyond the material cravings. It considers as a woman considers her husband as the supreme being, and after the husband dies, like the snake who is restless after the loss of the precious diamond, she is also restless after the loss. Truth is worshipped here, truth is the future, and can anyone predict future? What you are asking is from the past, what is happening in the present is right in front of your eyes.
An old man sits on a cane chair, fanning himself with a handmade paper fan. He is interviewed about the loss of his two sons who were killed in a mishap. His daughter-in-law, Savitri, had also died and is now a Sati [Sati refers to a woman who is extremely devoted to her husband, and also gives up her life in his honour after his death.]
In the background there is the voice of a man speaking loudly and confidently about the worship of truth and relates it to Sati. The camera pans to capture him speak. He is a sadhu [as per Hinduism is an ascetic monk, who has given up pursuits of Kama-pleasure, Artha-wealth and Dharma-duty and is dedicated to achieve liberation through meditation and contemplation of God]. He immediately rejects the camera and asks the cameraperson not to shoot him. He continues to give a discourse on the philosophy of truth.
The narrative of Savitri's dedication and devotion to her husband as a Sati is captured in a pictorial frame on the wall of the temple. The sadhu opens the door into the Samadhi Stall [In Hindu religious tradition, a temple around a platform which commemorates the dead. The structure is built to honour people who are regarded as great souls, often visited by people who pay their respects at the temple]. The Samadhi is decoated with red cloth and flowers. A stone board on the platform has Savitri Devi's name engraved on it. Other parts of the temple show bells hanging from the ceiling and idols in enclosures for worship.
Voice of a woman: This is the other woman who had a dream. It is written about the dream that she had about the grave that is here.
Voice: About whom?
Voice of a woman: About Savitri Devi
OM: That time I was not around, even during the rituals I kept off. I kept sitting inside my space; I did not come out because I knew I would be pained to see my sons in that condition. Whatever had to happen has already happened. So there is nothing that can be done. The police wanted to trap, I would not bribe. If the truth would not come to the forefront there is nothing that could be done. Who do I blame or falsely accuse, I couldn't do that. I gave a normal summon that's all. It was the time of the death, the cause came by and they died.
Voice: The temple was built after that?
OM: Yes, after the sati, after some three four months that she became a Sati. The guruji had come, he performed the rituals and the construction started.
Voice: How do to make your livelihood now?
OM: I have agricultural land
Voice: The expenses of the temple…
OM: All expenses of the temple are met
Voice: Also from the collections you make because of the visitors
OM: All expenses are met by the household income. Whatever we get here, as donations, is spent for the temple on a monthly basis.
The old man shares his experience about the difficulties of facing his sons' deaths. He explains how he kept to himself and did not participate in the rituals, as he couldn't bear the thought of his sons in those conditions. He now accepts whatever has happened and knows that it was out of his power to have done anything about it. He accepts death as a finality that can't be changed. He then moves on to talk about the economics of the temple and how all the expenses of maintaining it comes from donations given by visitors. The idol depicting Savitri Devi, the Sati is mounted over steps, placed against the wall.
OM: The daughter in law was to come back since she her age was not ready to stay with in-laws. She could not go back that the incident happened. She went away after a year, she was fifteen and her husband was nineteen. In May-June she fell very ill and in ten minutes she was gone. It was not even a year that she also died. She also passed away
Voice: Now who all are there in your family?
OM: Now I have three sons and three daughter-in-laws, grandchildren and two other daughters who are in their respective marital homes.
(To Bishakha) Don't sit on that, the legs are weak. Come here and sit.
Manju, one the Khabar Lahariya journalists, walks up the stairs into the temple where the idols of Ramakant, Devkant and Savitri Devi have been placed. A picture depicting Savitri Devi's act of Sati hangs on the wall. Manju leaves the temple and walks away from the camera, out to the fields.
Bishakha (B): Go towards the temple as you would usually go
Manju takes the interview of Pushpa from Banda about a Sati incident that took place in Bhaundari (a village around 18km from Lucknow). She narrates her experience of how they went to approach the home where the Sati had taken place and faced a hostile situation. Many of the people were afraid to share any information and they had a tough time getting proper details about the incident.
Manju (M): What is your name and what do you do?
Pushpa (P): I am Pushpa, I work for Violence against women on the lines of Human Rights in Banda.
M: I am Manju from Karvi, Chitrakoot where I am a reporter with Khabar Lahariya.
The case of Sati that took place in Bhaundari could you tell us more about it?
P: I got to know about it from the newspaper, it was a felicitation ceremony of one of our women. During that I picked up the newspaper and got to know about it as it was printed in bold that the Sati incident had happened in Bhaundari village. As the ceremony got over with Vanagana and Khabar Lahariya team we set off for Bhaundari.
M: What did you see there?
P: When we reached we talked to them in different teams. When we reached the girls inlaws place was locked, nobody was at home. There were other people from the extended family who refused to open the door. They also refused to talk to us.
When we reached the site of the incident we saw the agarbattis were being lit and then there was pieces of coconut and batasha (drops of dried candied sugar and jaggery) kept as offerings. There was a chaabotra (raised platform) and there were coconut pieces near it.
M: What was the villagers' reaction to this?
P: The villagers were very scared and withdrawn. They refused to give us any information. Few people who spoke to us like the watchman of the garden said that when he heard noises he thought there were ruffians. When he lit the torch saw the villagers and asked them what were they doing? Ramkumari's children said that their father died in the evening and now the mother ended her life in his chitah (The Hindus are cremated with the body on a neatly arranged pile of wood. This arrangement is called a chitah)
M: Could you tell us what was the police administration's reaction to the incident?
B: Hang on for a minute repeat this line again
M: Could you tell us what was the police administration's reaction to the incident?
P: When we went to meet the police, the SO (Senior Officer) was lying on his cot very comfortably. There was no police at the site of the incident. On interrogation he said that all of these are rumours, no sati incident has taken place on the area. When we spoke to the DM (District Magistrate) he also went beating around the bush.
Bishakha (B): Malini, will you tell us something about the history of Nirantar?
Malini (M): Nirantar is a sandarv samuha, we work on women and education. We have our office in Delhi but we work in collaboration with several other grassroot level organization spread specially over rural areas.
In 1993 the organization was founded.
B: Renuka what I want to ask you is how did you conceive of Khabar Lahariya in Niarantar?
Renuka (R): I guess it would date back to 1991 in the women's movement, after the series of workshops women had become educated and at the National level the literacy mission had also taken off. In that mission there were several women who played a very active role, so the question that arose is that these women should get a vehicle to express themselves, at the same time they should remain literate and there was a need to create material for the same. With this thought a semi government organization in Delhi called National Institute of Adult Education, they approached us saying if there is a possibility to publish a blocksheet that is meant for women. Their objective was not like Mahila Dakiya or Khabar Lahariya but they wanted to create a model and based on that model we could publish them in different languages. But at that point of time the publication had to be from the regional level.
As far as Mahila Dakiya is concerned, the objective was very different. In Mahila Dakiya the women would talk of themselves. We could not have been sitting at some centre and expressing them in our words. As these women were literate they should express themselves in their way. Also there had to be an element of some information sharing. During the women's movement the pressure groups that were formed all around in the chain of villages, they also wanted to express and share each other's opinions.
The thrust came in when the women became hand pump mechanics. It was a big change for their lives. They wanted to talk about their newly acquired skill and express how that had liberated, strengthened and empowered her. So there was a series of reasons. Also the environment was quite much that of literacy. So they wanted a medium to express their opinions.
B: Malini would you want to add something to that?
M: Initially when we thought of Mahila Dakiya,we did not have a format in our heads. It was a spontaneous thing, we said lets do it and let's see what it unfolds. I remember the first workshop we had gone for, Renuka and myself, we had gone to Chitrakoot to conduct the workshop. We had asked Mahila Samakhya, who we were collaborating with, to have a group of 25 women who were literate and some hand pump mechanics, a mixed group basically for the workshop. At the workshop we did several activities, we spoke to the women, created spaces for them to speak their minds, share their experiences specially share what they went through their journey as they became hand pump mechanics.
With all this we wanted to figure out not just the verbal communication but how would they create the same in the written form. That aspect of creating the bridge between verbal and written was what we had to figure out. The excitement or passion while they spoke would not reflect in their writings. We had to retain that flavour in the publication. I remember the first issue which we had published (tries to get the issue)
R: I remember the interesting bit about this was we had given them different formats, the magazine, broadsheet, newspaper; they had to decide which format they wanted it to publish it. Then was getting the name of the publication. There were several ways by which we thought of finalizing the name. It seemed as if there was a competition, who ever came up with a name tried to convince everyone of that. This way we had several rounds. We then shortlisted two names, Hariyali (greenery) and Mahila Dakiya (Women Postman). From there we finalized on Mahila Dakiya.
M: It was very important because everyone realized that its not just the newspaper, but from the name the identity would also be established. It had interesting reactions as it seeped into the women that if this newspaper had to have a long life it must encompass their identity, their politics and ideological standpoint. It was a breakthrough because the Dakiya (postman) is never a woman and neither is the reported who writes or covers the news. It was breaking norms because in the village the postman delivers letters and gets news, the challenge was to establish the identity that the one who gathers and distributes information is a woman.
B: At that point of time what were the other names that was proposed or considered?
M: Well a lot of women did not get concept, so there was a bunch of funny names. And some were very cliché names like Mahilayon ka Patrika or Humara Akhbar…
R: There were ones like shashaktikaran, as they were part of the programme they were so attached to the environment names like this also popped up. There were many funny ones. It was a long time ago; I don't even remember them too well. There were 25 women and they had to suggest one name and write it on a piece of paper so then the process of short listing began. From the twenty-five we came down to eight, from eight to two. And finally we voted for Mahila Dakiya and so did the one who suggested. So Mahila Dakiya was finalized.
B: So Malini was Khabar Lahariya's name also finalized in this process?
M: Yes, though it was not such a rigorous process. We all sat together and discussed conceptually specifics about the identity Khabar Lahariya had to have.
B: Can you just say it in a complete sentence then will edit that part and get the complete picture?
M: Khabar Lahariya's name was also finalized in a similar manner. At that point of time there was a shift that came about. For the previous one from the name Mahila Dakiya the people in villages who were the readers thought that it was meant for women. For Khabar Lahariya we thought we wanted to create a homogenous identity for the newspaper.
R: Also for the newspiece that would be published had a long process. Everyone thought whatever they had written needed to be published; now we used to have discussions about why and why not. If you see the first issue you will see there are these news items that are directly related to their work and there are also pieces that take their thought process forward with furtherance in information.
At that point of time they were all trained hand pump mechanics. As you can see there are illustrations all over (camera focuses on the issue) but the story that accompanies it is the most important because they were women of lower castes. Now when they would go to the villages near the hand pump of the zamindars it used to really dirty and filthy. The zamindars would ask them to clean that up. The women thought they had come to the place as mechanics and not women of the Koli-Chamar caste (a very low caste who are treated almost as untouchables). Now that experience had changed them because they challenged their caste identity with the newly acquired skill. That story they have depicted here through illustrations like a comic strip. (Camera focuses on the newspaper).They also had to say their story, as it was the first issue we thought of writing the objective behind the publication in the editorial. There was also write ups on how after literacy and engaging themselves with the programme their lives have changed. So, several shades of their passion were expressed in the publication.
M: (Pointing towards an illustration on the newspaper) This was a survey on how may functional hand pumps existed…. Renuka you remember how we dealt with the concept of editorial and tried to explain it to the women through several workshops?
R: Yes the fact that it is not just news but it entails everyone's stories, they can speak their minds, about their thoughts, to understand that concept they took a lot of time. They could not understand that they could write whatever the thoughts they identified themselves with. So we had series of workshops for them to imbibe the concept.
M: Yes the fact that they could have an opinion and could express their thoughts about the society, societal norms, politics, the fact that they had the ability to comment and critique it and that there would be readers for it and it would be given due importance that was an empowering feeling for them. I also remember the constant gap between writing and speaking….
R: Yes the culture itself is like that in that context
M: When we would question them on a write up that something is not clear, they would say, 'oh we will explain it to the readers'. The fact, that the newspaper has its own life, to understand that they took some time.
R: The fact that something can be explained completely in a precise manner, that took a lot of time. Also somewhere in their minds they had the feeling that the privileged and the rich is entitled to education. So, all the intellectual stuff was the rich man's forte. The poor in no way could be knowledgeable. But the fact thet their knowledge could be published through Mahila Dakiya that took them a long time to come to terms with.
national institute of adult education
Malini and Renuka who have been associated with Nirantar (Resource Centre for Gender and Education that started Khabar Lahariya - http://www.nirantar.net/
share with Bishakha the socio-economic context in which Khabar Lahariya was born. They also share details about the evolution of the idea of starting a rural newspaper run by women.