Human Interest

Protagonists of India Oscar-nominated film say portrayal is inaccurate

By Moncho Torres

New Delhi, Mar 25 (EFE).- A documentary film, “Writing with Fire,” about a women-run newspaper in rural India is up for an Oscar on Sunday but far from celebrating it, the protagonists describe the portrayal of their work in the film as “incomplete.”

“When the complete thing doesn’t reach the audience, it remains an incomplete story and it may give a wrong message. Especially (in the documentary), they have one-sided reporting,” Kavita Bundelkhandi, editor-in-chief and one of the co-founders of Khabar Lahariya (Waves of News, in Hindi), told EFE.

The journalist said the newspaper, which completes two decades this year, has always been characterized by its impartial journalism.

It has been close to the problems of rural India, she added.

The editor-in-chief also pointed out that the information disseminated by the newspaper has pushed the authorities to act.

The power to give voice to the most disadvantaged and force the administration to fulfill its responsibilities by bringing electricity or water and paved roads to a village is the central point of the documentary film by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh.

“When we are working as a journalist, we are also fighting to transform our society,” said Meera Devi, one of the three protagonists, who also leads a team of 24 reporters for the newspaper in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The documentary shows the transformation of the outlet from paper to digital despite the challenges some reporters – coming from very poor backgrounds – face in making videos with mobile phones.

Khabar Lahariya remains faithful to its legacy as a grassroots media organization, as shown in its latest report available online.

In it, Meera denounces the ineffectiveness of the authorities in providing assistance to several flood-affected villages, and how the arrival of the journalist becomes their last hope of obtaining justice.

With more than half a million followers on her YouTube channel, co-founder Kavita Bundelkhandi recalled that the outlet’s journey was not easy, given the misconception that rural women would never be able to excel in a profession dominated by “men from the upper caste who are educated.”

Bundelkhandi herself is the best example. She belongs to the Dalit community, the lowest rung of the oppressive Hindu caste hierarchy that is widely prevalent in India, although the reporter stresses the obvious: “Dalits are equal to other people” and “all the castes are equal.”

“If we talk about challenges as a Dalit and women, it was shocking for people to see women in this field. How can women become journalists? Women whom they have seen working as laborers, in the field or in mines, how can these women ask questions? People were not ready to accept it but we stood firm,” she explained.

That it is a newspaper formed by Dalit women is another of the highlights of the documentary, already awarded at festivals around the world including Sundance (United States), DocsMX (Mexico) or Valladolid (Spain).

But the co-founder replied it was not true at all, because theirs is “a very dynamic group.”

The paper’s staff includes people from the lower-castes, higher-castes, Muslim and Adivasi (tribal) community.

“There are women of all kinds, whether it’s the production team or reporters or the management. You cannot change the colorful history that we have, you cannot show it incorrectly. So we feel that we should speak against it and it is our right,” Bundelkhandi said.

She said people treat them as “heroines” and congratulate them after seeing the documentary, but added that credibility is important, and that no one should think that they are partial or commit reckless acts such as those shown in the film.

“Why would we get fame from the documentary? We have already distanced ourselves from it because we do not agree with it,” said the co-founder of the newspaper, whose members continue to receive “a lot of threats” for their work and for whom the iconic golden Oscar statue doesn’t hold much significance. EFE

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