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Charkha Telling Unheard Stories

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

23 July, 2010

The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is on the focus of national and international media being a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. Mainstream media reports about the state extensively when there are parleys between India and Pakistan for finding a peaceful solution to this festering problem. They also do so when there are terror attacks in the state or there is gross human rights abuse by the Indian security forces.

However, there are a plethora of issues that goes unreported in the media. These are issues like the effects of the ongoing armed conflict on women, problems faced by the youth such as drug abuse, disabled rights etc.

Since these issues don't get media attention no body cares about them let alone try to solve them even they are equally important to the people of that state.

Braving the pulls and pressures of the modern day media, there is an organization that is trying to communicate some untold stories, that connects issues of the rural marginalized communities to the media. These are the voices from the margins of the mainstream media that’s unheard.

Charkha Development Communication Network, a non-governmental organization is engaged in empowering the marginalized voices by running a feature service that’s connects issues of the rural marginalized communities with the mainstream media.

Charkha has made tremendous impact in bringing about positive changes in the lives of people on the ground. This is evident from the fact that they have bagged a special award for "Best Feature Service" (Gender Issues) under the UNFPA-Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity 2009-10.

The award recognized efforts of Charkha's Trilingual Feature Service to provide journalistic focus on a variety of issues across states in multiple languages.

Charkha has two areas of focus: development in areas of conflict and distant areas programme and has selected Ladakh and Andaman and Nicobar Island under distant areas programme and Jammu and Kashmir and Chhatisgarh under development in areas of conflict.

Charkha places around 350 articles on yearly basis in all the three languages, out of which 115 are in English, 143 in Urdu and 92 in Hindi across many publications and portals.

The articles from Jammu and Kashmir are related to problems of drug among the youth, climate change, health, and situation of disabled and the effects of the ongoing arms conflict on the women of the state.

Articles from Chhatisgarh are related to issues like environment, water related problems, condition of tribal, corruption by the state officials in giving money to the self-help groups.

“Charkha is focused on the underprivileged whose cause often remains unheard and it uses various tool of communication to empower them,” says Shankar Ghose, president, Charkha Development Communication Network.

Charkha was started in 1994 by Ghose’s son, Sanjoy Ghose, who was abducted by ULFA militants in 1997 on a work visit to Assam, but has not been heard from since then.

All the articles of Charkha are on developmental issues that are usually not covered by the mainstream media in that particular region. It selects rural journalists, grassroots activists, women activists, from a region which is hardly covered by the mainstream media.

Shankar Ghose a septuagenarian based in New Delhi, works almost seven days a week, holding workshops in rural areas, creating awareness among them to stand up for their rights.

“It’s like an old father following his son’s footsteps, but I enjoy working for people at grass-root levels,” says Ghose who retired from the National Foundation of India (NFI), the outfit that gives grants to non-governmental organizations.

There are many write-ups from Charkha that has won awards and have hogged the limelight of the mainstream media. An article on Jihadis who abduct and rape young girls by Deepika Thussoo from Jammu and Kashmir bagged the “Best Opinion-Editorial (English).”

Similarly, a social activist from the same state, Nusrat Ara was selected for the "Best News Feature (Urdu) for her article” Kashmir ki Rubina Tabassum," a young woman entrepreneur breaking out of a male-dominated society.

A Charkha writer, Tanveen Kousa who is a local journalist and has worked on the issue of drug abuse among the youths, wrote stories about this problem that has found place into the mainstream media.

While the developments in the regions of Jammu and Kashmir find its place in the media, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence about the issues concerning the region of Ladhak.

A Charkha writer, Rinchen Dolma, from Ladakh reported why media fails to flourish in Ladakh. She argues that the close nature of the society doesn't tolerate criticism and any attempt to question the status quo is rebuked by the dominant group there, resulting in non existence of media in Ladakh.

Notwithstanding the facts, the Charkha feature service has added a new dimension to the Indian media that has almost absolved its responsibilities towards highlighting the developmental issues of the country. Charkha seems to be an effort to swim against the current in an infotainment driven media and their service to society is really commendable. More of its activities could be gleaned from its website (www.charkha.org).

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com