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Empowering marginalized voices
Charkha Development Communication Network has been connecting unheard voices from the margins to the mainstream media for last 15 years, writes MD.Ali
Posted/Updated Saturday, May 08 14:56:43, 2010

Charkha Development Communication Network, a non-governmental organization, won a special award for "Best Feature Service" (Gender Issues) under the UNFPA-Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity 2009-10 (Northern and Eastern Region) in April 2010.


The organization has been connecting issues of the rural marginalized communities to the media for last 15 years. Instituted by Population First, the award recognized efforts of Charkha's Trilingual Feature Service in Hindi, English and Urdu to provide journalistic focus on a variety of gender issues across states in multiple languages.


The impact that Charkha has made in bringing about positive changes in the lives of people on the ground is quite clear from this award. Mainstream media talks about Jammu and Kashmir only if there is a militant attack in the state. Consequently there is a plethora of problems and issues like the effects of the ongoing armed conflict on women, disabled rights and the problems faced by the youth of J&K, which are equally important, don't get media attention and therefore no body tries to solve them also.


But Charkha Development Communication Network, through a period of time has enabled the marginalized voices from the state to express their problems in the mainstream media. Afsana Rashid is a Charkha writer, a journalist and also a social activist from Jammu and Kashmir, who has written and reported extensively on the effects of the on going armed conflict on the women of J&K, an issue which hardly sees the light of the day. She got an award "Best Web Articles' (English) for her continued portrayal of women affected by the armed conflict in Kashmir under the UNFPA-Laadli Media Awards.


She is also the author of 'Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half Widows', a book that addresses the plight of many women whose husbands have been subjected to enforced disappearance or custodial killings over the past two decades of Kashmir's conflict.


Afsana with her friend, Jahangir Rashid Malik started a magazine 'Reality Bites' in July 2009. These days besides running 'Reality Bites', she also works with The Chandigarh Tribune, the English daily.


The Hoot talked to her on phone. She said that 'first of all being a woman in a conflict area is difficult. On top of that, being a journalist also and writing on women's issues is very difficult.'


Talking about what it is like to be a woman journalist writing about women's issues, she said, 'as a woman journalist you have to create a space for yourself in an essentially male dominated profession and then you have to maintain that space which is indeed a very difficult task. Besides you won't get appreciation for your work from your colleagues.'


Talking about 'Reality Bites' she said that 'we started this magazine because we felt that because of the on going  armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, issues related to health, disabled right, environment and issues related to  people on the  ground, are not being covered by the mainstream media. And then there was a space for this kind of journalism.'


On Charkha she said that 'thanks to Charkha for providing me a platform and encouraging and appreciating my work. It's only because of Charkha that I have written many article which have been used by 120 websites across the world.'

The Jihadis abduct and rape young girls in Jammu but the mainstream media has rarely covered this issue. An article on this issue by Deepika Thussoo who is also from J&K and is a Charkha writer, bagged the 'Best Opinion-Editorial (English)'


Nusrat Ara, a social activist from J&K was selected for the "Best News Feature (Urdu) for her article' Kashmir ki Rubina Tabassum" on a young woman entrepreneur breaking out of a male-dominated society.


Drug abuse is a widespread problem among the youths in J&K, but media had hardly covered this issue. Tanveen Kousa, a Charkha writer and a local journalist has worked extensively on this issue which made the mainstream media cover this problem.


Rinchen Dolma, a writer from Ladakh wrote an article on how media is simply non-existent in Ladakh. She argued that media has not survived in Ladakh because the society in Ladakh doesn't tolerate criticism and any attempt to question the status quo by any media organization is quashed by the dominant group.


Shankar Ghose, president, Charkha Development Communication Network told The Hoot that 'Charkha is focused on the underprivileged whose cause often remains unheard and it uses various tools of communication to empowerment them.' Charkha selects rural journalists, grassroots activists, women activists, from a region which is hardly covered by the mainstream media.

Charkha has two areas of focus: Development in Areas of Conflict and Distant Areas Programme. These days it has selected Ladakh and Andaman and Nicobar Island under distant areas programme and Jammu and Kashmir and Chhatisgarh under development in areas of conflict.


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

All the articles are on developmental issues which are usually not covered by the mainstream media in that particular region. For instance the articles from J&K are related to problem of drug among the youth, climate change, health, situation of disabled and the effects of the ongoing arms conflict on the women of the state. In the same manner the articles coming from Chhatisgarh are related to issues like climate change, water related problems, pathetic situation of tribals in the state and the corruption done by the state officials in the money granted to self-help groups.



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