Thursday, February 14, 2008
A people’s journalist
Dayamani Barla says that there are two paths in life. There’s the easy path that is all about an individual’s own benefits and the path filled with struggle. It benefits the society.
“You can see in history that only those people who have made a change, left a mark on society, have taken the hard way,” Barla said.
Sometimes it takes Dayamani Barla three days to collect news at a village and return. She must cover her own transportation, food and lodging costs – spending a hundred times more what she earns for providing news in Prabhat Khabhar newspaper.
“The reason why I got into journalism [was] to get the voice of the people out,” Barla said in an interview with AsiaMedia. “If you’re thinking of change, you have to deal with these issues and not run away.”
Barla describes rural journalism as “full of sour experiences.” Newsgathering can be difficult because the stories she seeks out are often ones that powerful people and advertisers don’t want told.
Her home state of Jharkhand is rich in natural resources such as iron, coal, copper and wood. The abundance of resources has led the government and corporations to displace adivasis (tribals), who have lived and cultivated the land for centuries.
Although media in India is thriving and speech goes generally uncensored, the plight of the adivasis still goes unheard. Barla says local and national newspapers and channels are owned by the rich. And because most journalists in India come from middle class background they cannot easily relate to the issues of poor people.
Her case is different. Barla’s father was cheated of his property because he could not read and lacked paperwork to show his entitlement to the land. Barla said the adivasis assumed that centuries of living on and cultivating the land was sufficient enough proof.
Her father became a servant in a city, and her mother a maid. Barla remained in school in Jharkhand but worked as agricultural labourer while she was studying in upper primary.
“All through life, I saw how illiteracy was exploited by people. I focused on education to fight exploitation,” said Barla.
To continue her education through secondary school, she moved to Ranchi and worked as a maid.
As a woman, she had to overcome her family’s misgivings about working as a journalist. She continues to struggle against widespread prejudice against women in the media industry, not to mention harassment she faces in crowded buses and villages.
“You have to give away comforts in life as a woman journalist,” Barla warned.
Barla owns and runs a teashop that effectively supports her journalistic desire. She has chosen the business consciously because teashops are gathering places where social issues are discussed.
She is also an activist with the Koel-Karo movement, a group working to gain compensation for people displaced by the Narmada river dams in her home state.
Although sometimes skepticism creeps in, Barla believes that reporting on rural issues definitely leaves an impact on society and government. She has herself seen the change.
Tribal communities are coming together to fight for their rights. Government has not only passed Right to Information Act, but is also being forced to adhere to it.
Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.