Meera Devi has never settled for what was expected of her – she always aimed higher. Right now, she breaks through many barriers as Chief Reporter of Khabar Lahariya, a newspaper run entirely by Dalit women.
‘When I started as a journalist, everyone objected,’ Meera Devi says at one point in Writing with Fire, the documentary about India’s only all-female newspaper Khabar Lahariya. Although she was married at 14, she never abandoned her desire to develop herself. When her oldest child was born when she was still in school, Devi’s grandmother took care of her. Devi went on to complete her master’s degree in political science and got a degree in teaching. Her husband did not want her to work, ‘but working was important to me’, she says. ‘I did not want to waste my education.’
Meera Devi chooses her own path with a calm resolve. As a Dalit woman, she is used to large-scale discrimination in India’s caste system from which Dalits are excluded. But the opposition came from within her own community as well. ‘In the village, many families discouraged the girls to work [in journalism] because it involves interacting with men in the public as well as no fixed timings,’ she said in an interview. ‘Not only that, journalism was not seen in a positive light by many.’
It was too bad then – for the villagers, that is – that Meera Devi found her calling in journalism. She joined the newspaper Khabar Lahariya (‘waves of news’), established by a group of Dalit women in 2002 in the province Uttar Pradesh. As Devi explained in an interview: ‘Our identity is the feminist perspective we bring about in any story. Be it political, local, or any other news, our coverage aims to shed light on any kind of gender disparity in the issue at hand.’
As Writing With Fire shows, it takes bravery for the newspaper staff to do their work. ‘I have got threats against my life,’ Devi said in an interview. ‘They raise doubts about my reporting and investigate if I’m really a journalist. They intimidate and threaten because they are powerful.’ It’s the unity within the Khabar Lahariya team that gives them the courage to keep going. ‘As women, we are each other’s strength,’ she says. ‘We are an amazing group of friends who share all our joys and sorrows with each other, and not just work-related ones. Our rural reporting through a feminist lens and our unity as a team is our strength.’
Writing with Fire is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2022, where the film team (directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh) will be a special guest.