All we have is a dream, and quite a few reasons to believe in it. The dream has aptly been named as “Gaon Connection”; the rural newspaper envisaged as the voice of rural people which will soon reach far and wide (weekly 12-page broadsheet to be launched initially in three districts of UP and will also be available online).As for the reasons, the first one is the bare need of creating a system that will hopefully bridge the information gap that exists between the rural India and the urban India; between the laboratories and the land; between the manufacturers and the consumers; and between the policy-makers and the common man. A far-fetched dream, yes, and we are also working towards creating a news wire service that will supply news stories from the villages to the mainstream newspapers across the country to address that need. That’s the true objective of journalism that we want to work for.
The other reason why we want to carry on are our village reporters like Archana and Rekha Gautam, who have endless stories to tell, and the drive to share it with the world. These two girls come all the way to our modest office in Lucknow from a village about 50 kms away. They are now getting hands-on training in rural reporting, and beam with pride when they receive compliments on the story they have just filed. This story was their own idea. “People in our villages have got smart cards made. But they don’t know what to do with it. CHCs are more or less defunct. There is no awareness on health schemes in the villages. We had to talk about this with our people,” they say, filling in details for each-other when either one is at loss of words. They actually traveled across seven villages, traversing several kilometers on their cycles in this sweltering heat; talking to men and women from over 70 families; questioning Asha workers and the ANMs and other community health workers reporting to the nearby CHCs. Rekha sits on the computer and diligently keys in her story word by word while Archana looks on, pointing out typos then and there.
We found a stronger reason in our other set of reporters, who are out and out city-bred kids. Most of them had never been to a village before, like most of the urban youth of this generation, and had no idea about the real picture of the villages. It will take time before they start understanding the policies that are of hardly any worth to the 65% population of the country. But we are hoping that once we get rolling, they will eventually start writing uninhibitedly about discrimination, mismanaged resources and apathy, and everything else they should be writing about; including stories of change, good Samaritans, innovations and development. Getting these stories to you through them is one solid reason why we want to succeed.
The way these reporters are working with very limited resources are another source of inspiration for us. Our photojournalists Shipra and Ishaan use their own DSLR cameras to get some outstanding photos of the ‘gaon’ for the newspaper. Their photographs from the villages are true reflections of their amused astonishment, something I hope they never get over. Bhaskar is trying to figure out how something like a ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ can be a reason of a 2900 crore scam in Uttar Pradesh even though he has a solid proof in his hands – a fake list of beneficiaries who never got the money to build toilets! While the state government is forcing and withdrawing ‘mall and market’ early closure in order to address the prevailing power crisis, Prashant and Saroj are gathering proof of power theft that has become a common, yet conveniently ignored practice across villages and cities.
And they are putting their stories together in an office which is battling with power fluctuations; where work-stations mean a few donated computers assembled in a true ‘jugaad’ style; which is now proudly equipped with an electric kettle, fridge and furniture, all brought in from the Editor-in-chief’s house. The reporters and editors, by the way, also double up as office assistants, drivers, riders and helpers.
Some of the other reasons why we are doing this are - conviction, insanity and an obsessive compulsive disorder of story-telling. We also have a few vacancies for the post of ‘Angel Investors’! Some of the prerequisites for the same have been listed above.