KHABAR LAHARIYA’ OR ‘WRITING WITH FIRE’: WHOSE STORY IT REALLY IS?
On October 22, 2022, UW graduate student Anjali Yadav (Asian Languages & Literature) organized a panel at the Annual Conference on South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Panel discussed the Oscar nominated documentary ‘Writing with Fire’ which depicts the journey of women journalists from a marginal caste group who run the ‘Khabar Lahariya’ newspaper in rural Uttar Pradesh, India. The panel engaged in debates around the gaze, hero-building, and misrepresentation of social actors in the documentary.
Read on as Anjali shares more about the theme of the discussion and her experience of being part of Annual Conference of South Asia.
SA: Please tell us more about the theme of the panel?
AY: The panel closely read and analyzed the documentary, ‘Writing with Fire’, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh. Writing with Fire follows the professional and personal life of a Dalit-women led journalistic group and their now digital newspaper called ‘Khabar Lahariya’ in Bundelkhand. They identify their work exclusively with rural media and journalism. The documentary garnered appreciation from every critical sphere and was then nominated for the Academy Award in the category of best documentary film. But right after the Oscar nomination, ‘Khabar Lahariya’ issued a public statement accusing the documentary of selectively representing their journalism. The roundtable engaged in debates around the gaze, hero-building, language politics, and misrepresentation of social actors in the documentary.
SA: What are the topics presenters explored?
AY: The participants started with the role of education in the Dalit caste group’s social emancipation and its limitations. The discussion deepened with situating the Dalit women journalism historically and then moving on to the debate of gaze, hero-building, and misrepresentation. I was grateful to have Prof. Shailaja Paik as a Chair who has worked extensively on the issues of Dalit women and caste in Maharashtra. Her expertise held the discussion together. Prof. Ramnarayan Rawat shared his insights on women journalism, Dalit politics, and print. Anup Hiwrale spoke about the complex role of education in Dalits’ caste-based discrimination and how the documentary has dealt with this complexity. Amaal Akhtar talked about unrealistic hero-building of the actors in the documentary and the politics of gaze and power imbalance in the documentary. Whereas I talked about the misrepresentation of Khabar Lahariya’s work and themselves in the documentary. I also spoke about the politics of “building bridges” for having allies in the Dalit-women caste and gender struggle. The panel as a whole touched on the politics of language and how Khabar Lahariya navigates through it.
“This conference has provided me an opportunity to connect to the larger academic community of scholars to learn and share my work. I could meet and introduce myself to students and professors in the field of South Asian Studies and South Asian Religions from US universities. Personally, I feel that I have learned a lot from formal and informal sharing of thoughts.”- Anup Hiwrale, MA Comparative Religion
Organizer – Anjali Yadav (PhD Asian L & L)
Chair – Shailaja Paik, Associate Professor of History, University of Cincinnati
Prof. Ramnarayan Rawat (University of Delaware)
Anjali Yadav (PhD Asian L & L)
Amaal Akhtar (PhD History)
Anup Hiwrale (MA Comparative Religion)