Breaking the news - The all-girls team of Appan Samachar from Bihar

Patna, April 23 (ANI) On the occasion of 'Bihar Diwas' on March 22, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar unveiled the Women Empowerment Policy that promises opportunities for women to participate in the development agenda.

"The Empowerment Policy released here will provide education and employment opportunities for women in Bihar. It will ensure their participation in political, social and financial progress. The concerned departments will create a work plan according to the policy within a month," promised Nitish Kumar.

Long before this enlightened move, a group of young, enthusiastic women from the remote village of Ramlila Gachi on the banks of the Gandak River in Muzzafarpur District of Bihar had not only designed themselves a plan for their empowerment but had also gone on to execute the plan.

In 2007, a group of young women started a community news programme 'Appan Samachar' (Our News) that covers issues affecting villagers in their everyday life.

"Being a journalist myself, I was curious about the electronic media. In trying to make people from remote areas aware about their own problems, I thought the electronic media would be an attractive way of catching their attention. I wanted to create space for rural issues which otherwise are sidelined by mainstream electronic media," shared Santosh Sarang, a local social activist and journalist who brought the group together.

When the idea was being conceived, it was difficult to convince not only the parents but also the teenage girls themselves, who were unaware of the power of media.

"They are the daughters of farmers and labourers with no expertise in handling a video camera, or writing news script, selecting stories, anchoring or any media-related work. Many were in schools when the programme was started," shares a proud Sarang who has today handed over all responsibilities of the group to the young women.

"They decide what is to go up on the channel - they discuss new story ideas, choose their subjects, shoot and edit," he added.

"Our day starts with identifying and discussing issues that affect the villagers directly. Then we work on them from every angle and create a story idea," says Khushboo Kumari, who was not even fifteen when she joined Appan Samachar in 2007.

Once the story idea was finalized, a group of three-four women would set off along the dusty narrow village lanes on bicycles to interview their own people and shoot their stories, gingerly balancing a handycam, a tripod and a microphone.

The news collated from the field is then compiled together and presented once a week at haats (weekly markets), sometimes shown on a projector, or at other times on video players hired with a large TV set. Ironically, says Amritanj Indivar, coordinator of Appan Samachar, the village has had no electricity and has never had cable television and land phones. The cellphone network reached Ramlila Gachi just a year ago.

"We hire a generator to supply power for the projector and other equipment. The courage these young girls have shown in a village where administration fails in front of crime and criminals clearly shows that these little things do not matter," shares Indivar, who believes that this initiative has also helped change the perception of the village towards girls and women.

Appan Samachar's work is not only limited to covering stories but ensuring impact on ground.

"In the last few years, we have moved from merely covering issues to demanding change on ground. Our team exposed how quality was being compromised while constructing the middle school in the village and screened the video footage at the haat, making the local residents aware of the situation. Soon, action was taken against the builder and the construction restarted only after ensuring the quality of material being used was satisfactory," says Anita Kumari, a reporter, who has a long list of impact stories to share.

The Appan Samachar team has also helped their village make a mark on the international map, with reporters from BBC, German Television and Al Jazeera documenting their work that has been shared all over the national network as well as in global circuits.

It was a small idea that led the girls and their entire team on the path of empowerment, creating an identity for themselves at different levels. While highlighting the voices of the socially marginalized communities, they demanded change in the perception of the same villagers who had rejected their birth in their families as unfortunate. The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that there is much to learn from these inspiring sparks, and use the lessons to design state level policies for women empowerment that are grounded and truly worth reaching for.

The views expressed in the article are those of Aneesul Haq. (ANI)