Holding her phone at arm’s length, a crowd gathered behind her, Amreen Khan speaks into the camera. “Today, I am in Chandpura village,” she says, “where the government is trying to drive out residents from their homes, claiming the land belongs to the state.”
Over the next few minutes, Khan details the story of this village in Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, where she found dozens of people at risk of losing their homes. It is the kind of social injustice that the former nursery school teacher has long wanted to bring to light, but she did not know how. Now, newly graduated from India’s first digital journalism school for rural women, she knows exactly how to do it. “I always wanted to do something to improve the condition of my village. I finally feel like my dreams are coming true.”
Khan, 35, is one of 270 women from villages in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar states who joined a pilot program at Chambal Academy. The academy has sprung from the success of Khabar Lahariya, the rural, female-run news organization that was the subject of award-winning documentary Writing with Fire in 2021.
Khabar Lahariya employs 40 women. With the academy it will reach hundreds more women, teaching reporting skills, and also an awareness of digital security, fake news, social media and how to document the impact of global issues including the climate crisis on their communities.
“We designed Chambal Academy’s training program as an online-only platform to make it accessible to more women, who can do it from home on their mobile phone at their own pace,” says Suneeta Prajapati, 25, coordinator and the face of the academy’s video tutorials in Hindi.
India is the second-largest online market in the world, with half of the projected 900 million active users by 2025 expected to come from rural areas, but women are at a huge disadvantage. According to government data, only 25% of women in rural areas have ever accessed the internet.
Chambal Academy, which officially launches in May, is about tackling that gap, says Priya Thuvassery, director at Chambal Media. “We are not just building reporters but active digital consumers. It is about who has the power to tell stories. Through the academy, we can multiply our work at Khabar Lahariya and replicate this successful business model of storytelling through a gender, feminist and caste lens.”
Before students are trained in writing news stories, the month-long course introduces the role of journalism in a democracy, and gender and caste biases in the media.
“I learned that things that were normalized in our homes are actually discrimination against women,” says Khan, who is now reporting for Khabar Lahariya.
Though her mother was initially opposed to her joining a male-dominated profession, her mother-in-law was supportive, encouraging her to report on issues such as the condition of local schools and gaps in education. “We need more women journalists in the field, so that the female population here is able to speak openly about the problems they face. What we bring to the table is empathy, relatability, a comfort level and a safe space for women to voice their concerns,” Khan says.
Another graduate, Suman Diwakar, 28, from Banda in Uttar Pradesh, agrees: “Men have been telling stories through the male gaze, featuring the voices of powerful men. What about women’s perspectives and how issues affect them differently? Now we have a chance to forefront them through a feminist lens and the change those narratives can bring.”
Diwakar says the training helped her overcome her shyness and gain the confidence she needs to push her way through a crowd to get interviews. “Through the course, I have found immense courage. I am not scared of anyone any more. I may be petite but when I have a mic in hand, I find my voice.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism