Many specific issues were successfully addressed through concerted media campaigns. For instance, soon after its launch in October 1994, Charkha created quite a stir with its media campaign on Cerebral Malaria Deaths in Rajasthan. Most deaths which were in remote areas had gone unreported. After Charkha provided background information to media persons, organizing press conferences and placing well-researched articles in The Hindu, The Times of India, Pioneer, Rajasthan Patrika, Jansatta and others, the then Prime Minister called for high level meetings and action.
Similar was the case of the profitable co-operative run by the tribal fishermen at the Tawa Dam in Kesla block of Hoshangabad district, Madhya Pradesh. Although the unlettered, traditional fishermen had generated a profit during their five year lease period, the government was reluctant to renew their lease. In December 2001, the fishermen organized a two day meet to fight for their right; and Charkha highlighted their struggle through the mainstream media. The government was forced to reconsider and the fishermen’s livelihoods were protected.
In Angada block of Ranchi District of Jharkhand in 2004, the broadcast of radio episodes in the tribal dialect of Panchpargania covering local issues of education and infrastructure resulted in teachers returning to school and electricity being restored. It brought a visible and fundamental change in the way rural marginalized communities viewed their role in the development processes.
After the Charkha team had raised the serious issue of absence of drinking water supply in Government Secondary School, Karmatang, Mayabunder in North Andaman District in mid-2008, the Deputy Commissioner of the district visited the school and issued immediate instructions for the construction of a water tank in the school compound, which was complied with soon after. The Andaman Eco Network facilitated by Charkha has provided the school authorities with a platform and opportunity to present their issues to the State Administration directly.
An instance of the power of the print medium to make a difference in the lives of communities was illustrated by an article written by a Charkha Staff in September 2009 with inputs from a Workshop participant. A pond’s ghat in a village in Sitamarhi District in North Bihar used for ceremonies by the Hindu families in the region was causing degradation to the bank and therefore, loss of land to a Muslim graveyard adjacent to the pond. Local efforts to fence the area had been unsuccessful, causing some friction between the two communities on communal lines. The article on the matter, recommending the construction of a concrete wall to stem the damage, was published in local newspapers, leading the District Government officials to visit the site the same evening and promise resources to build a permanent fence. This averted a potential situation of communal conflict, reinstating harmony among the families who have co-existed peacefully for many decades.
An Abilities Mela facilitated by Charkha in September 2009 in Leh, Ladakh, and an opportunity at a Charkha’s Founders Day function in December 2009 gave a platform for visibility and networking to People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR), a Leh-based organization working on Disability issues. Recognition for their charismatic leader, the disabled and unlettered Md Iqbal, won him the CNN-IBN Real Heroes Award in March 2009, which gave a crucial fillip to their work and helped generate partnerships with other Civil Society Organizations.
In Karihama Village of Kralpora Block in the border district of Kupwara District in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, Posha Begum, a young widow, supports her family of three children single-handedly after her husband was killed by a stray bullet. Her eldest son, a boy of 15, needed urgent eye treatment and she received no help from her relatives. In February 2010, she approached the Resource Centre at Kupwara run by Charkha’s Srinagar-based partner, HELP Foundation, where she received help and guidance to successfully avail of the financial benefits by the State Government’s Social Welfare Department.
In March 2010, two articles – one on an economically disadvantaged family in Lolab Block and another on the flood-prone villages in Kralpora Block – written by participants of the Skill Building Sessions at Kupwara, J&K and published through Charkha Feature Service in Srinagar-based Urdu publications, stimulated responses from the local administration to take appropriate action; and from concerned individuals who expressed their desire to lend support to the deprived family.
Charkha’s initiatives have brought together rural youth from different States who now have a deeper understanding of the development issues of their people and are keen to contribute to the empowerment processes whereby there is increased participation of rural people in locally sustained development through informed decision making.
Across states, many participants have started writing regularly for local newspapers. Two participants from Bihar, for instance, receive regular assignments from local newspapers and one has even been given a Press Card to establish his identity as a journalist. Another now reports regularly for a Nepal-based radio channel just across the border from Sitamarhi District!