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 activities.


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.


The road ahead

The road which leads to Marha, a small village about 14 kms from the remote town of Bafliaz in Poonch District, is not really what city dwellers would refer to as a road. But ask the locals and they can’t thank the authorities – and Charkha – enough for that road.

Noor-i-Ilahi, a Charkha writer, wrote about the plight of villagers who had to walk several hours to reach Bafliaz and then take a vehicle to Poonch town. Scores of children used the rocky path to go to school. After Noor’s story was published, the authorities swiftly acted on the issue and the road was constructed,easing the access for hundreds of residents.

Bridging the gap

As you head from Village Marha to go to the village of Hill Kaka in District Poonch, at least three-and-a-half hour on foot, you come across a bridge. The bridge is situated at a picturesque locale with a beautiful stream flowing, mountains all around.

Till a few years ago, however, this beautiful stretch was considered dangerous terrain. With no bridge in place, people had to cross the stream and during rains, the stream flows at a dangerous speed. Several lives, including those of children, were lost while crossing the stream.

Charkha writers wrote several articles drawing the attention of the authorities to this issue neglected for many years. Articles were published in newspapers like Daily Udaan and Chattanas Charkha Features. The authorities finally took note and a bridge was constructed to enable people go about their lives normally. It still remains an arduous terrain to trek through, but the bridge is a small yet significant step in bringing about safe passage for the locals.

A brave girl

From a considerable distance, Shaheen’s house in Village Noona Bandi near Poonch town looks like any of the homes that dot the beautiful landscape of the mountains in Poonch. It is a happy family– father, mother, children and a cute little mongrel that playfully runs around the house. But there is a tale of sadness that lurks in this particular home.

A couple of years ago, Shaheen, then 10, went to play with her two brothers and sister. Little did her parents know that it would be one of the most tragic days of their lives. Little Shaheen steppedon a landmine and although she survived the blast, she lost her left arm and more than 70 per cent vision in her eyes. Her siblings were fortunate not to get disabled but live with respiratory and heart conditions.

Shaheen’s father knocked on several doors –including the government and the security forces – to get some help for his daughter, but to no avail. Charkha writer Nazam Mir wrote about the family. After reading Nazam’s story, the government officials immediately acted on the issue and started a monthly pension for Shaheen. The pension came as a huge relief to the family and while Shaheen still lives with the disability, she makes an effort to go about her life as usual. Adversity sometimes brings out the true spirit of some, and Shaheen and her family are an example of not giving up.

A bridge too far

When a Charkha team visited Shumaryal village in the border district of Kupwara in the Kashmir Valley, they had a tough time crossing a wide stream. The historically underdeveloped area has moved locals to use tree logs and wooden planks to construct a makeshift bridge. During floods, the situation was even worse and people – including little children – were putting their lives at risk. A few instances of casualties had struck fear in the hearts of all residents.

During a field visit – a part of Charkha’s Writing Workshop – local participants had a first hand experience of the danger residents had to face on a day-to-day basis. Basheer Ahmed Peer, a Charkha writer, took the initiative to draw the attention of the authorities to the high risk. In June 2011, various leading daily newspapers published this article through Charkha’s Feature Service. Soon after the article was published, a bridge was built, preventing further casualties and creating a safe passage for the locals.

Amenities and more

“Teacher, may I please go to the toilet?” is every student’s favorite – and sometimes genuine – excuse to move out of the class for a brief while. But imagine going to a school that doesn’t have a toilet at all. One such school was in Village Salotri. The middle school was like most government schools – barely functional. While children were fed mid-day meals on time and most teachers do come for the lessons, there was no toilet. Tilltwo Charkha writers intervened and got a functioning toilet constructed.

TazeemAkhtar, one of Charkha’s women writers, wrote an article on the issue. Little was done after that article was published. Anees –ul – Haque, another Charkha writer then wrote again about the issue. A few days after the article was published, the authorities acted on the issue and a functional toilet was made in the school, much to the relief of the 90-odd children that attend the school.

Adversity meets hope

Life in conflict areas is extremely tough and it’s tougher if you’re a person of limited means. One such woman is Muneeza Bi, a widow living in Potha, Surankot in Poonch District – undoubtedly one of the most backward districts in the state. After her husband died, she had to go through extreme difficulties and had to resort to begging for her survival.

SayedEjazulHaqBukhari, a Charkha writer who first participated in the Skill Building Workshop in August 2013, chose to learn from the exercise where they were taught how they can help the intended beneficiaries by providing them information related to Social Welfare Schemes. Soon after the workshop, Ejaz met Muneeza Bi and helped her obtain the benefit of the Widow Pension Scheme offered by the government.

This act not only strengthened Moneeza Bi’s trust in the government but also helped government officials, by highlighting her case, reach out to people who spend their lives in ignorance of their entitlements.

Since that case, Ejaz has submitted several applications on behalf of people who can’t help themselves – be it for their Handicapped Certificates or other important documents. Like Moneeza Bi, others have benefited from Ejaz’s efforts and Charkha’s initiatives.

Health is wealth

There are certain things that most of us take for granted. For instance, a doctor or hospital is almost a call away. But things are certainly very different in areas like Poonch. District. Salotri, a village very close to the international border, has a Primary Health Centre where locals come to avail medical facilities. However, when Basharat, a Charkha writer, visited the PHC in Salotri, he found that the medicine cabinets were virtually empty. The doctor on duty was unaware of when the supplies would come.

Basharat wrote an article in a local newspaper on the issue of inadequate stock of medicines at the PHC. He later gave a copy of the article to the Chief Medical Officer, Poonch district. The CMO visited the PHC in Salotri and ensured that medicines were made readily available thereafter.

Basharat’s efforts through another article resulted in an ambulance service being made available in Manghnar village of Poonch district. The local hospital at Manghnar didn’t have an ambulance, which meant that people from nearby villages either had to ferry patients using public transport – which is expensive – or carry them on two-wheelers. Many lives were lost as the patients couldn’t make it to the hospital on time. The ambulance service is now fully operational in the area.

Kupwara, Kashmir Valley

Writing Workshops in 2009 in the remote district at the border of the Kashmir Valley inspired local youth to create and put up Wall Magazines with information on government schemes for widows, disabled and other disadvantaged sections. Posha Begum of Karihama Village in Kupwara District heard about it from a local shopkeeper. After a stray bullet that killed her husband, she was left to tend to her family of three children. The eldest, a boy of 15, needed eye treatment and she had received no support from indifferent relatives. She approached the local team for help and successfully received the long-pending funds entitled to her by the Social Welfare Department of the District.

The Information Networks thus created also benefited many disadvantaged households, like the family of the late Abdul Ghaffar, a cobbler, whose family, comprising three differently abled youth, were left to fend for themselves after the death of both parents. In 2010, they received assistance due to the efforts of the youth who were part of the Charkha initiative. Efforts were also being made to help the three siblings obtain their Disability Pension.


Jharkhand’s Waterman

Shyamal Chaudhry’s story borders on the awe-inspiring. A man frustrated with lack of support and help from the authorities took on the challenge of making his own source of water. Chaudhry, 67, single-handedly dug a pond for 14 years to meet the irrigation needs of his fields.

The pond now serves as a welcome source of relief and irrigation to the local communities. People ridiculed him when he started digging this pond but he was determined to soldier on. The pond, 100 x 100 meters in dimension and 22 feet deep, helped Chaudhry take care of his irrigation needs. Chaudhry owns nine bighas of land where he grows fruits and vegetables. In the pond, he has started fish farming as well. Recently, Chaudhry has been doing the rounds of government offices yet again: this time, for a boundary wall around his pond.

Charka Features carried a story on Chaudhry for the first time in 2012. Since then, Chaudhry has been felicitated by the state government as well as other bodies. Scientists have visited him to understand how he went about taking on this herculean task. Chaudhry is also now considered an authority on soil and irrigation in and around the local villages.

Jharkhand Radio

In July 2004, Charkha began work on its pilot community radio initiative in Angada block of Ranchi District in Jharkhand. It used the platform of All India Radio to air programs produced by the local – mainly Dalit – community, entirely designed and conceptualized by them.

The program called ‘Pechuwail Man KeSwar’ (Voices of the Marginalized) was a half-hour show in the local dialectPanch Parganiya aired every Sunday at 6.30 p.m, a time identified by the community as the most appropriate when the community had finished chores and was able to fully participate. Expressed through issue-based plays, folk songs, development news and discussions, the initiative made the residents not only socially aware but has also made them confident enough to take their local issues and challenges to the concerned officials. It ran from October 2004 till April 2005.

It proved to have a commendable impact, with the authorities beginning to take action on issues highlighted, like road construction and functioning of village schools. There were instances of girl children being sent to school after hearing about the benefits of educating the girl child.