‘When I first wrote the article, I was sure it was worthy of being discarded in the waste bin. Now everyone in my school remembers me. My father and brothers are very proud of me,’ says an excited Shagufta Wani, a school teacher from Khumriyal Village, close to the LoC in the Kashmir Valley, had written an article during the Charkha Writing Workshop on the poor state of windows in the area. The article won the UNFPA-Laadli Award for Gender Sensitivity 2010for its sensitive portrayal of the plight of the widows of the region.’
‘Being associated with Charkha in 2004 was a turning point in my life. After the learnings from those workshops, I started my own organization, Janmat Shodh Sansthan, on the same lines as Charkha. Charkha has been my mentor in my growth as a development writer and activist,’ says a solemn Ashok Singh. He has instituted media awards and fellowships and has developed strong links with the local media to create space for the articles thus generated. He remains committed to using media as a platform to bring about change.
‘I want to thank Charkha for creating such an opportunity for our students – their writings are now being published in various newspapers. The students have shared these published articles with the faculty. In recognition of their efforts and exemplary initiative to speak on behalf of the disadvantaged, we have recognized them with Awards on Independence Day, August 15, 2009. The Skill Building Workshop was very necessary for students of this Girl’s College as most of these girls hail from marginalized villages. As a teacher, it is our duty to encourage them,’said Shri Vidyanath Jha,then-Principal of MRM Girls College, Darbhanga, in a college function shortly after Charkha had conducted writing workshops for the girls who, as per convention, led extremely sheltered lives. With the support of the Principal, the girls travelled to remote parts of the district and wrote about the difficult conditions in which the poor live, particularly in flood-prone areas around the Kosi River.
‘Small steps can become a giant leap,’ is how Nazam Mir sums up his three-year association with Charkha as its Project Coordinator from 2012 to 2015. He understands that change cannot be brought overnight. A resident of Keerni, a village right at the Line of Control in the Jammu region, Nazam graduated from Poonch Degree College despite harrowing experiences of growing up at the volatile border. He’d walk for hours from his village to reach college but such was his dedication that he went on to gain not just the admiration of his peers but also valuable experience of working in the development sector with international NGOs in the area.
‘Charkha has been a friend and guide to turning to, whenever we have been in difficulty. We came into contact with Charkha in 2009 and they helped us organise a meal during the popular annual Ladakh festival. They’ve carried stories about me and PAGIR; showcased our work at different platforms,’ says Mohammed Iqbal, founder-President of PAGIR, a reputed disability rights organization in Leh District of Ladakh. A truly remarkable and inspiring man, Iqbal defies every possible cliché of a severely disabled person. Being officially certified 98% disabled did not stop him from leading the disability movement in this high-altitude mountainous region. He believes that people have misconceived notions that disabled people cannot do anything. PAGIR works to explore and build on the potential of disabled people to bring them into the mainstream; and Charkha has partnered with the group to give their efforts due to visibility through appropriate forms of media.
‘I am a firm believer of the power of words to bring change, especially in remote, backward areas like my village,’ says Noor, one of many social advocates who worked with enthusiasm and diligence to bring change in the lives of the remote villages they grew up in. Noor, then a 21-year-old training to be a religious teacher, attended Charkha’s Writing Workshops in Poonch in 2013. He watched with delight his published writings evoke a prompt response from government officials, leading to a road been constructed to his very remote village within weeks of the article featuring in a prominent local daily.
‘There was a time when I was scared to even speak in front of strangers. But after my association with Charkha and their patient teaching, I can confidently discuss the problems of my village with government officials,’ says a soft-spoken Musarrat, the only woman from the state selected for Charkha’s Rural Fellowship 2014. She heard about Charkha’s initiative through her cousin who had attended a Writing Workshop. A college student herself, she has helped locals in filling forms and arranged for medical camps to be conducted in her village. Her mother’s support helped her to cope with the naysayers who initially doubted her, but now acknowledge her role in bringing improvements in basic services to the village.
Aijaz, a student of a madrassa in Surankote Tehsil, Poonch, has attended three Skill Building Sessions organized by Charkha. He has always been fond of writing but had little understanding of social issues. The sensitivity and awareness he gained at the Charkha Session moved him to do something – and he has written several articles for Charkha since.
By his own admission, he found he was no longer blind to the hardships of people around him. He narrates the experience of going up to a woman he had often seen begging on the streets, curious – now – to find out why she was forced to beg. The woman, Moniza Bi, widow of Abdul Aziz of Village Potha, Surankote, had applied for Government Pension some four years ago but had received nothing so far, hence the recourse to begging.
Aijaz followed up her case with the Social Welfare Office of Surankote Tehsil and successfully obtained for her the entitlement of Old Age Pension for the period January to March 2013. Delighted, he went to her home to hand over the first cheque personally, receiving much gratitude and blessings for his selfless act.
Moniza Bi has now been enrolled for the scheme and is expected to receive this pension regularly. Aijaz attended a Skill Building Session in early October to share his inspiring story and encourage other youth to also work for their communities.
Dilpazeer was the proverbial ‘angry young man’ when we first met him. The teenager was visibly agitated about the injustice was done to his people simply because they hail from a village that takes over six hours (of trekking) to reach from the last motorable road.
Dilpazeer is now a regular participant at the Skill Building Sessions and calls – just as agitated – when his writing has not appeared in print for over ten days after he sent it to the Editorial Team at Charkha.
“For as long as I can remember, I have questioned the poor implementation of government policies that hinder the development of my region: the border district of Poonch in the Jammu region, listed as one of the most backward districts of our country. Also, I have been drawn towards issues that directly or indirectly, affect women, especially those from the community I too hail from: Gujjars. And there are many other issues that I wanted to write about, for I always considered pen to be mightier than sword.
For a long time, I was hesitant and kept my thoughts – and writings – to myself, feeling the need for a mentor and a medium, so as to make an impact. A chance article I read in a local Urdu daily, written by a junior in my college – Government Degree College, Poonch – changed all that. The footnote of the article read Charkha Features. I found that many articles were, in fact, being ublished, most by people I knew in town. I inquired and found that a writing workshop had been conducted in Poonch, and all those articles could be traced to that workshop.
I searched for “Charkha Features” on the internet and got to know about Charkha Development Communication Network. The first thing I did was to send them an email. The response I got was so warm and motivating that I promptly sent them one of my writings. The team at Charkha helped get it published not just in state dailies, but also in one of the most prominent English newspapers, The Daily Pioneer. What followed has completely transformed me. A week-long writing workshop with them not only brushed up my writing skills but enabled me to write confidently on development issues. I learnt to read the human story reflected in a picture. I learnt to listen to the rural and marginalized communities and accurately reflect their perspective in my writings. And, with all the guidance from Charkha, I am sure that it will make a difference.
I have vowed to write on the development issues of my district, and with Charkha as a mentor, I hope to be the change I want to see. Through Charkha, the voice of Poonch will echo in every part of the country, in three different languages English, Hindi and Urdu.
I wish Charkha success in continuing the pace of its work at an accelerated rate!”
Akash Namdeo Sathe is among just a handful of boys who are members of a children’s parliament in Sathe Nagar, in the Mumbai suburban district.
Of the 20 member children’s parliament, nearly 14-15 members are girls.
Why are more boys not members of the parliament? 14-year-old Akash answers: “More girls are present in school, tuition classes and in the children’s parliament. I feel that boys want to play and roam around and are not interested in activities which require thinking and reflection.”