All-women news organization in rural India elated at Oscar nod

An Oscars statuette on display at a screening of the Oscars in Paris, France April 26, 2021. Lewis Joly/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – The pioneering team at an all-women, rural news organization in northern India say they are ecstatic after a documentary film on their crusading reporting, especially around the hardships faced by lower caste communities, won an Oscar nomination on Tuesday.

“Writing with Fire”, a 93-minute film about the women behind the online news outlet “Khabar Lahariya” – meaning News Waves in Hindi – was nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category for this year’s Academy Awards.

“I am so happy. But I can’t express it well,” Meera Devi, a reporter with Khabar Lahariya told Reuters by telephone while she was out reporting on local elections in India’s most populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is where the news outlet is based.

Devi features prominently in the documentary, wading through fields, hitching a bike ride along potholed roads, and recording smartphone videos of villagers as they narrate their issues.

FILE PHOTO: Women walk through a wheat field on their way to cast their votes at a polling station during the second phase of general election in Amroha, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, India, April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Started by a group of women 20 years ago, Khabar Lahariya focuses on women’s and local issues in rural Uttar Pradesh, a land where caste faultlines are sharply drawn and violence against lower-castes is common.

“We are proud that 20 years of our rural reporting and hard work is being appreciated and loved by a global audience; encouraging us to further our women-led grassroots media revolution,” Kavita Devi, one of the co-founders of the organization, said in an email.

Khabar Lahariya operates out of a farmhouse and trains local women to use phones and conduct interviews.

The trailer of the film, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, shows them as they travel on foot and in crowded buses, and learn how to use a mobile phone for the first time.

News of the Oscar nomination drew praise from some in Bollywood, India’s popular Hindi language film industry.

“This feels like a personal victory. Congratulations my fellow Indians! You have made us all a little emotional today,” actor Parineeti Chopra said on Twitter.

Both Ghosh and Thomas could not be reached immediately for comment. The Academy Awards will be announced on March 27 in a televised ceremony.



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