INDIA. Delhi: In January 2021, Meena Kotwal launched a digital newspaper focused on issues of marginalised and unprivileged people around India. The Mooknayak ensures ground reports and enables opportunities for news reporters to work independently without any political pressure. The 32-year-old, who runs a digital newspaper called The Mooknayak, or “leader of the voiceless”, belongs to the “untouchable” caste of Dalit. Kotwal decided to strike out on her own after a few years reporting for National Dastak and BBC Hindi, armed with an M.Phil in mass communication from Lucknow University. After a farewell with BBC Hindi, Kotwal said she kept quiet. But eventually voiced her concerns. “Newsrooms are similar, the same type of people.”
Dalit issues do not get due to weightage, nor are Dalits represented, nor is space conceded to Bahujan reporters, “their curse-words are built on us”, Kotwal said. “Once you are past the fear of losing your job, you speak. And who will give me a job? First is the caste. On top of that, ‘vocal’.
Enabling journalism opportunities for common people
40-year-old Najir Hussain who runs his vegetable shop in the Bichhor, Chittorgarh city in Rajasthan of India became one of the powerful voices of Marginalised people after joining the´The Mooknayak´.
As per the report by Twocircles.net, Najir said nobody responded to him, considering he did not have an equivalent journalism degree and had no prior experience in the industry. However, in September 2021, Meena Kotwal, the founder of The Mooknayak, wrote back to him asking him to submit some reports to evaluate his work.
A tweet shared by Meena Kotwal about Hussain’s story became viral on Twitter.
Everyone in the village calls Najir Hussain “Mooknayak vala Najir” (Najir of Mooknayak). “It makes me feel proud to be addressed like this. My family supported me a lot. I feel proud when people call me ‘Mooknayak vala Najir.’ It is all because of Meena Katwal,” he said.
Najir has done more than 20 reports for The Mooknayak in the last six months. It was not easy to become a journalist. “I used to circulate newspapers in my village. I never thought, the dream of having my by-lines in those newspapers will become reality in such quick time,” Najir said.
As per the report by The Quint, Indian Journalist and founder of The Mooknayak, Meena Kotwal has been facing a relentless barrage of death threats ever since she posted a video on social media of her burning the Manusmriti since December 2021. She claims that those making the threat calls identified themselves as members of some political ideology.
Kotwal had posted the video on the occasion of “Manusmriti Dahan Divas” (Manusmriti Burning Day) to commemorate Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s allegorical burning of the ancient law document that sustains the caste system in 1927.
While talking to Transcontinental times she told, "They are abusing Dr. B. R Ambedkar, they are abusing me, threatening me. It's become hard to go outside my house. It is easy for them to attack me because I am a Dalit woman and they feel they can do anything to me."
Following a complaint by Kotwal, the Delhi Police have registered an FIR, under provisions of the SC/ST Act and 2 sections of the IPC (criminal intimidation and intention to insult the modesty of a woman).
While going through all these threats, The Mooknayak, is actively focusing on real ground issues and enabling more opportunities for needy reporters around India.
A tweet shared by The Mooknayak about a degree is not required to become a journalist.
.@The_Mooknayak में पत्रकार बनने के लिए डिग्री की जरूरत नहीं है। वंचित/शोषित/पीड़ितों का दर्द जो अच्छे से दिखा सके वह हमारे लिए पत्रकार है👇— The Mooknayak (@The_Mooknayak) January 28, 2022
हमारे पास कोई टूल नहीं है कि किसी शख्स का सोशल मीडिया खंगाल सके, छोटी टीम है तो वक्त भी नहीं होता। पीड़ित को प्राथमिकता देना हमारा मकसद है pic.twitter.com/pkMvuh2vMV
Watch exclusive interview of Meena Kotwal