South Central Asia · India
From Barely Educated Young Girl, to Homeless Widow, to Inspiring Activist
Bhan Sahu’s (39) life has been anything but easy. However, eager to change her life and the life of her children, Bhan committed herself to changing the system and ensuring rights for India’s rural and poor. She found a job in an NGO as a paid volunteer. Carrying the youngest child on her back, Bhan would cycle for miles, visiting villages where she would inform villagers of important news within their local and state government. She helped the illiterate villagers access new government plans for poverty elimination and rural employment.
Bhan is committed to holding the government accountable in order to ensure the basic rights of residents of the Chhattisgarh state. In January 2009, Bhan Sahu formed a women’s group called Jurmil Morcha with local tribal and Dalit women. This group works to bring forgotten issues to light, such as non-payment of compensation, forced migration, human trafficking, crop failure due to drought, lack of healthcare, and environmental crimes like drying up of rivers by the miners who overuse water. In order to draw attention to these issues, Bhan organizes rallies, meetings, mass petitions, and hunger strikes. They have traveled to Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan and Karnataka, participating in everything from campaigns fighting for social justice and rural employment to initiatives combating repression and sexual violence.
In addition to her position as founder of Jurmil Morcha, Bhan also works as a civilian reporter. She reports on pressing concerns that are often ignored by larger media outlets. One of these topics included an incident, in which government officials paid villagers working on certain jobsites only half of their wages. Bhan’s report on this issue caught the attention of mainstream national newspapers and shortly after its publishing, over 1,000 workers received the payment they had earned. To date, she continues in her capacity as a civilian journalist. Not only does she write her own blog, but in August 2009, Bhan also started posting “video” reports without any training in order to raise greater awareness on a wide range of issues directly affecting communities of the Chhattisgarh state.
Bringing news to rural, often illiterate, communities can be a difficult task. However, Bhan has found a way to address this problem. With a mobile phone, Bhan visits these villages and shows them how they can access audio reports through their cellular devices. In remote villages that have virtually no access to newspapers or Internet, people are now able to stay informed on the politics and economics of their local and regional governments.