Local news network in Khirkee

Daneesh Majid | Updated on December 27, 2019

All that matters: Khirkee Voice hopes to bring people together in this Delhi locality   -  IMAGES COURTESY: MALINI KOCHUPILLAI; MAHAVIR SINGH BISHT

Mahavir Singh Bisht, co-founder of Khirkee Voice

Malini Kochupillai, co-founder, Khirkee Voice

Community newspaper Khirkee Voice is a hat tip to a multicultural urban village in New Delhi

The backstreets of Khirkee are crammed with shops, houses, eateries and small businesses. Within this labyrinth — the squalor of which is considered a stain on the swanky South Delhi neighbourhoods that flank it — is a white edifice. It is the office of the Khoj International Artists Association, an organisation for contemporary arts. Copies of Khirkee Voice, a broadsheet published quarterly, can be found at the entrance.

In a little over three years, the community newspaper has become the voice of the multicultural urban village in the heart of the Capital. The newspaper is published in two languages — English and Hindi — and each edition deals with a specific theme.

Two unique features of the quarterly catch the eye. Temperatures in assorted cities — Delhi, Patna, Abidjan, Kabul, Kinshasa, Lagos and Mogadishu — are shown not just through digits, but are accompanied by evocative images. Alongside Kabul’s rainy and cold climate, for instance, is an image of Afghanistan’s erstwhile queen consort Soraya. Just above the weather description in Nigeria is a picture of literary icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The cities on the temperature section is a hat tip to Khirkee’s diverse inhabitants. The village has a sizeable African and Afghan refugee population; hence the weather in Mogadishu is as significant as that of Patna.

Another feature that makes Khirkee Voice stand out from other sedate gazettes is its spunk. The last page of every edition carries a satirical advertisement; a particularly amusing one is of a fictional ‘Make More Money University’ which comes with the tagline — ‘Who needs knowledge when you can buy a degree?’

The recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act foretells an exclusionary scenario for India’s refugee population. The weather section of Khirkee Voice, on the other hand, highlights how African and Afghan refugees coexist with local Indians. It shows Khirkee and Delhi as the chaotic hub of ethnicities they are.

Mahavir Singh Bisht, co-founder and co-editor of Khirkee Voice, quotes Urdu poet Firaaq Gorakhpuri to stress the pluralistic nature of the region. “Sarzameen-e-Hind par aqwaam-e-alam ke Firaaq, qaafile baste gaye, aur Hindustan banta gaya (On the land of Hind, from the nations of the world, caravans kept arriving. And India kept growing),” he says.

That multicultural character forms the ethos of the newspaper too. Hence, there are articles on a Nigerian actor from Khirkee who bagged a part in Aamir Khan’s Dangal and on the Afghan refugee who narrates her journey from Afghanistan through Pakistan to Delhi’s Malviya Nagar, a residential colony abutting Khirkee.

The newspaper was started in mid-2016 at Khoj. Co-founder and urban researcher Malini Kochupillai was already documenting Khirkee’s African community for a photography project. She proposed the newspaper while applying for Khoj’s long-term Coriolis Effect residency that seeks to foster artistic representations of social, historical, economic and cultural aspects of Indo-African ties. Later Bisht came on board, bringing with him his experience in journalism.

The first edition, published in September that year, highlighted the prejudices faced by South Delhi’s African diaspora. Bisht says, “We broke stereotypes when we carried on our front page the image of the Nigerian residents of Khirkee; it showed them as ordinary folks, not the criminals they are often made out to be. We wanted to bring out interesting, overlooked stories that celebrated commonalities between Indians and Africans.”

The copies are distributed by its founders within the neighborhood and by Khoj through a network of galleries, libraries, and art fairs. A veteran newspaper agent distributes 500 copies each of the Hindi and English editions of the journal to readers.

The community-building exercise extends beyond the newspaper, as Khirkee has had an uneasy relationship with its African inhabitants. A midnight raid on their houses in 2017, alongwith charges against the residents of drug peddling and prostitution, was a low point. To quell misconceptions, Khirkee Voice co-hosted a talk show between locals and the African residents two years ago. Many long-held notions — some outlandish, others just curious — were addressed that day. “The African residents responded to questions such as ‘Do you eat animals?’ or ‘How do you like it when you are referred to as a Habshi (a racial pejorative)’,” recalls Bisht. At another session, Afghan women spoke about the harassment they face. “When realities start coming out in the open through the written and spoken word, it helps people to think and reflect,” he adds.

Besides local stories, Khirkee Voice also carries articles from artistes and guest writers. For instance, in an edition on local economies, a German student of economics wrote on how Khirkee’s diversity, local production methods and its people could come together to create sustainable and inclusive cities. In another, a resident of Kolkata paid a poetic tribute to the urban village.

Bringing together local experiences is crucial to the community-building experiment the newspaper is. And keeping up with that sentiment, Bisht and Kochupillai assert they don’t want to helm Khirkee Voice forever. Bisht says, “Giving the local people a newspaper with stories on and about them creates a feeling of pride as well as a sense of ownership. So, we intend to hand over its running to someone from the local people.”

Daneesh Majid is a Hyderabad-based freelance writer

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Published on December 27, 2019
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