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Being bold: An athlete, a stunt-woman and a newspaper

Tanya Thomas Mumbai | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 07, 2017

Khabar Lahariya , a women’s weekly of UP

Long-distance runner Lalita Babar from Satara   -  The Hindu

Stunt-woman Geeta Tandon

Over the phone, Lalita Babar is still panting, It was nearly 8 pm and Babar had just wrapped up the day’s training at an athletics camp in Bengaluru. “I really need to do well in the athletics championships,” she said. After four years, India is again hosting the Asian Athletics Championships this July in Ranchi. “It’s in India this time, so I’ve got to give it my best.”

It’s been a long and sometimes lonely journey for Babar, a long-distance runner from Satara in Maharashtra. She ran so often through her village’s fields completing errands that they became her training ground. She turned to competing in marathons — she’s won the Mumbai Marathon three times in a row — because the prize money would help her family. But pluck and her determination to make it big made her switch to the 3000m steeplechase at the Rio Olympics, finishing tenth.

“It hasn’t been easy,” Babar said in an interview with BusinessLine. “There were times when I was still in the village, and our neighbours would complain about me being out so late. My father wanted me to give it all up then. But being in competition teaches you a lot and I had decided never to give up. Now I think it’s a little hypocritical that the same neighbours are so proud of my achievements.”

Geeta Tandon says not a month goes by without her injuring some part of her body. But as one of Bollywood’s few stuntwomen, these are scars she wears proudly.

At 15, Tandon’s family got her married to a man nearly a decade older. She survived physical and sexual violence till she ran away from home, her two children in tow, to make a living for herself in Mumbai at 21. “I got into doing stunts by chance. When this was offered to me the first time, I was in no position to say no to a job. And I knew how to ride bikes. I’ve always been a tomboy, so doing stunts came easily.

“Everything else, I learnt on the job.” Despite lacking any real training, Tandon says she’s never been out of work since turning into a stuntwoman in 2009. “I don’t even know the names of many of the movies I work for. Some of these South Indian films have such long names that I can’t pronounce, but they still call me to do stunts.”

Getting pushed to the margins is often the incentive that gives women the courage to fight back. Take Khabar Lahariya, for instance. It’s a weekly newspaper published since 2002 in the local dialects of Uttar Pradesh, reported, designed, produced and sold by rural women. And such women! Often not part of the privileged castes, sometimes Dalit or Muslim or tribal, and most often, newly literate.

Khabar Lahariya’s reporters now shoot, edit and publish videos on their smartphones, picking up stories that even regional papers often miss, standing up for the rights of local communities and women and not giving up when everybody else does.

Shalini Joshi, the Delhi-based co-founder of the paper, said: “If you look at this from the rural UP context, these women report in areas there are barely any female journalists. These are deeply feudal, patriarchal regions where women face high levels of violence. But because the reporting that they do is not influenced by political or corporate pressure, Khabar Lahariya’s journalists are respected and admired by local district administrations.”

The paper’s next challenge is in staying financially viable. Joshi and two others have now founded Chambal Media to license content from the paper to other media organisations and digital content to TV channels. “We used to be a print-only organisation till 2015. Today, we’re digital-first.”

Now, at 32, Geeta Tandon seems to have made peace with her rough start to life. “My biggest worry now is any major injury that can kill my career, like a spinal injury. You can never move again. And I can’t get insurance because insurance companies refuse to give me a policy, they say I choose to live such a risky life.”

Published on March 07, 2017
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