Journalism has the power to give voice to those who are unseen in society. In Writing with Fire, from directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, we see how a group of women in India have found their own voice through their journalistic work. The film won an Audience Award and a Special Jury Award at Sundance.
In 2007 a group of women from the Dalit (“untouchable”) caste in Uttar Pradesh started Khabar Lahaiya (KL), an all women newspaper. Writing with Fire shows us their work as they transition from print to digital. Many of these women are uneducated and the idea of using a smart phone for reporting is a challenge. But they understand their work is important. Often their reporting is the only way stories of abuse of Dalit women may come to light.
The women themselves face prejudice and sexism, even in their own families. This is a society that has many constraints on the roles women can fill. Most of the press in India is made up of upper caste men. Their very presence at press events is a statement of the power they seek to tap into.
Much of the film shows us the stories they cover, whether a rape case that the police don’t care about investigating because the victim is a Dalit woman (and thus, for the police, below caring about), the dangers of cave-ins in illegally operating mines (and the child labor used in them), or covering a state election.
From my perspective, one of the interesting side issues is that a key political power in Uttar Pradesh is the BJP, a fundamentalist Hindu political party. As the KL covers the election, what I noticed is the way religious fundamentalism has worked its way into that political system, and the way it seems to normalize violence in the name of religion. When I look at our own political system, we often see such views becoming more involved here. Religious fundamentalism, whether Hindu or Christian, often leaves no room for people of different beliefs. The dangers of such understandings are evident as we watch it from afar. It is important that we also be wary of its growth around us.
Writing with Fire is available in select theaters
Photos courtesy of Music Box Films.