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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 August 2007, 00:46 GMT 01:46 UK
India's fearless 'untouchable' paper
By Amarnath Tewary
Dumka, Jharkhand

Gaurishankar Rajak with a copy of Din Dalit
Mr Rajak has been bringing out the paper for 21 years (Photos: Prashant Ravi)

Gaurishankar Rajak is a poor, "untouchable" washerman, who barely went to school.

But the sixty-something Dalit from Dumka in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand has published a newspaper every week without fail for the past 21 years, highlighting discrimination against the poor and local corruption.

Mr Rajak's four-page, handwritten Hindi-news Din Dalit is photocopied 100 times and sold to subscribers or pasted onto Dumka's main traffic lights, bus stands and roads.

Din Dalit is not just another small town news sheet - the newspaper is registered with India's Registrar of Newspapers, thanks to the efforts of India's first Dalit President, KR Narayanan, after Mr Rajak wrote to him.

Since its first edition in October 1986, Din Dalit has made a difference to the lives of local people, even helping a resident to secure social security from the authorities after his plight was reported in the paper.

'I was hurt'

Mr Rajak says he decided to bring out the newspaper after he was humiliated by local authorities when he took some people to meet them to help enlist them in a government social security scheme.

"I was very hurt. I approached the local media to highlight the incident but they did not show any interest. So I decided to go ahead and bring out my own newspaper," he says.

Over the years, Din Dalit has run stories on diverse subjects like a local scam in the distribution of specially-made cycles for disabled people, and bungling in a government housing scheme and kerosene oil distribution for the poor.

After washing clothes through the week for a living, Mr Rajak concentrates on bringing out the paper by selecting the news, deciding on the editorial page content and headlining the articles on Sundays.

Gaurishankar Rajak
I don't have money to print the paper
Gaurishankar Rajak
The paper now even boasts a reporter - 45-year-old Ravi Shanker Gupta, who works in a grocery and goes out to collect news when he gets a work break.

On Monday morning, the editor and his intrepid reporter publish 100 copies of Din Dalit - 50 are bought by regular readers, and some are pasted on the walls. Some 25 copies go to government departments.

Mr Rajak says he spends 300 to 350 rupees (about $8) producing the paper.

His wife is less than impressed with his efforts. "He just wastes his time and money every week. I have no idea what he gets by bringing out the paper," says Lakshmi Devi.

But others in Dumka think highly of Mr Rajak's paper.

Ashok Khatri, a disabled man, says he received a 2,000 rupee social security grant from the government, only after Din Dalit wrote about him.

'War against corruption'

Rickshaw puller Dhrub Rai says Din Dalit serves a critical social purpose.

"Rajak has simply waged a war against corruption and social evils here," he says.

Mr Rajak's four sons also support their father's unstinting efforts.

"We feel proud when we see people reading and discussing the issues raised in the paper," says eldest son, Raj Shanker Rajak.

Mr Rajak pastes his newspaper at the local bus stand
Local people read his paper off the walls in Dumka town
And local English-language journalist Brajesh Verma concedes that Din Dalit serves an important purpose.

"It has its own dedicated readership who wait for it every week," he says.

Din Dalit has also begun commenting on larger national issues. A recent piece by Mr Rajak stressed the need to turn the Line of Control - the de facto border separating the disputed region of Kashmir - into a "line of peace".

He has also written a drama on the Kashmir problem and sent it to a state-run television channel to make a serial out of it. He is still waiting for a response.

Mr Rajak's achievement is considerable when you consider the fact that India's 180 million Dalits still remain largely neglected by the authorities.

Officially, caste discrimination was outlawed when India gained independence in 1947.

But Dalits are still often expected to do the most menial jobs. In many villages, they are also prevented from drinking water from wells used by high-caste Hindus.

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