By Amarnath Tewary
BBC News, Muzaffarpur
A community news programme run by village women has been making waves in the northern Indian state of Bihar.
The team cycles to work on their stories Pics: Prashant Ravi
Ever since its launch earlier this month, Appan Samachar (Our News), as the programme is aptly called, has become popular in over a dozen villages in Muzaffarpur district.
The programme is shown once a fortnight. Sometimes it is shown on a projector, other times on hired video players and a large TV set.
The centre of operations is a gloomy room at the remote Ramlila Gachi village on the crime-ridden banks of the Gandak river.
The asbestos roofed room has one table, two chairs, an old portable television and lots of wires on the floor.
Next door is a village 'clinic' manned by a doctor who claims to treat both humans and animals. The village has had no electricity for the last four years, and has never had cable television and land phones. Cell phone network reached Ramlila Gachi just a year ago.
The nearest hospital is 62km away, and the nearest police station is 20km away. Villagers stock illegal firearms at home to defend themselves against the marauding dacoits and kidnappers.
In this bleak lawless boondocks of one of India's poorest states, three young girls and a newly-wed woman cycle around to gather news for their programme.
Carrying a low range Sony Handycam, a tripod and a microphone with the channel logo, they bump along on the dusty narrow village tracks to talk to people and shoot their stories.
Khusboo Kumari is barely 15, but she reads and anchors her 45-minute news programme at breakneck speed.
The programme deals with local issues
Anita Kumari is a little older and she has already made a name for herself in the area with her telegenic personality.
"I choose to do stories on water, electricity problems, farmers' woes, and women issues. We then telecast them in the village market so that everyone can watch and think," she says.
Similarly, young camerawoman Ruby Kumari and script-writer Ruma Devi, who got married recently, go along with their duties professionally.
"We sit down daily to look around for issues that affect directly the villagers. Then we work on them from every angle and then put them on air," they say.
The unique programme is the brainchild of a local social activist, Santosh Sarang.
"I have also been a journalist for five years and I had a curiosity for the electronic medium. So I tried to make people from remote areas aware about their own problems through this channel", he says.
Mr Sarang says the women decide what is going to go up on the channel - they choose stories, subjects, shoot and edit.
The first edition of this fortnightly news programme was broadcast on a projector and featured such issues as witchcraft, empowerment of women, poverty and farm problems.
For their second edition, Appan Samachar chose to do stories on education for the girl child.
Since the village has no electricity or cable, Appan Samachar hires a generator to supply the power for the projector and other equipment.
The programme is run out of a poky room in a remote village
"Soon we will put out programmes every week. We generally put the show on display at bi-weekly local bazaar in the evening where there is more village crowd for its maximum impact and reach," says Mr Sarang.
What about the security of the brave girls working on the programmes?
"We usually request villagers to accompany the girls and have also warned them not to venture out after dusk", he says.
The villagers are excited with the prospect of their faces being displayed and voices heard by one and all in the area.
"Yes, we are very happy as they raise the issue we grapple with daily in our life. We hope it will be shown more frequently and the voices could be heard by the government people also", said Lalbabu Patel, a local villager.
Most of the other villages in the area echo the same sentiment.