In ‘Writing with Fire,’ Dalit Women Redefine What it Means to Be Powerful

The documentary is not just the story of the remarkable women-run media company Khabar Lahariya, but that of India's underserved Dalit communities, of news going digital, of press freedom.

Aseem Chhabra

December 17, 2021

In ‘Writing with Fire,’ Dalit Women Redefine What it Means to Be Powerful
Meera Devi in "Writing with Fire" (Black Ticket Films)

“Journalism is the essence of democracy. When citizens demand their rights, it is us journalists who can take their demands to the government,” Meera Devi, a spirited 30-something journalist at Khabar Lahariya, declares. “The journalists must use this power responsibly. Otherwise, media will become like any other business.”

Meera is the protagonist of the astonishingly powerful documentary Writing with Fire, which explores what the Dalit women of Khabar Lahariya — the only media company run entirely by Dalit women in India since 2002 — must overcome as they operate on the tough terrains of rural Uttar Pradesh, the northern Indian state where patriarchal attitudes prevail. Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, with over 200 million people and the most reported crimes against women, including the second-most reported rape cases. 

Directed by first-time filmmakers Rintu Thomas and Shushmit Ghosh, Writing with Fire has already generated buzz. It won the audience award in the world documentary category earlier this year at Sundance and has won over 20 awards across other international film festivals. 

And it’s easy to see why. The remarkable story of Khabar Lahariya is a stand-in for not just the story of women in India, but that of the Dalit community, of media companies trying to go digital, of working mothers, of press freedom. The 94-minute documentary traverses so much ground because the women of Khabar Lahariya are exceptional in what they do, and also completely relatable — making us root for them and their work.