By Muhammad Arsalan
Reporting from the Thar Desert by a female journalist was unheard of until a courageous and a daring girl decided to break with the tradition of a male dominated society where women are expected to confine themselves to a few limited professions. In most of the remote regions, women are almost absent in the media as journalism is considered to be strictly a domain of men.
Varkha Pardeep’s story was not different from other girls of the area as she was doing what most other educated women do: teaching at a local school. But, at 22, she wanted to do something nobody had ever done in her community. Just to exercise her right to choose a profession of her own liking regardless of the societal and family pressures.
When she had decided to join PakVoices as a coordinator and a citizen journalist based in Mithi in November last year, she had to face a lot of pressure from her own family to give up any such plans. Her brother had even informed PakVoices without her consent that she could not join PakVoices when she had already accepted the offer letter.
Ensuring equal opportunity for all, PakVoices let Varkha take her time before finally making a decision whether to bow to the pressure from her family or stand up for getting her dream job.
Varkha decided to opt for PakVoices because her heart was in journalism, as she always wanted to report problems facing her community especially the women folks. In her new job, she found the best role as she could highlight those issues close to her heart.
In Sindh province, Tharparkar district is reeling in abject poverty, ranking the district one of the lowest on the development index. Conscious of such pressing issues, Varkha purposely chose the profession where she could face difficult situations: “Reporting became difficult at times, as I was not allowed to go far from the main city (Mithi).”
Being a woman, the cultural and social barriers make it even harder to grow in such restricted environment.
Telling her own story for the first time, Varkha explained how her new job helped her realize her potential, saying, “I have learned many things being part of PakVoices, especially working with communities, highlighting their basic issues and by keeping myself updated with the latest happenings.”
It is hard to work in Tharparkar for a girl where there is no level playing field as men resist fiercely if any girl challenges the conventional wisdom, says Varkha.
She adds, “Journalism is a new but exciting experience and I am learning to adjust to the fast pace of reporting from the field.”
Since joining PakVoices platform, Varkha has reported on issues ranging from social to cultural. Most recently, she reported the deaths of newborn babies from the District Headquarter Hospital, which was nearly unthinkable for any girl in Mithi.
On the question of most memorable story done for PakVoices, she said, “Every story is important but the story on school teachers Bhawna Lodha and Nisha and the plight of their school is close to my heart as I faced many hurdles and resistance when I decided to report their story.”
As she has started her career as a citizen reporter with PakVoices, but one day she aspires to be working for the mainstream media. In the media, she considers Gharida Farooqi, an anchor with Express News, as her role model who had inspired her through her work. Her aim is to become a voice for the voiceless in her own community.
Muhammad Arsalan is working with PakVoices based in Islamabad.
Edited by Hasan Khan