Every time I go to rural India on an assignment, I end up spending a fair amount of time explaining to some that even though I stay and work in Delhi, I have absolutely no power whatsoever to get them what they want: new tubewells, all-weather roads or a functioning public health centre.
In response, I am always inundated with stories about how block development officers/collectors don’t listen to the demands of villagers, or how clerks merrily siphon off public funds meant for schools, hospitals or anganwadi centres, leaving them without basic facilities for years.
Unfortunately, and the reasons for this are many and have been debated in the media for years, most of these stories go unreported in the ‘national/mainstream media’. And as criticisms of the State’s neglect and economic/social exploitation of the poor and excluded communities remain unvoiced, it takes years to change the ground situation.
“Once you consider the ‘voices’ a human right, which is the ability to express oneself without any restrictions, then there is a need to develop a framework to ensure that they are heard,” says Stalin, a documentary film-maker and human rights activist, who, for years, has been spearheading the movement for community radios in India.
Sitting at Hindustan Times news cafe, Stalin, who is from Gujarat and now stays in Goa, adds: “To ensure that these voices are heard, we need to change the content of the media. And to change that we need to change the people who produce it”. It is with this vision that Stalin and his team at Video Volunteers India (VVI) are training men and women (community correspondents) in under-developed areas to produce news of the area that they come from.
Community correspondents are not citizen journalists. “In most cases, citizen journalists represent themselves and their problems. In community media, the person represents issues of the community she belongs to. Their allegiance is to a larger group of people and interests,” explains Stalin, who has also been at the forefront of the community radio movement in India. “Plus, community media is not designed to reach the mass; it’s by nature hyper local”.
Recently, VVI along with the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme, an initiative of the British government’s Department for International Development, launched the Community Correspondents Network (CCN), a team of 50-odd reporters trained by VVI. These correspondents, armed with flip cameras and trained in social issues, will use videos to highlight local problems and press for change.
Over the next six months, the team will have 50 correspondents (50% are women) and will generate 400 videos. The video content will then be loaded on social media and also be available for news distribution.
The training is divided into three major sections: technical (narrative, sound, light); about socio-political issues (caste, gender, displacement, corruption, legal issues) and, critical thinking. After reports are uploaded on the PACS website, correspondents travel to specifically assigned villages to screen their videos.
Then it is shown to the relevant bureaucrats, and if the issue is addressed, an impact video is made. This is again shared with the public so that others can learn from the process that led to change.
Hopefully, these correspondents will, with their videos, push the wider reality of India into public focus and be the change that they want to see in their communities.