Micro-media: Grassroots get voice with reporters from Unheard India
Anupa Paite, Raju Patina, Mohan Lal Seelu, Ramsakhi Ahiwar and Anita Dhurve are a new tribe of go-getters in their villages which lie obscure on the fringe of the Indian heartland. They are grassroots correspondents – news gatherers – who are using journalism as a tool for social intervention in their micro-environs to address grievances that otherwise land on the deaf ears of the government.
A project, “Community Correspondents Network” with its motto “empower, expose and inspire” – a collaboration between Unheard India and PACS ( A British aid umbrella) – is helping a dedicated band of video volunteers to establish a video journalism and redressal network in some of India’s poorest states.
The network of 50 correspondents has generated several campaigns and online petitions with inputs from states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal on flagship programmes of livelihood, health, nutrition, entitlements, injustice, poverty and inequality.
The correspondents move around with flip cameras and a notebook to document images of social injustice and the state of affairs of government projects in their respective states. They shoot footages, interview people and often back them with narrative texts as explanations. The reporters identify with the source audience — also their target — because the network represents the socially marginalized and excluded marginalized communities.
The milieu of existence and the ethnicity of the reporters are vital in the choice of correspondents for the network. Shabnam is a poor Muslim college graduate from Cholapur village in Varanasi. She changed her life when she joined the video volunteers service – and became an activist overnight.
“”I have been campaigning for a government school in my village after meeting a young woman who wanted to become a teacher but had no access to quality education,” Shabnam explained about her project. The Gandhi Awas Valika Vidyalaya had no teacher in our village,” Shabnam said. The campaign was yielding result.
Shabnam, who has been working as a video journlaist for the last week, is now making a capsule about the Indira Awas Yojana and is mobilsing support for a Anganwadi project for a mother and child welfare centre.
Anuja, a correspondent from Mandla in Madhya Pradesh joined the network four months ago. She has made a capsule on the problems confronting the Anganwadi Project in her village. Anuja says “the anganwadi centres and the health clinics in most villages of India are ill-equipped.”
The reporter says “her villagers did not know how to reach out to the people to connect and move the authority concerned for redressal”.
The capsules are available on the Internet for larger development networks and distribution.
The idea of local community ownership is central to developing community news network in India, says Stalin K,, founder of Unheard India. The absence of the concept of community bonding in the marginalized neighbourhood has been a stumbling block in the way of these fringe groups at the grassroots to consolidate for solutions to the socio-economic problems.
Communities in villages are mired in debates over castes, social conflicts, clash of interest and tardy implementation of welfare projects.
“Smaller communities in India do not get adequate coverage in the media because of the language barrier. We have to work on this together, not just about reporting, but the ideas generated are evidence of the violation to cultivate better impact change and prompt discussion,” Stalin said.
A rough break-up of the community radio networks points to strange dichotomy in the 148 community radio stations 138 are in the cities where the sense of community is not as defined as villages.
“This needs to change. Only 10 radio stations are in rural India,” Stalin observes. The correspondents’ network envisages to fill in the gap between the villagers, local self government platforms and the Panchayati Raj. One of the mandates of the network is to ensure participation of the Panchayati Raj institutions and monitor the implementation of welfare on the ground.
The need for the network was prompted by the fact that “few urban correspondents” were willing to work in the villages. The network thrives on conventional and philanthropy.
Says media activist and watcher Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, “ There are different ways of funding different news organizations without being driven by commercial motives”.
In a milieu where people have become used to getting information and advertisement allocations are shrinking, “it is a challenge to get funds for new ways of investigative journalism”, Thakurta says. “There plenty of non-conventional ways of funding such grassroots news network projects such as these away from mainstream advertising and revenue sources that tell on the content of reportage.”
Grassroots news networks are gaining popularity in the hinterland as a parallel media movement to deliver governance and goods.
Vipul Mudgal, a mediaman-turned-rural news archivist, has created a news database of 30,000 reports of rural interest on an e-platform, “Iam4change”.
“India needs a holistic approach to reportage at the grassroots that should be proactive and engaged to make every arm of the official apparatus push for change on the road to progress,” Mudgal said.
Experts say given the financial slump in the print media, the frugal advertisement kitties , de-centralisation of news content, opening up of the Internet and the penetration of the television to smaller towns and villages, India might soon go the American way, where news has moved from the national to the local.
Micro-reportage is the in-thing in US as media experts feel that news generated at the grassroots takes on national and subsequently international dimensions.