Community Correspondent Amit Topno from Torpa Block, talks about making a video that resulted in lightning conductors being installed in schools across the block. This has potentially saved the lives of 5000 people across 35 villages.
“Jharkhand is a land caught up in a frightful storm. Its people are being whirled around in a storm of starvation, conflict and poverty. I am the headman of my village, Nichitpur, Jharkhand, and I’m tired of seeing my people die.
My village is a small one, bordering the forest. We are mostly an agrarian community. Our history is iconic, our people were core to the Birsa Movement. And yet, today we struggle everyday for a decent means of survival. Our land is gripped by escalating conflict between a draconian state and violent insurgency. Soon after I finished training to be a Community Correspondent, I was elected village headman. A trained journalistic eye for capturing detail added massively to a decade’s worth of experience as a grassroots organizer and leader. I’ve been combining my training & position as a leader amongst my people to change our lives.
I was visiting our village school on some work in early July 2013. I was walking around the grounds, pleased that our children had a school to go to, teachers to teach them, just simply a chance at a better life. I suddenly came across a huge pit that had been dug on the premises. Worried about the safety of the children, I asked some guardians about this, and was told it has been there for a while. It had been dug to place a lightning conductor.
I was quite shocked that the school didn’t have a lightning conductor already, given the raging storms that thrash through our village on a regular basis. So many people have died here, from lightning strikes! I went straight to the headmistress, and what I found out was even more shocking. The money allocated for placing the pole had been transferred to the school account already. She was only waiting for a ‘special permission’ from the District Education Office.
This video was a strange one for me to make. My earlier videos had been about tougher, more complicated & dangerous stories. And yet, here I was, collecting interviews because someone was being ignorant and illogical. When the headmistress began threatening & challenging me about this issue, I just got more determined. She refused to give me an interview on camera. I must admit here, I went slightly against journalistic ethics we had discussed at training, about taking permission before filming. But I knew my audience would understand my compulsion of filming on the sly.
I filmed some interviews of the parents. Now, after more than a year as a Community Correspondent, I wish I had taken more interviews of the children. However, at that time, it seemed adequate. Once the issue video had been edited, I took the projector from our State office & screened the video back to my people. You should have seen them! They were initially confused about what I was going to do, and then, when they saw themselves on the screen, they were simply delighted. I even invited some local journalists from Sadhna News, DD News & ETV Bihar. Over fifty people came to that screening. It was very odd to see myself on screen though; I’ve been working very hard at my piece-to-camera after that screening!
Over 20 people, the local villagers, the journalists I’d invited, everybody, including myself, [sic] we all took turns at approaching the Block Educational Officer (BEO) with this issue. It was surprisingly easy. I screened the video to him & other staff in the office. They were so impressed. I explained to them that me being a Community Correspondent meant that I could now document issues & bring them to their notice for redressal. I felt bad for them, they confessed they have a hard time with their work; they themselves have so many bureaucratic hurdles & corruption to deal with.
The BEO, Mr. Nayak assured me his full support. He was incredible. He immediately wrote to the officer at the District level, informing him that the lightning conductors were going to be installed. For two years our children missed school on stormy days. Today, there are lightning conductors in 50 schools across Torpa Block. Up to 5000 people across 35 villages have benefitted because one headmistress dared me to speak up against her.
My people are always battling poverty, malnutrition, hunger & the state. We have witnessed a million violations that the State and insurgents have committed in the name of ‘development’ & ‘freedom’. Now that I have my camera, I can bridge this gap between the citizens & the State. It’s time for dialogue. I will always be with my people in their battles.”
Article by: Radhika