“When I joined the IndiaUnheard program, I was a wanderer. My house and community was anywhere where I pursued my activism, where I choose to lay my head for a good night’s sleep,” says community correspondent Ajeet Bahadur. "I used to make my IndiaUnheard videos while travelling from one place to other, from public hearing to protest march. I was the most prolific of my IndiaUnheard comrades. A lot of them were actively involved with rights and other activist work within their communities and when they complained that they didn’t have enough time for making their video, I failed to understand what they meant.”
“The long road may promise much but can it ever teach you what a community can? In the past few months, I have more or less settled down. I am working for one community in one particular area and I believe that I can now understand what my colleagues were talking about. From within my community, from within the place I belong, I can feel and see the relentlessness of the barriers of orthodoxy, caste and gender. I can understand the continuous and repetitive nature of oppression. When someone threatens to barge into my house and cut me and my comrades to pieces, I can sense the violence of the threat.”
“But at the same time I can also understand the need to stay here and fight. I now feel the need for organization, for support, for the people to gather together, to speak out. To work towards change. Struggle against oppression is a process, it is long one and we cannot afford to falter. I need my community. It is they who inspire me. If I was an activist before, I am a better one now.”
It has been 6 months since the last IndiaUnheard camp and for some of our CCs, a lot has changed. Ajeet Bahadur from Lucknow, a community leader and activist has worked in some of the most difficult districts across the North of India. As he spoke of the transitions his life had made, there was an implicit understanding amongst the CCs gathered in the room. Their lives were changing, they had new stories to tell and they needed to find ways to voice them.
Stalin K, the senior trainer and Managing trustee of Video Volunteers had a term that encapsulated the emotion. Video + Activism = Videoactivism. The terse equation forms the basis and the focus of the Third IndiaUnheard Training Camp.
The third IndiaUnheard Training Camp was flagged off under the clear blue morning skies as a motley bunch of Community Correspondents marched up the Anjuna hills for an early morning walk to catch a bird’s eye view of the area from the vantage point at the very top of the cliffs. It was a breezy start to what plans to be a packed, intense and colourful week. The train with our batch of CCs arriving from the north had hit a time snag on account of the heavy monsoon and they would be arriving only towards late afternoon. With the opening session getting postponed by a couple hours, the mood eased into a joyful reverie and the CCs took in the landscape which was a smarting shock of green after being lashed down on by the Goan rains. Today however there was not a cloud in sight. “It’s awesome,” screamed Amol Lalzare, our inimitable Mumbai correspondent from the Sathe Nagar slums as he ran up the slope pausing only when he reached the very top.
When they return, the camp assembled and began in earnest. The community correspondents narrated the stories behind their involvement with the program and their videos. Sunita Kasera from Karuali, Rajasthan, a veteran Community Correspondent narrated the story of how her videos wre screened in schools and universities and other organizations and she got accredited as the first female press person in her entire district. Her work got her son the opportunity to receive better standard of education at a subsidised rate. And the sustainable community correspondent program enables her to provide for her family of which she is the only earning member. She says, “When I entered the journalism field, I found that there is a clear veil dividing the genders but as I continue to work I find that this veil is now dissolving. The happiest moment for me is when the other women in ask me how they can get involved in the work.”
“I was a human right activist for six years, but now, I have another identity,” said Margaret Joeji from Trichy, Tamil Nadu, "that of a reporter.” She goes on to say how the camera has made her sensitive to the issues around her. “If I’m in a bus going through the city,” she says, I can’t help but think of the air and noise pollution and how to make a story of it. It’s like my mind has expanded.”
Sajad Rasool from Badgam in Kashmir who comes from a background in Journalism finds that the camera has managed to replace his pen and has given him even more flexibility and a bigger platform. He says, "If the pen is mightier than the sword, I’ve come to believe, that the camera is far mightier.”
Avdesh Negi from Himachal Pradesh has lived the tough life. He says he was miserable till the camera helped him channel his energies and speak out. “I’ve made it the mission of my life to expose corruption,” he says."Others have suffered as much as I have and now, I will help give them a voice and a platform.”
Varsha from Bihar was in firebrand form as she spoke of the tyranny of the upper caste. She spoke of barriers constructed not just physically but in the minds of the dalits and the marginalized that allow them to accept the oppression. She spoke of the threats that she received when she tries to bring the oppression to light. “I am victim myself but what I try is fight my own battles and through it fight for others as well.” In the backdrop of the ‘progressive Bihar’ of the mainstream media, Varsha spoke of a police state, of violence and of the suppression of all dissent.”
As they spoke there was a sense that the grand narrative of mainstream India was disappearing behind the curtains and the little stories from beyond the margins were finding their voices.
This is IndiaUnheard, the zone of the alternate, of unseen communities, of a million dialects, united by hope and the constant struggle for a better future for all.