Abhay Deol at the closing ceremony of the largest community media gathering of India

Abhay Deol at the Video Volunteers' National Meet in Goa, OCT 4th 2015
The largest community media gathering of grassroots video journalists came to a close on Oct. 4, in Candolim, Goa. Actor Abhay Deol was at the ceremony, where he watched videos made by community video correspondents from around India. Later, when he fielded questions from Video Volunteers’ correspondents, he was put in a unique position of being interviewed about his film Chakaravyuh, a social commentary on Naxalisms, by grassroots journalists who have, in reality, experienced and are living with the conflict that the film depicts. He was asked why the film did not say more about forced evictions and displacement faced by people like them and the everyday corruption and cruelty of the authorities, which they document in their videos reports. Abhay responded saying, “while I agree that there is corruption on the side of the authorities, the film does try to give a balanced view.” The film holds special significance for many of our correspondents who are facing displacement and forced evictions in states like Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Odisha.
Amazed at the depth and substance of the questions, which he felt reflected the community correspondents’ lived experience, he asked for honest feedback about Chakravyuhfrom Video Volunteers’ correspondents. He was relieved as a chorus of voices assured him that the screenplay depicted characters, caught in the conflict around Naxalism, accurately. He also answered questions from our community correspondents about everyday patriarchy in Bollywood. Speaking about the masala nature of Bollywood, he said, “right now, unfortunately, films on serious issues are often ignored despite critical acclaim. Sex sells. But I hope that in the future things will change and the audience for films on real, true-life stories, like the ones you report on, will grow.” Till then, Abhay Deol said he was glad that Video Volunteers community correspondents are doing the work they were doing and bringing to light stories from the margins.

Abhay Deol, known as the thinking man’s actor for his brilliant and sensitive portrayals of complex characters, believes that filmmaking can be used for grassroots change. This is why he has been a stellar ambassador for Video Volunteers’work in building the largest, most diverse network of full-time, salaried Community Correspondents in the world. Frequently interacting with our correspondents and using his star power to bring the work of our grassroots, Community Video-journalists to the attention of the mainstream press, Abhay Deol has greatly strengthened the grassroots media movement in India. Abhay Deol was gracious enough to give out awards for the best videos produced by Video Volunteers’network of correspondents, from some of the most remote and neglected villages in India, around human rights issues like acid attacks, caste-based violence, MGNREGA cases and forced evictions.

The Best Quality Video, which represents what Video Volunteers looks for in stories from their correspondents, was won by Warles Surin, for his video on teachers not having paid for 30 years in Jaldega block, Simdega, Jharkhand. The Best Impact Video, has changed the most number of lives for the better, was awarded to Sajad Rasool for his story that made the lives of 60,000 people living in India-occupied Kashmir safer, by shutting down a firing range whose unexploded shells had injured 64 shepherds. Most Consistent Community Correspondents who have dedicatedly followed up a case, for months, working with community and officials to achieve impact was awarded to Tanju Devi, Shanti Baraik, Aarti Bai Valmik. Aarti Bai shared her story of facing untouchability as manual scavenger, while receiving her award from Abhay Deol, bringing tears to many eyes. “Now when I go to sweep the police station in the morning, they say ‘be careful about what you say or do around her, or she will come in afternoon with her camera and do a story’”Shabnam, a fan of Abhay Deol, was happy to receive the Most Watched Award, from him. Shabnam’s original video on missing toilets was also broadcasted on Citizen Journalist on CNN IBN and one of the viewers, who saw it built 1000 toilets for Shabnam’s village. Correspondent Navita, from Bihar, remarked that she felt truly empowered and that with a camera in hand she is happy about being able to change society.

Attention has also come in the form of awards from prestigious national and international organizations, this year. Video Volunteers, as an organization itself, has won Knight News Challenge, Ashoka Fellowship, Social Innovations Award, and many others, in the past. But now, we are excited that our correspondents are winning awards for their work too. Sunita Kasera of Kasauli, Rajasthan won the prestigious UN Population Fund Laadli Award for her work as a Video Volunteers correspondent. Savita Rath, one of our Chattisgarh correspondents, was profiled by Amnesty India International for her coal mining video reportson the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti this year. Sulochana, our correspondent from north Goa, was given the Zila Mahila Samman award by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on Woman’s Day, this year for her work.

Our mega National Meet in Goa saw 150,out of our 174 community correspondents, gathering from across India, some traveling more than 100 hours to come to the event. This is the largest community media gathering India has ever seen. Most of our correspondents hail from some of the most marginalized communities in India like women, who used the camera to stop cases of domestic violence; Dalits, who face caste-based discrimination and violence every day; Adivasis who are being forcibly evicted from their land for private, corporate gains,landless laborers who struggle against corruption when seeking payments for their MGNREGA work and students fighting for their rights under the Right To Education Act. By focusing the lens on these every day human rights violations, we are seeing change sweep the villages of India.

Here are some figures: Video Volunteers’correspondents have produced 3701 videos in the last five years. More than 500 impact videos have been recorded, documenting the change created by the videos produced by our community correspondents. In the last 11 months itself, we have seen 162 successes in the cases pursued by our community media reporters. Overall, we see that 1 out of 5 videos have an impact on issues related to corruption, missing health, water & power supply services, food and social security and issues related to governance in places where there. This is the remarkable power of journalism at the grassroots. 
Such achievement truly needs to be honoured and we are so glad that Abhay Deol spent time with our correspondents, answering their questions like why everyday patriarchy is still depicted in Bollywood films, and why more films inspired by stories like the ones they covered were not being made. He truly inspired them to keep fighting the good fight. 

For more information, please email deepansh@videovolunteers.org. Thank you for your support.

Warm Regards, 
Video Volunteers Team


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