Community Correspondents

Biswanath Patra

Biswanath belongs to a Dalit community. His father was a daily wage worker at the Tata Steel factory in Jajpur, and the family's economic situation was not very sound. But despite the circumstances, Biswanath managed to pursue higher education, graduating in 2008. He also worked with Tata Steel for sometime but the company sacked him after he opposed the Orissa Mining Corporation in a public hearing on underground mining in Kaliapani. Tata was one of the companies owning chromite mines in Kaliapani. 

Biswanath filed many complaints but nothing happened. But he realised that the incident presented him with the opportunity to be involved in public life more closely. As a student, he had worked as the General Secretary of the Student Union of his college and had seen difficult, politically-motivated incidents. So, Biswanath decided to work in the social sector and joined the Ram Manohar Lohia Vikas Sangh in Jajpur to work on Dalit rights.

"We come from one of the 'lowest' sub-castes among Dalits in Odisha. In my village, I can’t even run my own general store myself. I have to hire someone from another caste to run my shop for me. Even Adivasis (indigenous communities) have come to practice casteism in my part of Odisha. But by studying, I have escaped the stigma of casteism. No one can be casteist to an educated man in the city", says Biswanath. 

Making it through school was a huge financial trouble for the family but Biswamath's mother insisted on and fought for my education. After graduating, he worked with the Life Insurance Corporation of India for a while, and then joined Tata Steel, following which he decided to work in the social sector. 

"My confidence grew as I started working with the people involved in the Kalinganagar struggle. I started my own organisation -- the Ambedkar Dalit Vikas Parishad, in the Sukinda block of Jajpur. More than 12 mining companies are active in our block. We have a longstanding demand that there should be more development work for the people living on the peripheries of these mines. We work with the Khanj Surakhya Abhiyaan to make companies follow ethical business values and to follow safety and displacement- rehabilitation rules," he says. 

Biswanath then started working with Prafulla Samanta Roy of the Lok Shakti Abhiyaan, and felt the need to expand his work beyond Sukinda. He heard of Video Volunteers from fellow Community Correspondent Dashrathi Behera in 2013 at a workshop on land acquisition. He subsequently got in touch with the team and attended a community media training.

"I was interested in becoming a Community Correspondent to help people, and I was also sure that I could make a living out of this work", he says.

In 2014, there was an incident in Sukinda where a child got electrocuted and the local Public Health Centre refused to treat him. When the family took the child to Cuttack, the hospital there asked for 5000 rupees, an amount the parents could not afford. Dashrathi then went to the Collector. He also contacted the media and, as a result, the State Human Rights Commission got involved. The impact of the efforts was that the boy was treated free of cost. "So, I have always understood the role of the media as a defender of human rights. I had also worked as a reporter for five months before joining Video Volunteers", says Biswanath, looking back on his first "impact' with VV.

The media in the region is very selective, according to Biswanath. "People say they take bribes from companies. At best, they will give some small space to movement-related stories. Certainly, no regional paper takes an anti-corporate stand. The media is subject to political raj as well as to company raj."

Biswanath wants to keep working as a human rights defender through the medium of Video Volunteers. His heroes in his struggle are Ambedkar and Ramabai. "Ambedkar fought a lot of casteism in his life. According to me, he is the first human rights defender of India. He was the first to fight for equality. I believe in his message of equality for all," he says, committed to challenging the caste status quo.

Videos from Biswanath

Living with HIV in rural Odisha

/ December 1, 2015

India has won global appraisal with the consistent decline in number of HIV/AIDS infected people in the last three decades. By 2011, India marked more than 50% decline in number of new HIV infections. Yet, HIV/AIDS is still treated like a taboo in both urban and rural spheres. Jhunu, a...

Students suffer the brutality of teachers

/ May 15, 2015

Kohigia Village Council, Jajpur District, Odisha | Biswanath Patra Even though the Right to Education act prohibits the use of physical torture in government schools, it remains a disturbingly widespread practice across the country to beat students to discipline them. This report documents one such incident, where a teacher severely...

Stop Forceful Land Acquisition in Belahari, Odisha

/ January 5, 2015

A villager recounts that those displaced earlier for the same project are living as domestic helps. Happy with farming, Belahari villagers from Kalinga Nagar do not want to give their land to TATA Company. CALL TO ACTION : Call District Collector, Anil Kumar Samal at +916728222330 and demand that he...