Community Correspondents

Tanju Devi

State: BIHAR

Tanju Devi is a member of the Tharu tribe and she lives in a forested area in West Champaran along the Indo-Nepal border. She comes from a community which has had to face a long history of abuse, neglect, and degradation at the hands of other communities.

Having witnessed injustice at such close quarters all her life, she worked hard to inspire fellow community members to live a life of independence.That’s why she decided to get involved when she heard about the Community Correspondents Network: “With my camera, I can create greater changes for my community.”

Over the last decade, Tanju has actively supported a multitude of issues and rallies in her village. She has produced videos on a wide range of problems on themes ranging from forced labor, corruption, governance and accountability, gender to health. Most of these videos have made a positive impact, alleviating misery for those affected. However, an issue that is very close to her heart centers around the Anti-Poverty Programs that the government. She has made a lot of videos on non-implementation of poverty-alleviation schemes, especially those around disability and elderly pension schemes. “I have a differently-abled husband and an aging mother-in-law. I know how important even a few hundred rupees is in an impoverished person’s life. It means food, medicine, and security to many,” explains Tanju. Her deep understanding of these issues is transformed into effective storytelling when she makes videos for the rights of persons with disabilities and senior citizens.  

A major impact driven by Tanju was when she made a video on year-long pension arrears of persons with disabilities, widows and senior citizens in Gaunaha of West Champaran district in Bihar. She documented their testimonies and met the Gaunaha Block Development Officer (BDO). Due to her persistence, as many as 3,000 beneficiaries were called in a community gathering in Gaunaha and were given their due arrears. This earned her the reputation of a powerful citizen journalist. “Since nothing else seemed to have worked in the past, I thought, “Why not try using the camera to create change?” After all, I am trained in it.”

In late 2021, she narrated for Video Volunteers her experiences during the Pandemic and how it has changed her life and work. Here’s her story:

“Since the pandemic began, I have created videos raising awareness about Covid-19 and the vaccine. My mentor motivated me when I was sick to get tested for Covid, and to get vaccinated. The whole year I was working on Covid-related issues like busting myths about the vaccine. I was also distributing PPE kits to asha workers in my community. VV has a partnership with the online newspaper the Quint, to use media to fight disinformation about Covid, and I’m part of the project. I’m working intensively in 10 villages in my surrounding areas. In addition to getting my village vaccinated, I also got the neighbouring panchayats villages vaccinated, by organising vaccination camps in coordination with the health department. I realise that you can be successful in any field if you are armed with the right information. I was initially scared to get the vaccine, but my mentor motivated me to get the vaccine and, seeing me ok after the vaccination, many others got motivated to get vaccinated.

There was a lot of hostility towards vaccination in my village and towards the health department officials who came to conduct surveys. I organised many meetings with community members and used pamphlets and videos on the ground to reach them with accurate information. I later distributed these videos via a WhatsApp Action Group that I created especially for this project. People were so scared that they wouldn't come out of their homes. Later when people saw that taking the vaccine was not causing any harm, they changed their attitude and started approaching me from neighbouring panchayats to help them organise vaccination camps in their villages. My phone was ringing non stop with such requests!

I also made a video on the condition of the Asha workers who were working during the peak of the 2nd wave in my community. With VV's help I was able to distribute protective equipment to asha workers and create an impact.

To create impacts community correspondents like me need to visit concerned officials at least 10 to 15 times before we are able to create an impact.

To set up a vaccination camp, I approached the concerned medical officer in the district hospital. He was doubtful. He said, if people are not ready to take the vaccine, then why are you organising a vaccination camp? I told him we should organize a trial and see how many people come. In the first phase itself, there were 200 to 250 people who got vaccinated in my village! Seeing the response, there were more vaccines that were sent to my village. In this way I eventually organised vaccination camps in 12 neighbouring villages.

On Video Volunteers

People associate me with Video Volunteers. Whenever I mention the name in the community or with government officials, they see the organisation as someone who does good work. But some people are also scared of videography and speaking on camera. l tell them this is for my video and it is essential for achieving an impact. Then they let me record.

People respect me as a Community Correspondent of Video Volunteers. Sometimes I don't need to even physically visit the officials. I have created impacts just by posting on relevant WhatsApp groups.

Working for video Volunteers helps me in creating impacts. During the Covid waves I received videos and pamphlets from VV with accurate information on Covid. This definitely helped me achieve my goals in terms of creating impacts for my community. I also received ration kits from Video Volunteers to help those in distress during the lockdowns. The work that I did during the covid times has also helped me in building my confidence. Earlier I had no information about covid. But later when I had all the information I did not hesitate in talking to health department officials because I was armed with the right knowledge and tools. My message to my community was clear - get tested for covid and get your vaccine done. Because of the videos I have created, the health department officials also do not ill-treat the Asha workers in my community anymore; they talk to them properly.

Tanju, with her determined spirit, stays an inspiration for those from her community. Her life is a living example of the change that can happen when individuals raise their voice against the system.

Videos from Tanju

Take Action

Flood-Affected Farmers Fight for Entitled MNREGA Benefits

/ August 20, 2018

While floods in Bihar get some media attention, the effects on the agrarian community are far reaching and need sustainable solutions rather than immediate relief packages.

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Sand Mining in Bihar: An Industry, a Mafia, an Environmental Disaster

/ August 3, 2018

Sand mining in the rivers of West Champaran is causing unmitigated floods in the region, year after year. Why is the government not responding?

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Flood-affected Farmers in West Champaran Get Compensation

/ July 27, 2018

Floods are a common occurrence in West Champaran, Bihar, but the response mechanism is slow. Here’s how an agrarian community held the government to task.

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Bihar Government’s Blindspot on the Arsenic Poisoning Map

/ May 11, 2018

Alarming groundwater arsenic levels are spelling a death sentence in Bihar. In West Champaran, where the arsenic levels are higher than the accepted levels, there is neither prevention or cure.

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Bihar’s Double Whammy of Floods and Droughts

/ April 20, 2018

Owing to climate change and erratic rain cycles, farmers in Bihar’s West Champaran are reeling from the loss of crops to floods and droughts, and from the hefty debt that they are now entrapped in.

Under 14 Football Captain struggles for proper shelter

/ October 29, 2015

West Champaran, Bihar | Tanju Devi  Soni Kumari was part of India women under-14 team that won the Asian Football Confederation Tournament in 2013. Now she is the captain of the Under-14 Indian Football team. The government should take some initiatives to develop such rising stars but unfortunately, the government...

Natural water source is on the brink of extinction in Domat, Bihar

/ March 7, 2017

Agriculture communities across many villages depend on natural resources to support their farming. The sustenance of these resources is never the priority of the administration. Natural resources may soon be on the brink of extinction.Lachnauta Jumi is a water source situated near Domat village. This water is used for drinking,...

IMPACT: Villagers take back community land from corrupt headman

/ December 19, 2014

A quiet village on the border of India and Nepal, Semri-Dumri is a sleepy hamlet where nothing seems to happen. A paved road blends solemnly into sand a few miles behind the vaguely identifiable border. Motorcycles that pass through can be heard from a distance, along with the stones rattled...