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

Impact: All dues Paid

/ May 19, 2014

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guarantees Indian citizens the ‘right to work’ for the purpose of ensuring livelihood security in rural areas. In this interview, VV-PACS Community Correspondent Tanju Devi describes how she challenged administration with her camera ensuring that Tinku Devi hailing from the twin villages of...

Impact: Video Gets Compensation to Victims of Human-Animal Conflict

/ April 24, 2014

India’s 28,000 wild elephants are cramped up in around 3% of its geographical area. A bare handful of areas have been declared protected areas known as elephant corridors. VV-PACS Community Correspondent Tanju Devi lives in Dumari, a small hamlet flanked by the forests in West Champaran, Bihar. This community has...

Bihar Government is yet to pay compensation to Fire-affected households

/ August 30, 2016

A fire broke out at midnight in a hamlet in West Champaran district of Bihar unknown to its resident, burning three houses down to the ground, leaving its poor residents homeless and without any belongings. “We’ve lost everything in the fire; Rs. 10,000 worth cash and jewellery, 50 kgs of wheat, 1.5 quintals...

Impact: 3,000 people of Bihar got overdue pension due to one woman

/ August 22, 2016

One woman’s insistence for justice has brought change for almost 3,000 people in Bihar. One year ago Community Correspondent, Tanju Devi, had made a video on year-long pension arrears under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) of citizens in Gaunaha, West Champaran district of the state. Even after repeated pleas with the authorities, the...

A Bad road is hindrance to progress in Bihar

/ June 8, 2016

The village of Sarpharwa in the East Champaran district of Bihar is home to Video Volunteer correspondent Tanju Devi. The village’s access to the basic necessities and amenities are reached through a journey to the nearest town Dongri. However, Tanju Devi and her community suffer as the journey on this...

Forest officials falsely arresting firewood collectors

/ May 11, 2016

“We do not know laws. We are not educated, but we have lived near this jungle and in this village for years,” says Chandrabhushan Mahato who was arrested by forest rangers for collecting firewood. In Dumri village of West Champaran, Bihar, most of the residents belong to the Scheduled castes...

No disability certificate for needy in Bihar

/ April 6, 2016

In a small village in Bihar, a disabled old man Raj Bansi Majhi, earns his living from the alms he begs because he can’t find work with one hand. The disability certificate he is entitled to, is nowhere in sight and his children have abandoned him. The disability certificate allows...

Forest Dept usurps land from farmers in Gaunaha, Bihar

/ February 11, 2016

Vanahava Parsa is a tiny village in Gaunaha, Bihar. The people of Vanahava are traditionally a forest dwelling community, and several generations have been residing on this land for several decades. Many are farmers, and maintain a harmonious existence with the forest as they are dependent on forest produce for...