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Warles Surin gave up his job at an IT warehouse and returned to his village, which is along the Red Corridor, to open a play school. He started the school in 2011 and runs it from his home, along with his family. “I was working in the city for seven years. I learnt a lot during this time, but I did not get a sense of fulfilment. I had done a lot for myself but felt that there was no one to do anything for my people. So, I decided to return to my village.”
In 2012, when the opportunity to be a community correspondent came his way, he felt like he had found the right avenue to fulfil his desire to work for his community. Through his work with Video Volunteers, Warles has formed ties with people from different villages in his district, Simdega. In January 2017, he took this association forward by forming a collective which consists of people from across three blocks. “Anyone who is interested in social work can join the collective,” he says. “We meet on the first Saturday of every month and discuss the challenges we face in the different spheres of social work we are involved with. We also exchange information on government schemes and plans.”
Warles has opened the doors of his home to any village resident facing a problem. “I have informed my family members, so whenever I am out on fieldwork, they take down the names and numbers of those who visit the house,” he says. His mother, too, is a social activist who is involved in working for the betterment of their community.
Warles has reported on a number of issues ranging from lack of access to clean drinking water to inadequate facilities in government schools. In 2014, he made a video and also filed a case on behalf of 22 labourers who were not being given the minimum wage by a district-sanctioned contractor for a project in Swang Village. “That incident was very impactful as it made me realise the dangers and advantages of doing this work,” says Warles. “The contractor’s license was going to be revoked because of the case I had filed. He was influential in the district and threatened me over the phone. I was very scared but I held my ground. Ultimately, he relented and had to pay minimum wages to those 22 labourers. Not only that, ever since then, no contractor in Simdega pays any labourer less than the minimum wage. Though I fought for only a few labourers, my fight ended up impacting many more.”
As a community reporter, Warles feels that the biggest challenge is to get people to talk about issues that they are afraid of or uncomfortable with. “People are more willing to talk about issues with the implementation of MNREGA or water problems because their needs are more urgent in these cases,” he explains. “However, when it comes to issues like human trafficking, people are less willing to talk.”
Warles considers himself lucky to be able to fulfil his dream of working with the people through his work with Video Volunteers. “I didn’t know other people who used to think like I do,” he says. “I often used to wonder if my worldview is wrong. But through VV, I got to meet many like-minded people who have the same vision for social justice as me. Today, I have the confidence to talk about all sorts of social issues and report on any kind of story.”