Community Correspondents


Zulekha Sayyed is a film editor, CC trainer, and one of the longest standing members of Video Volunteers from the slums of Mumbai.

We recognise Zulekha before we can see her by her high pitched and gratuitous laugh. But back in 2006, when she first joined Video Volunteers at the age of 15, she wasn’t the boisterous person she is today. “I could be found sitting in the corner,” she recalls, “Now people need to tell me to keep quiet!” As part of the Community Video Unit with Yuva, an NGO, Zulekha focussed on raising and solving the issues of her own neighbourhood - Parksite in Vikhroli, a suburb of Mumbai.  “Water and sewage are the biggest problems of my neighbourhood,” says Zulekha.  

Her community resides in the slums, right in the centre of an upcoming suburb in the ever-expanding Mumbai and therefore are seen as a ‘problem’. The re-developers, along with officials of the city, are trying to make Parksite ‘slum-free’ in lieu of assimilating communities through better public facilities such as water, sanitation and waste management and community assimilation.

A decade of reporting the injustice meted out to her community and resolving many issues, Zulekha’s reputation as the marginalised people’s journalist has spread wide. Today many communities from slums across Mumbai plagued with problems of water, sanitation and eviction call her for help. “It is because of my camera. People who didn’t want to talk, today talk in front of my camera, ” she says.

Zulekha feels that the mainstream media are biased toward builders in their reporting. The issues of the slum residents are barely covered, and if covered, barely have follow-ups. ““When they do report on us, it is without a follow-up. What’s the use of identifying an issue without a solution?” she asks. This is one of the reasons she is drawn to VV’s community media model. “It focuses on creating an impact,” Zulekha says.

Zulekha centres her videos on issues slum dwellers’ face such as home demolitions, contaminated water, open sewers and acts of resistance such as space for kids to create art amongst the bustle of Dharavi slums. A 2015 video that’s most important to her, shows Rahul Nagar residents consuming water contaminated with spit and dog urine. She sent the video to the official responsible and demanded action on behalf of the residents. The official investigated the issue after seeing the video and promptly installed water pipes. Rahul Nagar residents now have access to clean water.

In 2016, Zulekha’s friend repeatedly reached out to her pleading her to cover something that yet again was neglected by the media: 900 families were rendered homeless after their colony, an illegal construction, in Napa Sopara, was demolished. The builders, who duped people into buying houses went scot-free, while the residents were left without a home. “I felt bad about interviewing people just after their homes were destroyed. But it is important to document these truths. If I don’t cover it, people would not know what happens to marginalised people of Mumbai.” The video has 7,000 views as of June 2017. The reality of the displacement is not lost on her. “This could me and my community too.”  

Zulekha has been on the front lines, reporting injustice meted out by officials and powerful builders, which she agrees is dangerous. While shooting footage for a video about slum clearance in 2017, she was physically pushed and threatened by her subjects. “They told me to delete the footage and tried to snatch my camera,” she says. She immediately ran from the place. “I was scared, but did not show it.” When asked why she continues to do such work, she plainly echoes a previous remark, “What do you mean? I live here.”

In communities where aspirations are limited, Zulekha’s achievements have made her role-model. She’s the only woman to have completed a Bachelors and Masters degree, is often the career counsellor to the youth in her community. “I hope I don’t give them the wrong advice.” she humbly says.

Over the years, Zulekha has moved from being just a filmmaker to an able manager, taking on more responsibilities at Video Volunteers. She planned and facilitated training for 25-30 newly recruited Gender Community Correspondents in Mumbai.

Zulekha aims to be a feature film editor and currently works at Camp Studios in Mumbai and manages her home along with her mother and nani (maternal grandmother).  

Videos from Zulekha

SUCCESS: Clean water supply made possible in a Mumbai slum

/ September 10, 2014

Access to safe water is a daily challenge for a majority of Indians. The worst affected communities are often those from lower socio-economic strata. For instance, in places like Mumbai, the worst effects of water crisis are seen in urban slums. Only those who can afford to pay private contractors...

Slum demolitions in Mulund cause uproar

/ July 22, 2014

The morning of 20th May 2014 came as a blow to the 600 residents of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar slums.  As the rest Mumbai came to life that day; as lunches got packed, vendors got ready to sell their morning chai and children grudgingly put on their school uniforms, bulldozers and...

A Nightmare For Slum Dwellers

/ January 31, 2014

A public-private partnership plans to demolish slums and put the residents in buildings on part of the land. But there is a catch-