Bridging the gap between Adivasi communities and administration

The Baiga people are one of the many tribes in Central India. Community Correspondent Dina works closely with this reclusive tribe and in this interview she details how she & her camera bridged the gap between adivasis & administration to bring water for 35 children in an anganwadi.

Traditionally referring to themselves as people of the forest, Baigas prefer to practice shifting cultivation. The steep paths to their villages are often a deterrent to development initiatives reaching their communities. For example, while Amatola village in Kawardha, Chhattisgarh has an anganwadi, the hand pump at the anganwadi has been broken for more than a decade. Anganwadi centers across India serve as a facility where local children under the age of 6 come to study in the day. It also serves as a place where infants and neonatal mothers come in for vaccinations and checkups. For the villagers of Amatola, no access to water belies the functionality of the anganwadi altogether.

Dina has worked closely with the Baiga people of Kawardha, Chhattisgarh, for several years on issues of forest rights and access to amenities. In mid-2013, while filming in Amania village on food security, Dina happened to visit the neighbouring Amatola. On discussing with the people about her work as a Community Correspondent, the villagers told her about their anganwadi. With no handpump available for their daily consumption of water, the employees & children trudged a few kilometers daily to scrounge water from a small puddle.

Says Dina, "I followed the children up the hill, to see where they get water. It's just a hole in some rocks, from which animals also drink. And in monsoon, the hill is slippery & dangerous. I myself had a bad fall when filming the Impact video & was in severe pain for weeks. You can see in the issue video, how small (sic) the children are. It's just not right, that they have to go so far for water."

Dina spent the next three days discussing the way forward to fixing the hand pump. She then filmed testimonies of the anganwadi employees, and approached Ramakant Shukla, the Sub-Engineer of the Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department. "I had helped the villagers write out an application to repair the hand-pump, then took it myself to the PHE. Mr. Shukla was most helpful. He heard all about the situation at Amatola, and promised to have it fixed in a few days. He was very impressed when I showed him all the interviews on my FlipCam. I told him all about IndiaUnheard, and promised that if he helped us, I would include an interview of him too, to show that all administration is not apathetic to the people."

"Over the years, I've found that it's become easier to approach administration. They pay attention to me when I show confidence, especially now that I have evidence. The camera has become crucial for my confidence. See, we have always submitted applications, requests, complaints etc in the past. Now that I show them the reality, they usually respond faster, with more empathy. Also, I've learnt the art of actively following up with this Impact. Within a few weeks of meeting Mr. Shukla, I had to leave for Raigarh, to attend the IndiaUnheard Quarterly Meet. In between training sessions, I would call Mr. Shukla, asking him about progress on repairing the hand-pump. The perseverance paid off, Mr. Shukla finally called me to give me the news that the hand-pump had been repaired." The repairing of Amatola's hand-pump ensures a steady supply of water for 35 children at the anganwadi and makes daily work a far easier task for the employees.

The confident cheer in Dina's voice is a far cry from the IndiaUnheard training days when she would often feel frustrated with her inability to grasp technological concepts. It reflects in her response to questions about whether life has changed in any way. "Being a Community Correspondent really augments the work I do. I've learnt to focus on the finer details, like noting down phone numbers of officials in my diary or showing community members the footage I filmed. Also, Mr. Shukla is so impressed with IndiaUnheard, he wants to help in every way possible. It's important to erase this fear people have of administration - we have to learn to work together. It ensures greater clarity for what I am attempting to achieve, and the confidence gained, and work achieved by both sides are honestly the greatest rewards I could get for creating change."

Read more about The Baigas, their efforts to retain their right to live in the forests of Central India here & here.  You can also read about their conservation efforts here.

Interview compiled by Radhika. 

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