Clean Up Goa: Community wields Camera for Change

Most commonly identified as one of India's top holiday destinations, Goa comes complete with its sun-and-sand picturesque world & susegad life. However, there is another side to Goa, a side that often remains forgotten by a world lulled by the hot sun & potent psychedelia of Goa. Sulochana has been working for several years now to identify & change issues which plague the otherwise easy-going people of Goa.

“I've worked closely with the community in Saligaon village several times in these last few years. In around April 2013 they approached me to help them with a health hazard in their village. I agreed to go for a reconnaissance and on reaching there, was convinced I needed to help them.

Diago had returned to Goa after almost 3 decades to find that the neighbouring slaughter house functioned such, that it was impossible to live beside it. Despite past requests & inspections, the owners of the slaughterhouse didn't seem to understand the community's concerns with their current practices.  To begin with, they dumped all their waste in a nearby drain, which then caused an absolutely unholy horrific smell. I thought I would lose consciousness the first time I went close up to the drain to film! Schoolchildren walked by this drain daily. When I saw the situation, I didn't know where to begin. Do I identify the health hazards, like mosquitoes, sickness, bad smell, rats, other vermin or the legality of running such an establishment? I decided to focus on the drain because that the first thing I noticed when I got there, and it definitely bothered the entire community.

I went to Diago's house one evening to film the whole process of slaughtering to be done at dawn the next day. I was feeling like a spy from some film, because I had to peek over the wall to film in silence. The pigs were squealing. Maybe they knew they would die. I was mentally talking to them, "please piggies, don't squeal or I'll be seen." There wasn't enough light - I got some bits we used for audio though.

That night at Diago's was enough to convince me that this piggery was a serious problem. I got all my interviews later that day, and then accompanied the community members when they approached the family managing the slaughterhouse to try & speak with them again before initiating action. I went along hoping for a chance to interview the family too. I thought it was only fair to get their version of the story as well. Luckily they agreed to let one of their representatives give me an interview. Video Volunteers had lent the community some cameras. I gave a few people a rough guide to using them, and explained which shots I needed them to film for me.

In the meantime Diago had done a signature campaign in the community. They supported him wholeheartedly, but were unanimous about the fact that he needed to take primary responsibility in tackling this issue. So it was him who accompanied me to the Village Head & the Health Officer with copies of the signatures, a letter we'd written appealing for an inspection and the video I had made. We screened the video at both offices. Both officials knew me & my work already as I have appealed to them for help several times in the past.

They both agreed to take immediate action because now they had visual evidence and a very strong appeal from the entire community. The Village Head later screened this video in the Village Council as well, to other members, on the basis of which they initiated an inspection. They notified the slaughterhouse owners, and the Pollution Control conducted the inspection. Obviously they had cleaned up, but the Head & Health Officer kept reiterating that they had seen my video. The Village Council finally issued a letter to the slaughterhouse recommending changes to be made which would ensure that they could function without being irksome to their neighbours.

Working in Saligao is always a good experience, they're very close as a community, with strong concerns for each other's well-being. I had free access to the village to film the video, people would keep an eye on me, ensuring I had food, water, Mario would let me use his home to rest in etc. My only regret while making this video is that we were unable to arrange for a community screening, it would have really helped us clear the air. Many villagers believed that we were trying to shut down the slaughterhouse. In fact, it was just the opposite. All of us were very clear in our appeals that our concern was solely the health aspect. Even when Video Volunteers first published the video, we called them & asked them to edit out sections of the accompanying article which might have portrayed the slaughterhouse in poor light.

However, now that the recommendations have come through, we have to ensure that they are followed up with so that people will know that we had no intentions of harming anyone's business. Saligao though is a highly evolved community— they have learnt & adapted to new methods of changing things. In 2 months, the lives of over 500 students and 300 villagers has had an opportunity to improve. Diago & his family have a hope of healthier living.

Sometimes people point out that I might be in danger because of following up on these stories. However, I firmly believe in that phrase: "Ek baar commitment diya toh commitment pura karna padta hai" (Once I commit to a cause, I must fulfill it.) I need proactive communities like Saligao to work with me, then we can restore Goa to its famed tranquility.”

-Interview compiled by Radhika



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