Reena joined the IndiaUnheard Community Correspondents’ team in Bihar in July 2013. She came in with a rich experience of working on issues in her community through the localJan Jagran Shakti Sanghatan (JJSS), an organization that mobilizes people to ask the government for better facilities. Since 2012, her work has focused on labor empowerment activitiesand helpedpeople, specifically workers in the unorganized sector, realize their right to livelihood through government schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).Reena is quite popular in the villages where she works and has a good rapport with people in the community. Here’s how one of her first videos ensured 600 families a regular access to basic rations.
“By the time I returned from the IndiaUnheard training, people already knew that I was a ‘journalist’. This meant that they started to seek me out for help to record their stories. One day in August, my colleague from Ghadighat village of Chittodia Village Council told me about 600 families who were not being giventheir rations through the Public Distribution System (PDS). This was despite the fact that their names were on the Below Poverty Line list.In Bihar where I live, around 53% of the population lives below this poverty line; this list is an extremely important one because it entitles these people to get access to basic things like rice, flour and Kerosene at extremely subsidized prices. When I visited the village to understand the details of the case my colleague had told me about, I realized that it was all because of epic administrative mismanagement!
Every July the BPL and Antodaya families of Ghadighat village (the poorest of the BPL) line up at the Village head’s Office, to get their yearly food distribution coupons, in exchange of which they can collect ration from the state sanctioned PDS shops. For years the system had worked fine for the village but a sudden reshuffle of boundaries of the area left the administration confused as to whether or not 600 families of the village were entitled to rations from the Panchayat.
Some time ago, Ghadighat village was identified as one of the villages to be included in the soon to be expanded Khatihar Municipal Council. This meant that the area was an urban rather than rural area. The administration believed that of the 700 families in the village, around 600 would now fall in the municipal council limits and so could not get rations from the ration shop in the rural Chittodia Council. So, they weren’t given their coupons.
Soon after, the community and the organization I work with, JJSS, did a survey showing the dire need for them to remain beneficiaries of the PDS system. This was submitted to the District Collector, who decided at the administrative level that this shift in jurisdiction would not be carried through. Unfortunately though, the information never reached the village and revenue level authorities in the Block.
After understanding the case, I along with some a few villagers approached the Village head. He told us that he was in no position to solve this and asked us to go to the Block Office. My husband and I went to the Block Development Office. While many in the community wanted to come with us, they couldn’t because that one trip would have cost them a day’s wages.
I introduced myself and asked the Officer for the reason behind the problem. The BDO was proactive and said he would try to rectify the situation in 15 days.
After few weeks, at the end of August, I visited the village to check if the BDO had kept his word. It was one of the most heartening sights I have seen in my life. All 600 families had already received the rations due to them and also the coupons for the rest of the year! While filming the issue video, Renu Devi had told me how her children couldn’t study at night because there was no kerosene. That day she took me by the hand to show me the full jar of kerosene.
The villagers showered me with praise and affection. Having now tasted success, they want me to help them solve more such issues when they arise. I know unfortunately that they will need my help to resolve more such cases.
I used to feel scared initially when I began making these videos. This is only my second video. As I continued filming and working on the impact, my confidence grew with the support of the community. Now I’m more than confident because I know my work will help make peoples’ lives better, my people’s lives better.”