VV-PACS Correspondent Shabnam has been using her camera to bring basic facilities like water and electricity to the residents of Jagdishpur village, in Uttar Pradesh. Her video about the lack of electricity in the village and her dogged pursuit of the authorities forced them into action. For the first time in 25 years, 150 families will experience the comfort of fans on sweltering summer nights, people will be able to re-charge their cellphones and children study at night. This is her story:
“When I first visited Jagdishpur village with my sister, I found out that the two main problems they faced were access to potable water and electricity. I immediately began work to get the residents a hand pump. The community members and I succeeded in getting a one installed there in a matter of 3 months.
During this time, my first video on the lack of teachers in a government school aired on Headlines Today, a mainstream news channel. A relative of one of the residents from Jagdishpur saw this and told them that I was on TV! When I went to the village as part of my follow up on the hand pump story, some kids said:
‘If we had electricity we could have watched you on TV as well.’
And this was one of the reasons that pushed me to make the video on the lack of electricity in this village. This was in August.
I showed the community members the footage I had shot, on my camera itself. After seeing themselves on film some of them felt more confident but others became a little nervous too.
I first spoke to the Pradhaan (Village Head), who by now was very responsive to me, to understand the issue. He told me that the previous village head told the community that they had to cough up Rs.20,000/- in order to get this work done. Some of the people believed this and a few women even pawned their earrings for some money so that they could pitch in. But village was not able to put together the money and hence remained drowned in darkness.
When asked how we could address this problem the Pradhaan said:
‘It’s not in my hands. The Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Junior Engineer can easily do this. I will support you a 100% if you help us raise this matter.’
The Pradhaan and the community members supported me a lot with on ground follow up. He asked me to talk to the MLA, T. Ram and I did. At first, he was irritated and asked me what new problem I had found (I was already hounding him about the need for a hand pump in Jagdishpur!). Then I convinced him that he could make this happen. I followed up with him after 4 days to see if he had spoken with the JE. The MLA told me he had and that I should now follow up with the Junior Engineer too.
I didn’t have the contact number, and a few days later when I was passing by the Block Office I decided I’d just try to meet him instead. I met the JE, showed him the footage on my camera and enquired if the MLA had spoken with him. The JE said he had no information on this and it wouldn’t be easy to rectify the situation.
I realised that I need to make these two people talk. I kept trying to talk to the MLA about this but on most days his cronies would pick up the phone. When I finally got through to Mr. T Ram, I simultaneously made a conference call and told him that I was standing with the JE (and vice versa) and they should speak to each other. Both of them thought I was with the other person. This was the only solution I could think of! The MLA asked the JE to look into the matter and ensure that it got sorted.
The village head and I kept calling the JE and following up him and towards the end of September, the work to install the electricity poles had begun. By Oct 18th, the work was completed and 150 families in Jagdishpur now have electricity in their homes. I went back and captured footage for this video, showing the difference having electricity has made to their lives. The people were ecstatic.
There are many more issues here but now that their main issues are addressed, I will focus on other areas nearby. I have been receiving calls from other villages and even other Blocks to help them raise their issues.
After this experience, I feel that if one is confident, knows the facts and can present them well, one can speak with officials of any stature and gain their support and respect. I believe that somewhere all these officials also do care for the people. Earlier I used to think they were all horrible people but I know that we need to try to work with them as well.
This camera is a very powerful tool for change.”