Katihar is a district of Bihar cradled by the Mahananda, Kosi & the most revered river of India, the Ganga. Mostly dependent on agriculture, the farmers of Katihar are inundated regularly by the very waters, which sustain them. In this interview, Reena speaks of the implications of living in flooded villages, and how she made a difference to the lives of over 250 people from 3 villages.
Motolla, in Basghara village had been submerged for almost a month, when one of Reena's colleagues from Jan Jagran Sakti Sangathan mentioned he would be going there. Keen to know more, Reena decided to go along. They travelled for over two days to find a dismal situation. The entire village was wading through water to get anywhere. The children, the cattle, all suffered alike. The food and fodder available was meager. Snakes and scorpions had been washed out of their havens into the people's homes. Appalled at the misery, Reena began asking questions. The villagers answered all her questions with the inevitable monotony that comes with misery.
"It's the same story everywhere I go. The poor suffer because they either don't know how to appeal for aid, or whom to appeal to for aid. And in the meantime, despite knowing full well about the reality, administrative officers don't act unless pushed to. It was the same for Chitoria Panchayat. The Sarpanch knew that the people were wading through water. The Block Development Officer (BDO) had apparently visited the village as well. But, no relief came for the villagers. I knew I had to at least try and help them, so I pulled out my camera and started filming."
Soon after filming the interviews, Reena first took the footage to the BDO. He categorically denied any association with this issue, and instead suggested she approach the Circle Officer.
"I went alone to the Circle Officer. When I started rattling off details— where, since when, why, how many people were suffering, and what they needed aid with— the CO was very intrigued. He asked me what I do. I then showed him footage on my camera and told him I'm a Community Correspondent. He promised me that he would ensure aid reached these people in a month. It took 20 days. 250 villagers from 3 villages received 50 kg of rice, 50 kg of wheat, and INR 1500 as the first installment of relief."
Usually reticent, Reena giggles as she describes the confusion and curiosity that consumed the villagers once she started asking them to speak on camera.
"Filming this video taught me a lot. It was tough, to be walking in water, standing in water, doing everything in water. They said I was the first person who did anything to help them. They were so skeptical about what a small, frail woman would do, when obviously, no one was willing to listen. Then, I told them how IndiaUnheard works. It took me a while, and even once I convinced them that I could at least try, they started getting shy on camera! I just interviewed them when they were in a group & I would keep showing them the footage, they liked that."
"Life has changed very much now that I am a Community Correspondent. I used to be a manual labourer, working on various MGNREGA projects commissioned by the government. Over the years, I realized that we were missing out on projects, or payments, or aid sanctioned simply because we didn't know. One can't allow ignorance to stand in the way of what is rightfully theirs. Finally, in 2011, some of us set up Jan Jagran Sakti Sangathan as a space where we would help labourers get their payments, receipts and with any paperwork. We would help them approach administration with their issues. Today, as a Community Correspondent, my focus has evolved to a larger scale, because I can record evidence. I can address larger issues."
"When I started off, I was so scared I'd break the camera. I remember the first time I played (sic) an interview back to the people. I saw their faces & lost my fear. For the first time, my people felt like they were the ones who mattered. Now I want to bring electricity to our villages, I want to light up their lives."
About the Partnership: The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme and Video Volunteers have come together to create the Community Correspondents Network. The videos generated by the network will be able to highlight voices from the margins, providing skills to social communicators to provide advocacy tools to community based organisations.
Interview compiled by Radhika
In modern India, it is unheard that a woman officiated as the priest of a religious event.
Many applications later, hundreds of people continue to suffer.