IU Impact: Citizen Journalist Revives Education in Rural India

"Mukesh Rajak, our young Community Correspondent from rural Jharkhand, reopens a village school that had shut down because of sheer negligence by the appointed teacher. He used his camera to document the miserable state of the students and their families. He presented the footage as evidence to education authorities in the district. The authorities swung into action, got the teacher transferred and replaced. The school was put back on track. Mukesh spoke to Video Volunteers on the process of change." The last time Mukesh walked up the steps of the Block Education Officer of Madhupur, Jharkhand with damning evidence of corruption in a school he was asked to prove that he was a bona fide journalist. They even voiced a suspicion that he acting on a personal vendetta and was presenting a doctored video. But Mukesh persisted. He negotiated, bargained, placated, talked up, talked down and finally, outtalked the Office and managed to get them to watch his video. In a matter of weeks, the corruption was brought to an end. Not just in the one school where he made the video but in the schools of the nearby villages as well. With his trusty camera and keen enterprise, Community Correspondent Mukesh Rajak had delivered his first impact. Hundreds of children from dalit families in rural Jharkhand began to receive a higher quality of education. This time around he says he didn’t have to lose his breath walking into the office. He calls the District Education Officer, his friend. He describes the process as ‘smooth’. Unlike last time when I was a fresh faced stranger, I now had an identity as a community activist and journalist." From documenting the issue to getting his impact took a mere 5 days. The plucky 19 year old dalit boy from rural Jharkhand has become a bona fide change maker, a local hero. He calls it a ‘habit’. “I first visited Belatand village when I heard that an important bridge connecting to the village was lying broken and unattended,” says Mukesh. “While speaking to the locals about the situation, I was told about the state of the village school. So while I was putting finishing touches on my video on the broken bridge, I had the story at the back of my mind. But I had my tickets booked to attend the 3rdIndiaUnheard training camp in Goa and I decided to pursue the story on my return.” Utkramith Pratmik Vidyalay is a government primary school in Belatand village, Jharkhand. It is the only source of education for over 50 children from the dalit and underprivileged families in the village. Under the Shiksha Mitra scheme, the village council had appointed Mr. Janamjay Roy as the teacher and in charge at the school.  They entrusted him with the education and future of their children. Mr. Roy however proved to be a terrible candidate for the position. Under his supervision, the school began to shirk its duties. On most days, the school remained shut. On other days, Mr. Roy arrived late. The quality of education was abysmal. The mid-day meal scheme was conspicuous in its absence. With a year, the children and their families began to be disillusioned. The children stopped going to school. The doors of the school had been closed for the last four months. Meanwhile Mukesh attended the Community video camp. The camp had a special emphasis on using videoactivism to generate impact on the grassroots. Mukesh discussed the story idea with his trainers and the other Community Correspondents from across the country. With the ideas he received at the camp, he carefully plotted his strategy towards impact. He wanted to deliver but unlike his previous impact he wanted to get this one done quick. “The people had already waited four long months. They had sent 4 complaints to the District and Block Education Officer but there had been no response. The children were running wild. There was no time to lose.” The normal strategy would have involved him making the issue video first and then after it had been edited, he would begin work on the impact. Pressed for time, Mukesh decided to forego the issue video. He decided to skip direct to the desired change. On his return to Jharkhand, Mukesh first took the interviews of the parents and the students. “While I understand that it would have been easier to focus on one person’s story, I decided I wanted to represent as many people as I could from the community. This is community video and I was dealing with an issue that affected the entire community. Everybody should have a voice and a stake in the process of change.” Once he captured talking heads of the villagers, he decided to play his biggest gambit. He called up Mr. Roy, the negligent teacher and asked for an interview. He managed to get his consent for the interview. “Everybody runs into issues and problems but most do not have the medium and platform to speak out and spread the news. Once the news spreads, it is not so easy for the perpetrator to continue with his corrupt ways. People are watching his moves. They’re talking about it. Mr. Roy probably thought that he could use the video to clear his name. But the day I reached the school for the interview, it was still shut.” Mr. Roy spoke of the issue like it was the villagers who were refusing to send their children to school. But when Mukesh showed him the testimonies of the students and their families, the teacher pretty much realized that his game was up. “He was a little choked up towards the end,” says Mukesh. Mukesh transferred the best of his footage onto his laptop and went straight to his friend, the Block Education Officer. The video evidence was screened. The Officer immediately issued orders transferring Mr. Roy to a neighbouring school where his actions would be monitored for the next few months. If his assessment was successful and he was considered to be suitably rehabilitated, he would be re-instated at Belatand. Meanwhile, another teacher would be assigned to Belatand. “I asked the District Education Officer why he couldn’t just suspend him” asks Mukesh, “He told me that teachers appointed under the Shiksha Mitra scheme could not be suspended easily. The teacher would receive one more chance to acquit himself but if he continues in his negligent ways, further action would be considered.” Meanwhile the school at Belatand has been reopened. Children have started their classes and the new teacher has been impressive in his efficiency. Mukesh looks back, “I managed to surprise myself this time. It took me only 5 days from issue to change.” Mukesh Rajak understands the value of a good education. A rural child from a not very well-to-do dalit family, he has been lucky to be given a scholarship to study in a private school. Now that he has the right tools, the right networks and ‘friends’ in the right places, he finds himself in the unique position to give to others what had once been given to him- the chance of a brighter future. “Education has the power to transform, to build bridges to visions that you previously thought off as unreachable. A good education opens up the world gloriously, not just for an individual but for the community and the nation at large.” But how is he feeling about the change?  Personally. “I don’t want to be carried away,” he says. “I feel happy. I feel confident. I feel the energy to do more.”

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