VV-PACS Community Correspondent Shabanam has gone from strength to strength as she takes on infrastructural issues faced by different communities in Varanasi District in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Through her latest efforts, employing her wit and charm, she won over the community in Bhavani Village and ensured that the road they had wanted for nearly a decade got constructed. The below is a tame version of the account that Shabnam animatedly narrated over a phone call.
“I started working on this project in August 2013. I remember it had rained a lot that day. I was sitting at the Village head’s house in Bhavani Village to get some paper work done for myself. Bhavani is where my mother’s family lives.
In the middle of a conversation with Bhola Devi, the village head, I heard a child being scolded for playing on the road. I wondered what the big fuss was about so later when I saw the child I asked him why his mother was so upset.
‘I fell and broke my hand sometime ago while playing here that’s why mummy gets scared’, admitted Ashutosh.
The village road at the point in time had turned to sludge because of the incessant rain. When I asked around a few people agreed that it was a nuisance. Though an internal road, this was the one that women used to take their cattle grazing; it is the only way to get to the market outside the village; to get to jobs etc. I started wondering why it wasn’t being repaired.
When I returned a few days later to get some interviews for the video I planned to make, it started becoming evident that I had ruffled some feathers. The previous village head, who had served three terms (15 years), had failed to take action to repair the crumbling road. The current head hadn’t done much either. Both camps now feared their reputations being tarnished.
My initial attempts to film went nowhere. Most people refused to talk to me. Some were certain that I was going to achieve nothing. Some did want to talk; they’d wring their hands in frustration, narrating their travails on the road but freeze up in front of the camera. I honestly wanted to stop filming and drop the issue right there. Was it worth it having to listen to people say stupid things about you when all you were doing was help them?
I decided that it was. There were politics at play and though I wasn’t involved, it was easy to understand that keeping me quiet would help maintain a status quo. Though how the construction of a road was a bad thing, I could not understand. The first thing I did was to get the village head, Bhola Devi on board.
Being a female village head is a difficult job. Most have never done anything apart from cook, clean and produce babies for their husbands. Bhola Devi’s husband does run a lot of the village’s affairs but she is slowly coming out of that shadow. I was able to see that while working with her.
She wasn’t comfortable with being interviewed nor was she comfortable with her shortcomings becoming public knowledge. I explained that it was OK and that there was still time to change things around. Technically, the village head is the one in charge of carrying out work like constructing roads and fixing water connections. I offered to put her get in touch with the Member of Legislative Assembly, Mr T. Ram to get the work finished.
I went around and interviewed the few people who were willing. On every visit to the village, it was the children that greeted me with most enthusiasm. Their endless questions about what I would do with their interviews and the photos I took of them encouraged me to carry on with the work.
With the filming complete, I started looking for ways to ensure that the road -work started. In October 2013 I went to Varanasi to a public grievance redressal meeting. There I found out that the funds for the road had been recently released. I was assured that the work would soon start and if it didn’t I should come back and ask more questions.
I went back and casually brought up the topic with the village head. She said that if the money was there she’d start the work. When I returned a few days later I saw the labourers laying the brick of the road.
I was excited and started asking the supervisor a million questions. His response was: ‘Oh so you’re the girl who is behind all of this…’
I suppose my reputation now reaches a place before I do. I learnt later that the work had started with a major fiasco. The supporters of the ex-village head had implied that their land was being taken and had called the cops to stop the road construction.
Bhola Devi came and handled the situation explaining how and why the construction started. The police soon realised that everything was OK and moved on. With the road now finished, people are happier as they have one less thing to worry about. They are now more accepting of my work and me.
This video was a challenging one to make. I enjoyed every minute of it. And you know what, the few people who stood by me is what motivated me to do my job. Every impact video I make is the result of an internal drive. A crazy obsession that takes over when you know that you can do something right and bring change to a stagnant system.”
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.
It is estimated that the area of Pelma, Chhattisgarh holds about 40 million tonnes of coal that the corporates are eyeing.
If not for the intervention by our community correspondent, the poor villagers would have continued paying taxes for a land they didn't own.