IndiaUnheard correspondent Mukesh Rajak promised her that he could bring her respite. All she had to do was speak out to the camera. Today, she goes home every month with 35 kgs of grain. Sold at Rs. 1/- per kg. Lalita Devi can scarcely believe her luck. For 20 year old Mukesh, it was the fourth instance of social change that his 2 years of videoactivism had brought about. IndiaUnheard spoke to him to find out how it had all unfolded. This is what he had to say... "I wouldn't... well, no one would call it a big impact in terms of scale. But while working on the video and on the impact, it was Lalita's bravery that inspired me and kept me going. If there is one thing that I want people to take from these videos, it is the image of Lalita speaking to the camera. That was the act that brought the change." "Meeting Lalita was totally luck by chance. I was sitting in my room when I heard a woman crying. She was wailing, mumbling against the injustice of the world, ranting that nothing would ever change things for the better. I ran out of the room and I saw a frail old woman weeping as she was walking along. She was so caught up in her grief that it seemed that she didn't care about the rest of the world. Not that the rest of the world seemed to care about her." "As a longtime Community Correspondent, it was my first and basic instinct to approach her. Sorrows like Lalita's are some of the billion unheard stories in the country. These stories are my responsibility. I walked over to her, introduced myself, my work. I asked her to tell me why she was crying." "Lalita is a Dalit. She is a widow. She has no regular source of income. When she is in dire need of money she resorts to the 'illegal' practice of selling pieces of coal on the black market. It is a dangerous profession and at her age, you need to be really desperate to engage in it. Her two daughters are married but they live at home with her. Work is largely seasonal and the work they get rarely pays even minimum wage. For people like her, the government's Antyodaya Anna Yojana is a necessary subsidy which helps her family survive." "Lalita is not the only one in the village who has an issue with the PDS distributor. There are many more like her. While doing my research of the video I met them. I asked them to come together and speak before my camera. I promised them the same thing I promised Lalita, that I will help them bring the change they desire. But no one came up. They were all afraid. I had no option but to shoot the video with only Lalita willing to testify." "I took the footage and went straight to the PDS distributor's shop which is built within the compound of her house. I visited the shop, asked to speak to her and was directed into the house. Her entire family was present. I began explaining why I had arrived and her husband started screaming the roof down - 'WHAT RIGHT DO YOU HAVE TO ASK THESE QUESTIONS?'. I have seen all this before. I held my ground, waited for him to pause and talked into the pauses." "I was plain, simple and straightforward. I asked them - 'Do you deny that you are cheating the people?' They denied it. I showed them the video. They said - 'The woman is lying.' It went on in this manner and finally, I got them to promise that next month I could be present and with my camera as witness, they would give her 35 kgs for Rs. 35/-, like the rulebook says." "I don't know if the editors will put the footage in but there's a shot where 35kgs are measured to the scale. Lalita Devi hands a Rs. 50/- note over to the shop and gets Rs. 15./- return in change. I could barely contain my joy while I was filming it." "Lalita was the real hero. I'm going to show this video back to the others in the village who opted not to speak out. She's the real hero of this change." Thank you Mukesh and congratulations on this great impact. "Just one more thing...." (Mukesh loves a good chat on the phone) Okay. (He's giggling now) "After I had my discussion debate with the PDS distributor, she kept insisting she pay me for my fuel. It sounded like a bribe. I absolutely refused." "After that she kept insisting I have some food. That set me thinking. The PDS distributor is a Dalit, just like me. But we belong to different sub-castes. Under the caste system (whch is abolished but... exists), we are not really allowed to eat in each other's houses. So I sat there and finished a good meal." "You always have to do the right thing. No matter what."
Ranjeet Kumar / January 22, 2021
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