My name is Mukesh Rajak. I am 22 years old. I was born in a Dalit family in rural Jharkhand. Growing up as a Dalit meant that I often experienced discrimination. Opportunities were few but I was lucky to land a scholarship that enabled me to complete my studies. I developed a passion for education and soon I had a desire to give back to my community.
In 2010, I was identified and trained by a media and human rights NGO, Video Volunteers as a Community Correspondent as part of their IndiaUnheard program. IndiaUnheard is a grassroots media program that publishes news videos & features from marginalized communities from remote corners of the country. Every month I make at least two, three-minute videos on local issues such as human rights violation, corruption in education system, irrigation, agriculture etc. I am paid a small stipend for producing these videos to cover my costs.
Aside from producing the videos I spend a lot of time following up on the issues to create impact by trying to get people to take action on the issues that are raised in my videos. The videos are screened in the community and the evidences shared with government officials and with people in my community.
I made a video titled ‘Pay Bribe, Take Education’ that was published on the IndiaUnheard website, about a school in my village where teachers were taking bribes from students for teaching, conducting exams, and other activities. I showed it to the Block Education Officer (BEO) who went to visit the school and remove the headmaster from his post and terminate his increments for three years. The corruption ended and over 700 children have sat their exams without paying anything. Afterwards, people from Kumargadiya, a neighboring village, called me and informed me that teachers in their school were not attending classes and asked me to help them. I motivated the villagers to sign a petition against the corrupt teachers. I met the government official (BEO), shared a report on the mismanagement in the school. I also presented the video footage and a petition,which included over 50 signatures of people from the village. On receiving this petition and after watching the video the BEO took action at once and punished the teachers. While visiting the schools she also noticed the crumbling infrastructure and lack of proper facilities. She personally supervised the problem and got the building renovated. The children of over 150 families in the district now receive a higher quality of education.I have ended negligence by the teacher at a school in Belatand and around 50 children from some of the most underprivileged families in the village are now receiving better quality of education.
I have also highlighted the issues of Dalit community through my video is of another school in Madhupur Block of Jharkhand where there is only one teacher in the entire school of 112 children. As per the Right to Education Act in India, the teacher- student ratio should be 1:30. Despite the law, government schools continue to lack the right number of trained teachers. The school that I have highlighted in my videos is a school for Dalit children. There is only one teacher who also handles the administrative work of the school and is therefore unable to give time to teaching the students. In my video, I interviewed the teacher, the students and also the government officials. As a result of this the authorities have hired at least one additional teacher for the school.
I have also helped people from the Dalit community to get their entitlements from their local Public Distribution Scheme (PDS). In 2 specific cases, the videos I made resulted in one woman getting the correct ration at Rs 1 per kg and another family getting their due ration which had been stopped because of a personal fight. In both cases official corruption and neglect had resulted in beneficiaries being denied their government entitlements.
Recently I discovered that an individual was taking bribes to deliver UIDAI (Unique Identification) Cards to the villagers. I collected the evidence and went the postmaster after which all the persons including postman apologized for the incident and returned the money to the villagers. The postman gave an oath on camera stating he would not give the UIDAI cards to the accused individual to distribute in future. The accused also gave a video statement saying he was ashamed of his actions and he will not repeat. In another case the villagers of Mathurapur were forced to live in dark for 4 years because the JE of Electricity department was demanding bribe of RS 20,000 from the villagers to replace the transformer. But after my interference and showing the concerned video to the SDO, they replaced the transformer within in a month without taking any bribe.
A well sanctioned by MGNREGA to a poor family was lying incomplete for last one and half years. I met the woman in distress running from door to door. She met public representatives like village Headman, ward member but it was of no use. I made a video on it and followed up with impact plans and it got constructed in 7 days. I have often used RTI in my work to get rightful entitlements for my community. Through the help of RTI I have exposed the corruption in MGNREGA scheme- how officers are cheating the Govt. duties in paper. On paper they are writing a lot of thing but in the ground the reality is often different. There are so many schemes which are complete on paper but on the ground the situation is different. The RTI I filed against an individual helped point out that she was not carrying out her duties as a Rozgar Sevika as she was studying elsewhere. For this I was honored by RTI forum Jharkhand in association with Media Information Communication Centre of India (MICCI) and FEs with RTI Citizenaward.
But it was not all easy. During the course of my work, I had gone through some of the most painful experience in my life. Let me share it with you in a chronicle order. The first one is of Madhupur, Police station where I had been beaten, threatened and dragged out of the police station because I was taking some video footage and supporting the movement of hundreds of girls who were not paid the scholarship by the school authorities on the direction of O.C. Madhupur. I had submitted written complain to the SP and the DC on this concern but no action has been taken yet against the O.C.
The second one is of a Subdivisional Hospital Madhupur where patients were being denied proper treatment by doctors who were not attending to them on time. While I went there for my own treatment I saw and recorded a horrific case where medical negligence lead to the death of a new-born infant. Aamna Bibi who had been waiting for the doctors for last 3 hours had to be rushed to private clinic for delivery. Her baby was still born because of the delay When the Doctor arrived upon my mere narrating of the pathetic condition of the patients and non availability of the doctors in the Hospital I had been abused and beaten up by the doctor. As I started to work to get her justice and compensation another case was brought to my notice. A young boy Kundan, died because he wasn’t given rabies injections on time at the hospital. The video I made and the online campaign I did helped bring results over the next few months. The Govt. has compensated the families of Aamna Bibi and Kundan by providing money for Indira Awas Yojana and regular supply of rations respectively. Kundan’s family was also given compensation of INR 1.5 Lakh. The videos I made were used to start two petitions on change.org, which were signed by 40,000 people across the world. I also led several rallies on the ground, which resulted in a fact-finding mission being sent to the sub divisional hospital. The immense public pressure has ensures better services at the hospital. In my recent visits and through eye-witness testimonies I have gathered, I have found that there are doctors present 24×7. Provisions like rabies shots, not available before are now available.
Third one which has troubled me most is of MGNREGA. I had heard of rampant corruption in the manner in which MGNREGA scheme was being implemented in Madhupur. To find out the truth behind the situation I filed an RTI at the Block Development Officers on 8th of May 2012. And on 12th of May, 2012 the Rojgar sevika Vandana kumari filed an FIR with the Madhupur Police station in which she accused me of Blackmailing her, threatening her and snatching a gold chain. She mentions that the event occurred at around 1 pm on the 8th of May after seemingly waiting for 4 days to put blame on me. At the supposed time and date of the offense , I was at a local NGO and she was attending a B. ED class at SP college in Dumka. The case is still under process and if CPJ, New York ,HRLN Jharkhand and Video Volunteers would have not supported me. I would in no position to fight them and would easily have had became the victim of corrupt system.
My work in the field has been also appreciated by Vikash Bharti, Ranchi and I was presented the Swami Vivekananda Sewa Samman 2011 by the Chief Minister. The real award, however, was the chair that I was offered while visiting the homes of higher caste neighbors. This, for me is the real change. I want to capitalize on it and bring about change that is much needed in my community. I have been introduced to inexpensive technology in the form of video. I want to combine this with strategy and passion to bridge the two different India’s on either side of the great information highway in the 21st century.
Watch my stories here and don’t forget to share your views in comments.