He emerged from the jaws of death after a road accident with a renewed commitment to using the power of video storytelling in the heritage-rich district of Rajsamand in Rajasthan.
Meet Shambhulal Khatik, one of the most prolific, impact-driven, and longest-standing Community Correspondents in Video Volunteers.
"My personal life has been full of struggles right since childhood,” says the young man who was forced to swap his education for work in a tea stall in Gujarat, far away from home. “But the toughest phase was when I met with a road accident in 2014. I was hospitalized with head injuries and my in-laws abandoned me. Everyone abandoned me, except Video Volunteers, who supported me morally, financially and in career growth. The support that Video Volunteers gave me at that stage is unparalleled and the main reason I could get back to work," says Shambhulal.
”My parents gave me life but VV gave me hope and a way ahead in life.”
Video Volunteers provided the much-required moral support, while several of his colleagues -- community correspondents like himself -- donated money to help Shambhulal recover and resume fieldwork. For weeks, micro-donations trickled into his bank account from his colleagues across the country.
Though he recovered physically after months, the accident affected his mental health, leaving him depressed. "But I had this strong drive to continue doing community stories and I knew that I had to find strength in my camera," he recalls.
For Shambhulal, the ability to help others through his video storytelling was almost cathartic because it helped him to come out of his personal challenges.
His drive to tell community stories has led to nine impacts this year so far. Since he joined VV 12 years ago as a Community Correspondent, he has achieved an astonishing 62 impacts that brought positive change to the lives of over 20,000 people. He has produced over 260 videos, so nearly 1 in 4 has achieved an impact.
So what is his secret?
Working with and for his community
Scientist and global health advocate Gustav Nossall once wrote, “Community leadership is the courage, creativity, and capacity to inspire participation, development, and sustainability for strong communities.” Shambhulal's nose for news, community ties and savvy ability to influence the administration are the very embodiment of community leadership.
Shambhu has taken upon himself the task to resolve pressing challenges local communities face. Bijli, Sadak, Paani (power, roads, water), independent India's most pressing needs, are still far from a reality in many parts of Udaipur district, the stark, beautiful, and artistically rich area of Rajasthan from where Shambhulal hails. And community correspondent Shambhulal is trying his best to be an agent of change in delivering that 75-year-old promise.
One such basic demand for water, by the tribal 'Bhil' community of a neighboring district, led Shambhulal to do a video story and write an application to the local authority. Eventually, the official took note of the matter and installed a water storage tank, pipes and taps for the people. In 2021, he created another video report that helped about 60 households in a local village to get a water supply. The village was not receiving water from the municipal authorities. There was either no supply or it was irregular with no fixed timings.
The desert state of Rajasthan faces a severe water crisis every year. 215 of 284 dams are dry, and the remaining 69 have low water levels. Of the 22 large dams in the state, nine have no water.
Shambhulal was part of Video Volunteer’s #BattiGul campaign in 2018. Correspondents across India fact-checked the government claim that rural India had achieved 100% electrification, making videos on areas that still lacked electricity. Shambhulal's BattiGul videos exposed how the government’s promise of rural electrification went unfulfilled in certain hamlets. He got several families in their district access to electricity.
Other impacts he is proud of include getting equal burial rights for Dalits and providing a financial and welfare scheme to a homeless aged couple, to name a few.
Leveraging Connections to Media and Government
Shambhulal's work has also been very impactful because of the way he approaches government officials with the issue and works with them till a positive outcome is achieved. When one story is not enough, he'll follow it up with another video. He personally writes petitions and gets involved in any paperwork that the community members need in order to put their grievances forward. He used his videos as a bridge-building tool to local government officials who are disconnected from residents.
Another ingredient in the success recipe of Shambhulal's community stories and impact is his strong and reciprocal relations with local journalists across publications.
One of his first stories for Video Volunteers was about the neglected rights of the sanitation workers in his village. "I remember how this story led to further coverage of the issue by Rajasthan Patrika, the leading vernacular daily in Rajasthan, and it caused an impact," he recalls.
Many times he has shared his video stories with other journalists to have a bigger impact and at times he has followed up on their one-off reports to take it to the impact stage.
Shambhulal has a great understanding of technology and uses innovative approaches to achieve impact. In 2012, he used an ingenious way of leveraging the local cable network to highlight community issues. He recorded a video on the deplorable condition of a local crematorium shared by his community with two other Dalit sub-castes, the Meghwals and the Ghametis. He showed the video back to the community through a local cable network.
He is also extremely aware about government grievance redressal mechanisms. He writes to the Prime Minister’s office if an issue is not getting resolved at the local level. For instance, he wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office to highlight how the Ujjwala scheme has failed its beneficiaries. In 2016, PM launched the Ujjwala scheme for people under BPL and the government said that providing LPG connections to BPL households will ensure universal coverage of cooking gas in the country.
Spotlighting gender in community discussions
Shambu’s work displays a remarkable gender sensitivity, informed both by VV’s training on dismantling patriarchy in our own lives, as well as his personal experience as the father of two girls.
This stirring drive led him, in 2021, to a village where girls from 25 different communities wanted to play sports and did not have proper facilities or electricity in their neighborhood playground.
He worked with the community on a dual solution. Shambhulal wrote an application to the local official and got solar lights installed in the ground so that the girls can play at night as well. The dreams of 25 girls came true with that impact.
The story had a far and wider impact, and later a local elected representative provided funds to build proper facilities in the playground.
In 2017, Shambhulal told a heart-wrenching story about a pregnant woman's death after she was rejected by five hospitals for lack of proper facilities. Rajasthan, he knows, has one the worst maternal mortality ratios in India at 164 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The national maternal mortality ratio stands at 113, for a comparison. Pushpa Bai is no longer just one more faceless figure in statistics.
Shambhu also recognizes progress on gender when other journalists probably wouldn’t even notice a gender angle. For this story, from Feb 2022, on two women bureaucrats, his purpose in visiting a government office was not to finger-wag over poor governance but rather to understand the experience of women office workers. He saw genuine progress, and the video gives credit where credit is due.
Supporting communities during COVID 19
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown threw everyone's life out of gear and Shambhulal also found the going very tough in the initial days of the lockdown. With his wife back and two daughters to feed, he soon ran out of money to manage the house.
After discussing several story ideas with his mentor at Video Volunteers and following all of VV’s Covid safety protocols, he set out to highlight critical issues faced by people and public health workers. He got to know of a group of ASHAs (local health workers) in his area who did not have PPE kits. He left no stone unturned and used the power of visual storytelling from the source of the issue to ensure that proper safety kits were provided to them.
Shambhulal's community leadership at this time also came forth in the matter of vaccine hesitancy.
”For a while, nobody in our village was vaccinated. Despite the government and local administration's assurances, many people feared that they would die if they got vaccinated. One day I mustered the courage, left home without informing anybody, and got myself vaccinated. I initially feared that I would die but when I survived, I informed everybody and encouraged them to get the first dose."
During those early days of the pandemic, Shambhulal also reached out to families who survive on daily wages. He found them without work and without access to India's PDS (the public distribution system for food rations). With financial support from Video Volunteers, he gave rations to these families. He also documented their stories. 50 year old Prem Kanvar, a widow with a family of four, was struggling due to the Covid lockdowns. “I got to know of her deteriorating situation and that the family was short of food, had no electricity and no money,” says Shambhu. ”The district court got involved and rapped the panchayat for negligence. Within a week, the family had the pension and Palanhar scheme activated…One of my best impacts for this year was when I worked to enable the widow pension for this woman."
He is also a part of the #SwasthAspatal campaign. Swasth Aspataal is an initiative by Video Volunteers, started in response to the pandemic, to report on and fix the public healthcare system of India. Most of the primary health centers and other healthcare facilities in rural India are in urgent need of funding and infrastructure support. Under the campaign, Shambhulal is monitoring the progress of one the Community Healthcare Center in his community.
Continuous skilling and learning
Shambhulal doesn't think twice before attributing a big share of his success to the constant support by his mentors and team members at Video Volunteers.
”They have always supported me with mentoring, equipment training and upgrading my skillset,” he adds.
Though today he has the confidence of approaching any government officials to resolve people's issues, Shambhulal clearly recalls that back when he was a teenager he wasn't half the daredevil he is today at 32. He had to be coaxed and convinced by a member of a local NGO 'Seva Mandir' to leave his village and go to the neighbouring state of Gujarat to learn the basics of video film making.
"I came back with the basic skillset of conceptualizing, shooting and editing videos, and I got some wedding assignments and some work through 'Seva Mandir' . Then, the same NGO informed me about the fellowship programme with Video Volunteers in Goa and convinced me to attend it," he recalls.
Bolstered by the training, mentoring in storytelling and equipment handling skills from Video Volunteers, Shambhulal got into the thick of documenting local, important and neglected issues in and around his region.
Shambhulal has been constantly upgrading his skills with Video Volunteers, and the training pays off: Shambhu is regarded as one of the finest videographers in the VV netowrk. This year he has already participated in multiple training programmes including a course in video editing, training in character-based storytelling and on impact documentation.
With the hallmarks of a true community leader, Shambhulal is keen to share all that he knows about community journalism and impact storytelling to a new bunch of highly driven community journalists.
”I would like to be a mentor with Video Volunteers at some stage,”
he says from his own experience that grassroot level journalism is the most effective way to take issues of the people to the last mile.
His gratitude towards his art, mission, and mentors is evident in his work because Shambhulal’s videos are known among his community members and colleagues for their quality camerawork, narration, visuals, balanced view, call to action messages and impact.
"I always wanted to be the voice of those who are otherwise unheard. I talk to my community, understand their issues, demands and reasons. Then I work with them to get in touch with the administration and protest if need be till their problems are resolved. These are issues even the national media ignores or doesn't highlight much," adds Shambhulal, a real-time and real-life community leader.
Avijit Adhikary is a journalist with nearly 8000 days of field experience till date. In the past two decades, he has witnessed the ebb and flow of the media industry in India, with ripples felt in his region too. This includes the rise of digital media, the decline of print...