“People suffering red and greasy water coming out from the hand pump from Pelma Village of Tamnar block of Chhattisgarh.
Community correspondent Rajesh Gupta reports from Chhattisgarh for Video Volunteers.”
Rajesh had ‘secure’ life goals to survive until he saw the desperation to survive and need of justice all around him – in his country, community, even in his own family.
As a young man, Rajesh had always dreamed of having a “secure job and secure earnings, with more than enough to survive.” That all changed one day when he witnessed a hungry man at the Raigarh station. “This man was on the railway tracks, eyeing a woman’s sandwich. When she threw down the last piece, he rushed to pick it and eat it. His desperation shook me to my bones, ” recalls Rajesh. That moment, Rajesh came to recognise traces of the same desperation of the man from the train station all around him – in his country, community, even in his own family. It was this new awareness that drove Rajesh to become a Community Correspondent with Video Volunteers (VV). “As a Community Correspondent,” says Rajesh, “I am dedicated to showing the world the atrocities that are committed towards us, the marginalised living in interior India.”
Rajesh is best known for his work on silicosis deaths in his home state of Chattisgarh, where 26% of the nation’s sponge iron is produced. While India, being the largest producer of sponge iron in the world, has “zero discharge” and proximity to residential locality laws, Rajesh reveals that these laws are rarely followed. This is exemplified in several of Rajesh’s videos, including “Water body turns toxic as factories spew waste in Chhattisgarh,” which takes viewers to Pali, Chattisgarh, where waste is being dumped into the local bathing pond.
Amidst images of children with abscesses and tumours on their face and torsos, Rajesh also reveals that land adjacent to the factory is contaminated over “one foot down” from the surface. One farmer, whose 5 acres traditionally produced “25 bags of rice,” is seen digging into contaminated soil, now lying barren beside the smokestacks of Ma Kali Alloys Udgoy Pvt Ltd.
Another one of Rajesh’s videos which speaks to the effects of unchecked industrialization on the rural poor is “Local Gram Panchayat violates PESA to favour industries in Chhattisgarh,” which reveals the local Sarpanch’s collaboration with the industry despite community opposition. When residents of Saraipali village found out that their Sarpanch and others from the community elite had signed a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to set up a storage facility for gunpowder, over 100-150 villagers signed a petition to oppose it.
With more and more land and forests being devoted to mines, power stations, and factories; and with state and municipal governments favoring the benefits of industrialization to the sustenance of more than 80% of the population, farmers and other local producers have few options. Their voices are not heard by any authority and so they have turned to Rajesh for recourse.
One such story in which Rajesh’s efforts have successfully held government and industry to account, is outlined in the video “Farmers Happy After Getting Their Land Back.” In Bamhanpali, Chattisgarh, Nav Durga Metal Industries bought land “deceptively,” without the consent of the people who owned it. “They (the company) are saying that there are papers that show the company’s ownership, and they said we won’t be getting our land back,” says one resident in the original video which Rajesh made. To follow up on the video he persistently visited the local collector, the Ghargoda court, and the block court. After many such meetings the villagers were permitted to go back to their land.
While not all of Rajesh’s videos have translated into justice, he knows that in many cases his voice will be the only one which speaks to the atrocities faced by the poor in his region.
“I don’t think the mainstream media has done much for social development, at least in Raigad. Accidents, cricket and politics – that’s all you can read about in newspapers. In Raigad, you don’t see much about the poor in the newspapers,” says Rajesh. It is this misrepresentation of what constitutes daily life and the daily concerns of the average Indian that Rajesh applies to his work with VV, and which we know he will apply to his role as a civil servant, which he aspires to be one day.