“For 60 years I have been living here and there is no sign of a house or a colony,” says Sita Devi, a resident of a Dalit suburb in Hullaspur village of Uttar Pradesh. The Housing and Development Board of India’s most populous state has failed 30 families, including that of Sita Devi, in this make-shift suburb. Community Correspondent Gayatri’s report reveals that in the monsoon season, the houses collapse and are re-built by the residents. It has been going on for years.
“Gram Pradhan visited the area and they have promised to start building the houses soon” Gayatri told VV in mid-September.
Call for Action: To make sure that the Dalit residents in Hullaspur get a permanent housing colony, you can call Manoj Mishra, Gram Pradhan of Hullaspur at +91-9838132184
Gayatri is a social worker since 2001 and a Community Correspondent.
The veteran activist has worked consistently to break down historically ingrained and accepted caste and gender-based discrimination whose effects she personally experienced. Girls in her village were prohibited from continuing their education and were married at an early age. Gayatri, however, was determined to study. The higher secondary school was 15 kilometers away, making it accessible only by cycles. But girls were not allowed to use cycles, which forced Gayatri to copy a student’s notes to continue learning. When she noticed that her method wasn’t effective enough, she chose to take a risk– learn how to cycle and get to school. Her transgression was initially met with more pronounced verbal abuse by a few people and frequent taunts from community members. But with immense courage and her parents’ support, she completed not just class 12 but three years of a BA programme in Politics and Home Science. “After me, women from my village are being educated,” she says.
At an early age, Gayatri began noticing how members of the same village and area treated one another differently. There were rules to be followed and enforced, “when visiting people’s homes, there was a certain way we were required to behave with ‘upper’ caste members and a certain way with members who were from castes ‘lower’ than ours,” she shares. Gayatri says she was curious, albeit cautious and scared, and chose to join the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (All India Dalit Women’s Rights Movement) as a secretary. Soon enough, she became a Community Correspondent with Video Volunteers because she felt that her affiliation with other organisations was not bearing fruit in the ways that she would have liked. “Previously, I only had only printouts and no proof to ground an issue. However, video is a very factual medium which we can use to portray the problems of our own communities and of communities around us,” she shares.
Gayatri has particularly worked on women’s and Dalit rights, and on access to education in her activism with VV and beyond. In 2013, Gayatri made a video about students studying in fields and open spaces in the absence of a safely accessible school. She organised the community and persuaded higher authorities to set up a school. A year later, a school was built with a budget of 6.5 lakhs with three teachers and 80 students. The video, which Gayatri cites as her most important work, will affect generations of Khullaspur residents– giving them safe access to education. Her leadership is bound to have a lasting impact too.
Gayatri’s 2016 video on MNREGA workers demanding job cards was awarded the “Most Viewed YouTube Video” at the Video Volunteers National Meet 2017 with 45.5 lakh views.
Education, however, continues to remain a cause she is particularly invested in. In partnership with a school, Gayatri also leads a monthly training session with school girls from classes 9 to 12. Here, she not only seeks to develop some vocational skills but also an understanding of gender dynamics. After these sessions, the students and Gayatri then dance and enjoy together, in the most heartening of gestures.
Gayatri is also a part of Video Volunteers’ campaign #KhelBadal to dismantle patriarchy. The campaign is taking on patriarchy through stories of women and men who face, negotiate and challenge patriarchy in everyday life — at home, at work, at school, in cultural and public spaces. Under the campaign, she makes films that capture the nuances of routine, normalised gender discrimination, stories of change and runs Gender Discussion Clubs where lively, introspective conversations around gender equality and patriarchy happen.