SUCCESS: Clearing clogged drains, overcoming casteism

A survey conducted in India indicates that over 200,000 people died of malaria in 2012. In this interview VV-PACS Community Correspondent Satyendra speaks from Mau, Uttar Pradesh, describing how clogged drains were causing sickness and ill health in his village. With this video, Satyendra & his community successfully challenged caste constraints to clear up drainage systems, directly benefitting over 150 people in his village.

The statistics say that 1300 children die of malaria across the world on a daily basis. Roughly, a child every minute. As a resident of Chhichor, Mau, VV-PACS Community Correspondent Satyendra Kumar knew all too well the dangers of this disease. For several years his community had battled with blocked drains and disease, so finally, in May 2013, when his own uncle fell ill with malaria, Satyendra knew it was time to put his training to test. He mobilized over 35 members of his Dalit community to discuss this problem. The community agreed. The blocked sewage accumulated in the clogged drains crisscrossing through their community was the primary reason for sickness and disease.

Satyendra explained to them the IndiaUnheard way of working, and the residents collectively decided that since all else had failed, this was something worth trying. After recording their testimonies, Satyendra and 5 other residents approached the Village Head, who confessed his inability to intervene in this issue. Undaunted, the group then went to the Block Development Officer (BDO) and showed him the testimonies recorded by Satyendra. The BDO issued orders that government owned land should be used to channelize the clogged drainage. Ecstatic with his immediate orders, the residents returned to their village, only to be told by a fearful Patwari (village accountant) that while such government owned land did exist on the village records, the person currently occupying that land was a powerful upper caste land-owner — Radheshyam Singh, who had refused to allow the required channels to be dug.

Not to be outdone, the community waited, till the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) came to their village for a visit. Over 70 residents gheraoed (a common way of protesting) the SDM, who promptly asked to be taken to the selected spot.

"It was around 8pm, and was pitch dark in our village. We set up lanterns & lights, and showed him the spot. He immediately called the two other men who had accompanied him, and had them dig out a channel in front of our eyes. The community was thrilled, finally, to see an official who had heard their appeals." Their joy was short lived, because by the next morning, the channels had been filled in and the drains didn't flow free. "I was so angry," says Satyendra. "I immediately called up the SDM, and he simply said, don't worry. His car was there, so about 5-10 of us piled into it, and went to the spot, and found one of his men there, who again, assured us." Within a month, the Village Head had the work done, thereby ensuring that the community of 150 people did not have to face any problems caused by clogged drains.

When asked what his first experience of creating change with a camera felt like, the momentary silence is solemn. He describes how Radheshyam & Narendra Singh, a retired army officer, and both upper caste landowners in his village came hunting for his head. "They came, with many men, and lathis (sticks) and an Army-issued revolver. They said they'd kill me. And God help those who try to help me."

The interviewer's incredulous interjection "Oh my God! This is like a bad Bollywood film" is brushed aside with a flippant, "Our entire lives are like bad Bollywood films, didi."

Continuing his story, he speaks of how, silently, his entire community surrounded him. "It was a short, silent moment. Within seconds, my people gathered around me. It was an unspoken challenge to the eons of caste discrimination we have faced. Radheshyam and Narendra Singh said nothing, they simply left. Our community is comprised of about 50 percent Dalit families, and the rest are Other Backward Caste (OBC) families. Every day of our lives is a struggle. Being a Community Correspondent gives me a voice, gives our community a chance to change all the years of corruption & caste discrimination we have faced. It's been a pleasure to create change with a camera, and I'm looking forward to doing it again and again. Our age of silence is over."

About the Partnership: This is a PACS-VV video. The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme and Video Volunteers have come together to create the Community Correspondents Network. The videos created by the network bring out voices from the margins, providing communications skills to marginalised individuals and advocacy tools to community-based organisations.


Written by— Radhika.

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