This is the second of a 3-blog series by Jessica Mayberry, the founding director of VV on the of Community Video Unit (CVU) – the organization’s pioneering community media model, in addressing sensitive issues such as caste, sex and gender, and find innovative ways to deal with them. To read more about Ms Mayberry, visit our staff page.
Video Volunteers and all our partners have a rights-based approach, and we train the Producers to approach the development issues (health, education, livelihood, etc.) on which they make films from a gender and caste perspective. Presently we have 12 Community Video Units (CVU) and two of them are entirely Dalit, and located in highly caste-sensitive areas. In one case, the NGO Navsarjan chose to situation the CVU in the most conflict-ridden villages they work in, where at least one Dalit atrocity had been registered in the last year. The CVUs in Ahmadabad and Halol are both half-Hindu and half-Muslim and nearly all the Producers experienced the riots in some ways, from losing their homes to learning to hate the other religion. But through working in the CVU they learn to be sensitive to issues of caste or religion and we have numerous instances of Producers talking about their own transformations – how they would never go to a Dalits’ house or talk to a Muslim, but now in the CVU they have made close friends across the boundaries of religion.
One of the great uses of any communications tool is to build bridges, and that has been a goal for VV and for our partners in the CVUs. In Ahmedabad, Samvad CVU, supported by Saath, has screened films that they have on the riots’ right on a dividing line between the two communities, with Hindus seeing the screen on one side and Muslims on the others. At Apna Malak Ma, the all Dalit CVU supported by Navsarjan, the coordinator Manji said at one early screening, “See here how all the Upper Castes are sitting high on the walls and the lower castes are sitting down. For once we are all together, and in a years time probably some lower castes will be sitting up too.” These stories show how the CVUs create public spaces where dialog and shared experiences happen, and how this can build connections across deep divides.
But how do the CVUs deal with situations where the audience is not likely to be amenable to the messages? The strategy of the CVUs is to make films on the issues that affect the whole community, and to give the messages of gender or caste in a subtle way. At the Dalit CVU, they rarely talk about caste, but the message is clear because everyone knows that the CVU is all-Dalit; in Gujarat, they can see that the CVUs are half hindu and half muslim even when they are talking about, for instance, goat rearing. The very fact that a 17 year old Dalit girl is making a speech about water to the entire village makes an impact from a caste perspective, even when the film doesn’t address caste.
The CVUs also earn support from other groups by making films on issues they know will also be beneficial for this other group. So Apna Malak Ma’s strategy with their first film was great — it was on Below Poverty Line cards, an issue the NGO had never worked on, but which the Producers’ surveys had shown was a real interest in the community. Around 700 BPL cards were filed after the screenings, with their help, and for the fist time, the NGO had upper castes coming to their office and asking for help. Something similar happened with a film on land rights. Land rights are a Dalit issue primarily, and so to make it non-controversial they made sure to help a number of prominent OBC’s in the villages with their applications for land rights. The film highlighted success stories rather than conflict related to caste.
The success story was an upper caste man whose land was given to a Dalit, but the two are now friends. In a film on the riots, the Producers in Ahmedabad filmed a cock fight to imply subtly that the riots had been caused by powers-that-be manipulating Hindus and Muslims to blame each other, rather than the government, for their woes. This is all about using communications strategically. Often, this is where our editorial involvement can make a difference, because although the Editorial Board is primarily made up of community members, VV and the NGO also consider ourselves part of the community, and have a voice too. (We use that voice to, for instance, never allow anything caste-ist or sexist to seep into the film, which can happen especially in new CVUs.) VV gives them creative ideas to subtly get across their messages.
– Jessica Mayberry