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 journalism and the divisive stands of television channels and the growing power of social media in news and opinions.
No matter how much things changed, Avijit never strayed away from his passion: telling stories that mattered. A driven, passionate journalist with mainstream media, Avijit, however, always yearned for more meaningful work that could be done at a local level, something that impacted others' lives and brought about change. Video Volunteers provided him with that opportunity.
As a Community Correspondent with a background in covering news from the ground, he quickly realized why this kind of work brought him job satisfaction: not only did writing stories bring joy to others by highlighting important issues affecting them directly, but just as importantly it also gave credence to those whose voices that were often left unheard by mainstream media outlets.
“With mainstream media, I cover daily news reports. In this format, there is no scope for achieving impact or a positive solution for the people involved. Your report about an issue that the news highlights that day, and that's it. Whereas, with VV, there is a scope for achieving an impact by resolving a matter. I create a video report, take it to the authorities and try to bring a positive end to the matter that should benefit the person involved. Community media takes me closer to the community, gives me happiness that I can empower people, and in return, I get a lot of love and respect”.
It was this sense of purpose that kept propelling Avijit forward each morning with renewed enthusiasm for another day's worth of storytelling ahead!
The struggles for education - an inspiration to give back to society
Hailing from a remote village in undivided Midnapur district of West Bengal, Avijit was determined to make more of himself - even when obstacles such as poverty prevented him from joining a school or attending after-school tuitions. Undaunted by these challenges, he instead chose to sit outside the door of a private tutor who used to conduct after-school classes. With no resources except for his immense willpower, he sat near the shoes so that he could listen to all the lessons being taught inside – a remarkable feat made only possible because of dedication and courage against adversity.
Despite this challenge, he persevered until his hard work yielded results: the teacher finally gave in to his dedication and admitted him to his tutorial classes for free. This turn of events empowered Avijit to pay it forward as a tutor who imparted knowledge out of generosity - all due to his earlier success in overcoming difficulty.
Avijit's lived experience and his personal fight for education are something that has deeply impacted his storytelling. As a Community Correspondent for Video Volunteers, he has always highlighted issues of children from underprivileged communities who were denied access to education.
His quest to provide equal access to education got him the prestigious - “Shishushree Award” from the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights for two consecutive years in 2021, and 2022. What was his tool? Visual storytelling that too from the source of the issue; He used it as an instrument of empowerment, change and progress.
In 2020, he received recognition from the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR). The story behind this honor is one of dedication and perseverance. A Shishu Shiksha Kendra, or primary school, had been closed for seven long years due to a shortage of teachers, leaving the small tribal children in the area at risk of missing out on vital mid-day meals. With their parents often traveling to other districts for daily work, these children were left without proper care and education. He brought attention to this issue by creating a video and through his efforts the state government finally appointed a teacher through special arrangements. This allowed the school to re-open and the mid-day meal program to resume.
In 2022, he did a video story on how the children of brick kiln workers faced enrollment issues in local government schools. As the brick kiln workers are nomads and stay at one location for only 4-6 months, their children find it difficult to continue their studies. Avijit produced a video story about the status, the problems and potential solutions and showed it to local officials and brick kiln owners. As an impact, the government officials instructed the brick kiln owners to start school within their premises. Avijit’s contribution doesn't end there; he occasionally doubles up as a teacher in one of the brick kiln schools.
Before helping lay the foundation of education for the brick kiln workers' children, Avijit was instrumental in using his video reportage to push the administration to provide ID cards and the necessary documents to children of nomadic communities to get school education. For this story he won his first Shishushri Award in 2021.
“I did a video story on the issue and also wrote to the state education minister about the children,” Avijit said, adding that he also pleaded with the high commission to help these people receive their share of education and equal treatment.
After his video story was published, the government swung into action and ensured the nomadic tribal children got their documents, removing hurdles in their access to education.
As a community journalist Avijit’s work has got him recognition and regard from people, but he’s personally proud of his success in empowering the women of the communities he’s worked with.
“Women from the nomadic tribal communities were unaware of their rights. They didn't know that they can get access to basic health care from government hospitals for free”.
Avijit recalls the touching incident of a pregnant lady not being aware that she was entitled to free medical assistance and vaccines for the child. The expecting parents visited a hospital with Avijit's intervention.
“Now, pregnant women and young mothers go to the nearby healthcare center on their own to get vaccines and other healthcare services. It gives me immense joy that women who have never stepped out of their homes are now empowered to take charge of their own health and that of their children,” Avijit says.
Noticing a gender divide in society right from his childhood, Avijit grew up with the determination to be able to work towards empowering women and children to be aware of their rights.
Even during his college days, Avijit tried to instill in their minds that they could be liberated from their crisis only when they would come out in the open. Among many of his contributions during this period, one of the earliest was the establishment of a voluntary organization to help women and children
Avijit set-up a not-for-profit organization ‘Bishupnpur Town Civil and Social Society’ along with a sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) who was pursuing a course on Human Rights. The organization worked to provide education to the children of sex workers. The community journalist identifies this as the first turning point of his life.
Even though the non-profit is now defunct, he plans to revive it as part of his retirement plans after his journalism days are over.
Life before Video Volunteers
Avijit was born in 1970, and during his childhood, a typical day was one in which he had to work in the field with his parents to earn a living. The meager earnings from a day of labour were used to pay for their daily amenities, among which was education. Even after a hard day of labour, Avijit’s parents could only afford to educate him and his younger sister. His older sister couldn’t study due to poverty. Coming from an economically backward family, Abhijit knew he wanted to alleviate himself and others of the situation. That motivated him to help people around him in every little way he could.
However, aware of the limitations of his finances and finding a writer in himself early on, Avijit knew that journalism was the direction in which he wanted to move. His motive as a journalist was to bring about a change in society, as he saw that it provided him with a platform to voice the problems of people. He did all in his capacity to help his communities and people who were in need, marginalized or faced injustices. He used his news writing and reporting skills to help them out with writing letters to authorities for basic facilities that were amiss in the lives of people.
He’s used his writing skills to draft letters on behalf of people from his neighbourhood to the local government officials to highlight local issues. Soon, the word spread and people from distant villages also came to him to help them draft powerful complaint letters to the authorities. The issues ranged from erratic power supply to the non-functioning of street lights.
“I knew I was not financially equipped to help people, therefore I offered them help not in cash but in kind.”
During his days spent drafting letters to the editors of vernacular dailies, Avijit got in touch with a journalist who incidentally played a role in him getting a job with a local vernacular, Sanbad, when he was 26 years old; starting his journey as a mainstream journalist.
Following that he was associated with multiple leading vernaculars between 1996 and 2018. In 2019, he joined Anando Bazar Patrika as a correspondent. Anandabazar, a Bengali-language daily newspaper owned by the ABP Group claims to have a circulation of 1 million copies as of December 2019.
The dream job
On a beautiful spring morning, Avijit received an unexpected call from a journalist asking for his help. Without hesitation, he agreed and set off on what would become the beginning of an incredible journey that changed his life again. His mission was to take a tribal correspondent of Video Volunteers to meet remote tribal communities, a task she couldn't have done alone.
As they worked together, Avijit realized he could do this job too; it enriched him by introducing topics beyond those addressed in newspapers or typical news stories, which is why he remained deeply entrenched in his work.
“I found the job very interesting because it will help me work closer with issues that go beyond the newspaper readers' domain,”
Avijit instinctively offered his services for VV without worrying about the deliverables of the job. The moment he realized that this job role required him to create videos of people in trouble with issues revolving around their basic rights, basic amenities and facilities, he was all game for it. Just like that, with his innate drive and with a stroke of luck, Avijit bagged the role of Community Correspondent with Video Volunteers.
Since then, Avijit’s impact stories’ data tells a tale of its own. In over 4 years with VV, he has produced 139 video stories impacting 1,159,764 lives.In 2021 alone his stories impacted 813,322 lives.
Shift in news gear- New reporting to issue resolving for communities
Associated with both forms of journalism print and digital with mainstream and community media, Avijit clearly articulates the primary points of advantage that a CC has over a mainstream journalist when it comes to resolving people's issues. A mainstream print, TV or digital journalist reports on an issue and does not go in-depth into the core issue because they are not mandated to report on an issue with the mission to resolve the matter. The mainstream journalist is not socially or sentimentally connected with the issue, whereas the community correspondent is invested in the matter from the community point of view and has faced the same or similar challenges in their life.
He points out that a mainstream journalist rarely has the time and editorial clearances to engage with government officials and authorities to resolve peoples' issues or write applications on behalf of marginalized communities or those who have been wronged. A community journalist, on the other hand, goes the extra mile and tries till the last stone is turned to get people justice.
The instrument of change
During his decade-long association with Video Volunteers, Avijit has several experiences that made him the instrument of change. His ability to patiently listen to the issues communities are facing and then toil with them towards a viable solution, help him to make a difference. His video stories made authorities aware about local issues and his ability to mobilize the communities helped resolve those issues.
His impactful story about the troubles people faced due to a fallen bridge; which led to the rebuilding of the bridge. In another instance, Avijit's community journalism has compelled authorities to act and provide villagers with their basic needs, like electricity. Avijit always takes the lead in mobilising their community and bridging the gap between the community and authorities. According to Avijit, increased communication between community members and authorities can be a powerful way to create solutions for community issues.
By talking to authorities, along with the community members, Avijit ensures that their concerns are heard and taken into consideration, empowering the community to have greater influence over issues that affect them. Working together in this manner promotes productive dialogue and meaningful change at a local level. For, instance, villagers in Bankura came together to fix the water crisis in their areas.
His videos have stirred up matters at the higher levels of the government and reforms have been witnessed on the ground.
An example of this was the repairs of a damaged culvert that was hampering people’s commute and the connectivity between 20 villages. The culvert repair work came under the ambit of the Prime Minister's welfare scheme, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), launched in 2000.
The scheme aimed to provide connectivity to unconnected habitations as part of a poverty reduction strategy. Due to the damaged culvert, farmers had to take a detour of 20 kilometres with their farming equipment to reach the farmland. Villagers were angry that the administration was not taking the matter seriously and they were worried that a big accident could happen at any time.
That’s when Avijit’s story came into the picture. He produced a story for VV and also wrote applications to the concerned authorities highlighting the problems faced by the villagers.
Their application was submitted to the sub-divisional office and repair work on the culvert started on the night of 25th December 2021. When it is done about 1,00,000 people in 20-25 villages will benefit from this development.
Covid time support
During the two successive waves of COVID-19, Avijit was at the forefront reporting about the ground situation for the mainstream media and helping people on the ground for VV.
“The mainstream media only wanted stories. But the VV team reached out to me to check whether I need any help or support to sustain during the lockdown. They even provided protective gears and sanitisers to help me work safely.”
The nationwide lockdown during the first COVID-19 wave in India witnessed large scale migration of workforces from cities to their villages across the country. West Bengal was no different, and Avijit came to the aid of 24 migrant workers who had hired a bus from Chennai, Tamil Nadu to reach their homes in Bankura, West Bengal. As soon as the bus reached a certain point in West Bengal, the driver refused to go ahead. He had charged Rs. 6500 per person and the deal was to drop them to their homes. But he refused to go beyond a point.
The locals were also apprehensive about hosting the labourers fearing the virus. Avijit got to know about the situation from his sources and rushed to the spot. He informed the local sub-divisional police officer about the situation and the authorities then arranged for cars to ferry each migrant labourer to their home.
The second wave of COVID 19, provided another unique challenge where patients were grappling to get medical support due to the rising number of cases and non-availability of hospital beds.
During the second wave of COVID 19, Abhijit was part of the activation of a non-functioning COVID ward in a government hospital in April 2021. The source of this incident is a Government Super Speciality Hospital. Despite the rising cases of COVID at the time, this ward remained non-functional and patients were being directed towards the District hospital which was already overwhelmed with cases. Additionally, people had to travel 40 km to reach the facility, only to be told that there was no bed for the patient.
Avijit filmed the state of affairs in the hospital and screened the video for the authorities and the locals who were affected. He knew very well with years of experience that regular follow-ups would be required. He pursued the matter over social media channels like Whatsapp and Facebook and this led to a resolution to this issue. The ward was finally inaugurated on the 26th of June 2021 after being equipped with oxygen cylinders, ventilators, an x-ray unit, CCU, and 50 beds. The faculty and efficient ambulance services of the hospital brought a breath of relief to the locals.
However, bringing issues like corruption, and inefficient administration, in the limelight has its share of challenges and problems. Since this work involves political parties and local leaders in an unavoidable way, facing their brunt is also part of the process. There have been threats of physical attack to Avijit’s life during his work as a CC with VV. Avijit handles these situations with tact by taking the local administration into confidence. “The VV team also keeps guiding me from time to time when such situations arise,” he says.
There were also times when the people from the community expressed apprehension over his abilities. He recalls that, initially, people did not look at him as a bankable figure because of the inability of mainstream journalists, who had met them for stories, to resolve their issues.
“There is no use of these videos”, a tribal man yelled at Avijit at one instance, dismayed at previous failed attempts and false promises of journalists. “Many reporters like you have come and gone but nothing has changed”.
At such moments, Avijit prefers to not respond at the moment but believed in his mettle to bring out that change through his video reports, planned approach to the administration and consistent knocks on their door till a solution is not brought about.
If community members have doubted his abilities to give them justice, there have been instances when a person came on camera to specifically mention that he had wrongly judged Avijit. That became one of the most rewarding moments of this CC's life.
Upwards and onwards
Being doubly associated with journalism through Video Volunteers as well as a leading Bengali newspaper ABP is an advantage to Avijit in carving a place for himself as a journalist and a proud community correspondent.
He believes there is no such platform as VV that relentlessly and selflessly works toward the greater good. The staff of the organization including the trainers are extremely helpful, he says.
Working with VV, has given him immense satisfaction and added much self-confidence, molding him for a more advisory role for people in need of their basic rights.
Through VV he was able to keep telling stories that highlighted pressing societal issues so that people everywhere could become aware of them and take action accordingly – no matter how small or big their contribution may be towards solving these problems.
It has been years since he joined VV, but till today whenever anyone asks what makes Avijit so proud? His answer is always the same: “Video volunteers helped me realize my dream of solving community problems."
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