Friday, October 01, 2010

Prostitution - In The Name Of Tradition!

In India, it’s the age of women empowerment. 33% of the seats in the parliament is reserved for the women. In rural India, village council must have 50% women members. The country has, for the first time in history, a woman president. In Uttar Pradesh – the country’s most politically powerful state, there is a Dalit(‘lower’caste) woman chief minister. But in the same state of UP men in a village have been, for generations, forcing their daughters and sisters into prostitution saying it’s their ‘tradition’.

Gunjan, a community correspondent of our IndiaUnheard program has just filed a shocking video about Natpura, a village near Lucknow – the capital city of Uttar Pradesh state, where for generations, men have been forcing their daughters and sisters into flesh trade.

The girls in the village are made to start serving clients when they are barely 11 or 12. Because they start so early, no girl here goes to school. No woman here gets married either. The reason is, no man from other villages wants to marry a girl from Natpura.

The most shocking fact is that almost every woman here believes that she is just carrying on a ‘village tradition’, though they don’t know what exactly makes this a ‘tradition’. This thought instilled in them by their family members and other male relatives in the childhood. So few girls protest or even realize that they are being exploited or their rights are violated.

Natpura, which comes under Hardoi district, has about 50 families. In every family, all the young women work as prostitutes and are the main bread earners. But when they are old and have retired from the profession, they live in extreme poverty and loneliness, abandoned by their relatives.

However, the male members of their families are free to live whichever way they want. So men here marry and bring home their brides, whom they protect well, keeping them away from prostitution. But when the same couples have female children, they bring them up only to later initiate them into prostitution.

Gunjan, the young correspondent who is from Uttar Pradesh, says that when she visited Natpura 4 years ago, she was totally unaware of the village’s dark truth. It was like any other Indian village with bad roads and homes with broken walls where barefoot children played around while men gathered in front of a tea shop, sipping tea, smoking and laughing. However, she had been surprised to see a number of women sitting in front of their house, as though waiting for someone.

It was only later she came to know that the women, who should have been ideally busy working in the field or kitchen, were waiting for their clients to arrive.

In past four years, however, things have changed a lot, but only for worse. Now girls are trafficked to work in brothels in cities like Mumbai and Dubai. These girls are also as young as 13/14 and don’t even know the meaning of prostitution when they are packed off to a brothel. In fact when Gunjan tried finding someone of her age to speak with, she couldn’t. Because, she was told, all the girls had gone abroad to ‘work’.

Today it’s mostly women who are thirty or more stay in the village. Their clientele includes several politically and economically powerful people. Most of who live in Lucknow – the state capital. Since these men pay well for the women’s services, men in the village are not willing to let the women leave or retire early from the profession.

The village has no schools, no electricity and no panchayat/village council of its own - facts that makes the village a perfect breeding ground of any social crime.

Gunjan says when she visited Natpura, she felt that this was not a part of the country she lived in. This is because all the talk of empowering women, ensuring their rights fall by wayside when one enters the village. This was the same reaction at IndiaUnheard office once Gunjan sent her footage for editing. Everyone sat around the editing table, listening to the interviews, with shock visibly written on their face.

Gunjan says, once she visited the village, she felt ‘compelled by conscience’ to share this story with the world, so it wakes up, takes notice and helps stop this utter injustice to women that has gone on here for long.

If you have read this far, it means, the wall of the isolation has already started breaking.

To see the plight of the women in the shocking video, click here.

Rohini Powar: Correspondent Par Excellence

A few months back I had first written about her - how she tasted empowerment just by dancing for an evening with a group of fellow rural reporters . For years, it was something she longed for. Now, back to village, she is voicing the same longing and feelings of other women like her, living in her own village of Walhe, Maharashtra. Meet Rohini Power again - this time as a community correspondent who can command anyone's respect.

Nag Panchami or the Snake festival has a totally different meaning for women in Walhe village of India’s Maharashtra. Rohini Powar, who lives in the same village, says that it is the only day of the year when married women like her are allowed to dance and play games, while for the rest of the year they are forbidden to do so.

Rohini, now a community correspondent of Video Volunteers' IndiaUnheard program, has just filed a video report that gives us an exclusive insight into this tradition which allows a rare chance to women in her community to enjoy freedom.

In the rural belt of India – a patriarchal society – women labour harder than men do, their areas of work stretching from home and kitchen to the paddy fields. Yet their lives are dogged with problems such as female infanticide/foeticide, early marriage, dowry, forced divorce, malnutrition, poor health and lack of education.

These are endemic problems existing in all states, irrespective of religion and communities. In Rohini's village also women are treated as inferior to men. So while men are free to do whatever they want, women’s movement is restricted and they must take special permission from their family members even to step out of their homes. They are especially forbidden to sing, dance or play in public view. Those who do so, are looked down upon as women of loose morality.

However, once in a year – on the day of Nagpanchami this bar is lifted and women are expected to dance and play games. So this day local women gather at the snake goddess temple to worship. However, what they really wait for is the moment when the worshipping is over and dance and games can begin. Once that moment comes, everyone joins in dancing and playing – acts that are otherwise considered a taboo.

Rohini says that throughout the year women like her look forward to this day when nobody will shout at them for dancing or, nobody will accuse them of breaking a tradition by playing. However, after this day, they will have to return to the life of restriction again. Rohini feels that this must change.

She wants the patriarchal society to change its thoughts and values, so that women like her will not have to enjoy for one long year to enjoy a day’s freedom.

Watch Rohini's candid report here

Friday, September 03, 2010

Indian Temple Shuts Doors To Dalits, Brands Them "Untouchables"

In what is one of the ugliest practices in Indian society, temples in a village in India's Haryana state bars people of Dalit communities from entering and worship.

A local community reporter Amit Kumar, a Dalit himself reports this in a video showing how his community is forbidden to enter a temple.

In Barot village of Ludwa, Haryana, Dalits are not allowed to enter the village temples. The temples allow only the villagers who belong to upper castes to worship. Amit talks to several other youths like himself in his community who share the pain and indignity that they face every day.

The Constituion of India ensures equal rights to all citizens. These include the right to ‘opt, embrace and practice any religion”.

However, in Barot village of Ludwa the Dalits have always been denied this right. They have been treated as ‘dirty’ and asked by both the upper caste and the temple priest to keep away from the temple.

Amit says that though the older generation has accepted this denial of rights as a fate, youths in his community are angry and bitter to be treated as untouchables and being barred from having simple joys such as worshipping in a temple.

Though such discrimination violates the basic human rights and causes a lot of indignity to Dalits, no effort has been made to end this till now. In fact the govt only acts when the prejudice sparks violence and a Dalit family is physically attacked by the upper caste.

Amit who has been reporting on this discrimination since he joinedIndiaUnheard - a news service dedicated to community news, did this video to share with the viewers the humiliation that he experiences every day as a Dalit youth. He wants them to condemn this, so that people like him can live with dignity.

Defenceless Woman Branded Witch, Brutally Tortured

Despite a state law in place, poor women from marginalized communities in Jharkhand continue to be branded as ‘witches’ and tortured. Here is a video that describes the plight of Rubiya Bibi - a poor Muslim woman and a mother of 4 children from Jharkhand state of India, branded as a ‘witch’ and tortured by men of her village.

Brutally beaten, made to eat human waste, ostracized, denied work and earning opportunities, forced to live in isolation – this is the story of Rubiya Bibi, a poor Muslim woman in Jharkhand, India, branded as a ‘witch’ by men in her village.

A mother of four children – all under 10 -, Rubiya’s husband is mentally unstable and oblivious to what is happeing. Rubiya’s in-laws have supported her tormentors and driven her away from her husband’s home.

Rubiya now lives at her father’s home. Her father, a poor labourer, struggles to feed so many mouths with his meager income. Rubiya’a children can’t go to school as their mother is a ‘witch’. They can’t play with other children because everyone teases them as the ‘witch’s children.

Jharkhand was one of the first Indian states, to adopt a law against witchcraft-related cruelties and crimes against women. The law - Witchcraft Prevention Act, 2001 provides for severe punishment for those who brand/torture/kill women as ‘witches’.

Ironically, the state still continues to top the list of women branded as witches.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records state that Jharkhand has witnessed deaths of 249 persons (mostly women) between 2001 and 2008 for "practising witchcraft".

The Jharkhand Criminal Investigation Department figures maintain that as many as 1,200 witches managed to survive torture and attacks between 2001 and 2009. The figures suggest that there has been a rise in the number of attacks on women accused of being a 'witch'.

While the attackers aim to kill the victim, some lucky ones manage to escape. Rubiya was also lucky to have survived. After escaping, she went to the police station of Deoghar and filed a case against her tormentors. But police refused to take action.

Mukesh Rajak, the young community correspondent of IndiaUnheardlives in Deoghar. When he met Rubiya, he was heartbroken to see the plight of the poor uneducated woman who neither any means to earn, nor is provided any help from anyone. He says, “It is only the poor and defenceless women like Rubiya Bibi who are handpicked by their rich and powerful neighbours to be declared ‘witches”.

The unjustified sufferings of Rubiya and her family that made Mukesh angry and bitter, especially the way Rubia’s children were ostracized and taunted every day. It was this anger that made him do this video report, as a documentation of witchcraft torture, despite a law against it.

Mukesh is keenly following the case filed by Ribiya Bibi. He wants people watching this video to create pressure on the police of Deogarh to act on the case, so that this woman can get justice under the existing anti-witchcraft law.

When Flowers Kills A Forest

After 69 day-long economic blockade, the economy of Manipur state in India is in trouble again. This time its from flowering of bamboo. A video produced by a local reporter from interior Manipur brings in light this phenomenon which is rare, natural and also dangerous.

The state of Manipur in north east India, is one of the largest bamboo producing states of the country. has about 3,218 sq. km area covered with bamboo forest. Production in this large forest contributes greatly to India’s Rs. 7,000 + Crore ($1.43 billion)+ bamboo industry. The local economy of Manipur also benefits a lot as bamboos are used practically for every reason – from building a house to cook a local dish. The world market for bamboo is valued at US $ 10.

The mass flowering of bamboos is known as “gregarious flowering of bamboo”. Though it isn’t harmful to humans, it causes great economic loss. This is because after the flowering and seeding, the bamboo ‘clumps' die. Secondly, rats feast on bamboo seeds and multiply their numbers. Once all the bamboo plants die, these rats then start attacking agricultural crops.

This year several districts in Manipur has witnessed bamboo flowering. A video by Achungmei Kamei, a community reporter captures this flowering phenomenon. The video, named Bamboo Bloom Spells Doom and how people of the community, normally heavily dependent on bamboo, is dealing with the aftereffects. The natural phenomenon of bamboo flowering has been recorded to have happened in 1862, 1881, 1911-12 and 1959 too. All of them resulted in severe famine.

Tamenglong, the district that Achungmei Kamei is based in, is one of the 5 hills district of Manipur. This year the district has suffered severe economic loss due to a 69 day-long economic blockade. The blockade which Achungmei earlier reported on, created shortage all basic amenities, including food items. Destruction of bamboo due to bamboo flowering is feared to add to this loss. Already the price of bamboo shoots – a part of people’s daily diet – has gone up by Rs 5

The government usually releases fund to combat the impact of bamboo flowering. In the year 2006-2007, it had allocated Rs 1 crore. But it is not yet known if the state has a plan ready to fight the bamboo flowering impact this year.

In past few years, however, the federal government has multiplied the fund allocated to Manipur. If the state is serious about helping farmers who have experienced great loss due to bamboo flowering, it can. The only prerequisite is political will.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sixty Six Days of Economic Misery: Life Under Economic Blockade in Manipur

On 5th of July, the opposition parties of India called for a nationwide shutdown, to protest against the federal government’s failure to check price rise, especially that of fuel.

The 24 hour shot down call came under heavy criticism by media which was prompt in pointing out that the country would suffer a loss of 13,000 crore or 2.8 billion US dollar because of a 24-hour bandh.

Now, imagine this: a state shut down for, hold your breath, 66 days!!!

And this is a landlocked state with very little cultivable land producing very little food. So starting from rice and good items, all things of need, including cooking gas becomes difficult to access. Schools and colleges shut down because students can’t travel and dorm kitchens have no food supply.

Sounds shocking? Well, it IS the truth.

On 12th of April this year, two Naga political groups (though, incredibly they call themselves ‘students groups’) called for the blockade on National Highway 39 (Imphal-Dimapur) and National Highway 53 (Imphal-Jiribam). The groups were protesting elections to the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in Manipur hills and Manipur government's decision to ban entry of Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah group) – the outfit fighting for separation from India for decades – into Manipur.

Within days of the blockade, Manipur plunged into an unprecedented crisis in Manipur. The two highways under blockade are the lifelines for the state where all supplies reach through trucks. The blockade meant supply trucks couldn’t move in. Before a week had passed, Manipur had shortages of all essentials, including life saving drugs, foodstuffs and fuel.

Finally, on June 18, the All Naga Students’ Association of Manipur called off the blockade. But by then the misery of common citizens was complete. Hostels in schools and colleges had been shut, as there was no food in the kitchen and no power supply. Students were forced to leave. Hospitals stopped taking in patients. All construction work stopped. Temporary workers became jobless. Daily wage laborers were the worst hit.

Now, braving this chaos and agony, a community correspondent kept up her effort to report the story of a state under sieze. But how hard was it for her to do the story? Here is a picture:

The blockade created a huge fuel shortage which, in turn, crippled the transport service. Petrol prices, shot up to Rs 160 a litre and auto and bus fares multiplied. Due to this, shooting of the video itself became an uphill task for Achungmei as she couldn’t travel. Because of power cuts, she couldn’t charge the batteries of her camera for days. Many a times, there was no food at home as the market was closed and sometimes there was no food because there was no cooking gas. While shooting, she was also treated with suspicion and disrespect by many as she was a Naga tribal. Even after the end of the blockade, her family, like thousands others, do not have cooking gas as cylinders are not available.

Achungmei’s video, published only after the blockade that captures the community perspective as vividly as it can be. And it leaves one with the mixed feelings of frustration and hope. Frustration, because, even after 69 days of agony, the fear of yet another new blockade still looms large.

And hope, because, there is a lone community voice that would never keep shut, no matter how difficult the time is.

Varsha breaks the silence

"Hi, I am Varsha. Three days after I was married, my husband beat me unconscious."
Not a conventional opening line -- but then, Varsha is not a conventional reporter.

A correspondent for IndiaUnheard, India's first ever community news service, Varsha is a woman whose brings her own experience of violence to every story she writes.
Varsha writes on a single issue -- domestic violence.

"I represent those women who are being victimized by domestic violence every day of their life... my community is not the one I was born into, but the one I identify with," she says.
Born in a well-to-do family in Pune, 31-year old Varsha had her first brush with cruelty when her father refused to even look at his newborn daughter and kept away from her for eight months because he had wanted a son.

The neglect continued as she grew up. "Every single day of my life, someone always reminded me that I was a girl child, the unwanted one. And that someone was from within my own family," she recalls.

It was sheer grit that kept Varsha going.

Fortunately, her family did not deny her an education. After getting her university degree, Varsha joined a human rights organization in Pune.

Marriage followed soon after. "I was happy, finally, to have a job and to be starting a new life, with someone who liked me. The fact that he was a fellow human rights activist gave me hope for my future."

But her hopes were shattered on the third day after her marriage, when her activist-husband beat her till she fell unconscious.

"First, I was shocked. Then hurt and scared. For everything I said, for every word of protest I uttered, I got a blow on my face. But then came the day when I told myself -- there is something wrong. Either I am not speaking out loud enough, or I am thinking of myself as a lone individual. The truth is, there are many others like me."

It was this realisation that finally brought Varsha to IndiaUnheard.

An initiative of Video Volunteers, IndiaUnheard was launched on May 3 -- World Press Freedom Day -- this year, with a team of 31 correspondents from 24 states. Like Varsha, each of these correspondents has experienced discrimination, violence and neglect in her own life and is committed to reporting on issues that remain largely untouched by the mainstream media.
(Video Volunteers is a media and human rights NGO founded in 2003 that promotes community media to enable citizen participation in marginalized and poor communities.)

Varsha completed a training camp organised for IndiaUnheard correspondents, despite breaking her leg in an accident. It was painful, but Varsha was determined to finish the training. "I have had fractures several times before," she says.

"Once, during the hearing of my divorce case, I was beaten by my husband in the court and left with several broken ribs and a dislocated... injuries do not bother me anymore. In fact, this is the first time in years that I have got an injury which is not the result of a beating."

Based in Danapur -- a satellite town of Patna in Bihar -- Varsha now shoots news videos on women who have been victims of sexual violence at home.

She plans to cover Danapur and Patna, where she says domestic violence is practically a way of life. "India still doesn't have a law against marital rape -- people do not see sexual assault by the husband as a crime," says Varsha.

Domestic violence is an ugly reality for lakhs of Indian women but is still shrouded in denial and silence -- a silence that Varsha is determined to break.

An unreported Korean invasion

It's common to blame the west for anything that goes wrong in India including loss of culture and heritage. But, an IndiaUnheard report shows a different picture where the North Eastern region is experiencing a cultural invasion from the East - Korea.

Wokha in Nagaland is just another hill town in North Eastern India with poor civic facilities and rich tribal traditions. Like the rest of the region, people here are emotional about forest, land and ethnic traditions. And like the rest of the state, people in Wokha too are supportive of the Naga's struggle for self rule.

Ironic, therefore, is the fact that, despite the decade-long violent struggle to save their tribal identity and refusal to be ‘Indianised', the youth of Nagaland have fallen prey to the spell of Korean culture.

The most watched TV channel in the state is the Korean channel Arirang TV, DVD and CD shops are bursting with Korean films and the hottest hair-dos offered by salons are the ones flaunted by popular Korean actors and actresses. All salons carry posters of a particular Korean actor who is much admired by the youth. Shops are selling street fashions that are currently in vogue in Korea, cultural evenings in the state have special ‘Korean song' contests and sports events have categories like ‘Korean wrestling'. Arirang TV is not only watched avidly but also receives requests from the youth of north-east Indian states and newspapers regularly carry a listing of its programmes. In the meanwhile, the entire media seems to be ignoring the issue and treating it as an inconsequential and natural phenomenon.

While it is difficult to date back the advent of Korean culture precisely, by 2007 it had already been around for long enough for the government of Nagaland to have included Korean wrestling and songs in the annual Hornbill Festival.

Breaking this incomprehensible silence, one IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Wokha filed a story on this Korean invasion. Shot on streets of Wokha, the video report of Renchano Humtsoe captures the disturbing trend of unquestioningly accepting all things Korean by the younger Naga population.

Says Renchano, “I felt it wasn't normal that everyone was adopting Korean style and culture but I wasn't sure if that was worth news because nobody seemed to be talking about it.”

Once Renchano did his story there were more revelations by IndiaUnheard's other correspondents from the region. It became clear that from Ukhrul in Manipur to Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh, the influence of Korean culture has been growing at an alarming speed. In Manipur the ban on Hindi films by insurgents has opened the floodgates for Korean films and videos.

A Kamei, a journalist with AIR stationed in Imphal does not at all find the advent of Korean culture surprising. She says, ``People always liked non-Indian things here. So we were anyway using non-Indian products. Korean products are just an extension. In fact Koreans are so similar to us.''

Renchano's video has raised a number of questions: How do Korean consumer goods manage to reach the market so easily? Why do cable operators subscribe to Arirang TV? Why have people chosen the culture of Korea over that of Thailand, Taiwan or, for that matter, any other Asian country of the region? Why do people, who are so vocal against Hindi, have no issues with everything Korean?

Above all, the story leaves me aghast at the media which has been so quick to point out all types of foreign invasions and yet ignores the onset of an alien culture which is bound to leave a mark on the younger generation.

While these issues are being debated, reporters like Renchano should take a bow for bringing to light a story that has gone unheard for so long.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chaos is ruling today’s Manipur, the hill state in North east India. There’s an economic blockade imposed by armed insurgents. All non-Manipuris have been asked to leave the state or face the consequences. There are gun shots, police actions, shut downs and landslides and flooded roads, because of heavy rain. Among this, an IndiaUnheard correspondent is reporting on issues that concern the common man.

Of all the Indian states reeling under terrorism and violence today, Manipur perhaps has the most curious case. For, this is one state with the most complex ethnic geography. The majority of the population is of the Meiteis who are Hindu Vaishnavites. But beyond this, there are several tribes living in the 5 hill districts with each calling one of these districts their ‘homeland’. There is a Meitei insurgent outfit, calling for a sovereign Manipur today, while the tribes are fighting, albeit separately, for an independent state of their own.

Achungmei Kamei comes from Tamenglong district of Manipur. But she belongs to Rongmei Naga tribe. For decades, National Socialist Council of Nagaland of NSCN has been fighting for independence. The outfit has a vision of their ‘independent’ home which they call ‘Greater Nagaland’. ‘Greater Nagaland’, demands NSCN, should have entire Nagaland, as well as Naga-dominated areas in Manipur. As expected, this demand, which would see breaking of Manipur, has put the Nagas at loggerheads with the Meiteis.

Right now, the entire state of Manipur is under an economic blockade. The blockade, which has unbelievably entered it’s 5rd week, has been imposed by the non-Naga separatist groups, to protest the recent visit of a prominent Naga leader to Manipur. The character of the blockade, however, has been more of a punishment to those who support the Nagas. The food stores are running out of supply, schools are closed, roads are blocked, power cuts are more frequent than ever and over all there is threat of being shot at any time.

Achungmei’s family has always lived in Manipur. She speaks Meitei for all official communication. Outside the state, she is a ‘Manipuri’. Inside the state, however, for the Meiteis, she is an outsider. And for other tribes of Manipur, she is a Naga, a troublemaker who would one day run away with the land they live in.

In Achungmmei’s words – I don’t know how I should view myself. As a Naga, I support the Naga people’s movement. But I don’t know if NSCN is fighting for me or not. I don’t know if it is serious about Nagas outside 14 districts of Nagaland. What I know is that every time NSCN talks about Greater Nagaland, Manipuris react violently. And we, the Rongmeis are immediately seen as enemies of the state.

Labeling the entire tribe as conspirators against the state has resulted in the entire district being at the bottom of the govt’s priority list. Development in Tamenglong is always an afterthought and vanishing of forest and land raise little concern in the official circuit.

‘Manipur govt has been building a dam at Tipaimukh for several years. There are nearly 1 lakh Rongmei families living in Tamenglong and dam has already displaced hundreds of them.We have no other occupation except Jum (slash and burn) cultivation and with our land being lost, we are threatened with starvation. We have no rehabilitation package. In fact we don’t even exist for the officials.

That she is not exaggerating, became clear when I tried to find data on displacement of tribals in Tamenglong. There is no mention of a single Rongmei family being displaced.

Achungmei is one of the 31 people to have joined India Unheard – India’s first ever Community-based News Service started by Video Volunteers - as Community Correspondents, to report on the stories from within their communities that go unheard. So, what kind of ‘Unheard’ stories she plans to bring forth?

Her answer is straight. The only identity her community has had so far is a highly political one. “We are either identified as conspirators, or partisans. Nobody sees us as a normal group of people with normal needs. We need food, land, electricity, education. We need our land, our forest. This is what I want to tell the world. That is why I am reporting on education, livelihood and water. Because these are our everyday stories. ”

The world is listening to you, Achungmei !

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rohini: Empowered to dance

Some days back I was at my friend Mala’s house, watching my friend’s 4 year old daughter Chinni jumping in joy. The reason for her excitement: Chinni was going to participate in a group dance, to be presented at the school’s annual day. Mala was excited too, for it was the first time her child would perform on stage and she was trying to borrow a camera from a neighbor, so she wouldn’t have to miss the precious moment.

This, I am sure is the story of every parent, every child at every home. We celebrate the dancing and the singing moments of our children. Many of us send the children to formally train in dance. The reality dance shows on TV are getting more and more popular and are attracting boys and girls of all ages.

But as they grow up, things change. We see a great divide of morality slowly created by families. While boys, now men, are allowed to dance on, girls are barred from doing so. The same parents who once filmed/photographed their children – boys and girls alike – dancing, now reprimand the girls for doing the same because now it’s an immoral act, a taboo for women from ‘decent’ family background.

Rohini Powar comes from Purandar taluka of Pune district, once famous for its lavani - the famous folk dance form of Maharashtra. For generations, dancers have performed Lavani in courts, impressing kings and their ministers alike with their delicate movements and lilting singing. With time, the courts have vanished, but Lavani is very much a part of Maharashtrian culture and every school student performs Lavani in annual day event.

Born in 1985, Rohini was first forced to leave school by her poverty-stuck family at 17 and married off 2 years later. Post marriage, with increasing burden of financial difficulties, Rohini had to try different ways to contribute a little more to the family’s income. She learnt to stitch dresses, taught women in her villages the same and also worked as a farm labourer to help her family.

Of the many things that she wanted to do but wasn’t allowed, was dance. And so, while working hard eased her financial burden, Rohini still felt like a prisoner who had no way to express herself. She yearned for a way to self expression, to tell her thoughts, her stories. Joining Video Volunteers’ India Unheard program as a Community Correspondent was a result of this yearning.

From 15th of March’2010 to 28th, during the training of all the Community Correspondents in Sanand, Gujarat which she attended with 31 other people,
Rohini was one of the most active and vocal participants. Every evening after dinner Stalin and Mehul, two of our Directors would bring in a drum and start creating a musical wave to infuse some life into the group of trainees, tired from the day’s classes and lessons. As the beats grew louder, a group of watchers would surround the duo, before slowly joining in. And they would be followed by another group with legs ready to start a-shaking!

Evening after evening, the second group would have one steady face – Rohini. She would be the first one to swirl with the drumbeat and the last one to stop! Her energy was infectious, just as was her wide smile.

On 28th of Morning, there was a small event where we said goodbye to each other and what these training meant to each one.

Most of the trainees said the expected thing; that they learnt of videos, news, shooting, issues and new responsibilities. When Rohini’s turn came, she said ‘After 7 years, I danced. I came here, accompanied by 3 people. But I‘m going back alone’.

She didn’t elaborate further. She didn’t have to. The message was clear for all of us: Rohini had found her way to self expression. She had found her courage, suppressed so far. She had found herself. And she was going back, with the new self, to do something that meant the world to her: Get stories of the voices who lived within the margins, just like her.

Gujaratnama 2: What is 'Cinema'? It's 'Cine plus Maa'

Eid Mohammed is 81 and has lived his entire life in the Berhampura slum of Ahmedabad. A ‘dresswala’/tailor till a few years ago, Eid Mohammed always had something special: power of observation. He did learn to read the Quran in a madrasa, but never went to a formal school. Yet he always was, and still continues to be, popular in his locality as a man who knew a lot about the world. Of many interests in his life, films top the list.

It was at the screening of a film that I first met Eid. Samvad, the Community Video Unit had organized a get together of all their community members in Berhampora. I had accompanied Stalin, the founder of Video Volunteers, invited to speak on the occasion, which also had a special screening of several of Samvad’s films. As Stalin and other guests speakers finished addressing the audience, a frail old man walked on the stage. As everyone wondered what he would say, Eid Mohammed took the mike and started – ;Cinema’ is, for me, Cine plus Maa (mother). Just as a ‘Maa’ would never teach her child wrong things in life, Cinema also teaches nothing but the right thing. These cinemas that Samvad showed today also shows us truth.’

At this point, I knew I had to know more about this person. So post event I met Eid and asked what made him think of ‘Maa’ while describing cinema. ‘Because of these film makers of Samvad’, he said. My area – Narayandas –ki-chali, always had so many problems. We had no drainage, lanes were full of garbage and almost all the men were addicted to arrack or drugs. But I never knew these issues could also be the subject of a film until one day these young men and women of Samvad came and started shooting. When I asked who they made these films for, who would see them, who would do something about it, they said ‘you’. This reminded me of my mother especially when she would notice something bad that I did. She would say ‘Yes, beta, something bad has happened. But you are still special. And you can do so much better for yourself.

Eid was a regular at every screening. His eyesight was getting weaker, but his passion for films and change was the same. In fact his enthusiasm was fast spreading among other community members, earning him quite a few fans, I was told. What I didn’t tell him is that he had just earned another one – in me.

Gujaratnama 1: On road, but not at the end of the it

That Bhagwanpura village is just 100 km away from Ahmedabad - capital of the largest and supposedly the richest Indian state is hard to believe. For reason one, there is no running water, no toilets and no tar road. The only mode of transport for common people is Chakda – a strange combination of a cycle rickshaw and a push cart. There are so seats and no shed to save yourself from the blazing April sun, or pouring rain, if that ever comes.

Bhagwanpura has a population of about 10, 000, of which nearly half are landless. They are also Dalit or lower caste. April is the beginning of a tough time for these people. Because, this is when the village wells run completely dry. The fields, half baked in the sun, are not fit to be cultivated until the rain comes and with no work at the farms, the landless villagers have to face the eventuality: Leave their homes in search of work.

This year also several families are already on the move. Some are moving to Ahmedabad to work on the special road construction projects, while some will go to Surat, the city of textile factories. They will return after 3 months when the Summer is over and the farming is to restart. Apparently, there isn’t much to take except a few clothes and a few pieces of utensils. The doors will be locked, yes, but nobody fears looting or damage to their homes. No loss, save that of one academic year for their children.

The children follow their parents to wherever they go. This forces them out of school for 3-4 months. On return, either the school authorities decline to let them back in, or the students themselves refuse to go to school because they can’t grasp the lessons because of the long interval. Either way it’s an end of the road for them.

But this year will be different for people of Bhagwanpura, I am told. None of the children will have to drop out, they say. And why so? ‘Because now we have our migration cards’, they say. Explains Sejalben, a villager who will be leaving her village with 4 school-going children soon, ‘Apna Malak Ma people showed us a film where we learnt that government will provide special cards to migrant workers like us. If we showed these cards, the school in our new work place would admit our children in the same class. After seeing the film, we approached the sarpanch. The sarpanch formed a special committee and wrote our names to get us those cards, she said.

There was a smile on her face as she talked, and a sense of pride in her voice. I wonder if it was the pride of being able to protect her child’s future, or, empowering herself with information she never had before.

Apna Malak Ma is a Community Video Unit in Limdee, Surendranagar district, launched in partnership between Video Volunteers and Navsarjan NGO and the film that helped empower Bhagwanpura is called ‘Haal Beru Bhano’.