Video Volunteers

An elderly man carrying pieces of wood reacts to the camera amid fog during early morning at Shyampur village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh January 24, 2010. REUTERS/Raj Patidar (INDIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY) - RTR29DZR

By Manira Chaudhary

“Kaahe ka sarkar hai? Janta ki seva kyu nahi karta hai?” (What use is this Government for? Why does it not help the common people?) Says a man, seemingly septuagenarian and visibly frail, in the Bhadal village of Barwani district in Madhya Pradesh who has not received his old age pension for over a year.

India is a country with an estimated population of 11 crore in the age group of 60 years and above, two-thirds of which live below the poverty line. One of the most crucial schemes enacted by the government which could have been a life support for the elderly of the country is the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, which was launched in 1995. The scheme aims at providing a basic pension amount ranging between Rs 200 to Rs 500 to all individuals above the age of 59 who live below the poverty line.

However, the scheme has fallen back terribly on its implementation. Despite regular demands by civil society groups to increase the pension amount, rightly arguing that a paltry sum of Rs 200-500 is not sufficient to pay for the medical and other expenses of the elderly, there seems to be little improvement on that front.

Apart from that, news reports and jan sunwais conducted by civil society groups show that in many villages, senior citizens get their pension after months of delay and at times, are even denied their pension on the whims and fancies of the village head or the government appointed officials. Such situations force people to work in unfavourable conditions, battling bad health and old age, to be able to pay for their expenses.

With the elderly population expected to increase to around 20 crore by 2030, it is time to re-think, regulate and monitor the scheme better.

Video courtesy: Video volunteers.
Featured image: Reuters

Watch how the situation is pretty much the same in Bihar with our video series Bihar Ki Baat.

Image source: Youtube.com

By Asmita Sarkar:

Among many others, the Karthikeya temple in Pushkar, and Lord Ayyappa Temple, in Sabarimala Kerala, do not allow women to enter at all, while others restrict their entry during the times they are menstruating.

Fighting against this discriminatory practise, Rohini Pawar, a video volunteer for IndiaUnheard, in Veer, Pune, tried to enter the local Shiv temple of Mhaskoba which too bars the entry of women, except during Navratras (the 9 days of the goddess Parvati). On this World Women’s Day as she stood there trying to enter, other women just stood by watching her protest.

Temples such as that of Mhaskoba still carry the prejudicial belief that should women enter, some evil would befall the women or that they would be boycotted by the community. Will we ever see the end of this evil practise?

Image source: youtube.com

Video by Nirmala Ekka, Hesatu village, Ranchi district, Jharkhand:

Pregnant women and children do not receive vaccinations and nutrition on a regular basis due to the absence of a designated anganwadi sevika (attendant) for the village. A sevika from the neighbouring village visits Hesatu, however, women say that she is not regular. Pregnant women in the village have also not received cash incentives promised under the Janani Suraksha Yojana since 2013.

Further no ambulance service is available here, which means that pregnant women are taken to the hospital by auto rickshaws in case of emergencies.

Call to Action: Please call Ranchi Civil Surgeon on +91 9431359400 and urge him to take action.

Image source: Youtube.com

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:

In Pundag village of Ranchi district, the absence of an Anganwadi Centre in the village means that pregnant women are forced to undergo check-ups and are vaccinated in an open field. “We aren’t comfortable undergoing check-ups in the open. We have to put up curtains to make ourselves comfortable or travel too far,” says a woman who delivered a baby recently.  She also says that she was unable to get nutrition facilities due the absence of an Anganwadi centre in her village.  Since 2010, villagers have appealed to the authorities to put in place an Anganwadi centre in the village. However, their repeated appeals have gone unheard.  Nirmala Ekka reports

Please call the Child Development Project Officer, Ormanjhi Block, Jharkhand on +91 9431391110 and appeal to him to set up Anganwadi centre in Pundag village.

Image Credit: VIdeo Volunteers

By Video Volunteers:

Having a baby in a remote village of eastern Bihar in India means being pregnant with anxiety and a sense of helplessness. Without access access to health infrastructure to monitor pregnancies and provisions for emergency care, it is a life threatening situation for both the mother and the unborn child . In cases of abortions, women who approach state-run health facilities are turned away due to a lack of infrastructure and are forced to approach private practitioners. Most of them cannot afford their services. Here’s one such case:

A 24-year old woman in labour was kept waiting for the doctor for 6 hours. The doctor on duty did not turn up and she delivered in the presence of a nurse. She was forced to pay INR 400 for her delivery and even, to use the toilet. She neither received free medicines nor nutrition. This is despite the provisions of the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Indian government’s scheme to bring down maternal deaths, which makes provisions to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure for women below poverty line —providing free antenatal check ups, IFA tablets, medicines, nutrition in health institutions, provision for blood transfusion, and transport from health centres and back. Mary Nisha reports from Godda district, Jharkhand.

A series on community monitoring of maternal health in India is being produced by IndiaUnheard, a network of 174 community journalists trained by Video Volunteers. VV is a community media organisation that empowers marginalised communities to produce stories, take action and devise solutions.

Magdelene Mundu

By Video Volunteers:

On 29th July 2011, Magdalene, a 15-year-old girl from Mailpidi village, was walking back home after school. On her way, she was arrested by the police. “Stop pretending to be a student” the police told her as they went through her school bag and roughed her up. Her crime? Bank robbery; armed conflict with the police; and being a Maoist.

These kinds of stories aren’t rare, or even uncommon in Jharkhand. The state tops the list of over-crowded jails in the country; 70 percent of criminals in there are under-trial, and false conviction rate is alarmingly high too. Activists fighting for land rights, and protesting against state’s use of brute force in its attempts to curb the Maoist insurgency, are often put behind bars. People are abducted at the mere suspicion of sympathizing with the Maoists.

Magdalene’s village, Mailpidi, is nestled between the Elephant Corridor and the Saranda-Singhbum range in Jharkhand. No roads or vehicles go there. Magdalene shifted to Murhu in the next district and rented a place to stay with her brother so that she could go to school easily. Little did she know that her plans of getting a better education were going to be put on hold by the Jharkhand police.

After being arrested, Magdalene, baffled and hapless, was taken to the Khunti jail and transferred to the Namkum Women’s Probation Home. She stayed here for 10 months and for the first 9, no one — not her family, not her friends, not her teachers — knew where she was.

“But why did they think she was a Maoist? Did she do something?” I asked Amita, our Community Correspondent who, among other activists, was involved in getting Magdalene out of jail.

“This was not the first time she was arrested” Amita reveals, “She was arrested in 2010 after a tussle at the Murhu State Bank between some people and the police. She wasn’t involved in any of it; she wasn’t even there. She and her friends were visiting her sister who lived nearby.”

Amita continues, “They went to see a cricket match at her sister’s house when that shootout happened. The police came around to do a routine search and found a bunch of kids in school uniforms who weren’t originally from Murhu. They concluded that they must be Maoists and took them all into custody.” Magdalene and her friends spent 3 months in jail.

It took a lot of convincing from her teachers, who clarified to the police that there had been a mistake, for the four students to be released. They put the incident behind them and attempted to move on with their lives. Magdalene went back to her school and continued to live with her brother in Murhu.

July 2011, Magdalene found herself in a women’s probation home again. “There was no evidence against her. It seems that the Superintendent of Police instigated the other officers to arrest her. The charge sheet from the event in 2010 does not even have her name on it,” says Alistair Bodro, an activist who has worked closely with Magdalene and many others like her.

“I am sure if you took a look around jails in Khunti and others in Jharkhand, you’d find a lot of the people who have been falsely accused of being conspirators against the state. They are poor and nobody comes to bother the police if they disappear,” he says. The police have been arresting people on unsubstantiated grounds to mount figures. The jacked-up jail population of Jharkhand touts the efforts of the state police in fighting insurgents, but a closer look reveals that democratic principles are being jeopardized by the state as much as its enemy.

It was a matter of chance that Alistair found Magdalene at the probation home. Once he had the information, he was able to involve enough people to get her out of the jail. Two years later, Magdalene is beginning to put back together her plans that were rudely interrupted.

Her family was convinced that she should just stay at home and forget about completing school. “But she’s not going to give up so easily,” says Amita; who, along with other activists, was able to secure admission for Magdalene at the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya. The District Commissioner and school principal have been very supportive through the entire process.

Even as Magdalene attempts to get on with her studies and make new friends, the court case against her continues to drag on. She is currently supposed to appear at the court in Khunti every month. The ordeal, both Amita and Magdalene’s teachers agree, is detrimental to her emotional well being as well as her studies. “Cases like this one need to be brought forward. More people need to know about the state’s repression otherwise it will never stop,” Alistair said.

Bhalukhol

Bhalukhol is a modest little Munda village of roughly 30 families. In this interview, Mamata Patra describes the daunting distances she travelled & diffident women she encountered as she claimed a community’s right to have easy access to potable water.

One evening in late June 2013, Community Correspondent Mamata Patra was on a social call to a friend’s home, when they described to her how the reticent tribal village depended on a dirty creek for their regular supply of water. Her curiosity piqued, Mamata made the long journey to Bhalukhol two days later accompanied by Anand, her husband, a veteran rights activist.

On reaching Bhalukhol, Mamata attempted to ask the women about their water sources, but soon realized none of them could speak in Odiya with her. She quickly found a translator and was able to get the details with his help. The creek that was this community’s sole source of water, was a dirty little rivulet high up on hilly terrain. The village well had dried up, and the village had made several appeals to the Block Development Office but hadn’t ever heard back from them. In their desperation, the villagers had wedged small pieces of brick into the dirt to pave a path to the creek. “My skin was crawling when I saw the water. It was full of frogspawn, and was filthy. I was very thirsty after the long climb, but didn’t have the stomach to drink any of that water.

Trekking back the treacherous terrain was a rougher experience, and Mamata was convinced on her way down that the only way forward was to use her skills with a camera to claim rights for this community. She finished filming & immediately rang up the officials at the Rural Water Supply & Sanitation (RWSS) Department. The official explained to her that no work would be possible until after the monsoon as it would be impossible to drive the vehicle used to dig bore-wells. “Following the RWSS official’s response, I knew I had to take stronger action. I went to the Block Development Officer (BDO) Mr. Sudhakar Naik. I showed him the video on his laptop & he was incredibly impressed. He had already seen this situation, and had been told of the inability of the vehicle to reach the village during monsoon. However, when he saw my footage, he was deeply moved by the plight of the people & immediately called the engineer in charge & asked him to work out a way to bring water for the village.

Within a month of screening this video to the BDO, the existing well in Bhalukhol was deepened, a cover was installed on the well, a hand-pump was installed & the families of Bhalukhol were able to access clean, potable water. In an attempt to share sources of water adequately, the community has dug a pit around the creek so animals can utilize it instead.

When asked what the best aspect of creating change in communities, Mamata’s reply was ready – “There has been an obvious change in the community’s attitude towards me & my work. While initially the women would refuse to speak to me, or would shy away from the camera, once they sensed my dedication to creating change, they began to finally trust me. When I returned to film the Impact, I found that the women had made an effort to learn Odiya, so they could communicate directly with me. Every time I go to their village, they force me to accept different fruits & food from their forests as a token of their gratitude. The very women, who were most afraid of me, are the ones who now guide others on how to give correct (sic) interviews.”

“As a Community Correspondent my credo is to create change for communities. However, conscientious administration & accepting communities are the ones who make it worth the hard work. There were well meaning individuals like my friend’s husband, Mr. Sahoo, who made it a point to bring this story to my notice, he knew I could help this community. There was another lady who guided us to the village when we got a little lost. What is most rewarding however, is when the community themselves embrace this change & claim their own rights. Now the people of Bhalukhol are waiting for the Electricity Department’s survey to take place, so they can claim electrical connections for their communities.”

Read more about Munda people here & here.

Interview compiled by Radhika.

Padmakesarpur Village

As a tribal woman, Nitu Chakhia has spent far too many years of her life struggling for survival in the urban jungle of Bhubaneswar. Several years of working with her people has convinced her that communities coming together ensures change. In this interview she describes how she changed the lives of hundreds of women in Padmakesarpur Village, by ensuring that 7 hand-pumps were fixed.

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry ~ Thomas Fuller

The government of Odisha guarantees to its citizens continued equal access to adequate potable water via the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRWDP) since April 2009. While it acknowledges that the water supply systems set in place need to be upgraded on a regular basis, the means of monitoring are often limited. Such was the case in Padmakesaripur village in Khordha, Odisha, till Nitu teamed up with IndiaUnheard to help bridge the gaps between the bourgeoisie and the bureaucrats.

Padmakesaripur village had seven hand pumps in the village and one on the outskirts. As time went by, each of the hand-pumps slowly stopped functioning, till finally in early 2013, the villagers found that the sole hand-pump that remained was the one outside the village. The community closest to the lone hand-pump was initially happy to share water with the rest of the village assuming that the broken hand-pumps would soon be fixed. However, five months went by, and a population of almost 2500 pumping away at a single source of water soon began to take its toll on tempers. Arguments began to flare up, and the ones who suffered the worst were the women, who trudged far from their homes to lug litres of water home to be able to cook, clean & keep house.

When Nitu first heard about this situation, she brought the community together for a Baithak (Community Meeting).“I’d made a few videos by then, and had realized that if decisions are made unanimously by communities, the way forward is relatively easy. At the Baithak, I simply facilitated this discussion. They told me they had complained to the Village Head, who did nothing. I then explained to them about IndiaUnheard, and showed them my camera, telling them that I would help them. They were pretty unconvinced. After all, their own Panch (Village Head) didn’t really seem to care if they had access to water. I then showed them footage from the Shikharchandi Road story. By then, the Impact process there had already begun, so I told them how I had gone up to officials & asked them to do their duty, and would do so now as well.”

Nitu’s prior participation in politics re-establishes her innate faith in the government. She first told the villagers about their government’s commitment to ensure water for all. Emboldened with awareness, some women went with Nitu to the Panch, who didn’t seem too interested that his people had no water. Nitu then went to the Block Development Office (BDO) office with two local women, and told him of the situation. They also submitted an application stating that the hand-pumps needed to be fixed. “I asked him for an interview, to get on camera that I had met him. He refused, stating official reasons. He was very helpful though because he explained to me the shortcomings in administration. Their work was limited immensely because they had only one vehicle to transport field officers for surveys. He also promised us that the hand-pumps would be fixed in a month.”

One month after the meeting with the BDO, some of the local women visited him again, to remind him of his promise. Seven hand-pumps were fixed a few days later. “I think the best part of working on this Impact was how inspired the women were. I remember they exclaimed how the mainstream media had come, but had not bothered to follow up, whereas I, a single woman with a tiny camera had managed to bring so much happiness and peace to a village of 2500 people. It makes me very proud when communities are inspired to stand by me. It’s a different kind of delirium!”

Interview compiled by: Radhika

UP

Video via Video Volunteers:

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, responsible for providing millions of Indians employment opportunities, has a special mandate to provide jobs for women. This emphasis is a bold move to tackle the inequality that women face, both in terms of access to work as well as the wages they receive. Under MGNREGA, both women and men are to receive equal wages and at all times at least 33 per cent of the beneficiaries must be women.

Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent, Chanda Bharti, found that at least 15 women from Salahpur Panchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh District had not worked under MGNREGA for four years. In the absence of this work the women are compelled to go to far off farms for work, or worse, remain unemployed. Chanda Bharti is now in the process of taking their grievances to higher level authorities so that they too can benefit from the scheme.

It is worth noting that the general trend of the participation of women in MGNREGA is an upward one– it has risen from 40% in 2006-07 to 53% in 2013-14. Not many states however fulfil the criteria of 33% participation. In Uttar Pradesh only 22% of the beneficiaries were women during 2013-14. Surveys conducted with women who have worked under MGNREGA suggest that women do indeed feel that they have greater decision making powers while collecting and spending the money they earn from MGNREGA employment.

You can ensure that Urmila and 14 other women start to benefit from MGNREGA. Pick up the phone and make this call today!

Photo Credit

By Video Volunteers:

An Anganwadi centre in Bihar has been running in a dilapidated state for 7 years. Every day, children sit beside crumbling walls, under a makeshift roof. The parents’ appeals to the Child Development Program Officer, that the school urgently be rebuilt, have been ignored consistently. These children are the human face of our rural infrastructure crisis. When we see what it is like to try to study in a building where you fear the roof will collapse on your head, we understand that the country’s infrastructure crisis is not just about highways and electricity poles; it’s about children and education and healthcare.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

The most urgent infrastructure related need is, in fact, rebuilding schools, anganwadis, and medical facilities in the countryside. This is just as urgent, if not more, than building new highways and smart cities, but it is massively under-prioritised by the government.

Politicians continue to pay lip service to the Gandhian principles, but Mahatma Gandhi’s focus on creating self-sufficient village economies has been conveniently forgotten. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. If an entire nation of 300 million (now 1.3 billion) took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts,” he had warned. Nothing makes the shift from the Gandhian ideas of rural prosperity clearer than the Central Government’s development plan. One of the ideas for infrastructural development floated by the new government is the creation of 100 Smart Cities (a.k.a, 100 ‘little Singapores’ ) as satellite towns of the larger cities and by modernising the existing mid-sized cities. Though very little detail has been given, it is certain that this is a plan designed for  urban India — which consists of less than one-third of India’s population.

A dedicated website to the smart cities project, states that 31% of the population currently living in the urban areas is responsible for 60% of the GDP. It is expected that by 2051, 50% of the population will still be living in the rural areas, but the vast majority of the GDP – 75 to 80% is expected to come from the cities. These numbers suggest that the plan is to make the rural areas increasingly less important to the economy as time goes on. This surely means that the people  living in the rural areas will themselves become increasingly less important; increasingly marginalized. (And here, we won’t even get to the question  of whether India’s and the world’s environment can sustain this plan.) Whether one has to cross a river to reach the main road, or someone is living in an area where it is difficult to distinguish between the roads and the fields, it won’t matter.

Community Correspondent Nitu Chakiya has shown how the absence of a proper road has left the people disillusioned with the democratic process and angry at all the politicians in Odisha no matter what party the politicians are from. Though many complaints about this, particularly, bad road were ignored, CC Nitu mobilised the community, and got the authorities to take action. “When people see that someone is trying to work for them, they help in all possible ways,” she told us later. Adding further, she said, “Most of the people don’t even file complaints anymore, because they don’t think that it will lead anywhere.” Nitu, here, in this small victory, has managed to restore some faith  in the government and that it can be made to work. She will soon be making another video about the successful completion of the road and her work in trying to restore the people’s faith in the democratic process.

Like Nitu, the CCs at Video Volunteers are not far-flung reporters trying to understand the problem like an outsider; they are living the problems that they are trying to highlight. Every single one of the 170 community correspondents is someone who lives in the area that they are trying to report on. It is of their immediate interest to change the prevalence of mis-governance.

Even though, there have been schemes and policies that have tried to develop the rural India – building roads, providing electricity and water, and creating opportunities for employment – a lot still needs to be done to bridge the widening gap. To try and tackle malnutrition, maternal health centres are needed. Literacy rates will not rise without school buildings with proper facilities. There is no point in having metros running in the smart cities, if the villages aren’t even connected to them by roads.

vv

In the last financial year, the Smart Cities project was allocated INR 7060 crores (USD 1.7 billion), while the Central Government’s scheme responsible for building the rural roads, Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojana, got double of that amount. It seems here that the program, which is connecting the villages with roads, has been rightly given priority. But what one has to consider is that the former is for 100 cities and the latter for 600,000 villages.

The vast difference between what the communities need and what is being built is appalling. Policies that aren’t inclusive will not change anything for the vast majority of Indians. The satellite cities can create job opportunities for migrant labourers, but they will truly be smart only when they can provide affordable housing so that people don’t have to squat on pavements. And for that to happen, it is important to include communities in this debate. Without that, we can only pretend to be developing towards a brighter tomorrow.

This post was originally published here.

kashmir elections video volunteers

By Atul Dev:

The Prime Minister said he saw people’s faith in democracy in the voter queues in Kashmir last month, and the Defence Minister claimed that Pakistan was unnerved by the 72 per cent voter turnout in the state.

There was unusually high voter turnout in the recently concluded Kashmir state elections, as compared to previous elections. In the past, separatists would boycott elections, because they didn’t want Kashmir to be part of India. Thus, people in the media and the government have said that the high voter turn out in 2014 is a sign that the people of Kashmir now want to be part of mainstream India, and that the separatist agenda is much weaker than before.

But high voter turnout should not be understood as Kashmiris’ decision to become an integral part of India. Media analysts are plagued by far-fetched theories, all of which obediently signal the end of a decades-old conflict. This white noise concerns itself selectively with Delhi’s vision for the crown jewel of India and has very little do with the realities of Kashmir. What comes out of it, louder than anything, is the fact that Kashmir is a contentious outpost in the collective conscience of the country. Attempts to understand electoral patterns are drowned in desperate assumptions of assimilation and severance.

The mighty voter turnout of 69 percent (up from 45 percent in 2002 and 60 percent in 2008), resulted in a fractured mandate. This forced the political parties, which have been at loggerheads with each other for so long, to form a coalition. The possible picture of administrative instability is particularly troubling at a time when the damage caused by floods hasn’t let life come back to its natural rhythm.

Video Volunteers has long recognized that there is a problem with the media coverage of Kashmir, and in response, we decided to bring our model of community video to Kashmir in September 2013, when we trained 11 Right to Information (RTI) activists as video reporters. The timing was fortuitous, because on the day the training ended, the floods began, and our network was there to document it. Since then, they have produced 35 videos and innumerable photo reports. These reports provide ample evidence that the main issue in this election was people’s development needs. When a village’s residents haven’t had electricity for eight months, it can only be a case of amnesia to see their votes implying anything else than the need for a better power grid. When people have to walk miles to fetch water, could they be voting for anything else than a hand pump?

In a recent blog on Huffington Post, Sajad Rasool, a Community Correspondent for Video Volunteers has said the elections should have been postponed until relief work was more complete. “Thousands of people who lost their homes during floods are still living in makeshift tents,” he writes. When the priority should have been rehabilitation after floods, a month has been consumed by electoral procedures. It’s a revolt against sensibilities to not see the need of basic facilities by people, being channelled in voting machines. What this denial suggests is that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is more of an idea than a reality in Indian politics.

We asked our Community Correspondents to video-document these elections. The people interviewed clearly say that ‘yes, we are voting in this election. But don’t assume this means we want to be an integral part of India’. There are also interviews in that series telling us why some people abstained from voting. Says Sajad, “the mainstream media has not carried one single interview of this nature. I wish the media would cover the motivations of voters in their true complexity.”

To be sure, the record turnout in the latest assembly elections, highest since 1989, does indicate that boycotting elections isn’t as appealing to Kashmiris as it was years ago, and the BJP did avoid nationalistic rhetoric. Let us hope this means the BJP itself is ready to avoid nationalism.

The people of Kashmir embraced democracy. They should be rewarded with better roads, water supply, electrical grids, jobs, and safety and security — with justice and development.

Also Read: ‘Azaadi’ Lives: The Tumultuous Tale Of Elections And Boycotts In Kashmir

The Mogra dam in Rajnandgaon District

By Video Volunteers:

“The government took our land and made us homeless,” says Bhan, noting that the government took their farmland to build the dam. As a result, her community has lost their main source of livelihood. “The government is turning us into daily wage laborers in the same land where we grew our food.”

Bhan has been an active part of public protests against the dam and continues to work among the affected people to demand compensation and rehabilitation. Without the reports of Video Volunteers Community Correspondents like her, few outside of these displaced communities would ever have known about them. Your support makes it possible.

We feel a proper introduction is necessary. Meet Bhan Sahu. She’s a Community Correspondent with Video Volunteers from Rajnandgaon. She’s worked extensively with the Dodke community as a land rights activist. Sadly, this land was flooded, leaving more than 15,000 people displaced and homeless. But this flood was not a natural disaster — her own government caused it.

Bhan is dedicated to supporting her community’s struggle until they succeed. Will you stand with her as she faces powerful forces of government corruption and corporate greed?

The Mogra dam in Rajnandgaon District was planned in 1967 and was finally built by early 2006. The dam is situated on the Seonath river in Rajnandgaon District, Chattisgarh which affect a total of 56 villages situated around its trajectory. The project saw heavy resistance and displaced more than 15000 people as per the government figures. Bhan Sahu, our Community Correspondent from the area has witnessed the struggles of the residents of Dodke village for the past ten years. It is one of 25 villages where lives of residents have been considerably hampered by the dam.

After the construction of the dam, Dodke village and surrounding areas of Ambagrah Chowki area are flooded almost throughout the year. Their agricultural land has been ruined and there is always a shortage of drinking water. The main problem however is the fact that the constant flood like situation has made travelling to and from Dodke near impossible. The area had once connected the villages to larger cities.

With no bridge on the river, residents have to use planks and boats to travel even to nearby places. Even to get to the local school 2 km away, children have to take a long-winded route through forest areas. When they don’t find friends to go with, they’ll have to skip school.

Bhan Sahu had been an active part of the protests against the dam and now continues to work among the affected people to get them rehabilitation and compensation. Her video from 2010 is evidence of the havoc it caused then.

Four years have passed and not much has changed. Bhan Sahu, who is still trying to help the community recover from the trauma of displacement and landlessness, feels that such kind of apathy from the government only makes villagers feel more and more like outcasts.

The villagers have submitted applications to the District Collector a number of times. They have taken their appeals to build a bridge to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. They want to be able to travel, to work, to eat, to study, to live. Even the regional media’s reportage on this issue has failed to get a response from the government.

The people however carry on, determined and are STILL hopeful that one day their Government, the one that promises them development will listen to them. Will you make sure that the Government of Chhattisgarh takes note of this?

The government claimed that the dam was built to provide irrigation, but instead has been used to support industrial units. This project perpetuates the common pattern of so-called “development” projects benefitting big businesses while further impoverishing already marginalized communities.

Call to Action: Please call Ashok Agarwal, the District Collector of Rajnandgaon on 9425203199 and ask to make sure the bridge in the flood area of Dodke village is built immediately.

mahan forest

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:

Mahan in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli district, has become another front in the battle waging between the desire for economic growth and that to conserve forests and indigenous ways of life. The forests in Mahan are the largest Sal forests in Asia. In a landscape already blackened by mining, this is now the last remaining tract of un-fragmented forests. Close to 14,000 residents from 54 villages and over 600 species of animals (including tigers and elephants) call this home. Over the last month, the fight to save Mahan has intensified. Local administration and police have used unconstitutional means like fabricated arrests and use of undue force on individuals and organisations who are leading peaceful protests to stop forced evictions.

mahan forest

In 2006, Essar and Hindalco were allotted this land for mining projects. The Ministry of Environment and Forests granted mining clearance in February 2013. A majority of the communities living here are opposed to giving their land over to the companies.

In June 2014, some from the team of Video Volunteers visited Amelia, the largest of the affected villages. They met members of the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS), a group formed by the villagers opposed to the project. Along with Greenpeace, the MSS has been central in making sure that residents are aware of their rights under the Forest Rights Act and that legal procedures are followed.

Our visit was aimed at exploring how Video Volunteers can support this people’s movement with the power of community media. In light of the arrests of civilians and targeting of organizations working in the area to ensure the rule of law, it is imperative that this story be told in the voices of those people who stand to be affected. In the months to come, some from the MSS will learn how to record videos and through this they will be able to bring the hopes, concerns and aspirations of their people to the world.

The events that have unfolded over the past eight years in Mahan have been controversial from the word go–while the ex Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had stated his own reservations on the project, it was given clearance after pressure from a Group of Ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Further, the Gram Sabha, which is a mandatory and crucial procedure to ascertain consent (or lack of it) from residents of the project-affected area, was rigged. While the actual number of attendees was 184, hundreds of signatures were forged bringing the total up to 1125 signatures. Around 9 people on this forged list have been dead for some time and 2 were in jail at the time. While the High Court in Jabalpur has come down hard on the Superintendent of Police for failing to look into these allegations, no action has been taken yet. All hopes are now pinned on another Gram Sabha scheduled soon.

“This time we are prepared to ensure that the legal procedures will be followed. We’ve also requested that the proceedings be recorded on video and that external observers be present,” says a member of MSS.

Over the years, there have been several instances where the local police have taken steps to protests from these communities. Many activists have been arbitrarily and illegally detained.

“Judging by the way the police was acting, it was as if they were out to catch a big criminal or deadly terrorist,” recalls an MSS member who was arrested in May and later released. He and other members allegedly tried to obstruct officials from doing a survey of the trees in the forest.

Most recently, on 30th July, local police confiscated solar panels, signal boosters and batteries from Amelia village. They later arrested the Greenpeace staff present there. All of this spells out, once again, the many violations of law that allow such projects to spring up despite opposition from communities that have historically depended on these forests. Successive governments and local administration have in effect neglected the demands of the people. Their disillusionment with the system they are up against is evident:

“If the governance and administration has been handed over to the company then I say ask the Prime Minister to resign; the company can be that (PM). Ask the Chief Minister to resign as well. If the companies do all the work, what are you there for?” asks a resident.

The growing intimidation and clampdown is not enough to deter the people; they will save their forests and homes. You can join them by signing this petition asking the Tribal Affairs Minister Shri Jual Oram to ensure that a free and fair Gram Sabha is held in Mahan.

slum demolition

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala- Video Volunteers:

The morning of 20th May 2014 came as a blow to the 600 residents of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar slums. As the rest of Mumbai came to life that day; as lunches got packed, vendors got ready to sell their morning chai and children grudgingly put on their school uniforms; bulldozers and hammering was what these slum residents woke up to.

At the end of the slum demolition drive that morning, 136 houses were broken and almost all residents were forced onto the streets. Most didn’t even get the time to pack up their most essential belongings.

“All our children’s toys, their cycles… we’ve incurred massive losses. We had stayed here hoping that our houses wouldn’t get demolished. They came unexpectedly that morning,” says one resident, Bindu Jayswal.

The Chief Minister of Maharashtra unveiled plans for a slum free Mumbai in the next five years some time ago. Projects by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, essential to the process, plan to relocate lakhs of families living in slum communities to high-rise buildings. There is little in the history or policy of slum redevelopment in the city or in India that inspires an iota of confidence in this vision.

IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Zulekha Sayyed has been the documenting the travesty of slum redevelopment for the past two years. A resident of the Vikhroli Park Site slums in Mumbai, her powerful videos give an eyewitness account of the human rights violations occurring everyday in the slums of Mumbai. When she heard about the most recent demolitions in Mulund, she went over immediately to document the scene.

The demolitions here are shocking for a number of reasons. Most of the residents have been living here for at least two decades making them eligible for a house in exchange for the one that gets demolished.

“By declaring the houses as illegal, the builder forcefully evicted us and brought us on the street. We’ve been living here for the past 20-22 years,” says Sunil Prajapati, a resident.

A report by the National Alliance of People’s Movements explains the violations in detail:

In January 2013, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had set up an enquiry commission to curb corrupt practices plaguing 6 SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) projects and Re-development plans in slum areas of Mumbai after local residents had exposed the irregularities during a 3000 people strong protest rally. The commission was led by Mr. Debashish Chakrabarty, Principal Secretary (Housing) and submitted its report after 1.5 years of investigation. How can slums be demolished when no action has been taken on the recommendations of the report?

The report concluded that the slum dwellers should approach the Additional Collector for getting the eligibility issue resolved, and for other issues they are asked to submit their application to the SRA who would give a hearing and settle the issues. All this is yet to happen.

Secondly, out of the 136 demolished homes, 16 hadn’t been surveyed and hence didn’t qualify for demolition. Out of the demolished houses, 111 didn’t qualify under the 1/1/95 cut-off for slum dwellings but were in the process of getting eligibility since the government had decided to increase the 1995 cut-off to the year 2000.

The Deputy Collector was well informed about this process but went ahead with the demolitions. Further, 10 houses, which were legal structures, but had been denied rehabilitation in transit camps were also evicted. Their inability to move into the transit camp was again an administrative blunder as the camp was situated on disputed land (public playground).

Since the demolitions, the residents have been protesting. Many have been on a hunger strike demanding justice; till at least 15 days after the demolitions not one official had come to take into account people’s grievances. For now, 600 lives hang in the balance. One woman sums it all up:

“How can we go away until we get a house? We have all the necessary proof; how can they deny us a house? The builders say it doesn’t matter if 5 of our people die while on this hunger strike. Are our people not human beings?”

Write to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra at [email protected] Ask him to intervene in the matter and not to permit eviction and demolition of houses till the process of inquiry is completed and justice is assured.

dalit

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:

At 2:30 am on 17th May, six people from a ‘higher caste’ tried to kill Sanjay Khobragade, a Dalit rights activist, over a caste based land dispute. They set him on fire while he slept in his house. With over 80-85% burns on his body, he passed away while at the Civil Hospital in Nagpur, Maharashtra on 23rd May. Today, the six individuals that Sanjay named in his dying declaration are out on conditional bail while his wife Devakabai is in custody. She is being framed for burning him with the help of Mr. Raju Ghadpayle, their neighbour. The police have accused Devakabai and Mr. Ghadpayle of burning Sanjay to hide their extra-marital relationship. Not one person in the entire Dalit hamlet of Kavalewada believes this theory.

The six people from the ‘higher’ Powar caste murdered Sanjay because of a community dispute that has been going on for three years. He had been leading the demand of the Dalit residents of Kavalewada village, Maharashtra to build a Buddhist community centre for Dalits. The land in question was granted to them by the government in 2012. The ‘higher caste’ community does not want this and instead wants to build its own temple there. For three years now, Dalits in the village have been insulted and abused by the ‘higher-caste’ people over this issue; in 2013 they burnt down Sanjay’s tea stall by the latter. The family is still fighting that case in court.

The Dalit community believes that the events of 17th morning were planned because the Powar community had heard that the impending ‘No Objection Certificate’ to build the community centre was going to come through in favour of the Dalits. When Madhuri Tembre and others entered Sanjay’s house in the wee hours of 17th May, they doused him with petrol, as he slept. He awoke when he felt the petrol on his body; he saw all six clearly as they set him on fire. He was able to name them to the police and to his friends and family.

We all know that by killing my father, the ‘higher-caste’ community wanted to set an example that Dalits should not speak up,” says Pradeep Khobragade, Sanjay’s son who is now left fighting for justice for his parents.

Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Alka Mate brings the first report that highlights the case from the perspective of the Khobragade family and the Dalit rights activists who are working with them. Her report and investigations on the matter reveal how law-enforcement agencies have so far neglected their duties and have gravely hampered the course of justice.

Among the Dalit rights groups and the community, it is believed that the story about Devakabai and Raju has been made up to protect the six accused who have powerful political connections with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. From his hospital bed, Sanjay had identified Madhuri Tembre-Village head; Krushipal Tembre- Block Level General Secretary-BJP; Prakas Rahangdale; Bhaulal Harinkhede; Punaji Thakre and Hemant Thakhare a.k.a Tanu Thakre as the perpetrators.

Before his death, Sanjay named these individuals in at least three known video testimonies recorded by Dalits rights groups. The police have refused to acknowledge and take into account this statement as the dying declaration. Registering this as the dying declaration is crucial in this case to bring justice to the Khobragade and Ghadpayle families. What has instead been produced in court as Sanjay’s dying declaration is a document written by a Revenue Officer(Tehsildar) and a policeman, who is also Madhuri Tembre’s brother. This document mentions that Sanjay merely ‘suspects’ the six individuals; it became the basis on which they were granted conditional bail. This document was never signed by Sanjay.

The police didn’t come to Kavalewada when they were called on 17th morning after the incident. It was only on 18th May that they registered a case of attempted murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and the six accused were put in custody. Legally, the case should have been registered under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA), 1989. The Khobragade family filed an application at the Gangajari Police station to this effect, but it was ignored.

There is a loophole here: While the family says that the case was never filed under the POA, the District Collector has claimed that it has been. Even if the District Collector is correct, how are the six accused out on bail? To be booked under the POA is a non-bailable offence, which makes it difficult to be let out. The six accused were given judicial custody on 18th and were let-out the very next day. The Gondia Lower Court granted them conditional bail on 27th May.

Meanwhile, the police picked up Devakabai and Pradeep from the Nagpur Civil Hospital on 19th May. On the way to the police station, the male officers slapped and verbally abused Devakabai in front of Pradeep. They had no concrete evidence to link her to the crime. Raju Ghadpayle was picked up from his house that evening without even being given a reason.

They slapped my father and threatened him… if you don’t admit to this, we’ll make sure your son loses his job. I met him in jail, he said they beat him a lot on his spine. He can’t even sit… They hung him upside down and thrashed him,” says Raju’s younger son, Ankush Gadpayle.

In a case like this, it is mandatory to have an inquest(Panchnama), this wasn’t done either. For the next few days, Devakabai and Raju were kept in police custody, in the same lock up. Both later testified in court that the police tortured them to force them to admit that they killed Sanjay.

The story of the Khobragades and Ghadpayles exemplifies what many Dalits face as they try to seek justice for atrocities committed against them. Religious and political power it seems, can easily throw the law off its course. A report from the National Human Rights Commission says:

“A large number of cases which deserve to be registered under Protection of Civil Rights Act or the SCs & STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are not actually registered under these Acts, either due to ignorance of law or under pressure from the interested parties. Investigations in even those limited number of cases is often earned out in a slipshod manner and with considerable delay.”

Conviction rates for crimes registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act in Maharashtra stood at 0.5% in 2010.Statistics from different sources reveal that crimes against Dalits are on the rise. The State Minister for Employment Guarantee Scheme, Nitin Raut revealed in a statement in May 2014 that compared to previous years, 548 more cases of atrocities were registered in Maharashtra during 2013-14.

It seems, the police and District level administration have conspired to cover up this case of Dalit atrocity and have therefore carefully plotted to highlight this as a murder plot hatched out of an extra-marital relationship.

Pradeep reiterates the injustice he has seen:

I want to ask this: Why has the police not taken cognizance of my father’s testimony and filed it under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act? Why are my mother and Raju being framed instead of action being taken against the six accused? Does being Dalit mean that my family deserves no justice?”

Caste atrocities will continue until law enforcers continue to protect the powerful; they will continue if we maintain the conspiracy of silence. We need to raise our voice in support of not just the Khobragade family but also against all caste-based atrocities. These must be treated seriously for the heinous violations of human rights that they are.

Video Volunteers is currently supporting the Khobragade family and other Dalit rights activists in Maharashtra to unearth the facts of the case. We have started a petition on change.org asking the District Collector, of Gondia Amit Saini and Superintendent of Police Deelip Sedke to:

1. Take cognizance of Sanjay Khobragade’s dying declaration on video where he names the six accused and do a fair and just investigation of the case.
2. File this case under the Schedule Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989.
3. Immediately release Devakabai Khobragade and Raju Ghadpayle.
4. Make the investigation report public.

Sign this petition to fight for justice. You can also call the SP on +91 9423597959 and put pressure on him to take action.

VV

By Video Volunteers: 

Video Volunteers launched its campaign ‘Pass Ya Fail?’ in November 2013. This is the first-ever video audit of the Right to Education Act in India. This is an update on what our determined Community Correspondents have documented in the last seven months.

Today, there is a new tube well installed in the school. This ensures that the children are not limited to consuming a single bottle of water that they brought from home. 70 children now have access to an inexhaustible source of water. The cooks also have clean water to cook the mid-day meal. The entire village rallied together to collectively make decisions and appeal for change. The administration is now acutely aware of the strength of this village. With every video I make, I hope I can similarly inspire many more villages across Nuapada,” says Abhishek Dash.

pass ya failVideo Volunteers’ Community Correspondent, Abhishek Dash’s recent impact video that helped bring clean drinking water to a primary school in Dotto village, Odisha is only one example of the successes we’ve had in last seven months of running our campaign, ‘Pass Ya Fail?’. This campaign harnesses the power of community video to document violations of the RTE Act and bring change to the situation.

At Video Volunteers, we endeavour to bring you the most unheard and least talked about issues in India from previously unexplored perspectives. Our campaign, ‘Pass Ya Fail?’ a video audit of the Right to Education Act in India, is one such attempt to show you what challenges a majority of India’s young citizens face while trying to go to school. When the Act was passed in 2010, VV was one of many organisations across India that celebrated because the RTE Act envisioned education for all children regardless of their caste, sex, class or religion. It also envisioned a certain quality of education. Most importantly, the government took this responsibility on itself. Three years later, after the set deadline to put all systems in place had lapsed, the Act was still far from its goals. Between 2011 and 2013 our Community Correspondents sent in video after video, reporting on the lack of teachers, substandard quality of education, and absence of facilities like toilets or drinking water in schools–all provisions that are guaranteed under the RTE Act.

‘Pass Ya Fail?’ was born out of these initial video evidences. In the duration of the campaign, highly motivated Community Correspondents will audit at least 100 schools from 100 districts monitoring seven key provisions:

– Correct teacher student ratio (1:30 primary school, 1:35 upper primary schools)
– Separate toilets for girls and boys
– Access to clean drinking water
– Separate kitchen to cook Mid-day Meals
– Access to library, play ground and play material
– Safe school buildings

While the videos for this campaign will come from across the length and breadth of India, we will focus on the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, which have some of the lowest literacy rates in India. Our concentrated presence in these areas will aid our advocacy efforts with state commissions and ministries.

The campaign is different from previous research on education because it hinges on community monitoring; the very people who face the challenges document them. Rather than an outsider or external research expert telling stories about a school in a remote village in Chhattisgarh, it is the person from the village itself who will examine the school and share its story: what’s working, what isn’t and what needs to be done.

VV

In the past seven months of the ‘Pass Ya Fail?‘ campaign, Community Correspondents have had their ears to the ground and their cameras ready to film violations of the RTE Act. Till now, Correspondents have covered a total of 24 districts and have produced 35 audit videos. The resulting videos are compelling testimonies of teachers, students and their parents talking about the challenges they face with the Indian education system. These included the stories of:

Dutika, a young girl from Gadakhol village, Odisha who had to drop out of school because the closest school was a 6km walk through the jungle; a bunch of school-children in Gaunaha Block, Bihar who spend their days cutting grass because the teachers are absent on most days and when they do come, don’t teach; students in Sayla Block, Gujarat can’t drink water from the school tank because it is crawling with lizards, and all kinds of bugs.

The work of our Community Correspondents doesn’t end at documenting these violations. Each audit video will have an Impact follow-up plan through which Correspondents will actively mobilise the communities to demand their rights and ask authorities to ensure the implementation of the provisions violated. Through our past work and during this specific campaign we have found that there is nothing more powerful than a community activist with a camera. ‘Pass Ya Fail?’ already has 7 impacts under its belt. This means that community monitoring works!

Our Community Correspondents have proven that determination, not taking no for an answer and getting people to talk to each other can bring great results. They can boast of achieving impacts like: making 50 schools across Torpa Block, Jharkhand, safe by getting lightening conductors installed in them; getting a teacher employed to a school in Machandur village, Chhattisgarh bringing better education to the 75 students there and getting a school building constructed in Gandhigram village, Bihar, so that now children don’t have to walk to the next village to study.

In the coming months we hope to achieve at least 23 more impacts like this. Additionally we will work closely with advocacy organisations working on education and with state governments to ensure that stronger mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the RTE Act are put in place. An increased accountability to local communities is what our ultimate goal through this is.

Join us on this amazing journey of community video monitoring, be a part of the process that empowers communities to voice their own needs and make the Right to Education a tangible reality for themselves and their future generations.

Stay tuned for our next update: an exclusive on the significance, scope and challenges of community media.

dalit woman

For Dalit women in India, caste based discrimination takes on violent forms. The social hierarchy works to their disadvantage in every possible way. Community Correspondent Sunita Kasera reports a case from Rajasthan, Karauli.

Sunita feels that only by reporting such stories will the vicious forces of caste and gender stop making the lives of individuals miserable.

She was raped while grazing her cattle one afternoon. The men from the higher Gujjar caste threatened her and her husband into silence. Her only option then became to travel to the neighbouring town of Karauli with her husband to seek treatment and justice.

The might of the upper caste men extends not only to the woman’s family but to the entire Dalit community. Most women prefer to not report the crime for fear of losing face in society or worse facing further aggression from the upper caste.

More and more women are starting to break the cycle of oppression. She is one of them. She is Nirbhaya, the fearless one and she is rising for justice.

untouchability

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:

Untouchability. You may think that this horrendous practice has disappeared from 21st century India, an India that is running towards socio-economic development. You may think that caste identities no longer govern people’s lives. Look around you, caste based discrimination carries on in the most insidious ways possible–in matrimonial ads; when people won’t share a meal with a ‘lower caste’ person; in the fact that Dalit women are sexually assaulted because they are thought of as property; when a Dalit can be fired from a government job for entering a temple; in the fact that across rural India, there are separate wells for Dalits.

dalit children

Did you know that it is a criminal offence to indulge in any act of Caste based discrimination or to treat someone as an ‘untouchable’?

Yet, the offences carry on and go almost unnoticed and unacknowledged. People who indulge in the practices are aided by government machinery. The police rarely do Dalits the courtesy of recording the caste-based atrocities they dare to report. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the statutory body created to safeguard Dalit rights, is in such a deep slumber that it took them two years to just acknowledge the masses of evidence of untouchability that Video Volunteers had sent them!

So yes, it looks grim on the field. Just the sheer volume of instances that our Community Correspondents find to document across India is mind-boggling. Can you imagine how many cases of Dalit atrocities, small or grievous, go unheard each year? Fighting untouchability has been at the core of Video Volunteers work; our very first campaign was ‘Article 17: A campaign to end untouchability’.

In the past year, we’ve spent some time re-examining the campaign to see how it can bring a bigger impact for a larger number of individuals and communities. In the mean time, our Community Correspondents, many who are Dalits, have been busy documenting and fighting for the rights of their community. Despite the dangers of the job, these Correspondents tirelessly work to correct the historic wrongs faced by their people. They spend days motivating often scared communities and individuals to report cases to the police. They then spend countless hours persuading officials to take action.

For many of these activists 2013 has been a year where the tide starts to turn in their favour; it is the year when several seemingly small victories, each one hard-fought, have given cause to Dalits in many parts of the country to celebrate. In the uphill task that is putting an end to untouchability, these small victories give us hope to carry on as the storm continues to rage on:

In early 2013 Chanchal, a feisty young girl stood up for herself from her hospital bed after surviving an acid attack and asked for your help to get justice. This had happened because she, a Dalit girl, had refused the sexual advances of some ‘upper caste’ boys.

Community Correspondent, Varsha reported her story from Patna and after 70,000 of you signed a petition, Chanchal’s attackers were put in jail, where they are to this date. Her case has been put in the ‘fast-track’ court (it won’t get lost in the Amazon that is the Indian legal system). Among a multitude of victories, the campaign resulted in getting Chanchal the first few corrective surgeries and continued medical compensation for her and her sister. Chanchal’s story also set off a chain reaction and resulted in several campaigns to stop such attacks, like regulating acid sale in India. See the story here.

When one woman, hell bent on defying age-old discriminatory practices, teams up with a community journalist, equally eager to bring change to his community, amazing things can happen. Lambodar’s video that reported the story of Pushapanjali Suna, an Anganwadi worker who was fired from her job for entering a temple is a fine example of this. Lambodar used every possible means he had, to ensure that Pushpa was reinstated as an Anganwadi worker. From getting his media friends on board to convincing the Child Development Programme Officer in charge of Anganwadis to visit the village, he knocked on every door.

Pushpa is once again in charge of the village Anganwadi and has been paid the salary she was denied for two years.

As India celebrated its 66th Independence Day, the Dalits of Dandva Baddi Village in Bihar, were under attack from the ‘upper caste’ people. Just goes to show how relative the concept of independence is. Community Correspondent Amarjeet heard of the skirmish and rushed to record video testimonies of the affected. Constant following up with the District level authorities and a 2000 people strong protest ensured that the police reports against perpetrators were lodged and that the families were compensated. Read more here.

Have you ever wondered why a majority of sewage workers in India work without protective gear? The association of them being ‘impure’ has gotten so hard-wired into society that when their rights get violated, no one gives it a second thought. With few other options to earn a livelihood they brave the situation, picking up rotting waste, human excreta and cleaning sewers with bare hands and feet. For sewage cleaner Ganesh Namdeo, feeling disgusted or inferior was not an option. Changing the practice however, was an option.

Two years of constant efforts on the part of our Community Correspondent Rohini Pawar brought four Dalit sewage workers in Walhe, Maharashtra, the protective gear they had wanted for 20 years.

India claims to be secular. How then, does an idol symbolizing Hinduism find its way into a government institution? How does a person lose his job for touching it? How does no one respond to his family’s appeals for more than 6 months? A video made by Lambodar got back Debraj Baraik, a Dalit sweeper, his job at a college in Odisha.

After Lambodar had managed to bring this second Impact, making right the wrongs of the caste-system, he told us in a phone interview:

“I wanted the world to see what hell my people were living. It was tough to not get overcome with emotion. But we’re a country wholly caught up in caste-based chaos. Fixing this problem is a complete conundrum. We can’t indulge in emotion. The only option is to speak out. Wherever, whatever can be changed, will be changed. I will change it. With this video, I’ve made a huge difference directly on only one man’s life. But along with him, his family celebrates, our community wins. I’ve sensed my people getting tired of this constant struggle for survival. I sense a time for change. It’s exciting that I can be a part of this change, lead it, by being a Community Correspondent.”

VV

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:

Can a public health system put up its hands and wipe off of responsibility towards patients who have nowhere else to go? The residents of Deogarh, Jharkhand have faced several instances of medical negligence at the Sub-Divisional Hospital in Madhupur. Many cases ended with the death of those who went to seek medical help. Now, with the help of Community Correspondent Mukesh Rajak, they are asking for accountability and better health facilities.

Video Volunteers has launched a campaign to ensure that the district health officials are held accountable for their lapses resulting in the deaths of Mrs Amna Bibi’s new born and 12-year-old Kundan Das and that more people do not lose their lives to such gross medical negligence.

Over the last two months many people from the Madhupur community have come forward to share their own experiences of not being given correct and timely treatment at the hospital.

The first incident came to light on 12th November 2013. As Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Mukesh Rajak waited at the hospital to be tended to for a fever, he met Amna who was in the throes of a painful labour. Amna had travelled from Purni Singhdho village on her own when the government ambulance had failed to come to get her. Once at the hospital she had to wait for three hours as the doctors on duty were nowhere on site. Three other women, also in labour, waited with her.

The family was eventually forced to arrange for a private vehicle to take them to a private clinic in Madhupur. The baby Amna delivered was stillborn. India has the highest number of first day deaths in the world according to the “State of the World’s Mothers Report” published by Save the children.

The family were resolute that they wanted justice for Amna and the baby she lost. Video Volunteers helped them launch a petition on Change.org. As Mukesh was working on the case, he was approached by the family of Kundan Das on the evening of 17th December 2013 for help to get their child treatment at the hospital.

Kundan had been taken from his village Jayantigram to the Madhupur hospital earlier that day after being attacked by a fox. The family was told that nothing was needed to be done and were sent away without even a basic dressing of the wounds.

Mukesh was able to contact the doctors he was in touch with at the Sub-Divisional Hospital and asked them to make sure the child got the required injections. While tetanus shots were administered, they were made to return the next day for anti-rabies shots, as those were unavailable that day.

It is mandatory for government hospitals to have a constant supply of tetanus and anti-rabies vaccines. According to the WHO an estimated 20,000 people die annually of rabies in India. Children from rural areas are the most susceptible.

Two weeks later Kundan began to show signs of hydrophobia, a classic symptom of Rabies. He passed away on 5th January 2014 as his family tried to organise funds to take him to the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, Ranchi, where they had been referred by the Sub-Divisional Hospital.

The incidents are a testimony to the lack of attention being paid to the medical needs of patients referred to this hospital, that caters to six blocks in Deogarh District.

“When poor people like us go to a hospital, our concerns are never taken seriously. It takes recommendations from an educated person or politician to get treatment. Why?” The frustrated words of Santosh Das, Kundan’s brother.

As a result of follow-ups from Video Volunteers, on 17th December the Civil Surgeon (also the investigating officer) of Deogarh visited the Madhupur Sub Divisional Hospital for an inspection. It was reported in the local media that the hospital staff appeared just for the inspection and after it was over, it was back to the usual state of affairs and the patients were found waiting for medical negligence.

On being pressurised, the Civil Surgeon also visited Amna to hear her testimony. While the Civil Surgeon has submitted a report to the District Magistrate none of the findings have been made public nor has any action been taken.

Video Volunteers has partnered with Change.org to start two online petitions, one for Amna and one for Kundan. The petitions are asking the District Magistrate of Deogarh, Mr. Rahul Pawar to take immediate action against the authorities at the Sub Divisional Hospital, Madhupur, so that such cases are not repeated in Deogarh, Jharkhand.

Deogarh’s residents continue to demand that the public health system start taking responsibility for their role in these deaths. We need the administration to pull up its socks and be answerable to the citizens for whom it was set up in the first place.

rapes

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:

A year ago tens of thousands came out in protest on the streets in India. Angry, hurt and exhausted that it had happened again, another girl had lost her life to a sexual assault of the most brutal kind. The collective Indian memory remembers her as Nirbhaya, the fearless one–perhaps for the legacy she left behind.

In many ways it was a turning point for India’s battle with violence against women. It was millions of citizens saying that enough was enough. That this HAS to stop. But how? The numbers of cases of sexual assaults only seem to increase. Each day the news brings chilling reminders, and we consume it. Some seething with rage, some passively, because it hurts too much to pay attention.

It wasn’t the first rape nor will it be the last one that India will see. Statistics indicate that in India a woman is raped every 22 minutes. The conviction rate for rape stands at an abysmal 25%. Add to that the knowledge that most cases that do make it to the headlines come from urban areas and rarely do they touch upon the complex social hierarchies that govern the mentalities that justify rape. Stories of women from the most marginalized communities, Dalits, rural women and tribals, remain unheard.

The anger has diffused but not disappeared. We–women, men, feminists, activists and politicians– continue to ask questions and seek answers as to how we can end rape. The reality looks bleak. But the future is hopeful, if only because women across India are beginning to be heard; their desires to govern their own lives are being acknowledged. Everywhere there are thousands of Nirbhaya’s rising. These are some of their stories.

“Sexual violence is rampant because you think you can get away with it and that I will be too ashamed to report it. If I do speak up you think you can shut me up.”


(The MLA in this video was caught and then let off. The survivor is still waiting for justice and has now lost the support of her family)

“Intimidating me and family is a common tactic to ensure that I will not tell anyone. If I am a Dalit the intimidation is severe and will extend to my whole community.”

“Nirbhaya’s attackers were tried and convicted because of the public outrage. Let’s not forget, this was the only conviction of the 706 cases reported in Delhi in that year. Even when I, and my family, gather enough courage to file a report, the police will often refuse to register the offense.”

“I often worry about my safety and the patriarchal rule is quick to clamp down on my mobility as a protective measure.”

“Often I am told that I was assaulted because of the way I carry myself. The way I walk, the way I talk. Often I am told that ‘I asked for it’. How do you explain when a 7 year old is preyed on? Did she ‘ask for it’?”

(Content may be disturbing)

“Why am I told that to be raped is to lose my dignity? Why is it that I am the one to lose face after being raped? Why is it that no rapist is ever consumed by the shame of his act?”

“When I threaten the male ego, if I resist, if I have an independent mind, then your manhood wants to teach me a lesson. Rape is another weapon in your armoury to wage your patriarchal war.”

“Rape will not stop until you stop thinking of my body as an object. It will not stop until you stop telling me what I should do and what I should think. It will not stop until you stop transacting me for a dowry. It will not stop until you think I should cook and clean for you just because you have married me. It will not stop until you stop making a list of do’s and don’ts for me. It will not stop until you consider me your equal. And equal not just notionally but equal in rights, in opportunities, in inheritance, in property and everything else you have kept as your privilege.”

“I am Nirbhaya. I know no fear. And I will stop you from stopping me to live my life the way I want.

iamNirbhaya

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human rights day

By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala with inputs from Tania Deviah:

What do a teacher, cultural activist and human rights worker have in common?
They can all be branded anti-state elements and be jailed. Just like the people whose testimonies you will watch in the below videos.

I was just a teacher trying to educate tribal children in our area. Why was I dragged into this?” asks Soni Sori of the false charges against her that kept her in jail for 2 painful years. Her only fault had been to raise her voice to get her tribal community, caught between the government and Naxals, their rights.

Soni’s is one of those rare stories that have received attention outside the usual human rights and activist circles. Across India there are millions of stories like hers that have been silenced. In the course of Video Volunteer’s work across India, we have come across many of these stories, some have been reported by our own Community Correspondents.

When a country dubbed as the largest democracy in the world has a human rights record like India’s, it is worrying. This situation exists despite the fact that the Indian constitution guarantees multiple protections to all its citizens including special provisions to safeguards marginalized groups like Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and other communities.

This includes visionary laws like the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 [PESA] and Forest Rights Act 2006, which grant local communities a final say over the utilisation of natural resources.

For large parts of India’s citizens their fights for basic rights like food, shelter and access to livelihoods end on a less than inspiring note. All the State’s promises of being a custodian of human rights remain just those. Join all the dots and it becomes evident that development and self-determination go hand in hand with state repression. The most common manifestations of this repression are forced evictions, implicating civilians in false cases and a high presence of armed forces in ‘troubled areas’.

The implementation of draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act in Indian administered Kashmir, Manipur and several other regions of the North east have thrown up several issues of violations by the armed forces. The 21 year long insurgency in Kashmir has left 70,000 in dead and 8,000 have disappeared while in prison. A toll higher than under Chile’s dictator, Pinochet.

The prominence of forced evictions and state repression is not a new page in Indian history. According to UNHRC’s Status report on Human rights in India 2012, India has the highest number of people being displaced as a result of development projects. Of the 60-65 million displaces since 1947, 40% are tribals and another 40% are Dalits and rural poor. The central Indian sates Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Odisha exemplify this situation.

Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are relatively new states that were formed in 2000. Since then, their governments have signed over a 100 Memoranda of Understandings with private firms on projects like mining for iron, coal, bauxite and other minerals, power generation plants, factories etc.

And here lies the crux of the issue–the resource rich areas are home to a large percentage of India’s tribal and indigenous people; as India marches on the road to economic development, it is these indigenous people that get trampled on.

Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh rank 19, 20 and 23 respectively in state wise rankings of the Human Development Index (2007-08 report). Clearly the profits and benefits of the industry don’t reach the already dispossessed. Activist and writer Gladson Dungdung from Jharkhand elaborates.

In most cases the process for land acquisition is non-consultative. While laws (like PESA and FRA) give the decision making power to people, they seldom get to exercise it. Protests by the people are met with state force as VV documented in Odisha where people are protesting their forceful eviction to make a steel plant.

The Indian landscape is dotted with people’s movement who have taken up the issues raised here today. Madhya Pradesh is home to perhaps one of the largest such movements– The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada). Movements like this are fuelled by the injustice done to the thousands of families that will be displaced to build 30 large dams and 3000 odd small and medium dams on the Narmada River.

Alok from the Narmada Bachao Andolan says: “This mistrust and violation of human rights rose from the fact that the State didn’t take interest in ensuring the rehabilitation, resettlement and compensation to these families from whom they had snatched away all means of continuing a dignified life.”

In the cases of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the problem is further complicated by the presence of Naxalism, Their presence is posed as one of India’s largest internal security threats and more importantly to the smooth functioning of proposed industries. This has become an entry point for the State to come in and use force against civilians.

In 2005 the Salwa Judum— a civilian militia trained and equipped by the State–was commissioned to help “fight the Naxals” in Chattisgarh. All the civilians from the Naxal affected area were forced into government camps that were far away from their sources of livelihoods and lacked shelter, food, sanitation and even schools. Any refusal to move was met with brute force.

When human rights activists pointed out that the Salwa Judum was wreaking havoc and started rehabilitating the survivors of the crossfire, they too were hunted. Kopa Kunjam is one such activist who lives to tell his story of surviving a prison for 22 months for a murder he did not commit.

“It was clear that after the case was documented, my name was added in the end in order to implicate me. This was done in order to ensure that we couldn’t take forward our work of assisting the tribal’s to relocate to the villages from which they had been forcibly evicted”, says Kopa.

The heightened presence of the army hasn’t done much to quell the Naxals but has definitely made life hell for tribals like Barnabus Bodra who become easy targets for gun toting officials.

The Indian State also has an issue with activists who use their rich heritage of songs, dance and theatre to bring their communities better lives. Aparna and Jeetan Marandi were doing precisely this in Gumla, Jharkhand. Jeetan spent 4 years in prison and Aparna 6 months along with her son. Both were implicated on false charges of being Naxals and committing murders.

Some secrets must not be let out. The Indian government has many. When individuals from a community have the ability to report violations they become dangerous enemies of the state. Lingaram Kodopi’s journalism degree ended up sending him to a prison in Chhattisgarh for 26 months.

The Marandis, Lingaram, Soni and Kopa are now putting their lives back on the tracks that they were derailed from. As of the last year, Aparna and Kopa have joined Video Volunteers as Community Correspondents and will be documenting the daily travails of their people. Community media in such conflict-ridden states is a very important tool to document the real situation of the country.

When a majority of the media (and the State) is obsessed with peddling the Incredible and Shining versions of India, a reality check by those who form a majority of the country is in order.

For many of our Community Correspondents, reporting on issues related to state repression and forced evictions is indeed a security threat. It is a step that they are willing to take, for keeping quiet is not an option. If they dare to pick up a camera then it is our duty to sit up and pay attention.

On this Human Rights Day let’s pledge that we will make every voice count.

We dedicate this blog to Nelson Mandela. His revolution to create a society free, fair and equal continues to inspire all of us starting our own revolutions today.

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