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How Citizen Journalism Has Been Aiding Tribal India In Ways Like No Other

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By Charu Sharma:

Journalism is a medium to communicate every possible societal activity with the masses. Due to the paucity of time and space, it is not possible for media, newspapers and radio channels to keep up with every form of news at the community or local level. Journalism can be understood on the basis of its contribution and its nature. Let us understand the concept of Citizen Journalism. According to Jay Rosen, citizen journalists are “the people formerly known as the audience, who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another– and who today are not in a situation like that at all. The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, and less predictable.”

We Are Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism is an active involvement of the public or citizens in communicating information at the grassroot level. It is different from the concept of professional journalism. Citizen journalism in India plays a very critical role in imparting information. India is a diverse nation, surrounded by complex issues and these issues can be about anything- infrastructure problems, crime, water and electricity availability etc. and most of these issues exist at a local level.

Due to the fragmented status of India, the media has lost its fundamental duty of informing and educating people and has become a source of entertainment more than anything else. And I do believe that it has neglected the people of India. Mainstream media houses are bogged down by cost pressures and are busy making big bucks. Real journalism gets diverted due to its association with different alliances and political parties. It is quite evident that the grassroot level happenings are conveniently ignored by the mainstream journalists, who are busy broadcasting reports which can get them higher earnings.

In India , citizen journalism in comparison to traditional journalism can be seen in the form of RTI activists, freelance journalists and even the common man who is aware of his/her social responsibility. The most recent movement, known to us as ‘India Against Corruption’ validates its presence in the society. The drastic increase in social networking and advancement in technology has made citizen journalism platforms more active and reachable. Citizen reporting is more focused and issued-based in nature.

Over the years, tribal India has benefited because of citizen journalism in several ways. This is one part of India which desperately seeks a hand for help and needs to voice itself. Hence, citizen journalism finds its way as an alternative outlet to help tribals raise their voice against the local problems and disparities that they find hard to talk about otherwise.

There are numerous initiatives taken up by citizen journalists in their communities. The story of Shubhranshu Choudhary and the ‘Voice of Chhattisgarh’ is an example. Choudhary is a former BBC journalist and founder of CGnet Swara – a democratic tool of India. It is a system developed with the help of Microsoft Research India to allow people to use mobile phones to send and listen to audio reports in their local language. Choudhary has created a boom in the tribal land of Chhattisgarh by creating a technology to help and increase global reach by virtue of its websites and training professional journalists at the same time. CGnet Swara is transforming the shape of India in terms of communicating, sharing and receiving news.

The percentage of tribals living in impoverished conditions is as many as 100 million across India. Despite being the central point of discussion when it comes to improvement and development, tribals have been losing their voice and stand in many different ways.

In a couple of interviews, it is quite fascinating to understand Choudhary’s thoughts on tribal conditions in terms of their problems. He says, “There’s not a single tribal journalist. There’s a complete disconnect: reader, writer, (media) owners all on one side, this 100 million population on the other. The journalism is completely one-sided. Not only were the tribal people absent as voices in the media — they had no access as consumers either.” For Choudhary, becoming a citizen journalist was an avenue to address the issues which were not being highlighted or were kept hidden for some reason or the other.

According to Choudhary, “Just like other social media platforms, CGNet Swara enables local people, otherwise cut off due to distance, terrain and language, to form a direct link with mainstream media and also the government authorities. The objective is to give a voice to the voiceless, all those people who are left out in India’s growth story.

He further adds, “Swara uses an innovative mobile phone system to help isolated communities for the first time have access to local news. And it provides an outlet that allows the people in these communities to be heard hold governments accountable and create transparency. It’s the voice of the tribals in an area where issues related to them are hardly mentioned in the mainstream media.”

A few other examples from small towns would highlight the existence of citizen journalism which has helped to enlighten us about various incidences of the injustice meted out to people.

In Bhagalpur, a small town in the state of Bihar, visuals were captured by a citizen journalist in his camera of a man accused of snatching a chain who was later brutally beaten and dragged by the mob and then by the police. This caught the attention of the nation and built media pressure on the open abuse of human rights which forced the Bihar government to act against the policemen involved.

Another story by a citizen journalist became the headline of all news networks. The incident of the stripping of over 1000 men in the village of Boraj, near Ajmer, shook the whole nation. It was the village Panchayat that had asked the men to strip in order to establish whether any of them were involved in the rape of 35-year-old woman from the village. A weekly supplement called Muktapeeth which entirely written by readers and is initiated by the Sakal newspaper, is one of the regional dailies in Pune. This is an initiative by citizen journalists and it has been raising issues, discussions and providing solutions to the same since 2006.

It is true that mainstream journalism vests in the handful of people situated at the top who decide what goes up. Communication needs to become democratic in nature, something which is highly lacking in our country. There have been mixed responses from all ends toward the whole concept of citizen journalism. Some may believe that it is just a big thing in small towns and probably a form of unsuccessful professional journalism. India being one of the largest democracies in the world, citizen or participatory journalism would benefit the country in every possible way. It is for the common people, and will redefine the structure of mainstream journalism. If implemented with full support and planned properly, it can become one of the most powerful tools, especially in the tribal society. Every Indian would know the source to report news that touches their lives and such a concept will be a revolution more than anything else. It will influence how news is reported in the traditional mainstream media.

References:
www.cnn.com

reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk

www.huffingtonpost.com

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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