By Rachit Sharma:
It was not long ago when the political editor of one of my favourite political magazines asked me to show a journalism degree when I went for an internship interview. What I wanted to put across was how passionately I believe in the values of journalism, how over the years I conducted my own little experiments with society and would like to learn under their guidance. But to my dismay, the interview didn’t last long enough for me to say these things. No degree means no internship today. The rustle of my grass root experiences cannot find a voice behind the sound-proof cabins of these offices.
With a heavy heart, I continued roving for experiences in the hinterlands of India. My journey took me to the Red Corridor, spread across a substantially large part of central India. I didn’t know then that I would come across a practice of communication where the ‘deprived’ are the chief stakeholders.
On my journey from Raipur to its younger brother, Naya Raipur, I encountered greenery that was filtered through the raindrops on the windows of the bus. Naya Raipur is an upcoming city, one gets the sense that it is a child that just learned to gallop through green fields and landed up on a carpet of concrete.
The organisation that I was about to explore had inspired me to break the belief that communication or journalism can only be governed by elite groups. It was there that I realised the power of communication, which lies in sharing, where the message is more powerful than the medium.
CGNet Swara is a voice based mobile portal, freely accessible to anyone who wants to report or listen to the issues of local interest. It has a team of tribal journalists who organise frequent Citizen Journalism Awareness Yatras to sow the seeds of power of communication among the tribal population inhabiting Maoist areas. The organisation gets hundreds of calls each day reporting civic, and law and order issues in local areas. These reports are put on the website with the names and phone numbers of the officials who were unable to acknowledge the issues due to sheer apathy or ignorance.
The website gives a person sitting thousand miles away the power to question the authorities, as to why a government school in a far-flung village in Chhattisgarh has not been working for months, or why there has been no electricity in a remote village of Madhya Pradesh or Jharkhand.
I remember, while working on a villager’s grievance of not being paid his wages of MGNREGA, I called up the collector of a small district called Rewa of Madhya Pradesh and questioned him about the issue. The collector was shocked as to how someone out of the blue is advocating for an unknown villager but promised to look into the matter right away. Stories like these are tracked persistently unless they reach their justified conclusion.
While living with tribal journalists of the region, Maoism always spurted out when conversing. They would tell how they are governed by two governments and bear the brunt of both. Some of the educated tribal journalists’ would argue that the whole world squanders billions of dollars on conventions for environment protection but when an adivasi raises his voice for jal, jungle, jameen, he is labelled as a terrorist instead of an environmentalist. They would say that the only time when mainstream media took notice of the tribal region was when they discovered Gotuls, which are amusingly seen as sex hostels by the outside world, but in fact are community centres of villages in tribal region, where people come together to discuss matters that concern them. Gotul serves as a guest house for people in villages, is a home for tribal music and dance, and it provides sex education, which involves discussing premarital sex as well. However this fact shouldn’t overshadow the belief of community building for which Gotuls are established.
During my stay in Chhattisgarh, I realised that the situation, which the former Prime Minister had called ‘the biggest internal threat to the country’, is as much a result of a gap in communication, as of apathy and neglect. It was appalling to observe that in a region inhabited by millions of people there was no trace of media or journalism. The people who chiefly speak ‘Gondi’ language are secluded from the communication scene itself. But journalists like Monika Marawi, Sarla Biswas and other tribal women, who have hardly studied up to high school, restore my faith in journalism when they journey to the remotest villages, and ask tribal people to raise their voices and demand their rights, besides eloquently reporting issues of grave concern.
The best thing is that there are plenty of journalists like these working with CGNet Swara who define the real meaning of journalism. These remote regions are turning into breeding grounds for development of communication and journalism and these journalists did not require any fancy degrees to do what they are doing. The ripples of change are wide and deep, if not loud.