Monday, March 29, 2010

Explaining India Unheard

India Unheard Community Correspondents Training workshop

(A new program by Video Volunteers)

India Unheard

The first thing one needs to understand about undertaking such an ambitious project is that India Unheard, in both mission and scope, is a path-breaking program. Taking into account that the mainstream media cannot adequately represent all sections and geographical regions of India, Video Volunteers decided to create an alternative media channel. Funds are always a barrier to entry, and therefore, instead of trying to launch a “channel” on TV, Video Volunteers looked to new media projects, the internet and phone based initiatives to carry video and information from small villages and towns to the cities (both nationally and internationally).

The first question that arises is why? Why are we doing this? I would offer a simple explanation, and one that I vehemently believe in. Along with the basic needs of food, water, infrastructure that communities need, there is a crucial need for creation of a media outlet which can both educate and offer a platform for carrying voices. All too often small communities are fed information from bigger cities, and to that end, this information often has no local resonance. To train local community members to become journalists helps them identity their problems and address them in constructive ways. There is a feeling in the community that ‘someone is listening to us’ which further leads to the confidence that they are too included in the democratic process (beyond election time). For individual members of community media, who are often from the most neglected parts of society – so-called lower castes, women, religious and sexual minorities – it is both a voice and also a paradigm shift in terms of professions available to them. The tag of ‘journalist’ allows their social status to rise and in turn they can help raise the profile of their community.

The next question is how. To sit in a room and plan to bring together ‘marginalized’ sections of society seems an impossible task. The first phase of the plan was simple enough: two persons from each state of India would be selected to participate in this program. We would have to ensure, to the best of our ability, that they would be equally from both genders, and also from the least represented pockets of society. For the purpose of the first phase running smoothly, a decision was taken that these ‘community correspondents’ (CCs) would have to speak either English or Hindi, which meant that immediately their economic profile was raised as they would have to be formally educated on some level. We decided to send out applications throughout the country through grassroots (and some national) NGOs, who could nominate intelligent and driven persons who wanted to explore using media for development work. Applications flooded our office, and a careful selection was made so that a diverse group would be selected. We took special care to ensure that we had adequate North East representation, as this project is pan-India.

This brings us to what. What exactly would these CCs do? Firstly, video is the mainstay of video volunteers, so therefore, video training would be imparted. Since these CCs would be individuals from different regions of the country, it is our responsibility to train them as ‘video journalists’ capable of conceptualizing, scripting and shooting a story by themselves. The second part would be to familiarize them with new media – sms updates, twitter, facebook – so that people could not just follow their video stories but get invested in the individual CCs themselves. On our end, we have to create an interactive website that hosts all these stories, identifiable by themes, CCs and regions, so that it could become a one-stop spot on the internet for finding out stories from the ‘real’ India. An online platform essentially means that our target audience is not necessarily an Indian audience (as broadband speeds and internet penetration levels are quite low) but it is to find and secure a large international audience. Through their interest we can show these videos on multiple websites, TV channels and so on. But for all this to happen, one needed to also create a very efficient system at the Video Volunteers headquarters that could handle the influx of these videos every month. Right now we have about 30 CCs, and if they send in the decided number of 5 videos per month, then VV will have 150 videos come to the Goa office that will then have to be edited, subtitled, uploaded and organized. For that there was a rapid expansion of staff; a program director was brought in from the US along with project managers, editors etc.

When? The program has already been officially launched by our brand ambassador, Bollywood star Abhay Deol in Gujarat. In a month the first batch of videos will come rolling in and VV will find out how well they managed to train the CCs and also the individual capacity of these CCs to produce 5 videos a month. The basis of all this was a 2 week video training bootcamp organized by VV where these 30 CCs were trained in the technical aspects of video production as well as the theoretical concepts of journalism which includes staying away from personal agendas.

So who were these people we trained? I can’t possibly go into all of their personal histories but let me try and paint some stories. A girl who grew up wanting to be a boy but was so abused at home that she tried to commit suicide many times. The clincher is that she was adopted by hijras who took her confused sexuality as an insult to them. Only when she left home and lived on the pavement did she meet her first transsexual and realize she is not alone. We had amazing women who have been victims of severe domestic violence, but have finally stood up to fight for womens rights. We have young men from communities where their peers are either manual laborers or scavengers, but they have stayed in school despite the odds, to fight for a better future. We had many from tribal communities, here to find a platform to talk about how they are being displaced around the country. We had a muslim woman who told us that this training was the first time in her entire life that she had not been forced to wear her hijab and felt free. I had the opportunity to work with all of them in creating a script for their ‘profile videos’ which will be featured on our website and was overwhelmed with their passionate stories.

Outside of the training I am also arranging partnerships for this project. People and organizations interested in supporting, working with or showcasing community media. We are finally going to become a rural newswire, so this means muchos expansion. There is a lot more to be said about the issue but I wanted to explain the many pictures I had put up on Facebook to everyone.

See the pics!


Roy said...

very impressive and an excellent initiative.

Alec said...

truly commendable.this initiative would inspire a lot of people to be part of it. Not only is it empowering but provides an opportunity to do development work through this medium and highlight issues at the grassroot level that may not find a voice through the mainstream media.

Dantedownunder said...

Great stuff! All the best.

mahima said...

thanks guys :-))

egg style said...

Truly remarkable work! This is revolutionary stuff. Keep up the good work, Mahima!

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