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Mothers and daughters give voice to tribal problems

There are at least 15 tribal women and girls reporting from Bastar and other areas of Chhattisgarh state in India. SARADA LAHANGIR describes the march of the citizen journalists in this article below

Posted Thursday, Feb 24, 2011

Womens Feature Service

Government officials had claimed that wages had been paid to those working
on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) job
sites in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh. The villagers themselves,
however, maintained that they had been paid only half the money due to them.
It was this issue that Bhan Sahu, 36, chose to highlight in one of her
reports as a citizen journalist.

In her report, she pointed out that the concerned officials could not
provide details of the exact amount of wages dispensed or how much money had
been spent on materials for the work being done on these job sites. She also
highlighted the fact that people were migrating out of the region in search
of work because they did not have regular work, a trend symbolised by Atra
village where almost 40 per cent of residents had been forced to leave their
homes in search of a sustainable livelihood.

Sahus report caught the attention of mainstream national newspapers like *The
Hindu*, and before long more than 1,000 people who had been working on the
MNREGA work sites here were paid dues that were hanging fire for months.

That's not the only story Sahu has done from this poverty-stricken region in
one of India's poorest states. She had also reported on the problems faced
by the children of the area around Atra vilage. Many from the adjoining
Sitafasa village could only reach the school in Atra by crossing a narrow
rivulet that lay between the two villages. And during the rains, these 70
children of Sitafasa faced lot of danger while making it to school, because
the rivulet was inevitably flooded. While no newspaper or television channel
had bothered to report on this, Sahu found it worthy of attention. After her
report came out, the state government finally sanctioned funds to build a
bridge over the rivulet, a demand that the local people had been making for
a decade.

Then there was another story Sahu did from Rajnandgaon. It highlighted how
women there had got together to remove a liquor shop from the area. Easy
access to liquor had seen household budgets shrink and, of course, rising
alcoholism among the men in the community. Again, this was an issue that did
not attract any media attention, but for Sahu having witnessed the
distress of the local women at first hand it was a concern that needed
public attention.

So who is Sahu? She is from the OBC (other backward caste) community, a
widow and mother of two - one son, Anwinsh, who is studying in class 11 and
daughter Pratikshya in class 7. And here's how she explains her own
evolution from an ordinary woman to an activist-journalist: I have studied
only up to Class Eight and couldnt continue my studies because of poverty
and lack of facilities in my village. Hunger, unemployment and deprivation
marked our lives. I then joined a local organisation, the Ekta Parisad, as
an activist working for the cause of tribals and the poor.

In the course of her work, Sahu got to understand the ground realities of
the local people and also realised that the mainstream media did nothing to
focus on issues that really mattered. I felt helpless because reporting
seemed a difficult job, which needed high qualifications and communication
skills, she says.

Fortunately, that was when *CGNet Swara*, a new audio-based citizen
journalism service, and *India Unheard*, a community news service launched
by Video Volunteers, entered the picture. They trained her to be a citizen
journalist and provided her with a platform to do such work. Today, her
regular reports from the grassroots are giving a voice to poor tribals and
oppressed women.

After the death of her husband about five years ago, she found herself
without the support of even her husband's family. That was when she decided
to dedicate her life to the people. Two years ago, she began her reporting
career. At that point, she was the only woman doing such work in these

Things have changed now. Today, there are at least 15 women and girls from
tribal communities with little education, reporting from the region -
Rajnandgaon, Bastar, Sarguja and Mahasamun districts. Take the 42-year-old
dalit, Rajim Tandi, of Pithoda village in Mahasamun district. The daughter
of a wage labourer working in a cement factory in Bargarh in Orissa, she
lost her father in a factory accident when she was only a teenager. The
family was in a crisis. Her uncle had pocketed the compensation given by the
company and even attempted to sexually harass her mother. Finally, her
mother decided to migrate to neighbouring Chhattisgarh, but this meant that
Tandi missed out on a proper school education. That same traumatised
teenager is now a citizen journalist and a source of inspiration for many
young girls in her community. Her own daughters, Astha, 15, and Prerana, 14,
are reporting for the *Deshbandhu Balpatrakar* page. *Deshbandhu* is a
newspaper published from Raipur.

Like Sahu, Tandi too has raised the issue of corruption on the MNREGA job
sites through interviews with farmers on the *CGNet Swara*. In fact, the
Chief Minister's Office responded to her story by calling her directly to
say that they were looking into the allegations of corruption that she had

Says Tandi, my mother and I have faced a lot of challenges. The media
ignores people like us. Take an issue like the right to food. It should be a
priority for the media, but it is hardly picked up. That is why when I heard
about *CGNet* and *India Unheard* I decided to report for them. It was a
golden opportunity for me to highlight the issues of the people.

Sahu and Tandi, as citizen journalists, are pioneers in a state where men
have completely dominated journalism. They may not have education and may
come from very poor, rural backgrounds, but they have so much to share from
their experiences of working with people. By picking up their mobile phones
and talking into it, by using their digital camera to record the people they
meet in their day-to-day work, they are breaking the silence and bringing to
the fore the unseen.

Observes Subhranshu Chowdhury, senior journalist and founder of *CGNet Swara*,
The majority of journalists in places like Chhattisgarh earn their main
income from taking a cut from advertisement revenue and not from their
salaries. The majority, in fact, does not get a salary. Given this, they are
not in a position to report on the corruption because it is these same
people who are the main generators of advertisement revenue. He adds,
Concerned citizens like Bhan and Rajim are actually breaking that vicious
cycle when they report what they see while working with the people.

According to a 2005 survey by the media organisation, Charkha, only an
abysmal two per cent of media space went to cover issues related to people -
like land, forest, water, and so on. It is this trend that Bhan and Rajim
are helping to change. Many mainstream journalists are raising the concerns
that were first highlighted by them.

In the process they are changing the very nature of Indian journalism. Says
Alok Putul, Editor, **, Given that in a state like Chhattisgarh
there are very few women journalists in the field, this initiative by Bhan
and Rajim will add a new chapter in annals of the media and inspire other
women to take up journalism as a full-time profession. We, as part of the
journalist fraternity, need to encourage and support them.


ArtByMia's picture


Thank you for such a wonderful article. There is nothing like world pulse where we can connect with women around the world and stay abreast of current issues involving women on a global level. I have a blog called Chamaca Arts and i will be showcasing and sharing stories all about women around the world and would love to showcase this article and a picture of you. Hope you will grant me the permission and share your voice with the rest of us.

Namaste, Mia

gunu_k's picture

Most Welcome

Dear Mia,
these stories are for as wide a circulation as is possible. The women mentioned in this article are all long standing colleagues of mine who have been fighting patriarchy with courage and patience. So you can use this story freely for further dissemination.

Subhadra Khaperde

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