Documenting Faces of India

Published: 02nd June 2014 08:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2014 08:19 AM   |  A+A-


BANGALORE:  "Anyone who's gone on a long train journey, would have seen something similar: A 65 year old woman who gets in at a station, lays her 35-odd kilo basket at her feet and sits down next to you, panting."

This was journalist P Sainath addressing an audience at the National Law School University recently, in the culmination of a seven-lecture series. He spoke about the online archive that he is working on and how everyone can contribute to it.

"So next time you see something like that, shoot it — even on your phone, if the camera is good — and send it to us," he said, adding that, People's Archive of Rural India (PARI), which will go live in mid-July, aims to document the 'everyday lives of everyday people'.

"The main focus would be on labour, the work done by people — a sweeper, a koilawallah (people who transport coal, pushing a bicycle for over 60 km over a couple of days or so), migrants, anyone who you think is interesting. But the focus has to be on the work that they do, not the final product," he said, inviting participation from the audience present.

The stories could be in video, still photographs, audio recordings or text formats, Sainath said. "So if you know of someone who you think would fit into our framework, you could either tell us about it or do it yourself and send it across to us."

The journalist and his team of 140 from across different professions also hope to record all Indian languages. "There are over seven hundred living languages. We don't want to get into the language versus dialect debate, so we're just calling it tongues," he clarified, adding that while one of them is spoken by as many as 50 million people, another is spoken only by four families.

"Likewise, there are so many professions or occupations that are unique to India: the toddy tappers, the Irula snake catchers, boom boom mattukarans who make predictions accompanied by bulls, Khalasis who are traditional ship launchers," he listed.

PARI will also feature photographs of a man, a woman and a child or an adolescent from every district under the category Faces, artisans (again with the focus on the process rather than the product) under Things We Make, stories of the last living participants of the struggle for independence under Foot-soldiers of Freedom. Further, there are separate categories for communities and their culture, health, transport ('from jugaads to BMWs'), sports and games, folklore, Dalits, children and women. "Women are the greatest contributors to the GDP but receive little credit for it," he added. 

Elaborating on why he decided that the archive should be an online one, he said, "In nearly thirty-four years of reporting, I collected a lot of memorabilia. When I thought of how to share it — I know that today's youngsters would rather not frequent museums — I asked myself where I could reach this generation, where I could find them all. And then I realised, they are all on the internet."

The archive is looking to partner with educational institutes. "We can create content for them, and they can contribute to it," said Sainath, predicting that, in a few years, like in the West, most study material will go online. "I have noticed that this generation is smarter than the previous one. What I've also noticed is it has a tremendous sense of entitlement and zero sense of engagement. PARI hopes to engage with them," he declared.

Those who want to contribute to the archive do so by sending an email to

More from Bengaluru.


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