BANGALORE: While the mainstream media shies away from portraying issues faced by a majority of Indians and from news that doesn't sound sensational or shocking, Video Volunteers does the opposite. It not only portrays the truth, sometimes truth that is unsavoury, but also creates local leaders, gets people and government to take action and enables the oppressed to advocate for themselves. Video Volunteers is a social change media network, a medium that is for the people and by the people.
Disillusioned by their experiences in the US and India, Jessica Mayberry and Stalin K started Video Volunteers (VV) in 2006. And the main objective was to provide an alternative to mainstream media. They wanted to enable people to speak for themselves through their own medium which is relevant to them. Now, 206 people strong, the current network of IndiaUnheard Community Correspondents brings stories from some of the most marginalised communities of India — dalits, tribals, women, religious and sexual minorities and other socio-economically weaker sections — across 24 states in the country.
In an interaction with City Express, Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, the communications coordinator, tells us more about the organisation and the work they do.
The volunteer network
The main concentration of the network is in central and northern India - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra.
We consciously decided to expand to these areas because they continue to have some of the worst socio-economic indicators and are also conflict prone.
The network of community correspondents operates like a rural stringers network. The correspondents identify the stories that they would like to cover from their communities. Once they identify a story, they talk to their mentor (each correspondent has a mentor either on the field or in our Goa office) who helps them identify shots, interviews and research. Once filmed, the story gets edited either in a state office or in the headquarters situated in Goa. From here the stories go onto our website / YouTube channel.
We also have regular content-sharing partnerships with channels like Headlines Today and CNN-IBN and other online platforms like Youth Ki Awaaz, Oximity, Global Voices among others. We hope that eventually the network will be able to feed in many more stories into the mainstream media. We have also partnered with some grassroot NGOs and civil society organisations to sustain our operations.
There are 12 broad issues that we focus on: corruption, infrastructure, education, health, gender, forced evictions, caste and identity, art and culture, environment, development, conflict and technology.
The most exciting part about community reporting is that it catalyses change. When they work, the correspondents also approach a government official to help them solve the problem.
They simultaneously also get community members to talk about an issue, to make them aware about their rights, to talk about solutions and ways forward. So the correspondent forms a bridge of information between people and the government. We find that the presence of a camera really boosts action on the part of officials, a feeling of being watched or being held accountable.
In 2013-14 alone, there were 125 instances in which a video resolved the situation. This impacted 49,568 people in 198 villages. Our correspondents were joined by 7,777 people to help them bring about the change — this included members from the community, activists and government officials.
What about the dangers of speaking the truth?
Yes, there are negative consequences. There have been threats and fights that have broken out in the past. But this has not deterred the correspondents.
Of course, we cannot stop any negative repercussion altogether. However, we take support from legal groups like the Human Rights Law Network and have also sought support from organisations like the Community to Protect Journalists.
What are you currently working on?
One of our main stories right now is the murder of Dalit activist Sanjay Khobragade on May 17 by six upper caste people (with strong affiliations to the BJP). The accused were identified by Sanjay on his death bed and yet have gone scot free. His wife and neighbour have been framed for the murder.
We are also running a campaign to put an end to untouchability. This is a video archive of discrimination against Dalits in India. We are petitioning the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to look into these instances and effectively enforce laws that make untouchability a criminal offence.
‘Right to Education (RTE) in India’ is another campaign we're running. It is a video audit of the implementation of the RTE act. Our community correspondents visit schools in their neighbourhood and collect video evidences of the violations in the implementation of provisions specified under the Act.
In the past seven months, they have uncovered incidents ranging from schools that stay shut, lack of teachers, lack of drinking water facilities and toilets.
To know more, visit www.videovolunteers.org/