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India's poorest turn video journalists to fill news gap

Published May 18, 2012 04:45am


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Video journalist and slum dweller Amol Lalzare, 27, (L) shows his seven year-old nephew Anmol one of his news reports on his laptop at his room in the Sathe Nagar slums of Mumbai.—AFP Photo
Video journalist and slum dweller Amol Lalzare, 27, (L) shows his seven year-old nephew Anmol one of his news reports on his laptop at his room in the Sathe Nagar slums of Mumbai.—AFP Photo

MUMBAI: One video shows police beating protesters with sticks. Another shows two lifeless, dirty bodies dragged from their workplace in the sewers. In a third, a man explains why his hand was slashed.

The disturbing clips and personal stories have a common thread: all the victims are “untouchables”, now known as Dalits, who are at the bottom of India's rigid Hindu caste hierarchy.

The Dalit with the cut hand says he was harmed for drinking from a pot meant for higher castes, while filthy and dangerous sewer work is a profession reserved for families of the lowest caste.

Such everyday discrimination is nothing new, but it is rarely documented with such intimacy and insider knowledge in India's mainstream domestic news media.

“The mainstream media just report on the superficial events but they don't have depth,” said Amol Lalzare, a Dalit and one of the “community correspondents” working for Video Volunteers, a media and human rights group.

“I stay here, I know what's going on, and I also want to give solutions through my news clips,” added Lalzare, who makes videos in the Mumbai slums with a camera not much larger than a mobile phone.

The 27-year-old documents a range of issues affecting the poor, from water shortages and poor sanitation to corruption and sexual harassment in the slums, where more than half of the city's residents live.

In their recently-launched campaign against caste discrimination, including a petition to properly end the illegal practice, Video Volunteers from across India have released footage to show the problem is still entrenched.

They captured Dalit women who take their sandals off to walk past the “big people's houses”, a barber admitting Dalits don't come to his shop, and a school where Dalit children eat separately.

“It makes me nothing but angry,” vented one female interviewee.

Kumar Ketkar, editor of the Dainik Divya Marathi newspaper in Mumbai, agreed that marginalised communities rarely draw attention from mainstream news outlets.

“Their normal everyday life does not get adequate coverage,” he said, blaming the problem on the media's need for revenues from advertisers, who target a middle-class audience with “consumer potential”.

Lalzare and his colleagues earn 1,500 rupees for each report and 5,000 rupees for an “impact” video, showing some kind of change as a result of their work.

They number about 60 nationwide and contribute to the Video Volunteers' “IndiaUnheard” news service, which since 2010 has published regular clips online and sometimes at screenings for the communities concerned.

In a major breakthrough for the group, one of the biggest English-language news networks in India, CNN-IBN, recently agreed to broadcast one of their stories per week to its millions of viewers.

Topics broadcast so far include gender inequality in farm workers' wages and child marriage—one interviewee was a 12-year-old cattle grazer married off three years earlier.

The project was set up to focus on “specific places where the media wasn't functioning,” said American founder Jessica Mayberry, who is based in the south-western holiday state of Goa.

She said the problem was more extreme in rural communities, giving the example of eastern Jharkhand state, home to a largely tribal population but without a single journalist of tribal origin in the regular press.

“It's a question of representation. Seventy per cent of this country, the poor, is coming through this filter of the outsider who doesn't live there,” she told AFP.

The income for Video Volunteers is currently about two-thirds donations—from social entrepreneurship foundations and individuals—and one third revenue from selling content and training.

The service is among various projects that have sprung up in recent years harnessing technology to give a voice to hundreds of millions of marginalised Indians who feel ignored by the media and the political class.

Bangalore-based website offers a place for users to vent their anger and share experiences of corruption across the country, where bribes and kickbacks are routine.

P N Vasanti, director of the Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi, said the mainstream news channels were still dominated by politics, crime, sport and entertainment, but she thought social issues were gradually gaining ground.

“It's an evolution of news media and evolution of the audience. They are learning to demand what they want,” she told AFP.


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Comments (17) Closed

Sanjay May 19, 2012 02:44am
pak have no right to take this issue .these people follow religion strickly might be wrong or right see what pak religion hardliner do jihad and force conversion. in India things swifting toward tolrance in pak things swifting toward intolrance that's what relgion hardliner are.
Ali May 18, 2012 11:07pm
Being happy that the voice exist - what a nation
chengiz khan May 18, 2012 09:38pm
hahha stop worrying about indias poorest .. n dalit drama .. atleast indias poor have laptops n cameras n faith in indian democracy Unlike pakistan where pakistani muslims who are poor live off shanties ..n pakistans minorities constantly live in fear ....
h.thani May 18, 2012 09:12pm
even in muslims community caste system is excisted like India
Murali May 18, 2012 07:58am
Good. Atleast in India, poor people can voice their problems. which is a good sign. People are automatically empowered not only through voting but also venting their anger against gaps between rich and poor. Great going!!
Sam May 18, 2012 05:13pm
I agree on Manish's statement. The issue will gradually my childhood if some of my so called dalit friend will come , they have to wash their dish if they used...this was my grandma's rule..we oppose that and periodically she accept our and awareness will eradicate the issue..good luck India.
Srikanth May 18, 2012 04:47pm
The 'haves' in India can be shockingly oblivious to the miseries of the 'have-nots' .. they are still in deep denial about the effect centuries of mistreatment has had on a set of people.... They clearly have not had the kind the soul searching that has gone on in the United states about how blacks or Native Americans were treated .... The best hope is that the economy improves and lifts the standard/status of all. Citizen Journalism and Social media can only aid that effort
Prat29 May 18, 2012 01:32pm
Good move but not sufficient for 30 crore poor people . Caste system is the biggest issue in India but now things are changing very fast . But in Hindi there is a quote " JATI ( Caste ) wahi hoti hai jo kabhi nai JATI ( goes )'' . It mean that Caste system and discrimination never gonna end . Government is doing a-lot on papers but not on the field . I can only say GOD SAVE INDIA .
Chetan Dubey May 19, 2012 06:05am
Respected from V V, We are currently working on a story on how marginalized communities have not been portrayed by the media where the focus is only on sports, entertainment and politics. We kindly request you to give us the number of one such video journalist, ' Amol Lalzare' whose story appeared on how dalits have been indiscriminated in the society by the so called elite or upper caste. Kindly revert back on this issue at the earliest. Awaiting a reply. Regards, Chetan Dubey. Reporter, ANI Mumbai 9920018258
manish May 18, 2012 02:28pm
Ali Raza, Lahore May 19, 2012 08:57am
Internet and social media has open mammoth opportunities for entrepreneurs and free lancer journalists. Now media has been decentralized. Poor and unprivileged communities can raise voice against their grievances. You need not to depend on media to raise your voice when social media is here to raise your voice.
Usman May 19, 2012 03:09pm
Khan sb with due respect open your eyes in case you think pakistani people are poorer than indians.
Malone May 19, 2012 06:15pm
Why don't you instead be grateful that you were able to read about yourself in a Pakistani newspaper, rather than vent against what you believe is slander? Does not tthis article make you think that we Indians should be better people tomorrow? Why do you read a Pakistani newspaper anyway - to look down at Jihadis?? I am an Indian too - I think the Dawn is a great newspaper and most of its readers are progressives.
Cyrus Howell May 19, 2012 07:17pm
prafulla shrivastva May 20, 2012 09:24am
Dear Malone, Thanks for your comments on Dawn. I also read it regularly & feel it is a good newspaper. Everybody should read it.
Irfan May 19, 2012 11:25pm
I think the caste system is all rubbish and Must be got RID of both in India and Pakistan. Any way I dont understand why some people just want to see Indans and Pakistanis fighting about everything. If we all put our energy POSITIVELY and try to do something for the poor and the so called LOW CASTES surely that would be better would it not and we the Pakistanis and the Indian brothers can do this together. Irfan UK
G.A. May 20, 2012 02:20am
Thank You!