Monday, 23 January 2012

Change begins from Within: Random posts from Ranchi

What happens when you bring together some activists, school girls, unemployed youth and poor farmers?

A revolution. A rebellion against the rules.

There is hope in this world yet. As the outside world is carried away by greed, jealousy, rage and power, I have been camping in Bagaicha, Ranchi with this group of people who have lost homes, families, land and identities and are struggling to bring together their communities in a new age rebellion against the consumer world that you and I are a part of. Over days of chatting with them and finally hounding them for follow ups it began to dawn on me who I was trying to understand, to connect with. These were the people our government forgot when they were making the rules, the laws that govern our nation. There were people desperately fighting for a chance of survival, fighting for their land, their forests, their culture…for their communities.

Reaching Bagaicha on the 17th, the first thing I did was make friends with Spotty aka ‘Chotu’. I spend a few minutes every day playing with him. He’s gotta be the best part of being at Bagaicha. Spotty is overfriendly and over-playful. Even when I’m tiptoeing back to my room post a staff meeting after dinner Spotty finds me and wants to play. He adopts a hilarious butt-up-twitchy-tail-nose-to-the-ground stance and is ready to pounce. Our game usually begins with me tapping his toes and then he races off into the darkness, does a complete circle of Bagaicha and comes to skittering standstill at my feet! He also brings bones sometimes to play with and waits for kind souls (i.e. Father Stan!) outside the dining room door at every meal. He is of course overfed by Pushpa Didi at the kitchen, only he doesn’t know it!
The 18th was bitterly cold and I was cranky and as our participants started coming into the centre, it seemed ridiculous that these people could be smiling so much, so excited to be a part of something revolutionary. I'm using the term revolutionary so often because I really do believe we are revolutionizing the way news is produced. Mainstream media very conveniently leaves out the masses, or glorifies them, or victimizes them. Very rarely do they try and understand the cultures and communities of the people who they sometimes feature in their channels. VV instead, goes a step further. VV gives the community cameras, and therefore, a voice. Who better to talk about or makes news stories about issues than those people directly affected by the lack of basic necessities or those have dared to break gender constucts and encourage their women to be Panchayat leaders?

This time in Jharkhand, we got almost sixty people applying to be community correspondents for VV and it got pretty intense! We introduced ourselves to each other and then, before I knew it, ideas and arguments were being thrown around and I started feeling as though I was trying to follow multiple tennis matches. The 1st day whirled by in a mass of group sessions where I was mostly struggling to associate names to faces and before I knew it, we were at an office meeting! Interviews and more group work the next day. Day two meant we were nearing the end of the recruitment, and the toughest part was yet to come – the selections. We were going to pick out only a single participant from every district. Each of us conducted personal interviews which were positively embarrassing simply because people were freely sharing intensely private details of their lives in an attempt to explain their passion for a cause. People talked of their families and injustices and the callous deaths of loved ones and every story added to the fog of introspection clouding my judgment. I wasn’t the only one. The selection meeting was long and arduous, with arguments, and every member of the VV team hotly defending their group members and rejoicing when one got selected. We ended up reworking our initial recruitment plan and accepting others who we would simply train because they were so eager to learn, so eager to have a medium via which they would be able to showcase the joys and sorrows of their communities.
Announcing the list of selected trainees was like a reality TV show, with the rejected candidates being reassured that they didn’t get selected as they were meant for something bigger…and then, sessions began!
Sessions at these training camps are always fun, as people are often uninhibited in front of complete strangers. In a few days it doesn't matter as these strangers have become dorm mates, sharing every hour of their hectic schedule together. Mock interviews, feminist Sachi Kumari, discussions on witch-hunting and finally, Father Stan, with an eye opening, ear burning talk on constitutional rights. Let me tell you about Father Stan. Father Stan is the head of Bagaicha, an institution which works actively on the rights of the tribal people of Jharkhand. Father is tall, old, and talks slowly. Super slowly. And there is something in his voice which slows you down, steadies your heartbeat, makes you patient, waiting to hear more. He also sneaks Spotty-the-dog slices of bread in the morning. Father Stan is a man who spends a few minutes every morning standing still in front of the memorial stone in the front yard of Bagaicha. Every morning he remembers the people who laid down their lives fighting for the rights of their people. If you guys think I’m being melodramatic, I’m not. It is essential to remember those who let us lead a life of luxury and comfort (Thanks ma, papa xox). Father Stan’s talk on the rights of the tribal people and the layout of the constitution was so such a success that VV has been requested to help distribute copies of it.
Sunday was all about the camera, with many holding a camera for the first time. Funny poses, faces and head wobbles flicked across the screen as we reviewed the shots together, attempting to gauge how much these raw recruits had understood…supercilious me was brought down a few notches off my high horse as I realized many had learnt more than I ever knew! That night was spent poring over the trainers’ manual, stuff I’d skipped before and asking myself some of those dramatic soul searching questions knowing the answers to which we all believe can change our lives.
Change my life these people did. A little bit for sure. I can’t stop thinking about how privileged I have been. The greatest tragedies of my mundane life don’t even begin to compare to the intense emotions these people have been subjected to. They speak stories of murder, death and destruction the way you and I would chat about coffee from Barista being better than the CCD stuff. Or Baga Fish Curry & Rice being a really cool eating joint. Being homeless, landless and jobless is as common as having a tattoo in the lives we lead. “Everyone’s got one nowadays!” Their tattoos are etched into the lines beside their eyes, wrinkled with the sun burning down upon them as they work their fields or cycle for hours to their jobs. And their tattoos are etched into the laugh lines moulding their smiles. It’s amazing how blindingly bright their smiles are. The men. The women have a shyer quality to their smiles, with deep, soulful eyes. Before you begin to accuse me of romanticizing their lives, and them, you have to remember that I have left all the familiar things in my life far behind. The only thing that keeps me connected to my ‘other’ life out there is staring at the stars, with the cold, cold wind biting through multiple layers of clothing. This half hour of star gazing every night is the only time when I can sit and collect my thoughts in peace, trace the day’s events, file away memories and moments from the mad whirlwind of being constantly on the move, on the phone, talking, smiling, coordinating! The trees form a canopy of light and shadows, and through the leaves the stars glitter fiercely, mocking the lack of electricity in the hovels so many people call home.
Being here has been a deeply introspective experience. I didn’t know the light and sound show I saw at Red Fort and ridiculed to all who would care to listen probably deprived light to many of these I was sitting down to dinner with. Every time I showered instead of using a bucket, or every handful of rice I dumped on the railway tracks because Indian Railways has no system of responsibly disposing off left over and extra food has denied somebody of the basic nutrition or drinking water. I have had the opportunity to be an agent of change, but after a long time the hard, harsh realization has hit me that irresponsible livelihood choices made by you and me has led to the very circumstances we empathize with and want to help change. You and I are responsible. You and I need to change before we recommend and demand change from others.    

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