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Virtual voice - Community Media Trust
 
 
In a pathbreaking exercise 10 Dalit women of Andhra Pradesh have been trained in wielding the video camera. More importantly these women have been handed over the ownership of this tool to voice their opinions and grievances.
A pathbreaking experiment has been attempted and proved successful in empowering illiterate rural women that can well stand all earlier premises and theories of development and communication on their head. A group of 10 Dalit women of Pastapur in the backward and dry Medak district of Andhra Pradesh have been trained not only in wielding the video camera but also in scripting, editing and dubbing the films. And perhaps for the first time in India and the world even, the women have been handed over the ownership of this powerful tool of communication.
The Deccan Development Society's Community Media Trust was formalised on October 15, the International Rural Women's Day and handed over to the Trustees. As the preamble of the Trust says, it was formed "in fulfilment of the wishes of thousands of women from DDS sanghams who wish to have their unrecognised voices heard and recognised by the world outside. Six women trustees formally signed the trust deed. The 11 trustees include eight sangham members and three nominated members.


The radio station building


Recording at the Studio

Explaining the philosophy behind the experiment, P V Satheesh, Director and one of the founding members of DDS, said the process evolved during DDS' over two decades of involvement with the Dalit women of Pastapur and surrounding villages. "When the commitment of an organisation is to value peoples knowledge and build its work on their confidence, the need (was felt) to explore various tools of statement with which people can communicate with the outside world. Because the outside world is a reality and their necessity to communicate with it is also a reality." The usual tool for this has been literacy. But as Satheesh said, "We felt literacy can actually become a constraint for non-literate people whose aural and visual narratives are so powerful. So what else can one think of ? For me the possibility of providing video and audio technologies as a means of statement for the disadvantaged rural women was an exciting idea."

And so the experiment was launched to train the women to communicate their problems, raise their issues and find solutions through video. Over the last three years, about 10 women have been trained by two professional TV producers and cameramen in almost all the aspects of film-making. The women have not only been making films for themselves, that is for discussion among the 70 women's sanghams under the DDS with a membership of 5000 members, but also have marketed them to various channels such as Doordarshan and Eenadu TV. They were also commissioned to produce short films for NGOs and various members of the media team, visit Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka on assignment and to participate in media-related activities.

The Community Media Centre located in Pastapur, next to the DDS office complex, comprises an editing suite, dubbing booth, storage space, rehearsal/discussion room and one computer room. The equipment includes seven video cameras, edit recorders, computer edit unit, eight-track audio mixer, microphones, lights, camera stands and reflectors. The producers also are their own reporters and commentators.

How does it help the women to have a media of their own? Said Edulapally Manjula, one of the producers, "We can speak out on our problems and express our thoughts in our own language that is understood by all of us (the people of this part of Telangana region find it difficult to follow the variant of Telugu used by the mainstream media whether it is TV, radio or newspaper) when 'big' government officials come to our village we would like to record what they tell us which becomes a document for us (for follow up later)...we can show the officials the reality of our degraded lands on film, it is more convincing."

Pastapur Narsamma, another producer, said it was easier for them to speak to locals than for outsiders who sometimes come to their village for a story. Besides, as Humnapur Laxmamma said, there may be times when an event needs to be recorded immediately. "At such times, you people may not be available..then we can do our own recording and give it to you."

Videography
According to Zaheerabad Punyamma, they can record the proceedings of the sangham's meetings, capture the solidarity of the women, the uses and advantages of such meetings on the camera and tell the world at large. Chinna Narsamma perhaps captured the essence of the philosophy behind the rural women telling their own story without the mediation of a "foreign" reporter or such media. "I speak in my language, you in yours. I don't understand you and you don't understand me. You show us the uses of (chemical) fertilisers, sprayers, and we want to talk about our degraded lands, of our children who roam about without education...when we produce our cinema we talk about our problems..the media gives us an opportunity to think and find solutions to our problems.'' Powerful arguments, undoubtedly. DDS provided an answer to the corporatisation and elitisation of the media. As Satheesh says, "Definitely, the Third World is all set to be taken over by Transnational Corporations. This casino capitalism ushered in by TNCs is being established by the media, supported by them and in turn, supporting them. The avalanche of media channels and media tools signals this arrival." As a result the under privileged and the poor were marginalised from the media, their voice getting feebler, and their space shrinking. "The media is by the elite, for the elite and of the elite," says Satheesh. More importantly, "The media is not just reporting the elitisation of the society. It is making sure that the elitisation happens." The traditional structures that supported the underprivileged, gave them a voice and reflected their views simply vapourised. The question before the DDS in this scenario was how to restore the people's voice to them? How to challenge this media imperialism? How to contribute an authenticity to the media scene which is dominated by commercial and political interests whose agendas work in direct conflict with the interests of marginalised communities?
The answer was to create the DDS Community Media Trust with a mandate to "take the images and voices of rural women to the larger world outside and create an alternative media ethos. This alternative ethos will evolve a media which can be accessed and controlled by the local communities especially those that suffer continued marginalisation."

Videography in progress

However, as Dr Vinod Pavarala, Associate Professor of Communication in the University of Hyderabad who has been monitoring the experiments of DDS women with video and radio for the past few years says, this control over media technology did not happen overnight. It was preceded by establishing the community's control over their food, health and natural resources. "Otherwise why will a starving woman be interested in having a control over the media? It is a long process of sustained awareness, capacity building and training" in the areas of people's agriculture, health, education and indigenous knowledge and value systems.

To promote and protect them and also to spread them both within and outside their communities, the people's control over media technology became essential. The women of Pastapur are certainly an inspiration for all, giving hope to those who despair at the fall of the mainstream media.

R. Akhileshwari
Hyderabad
DECCAN HERALD Sunday, October 21, 2001 (Virtual voice)

 

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