In conversation with the team
The modern day technology has provided us with new dimensions of democracy, participation and narratives. Current ruling party never stops to toss promises of ‘Digital India’ but the people who are working with marginalized sections of the society only know what it takes to engage with a vision to empower them, to train them with the skillset to speak for themselves and enable the world to know about them. Often the media fails to reflect their true words.
The team of Chalchitra Abhiyaan represented by Abhishek Indrekar, Piyush Nagpal, Nakul Singh Sawhney, and Vishaal Kumar (over a phone call) spoke in detail about their movement (Abhiyaan).
What is Chalchitra Abhiyaan?
After the ‘massacre’ of Shamli in 2013, we started travelling in the west Uttar Pradesh. We realized that the role of mainstream media and the social media had actually been to flare up the violence. Videos, whatsapp messages were forwarded to incite the communal tension. At that time, we could not reflect the voice of the people living there. We did not have a counter narrative to speak for the people. A ground reporting was lacking. Broadly, a progressive cultural narrative was missing. Hindutva forces intervene with their conservative, regressive, sexist and patriarchal narrative. Even on television, a regressive, casteist value system is being propagated. So, from the beginning it was clear to us that we have to go slow and bring out the reporting from ground zero and not by sitting in an office in Delhi.
Another thing was to work on empowering the villagers to bring forth their voices. We started passing on the skill set. In contrast to the the objective view that we carry, the subjective view of those people could only produce a synthesis of opinions. We felt the need for this experiment and started working on it. It took almost two years to come up with a documentary and show zameeni haqiqat (ground reality) to the world. With these thoughts, Nakul decided to launch Chalchitra Abhiyaan, a cultural intervention through people’s narrative.
Flow of the intervention
The documentary, Muzaffarnagar Baaki Hain, was not a part of this abhiyaan. But, it definitely was an initial intervention. After its release in 2015, local media started rejecting it. Hindustaan, a local daily in Shamli has gone on to publish a report stating “ISIS dwara banayi gayi Muzaffarnagar Baaki Hain ke khilaaf pratirodh…..” (ISIS made documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaki Hain….). A local BJP MLA had alleged this and the newspaper just published it without any check. Then screening was next to impossible there due to the polarized political situation. A lot of people watched this documentary through pen drive, CD/DVD, cellphone transfers etc. It was viewed in informal ways even after a series of disruptions. A strong impact had been made due to this documentary.
After the bogey of ‘Hindu exodus’ in Kairana, we made the documentary, Kairana: After the Headlines, to capture the ground reality. The list (of hindu families leaving the village) was proven fake in no time. But, with mainstream media’s propagation, it had already damaged the society on religion-based polarisation at least outside if not in Kairana. The documentary was an effort to counter the propaganda of Hindu-Muslim binary and to bring the real issues such as caste discrimination to the foreground. This documentary had been able to intervene in ways to counter this narrative. It was a very small positive result to alter the ‘discourse’.
Next, we went to talk to farmers of western Uttar Pradesh on the effects of demonetisation. Rather than simply asking what has gone wrong and what was good, we decided to talk to them as they are experts. As opposed to our conventional understanding of expert knowledge, we believe that the lived experiences do matter. So, our objective was to talk to the farmers personally and take out their narrative to the forefront.
Then we intervened through a series called, Chunaavi Charcha. Usually it is shown that the polling in UP takes place on the basis of community division. But, what are the issues affecting them day to day, how these issues are important for them, we tried to capture these. So, acknowledging the communities, we interviewed a group of farmers, a group of dalit students, and a group of muslims to reveal their daily life issues. In the political commotion, often these issues vanish from the sight. Most importantly, nothing is said about the issues of women!
In Gorakhpur we made an important intervention. Much before mainstream media, who ignored Sanjay Nishad considering him unimportant, we talked to him. Those who knew him were mostly members of the Nishad community. Today, he is being described as the man who scripted the story of Adityanath’s aides defeat, who till recently was considered invincible in his own constituency.
During Azaadi Kooch, led by a youth leader of Dalit Adhikaar Manch, Jignesh Mevani, we made a documentary: Savitri Sisters.
On May 5, 2017 the protests of Bhim Army started. We covered it from the beginning. Then the interview-video of Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan went viral. The state was running a propaganda that Bhim Army is a naxalite organisation. Though they had nothing to prove it. Media was also showing the violence of Shabbirpur as Dalit-Rajput clash. However, it was a one sided attack on dalits. A mighty machinery was employed to malign Bhim Army. But, we knew their work, their social engagements, how they educate children, and their noble efforts to organise the community. So, it was important to counter it with people’s narrative and show what actually Bhim Army is. Videos were circulated not only through our page but other pages in support of Bhim Army as well. We have been able to present an undistorted picture of the movement that helped Bhim Army to be recognised on the national platform.
In the protest against the arrest of Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, while people were on hunger strike in Shabbirpur village, Piyush and Vishaal were doing a facebook live, police had detained them and stopped from covering the protest. Women who were on the strike, stormed out of the temple and rescued us from the police. Some lied down in front of the police van. They literally demanded that police must leave Piyush and Vishaal as they are ‘their people’. It was really motivating for us. We always wanted to work in integration with local movements. This incident showed us that our intervention has indeed been successful.
Limited Resources and the approach
In the current socio-political scenario, such movements like ours are important tools for empowering the marginalised section. A vision of new India based on social justice and free from inequality, hatred, violence is our motivation. Villagers can join easily with this Abhiyaan to spread brotherhood as opposed to regressive TV shows and bollywood productions.
Ours is a concerted effort to expose the burning caste discrimination in the society. Currently we are centred in west Uttar Pradesh. But, we want to spread this movement to other parts of the country as well. We are training local people to use cameras, capture videos, make documentaries and to be able to share their voice with others. Slowly, local activists have been able to perform screenings on their own.
A lot of works are still left to be done. We want to capture the recent agrarian crisis in western UP where agriculture once used to be a very lucrative sector for the common people. We haven’t worked much on gender issues. On a lot of occasion it is not easy to communicate with village women. With Aruna, a local woman activist joining our team, we hope to fill that void.
The democratic process of participation of the people working in this movement has really been a strength. Due to our bottom-up approach, everyone in this movement is equally a part of Chalchitra Abhiyaan. We are in no hurry. We want to go through an organic build up. We get calls from different parts of the country. Our work has slowly started getting attention through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channels and we now have a relatively stable crew.
Nakul used to work on projects and use that money for Chalchitra Abhiyaan, to pay salaries of interns etc. It is always really a harrowing but exciting experience. We didn’t have any stable place to stay. We used to edit in moving cars, sometimes in a cheap hotel or someone’s place for a night. We did not even have the infrastructure to train local people.
Now, we have started a campaign for crowdfunding through crowdnewsing (http://contribute.crowdnewsing.com/fundraiser/cca). We have our website (www.chalchitraabhiyaan.com) and in a few months we will be starting our office in Khandrawali.