18 Nov 2017 16:23 IST

Armed with a camera, dropouts fight social ills

Chhattisgarh’s Surguna district is forced to sit up and take notice

We had actually gone to Kadmoha village to do a story on education but the girls told us that a few of the teachers misbehave with them, and chase them away when they go to ease themselves in the nearby phutus bushes,” says Rabina Ekka. From Booda village in Batouli block, Surguja district, Chhattisgarh, she is part of the Sangwari Khabariya group of school dropouts trained to become citizen journalists.

“Now I am working on a video on sexual harassment faced by girls in a school not far from my village. I have already recorded the girls narrating these incidents to me.” Ekka is determined to complete the video against all odds.

Anjali Nag, who won the second prize last year for her video “Education for all, except girls” at the National Film Festival on Rural Development, and a consolation prize this year for her work on child marriage, is also making a video on eve-teasing and sexual harassment. She has already interviewed the victims but says ‘the involved’ are avoiding her.

A resident of Kachhardi village in the same block says it is only when something drastic like rape happens that a case is registered. Most cases of eve-teasing or molestation get suppressed. “An offer of two bakraas (goats) by the accused is sometimes enough to silence the village-level leaders, and if the family persists in raising its voice, the local bigwigs make sure it is socially ostracised.”

Most of the girls in this tribal-dominated region were not even aware that what they were undergoing was sexual harassment. It was only after they were made aware of the concept of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ that they started coming forward with their stories, says Shruti Apsingiker, coordinator of the Adolescent Empowerment Media Tool project.

Focus on child rights

Manoj Kumar Bharti is Secretary of Manav Sansadhan Sanskriti Vikas Parishad (MSSVP), the organisation that has undertaken this project and also runs a shelter home in Ambikapur for the protection and care of girls, including victims of rape and trafficking. “Cases of sexual exploitation, harassment and trafficking are reported from time to time in Surguja district and we not only provide protection to the victims but also help their families in lodging FIRs and pursuing their cases,” he says.

Funded by UNICEF, the project trains the most vulnerable and needy school dropouts in the district to shoot, edit, script and produce videos. Of the 75 children undergoing training, one-third are selected for the child reporter’s collective Sangwari Khabariya.

“Our main aim is to create awareness about child rights, even while skilling the dropouts for a vocation,” says Apsingiker. The videos are also shown to the authorities concerned to make the administration more responsive to such issues. In many villages, parents are induced to push their children into harvai, a kind of bonded labour. Laxman Muri is making a video on this issue.

“The modus operandi is to win over vulnerable tribals with offers of drink and other inducements, or lend them small sums of money and get their children trapped into harvai, which largely involves rearing cattle or working in the fields free of cost from 6 am till late in the evening,” he explains.

Aarti Kerketta from Kachhardi village is producing a video on how children are made to work at a school in her village. The school has not had a peon for a long time and the children have to come to school an hour before it opens. “They are made to clean the premises, including the bathroom, and do other odd jobs,” she says.

Videos for village improvement

Over 50 videos have been shot by these young reporters on a range of issues that impinge on child rights, including school dropouts, quality of education, poor working of anganwadis, child marriages, plight of the pahari korba tribals, child labour, mid-day meals, and alcoholism.

The videos have been screened in 60 villages of the district. A survey is made on the awareness level before and after the video is shown. After a screening at Jharganwa village, we found a few villagers on the stage voicing the lack of amenities in their village. The secretary of Sakhouli panchayat in Ambikapur block, Nand Lal says the panchayat has become more active because of the videos, which highlight the grievances of the villagers.

The construction of community (toilets), road repairs, and improvements in the working of anganwadis are being attributed to the impact made by the budding citizen journalists. Each of these young reporters is also training other dropouts to sustain the programmes.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)

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