Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Photos: A Day With Rural India's Barefoot Radio Producers

Last summer, in a tiny town called Orccha in central India, I met Ekta, Gauri and Kausalya - three women working for a community radio station called 'Radio Bundelkhand'. The radio station, now in its 8th year, serves farmers in about a dozen villages within a radius of about 70 km.
For two days, I followed these three women as they traveled around villages, interviewing farmers, recording their stories and later, broadcasting content that they created just for these farming community. Here are 10 photographs that describe the journey I took along with these barefoot journalists and their amazing audience.

1. It was a very hot summer day with the mercury hitting almost 40 degree Celsius. We had hired a car, so the journey was relatively easier. 

But on a normal day, the reporters travel in an auto rickshaw (also known as Tuk Tuk to some) from their office in Orchha to the entrance of a village. From their, its a long walk to the inside of the village.With them they carry a voice recorder, a notebook and, often a radio which they play for the entertainment of the villagers, many of whom do not have the money to buy a radio.

"We go everywhere - the field, the community pond or the backyard where people usually gather and rest during the hot afternoon. We don't expect them to leave their work and come, talk to us. So, we go them.," said Ekta the oldest of the three reporters. 

And just as she had said, I saw them walking right though a village called Vaswan, to a field where they interviewed two elderly farmers the challenges they were facing: lack of water, pest attacks etc. Every interview ended with the reporters promising the farmers to address the problems in their next week's program.

3. During these interviews, I had some mixed feelings: "Men are talking about their problems and that is good. But where are the women?" I was thinking and wondering if this was yet another place where women were barred from talking to outsiders.

I was wrong! Once the three women finished talking to the men, they walked to another part of the village. Someone called them and asked them to follow.  Soon, we were at the backyard of a house where, under a Neem tree, women and girls of all ages were gathering, all of them eager to talk!

4. Soon, the interviews began. Gauri - the youngest of the three radio reporters - began by talking to younger women about their opinion on the radio station and its program. Did they have any suggestions for improvement? They sure did!

"We want more news about vocational training and competitive examinations. Also,  please play more 'modern' songs on the radio," the young women urged.

5. The girls soon had to give way to older women who had been waiting patiently until now. They had a lot of to say! But first,  they all wanted to sing a song for other listeners of the radio station.

 Here - you can listen to a folk song the women sang. It is about a woman asking her father, why did he marry her off so early and then goes on to describe the problems she has had because of this early marriage. 

6. Their song over, the women turned to discussing the role of the radio in development of a farming community : "We don't have TV (because they don't have enough electricity to run  a TV). There are no cinema halls. The radio is our source of entertainment, information and education. This is our media, said the women. They then discussed how the radio's program was helping them become better farmers and also smarter businesswomen.
"We now know what is the market rate of each vegetable we grow because the radio gives us that information. Earlier, retailers used to fool us into selling at a very low price, but now they can't," they said.

7. From Vaswan, they proceeded to another village called Chitawar

Here, to my utter delight and surprise, the gathering included the village's oldest women. They sat with a radio in the middle, while young women and girls surrounded them. A few feet away, there was a buffalo chewing cud with a content look on its face. '

"Here, even the buffalo listens to a radio," the women joked.

8. And then there was some more singing and some more story telling. Men joined in the conversation with their own stories. 

One of them talked about the ill affect of child marriage and how the media (in this case, the radio) could and must help end that practice. Reporter Ekta recorded this. "There are still a lot of child marriages in this region, so we will definitely play this message," she said

9. And then everyone turned to me: "come, sit with us," some said. Others asked me to sing with them. "This is our radio, our program," they said again and again. 
So, I grabbed the opportunity to take a picture with these women who are keeping the media of radio alive and kicking in their region!

10. By evening, we were back at Orchha - the studio of the radio. The reporters immediately got busy editing their stories and recording the voice overs. Soon, it would be dark and they would go home - traveling for a minimum one hour in a rickety bus.

But right now, each one of them - including Kausalya who was 7 months pregnant - looked as though this studio and these stories was her entire world.

Months later, I still vividly see those faces - serious, full of concentration, trying to tell a story of the ground in a powerful way. And I hear the echo of what the women said "The radio is our source of entertainment, information and education."

 You can read my story on the community radio and the impact that it has been making by clicking on this link: Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of India. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The Year That It Was

 How was 2015? Sharing here a few leaves out of my diary that's full of memories - of traveling and story-telling.

With Village Women who Fight Traffickers

The first trip of the year took me to the villages of Lambadi people (a Nomadic tribe) in Mahabubnagar district of Telangana. Not so long ago, these villages were a notorious hub for sale and trafficking of baby girls. But today, local women are ensuring that every girl goes to school. They also fighting against child labor and child marriage. Here you can read their inspiring story - Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Trafficking.

Telling stories of India’s Development Refugees

In February, I met men, women and children of Koya and Konda – primitive forest tribes living in India’s Eastern Ghat mountain. Soon, thousands of them will become refugees as a mega dam is coming up in their homeland. Here is the link to their story  'Development refugees' resist Indian dam

But even as uncertainty is looming large over their future, the tribal community is learning skills that will keep them food-secure even in the most adverse situation. Here you can read that story "In the Shadow of Displacement, Forest Tribes Look to Sustainable Farming"

Saturday, December 05, 2015

COP21 : What can it do for Rina - a climate change refugee?

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender

 Rina Dash is an undocumented migrant worker in New Delhi. In 2008, she came here from Satkhira district of Bangladesh. There was a cyclone she says, and it destroyed her home and flooded her little farm she says. It was super cyclone Sidr, I learned - a disaster that killed over 3000 people.

After the flood water went down, nothing could be grown on the far, says Rina. So, her husband suggested that they migrate to New Delhi . 

Why Delhi? "Because we heard thee was plenty of jobs."
But when they came here, her husband found a job of a rickshaw puller. Rina, when I met her, was a janitor. She was paid as  a daily wager. They live in a juggi - a shack made of tarpaulin sheet.

Memories of a climate refugee: Rina shows the photos of her relatives who died in the cyclone. She requested me not to show her face as this could lead to her deportation as an illegal migrant
Across New Delhi, there are thousands of  undocumented migrant workers like Rina

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A ray hope for Neha at COP21

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender

 A very interesting development took place on the 3rd day of COP21: the World Bank Group announced that it would make a  US$500 million investment to support one of India's groundwater program.  India, we must remember, is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater.

The announcement made me think of Neha - the little girl in the picture - a 6th grade school student who spends several hours out of school, drawing water for the family everyday from a small pond. The quality of water - as you can see - is horrible.
A muddy pond - the main source of water for Neha

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

COP21: Can it help a HIV Positive Bimla?

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender. 

It's 2nd day of COP21. It's also World AIDS Day.  Let me bring you the story of Bimla - a young woman from Machalipatnam - a coastal town in southern India. Barely 25 year old, Bimla is a widow and lives with HIV.

What is the connection between  Bimla and COP21 or Climate Change? To understand that, you need to hear how Bimla got the virus. She was infected by her husband - a farmer who lost his farm to a cyclone in 2010 ( That cyclone - cyclone Laila, was actually one of the 60 cyclones that their state has seen in past 4 decades),

Monday, November 30, 2015

COP 21: Can it ease the burden of Durga?

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, beginning from today, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender. 

I just met Durga Rajak in Kathamndu - the capital of Nepal. She is in her early forties and runs a roadside eatery with her husband. The most popular dish in their eatery is Choila - spicy, fried duck meat served hot with flattened rice which sells for 50 Nepali rupees (about $40 cent) a plate. It's not a lot of money since a kg of meat costs 650 rupees ($6) , so, Durga always kept the expenses low by working extra hard such as  buying produces from local growers and carrying things on her motorbike, instead of employing a person.

But these days, Durga is struggling. Normally, she uses Liquefied Petroleum Gas or "cooking gas". But since the end of September, cooking gas - besides petrol and diesel -has become hard to find. So, she is now using stoves that run on kerosene. Sometimes, when kerosene is unavailable, Durga uses diesel (which she buys in the black market) in her stove.

 Its very risky and  every time she lights the stove, Durga fears a blast.

But its a risk she must take. Only a few months ago, in April, Kathmandu was hit by a massive earthquake.At that time, Durga had to close her eatery for several weeks. She had also spent nearly a month under the open sky, on little little food and water. Today she is determined to keep her business running, come whatever may. "To be dependent on others is tough," she says.

But currently she is dependent on a number of people for her survival: the cooking gas distributors, the petrol& diesel stations and also the black marketeers. How long could she go on?  She was quiet, but I could sense her answer: "as long as I can."

A thought came in my mind as I heard her story: what would have happened if Durga had a stove that ran on solar energy?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Food Waste : Writing On The Wall Just Got Bigger

This week began with some exciting news :the UN just fed some world leaders trash and that it was great.


Ok, here is how it happened: In New York, Ban-ki-Moon , the UN Secretary General, hosted for 30 of his guests  - comprising presidents, prime ministers and royals - a lunch that was made of  food waste.

In plain words, each dish of each course on the menu - from appetizer to dessert - was made of material that was considered waste and would have ended in a trash bin.

The salad on the lunch was made from unwanted vegetable scraps, stalks and outer leaves salvaged from the waste of big food producers.

There were burgers and fries and these were made of thrown away vegetables including ends of cucumber thrown out by pickle makers. They also used 'cow corn' - corn that are considered too hard for human consumption and so are fed to cows instead.

That is not all. The bread on the lunch table was baked from