Select Adivasi News

A grassroots mobile network creates an empowering network of citizen journalists in the interiors of tribal India
 
Shikha Nehra and Ishika Chawla Delhi
 
In the midst of a crowded scenario, Rajim enthusiastically takes out her phone, puts it on loud speaker mode and asks in a rustic accent, “Aap mujhe Select City Mall ke bare main kya bata sakti hain?” (What can you tell me about the Select City Mall?) 
 
Searching for an easy way to explain myself, we said the mall kind of provides ‘everything’ -- clothes, shoes, accessories, even food. Intrigued, she enquired “Yahan mahua bhi milta hain kya?” (Do you also get Mahua here?). No, we said. “You said you can find anything here, why not this famous tribal of Chhattisgarh, my homeland,” she retorted. Having proven her point, Rajim cuts the call, and smiles, “This was my first session of reporting.”
 
Rajim, along with 35 others, call themselves ‘Citizen journalists’(CJ). They belong to mostly the interiors of tribal India comprising Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.They had arrived in Delhi for a six-day workshop on the ‘Democratisation of Media’ organized by CGNet Swara, a voluntary communication outfit promoting ‘authentic’ local news reported by citizens from the grassroots. “Saket in South Delhi is one of the important destinations for their training in reporting because we want to expose them to all aspects of Delhi, to see the mall from their own perspective,” said Shubrhanshu Choudhary, the founder of CGNet Swara, formerly, a  journalist with BBC.
 
For many of them, the mall was an unfamiliar, uncanny, alienating place, synonymous to a puzzling maze. However, the urge to tell their own stories overshadowed their fears and hesitations. “We want to tell our own stories our way. People in the cities don’t know our villages in the way we do,” emphasized a participant CJ from Dantewada who wished to remain anonymous. They said, in recent times, armed Salwa Judum members had burnt down 300 houses; this was reported by the ‘national media’ 10 days after the incident occurred.
 
Fascinated by the escalator, Shankar Lal enthused about his first time experience on it. This local from Jhansi definitely knew what aspect of the mall would garner attention in his report. All he had to do now was to call 08041137280, follow minor instructions and then reveal his excited narrative to the recording machine on the phone, which would then be put on the website cgnetswara.org. It will also be available on their phone line and they can listen to it. This is what cgnet volunteers do in the tribal interiors in Central India. When something happens, they just call up this toll free number and record the message (news). The authenticity of the news is verified by a team of volunteers before it is uploaded on the website. 
 
Surprised by the high-priced commodities in the mall, most of them felt they were better off in their own villages. Said Shivrani from Chhattisgarh, “Delhi is home of the elite, for those who can afford these luxuries. People like me can’t afford anything here. This is not a place for me. I don’t belong here.”  
 
“Media is politically and commercially controlled these days. Nobody wants to hear a villager’s story,” said Smita Choudhary, a team member of CGNet. With voices in the margin not getting a mainstream platform to be heard, these young journalists are creating a new threshold of information as power.  “They want to tell their stories that have been bottled up in their hearts for such a long time now.”
 
“If I put up the happenings at Raigarh on cgnet, then my story is heard; there are genuine reacations. I feel happy,” said Vipin Mishra. Making money is not their agenda. “We are basically social activists.” 
 
Since moblie phones have become a necessity to stay connected, even in rural India, people in the remotest corners of India are now using this technology. A voice based portal like cgnet is all that is required for citizens  to report news from inaccessible areas and have access to it themselves. The barriers of language and illiteracy have been crossed to bring out issues which matter to the neglected regions of India. There are more than 200 contributors now, in just about one year. This community of citizen journalists are building an indigenous and rooted communication network for tribal India, whose stories hitherto have only been viewed from the outsider’s perspective in urban India.