“Bhan Sahu from Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh says it is 5 years since Mohla dam was built but evicted people are still running from pillar to post for their compensation. In November when they did a dharna officials have given them an assurance that all payments will be done before new year and dharna was withdrawn. But the officials have paid only a few influential people by now and rest adivasis are still struggling to get money for their own land. Bhan Ji at 094060330” – a call by Chattisgarh low caste woman.
Bhan Sahu is a low caste, semi literate widow from the central state of Chattisgarh, India and her story is not considered newsworthy by the Indian mainstream media. Instead, Bhan Sahu and so many other low caste and tribal community members have utilized the alternative platform offered by Cgnet Swara, a voice portal, to record complaints, exploitation or neglect suffered by members of marginalized communities. They can call (080) 4113 7280 from a mobile or land phone, press “1” to record their message or press “2” to listen to pre-recorded messages. Experienced journalists vet the call , translate and publish on CGNet Swara (Voice of Chattisgarh) website.
This brilliantly simple but effective concept was designed by Shubranshu Choudhry , a former BBC journalist, with help from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other volunteers. Marginalized communities suffer further isolation because of language barrier also, as majority do not speak the mainstream Hindi language. Government neglect, poor literacy has aggravated the situation. Combined with this indifference, reeling with poverty and malnutrition, majority of the tribal members have also found themselves caught in the crossfire between Salwa Judum, the state run anti-extremists force and Maoist insurgency. Leading to an increasingly worsening situation. There are some members of the tribal communities who have resorted to extreme choices, such as joining Maoist insurgency, leading to bloody and violent conflicts. But it is their innocent brethren who are being hounded, discriminated against and paying the penalty for belonging to a specific tribe.
Empowering the low caste and tribal people(primarily Gonds) to become citizen journalists, CGNet Swara, started in February 2010, and has recorded 3000 approved calls. Presently, the tribal person dialing in pays Rupees 5/ (about US 10 cents) to make the call. In the future CGNet Swara, aims to make it a free service.
On March 23rd, The Hindu and other national dailies reported the violent, rampaging police of Chattisgarh trooping into the forests, torching the Dantewada villages rendering the people homeless and sexually assaulting the women. Journalists were denied access to the villages, trailed by Chattisgarh police and also blocked , and hence were unable to provide any valid accounts of the aftermath. Civilians were also affected in the anti-insurgency raid and this was first reported on March 18th. On CgNet Swara.
CgNet Swara has essentially become the voice for the powerless, especially the illiterate Chattisgarh tribal people. The recent Dantewada police brutality clearly exposes the control over media, that the government of India exercises. In regions which are under developed, radio is the only medium by which the people in such areas become aware of the news. Unfortunately, the air waves are controlled by the government and hence there is really no free flow of information. The apathy and neglect are additional contributing factors , highlighting the necessity for voice portals like Cgnet to inform, sensitize and spread constant and continuous awareness. It remains to be seen, whether Cgnet Swara will be able to continue its work unhindered and unhampered by vested interests.
Source and information acknowledgment : CgnetSwara’s Shubranshu Choudhry, AID representative Dushyant Sethi. For more information on Cgnet, visit their website, http://cgnetswara.org/