Becoming a Community Photographer: A Window Into the “Real India”

This article originally appeared in Global Voices

 

“Until I came to Ranchi in 2012 for the first workshop, I had never held a camera in my life. My hand shook, and I really wasn’t sure I could do it.”

Deena Ganwer, from Chhattisgarh (quoted online at the workshop’s blog), was one of the participants in a recent series of photography workshops organised by Video Volunteers in partnership with Magnum Foundation.

Video Volunteers – based in Goa, India – aims to train and empower grassroots media producers to express their own stories about their local communities. Video Volunteers helps people to advocate for concerns which might otherwise never make it into the media. Magnum Foundation focuses on production and distribution of in-depth documentary projects; it is the charity arm of the acclaimed photography cooperative Magnum Photos founded by Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson in 1947.

 

Usha Patel photographs milk cooperatives run by women in Uttar Pradesh.

Usha Patel photographs milk cooperatives run by women in Uttar Pradesh.

 

The “Storytelling Through Photography” workshops were comprised of a selected group of 20 community correspondents, all of whom had participated in earlier training with Video Volunteers, and who have been consistently producing videos about their communities. This network of community reporters is a Video Volunteers program called IndiaUnheard, training community correspondents to explore unreported stories – and in turn feeding this community-produced content to national and international outlets, whether mainstream television channels or social networking sites.

From the Video Volunteers website:

These Community Correspondents represent India’s most marginalized perspectives, including Dalits and tribal people, as well as religious, lingual and sexual minorities… Through IndiaUnheard, Video Volunteers offers the global audience a clear window into the real India. Every day, video reports on key issues such as caste, conflict, identity and education are gathered from across the country.

 

Sunita Kasera photographs a family in Gadiyanwal who lives out of a cart.

Sunita Kasera photographs a family of the Gadiyanwal tribe who lives out of a cart.

 

Building on the IndiaUnheard project participants, the workshops were taught by trainers from Magnum, photographers Olivia Arthur and Sohrab Hura.

Attendees were primarily female, said Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, Program Coordinator for Video Volunteers:

We wanted mostly women candidates and selected those who we felt would have the most potential to take up photography and also those for whom this would be an incentive to make more videos… Our CCs [Community Correspondents] are strong at activism but sometimes less skilled at visuals, and we knew photography was a great way for them to develop a better eye.

From these workshops, each participant created a mini-series, documenting their community. The photo stories feature a range of topics, including alcohol abuse, local superstition, disability, and environmental concerns.

 

Babita Maurya photographs local schools.

Babita Maurya photographs local schools.

 

The community correspondents attending the class worked with subjects in their communities, documenting local stories and lives. For some reporters, their subjects were merely acquaintances, while others knew their subjects well – allowing for a close insight into their daily lives. One photographer, Saroj Paraste, chose a disabled girl as her subject, getting to know her by staying with her family for a week, earning trust before even taking out her camera. Saroj was quoted on the Video Volunteers websiteas saying, “Since the girl was at first not keen to be photographed, I spent a lot of time making her feel comfortable. In the end she grew very fond of me and was happy to be a part of the project.”

 

Xavier Hamsay photographs a blind girl in his community.

Xavier Hamsay photographs a blind girl in his community.

 

Kayonaaz noted that the workshops are a way to introduce the correspondents to another medium through which they can tell their stories. Equipped with simple cameras, they are required to send a set of photographs back to Video Volunteers every few months. As she said in an email interview,

We want to make sure that once trained, they continue to use photography as a tool. At the same time VV is trying to get their work out there through exhibitions and other media platforms.

You can see more photographs are available on the projects’ blog, and Video Volunteers will present on the work of the Community Correspondents during theDelhi Photo Festival in October of 2013.

 

Nirmala Ekka photographs waste collectors' daily lives.

Nirmala Ekka photographs waste collectors’ daily lives.

 

All photographs are used with permission from the Magnum Foundation.

Are Female Vigilantes The Answer To Stop Rapes In India?

This article originally appeared in Global Voices

A 22-year-old intern working as a photojournalist at a magazine was gang-raped in Mumbai, India while on assignment on August 22, 2013.

The injured victim underwent surgery and is now recuperating. One man out of five suspects has been arrested so far. Like the Delhi gang-rape case (see Global Voices report) in December 2012, yesterday’s incident has also evoked nationwide outrage and a renewed search for solutions.

The mainstream and social media are buzzing with discussions on how to stop these rapes.

Neha Sanghvi (@nehasanghvi) was outraged:

Avinash Iyer (@IyerAvin) tweeted:

Script writer and blogger Constant Rambler (@ajitjagtap) thinks that impunity is inspiring more crimes:

Rabia sheikh (@Rabiasheikh7) was pessimistic about a solution:

But why this frustration? According to Catholic Online, reports of rape, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment and other crimes against women in India rose by 6.4 percent in 2012 from the previous year. Statistics showed that 244,270 crimes against women were reported to the Indian police in 2012 compared with 228,650 in 2011, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau. India’s rape problem has been reported as “bad enough to jump out of a window” by The Atlantic magazine, referring to the case of a British tourist who jumped out the window in March 2013 to escape the unwanted advances of the owner of the hotel she was staying in.

Vishal Bheeroo identified the problem:

The main problem is the lack of effective laws to protect women and the sexist comments in parliament is such a shame.

Since the Delhi gang rape, the Justice Verma Report has been submitted, (though not without criticisms), and the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill has been made into a law. However, violence against women persists. Representatives of women’s groups, democratic and human rights groups and activists are alarmed about major ommissions in current legislative protectionto women which can leave women even more vulnerable than they already are.

So, what is the best means of response to what seems to be continuous rape cases in India?

To many, it is clear that rape is a problem in India, but the responses have been varied. There have been campaigns to arm women with pepper and knivesgender sensitivity training and changing laws.

Members of the the Red Brigade from a small village in Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, are taking matters into their own hands by taking direct action against sexual harassment. Led by 25-year-old teacher Usha Vishwakarma, the Red Brigade began in 2010, about four years after the similar Gulabi Gang.

Gulabi Gang. Image from Flickr by Lecerle.

Gulabi Gang. Image from Flickr by Lecerle. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Gulabi Gang served as the subject for a 2010 movie called Pink Sari’s. However, the Red Brigade is a younger version comprised of girls ages 11 to 25 years old. As the Guardian reported, members of The Red Brigade take:

Direct action against their tormentors and now when a local man steps out of line, he can expect a visit from the group.

The Red Brigade girls. Screenshot from Red Brigades Blog

The Red Brigade girls. Screenshot from Red Brigades Blog

Dressed in red and black salwaar kameez (traditional Indian-style dress) many of the girls were victims of violence in the past. They now take martial arts classes and participate in protests.

If a man has been found to be harassing a girl, he is ordered to stop. The consequences may escalate from there and if he does not stop, he may be punished by public mocking or violence. Though they have only resorted to violence on one occasion.

When asked where her courage comes from the leader of the group, Usha Vishwakarma said:

When you suffer, you get that courage. When you are victimized, you get that courage.

Not only fighting, the red brigade members are continuing their education to make a career:

As of August 23, activists and journalists gathered at Hutatama Chowk in south Mumbai in a silent protest. The opposition parties took up the issue in parliament and organizations took out rallies in different cities. What they missing are perhaps more pro-active people like vigilantes.

Update: By Sunday 25 August, 2013, the Mumbai police have arrested all the five men wanted in connection with the gang-rape of the photojournalist. The eldest one is 25 years old and the youngest of them is suspected to be 16.

Thumbnail image courtesy Red Brigade’s Facebook page. With additional inputs by Rezwan.

Improving Sanitation: Making Videos in South Delhi

The opening credits read: “We want to get our voices heard.”

Telling a story from the perspective of four girls in South Delhi, a short film about safety and health risks posed by poor sanitation came from a projects put together by Feminist Approach to TechnologyThe organisation seeks to empower girls and women with the tools needed to advocate for their communities, in this case hoping to help change the local sanitation situation. This video was a finalist at the Youth Voices Adobe Aspire Awards.

Economic growth remains a priority for India’s government but, according to a Time Magazine report,

Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.

Sub-par sanitation conditions negatively affect girls in particular, where girls may leave school if there are not sex segregated toilets (UNHCR). But getting those who are most affected to explain the problem requires more than a report, and this is where an organisation like FAT steps in.

FAT’s tech centre gives students the space to explore a variety of multimedia tools. The film was a collaboration with Voices of Women Media to teach young women in the slum communities of South Delhi to utilize the power of media to address and question the poor conditions of public toilets in their communities, and empower them to demand better amenities from the local government. As Shambhavi Singh, FAT’s Communications Associate, said

We want the girls to address issues such as the lack of safety, health and hygiene—which are a lack of basic human rights… In the long term, we hope these tools and skills will empower them to use media and laws such as the Right to Information Act to ensure that their broader community get the full benefit of government programs meant for urban individuals with low socio-economic status.”

The training is part of a six-month project beginning this coming fall. There will be around 25 girls participating in the program, attending sessions twice a week. Each girl will create her own work focusing on the issue of the lack of toilets in their homes using photography, radio and video. The participants will then be allowed to choose if they wish to reveal their identities, or use actors and other techniques to stay anonymous. After creating their own works, participants will show the videos through in various organized screenings.

Girls engage with technology

The tech center is doing more than just teaching girls how to use a camera, but they are also providing a space to advocate for themselves. Raising awareness around health, hygiene and safety of young girls in urban slums of India and how this affects women’s rights worldwide. VOW and FAT plan to build community support in order to put pressure on local government authorities to improve the condition of public toilets.

“We hope to change the situation by organizing the screenings in the community area and other major forums in Delhi,” says Singh, where the plan is also to engage the municipalities and local governments and submit RTIs (Right to Information petitions) in order to make local government bodies accountable.

“Seeing Like a Feminist” Book Should Be Required College Reading

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on May 6, 2013 – 11:43am; tagged academiaacademicsbooksIndia.

 

Some books are easy to read, yet stay with you long after you’ve finished the last chapter. Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist(Penguin/Zubaan, 2012) is a timely work that explains a complicated subject without over-simplifying it.

 

When one “sees” the world like a feminist, Menon writes in her introduction, it is like “activating the ‘reveal formatting’ function in Microsoft Word. It reveals the strenuous, complex formatting that goes on below the surface of what looked smooth and complete.”

Reading Seeing Like a Feminist made me think: what if we all, especially in academia, thought like feminists? What would the world look like then? To be a feminist is to understand the position of the powerless, as Menon writes, “to imagine occupying the marginal, relatively powerless position with reference to every dominant framework that swallows up the space at the centre.”

Menon is a professor of political thought at Jewaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. whose previous books include Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004). She divides Seeing Like a Feminist into six main chapters: Family, Body, Desire, Sexual Violence, Feminists and Women, and Victims or Agents. Menon relates each of this big issues to a simple dynamic: choice.

The book is definitely aided by Menon’s position as a woman who has lived with India’s legal and cultural systems. As she points out, the Indian penal code criminalizes sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” (whatever that means). Menon’s perspective is powerful, precisely because it is based on feminist scholarship and debates in what she calls “my part of the world.” She highlights many non-Western assumptions and goes beyond other Zubaan books that have a historical focus. The book looks “directly on the gendered nature of power.”

In the end, like Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote on loving the questions themselves, her aim is not to provide answers, but new questions. Menon wants each to shift her or his lens. To see like a feminist is “not to stabilize, it is to destabilize. The more we understand, the more our horizons shift.”

If only Seeing Like a Feminist was required reading for all college students—and professors.

 

Read the rest of this guest blog series on feminism in academia.

Jew in a Box Exhibit is Controversial, But Not Offensive

A museum in Berlin is showcasing a new, more personal kind of art: a Jew in a box. Yes it sounds absurd and strange, but despite the controversy it has sparked, it is actually a creative way to allow people to discuss a difficult topic.

After Norway’s Tea with a Muslim campaign, what’s so strange about asking questions to a Jewish person in a museum?

These days it is easy for one to ignore the people standing in line at the grocery, bank or any public space. Creativity is needed to encourage interaction, and this exhibit does just that.

The exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum is called “The Whole Truth … Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews” and in addition to the “Jew in a Box” there are interviews with rabbis and excerpts of Curb Your Enthusiasm and even a handwritten sign from a New York restaurant that reads “THE CHINESE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND OUR THANKS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE. WE DO NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMS… BUT WE ARE PROUD AND GRATEFUL THAT YOUR GOD INSISTS YOU EAT OUR FOOD ON CHRISTMAS.”

The New Yorker describes Connecticut native, Bill Glucroft’s experience of serving as the “Jew in a box.”

As he said, “When I heard I was going in the box, the first thing I thought of was Eichmann,” said Glucroft. “The next thing I thought of was Justin Timberlake.”

“Most Germans don’t know any Jews,” he added. “As a young twenty-first-century Jew, I don’t want to be defined solely by the Holocaust.”

The museum’s curator, Michal Friedlander an American-born German Jew hopes that “The Whole Truth” will help Germans challenge anti-Semitic beliefs.

In the New York Times, Friedlander said most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. “That’s the whole point, what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.”

The museum defended the exhibit in a CNN video blog. 

For at least some young Germans, the exhibit proves intriguing. As Carola Jaeckel, President of a student group of the German-Israeli Society in Bamberg said, “The exhibition works with prejudices and cliches.”

Though she was disappointed by the fact that it does not go into detail, she added that, “Cliches enable an easy access to a sensitive subject such as Judaism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust for those who have not been in touch with Jews and Jewish life yet,” and she plans to visit the exhibit next week.

Picture Credit: Gawker

SecDev Foundation to Monitor Syria’s Digital Security

When Syria “disappeared” from the Internet last year, no one seemed to know exactly what had happened. Researchers later determined that thenearly-complete blocking of Internet traffic flowing and in and out of the country resulted from coordinated action by government actors. In an effort to develop more robust monitoring and analysis of events like this, the Canada-based SecDev Foundation is launching the Syria Digital Security Monitor, a site that maps and visualizes reports of disruption to critical infrastructure in Syria including internet, telecommunication, electricity and water, and reports on cyber threats.

@DSRSyria

The Syria Digital Report on Twitter (@DSRSyria)

The project is based on a crowdsourced effort that relies on reports by Syrians and extensive monitoring of Syrian social media. The data used for the monitor is captured in SecDev Foundation’s Ushahidi website and displayed on a visual timeline.

Additionally, the SecDev Foundation is sponsoring an ongoing project to support digital safety and security for Syrian civil society with resources in Arabic on secure communication tools as well as information on digital security and safety.

Developments can be followed along on Twitter via the following accounts: @DSRSyria @SMWSyria@PsiphonSyria, and on Facebook.

Tilda Swinton MoMA Sleeping: Toronto’s Queer “Bed-In” Might Prove More Artistic

You’ve heard of the sit-in, but this remix of thebed-in takes activism and art to a whole new level. I wrote last week about how Tilda Swinton sleeping in the MoMA is not art. But,Reena Katz’s exhibit, “love takes the worry out of being close: public assemblies in bed with queers” is a concept that takes art and protest to a beautifully new and thought-provoking level.

The piece converts Toronto’s Harbourfront’s Studio Theatre into a free, public hotel suite re-imagined by Reena Katz. Katz twists the famous Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s iconic picture and turns it into a Public Commons and Master Suite with LGBT folks in bed. Audiences are invited to come and go “participating in conversations, game sessions, cuddles and crafting parties for free,” according to the exhibit. Each day will feature different artists, academics, cultural workers, and musicians, exploring political issues affecting LGBT communities, ranging from intimacy and decolonization to pop culture and civic engagement, one should expect “flowers, respectful debate, radical facilitation and queen-sized love.”

What is all this lying in bed about? As Katz explains, “Though they were officially straight, Yoko and John’s infamous gesture of non-violent protest against the US-led war in Vietnam queered the idea of protest in the minds of the public.”

She adds that during a period of massive civil disobedience across the Western world, the “Bed-Ins shifted the site of dissent from raging bodies demonstrating in the street, to a bustling hotel room, packed with everyday folks, various long-haired celebrities and a pair of strong lovers who saw their honeymoon as an opportunity to model peace.”

Ono and Lennon understood how to capitalize on the potential of the late 60s, utilizing technologies such as live television and radio broadcast. Katz will be using texts, Tweets and livestreams from the bed, highlighting the interactivity of our current age. Focusing on intimacy, Katz and her crew explore the cultural resistance evident in contemporary movements such asIdle No More and LGBT Solidarity.

Reena Katz’s previous work focuses mainly on sonic information present in the human voice. In her art, she uses live and recorded talking, whispering and yelling to consider bodies as sites of knowledge, and communication as a social and political practice. Through audience participation in public space, Katz highlights the relationship between collective voice, the body politic and the empathic act of listening. Her installations and performances have been performed and exhibited in several countries around the world.

Bed-Ins as part of Hatch 2013 will take place April 9–12, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. with a Final Presentation and Discussion on April 13, 8 p.m.–10 p.m. – $10/$12 Harbourfront Studio Theatre, York Quay Centre, Main Floor. 

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