“We were going to Gujrat to attend the Rally for the Valley. Now, in an organised peaceful rally, we found the attitude of authorities towards us as immensely hostile. I felt like this was not my country; seemed like an alien land perhaps. All four of us were dragged into a police van for no reason whatsoever. I saw a kid from Kerela, who had broken his hand, and was still trying to get up with the seething pain. Painful as it may sound, this incident was revelatory for all us. If a kid can bear the pain to raise voice for his own right, then why can’t we?” Abbad Kamal recounted this alarming incident, laying down the bare foundation of an invigorating conversation that ensued.
Abbad, Akshit, Saurav and Shipra were spread across different quadrants of interests and geography in the country. Akshit was interested to make movies, Saurav was training to be a CA post his graduation from IIT Delhi, Shipra was pursuing her undergraduate studies and so was Abbad. It was, evidently, less likely for all of them to meet. But, atrocities and struggles, as visible in Abbad’s statement, forced fate to take a different turn.
All four of them got to know about the SMILE internship – Students Mobilisation Initiative for Learning Through Exposure. It is a holistic rural internship program designed and implemented by New Delhi based organisation Pravah, where young people are placed across community organisations and social movements in India for 3-6 weeks. “The tenure of Smile Internship was revelatory in many ways. We visited government authorities, took part in protests and saw how organised these protests are and how people spoke about their demands with clarity. You often imagine that a protest would be haphazard, but it is completely the opposite.” recalls Abbad.
The quartet was placed to volunteer with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) – a social movement that has been fighting for more than 3 decades to work with the displaced communities around Narmada Valley; protesting to challenge the creation of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river. “I think the moment we reached there, it was a complete pivot for us. It was as if the story we were reading changed altogether. We felt like being handed over a new book, a book which we hadn’t opened the first pages of yet. We got a clarity on movements, demands, rights, the functioning of government systems. That experience was revelatory for me and might have also changed our lives in ways I was yet to comprehend” Says Saurav.
Akshit’s ambition to become a filmmaker pivoted towards activism during his stint at NBA. He was visibly moved to see the resilience of the activists who had practically lost their everything yet relentlessly stood in knee-deep water as a sign of protest. His passion had now found a purpose. He later went on to make a documentary about what was transpiring there. All this while, the once shy and unaware Shipra bloomed to be a strongly headed youngster who got so emotionally connected with the suffering of the people that she started pondering on how to impact their lives in a bigger way.
When all of them met again in Delhi, they discussed the insights they had from their volunteering stint. They were convinced that these stories, about people fighting for their rights in the Narmada Valley, don’t arouse sufficient interest in the media. A common man mostly lives in an oblivion of the struggles these individuals are subjected to. They intensively discussed the challenges faced by people in the Narmada Valley and then after a lot of deliberation, facilitated by Pravah, they came up with the idea of Guhaar. Guhaar is based on the ideology of community and grassroots media where the focus is to pick up the issues of rural and urban India, community issues and to present and share the content with the help of community people and other grassroots organisations. “The crisis seems to be unflinchingly real, but the response is tepid. It was then that we thought that we should create a platform that will bring the reality of the protests into the limelight of the mainstream audience and media.’ says Akshit, who credits his learnings to the diversity of opinions and experiences in Pravah.
“We work as a media consultancy – I use the word media consultancy because we not only try to spread the word from our platforms but also attempt to formulate and strengthen a media or social media outlet for the on ground movement or community. We can only stay at a place and document everything for a limited amount of time. But by creating a community-centric media outlet, we can help voice their opinions for a longer period – even in our absence.” says Saurav as he explains the work processes of the organization. The team works to teach and equip people to handle their movement’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Also, the team tries to visit the site of a movement and compiles the demands. These are then structured and sent to respective government authorities using the RTI format or a general letter writing format.
A video created by the team at Guhaar that discusses the Swacch Bharat Mission and its impact o Livelihood.
The hard work of quartet has started to show and the numbers are an evidence to that. When they first came to NBA – a movement that has been running for the past 32 years – it had a mere 1000 likes on their Facebook page. A movement so vast in its deep-rooted work had a minuscule media & online presence. They worked on their page for around 5 months and now have around 5000 likes.
But all organization face some inherent challenges in their formative phase. Guhaar too one was no exception. “As with every idea to solve a pertinent issue, we were clueless about where to start. We had no funds, no proper equipment and not a single clue on how to reach out to an audience”, says Abbad. “Parents have certain high expectations of their children, especially after graduating from an IIT. To explain to an urban, mainstream outlook that I want to lead a path that can help in bringing in a change in the lives of many was difficult” adds Saurav.
Despite the impending difficulties, the team of Guhaar has persevered. In a country with a burgeoning youth demographic, Guhaar has been taking massive strides to showcase the wealth of talent our youth possesses. With the help of Pravah, they are travelling a journey from self to society, and are able to transform their dream of a better world into a passionate drive for change.
Guhaar is a completely bootstrapped organisation. Financial and resource-based support in the form of people who could cover stories of their local community, a community that is being denied what is rightfully theirs, would be of immense help. You can contact the team here to extend your support.
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