Monday, December 19, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Illiterate Dalit women in AP wield the camera to tell their tales

Illiterate Dalit women in AP wield the camera to tell their tales
J B S Umanadh Hyderabad, Dec 17, DHNS

They handle the latest version of digital movie camera, the daily
narrow cast of the Sangham FM radio and help save bio-diversity by
cultivating forgotten millet crops with equal élan.

The Media Trust camera persons in action. dh photosThey are the women
of Pastapur and neighboring villages in the semi arid, barren
Zaheerabad mandal of Medak district in Andhra Pradesh.

The women camera operators of the Community Media Trust, probably the
only such media house in the country can handle, shoot, edit and
produce short films without any outside help.

The Deccan Development Society (DDS) based at Pastapur encouraged them
to cultivate millets for self sufficiency. The initial toil and
success of the women was then presented to the outside world through
the photos and then videos produced by the same women.

Then came the launch of DDS Community Media Trust (CMT) that has been
winning several laurels for its amazing media work over the last
decade.The CMT runs a Women's Video Collective and the first ever
community radio of India called Sangham Radio. While the Women's Video
Collective has been functioning since 1996, the Sangham Radio took up
narrowcasting since 1998 and has been on the air since October 2008,
broadcasting two hours every day. Both these outfits are managed
entirely by women from farming communities.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (IFRC)'s World
Disaster Report, 2011, focusing on hunger and malnutrition, recognized
the communities of the Deccan Development Society.

First, it recognized their Food Sovereignty programme, the Disaster
Report makes a special mention of the DDS communities in a two-page
box 'Saving Seeds and Speaking Out': The Women of Medak District,
Andhra Pradesh. The second important recognition is the commissioning
of a film to the CMT by IFRC called Community Conquers Hunger. At a
special ceremony in September this year, the IFRC screened the film in
front of an elite audience in Delhi that included top diplomats,
politicians, academics and eminent citizens.

The film 'Community Conquers Hunger' narrates the inspiring story of
the women's communities and their struggle to become food sovereign
over the last two decades. Not in the distant past, their daily
confrontation was with starvation and deprivation. Most of their days
and nights were spent hungry.

A plateful of food was a dream they could never fulfill. This was the
reality of thousands of women in the Medak District of Andhra Pradesh,
before they organized themselves as Sanghams (voluntary associations).
Once they had come together as Sanghams, they never looked back and
wrote their present and future with a remarkable self assurance.

The short film is the remarkable story of these women from the margins
of society, who with a quiet confidence went about banishing hunger
from their midst in a span of two decades.

From a community of the hungry, they became a community of the plenty.
From being food receivers they went on to become food providers.
Community Conquers Hunger is a chronicle of this fascinating

Chinna Narsamma, Humnapur, Laxmamma, Dandu Swaroopamma, Dandu Sooamma,
Punyamma and Thammali Manjula, all members of the DDS Community Media
Trust explained their work in chronicling the unique achievements of
their women's sanghams of the poor who pre-dated the current SHGs by
over a decade.

Chinna Narsamma, herself a small farmer and a community filmmaker, who
made the film Community Conquers Hunger, said that the sanghams were
the first group in India to have started 100 days of employment for
the poor, which preceded MGNREGA by 20 years.

Through this employment programme which they called Summer Employment,
they brought over 5,000 acres of near fallow lands under cultivation,
produced more than a million days of employment in 30 villages over a
period of ten years and started producing over 20 million kgs of food
every year. This was the first step in abandoning hunger in their

Collective farming

Zaheerabad Punyamma added that the sanghams were also the first groups
in AP that started leasing in lands and became the first women's
groups to start collective farming groups on these leased lands and
produce additional food for their families.

In two decades, the sangham women have leased in more than 1000 acres
of land and have produced over half a million kilograms of food for
their groups year after year.

Dandu Swaroopamma, a community filmmaker and a member of the DDS Food
Sovereignty trust said that the sanghams have brought over 4,500 acres
of cultivable fallows under cultivation and produce nearly a million
kg or more food every year. They have done poverty mapping of their
villages and identified over 10,000 families as recipients of their
jowar-based millet rations.

Each family has received a ration card through which they can draw
between 10-25 kg of jowar every month depending on their poverty
status. The jowar is sold at 25% of the market price to the identified

Begari Laxmamma, a community filmmaker and a community seed keeper,
pointed out that all these villages have their own community seed
banks from which any farmer can borrow nearly 50-80 seed varieties.

Thousands of women in these villages have their own household seed
banks and never depend upon outside seeds. Thus these villages have
become seed sovereign.

Thammali Manjula, filmmaker and a coordinator of the Community Food
Sovereignty programme, says "The film has nothing dramatic, but
depicts our lives and it's about how we conquered hunger."


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