Charkha: giving grassroots activism a voice

IN Media Practice | 14/09/2002
Charkha: giving grassroots activism a voice

 

Charkha: giving grassroots activism a voice

By Tarun Bose

Those who work at the grassroots in India often wish they could make the issues that affect its majority more visible in the media. Charkha Development Communication Network was conceived and established on the 24th of October 1994 by Sanjoy Ghose, a visionary social activist, to make grassroots activism visible in India¿s mainstream media.

Ever since, Charkha has been working at fulfilling this role, despite many odds. Its features bring core-issues confronting various communities and societies across the country to the fore, by placing experiences and analyses from the field in both the regional and the national print media. Despite a visible disinterest on the part of the urban media in poverty, misery and grassroots environmental and development problems, it pegs away at providing a window into how the majority living in the villages copes.

There are many news and feature stories that emanate from the work that non-governmental organisations do. Stories on dam-related issues, such as those on the Tawa and Tehri dams, profiles of women sarpanch leaders, a feature on a war being waged on the rat population of Mizoram, or a story on a sarpanch who has imposed his own penal code on his panchayat.

Over the last seven years Charkha¿s efforts to bring such stories to light has fructified in different structured stages. From the beginning it was felt that Charkha should play a more proactive role by equipping whole communities with effective communication skills, and an innovative programme was conceived and launched to implement this at the community level.

This programme is designed around periodically conducted workshops, where writing skills and nuances of communication are imparted to all those who have a role to play in moulding public opinion at the community level. Thus a network of writers drawn from grassroots activism, NGOs, movements, etc., was nurtured and built painstakingly to meet this objective of reaching real-life experiences from the field to readers through the medium of the regional and national newspapers. A writing workshop held in Ranchi in 1995, for example, has generated a pool of some 10-15 writers who contribute regularly from that region. Charkha now has an active network of such people in different parts of the country.

The first such workshop was conducted in November 1994 at Guwahati, and since then, Charkha has successfully conducted more than thirty odd workshops. Each one of these was focused on empowering specific groupings of people who mould public opinion. From grassroots activists to rural journalists and stringers, village committee workers to Panchayati Raj functionaries, women activists to tribal groups and movement leaders, all have benefited in no small measure from Charkha workshops, and have become part of its network. When it held a workshop on cartooning skills in Bhopal, people came from Jhabua, Dhar and Khandwa districts to attend it, 80 per cent of them illiterate. They were being provided these skills to use on wall magazines and wall newspapers.

Empowering local level workers, activists and community members with communications skills is one part of Charkha¿s work. The other is to take features generated at this level and place them in the national and regional media. Quite a few grassroots workers and Panchayat functionaries have availed this opportunity of reaching out to the world at large through Charkha¿s Feature Service, which has bolstered confidence in their role as agents of positive social change.

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