Rural India gets a new voice

BY URVASHI SARKAR| IN Media Practice | 20/12/2014
Veteran reporter P. Sainath launches a new platform to portray rural India in all its complexity.
URVASHI SARKAR explains how the stories will also form an archive. (PIX: PARI website)
A new development in journalism -- the launch of the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) -- is looking to redefine the contours of the profession as understood and practiced. The brainchild of veteran rural affairs reporter, P. Sainath, PARI, with its focus on rural India’s concerns, marks a significant shift in the tide of contemporary reporting which mainly caters to a consumerist middle class. 
 
Sainath, who was until recently the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, said in an email interview: “How many publications and channels have a full-time rural beat, or employment, or labour beat? As of now, not a single newspaper in the country has a full time rural editor. The corporate media looks for revenue and ad value in the rural population. And when that doesn't satisfy them, ignores them.”
 
In recent times, the increasing corporatisation of the media has ensured the marginalization of rural narratives, unless they are about crime, lacunae in government schemes, or an occasional agrarian crisis. 
 
PARI’s emphasis on the rural encompasses a much broader sweep and includes ‘things we do’, ‘things we make’, ‘things we wear’, farming and its crisis, resource conflicts, rural in the urban, women, children, Adivasis, Dalits, the environment, sports and games, health, transport, culture and folklore. In a nutshell, the everyday lives of everyday people, which is the PARI motto. 
 
The archive is a painstaking effort at a profiling of the rural, where every aspect is framed and highlighted, and also an acknowledgementthat rural India can never be fully 'captured.'
 
“PARI is dedicated to journalism about ordinary people and our aim is also to get it done more often by ordinary people. PARI is about rural India, one of the most complex areas of the world, calling for far greater journalistic skill than covering Salman Khan's latest ribbon-cutting. Covering 833 million human beings speaking 780 languages calls for outstanding journalism,” said Sainath. 
 
Many seasoned journalists have volunteered to work with PARI, he added, to fulfill their original hopes of connecting with people and society through journalism.
 
PARI assigns great value to the person whose story is being told, much like journalists attach great value to their bylines. Through establishing ownership of the story at the outset, PARI makes rural Indians the primary stakeholders, who have a say in the making of their archive. For instance, in a film about  a woman agricultural labourer, where the woman  takes the viewer through her life, work, labour techniques, family and kitchen, the first credit in such a film goes to her and the second to her village/community, while the director comes third. 

New forms of story-telling
 
The complexities of rural India are revealed in a series of stunning visuals, indicating PARI’s emphasis on visual storytelling.  PARI offers journalists different ways of thinking about and executing their stories, through the reimagining of storytelling forms.
 
For Aparna Karthikeyan, a journalist and PARI volunteer, the website presents an opportunity for ‘360 degree journalism’.  “When writing a piece about a person, generally you would spend two hours with the person, take quotes from people around them and write a 600 word story for submission within a narrow deadline. PARI works differently. You can tell a single story using slideshows, videos, captions and text. Or, just use one form such as a video to tell the story. The idea is to present the content and tell the story in the most compelling manner possible and not be restricted by form.”
 
Jaideep Hardikar, special correspondent in central India with The Telegraph and  a PARI volunteer, concurs: “Some of the most important stories in the country are in rural India, whether of the rural agrarian or demographic transitions.  PARI represents a form of convergent journalism which may well be the future of online journalism. It represents an interface between journalism and education. Further, the archive is not confined to reporting, but also has elements of research and chronicling.”
 
Hardikar adds: “Mere reporting won’t allow me to record and document the social cultural milieu of a region. Neither will it allow me to explore literature, language and dialect. But on PARI, I can record and write about Varahdi -- a  Marathi dialect spoken in Western Vidarbha.”
 
Besides providing stringers and local district correspondents with a platform, PARI is an effort to give space to Indian languages. Thus journalists working in regional languages too can share their work.  The task of translating subtitles in languages such as Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Odiya and Hindi is being assigned to volunteer translators. 
 
A reach beyond journalism
 
Working on a rural people’s archive has struck a chord not just with journalists. People representing diverse backgrounds, such as  science, IT, medicine, law, finance, cinema and translation, research and the NGO sector, have stepped forward to volunteer their time and skills. Also, unlike news which is forward looking and oriented in the future, PARI is both a living journal and an archive. An important section in the website is ‘Resources’ where full-length official and independent reports on rural India can be accessed. Each report will be accompanied by a summary and the main factoids for easy reading.  
 
A combination of Sainath’s personal resources and the labour of more than 100 volunteers has enabled PARI to see the light of the day. “The voluntary labour of journalists, writers,  photographers, filmmakers , IT professionals and others, besides my earnings, savings and awards money, has gone into the making of the people’s archive,” said Sainath. 
 
“Fundraising will be done through crowdsourcing, only after the site goes live on December 20. The public needs to see what PARI is about before committing to funding. We will also steer clear of corporate and direct government funding.”
 
PARI will be licensed under Creative Commons (version 4.0), which means the contents can be shared with others, as long as it is non-commercial and non-derivative. Therefore, while not for profits can freely use PARI material, commercial organizations need to pay an agreed fee.  It follows a ‘copy left’ rather than a copyright policy.
 
The site is run by The Counter Media Trust.  A more informal body, the Counter Media Network, supports and funds the Trust and its primary activity through membership fees, volunteer work, donations, and direct personal contributions. 
 
PARI is slated for a December 20 launch in Chennai.
 
(Disclosure:  The author is a PARI volunteer. She is a freelance journalist and currently works in the development sector.)
 
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