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`Real' woman using the power of `reel'

By Our Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI, MARCH 8. The fields in their films are never in the background. The "real'' women who are using the power of "reel'', these are directors who have made change possible with nothing more just a camera and a little freedom. Not belonging to the breed of directors who want to make blockbusters, they screen their films to packed houses, but their "hit" films are about unheard voices.

Hitching up her bright red sari and a headphone strapped to her white hair, Suriamma could easily be the perfect picture of rapidly narrowing technological barriers in the country. But more important than being a poster-girl of a techno-savvy India, this 57-year-old agricultural worker from Andhra Pradesh is a more powerful symbol of a people's resistance and empowerment.

"We used to wait for filmmakers to come from Hyderabad to record our lives. But they never understood our language and they spoke in Hindi or English. They really didn't have the time to understand what we had to say either. They used to come for one or two days and shoot in a hurry. So we decided in our `sangam' that if one of us could shoot, we could document our stories,'' says Laksamma, president of the Community Media Trust (CMT) who is here in the Capital for "Expressions in Freedom'', a festival organised by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.

The Deccan Development Society which started the CMT has been working with the most marginalised sections of society, mostly Dalits, for the past twenty years to band them into groups so as to use the power of the collective to make a difference in their lives. The CMT is a project that aims to give some space to these women to tell their stories. Besides, training them to use cameras, they have also started a community radio.

"We are agricultural labourers, we spend out lives weeding. Our hands are hard and we first wondered whether we could handle such sensitive equipment. But then, we were taught with a lot of patience and allowed to use the camera the way we want and subsequently the fear was gone,'' says Swarupa.

These are filmmakers who use their cameras to tell only `their' stories of crops and fields. Documenting their struggle against the endless drought in Andhra Pradesh and the more recent battle against genetically engineered seeds like Bt Cotton being dumped on them, they are using technology to make it their own and speak their language.

"We screened our film about Bt Cotton at a public meeting, it helped us make our point much more strongly. Otherwise we would talk about our experiences and it would not make such an impact, but this way we had documented it and even the Government had to listen,'' remarks Manjula.

Much sought after film-makers, they are constantly bombarded with requests to be present at weddings or to include people at protests, they are now training a new generation like Suriamma.

While armed with a camera they have made their cinema relevant to people in a way most directors can only dream about, their radio initiative is still to make the desired impact. With more than 400 hours of edited material ready to go on air, these women have the capability to touch lives, but are still waiting for a license to do so. "We have so much material on bio-diversity, women, agriculture and tradition, but we are yet to get a license. We have to use the cassettes and play them at `sangam' meetings. I want to know what is the use of a government that has not given us a license and granted licenses to big institutions who use our cassettes on their stations?" asks Narshimma.

A 21-year-old woman who wants to have a voice even though she is marginalised, she might not be literate, she has studied in the DDS schools to now mans a radio station. While she might have been able to overcome huge obstacles in her path set by society, she now just wants the chance to reach out to inspire others.

See also Page 13

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