Dalit women crank camera to showcase life

(From left) Swaroopamma, Sooramma and Masanagiri Narsamma from Andhra Pradesh during the launch of Multimedia Publication’s Rural Images and Voices on Food Sovereignty in South India, in New Delhi on Monday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: V. Sudershan

Gargi Parsai

Films on sustaining agricultural biodiversity and livelihoods launched

NEW DELHI: What began as a means of sustenance for poor farmer women, many of them Dalits, in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh has over the years developed into a powerful tool for their empowerment to address the issues of sovereignty over land, traditional seeds, nutritious food, natural resources, traditional knowledge, education and health.

More importantly, the women from 80 villages in Medak district, who came together to form grass-roots Sanghams, stepped out of the shadow of ignorance and intimidation and carved for themselves a niche in the challenging area of multi-media. They now wield their own movie/video cameras to tell their stories in their own manner and language.

They have not only turned back to sowing traditional and nutritious coarse cereals in their semi-arid lands but also developed an alternative Public Distribution System that is just, fair and participatory.

Under the banner of the Community Media Trust, the collective of women farmers from the State, launched their multimedia publication here on Monday. Titled ‘Affirming Life and Diversity: Rural Images and Voices on Food Sovereignty,’ the series comprises films that emerged from an action research project on sustaining local food systems, agricultural biodiversity and livelihoods supported by the International Institute for Environment and Development, United Kingdom.

The Community Media Trust, affiliated to the Deccan Development Society, was created to document the struggle, the images and the voices of rural women. Society director P.V. Satheesh said the 12 video films made by the mostly illiterate women, who were given a six-month training, traced the experience of women in regaining their autonomy over food production, seeds, natural resources, and markets.

At an interactive session here, Masanagiri Narasamma, 35, related how the community-led PDS taught the women to revive locally-grown sorghum and millets and create local systems of storage, and reach out to the most vulnerable in society.

As if to prove a point, Ms. Narasamma took out her video camera and shot the proceedings of the interactive session. Even while she was on the dais, she continued to shoot the session.

“I am a seed-keeper. I store a variety of valuable seeds in baskets in my house and with them, the knowledge of farming, environment and life. Since I learnt to use the camera, I am storing the knowledge of my communities on film and interpreting them for the world,” said Sooramma, who is in her late 40’s.

Ms. Narasamma, a Dalit, said they were not allowed entry into temples and rich homes earlier. “But now even the rich allow us to touch them to pin the lapel-mike on them for a video-shoot.” While continuing with their collective, the women now plan to replicate their on-farm and off-farm activities and show the way to the world through their films.