Changing lives with a camera: Meet the Dalit women farmer-reporters of Telangana

The women farmers document all that's relevant to their lives on film, educating fellow farmers with videos that serve as learning resources.
Changing lives with a camera: Meet the Dalit women farmer-reporters of Telangana
Changing lives with a camera: Meet the Dalit women farmer-reporters of Telangana
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As the sun sets over Appapur Penta, a tiny Chenchu tribal village in the heart of the Nallamala forests, and the shadows lengthen, two women in their mid-50s are busy with a video camera. They are shooting their colleague who is explaining agricultural practices and seed banking to farmers. 

The three women, who are keenly involved in their work, are from the Community Media Trust of Pastapur, Sangareddy, which is based in the Deccan Development Society (DDS). The DDS has been working for the autonomy of women farmers from Dalit and other marginalised sections for the past 30 years.

Laxmamma B from Humnapoor, Mollamma of Ippalapally and Chandramma Manigari of Jharasangam of Sangareddy, are Dalit women farmers. There are around 20 women from the Dalit community who are currently part of the community media station, of whom at least half are actively working to document happenings in the fields and report about the crops that are under cultivation.

Laxmamma, who is handling the camera expertly, says, "We are here to distribute seeds of millet, red-gram and beans and educate our fellow farmers about healthy and self-reliant methods of farming."

When asked the purpose behind making such videos, she says,"Farmers with less or no education will easily be able to learn through watching the videos. So, we thought that recording the process from sowing seeds to harvesting the yield would be a great learning resource."

These women journalists of the Community Media Trust also shoot all festival occasions that are related to farmers. Patha Pantala Jatara (Festival of Old Crops) and Eruvaka Panduga (start of rainy season) are festival seasons when Laxmamma and her colleagues get busy with their recording.

Laxmamma was a daily wage worker like most Dalit women in the area before she started working with the DDS. Laxmamma has even travelled to Maldives recently for a project. According to DDS she has travelled to more than 15 countries.

The NGO is now working with women farmers from more than 75 villages in the region. The women form Sangams (collectives) to help understand each other's problems and work towards finding solutions. 

Mollamma, another farmer-filmmaker, says that she has earned a lot of respect from the people after she learnt cinematography techniques. 

"Earlier, we were farmers or daily wage workers like anyone else. But now, we are also professional filmmakers and reporters. Everyone is curious when we walk around with the camera," she says.

Tilting the camera to another angle, Mollamma adds, "It took some months but we slowly got the hang of it."

It was in 2001 that the Sangam's women farmers approached the DDS with an idea - to run their own media centre autonomously. Since then, the journey has empowered scores of women.

Chandramma, an enthusiastic filmmaker-reporter, never misses an opportunity to capture anything she feels is relevant to their lives. She says, "We're going places because of the skills that we have learnt. Otherwise, we'd have been in the same place as we were 30 years ago." 

Speaking to TNM, Chinna Narsamma of Pastapur, who is currently Head, Community Media Trust, says,  "We are right now running the Video Diaries programme and all the videos are being uploaded on YouTube."

She goes on to add, "Our content mostly involves documenting farming culture and traditional practices. We record everything from seed distribution and cultivation to harvesting the crops." 

When TNM reached out to PV Sateesh, Director at DDS, to elaborate on the women farmers' visit to the Nagarkurnool Chenchu village, he said, "We learnt that there is a need for different seeds in the farms there, and we decided to provide them enough support for farming. Our women farmers thought that it's important to provide the support and document the transformation."

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