The Powerful Lens
The presence of a video camera can be a deterrent to corruption, says social activist Stalin K
New avenues Video Volunteers founder Stalin K (left) and singer Shubha Mudgal at the lecture in Chennai
SHUBHA MUDGAL, in her trademark big bindi and vibrant sari, and Stalin K, ponytailed and understated, have one thing in common — the need to get out of their comfort zone. Both were a treat to hear at the fourth round of the Aircel The Power of Inspiration lecture series at the Medical College auditorium at SRM University, Chennai.
The lecture began with The TEHELKA Foundation Founder-Trustee Puneeta Roy thanking everyone for their presence. The Aircel team played a video clip about their journey so far, followed by a presentation about the Harvard Certification programme that was launched simultaneously.
It was then the turn of social activist Stalin, who spoke about what inspired him to form Video Volunteers, a media and human rights NGO. It was during the 2002 Gujarat riots that he “walked around with a camera like a crazy person and documented about 100 hours of people’s testimonies — what they saw, what they experienced, all in the hope that it would at some point be used for judicial processes. It was also a way to understand my people and understand my city”. He added: “Filming was also a cathartic process in understanding what societies are capable of.”
On being asked what gives him the inspiration to carry on, Stalin said it is the violation of basic rights, the corruption in society and the knowledge that the presence of a video camera could either deter perpetrators or aid testimonies of those trying to bring about a change.
‘Filming was also a cathartic process in understanding what societies are capable of,’ said Stalin K
Talking about enabling the marginalised and arming them with video skills, he recalled how Mohan, a Video Volunteer, recorded the plight of two teachers in Jharkhand, who were on the verge of committing suicide as they hadn’t been paid for four years. He presented the case to the Collector, who immediately had Rs 90,000 released and ordered an inquiry.
Stalin then played a video by Sunita Kasera, a resident of Karauli district in Rajasthan, who had gathered evidence of untouchability still being practised in rural belts despite being a criminal offence. “We are producing 30-second videos proving untouchability still exists and already have 26 such evidences,” Stalin said, adding that they had already submitted, for the fifth time, the evidence to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
Puneeta then invited Mudgal and quizzed her about her life and music. Mudgal recalled how her parents, both teachers of English Literature, gave her the freedom to pursue music if she so wished. She advised the students to experiment and be confident in the choices they make.
Along with her husband Aneesh Pradhan, Mudgal is busy creating Sangeetkosh, an online encyclopedia of Indian music. “Art has always been unfettered. There are no formulae. The only thing I can say is ‘just hang in there and don’t let anyone tell you what kind of music to make’,” she said.
A Q&A was followed by the release of the Aircel’s The Power of Inspiration book by the speakers, SRM University Vice- Chancellor Dr Poonavaikko, Director, Corporate Communications, Anuradha Parakkat and Aircel’s Business Head (TN circle) Murthy Chaganti. Puneeta’s vote of thanks brought the event to a close.
For queries on the Aircel The Power of Inspiration Lecture Series, please contact Rimjhim Jha
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New Notes: Art in the Era of the Market
One look at Shubha Mudgal and one would be tempted to slot her as a classicist – the incredibly trained voice, the big bindi and sari all signal a love of the traditional.
But labels, as Shubha herself laughs, “are only good in music stores, where they help you find what you want.” Instead, this genius straddles many musical worlds, with an appreciation for jazz as finely honed as her skilled thumri and khayals; and an ability to hold listeners, whether she’s singing the classical Raag Yaman or her pop hit Ab Ke Saawan. Her sound music training under stalwarts like Kumar Gandharva, Naina Devi and Ram Ashreya Jha have given her a rock solid foundation for her forays into different genres. And those there are many – from sufi to pop to classical and very rarely, even film music. It’s not surprising she has a cult following in every genre she’s tried her hand at – and there’s no shortage of awards either. Apart from a host of others, she’s won the National Award for non-feature film music direction as well as the Padma Shri for contributions to music.
The Camera – Deepening democracy through technology
Yet, the documentary filmmaker and human rights activist has truly created a paradigm shift with his community media movement Video Volunteers that equips the most disadvantaged to become 'journalists' and report stories in areas where conventional media has zero reach and access. Today, over 300 of these Community Producers have been trained with over 100 of them working full-time, covering almost 1000 villages across every state in India. They publish compelling stories of their battles with development, with lack of facilities, with corruption, using simple handheld cameras - telling the story of India's most marginalised communities including Dalits and tribals, as well as religious, lingual and sexual minorities. Using new technologies like SMS reporting, video journalism and social media, Stalin has empowered the most neglected sections of our society to tell their own stories.
New media and empowerment aren't new to him - he was convenor of the Community Radio Forum in India and helped draft the community radio policy; he has directed over 15 documentaries, many of them award-winning; produced 6 community radio programs; designed over 20 rights-based campaigns, conducted over 300 trainings in participatory media, and has taught communications at top institutes across India, apart from lecturing at Stanford, Berkeley and NYU, among others.