“We have definitely not given up on TRIP”: Indranil Sarkar
Started in the year 2015 by the students of School of Communication (SOC), Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal, The Rural India Project – an initiative of rural storytelling – has captured and communicated the stories of rural India to the world, and still continues to. After having passed out from college, the members of TRIP have been working in different cities. This raises a concern over the future course of action of the platform.
The founder, Indranil Sarkar, speaks about the journey of TRIP with The Manipal Journal and discusses its future plans.
How did you come up with The Rural India Project? What came to your mind and who all were involved?
It was really a personal experience of mine that compelled me to come up with TRIP. After my first semester I was in Nagpur for an internship. During this period, I had to go to a nearby village to do a story. On my way back to Nagpur, I missed the bus and had no clue what to do. With minimal amount of cash in my pocket and not a lot of information about the place, I started asking around. That is when I met a chaiwala right outside the bus stop. I started talking to him about the place, and suddenly, somehow during the conversation, I got to know that the place, Yavatmal, where I was at, was infamous as the farmers’ suicide capital India. The reason for the high number of farmer suicides in that region was its highly drought prone nature. He told me that more than the farmers’ wish to commit suicide, it was their families that would encourage them to do it so that they could receive some compensation from the government.
While listening to this, yes, I was disturbed, but what disturbed me even more than that was that I had no idea this was happening. Being a journalism student, I had access to all sorts of media, be it the television or the newspaper, magazines, etc. I was surprised that an issue as grave as that never seemed to appear in any of these media forms. That was something that really hit me hard. We are all oblivious to the existence of such a situation in the country.
When I came back to college, I talked to a few friends and professors of mine and told them of my experience. We all thought collectively that something could be done. We decided to do something about the media’s negligence towards these issues. This is how we came up with the idea of The Rural India Project. This was the experience that just pushed everything off place. We are all comfortable somewhere, but there is that one spark of event that just forces you to take the right actions, and this experience of mine was that spark for me.
Initially, I approached a lot of people – the director, the professors, my batchmates, the people I just thought would have the positive response to it. I had amazing friends who were ready to give their time and support to this. After asking so many people, there were a few that I recognised would be able to help me out. Most of the people who helped me out then are a part of TRIP until now. One of my batchmates – Prajwal Bhat – was one of the biggest supporters. Rakshan Kalmady, Alaka Padinjatel and many other friends of mine had also come together to support this initiative. Some of our professors at SOC had also supported and guided us. One of the biggest driving force for me was professor Raviraj Kini, he played a huge role in the foundation of TRIP. Then there was professor Shubha HS. She has been supportive even today. There was a lot of help coming in and this was the time when we were still unsure about how to go ahead. But somehow, with a lot of planning, we began with TRIP.
How do you find out about the people and the places? How do you choose the stories you want to tell?
It requires a lot of brainstorming sessions. We just wanted to tell the stories of rural India, these stories did not have to be issue driven or heart warming, just had to be stories. Knowing that we would not be able to travel much while we were in college, we decided to make the most out of our vacations. So during these times, we decided to go to villages in our own states. We had around 20 people in the team and most of us belonged to different states, or at least different regions, hence giving a broad picture of the country as a whole. So, we started finding the villages we would want to visit in our regions and find a place to stay at. In the second semester break of our college, around 17 of us went to cover different regions in our own states.
What prerequisites do you have to take before going to the rural regions and how do you manage your stay and time in these regions? What are the kind of problems that occur during your stay?
The first issue that we knew would arise during our stay was the language barrier, hence that was one thing we kept in mind while selecting the villages. Other than that, there were a lot of other problems that arose. The moment you enter a place, you are an outsider to them. First thing they see is a random stranger going about their houses with a camera in one hand, and it was intimidating for them. They were really protective of themselves and had their self defence walls up. During the first 10 days of my stay in the village, I could not take my camera around. Initial days there were really difficult for me because I could not start a conversation with them as they would shut me out, which was understandable. I was focused on clicking pictures and documenting, but soon enough, I realised that was not going to work. Then I decided to just observe, go around talking to people and build some trust. No matter how harmless, how innocent you are, when you point a camera at people, it gets intimidating for them. I was asked not to use my camera till the very last day. There were pictures that I clicked and was asked to delete. So that was an issue, but you will always find a story, no matter whether you document it on camera or not.
This was my own personal experience. Others had other issues. One of my friends was finding stories in the coal mines of Dhanbad, his problems was that of survival. You could not walk in that place because of burning surface. There were also physical problems that we had to face at some places. Also since we were not working under someone, we had nobody to back us up. If anything happened, nobody would come to save us.
Maharashtra had recorded 1,307 farmer suicides till the end of June this year, which translates to an average of 7 cases every single day in the six month span. This is when the central and state governments have been patting their backs for their policies to help farmers. What do you have to say about this? Where do you think are the loopholes?
I do not think I am at a position to comment on the policies, but I think they have always been there. There have always been some sort of compensatory policies, trying to prevent farmer suicide. What we need to understand is that these policies are not implemented the right way. They are really complex, and more of a thing to cover things up, so nobody is there to put a blame on.
What I personally believe is that nothing is impossible in our country, if you truly want to do something, you can. For example, during Kerala floods, help came in from everywhere when people had nowhere to go. So, when there is a time of need, people can come in if they are motivated enough, if they are shown exactly what the situation is.
What is important in cases like these is the picture that is shown by the media, and the picture should be compelling enough for one to help out. There is no point of hiding or covering up the scenario, a clearer image should be laid out in front of the people to make them aware of the situation in the country.
I am pretty optimistic that if these issues are laid out in front of the citizens of the country, there are hundreds and thousands of people, organisations, and NGOs that would reach out to help any day.
In a country where indebtedness is the key reason for farmer suicides, loan waivers have provided them with some relief. But, on the other hand, they are a heavy burden on economy. How do you see the pros and cons of this?
I am not an expert at economics, but what I do know is that if you weigh money and lives, lives have to be heavier, more important. That is what all of us should be looking at. Even if you do not have the best economy right now, you can cover up for the loss at some point. Economy is something that should not be the criteria for measuring development. It is one of the measures, but there are other factors that can give you a better picture. The truth is, majority of our country is rural and source of the economy that we are talking about here comes from very few selected parts of the country. The big organisations are all situated in small parts of the country. Personally, I do not feel that economy of the country can be affected if you are going for better initiatives such as loan waivers. I think that is not something we should worry about right now as we have enough money already vested in many places. Our whole and sole purpose should be to listen to the entire population of the country and not shut them out by building a few malls, skyscrapers, and things like that. Those are not the true measures of a good economy. You need to value life more than money, so I do not see how bad the loan waivers could affect the Indian economy.
How do you plan to take TRIP forward considering the fact that you are all working at different places now?
I personally have not gone to a rural region in the last year and half, and everybody who has started working, after college, has not been able to go. But, there are other people, new recruits who are free this time – people from colleges who are willing to go on a TRIP journey to rural areas. We have also broadened our team by accepting people from all over India. TRIP has been getting a very positive response from people. Anybody willing to share a story with a clear picture of the situation is welcome to share it through our platform
If there is one thing I can tell you for sure, it is that we have definitely not given up on the project. We have certain plans for its future which will help us take TRIP further ahead.
Featured Image Courtesy: Mridul Kalra
Edited by: Mehul Malpani