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CGnet Swara Foundation
769 Janta Colony, Gudhiyari, Raipur - 492001
Shubhranshu Choudhary
[email protected]; 9811066749
Mission: CGnet Swara’s mission is empowering people by creating a bottom-up media eco-system. We use technology to expand the frontiers of citizen journalism and democratic communication platforms to remote areas without Internet access. History: CGnet Swara has been working informally in the field of media democratization and resolution of basic governance failures since 2004, when we started an e-discussion forum on developmental issues in the new state of Chhattisgarh. In 2010, we setup an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system where villagers without Internet access call a toll-free number and press ‘1’ to submit a story and ‘2’ to hear the stories submitted by others Success: Today, 55 stories are submitted and about 1000 villagers call the number everyday to hear the radio program. The radio program is primarily made from content sent in by the locals, such as basic governance problems in the village, government schemes that people can avail of, folk songs and stories, etc. Of the 55 stories submitted daily, about 8 end up getting published on the voicemail. 35% of the stories published are grievances or problems in a village, such as teachers not attending school and NREGA wages not getting paid. Model for Creating Impact: These grievances are translated and put onto the Internet, and urban activists, members of the old e-discussion forum and college students begin petitions and call government officers to press for the problems speedy resolution. The model has proven to be a success – 10-12 grievances reported are solved every month, and there have been 700 cases to date where villagers called back to say the problem they reported had been satisfactorily resolved by the government.
Over the last 8 years, CGnet Swara has operated an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platform where people can call a toll-free number and press ‘1’ to report a story and ‘2’ to hear the stories reported by others. To date, over a million calls have been logged and more than 10,000 stories from the community have been published on the IVR platform and the website. In order to reach these numbers, CGnet has held multiple training workshops with villagers in remote areas to train them in how to report and listen to stories on the platform.
In 2014, cholera broke out in the small forest village of Gadhvai, Madhya Pradesh. Three people died in 10 days, and the government appointed health worker fled the village. The government did not send ambulances or a doctor, citing the remote location and lack of good roads. Rajaram, a bricklayer in the village, immediately called CGnet Swara’s number. He recorded a 3 minute message narrating the cholera outbreak, with a general appeal for help. CGnet moderators uploaded the story on the website and shared it on social media. The moderators also spoke with the chief medical officer of the area, who decided to visit the village the very next day. Within a period of 10 days, Rajaram recorded another message on the platform saying that the health crisis had been averted. All in all, there have been a total of 661 such messages (called impact reports), which are stories of significant change from local communities using CGnet Swara platform.
CGnet Swara has been primarily dependent on grant funding. It is currently funded by a $50,000 grant from Tata Trusts and a $70,000 grant from the Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF).
The larger principle regarding fundraising is ensuring diversity in funding sources. It is harder to remain independent by being too dependent on any one donor source of income. CGnet Swara thus seeks and has obtained funds from international donor agencies, local philanthropic bodies, government projects and crowdfunding.
Creating a participatory model for ethical mining in Kanker, Chhattisgarh (India)
12 months
84 villages around Rowghat, Antagarh block, Kanker district, Chhattisgarh, India
1. Anthropological mapping of traditional sites of worship for tribals in and around the Rowghat mining area 2. Creating a communication platform where people from Rowghat and the government can communicate with each other 3. Training local villagers to file Right to Information (RTI) requests so they are given the tools to obtain information on how the mining project is affecting their area
Chhattisgarh holds 10% of India’s iron ore deposits. The ore is found primarily in areas with dense forest covers, which also happen to be tribal dominated. The Rowghat mines in Kanker are no exception. Containing the second largest deposit in India with an estimated reserve of 731.93 MT, these mines – which are expected to be partially operational in 2019 and fully operational by 2021 – are located near Abujmarh, considered the citadel of the Maoist insurgency in India. The Supreme Court of India gave final clearance for the project in 2008. Land acquisition has been completed, along with partial rehabilitation of 35 affected villages. The process was marred by reports that “residents who are vocal about political rights in public hearings are discouraged through random arrests and police intimidation.” From July to August 2018, our cultural team went to Rowghat to popularize the CGnet Swara platform for reporting and listening to stories. Through their song and dance performance in different villages, the team managed to develop relations with 250 villagers in the Rowghat area. Preliminary feedback from these 250 community members showed that while many had reconciled to the project and were enthusiastic about the employment opportunities that the mine would generate, they were wary of the mines bulldozing their traditional sites of worship, as happened during the development of the Bailadila mines in the adjacent district. The Gond tribals of Rowghat are nature worshippers whose deities are local hills, rivers, stone caves and other naturally occurring phenomena. The larger thrust of this project will thus involve mapping out all sites of worship at the 84 villages in and around the mining area. This map will be taken to the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) with an appeal that they respect the beliefs of the local community and refrain from mining in those specific areas of worship. Reports have emerged that SAIL wanted to build its own industrial security force at a cost of $12,537,450 to protect the mines. Respecting the wishes of the local community may just be a cheaper and more viable long term security option. Funds from the grant will thus be used for the following activities; 1. Conducting capacity building workshops with the locals of Rowghat, starting with the 250 people that have already been identified. Each workshop will train people in how to report stories on the CGnet platform and file Right to Information (RTI) requests with the government to get information on the mines, as well as obtain information on the natural deities in their village. 2. Documenting the traditional sites of worship identified through videos, articles, reports on the CGnet platform, etc. 3. Presenting the map and other stories around mining to SAIL and the local district administration.
Our team includes 3 film makers that can shoot and edit videos. The plan is to make short videos on the mining area that can be shared on CGnet’s social media platforms (10,000 likes and 4000 group members on Facebook, and 3000 followers on Twitter), and a feature length documentary film on the beliefs of the Gond tribals and the changes brought about by mining in Rowghat. The information obtained from Rowghat locals through the IVR platform will be put up on the website. There have been prior cases of stories first reported on CGnet later appearing in mainstream publications.
At 8.6%, tribals constitute a greater proportion of India’s population than most countries. However, due to socio-economic-cultural factors, their voice has been sidelined in mainstream discourse. Development has thus often meant pursuing policies that benefit the rest of India to the detriment of tribal groups. The Bailadila mines in the district adjoining Rowghat are a case in point. First developed in 1960, the mines have not only degraded the water and air quality, but the area is still listed in the 100 poorest districts. This project is an experiment to extend the benefits of mining to the tribals by amplifying their voices
Month 1-3: Conduct 10 workshops with Rowghat locals, training 30 people each Months 3-6: Begin anthropological mapping of natural sites that are also the village’s deities; release videos of sites and interviews with locals on social media Months 7-12: Start discussions with government officers at SAIL and the local administration; complete documentary on Rowghat
Months 1-3: At least 300 stories are reported from Rawghat and 10 Right to Information requests are filed with the government. Months 3-6: Location, features and stories of natural deities in all 84 villages are identified and juxtaposed on a map; 15 videos are released on social media Months 7-12: Policy change related to mining; commitment of funding from government and other institutions to continue the project or expand to other areas; acceptance of the documentary at film festivals and/or broadcasting houses.
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Sher Singh Atla, the local tribal leader around the area, has donated a house for our team to work.
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