Wave of EMPOWERMENT
An NGO is getting young Indian women to videoblog about their concerns
Mansi Choksi | TNN
Their heads covered with scarves, their faces motionless and their eyes desperate, a group of women in Srinagar hold out yellowing photographs of their husbands, hoping to gather any information they can from passersby. These ‘half widows’ of Kashmir, whose husbands have gone missing (some forcibly made to disappear in
custody and some kidnapped by terrorist outfits) are the subject of a videoblog by 27-year Lebul Nisa, a human rights lawyer. Through six minutes in the life of 33-yearold Shameema, who last saw her husband ten years ago only a few days after her daughter was born, Nisa highlights the heart-wrenching plight of roughly 8,000 women like her who are left with no closure.
Like Nisa, 30 other women from each state in India upload videoblogs every month
with unique stories, some about issues that need to be addressed and some sunshine tales of empowerment. Behind this initiative is the Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment (WAVE), a unique digital platform for and by semi-urban young women which attempts to promote a culture of citizen journalism. “The idea is to share compelling videos that start conversations and build bridges across global boundaries,’’ says WAVE director Sapna Shahani, who left her job at Berkeley Community Media, a public TV station near San Francisco, to set up WAVE with mentor and filmmaker Angana Jhaveri.
The bilingual videoblogs are not only democratic in representation—they come from all corners of the country—but also creative in content and treatment. While Usha Dewani, a 23-year-old student from Guwahati, tells a simple story about Padma, a Bodo woman working towards encouraging weaving in a society occupied with liquor-making, Ranchi-based freelance journalist Moushumi Basu reports a shocking incident about a village that ganged up to murder a family it believed to be involved in witchcraft. Apoorva Shaligram, a 19-yearold student from Thane, has a creative take on the Marathi delicacy, puran poli—which
she believes is symbolic of the marriageability of a Maharashtrian girl—by challenging two young boys from her community to whip up the dish. Twenty-three-year-old Nyapi Bomjen, who represents the picturesque Papumpare district in Arunachal Pradesh, showcases a playful wedding ceremony of the Galo tribe where the groom’s family is licensed to insult the bride’s side if her party exceeds more than 30 members.
“We hope this new video material from areas as far as Aizawl and Trivandrum will inspire action within the community and also engage individuals and organisations working for development,’’ says Shahani, who gives WAVE members a theme to work with every month, from environment to indigenous arts and crafts. “Members are free to do something outside the theme,’’ she says. “But the videos must be creative because otherwise people will tune out.’’
The foundation of the national network of videobloggers was laid in September 2009 when WAVE won the Digital Media and Learning Competition sponsored by the USbased MacArthur Foundation
and HASTAC and was granted a seed fund for one year. With the American grant and support from Bandra-based NGO Point of View, Shahani bought cameras, tripods and microphones, held an intensive training program for the
30 foot soldiers of WAVE and set up an editing headquarter in Goa. Finding semi-urban women with a genuine interest in empowerment through media was a task by itself. Shahani blasted out emails declaring her intentions to hundreds of institutes and NGOs across the country and finally selected 30 women for an innovative nine-month mentoring programme at a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000. “There were some prerequisites for selection, like having access to internet, being affiliated with an NGO or an educational institution, being college-educated and being English-speaking,’’ she says. “Although a couple of our members record in Hindi and it is
The website, which was started in March this year, boasts 679 unique visitors, including people from countries like Russia, UK and South Korea. In addition, the videoblogs are blasted out to more popular sites like YouTube and BlipTv to reach out to more people.
How will WAVE sustain itself after the one-year grant expires? Shahani plans to continue the annual mentorship programme with support from philanthropic foundations and by providing parttime employment to the graduates of her program by running a grass-roots production house on a social entrepreneurship model.
(Watch the videoblogs on www.waveindia.org)