I have subscribed to updates from CGnet Swara, a portal that uses technology quite effectively to offer a basic media platform to people in the Central Gondwana region, which comprises mostly rural areas.
Some days, I go over each post — a schoolgirl’s poem, a folk song, a litany of corruption and its horrifying results. Some days, I cannot bear to listen.
Someone is seeking help in Dindori district because 70% of the adivasis from his area have migrated to Maharashtra in search of work. Since 2009, there is either no NREGA work to be had or wages aren’t paid. Someone else seeks help for a widow in Madri village. She hasn’t got her pension for eight months.
Someone calls to say that there isn’t a single state transport bus to his village. Someone called Bhadu Baiga went to work for a borewell digging company in Chennai but hasn’t returned in three years. His wife is frantic and has filed FIR but needs help in making the police launch an investigation.
In Bijadhap, near the Bhoramdev sanctuary, someone alleges that forest department officials destroyed 15 homes belonging to people of the Baiga tribe.
Someone calls to say that the Chhattisarh Chief Minister had come to Bijapur for a rally and some adivasis were summoned to attend. But they complained that they were not given any food all day and were not transported back home. They had to walk back all the way, through jungles.
Someone went to the block development office in Chatra district and found that none of the officials were sitting there after 2pm. A colony of construction workers in Rewa district applied for social security cards but didn’t get any. In Kharki and Pakhar villages in Jharkhand, NREGA cards have not been renewed since March 2010.
Every other call is a call for help and as you read one message after another, you begin to wonder if anything will ever get fixed. How on earth are so many people going to get help, and from whom? Will it really make a difference if I called up a district collector in Rewa and gave her/him a piece of my mind? Do we really believe that an ordinary citizen making a phone call or two can actually change anything?
But sometimes, it happens. Someone calls in to say, ‘thank you’. For instance, someone had reported that the public distribution shop in his village had been giving rations for just one month, while making people sign for three months’ supply. After listening to the complaint through CGnet Swara, the district collector ordered an enquiry. And the villagers received the rations due to them for three months.
And it gives me great hope to hear that. Because, sometimes, it really is a question of a word in the right ear. Corruption and bad infrastructure are major problems, and the press is a pillar of democracy only because it has the ability to talk about them, to spread the word. For the same reason, all those phone calls asking for help and intervention make sense. Mainstream media or even politicians might not be able to stretch themselves far enough to keep track of problems in every village. But now they ought to be able to keep track with minimal expense. The national press could pick up a story and dig deeper, shout louder if necessary.
I wish every region would come up with a platform like CGnet Swara. There is no reason it can’t be done. After all, what good are our great leaps in telecom technologies if we cannot achieve something as simple as connecting citizens with local officials?
Annie Zaidi writes poetry, stories, essays, scripts (and in a dark, distant past, recipes she never actually tried)