Resources of Hope: Giving voice to underprivileged communities in India

Lead Research Organisation: Coventry University
Department Name: Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resili


'A picture is worth a thousand words' but there are those who suffer by being in the frame. In the media, the poorest inhabitants of India's cities are portrayed as slum dwellers-- the product of the migration of low- skill labour from the countryside and consequent underemployment. Rural populations living through small-scale farming fare just as badly. They are regularly represented as ignorant, backward-looking and an obstacle to development.

Building on the AHRC Remaking Society project, Resources of Hope will respond to the International Development Theme and spark a cultural shift for disadvantaged members of urban and rural Indian communities, one that will replace hackneyed stereotypes with their own vivid portrayals of life in India in 2017.

Our UK-India team of community engagement practitioners, artists and researchers will create counter-narratives using multi-media materials and co-production methods to reorient global images and media representations of life in Dharavi and Telangana.

Dharavi, Asia's iconic 'slum', featured in the 2008 blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire. Part of Mumbai, Dharavi degrades the city's 'world-class' image. For policy makers and government planners it is a symbol of employment-, education-, housing- and sanitation- failure that they would rather erase. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) suggest that local decision-making in self-organised, informal settlements can be effective at dealing with housing-related issues. Yet policies of self-help and slum upgrading have often been replaced by demolitions and evictions.

Telangana's population is 69% rural. Many are small-scale farmers, nomadic shepherds or harvesters of forest products and members of indigenous and Dalit ('untouchable' caste) communities. They are regarded by developers as 'peasants' who are inefficient and resistant to modern industrial approaches, despite increasing evidence that their traditional techniques could be vital to achieving food security. Many are forced off their land to make way for larger industrial units.

We will engage ten community artists in each location, particularly women from disadvantaged castes.

They will:
1) reclaim and re-interpret media images of communities so that people can appreciate how they might represent themselves;
2) retrace the unrecorded histories and testimonies of people subjected to 'development' by the state and private sector agencies; and
3) generate records of communities with little documented history of their own, using approaches that are easy to make public.

By June 2017 we will deliver:
1) an engagement programme of 20 community artists who will have critically appraised current media portrayals of their communities and generated an authentic multi-media alternative using participatory approaches;
2) a two-site multimedia festival covering the inner city (Dharavi) and touring rural communities (Telangana), bringing film and digital media to an audience of tens of thousands;
3) a co-authored illustrated booklet to be shared among community members who have no access to digital media and are unable to participate in the festival; and
4) a new pilot approach to stimulate community-led creativity in aid projects to be launched at the at a meeting at the Royal Geographical Society hosted by our collaborators, the People's Archive of Rural India, ACORN Foundation, Yakshi and the Remaking Society network, formed as part of the AHRC Remaking Society project.

i) a rich historical multi-media archive illustrating the importance of personal histories in allowing those whose collective voice has been silenced to communicate and articulate the circumstances of their lives at first-hand; and
ii) in collaboration with our long-term partners in India, we will create a UK-India community of practice, demonstrating how citizen-generated multi-media can directly address the Sustainability Development Goals.

Planned Impact

We aim to lay a foundation for the mainstreaming of authentic portrayals of Indian rural and urban communities. People whose voices have been excluded will gain skills in representing their culture in the media, their testimonies and histories being recorded and archived.

Representation of urban and rural communities in India will be reshaped through first hand accounts and collective documentation of their lives - for use by state and private agencies and international media.

By the end of June 2017:

a) twenty local community artists will have displayed how their deepened understanding about conventional media depictions and development research have affected them.

b) the project will have sensitized UK and India-based researchers, development agencies and policy-makers to the real lives of people living at the margins, rather than media stereotypes.

c) an audience of tens of thousands will have experienced the launch of the community artists' works at our Art-max festivals will reach in both the inner city (Dharavi) and while touring rural farmland and forest communities (Telangana) with film and other forms of digital media.

Two key factors that will strengthen out impact are:

1. Our approach will demonstrate to UK and international development agencies and networks such as BOND, the potential for communities to make their own media productions as a means of advocating for people-centred development and the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): the right to food (Goal 2.1), homes with proper sanitation (Goal 11.1) and participation in the institutions of global governance (Goal 16.8).

2. these productions will be shared by Indian collaborators:
i) in India, co-ordinated by our Indian Co-I (Joag)
ii) at the UK launch of the Resources of Hope report for policy-makers, co-hosted by the People's Archive of Rural India (PARI) at the Royal Geographical Society in London and through the Remaking Society Network, (formed as part of the 2013 AHRC Remaking Society project).

Culture shift

As the community of practice grows, we foresee a culture shift taking place. Where once, only evidence from professional experts was heard at regional, all-India and international meetings (such as those in 2015 for the SDGs), our project will make a key contribution to moves for media created by people with lived experience of poverty and exclusion to add a more authentic form of evidence.

To this end we will connect rural communities in Telangana to people's movements where excluded voices are heard, such as the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty. This coalition of people's organisations have argued for the rights of smallholder farmers to maintain their control over land and agricultural practices. They have been joined by policy makers including the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in seeking a United Nations Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

The PI (Wakeford) will build on his existing work at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience to collaborate directly with these groups preparing briefings to influence local, national and international policies towards smallholder farmers.

With Indian visual artist/academic Tushar Joag (Shiv Nadar University) we aim to explore how visual arts practitioners working in India and the UK can learn from the approach to public and participatory art-making undertaken within the project.

Long term commitment

Beyond the completion of the project, we are committed to working with a network of visual and public arts practitioners based in Delhi, Mumbai and Telangana as well as volunteer journalists and photographers for the People's Archive of Rural India (see letter of support).

We will help underprivileged communities in India find spaces in which their voices can challenge predominant media portrayals of their lives.


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