New Delhi: In a small village in Tripura, only seven people now speak in ‘Saimar’, a language bound to die out when its speakers do, leading inevitably to the loss of a generation of tradition, knowledge and native wisdom.
Meanwhile, in Jharkhand’s Godda district people who are known as the koilawallahs (coal-carriers) make a living out of carrying tons of coal on their cycles for 40 kilometers or more, for wages with which they “can’t even afford to buy chappals.”
Such stories involving near-end tribes, endangered skills and poverty-struck people from stretches of the unexplored and least reported villages in the country find a place in the just launched digital archive People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI).
The archive, is a website that consolidates still pictures, video films, text articles, and agrarian reports featuring the ‘Everyday lives of the everyday people’ and can be freely accessed at – www.Ruralindiaonline.Org – by anyone who wants to take a look at one of the world’s most diverse and complex countryside.
A particular section on the website, ‘Rural in Urban’ throws light on migrant workers who have settled in bigger towns and the metros.
The web portal, launched in December this past year is the brainchild of Ramon Magsaysay awarded journalist P Sainath, who along with other scribes and technicians wove the idea to archive pictures and narratives of people in rural India and their daily struggle to survive amidst all the hardships that the urbanised world seems to be in oblivion of.
Besides the archival value, PARI aims to generate news from the hinterlands with its reportage from villages across the country.
“Rural India is such a rich territory to provide content for journalism. There is no such region anywhere in the world,” says Sainath, who was here recently to exhibit the archive.
“The great legacy of Indian journalism always engaged with ordinary people and real issues. (Bhimrao) Ambedkar engaged with the fundamental issues of caste discrimination, Raja Ram Mohan Roy the first Indian owner of newspaper 1866 Miraat ul Akhbaar (in Persian) and from beginning his journalism was driven by issues like sati, child marriage, widow re-marriage. Now we don’t engage with issues…”
Expressing dissatisfaction with the coverage given to rural issues in mainstream media, he says, “One of the few ideas of good journalism is a society that is in conversation, in debate with itself. That’s what good journalism is, that’s what a good newspaper is. A society talking to itself, conversing with itself.
“I see PARI as a vehicle for good journalism, to begin with. To try and recapture the art of storytelling which seems to be lost. We are trying to re-find it and revive it. It exists in small pockets, through individual journalists, or some journals maybe,” he says.
Calling the site “a living, breathing journal” Sainath says, “Everyone that you see in the website is alive and kicking and they are not in any hurry to go extinct, they are fighting. They are running their lives as best as they can.
The idea to build such an online archive was first conceived in 2011 and “serious work” began only in 2012. The archive was set up with funding from friends and does not have full-time employees.
PARI intends to garner crowd funding from individual sources for the archive as it intends to open fellowship programme under the aegis of PARI-fellows and depute eight such journalists in as many regions of the country to generate content from those areas.
The site is run by The CounterMedia Trust and voluntary network of reporters, professional filmmakers, film editors, photographers, documentary makers, television, online and print journalists.
Besides, teachers, researchers, techies and professionals from many other fields have also donated their expertise free of charge to establish the entity and design the site.
The default language on the website is English but the option to choose other languages like Hindi,Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam is also available across the items and efforts are on to bring out the portal in as many regional languages as possible.
“Tongues ( a section in the archive) – Indian people’s linguistic diversity and genius has to be recorded. We will collect poetry, songs, proverbs and every other related item. Don’t know how much time it would take, but that is our objective we will try,” says Sainath.
Videos and talking albums are available in multiple language subtitles. For instance, a film in Malayalam could be seen with Hindi or Bengali or Kannada subtitles!
“Another wish I have with PARI is that in five, ten or fifteen years time it should be available in different portals and by that time auto-translation would also improve unlike its present bad quality. There should be Hindi PARI, Tamil PARI, Bangla PARI and so on …,” says Sainath.
The People’s Archive of Rural India will generate and host report that is current and contemporary while also creating a database of already published stories, reports, videos and audios.