Primilla Lewis and her colleagues from Action India did their best to encourage work dulled women and men to form a drama and song group and rebuild their Rural Workers Union in the Mehrauli district just south of Delhi. But there was just no energy or enthusiasm left at the end of the day to attend union meetings and organise for better conditions let alone sing and dance about their struggles.
Action India tried another approach: something that would involve the community but also take account of the flagging motivation of tired working people. With the help of the Centre for the Development of Instructional Technology (CENDIT) - an organisation looking for relevant communication methods to 'accelerate social change' - Action India decided to make video films of the people they were trying to help.
'We are also human beings' chronicled the long and determined campaign for land by 62 Harijan families from one village in the area. Allocated an acre per family by the government years before, they were too nervous to claim it from landowners and their goon squads. Finally they united, risked arrest and beatings by 'invading' their own land and were given police protection in February 1980. 'Freedom front these chains' showed how the embryonic Rural Workers Union had been trying to organise stone quarry and brick kiln workers. It demonstrated how a united group could force employers to comply with the statutory labour, safety and welfare laws to make working conditions more tolerable.
Some members of Action India were worries that people might be distracted by the strange video technology and the messages of the films would be lost. They need not have worried. Well used to television, cinema and radio, the villagers were delighted to discuss and take part in their own film and soon forgot about the microphone and camera as they became engrossed in telling their story.
The films were a resounding success. Seeing themselves in familiar situations, played back straight afterwards, created an atmosphere of immediacy and intimacy - as well as enthusiasm and amusement. And heads nodded vigororously as the various points in the film hit home. 'Now we understand what it is all about' the quarry and brick workers commented - 'Let's try again'.
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