In the state of Telangana in Southern India, members of the Adivasi tribal community are embracing modern smartphone technology and the Internet to share their stories of neglect at the hands of the local government. This is a prime example of “citizen journalism,” meaning journalism collected and disseminated by the general public instead of a professional news organization. This new style of journalism often takes the form of a video recorded during the incident, or a monologue given by a first-hand source shortly after the fact.
Citizen journalism’s democratization of the news is a step in the right direction to help those who would otherwise be overlooked. One potential shortcoming pointed out by S. Harpal Singh, a traditional journalist at The Hindu, is that “the reach of these activists seems limited as their list of friends/contacts does not include officials who matter.” That means that if the information collected by activists is simply being preached to the metaphorical choir, then nothing will change. Thankfully this is not the case, and as Singh went on to explain, once these stories get posted to social media they’re often picked up by conventional press and brought to the attention of those in a position to help.
Another key factor in the success of citizen journalism today is the fact that smartphone recording and photographing technologies can convey so much without requiring the user to be literate in any particular language. Shubhranshu Choudhary, a journalist and former BBC producer, has backed the claim that the language barrier adversely affects stability and prosperity. In an interview with the nonprofit Oneworld, he outlined how “the bridging that a journalist is supposed to do between citizens and the state does not happen because of language and distance.” Choudhary’s home state of Chhattisgarh, much like Telangana, has a large tribal population that is not only unable to speak Hindi or English, but has very low literacy rates in general. Citizen journalism gives them a bigger slice of the media pie, and allows or even forces their grievances to be addressed by their representatives in government.
The benefits of this grassroots communication is not limited to fixing tangible problems like water shortage, it also keeps these disenfranchised populations from supporting extremist groups. Central and Southern India is currently being affected a group called the “Naxalites,” a movement of supposed Maoists who often appeal to the feeling of neglect that’s common amongst tribals. As the Guardian has explained, the tribals feel the Indian constitution has “denied them their traditional rights…in exchange for the right to vote, [which has] snatched away their right to livelihood and dignity.” So when the institution that took away their path to prosperity doesn’t listen to their pleas for help, the tribals often turn to the only other group willing to listen, the Naxalites.
The state sanctioned violence that follows the Naxalites often spills onto the local people trying to make a living. For every article proclaiming “Mission Accomplished!,” there are everyday citizens loosing their lives in the crossfire. Citizen journalism will not solve all these problems overnight, but giving disenfranchised members of society, tribal or otherwise, a voice to be heard is a huge step towards peace for the region.