Tuesday, June 9, 2015

India Awakes: A Report from the Field

On Location India Awakes: Report from the Field by James and Maureen Tusty

One of the three stories featured in India Awakes involves property rights. After India gained independence in 1947, the Forest Department took control of millions of acres of forestlands across the country. The local tribal people were seen as a hindrance and they were told they had no right to farm, hunt or forage. The government left them landless and impoverished, resulting in near-starvation living conditions for decades. 

A recent property rights law has allowed tribal people to obtain deeds to their land, and in this new program we show how GPS technology and Google Maps were instrumental in their property rights victory. Such a high-tech solution may not seem extraordinary at first, until one realizes that Sagai village (where we filmed) has no electricity or plumbing. One of our crew members had to drive 90 minutes each night to the nearest electrical outlet to charge our camera batteries. In a world without electricity, using a GPS unit to solve a problem was bold and unexpected. No electricity also means no television. The villagers invited us to film their story not fully understanding what a television documentary was.

One goal in our filming was to recreate how the villagers mapped their land with the GPS units. So we recruited three or four villagers to demonstrate what they did for our camera. However, our volunteers did not quite know what to expect since they knew little or nothing about television. The GPS mapping process involved holding down a button on  specially programmed GPS unit, then walking the perimeter of the land plot.

We asked one of our villager actors to plot his neighbor's land since it was more accessible and photogenic than his own land. He agreed and started walking the perimeter of the plot. After he had walked around 50 feet, we asked him to start over to get a second angle of the same scene. However, he spoke only his local language, so our English had to be translated first into
Hindi and then to his dialect. Besides wondering why we were stopping him from mapping the very land we had just asked him to map, the language barrier between us made communicating quite confusing.

To find out more about this new program, being released in the fall of 2015, visit our program website.

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