In the chaos of mainstream media, where news often get buried in the pressure of breaking headlines, the beat which has suffered the most is undoubtedly the one which is significant but less glittery; the agricultural crisis and farmers. It is more or less an irony that a country where agriculture and ancillary sectors account for more than 50% of the workforce, not many except a couple of media outlets carry the beat ‘Agriculture’ in their news sphere. Considering the developments that took place, after the 1991 LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation & Globalisation) policy and its neo-liberal off-shoot, farming in India has gone through many contradictions. But to our amazement, a significant part of the country’s population, in cities of dream and hope, still feels alienated from the agricultural crisis. Alienation is also present among the protagonists of this beat; the farmers and agricultural labourers, who find the country to be on a different contour of development; an epoch where they speak but find themselves unheard.
It is in this context, the role of the alternate news outlets is becoming essential in India. The Rise of the platforms like The Wire, Scroll, Countercurrents, and News Click, etc. has empowered the public sphere. With the similar stream, the online domain has seen the emergence of a new project, Kheti Kisaani, an initiative which is dedicated to the stories related to farmers and agriculture in India.
The team behind the project comprises of the 4 post-graduate Journalism students of AJK Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia. Telling how the idea of Kheti Kisaani originated, the Project’s vanguard Dheeraj Mishra, a young journalist from Allahabad recalls, “Once I went to Jantar Mantar to attend a protest called by Swaraj Abhiyan. There I saw at one corner a group of farmers who were shouting waving a handwritten sheet of demands which was being ignored by almost every reporter and cameraperson. Perhaps, those journalists were more interested in talking to big names like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. The incident shook me. Those farmers were complaining about the fact that they weren’t getting optimum price for their crops and media was out rightly denying them the coverage. That was the first moment when I felt that the media is still not able to do justice with the plight of farmers in this nation.”
Nitika Kakkar, who hails from Dehradun, Uttarakhand, reports for Kheti Kisaani. She sees the project as a discourse which is meant to break the idea of ‘Farmers merely as digits’. “Whenever we discuss farmers and their suicides our insights get limited to the numbers and figures. We aim to bring forth the ‘human being’ hidden behind that number. We intend to assert their identity as people who are living amidst the travesty of their identity propagated both by the establishment and its policies” says Nitika.
In these two months after its inception, Kheti Kisaani has collected data from diverse entities regarding the theme to understand the space of agriculture and the contradictions related to it. Their line of action includes the on-ground interviewing of farmers, agricultural labourers and experts, alongside the production of multimedia stories. These stories, unlike the ‘traditional agriculture stories’ produced in the past, are produced using innovative web tools and software which intends to enhance the communicative nature of the story. “People sitting in Delhi are making policies on farming in their sound-proof offices. There is no consultation with them (farmers) in this process. In fact, they are not even considered authorised persons to talk about farming and its policies. Through our multimedia approach, we want to convey this reality and find a solution that could deal with it” adds Dheeraj.
“The website’s design is very simple. Keeping in mind that our target group also consist of farmers who may not always have the best possible internet connectivity, we have provided information in ‘easy to access menus’ right on the homepage” says Deepak Kumar Vaishnav, who is part of the project as an Online Producer and Designer. Interactivity and accessibility have been a major issue in rural and semi-urban India. Many of the great online initiatives have disappeared with time just because people were able to load their websites on their phones which were mostly running on the 2G network. Considering this, producing a balance between interactivity and accessibility will also be a challenge for this project in future
“We are looking forward to dedicating a Helpline Number with the website through which anybody can register a complaint related to the theme.” adds Shubham Koul who contributes as a Cameraperson in Kheti Kisaani. “We are co-publishing our stories on other alternate media platforms from which we can earn some amount. We are planning to use this money in further visits in villages for the documentation and on-ground interviews”, told Shubham. One thing that makes Kheti Kisaani a project we must look forward to is its wish to distribute the information in an easy and attractive manner which is suitable not only for the people in metropolitan cities but also to the rural and semi-urban population.
The project has already started reaching the masses as its recent report on the plight of the farmers of Tamil Nadu, published by The Wire got immense support from the like-minded audience and social activists. The team is currently focusing in a couple of rural areas in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh
However, the project is still in its nascent stage, and a lot of what the team Kheti Kisaani claims is yet to be done. What seems inspirational here is the fact that it consists of people whose ideas are worth contemplation. The project is one of its kind in which young journalists are working for a section which the mainstream media think too unappealing to be entertained in their news slots or celebrated columns.