Impact: IU Correspondent Puts Timber Mafia Behind Bars

A video made by Sarita Biswal, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Kochila, Odisha inspires the people of her community to speack out and act against the oppression and menace of the timber mafia. Below is the account of the impact her video made within her community. In the village of Kochila, Odisha, a three minute Community Media video, by the virtue of being screened at the right place and the right time, has snowballed into a grassroots movement by the people against the timber mafia. The video titled ‘Deforestation Wreaks Havoc on Climate’ produced by the local Community Correspondent Sarita Biswal vividly brings together the sounds and images of ecology, lives and livelihoods being destroyed by the incessant and wanton cutting down of forest trees. Sarita was holding a community screening of the video when the local timber mafia were found making their way through the village towards the surrounding forests. “How can you sit and watch when these people brazenly walk in and destroy our villages and forests?” asked Sarita to the crowd gathered at the screening. The visuals they had witnessed and the pointedness of Sarita’s question stirred the crowd into action. They got on their feet at once, apprehended the gang and handed them over to the police. It was just the beginning of a sweeping movement that threatens to expose and uproot the menace of the timber mafia. By working together, the villagers who had long grown weary of living under fear and oppression, and the law which had till now always been one step behind the gang for the lack of witnesses and proof, found the solution to their problems. Sarita held the centre together by co-ordinating between the people and the government with her camera acting as a redoubtable witness to the entire process. It has been a time of vindication for Sarita whose dogged belief in community media had been met with much scepticism for her community. She speaks of times where people refused to speak on her camera, times when they referred to it as a ‘toy’ and a ‘device of whimsy’. But she stuck steadfast to the process. She would produce her videos, giving voices to the most vulnerable groups in her community – the widows, the tribals, the landless and make sure that she screened it back to her people when she received the DVDs. ‘Deforestation Wreaks Havoc on Climate’ was a powerful document on her community struggling against the phenomenon of climate change. Changing rain patterns were resulting in crop failure. Farmers were losing their livelihoods, the tribals were losing their forests. Reports were coming in describing her state of Odisha as one of the worst climate change hit states in the country. The Chief Minister had famously proposed the Climate Change Action Plan for the State. An atmosphere of anxiety was already awaiting and as the timber mafia walked across the community screening, the tipping point was reached. The people would be quiet no more. The all-powerful timber mafia seized by panic and angered at the sudden fall of their awe attempted to threaten Sarita into calling off the movement. But Sarita stood her ground and this time, she stood among her community. The law promised protection and the people helped by identifying members of the gang. The illegal loot of precious teak and sal wood was raided and seized. The mafia was forced to withdraw from Kochila. Even today, a few months after the first incident every bit of timber carried away from the forests are inspected by the villagers before being allowed to pass. Sarita hopes that her video and the people’s efforts inspire other villages who are threatened into silence by the timber mafia to speak out and act. With the tools, the process and the belief to go through with it and the uncanny ability to seize the moment when it come and run with it, Sarita has turned the tide against fear and destruction in her village of Kochila. A village of 75 families have reclaimed their forests and its trees. They now pray that their efforts will help bring the rains on time.

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