Girls amplify their voices in Hyderabad

When Reshma failed to clear her Staff Selection Commission (SSC) exams despite many attempts, her father, an auto-driver, thought it fit to keep her at home. The only thing her father allowed her to do was to cut betel nuts and help her mother with embroidery work. The story of Haleema, daughter of another auto-driver, is no different. Being at home all day had left them feeling completely demoralised, depressed and shy.

These stories are not unique and speak to the experiences of hundreds of adolescent girls. Mahita, an NGO that works in the slums of the Old City area of Hyderabad, decided to alter the situation by empowering girls with alternative skills. After discussions with several such girls' parents, who reluctantly agreed to Mahita’s proposal, they were to be taught how to produce video. “Initially, I thought films could be made only by people with deep pockets and only for entertainment. Now, I’m excited to see my own films on screen!,” beams Reshma.

Reshma, Haleema and 20 more girls went through six months of training in participatory video with help from Video Volunteers, a Goa-based organisation. The objective was to provide an alternative skill to these girls and help them express themselves; tell stories of their own and their community members. The training covered the basics of shot sizes, the video camera, and researching, scripting and shooting stories. It also went in depth into breaking up a scene into shots and capturing them, shooting interviews and ‘piece-to-camera’ (PTC) for news bulletins. It was complete team work; the girls were given assignments soon after a workshop session. The training has not only equipped the participants with a key skill but also lent them tremendous confidence.
A participant, Asma Begum, explains: “When we first went out with a camera, the boys would tease us. Our parents too were not very happy that we were doing something that 'men should be doing'. Of course things have changed now. I am proud that members of my community clapped on seeing my name on screen.”

Today with video camera, tripod and microphone in hand, these girls who once constantly covered themselves with burqa and shawls have been producing videos on topics such as independent women, institutes that offer vocational courses and inclusion of women's names on ration cards. Significant among them are films on child, women trafficking and female infanticide. Their PTCs may lack the finesse of a Barkha or a Nidhi Razdan but it’s hard to miss the conviction and confidence with which they do them. “When they were first asked to do a PTC, all of them flatly refused to remove the burqa off their faces. After a lot of coaxing and cajoling that PTCs would require their faces to be shown to lend credibility to the story, one girl came forward. It was only after the story was first screened for the group that they agreed to face the camera without the burqa,” recounts Ramesh Reddy, the director of Mahita.

Learning video editing, by far, was the most challenging aspect of the training as many of the participants had not even seen a computer before. Although they took some time to locate the correct folders and get footage from them onto the timeline, they persisted and succeeded. “I love editing PSAs. You need to tell a story in such a short time and I think that’s the most challenging aspect,” says Sameena. “I want to become an editor,” she says confidently.

“My parents are now perfectly okay with the kind of work I’m doing. I really don’t know if my brother is. He still makes faces when I announce I’m going to the workshop [but] I’m confident he’ll stop doing that soon” says Ayesha.











Story and Images by Anil Kumar. P. Images, Top: A traning session in progress. Middle: A participant about to start filming. Bottom left: The participants using computers to help with their videos. Bottom right: A participant in the process of filming.