Victory to ChangeDirected by Gregory Walsh
Playing March 7 at 7:30 P.M. at Creative Alliance at the Patterson
In honor of International Women's Day, Creative Alliance at the Patterson presents a series of short films emphasizing women's strength in the face of global adversity. Victory to Change, a documentary by Gregory Walsh and Laurel Gwizdak, examines the journalistic efforts of Indian activists. The backdrop of the film is rural India, where caste discrimination and corruption in the education system marginalize certain members of society, those collectively called Dalit men and women. Yet Victory to Change highlights a growing force in India: those dedicated to progress, supported by the film's opening quotation, "change is the law of life for individuals as well as for society." In particular, Victory to Change focuses on two activists and community organizers, Varsha Jawalgekar and Mukesh Rajak. Jawalgekar and Rajak use media outlets like Video Volunteers to expose issues such as violence toward women and the embezzlement of funds from local schools. The film chronicles their unwavering initiative to insure that Dalit children get the money promised to them for their education. See these activists' inspiring efforts as they strive to realize "Jai Parivartan": victory to change.
City Paper: As a Baltimore-based filmmaker, how did you become involved with this project in India?
Gregory Walsh: This initially started as a volunteer project for an organization called Video Volunteers, which is based in India. Their mission is to equip social activists with training and skills in journalism and to equip them with cameras so that they can document injustices in their own communities. IndiaUnheard is one of Video Volunteers' programs, and that specifically is the initiative training activists in journalism.
CP: In the film, Varsha Jawalgekar says that the word "dalit" means broken. What role do Dalit men and women play in Indian society?
GW: Essentially Dalits are a group of castes which are at the bottom of the social ladder and they've historically been discriminated against and treated very inhumanly. The irony of the situation is that they do some of the most important work in the society.
CP: What is the current state of education in rural India?
GW: As you see depicted in the film, the corruption is endemic. While there are numerous schools, and while theoretically the schools are funded by the government, by the time that money reaches the students, so many people have dipped into it or skimmed off the top, including the teachers themselves. Effectively, the education services that are actually delivered to the children at the village level, particularly to the poor children and the Dalit children, are almost nonexistent.
CP: What are people like Varsha Jawalgekar and Mukesh Rajak doing to challenge the status quo?
GW: One of their main tools is journalism, through the training that was provided to them by Video Volunteers and through this platform that Video Volunteers has given them to share these problems with the world. For Mukesh, this is his first foray into social activism, so it's really his whole life. He's simultaneously working on six or seven stories at once and then actually showing the videos to government officials. A lot of the villagers, particularly the poor and the Dalit, are conditioned not to complain, not to try and change their circumstances, because they've been so oppressed for so long. Mukesh is taking it upon himself to be their voice. And Varsha does the same thing using video. She had been an activist for over 17 years before becoming involved with Video Volunteers, so in addition to the video work she does, she does a lot of civil disobedience, public protests, and community organizing.
CP: Victory to Change shows individuals taking the media and journalism into their own hands with projects like IndiaUnheard. Can you describe their efforts?
GW: The philosophy behind the IndiaUnheard program is that when you bring these unjust situations to light, you can put pressure on the necessary government officials. So it's really about uncovering issues which would otherwise go largely unreported or ignored by the wider society or India's mainstream media.
CP: How does sex/gender relate to inequality and oppression for the subjects of the film? Is sex/gender discrimination a part of caste discrimination?
GW: It's a separate issue. Really, women of all castes are seen as lower than men. But at the same time, I think any activist can't pick one single issue to focus on, because these issues-whether it's gender inequality, caste discrimination, or corruption-are all interlinked. And they all interact to keep certain people in the society in a state of subservience and oppression.
CP: Because of its controversial subject matter dealing with the caste system's history of discrimination, were you concerned with how your film would portray India as a whole?
GW: I wouldn't want anyone to come away with the impression that India is a horrible place. Because that certainly wasn't my impression. In fact, I loved India, and I've been trying to get back from the moment I got home. My hope is that anyone who watches the film is moved by the courage of people like Varsha and Mukesh and the other villagers. I hope that they have an incredible admiration for the people within that society who are fighting these injustices. Because that's the way that I felt, personally.