A newspaper for the indigenous communities in the Nilgiris

by Team TNF

The roots of the Seemai Suddhi newsletter lies in discussions with community members regarding culture, social change and building a common Adivasi identity in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Members of various Adivasi communities in the Nilgiris like the Kota, Kurumba, Irula, Toda, etc live isolated from each other and do not have a reason to communicate.  In 2003, a few members of the communities came up with the idea during a consultation meeting at the Keystone Foundation that it would be good for them to know about each other and to keep abreast of the happenings in tribal villages. After many meetings and discussions, it was decided that they could start a newspaper where important news could be gathered by members of the community and published for sharing with all tribal people in the Nilgiris. As a result, the indigenous newspaper, Nilgiri Seemai Suddhi was born.

Rangasamy, age 61 from Ariaoor (Irula Community) - shares his views about the Nilgiri Seemai Suddhi

In the beginning, a group of Adivasi youth and women were selected to become ‘barefoot journalists’ who started bringing news from villages. These related to cultural aspects and information on death, birth, festivals, celebrations, etc. This news was edited by Selvi a young Adivasi girl, heading the Culture and People program at Keystone. This made the newspaper a voice of the Adivasi community, where the content, reporting, editing, printing and distribution was in their hands.

Initially, many tribals did not understand the concept of a newspaper and were apprehensive of sharing information. The reporters had to convince them about the objective of the newspaper. After the first edition of the newspaper, however, people were convinced that it was indeed a good idea to have a community newspaper. “In the beginning, we had doubts about the Nilgiri Seemai Suddhi newspaper. Later when we started reading the newspaper, we realised it is very important and useful. We get to know about the news and happenings in other villages without having to go there,” one community member said.

One thousand copies of the newspaper are printed once in three months and these are distributed to 235 villages covered with news like: Festivals, Agriculture, Farming (harvest, any destruction because of weather condition or wildlife interaction, sale of crops), Wildlife Interactions and Conflicts in the community, Celebration(Marriage, Puberty, baby Shower, House Warming, Inaugurations, etc), Government works (Panchayat work for the community, etc), Construction works, Training work for the people, Birth, Death, Peoples need (water facility, road construction, etc.), Any new initiatives in the village, Ancient story, etc. Community people say that they have many benefits from having a community newspaper. Once, villagers of Banagudi had water shortage which was published in the newspaper. When panchayat members read about it, they approached Keystone to enquire about the problem and fixed it without delay. Similarly, when Nilgiri Seemai Suddhi published news about the lack of road facilities in many villages, the government took note of it and leaped into action.

Reporters work for the Nilgiri Seemai Suddhi; Images and Video: Deepika Vijayan

What started as a single-page newspaper is now eight pages and is sold at Rs 5. While there were 15-20 reporters in the beginning, there are about 12 now. Since there is very little accessibility to many villages located in and around forests, reporters walk to most places braving wildlife and hostile weather. After initial apprehension, tribal people are now appreciative of the newspaper and eagerly wait for it to be published. Sometimes, some people may not be able to afford to buy the paper in which case, reporters, who also double as distributors, buy the paper for them with the objective that nobody should be denied access to news. Keystone Foundation not only helps in printing the newspaper but also does workshops periodically for reporters.