A popular television channel as part of a tv show they were planning on doing in November 2015 reached out to me sometime in end of August 2015. They had read about the Vidarbha project in BetterIndia.com (http://www.thebetterindia.com/23841/us-based-indian-helping-indian-farmers-vidarbha-suicides/) and were interested to help the Vidarbha farmers as part of their show. I saw this as a great opportunity to highlight the issues because it was a very popular channel and so was their tv show. This entire process of interaction and coordination lasted 2 months and by the end of it, I was left completely disappointed and disheartened.
The tv show would identify individuals that need financial help and through their show they would raise funds to provide a one time support to that individual. So my job was to connect the individuals in need with the producers of the TV show. They would only select one individual from one background since they wanted to help a diverse group of individuals.
Early September: The process of identifying individuals began
Kavitha, the ever smiling and ever cheerful:
Kavitha was left behind with her two children and her in laws. She became the breadwinner for her family after her husband committed suicide. We had interacted with her during our trip to Vidarbha for just over 10 minutes and not once did she show any grief, anger or frustration, instead always spoke with great positivity. She left a lasting impression on us.
So obviously she was the first person I could think of and after consulting the ground team had shared her details with the channel.
She, however, was not considered by the channel because they were looking for a male story. When asked why, I was told it was the format of the show.
Ramrav, the man who lost everything including himself:
Ramrav incurred a huge debt of 16-18 lakhs, as a result of
1) 6-7 lakhs of medical expenditure for his ailing wife who eventually died
2) 3-5 lakhs due to crop losses
3) 5-6 lakhs of wedding expenditure to marry off his two daughters
With no signs of recovering from this, he attempted suicide, but he was saved in the nick of time.
Ramrav was not considered because he does not have any dependencies to support any more and was not ideal for the show. When asked why, I was told it was the format of the show
The TV show had a change of heart and agreed to reconsider Kavitha for their show. They were also now interested to support another individual from Vidarbha.
Yogitha, the farm widow:
NDTV had run a story on Yogitha, a farm widow from Vidarbha, a couple of years ago. Since it was Vidarbha, the ground team, who I collaborate with, knew her very well.
So this was early October and it was looking like at least Kavitha and Yogitha would get an opportunity to revive the future for their families.
The calm before the storm:
The folks from the show had reached out to Kavitha and Yogitha, interacted with them, verified the facts and had done all their homework. At this point, it was just a matter of waiting for the show to be aired, which was scheduled for November.
The folks from the tv show reached out again in mid October, but this time with a great sense of urgency. They were trying to reach the ground team since they wanted Yogitha and Kavitha to travel almost 600 Kms to take part in the shoot with just a day notice. Since both of them were very skeptical about this, they wanted to involve the ground team to convince or even accompany them to this far away place.
For anyone to travel that far one needs preparation and planning unless it’s an absolute emergency situation. One would need to worry about the transportation, the food, money, lodging among other things. But there is one other thing, especially if that someone is a woman, who also happens to be a widow and also happens to be from the very remote village of India, traveling 600kms is close to impossible on such a short notice. The channel did agree to arrange for the conveyance, but it isn’t about the conveyance. This would have been still very difficult even with an advanced notice.
The conditions, the selection criteria and the format laid out by the channel is still their discretion, at the end of the day, it is a tough competition and they have to do what’s best for their TRP ratings, but operating with such insensitive and utter lack of consideration something I never imagined or should I say I never experienced before.
For someone like Kavitha and Yogitha to even agree to be a part of this was a great step forward given their humble background. They would have, in their minds and hearts, convinced themselves how important this step would be for their families and may be even for the rest of the families in Vidarbha and how this could really be a huge turning point.
A wake up call:
To summarize, the format of the TV show
- wanted to only consider male stories
- didn’t want to support a male story simply because the individual although had suffered a great personal loss, the individual did not have any dependents
- was very insensitive to the people who they were intending to help
I should have known better that one of the main reasons for the crisis to still exist is the sheer insensitivity and utter lack of compassion that’s displayed by one and all, including myself.
At this point in time i.e. October 23rd 2015, I don’t know if Kavitha and Yogitha would be part of the show or not.