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Rediscovering a forgotten India

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)
dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 19, 2015 | Last updated on September 19, 2015 at 09.05 am
Rediscovering a forgotten India

(Supplied photos by Piysh Goswami)

For the past two to three years, the duo have been travelling through rural India, understanding, experiencing, and documenting social and human interest stories.


Travel notes from the Word Press blog 'Rest of my Family' is like watching an action-packed television drama.

Founded by freelance journalist, blogger, and photographer duo Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami, 'Rest of my Family' is an answer to modern India's ignoramus attitude towards rural people.

For the past two to three years, the duo have been travelling extensively through rural India, understanding, experiencing, and documenting social and human interest stories on their blog restofmyfamily.wordpress.com.

The protagonists of the blog, Piyush and Akshatha, face real dilemmas like safe housing, troubles with police authorities, and broken down vehicles throughout their journeys.

They undertake the hard and arduous journeys across the country's less travelled roads to meet people who are seldom heard of; people who more often than once are only a statistic in mainstream media's reportage of the country.

"The people we met, despite all the hardships they were going through, treated us like family. We were so overwhelmed with kindness and compassion shown to us by these folks. To us, these people we were writing about were not merely names, faces or yet any other figure in any statistics," said Akshatha.

"They were family. We formed a strong connection with each and every one of them," she added. Piyush and Akshatha both graduated from the National Institute of Technology in Surathkal, Karnataka. After spending a few years in the IT industry, both Akshatha and Piyush made a shift to journalism and photography respectively. Recently, they quit their full time job to pursue this year-long social project. Akshatha was born and raised in Bahrain.

 Rediscovering a forgotten India (KT3280918.JPG)
 Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami

The duo has travelled and visited rural communities in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, and Karnataka. "We plan to go to Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and hit the North Eastern States towards the end of our journey," added Piyush.

Documenting rural India

"We wrote about their struggles and issues. And, over time, we realised that while we were satisfied to tell the world their stories, their lives were still the same. It made no difference to the struggles they faced. Of course, we tried to do whatever we could to help them in our own little way," said Piyush.

The aim of the project is to raise awareness about the causes and issues faced by indigenous communities in rural India. "There are still many people that we've met and documented about...and we haven't been able to do anything for them," said Akshatha. Chipping into the conversation, Piyush said: "We then decided that we wanted to create a more efficient work structure with our efforts wherein we would not only highlight an issue but also try and facilitate relevant support/help to the individuals/communities we've met and documented about."

The duo believes that even though much is being done to address issues of those in rural and tribal India, there are many issues which remain unaddressed, and many communities that are unattended to and forgotten.

"Over time, we realised that there are many issues within the rural and tribal belts like poverty, poor health care, lack of infrastructure, inefficient education system, casteism, untouchability and rampant racism that require urgent attention," said Piyush.

"Many of us living in the urban spaces tend to get completely detached from the rural reality. We've forgotten that India lives and thrives in her villages. Undoubtedly, rural India forms the backbone of our socio-economic identity and supply chain," said Akshatha.

Rediscovering a forgotten India (KT3281918.JPG)

Problems in rural India

So far, the campaign has managed to raise $8,000. "We have tried to do whatever in our capacity to help communities. For instance, when we were in Ransisar Jodha, we came across a school that was run by one man alone. He had to function as the principal, peon, caretaker, sweeper and even driver sometimes," said Akshatha.

"The parents would often tell him, Sir jee fees agli fasal ke baad de denge (We will pay the school fees after the crops have been harvested). He was struggling to run the school but yet didn't give up," she said.

"Around the same time, we met a traveller from Sweden, Mika, who had visited the village earlier. So, Piyush gave him some of his photographs and asked him to sell it in Sweden. All the proceeds from the photographs went to the school. On realising that the school had a severe shortage of teachers, I decided to teach children Math and English every evening," Akshatha added.

Rediscovering a forgotten India (KT3282918.JPG)

Quoting another instance of problems in rural areas, Akshatha said: "The Van Bawariyas reside in the Aravalli Ranges in Western India. Even today, they are treated as untouchables and aren't allowed to use community facilities like water, electricity and even schools."

Piyush said: "In the last two months leading upto the launch of this project, we have already documented several tribal communities who require such support on a large scale."

The project, by the very design, is story-based. Social issues and concerns will vary from story to story, community-to-community and region-to-region.

"But, one thing's for certain most of these issues stem from extreme poverty; individuals and communities do not have the means to take care of their basic needs. Our main objective is to empower these communities and provide them the basic things they've been deprived of so that they are able to grow and move forward all by themselves," said Piyush.

As part of the first leg of this campaign we will embark on a drive through different regions of India non-stop for an entire year. We are running a crowdfunding campaign to help us start and sustain the first leg of this project: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/5395024

 Team 'Rest of My Family'

> Akshata Shetty and Piyush Goswami began their career as IT professionals
> Shetty took up job as a journalist for a national daily in India; Piyush dedicated himself to becoming a full-time photographer
> Project was born early 2015
> Through the project, they focus on issues such as female infanticide, child labour, climate change, lack of standardised minimum wages, malnutrition, lack of educational facilities, women and child issues, lack of sanitation, water, and electricity etc in rural and tribal India
> Their project has raised $10,500 in a month on a crowdfunding website
> Benefactors will receive calendars, laptop sleeves, photo books, posters, postcards, iPhone cases, and photo journals in return

dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com

author

Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.





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