Travelling Voices

An online platform amplifies stories from rural communities

A photo essay by Mahadu Chindhu Kondar, a school teacher from Maharashtra’s Purushwadi village, on the vessels, vases and ornaments made of wild grass was published by Voices of Rural India in October last year. Mahadu Chindhu Kondar
31 December, 2020

In the 1970s, when the bazaars first came to Uttarakhand’s Munsyari village, people began to purchase grain instead of growing it. Barley, one of the crops native to the region, slowly diminished in quantity and purpose. Rekha Rautela, who wrote about this, learnt about the rise and fall of the grain in her village through scattered accounts and personal reflections. Her memories of barley fields, however, are deeply personal and capture aspects of her identity and culture. Rautela’s story was published three months ago in Voices of Rural India, a non-profit online platform for rural storytellers founded in August 2020.

VoRI carries digital snapshots of people both similar to, and different from, Rautela. The website functions as a novel way to offset the tourism industry’s crisis. Guides, homestay-owners and Sherpas—who make up most of the rural communities of the state—were witnessing their livelihoods wane under the impact of the pandemic. While the platform emerged as a response to this, it is as much an ode to travellers who found themselves disconnected due to the pandemic. One among them is Shivya Nath, a travel writer and VoRI’s co-founder, who felt that the pandemic made a “digital nomad” out of her. She reached out to her friend Malika Virdi, who runs the tourism organisation Himalayan Ark, and Osama Manzar, founder of the non-profit Digital Empowerment Foundation, to see if a digital platform could be fashioned around travel stories. The desire to tell and, more importantly, listen to stories, gave them a shared context. 

VoRI has crafted a persona that is plural in its identity and purpose. The initiative trains people from rural communities and gives them monetary incentives to explore and write about their heritage. It has also given a leg up to digital literacy and pushed forth empowerment for people impacted by the discontinuity of the internet.

“It was the right platform at the right time,” Virdi told me. VoRI liaises with tourism organisations, such as Virdi’s Himalayan Ark, to connect with potential storytellers. The volunteers at VoRI then begin a collaborative process to develop a story from a single-line pitch to a published article. In between are workshops on framing stories, photography, video editing, and how to tie it all up for the visual medium.