In Their Own Voice

A resurgent Adivasi media is setting its own terms

30 November, 2021

On 9 August, commemorated as World Indigenous Day, members of the Koya community in Telangana’s Chinturu stood in areas submerged under water, shouting slogans. They were protesting against the Polavaram dam project, operations of which had submerged their village and displaced them. The irrigation project is going to affect over three hundred thousand people in 276 villages. Large numbers of affected people from the project have still not received any government compensation or rehabilitation. Yet, this protest was barely covered in the national media. It was outlets such as Koya TV, a YouTube channel covering news in Koya languages, that documented the protest. “Adivasi divas is not a day of cultural celebration but is a day to highlight human-rights issues of Adivasi communities,” Koya TV’s founder, Nehru Madavi, who was present at the protest, told me. “On one hand, the government is celebrating Adivasi divas. On the other hand, they are drowning Adivasi communities in water.”

In mainstream national media, there are predominantly two modes of representing Adivasis. They are either represented through a racist lens—in which Adivasi dance, dress and culture are exoticised—or their stories are presented through narratives of pity and victimhood. However, stories of marginalisation are always accompanied by stories of resistance, and these two approaches to Adivasi representation obscure this. In recent years, a resurgence in Adivasi media has pushed the envelope on how we receive stories about Adivasi lives.

Online and print Adivasi media have more than one story to tell—they are filled with stories of resistance, history and celebration of life, and are thus fundamentally different in their approach from mainstream “journalistic practices.” By their very nature, Adivasi media platforms run and managed by the community can easily be tagged as lacking objectivity or not practising real journalism. However, these platforms are defining journalism on their own terms by bringing an approach driven by social justice, in which Adivasi journalists are not only journalists by profession, but also active members of various Adivasi peoples’ movements. 

Madavi founded Koya TV, in 2017, on a friend’s suggestion. It was easier to do than setting up a cable channel, he told me, because “it did not require money.” Koya TV covers a range of issues, including the response of students and educated youth to the scrapping of the Andhra Pradesh government’s 2011 order providing 100-percent reservation for Scheduled Tribes in teaching jobs. While the government order primarily concerned the Adivasis of scheduled areas in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, it is not a “local” issue but a consistent pattern across Adivasi areas across the country, where constitutional safeguards for Adivasi communities are legally and politically challenged by non-tribal communities. Platforms such as Koya TV are not only documenting voices of resistance but also contributing to the people’s movement by amplifying issues of human-rights violations of Adivasis.