By Karina Valdes
In the rural part of Haryana, an Indian state with more than 5,000 years of culture and tradition, the fields are sown and reaped by the agrarian community that calls the region home. Within this pastoral setting sits Ashoka University, a liberal arts college that opened in 2015 with a robust campus life that differs vastly from its rural surroundings.
As a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Award for 2018-2019, Sanjeev Chatterjee, professor for the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media, will spend the 2018-2019 academic year in residence at Ashoka University focusing on building engagement through visual storytelling between the university campus community and the rural agrarian community that surrounds it.
“The two communities that I propose to bring together are very different from each other and have become neighbors due to the development of a brand new liberal arts university. Naturally, there are a lot of assumptions about each other. My project is designed to address this deficit of understanding between the campus community and the rural/semi-urban communities that surround it,” said Chatterjee.
Groundwork for the project began in late 2017 and some of the work can be seen on the project’s Facebook page, Kadam, a Hindi word that translates to a step forward. At Ashoka University, Chatterjee is overseeing a class where students meet with the people who live in the surrounding villages and interview them on camera, creating a visual story that bridges and facilitates communication between both communities. Aside from visual storytelling, there are other methods that will be employed to increase community engagement.
“There are definitely other ways of addressing the communication gap that my project seeks to address. In the digital age, both for the compelling nature of visuals and for the easy access to tools for the same, visual storytelling is a good way to address the issue. However, activities such as community forums, inter-community interactions and the appropriate use of social media tools, will all have a role to play,” said Chatterjee.
This is Chatterjee’s second Fulbright Award. He received his first one in 2011, also for visual storytelling in India and based at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. That project, about the East Kolkata Wetlands, focused on building better public understanding of the ecological value of the wetlands to the city.