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Parikshit Suryavanshi | Updated on November 25, 2018 Published on November 23, 2018

All eyes: The Green Hub project seeks to create an alternative source of livelihood for the youth   -  GREEN HUB PROJECT

A project to train the youth in film-making is now an award-winning effort at wildlife conservation in the North-East

Environmental filmmaker Rita Banerji came to the North-East in 2002 to make a film on orphaned Himalayan black bears. But while researching the project, she stumbled upon a larger crisis brewing underneath. Why were there so many orphaned bear cubs in the region, Banerji asked herself. And she soon realised that changing hunting practices among the region’s indigenous communities were among the reasons why bears were being killed.

In the past, hunting for wild meat was an activity embedded in the cultural ethos of the people; every village had a few skilled hunters and the meat was shared by the community closely linked by rituals and festivals. The practice has now been replaced by illegal hunting for cash, to be sold in the wild meat markets in the towns and cities of the North-East. People are venturing far from the surrounding green areas to hunt down wildlife.

Once The Wild Meat Trail, Banerji’s film that captures this way of life was made in 2007, she decided to work among the younger members of the indigenous communities. “I began work in the hope that the youth will help bring wild animals back into the region,” she says.

In October, Banerji, who has worked on three Green Oscar Award-winning films, was honoured with the RBS Earth Heroes award for her work in the region.

Rita Banerji receiving the Earth Heroes award   -  GREEN HUB PROJECT

 

The award is given every year to eight individuals or institutions working on wildlife and conservation. Banerji initiated the Green Hub project in Assam in 2014 which seeks to engage and empower local youth and the community to conserve biodiversity using the visual medium. She has been using films as a tool for conservation for well over two decades: “I have learned about wildlife conservation through making film-making. Films have helped me understand the ground realities and meet people doing incredible work despite the odds.”

A few of Banerji’s films have positively impacted policy in India. She was assistant director in Mike Pandey’s film Shores of Silence — Whale Sharks in India which eventually led to a ban on the killing of whale sharks in the country. Banerji adds: “Film-making also made me realise that to bring about actual change we have to engage with the communities and issues on ground.”

After directing The Wild Meat Trail, Banerji initiated Under the Canopy — a training programme for wildlife education at the grass roots. She collaborated with the Guwahati-based North East Network (NEN), a women’s rights organisation, and in 2014, Green Hub, a community and youth-based fellowship and video documentation centre for work related to environment and social change in the North-East, was born. The project, says Banerji, seeks to draw in the youth to conserve biodiversity in the region. It does so by enabling them to use the visual medium — making films, documentaries and shorts — to renew and deepen their understanding of nature and its resources. Green Hub aims at creating an alternative source of livelihood for the youth by linking them to environment related projects after their training, as well as works to create a resource hub and archives of the biodiversity in the North-East.

The project was the first of its kind in the region and implementing it on the ground was a challenge because Green Hub focuses on youth from remote areas. It had to ensure that enough applications came through from far-flung areas and that rigorous selection processes which were in place were followed in the training programmes. Despite the planning, it was not easy to put the processes in place — especially in getting good internship programmes for the trainees and ensuring the films that were made met high standards. “The greatest challenge was to ensure that the project had a positive impact on conservation and prepared the youth across the North-East to become change makers,” says Banerji.

However, over the past four years, their efforts have started to bear fruit. Every year the Green Hub project receives around 200 applications, out of which 20 fellows from across the eight states of the region are selected. Until last year, more than 60 short films had been made on a range of subjects such as biodiversity, community conservation initiatives, agriculture, traditional healers, songs and weaves. More than 30 organisations, including those working on child rights and gender issues, have partnered with the project team. Partnerships have also been built with educational institutions such as Tezpur University, Shrishti School of Design and Technology in Bengaluru as well as Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Most fellows from the previous batches are engaged in conservation and social projects in the region.

The Green Hub in Tezpur also serves as a base for those travelling to the North-East to work on films or on research projects. Asked about the future of Green Hub, Banerji replies, The project began as a one-year fellowship for the youth of the region. Ultimately, it is their project, it has to be led by them. These are small efforts and there is much left to do. Change will take years to happen.” The project has, however, made the youth of the North-East — one of India’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots — pick up cameras and field guides to preserve a way of life.

Parikshit Suryavanshi is a writer, translator and researcher based in Aurangabad

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Published on November 23, 2018
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