Shortly after the last monsoon ended, Abdul Hafiz Gandhi, 43, went to a road in Ganjdundwara in Kasganj with a handful of live fish and a fishing rod. He put the fish in rainwater-filled potholes and then started catching them. He got his antics filmed on his smartphone and posted the video on his YouTube channel, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp groups in Kasganj.
Within days, the Ganjdundwara Nagar Palika ensured that the road was repaired.
For nearly a year, this law teacher and politician has been doing video stories on civic issues in Patiyali assembly constituency in Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh.
Gandhi, who is a Samajwadi Party member and one of its spokespersons, keeps the campaign “apolitical”. He says: “The idea is only to raise public issues and make the authorities take note and redress them. I do not engage in any party politics, political tug-of-war or slandering while I do this video story-telling on civic issues”.
After his series of videos on the lack of amenities at the Gadka railway station (a small station) 28 km from Kasganj district headquarters and tagging the Railway ministry to videos story on his verified Twitter handle, the Railways responded within three days and sent a team to the station for an inspection. Already, stone benches have been installed at the station for travellers, a drinking water facility and lighting are being worked upon and a shed will soon be constructed near the ticket window.
“Sometimes I do videos of situations as they are, at other times I tell stories metaphorically–as I did of fish-catching. Metaphors and symbolism work fast sometimes. Once I transplanted paddy in inundated potholes, it worked. The road was fixed. Once I played the trumpet before a buffalo to symbolise that the civic authorities were not heeding people’s grievances about a dilapidated road. And one time, I did a video of me holding a torch in daylight and trying to find the road amid the potholes,” said Abdul Hafiz Gandhi who divides his time between Lucknow and Kasganj, his home town. He is a guest faculty at some law departments in institutions in Aligarh and Lucknow.
Talking about the significance of his ‘video petitions’, Gandhi says: “This is far better than the written applications that often get buried in piles of letters or get lost. Video petitions create a far greater impact on the authorities as well as the general public”.
Once a grievance is redressed, Gandhi also does another video of it as “thanks” to the authorities–district administration, municipality, PWD, Railways, irrigation department etc–and acknowledging to the public that the work has been done.
He uses his smartphone’s back and front cameras to do the story-telling. Once in a while, he also asks a bystander to hold his phone while he speaks into the camera.
Recently in an action over illegal activities of a person, the Kasganj district administration sealed two colleges with 1,700 students and a cold storage stocking 10,000 bags of potatoes of the farmers. “I raised the issues of the exams of the students due in December and the possibility of potatoes getting damaged due to the non-functional cold storage facility. I highlighted the problem through videos. The district administration opened the colleges and the cold storage. Now exams are being held and farmers are allowed to take back their bags of potatoes from the cold storage facility before the cold storage is sealed again”.
Gandhi’s campaign began last year in November when he casually posted a self-shot video of a public grievance on a WhatsApp group in which some journalists and local administrative officers were members. The response led him to go for an organised campaign on civic issues.