Assam youth go comic for a cause

By Azera Rahman, IANS,

Guwahati : A bunch of students in Assam is creating eye-catching comic posters laced with humour that make you not only smile but also aware of important social issues like health, environment and even terrorism.

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New Ways is a unique group of seven students from Guwahati University that decided to take it upon itself to use cartoons as a medium to reach across to the common man, spread awareness on issues that affect them and motivate people to find solutions.

All seven members are students of journalism at the university.

Usha Dewani, one of the “comic activists” – as they call themselves – said New Ways was formed just over a year ago as a result of a workshop by World Comics India (WCI), a Delhi-based organisation that uses cartoons to address important issues.

“WCI held a workshop in Guwahati in September 2008 that we attended and found very interesting. Later, they came to our university and motivated us to form our own group; so, with the support of our university, we formed New Ways in January 2009,” Dewani, 24, told IANS.

Once the group was formed, there was no looking back. It got in touch with local NGOs working in interior districts of the state, held workshops with the locals there on the problems they were facing and motivated them to use this medium as a platform to voice their angst and also offer solutions.

“For instance, we held a workshop in Nalbari district of Assam on disaster management and reducing risk. Every year the Pagladiya river which flows through the area gets flooded and wreaks havoc. Children can’t go to school and crops are destroyed,” Dewani said.

“The workshop was with the youngsters of the area and they expressed their distress at this annual phenomenon. In the discussions, it came to light that whenever a storm is anticipated, a big gong is sounded in the Naam Ghar, a religious place which warns people,” she added.

“So we encouraged the participating youngsters to weave their own graphic tale, laced with humour, on early warning systems in the village and the bigger issue of disaster management that needs to be addressed,” Dewani added.

“We put up these graphic posters in Guwahati and also distributed them locally, so that people outside and policy makers can be sensitised about the challenges that people in villages have to put up with.”

From the time it started, New Ways has organised 18 workshops in six districts of Assam like Nagaon, Morigaon and Nalbari.

“Another of our workshops was on the usage of tobacco and its ill effects. This was in association with the Voluntary Health Association of Assam. The posters that came out were brilliant and set off a campaign for the No Tobacco Day May 31,” she said.

How acts of terrorism like blowing up railway tracks affects children, corruption affects the local weaving community, the issue of environment and even ragging in campuses were some of the other issues that the group has touched upon.

Financially, the group is supported by the university.

“Now that all of us are in the final semester, our main concern is to keep the group alive after we pass out. A number of issues that we touch upon are often ignored by the media…so we will make sure that the group doesn’t die out with time,” Dewani said.

“A number of youngsters from outside the university have expressed interest in joining us; so, we will make sure that we continue working,” she added confidently.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at [email protected])