In the “Photos Of Students Working” folder I keep on my desktop, the number of Hill Street photos overwhelm the rest, but it’s not because they work more. In the inevitable minutes of downtime when Sunita and I are preoccupied and the students have cameras in their hands, they don’t take photos of their friends awkwardly smiling or staring stony faced at the camera with their arms wrapped around each other. They document what’s going on in the classroom: boys using microphones, girls setting up tripods, teachers looking sweaty and frazzled… I don’t know why this practice is so consistent at Hill Street, but I appreciate it (minus the latter example). It makes sense that their first video project should skew towards documentary.
In Hyderabad, the Telangana conflict is always around us. Sometimes it is more present than others – when groups of military police shadow a protest, or when bahnds (strikes) close school and bus service. As our first project continued to get derailed by bahnds, a conversation arose. Why was this happening? Who did it hurt? What were the students’ opinions? It soon became clear that the majority (if not all) students were pro-Telangana. But in the same way that I parroted my family’s beliefs at 12 years old, it was clear that the students’ beliefs were based on what they had overheard at home, rather than full comprehension of this complicated issue. When I asked too many “Why?” questions, the conversation petered off. And thus, research became our first focus. I brought in Andhra Pradesh maps, and news or opinion articles written in Telegu that presented both sides of the conflict (or at least I hope they did; I was pretty dependent on my friend Ravi at the copy shop to translate). A group of students conducted eight interviews of teachers and one auto wallah, and we watched them as a class to understand where everyone was coming from.
Here is what we discovered: After Indian independence, when the country was divided into states, three regions came together to form Andhra Pradesh: Andhra, Rayalaseema, and Telangana. The Telangana region wants to break off and form their own state. This conflict has been ongoing since the state formed in the 1950s, but came to a new place on July 30 and October 3 of this year, when government officials voted to move forward with separation. Some say this is a political move to get votes and not a real decision, but still – it has raised the stakes. Currently, Pro-Telangana supporters feel they are being cheated. Their land supplies a bulk of the resources for Andhra, and encompasses the city of Hyderabad, but they feel that the benefits of the state (mainly government jobs), are primarily being given to Andhra people. Unite-Andhra supporters feel that over the last sixty years they have been a valuable part of building the government and the city of Hyderabad. If the state were to split, they would be forced to leave the capital city of Hyderabad, and would lose all they have worked for in that time.
There is a lot of sensitivity around the potential separation, obviously. At the outset of this project, my amazing assistant Sunita expressed real trepidation. She worried that there was too much desperate anger around the topic to make it a safe and viable school project. But we talked with other teachers and with the students and made a plan to proceed… and a plan B if it seemed unsafe at any point. From the beginning, it was emphasized that while there would be space in the movie for the students to share their own beliefs, this was a news piece. Students were expected to act as researchers or objective reporters.
Although the topic was heavy, spirits are consistently light at Hill Street GHS. The students have a buoyant and mischievous creative energy. The TMS News theme song is a testament to this. After massacring a few news theme songs as an example, I handed a flip camera to a group of four tween boys and told them to record the intro music. What they came back with is awesome.
Live from Hill Street Government High School! Telangana’s desired split from Andhra Pradesh continues to cause turmoil throughout Greater Hyderabad. To explore this complicated cultural and political issue, students conducted interviews with teachers, auto wallahs, school visitors, and fellow students.