Sooraj, a native of Kadanad near Pala, a tiny township in Kottayam district, embarked on what he called selfie journalism, a mode of citizen journalism, by chance. It all began when he first posted a selfie video themed on religious harmony on the Facebook. The video, which propounded the message that a person should be valued for his individuality and not for his caste, creed or religion was a huge hit on the Facebook attracting over two million viewers. This triggered his zeal and made him explore the possibilities of selfie journalism on a massive scale.
A mimicry artist and an independent anchor of TV shows, Sooraj Palakkaran, as he is known among his circles, began his citizen journalism in mid 2015. Now he has close to 200 videos on his Facebook page dealing with major and minor issues of people. “I stick to this as I see my activities are producing results,” Sooraj says,
“When big establishments have bigger issues to highlight, the pangs of people at the lower strata of the society often go unnoticed and my kind of work gives me enough room to deal with them."
His selfie videos shot to limelight when the stray dog menace spiralled into hotly debated topic. His four-minute video of a 4-year-old child in Moovattupuzha whose face was mutilated by stray dog bite had created a flutter on the social media. “Actor Mammooty provided financial aid for the treatment of the child after viewing my video,” Sooraj says.
His crusade against dog menace had attracted several bitter-sweet responses from various quarters. Noted industrialist Kochouseph Chittilappilly had called him up and lauded his initiative. Meanwhile, he also received threat calls from unknown sources warning of undesirable consequences if he continued with his work in the stray dog issue. He was also offered a sum of Rs 3 lakh over the phone by a lady, who introduced herself as a Delhi-based doctor, to withdraw his activism against stray dog menace.
"But they don’t know that I am not a person who would yield to money or threats," Sooraj says, "I don't get any monetary benefit from the activities I am engaged in right now. I am drawn to it by the smiles of poor people who get some respite when their distress is brought to light. There is no place for money and I don’t care anything else," Sooraj says.
He alleges that the drug lobby was behind the campaign that was unleashed at the voices raised against the stray dog issue. "Those who make callous campaigns for protection of stray dogs even after witnessing heart rending scenes do so in return for the huge sums of money credited in their accounts by drug lobby and not out of their affection for the animals," Sooraj says.
One of his recent selfie videos included that of a cluster of families in Ramapuram near Kottayam suffering from effluents disposed by a tannery in the locality. The wastes left underground water saline and people in the region have no other go but to use the salty water drawn from their wells. Despite repeated complaints and requests there was no solution to the issue. The tannery has been operational even after a stay order from the court. Another story was that of a family whose compound was walled off by their neighbours on all sides and they had no access to road. The issue later caught the attention of some political activists who razed down a wall on one side.
Some of his recent selfie videos included that on a cluster of families in Ramapuram near Kottayam whose well-water got salinated by effluents disposed by a tannery in the locality which remained operational even after a stay order from the court. Another video was that of a household walled off by the neighbours. They had to jump the compound walls to access the outside world. This caught the attention of some political activists who razed down the wall on one side.
“Initially there was stiff resistance from my family as the earning from my endeavour is a big naught. But now they are convinced and are supportive,” Sooraj says. “I will continue with this as long as I can. People are using social media for various purposes, so let it be a platform which can bring to light the miseries of the few unnoticed, uncared and voiceless lot,” Sooraj who aspires to be a professional TV anchor says.
Sooraj goes about with his amateur, unprofessional style of reporting in his selfie videos, but he feels that is fair enough since it serves the purpose. Sooraj has been pursuing his selfie journalism, using a low end smart phone with a rear camera.