Sultan Ahmad is a journalist living in Delhi. For over eight years now he’s been working with Gram Vaani, a social tech company incubated out of IIT Delhi, that uses technology to create participatory media platforms that are accessible and adaptable. Dedicated towards community media, Sultan has traveled across the country, conducting grassroots training to promote responsible and citizen journalism within low-income and marginalized communities. 

When FactShala rolled out its news and information literacy program, Sultan Ahmad took up the opportunity to become a trainer as Factshala’s vision of helping people from small cities and villages across India to critically assess online information and sift facts from misinformation resonated deeply with him. For him, being associated with FactShala meant he could amplify the impact of media literacy by taking it to more people.

Since FactShala’s inception in 2020, Sultan has conducted multiple trainings across the country, empowering thousands of people with media literacy. However, for him, the training he conducted at Kapshera stands out significantly in his FactShala journey.  

Kapashera is a migrant colony nestled between the Delhi-Haryana border. It is encumbered with thousands of matchbox-sized establishments that are home to migrant workers coming from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Odisha in search of jobs. Most of them live far from their families, hoping to earn enough money and provide for those they left back home. 

In April 2022, when riots erupted in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri area following stone pelting at a Hanuman Jayanti procession that injured several people and policemen, the mobile devices the migrant workers used for communicating with their families became home to social media forwards laced with political and religious misinformation and fake news.

Sultan realized that there was an urgent need to take action against the spread of misinformation and for the protection of marginalized people and migrant workers. Elaborating on the reason for choosing a specific target audience, Sultan Ahmad said,

“My priority has always been marginalized and low-income communities such as the migrant workers as any kind of misinformation greatly impacts their livelihood, citizens rights, and prevents them to avail of their entitlements”.

The country had already seen the impact of misinformation on this section of society during the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent mayhem that broke out. To prevent repeated events, Sultan Ahmad decided to host a FactShala Media Literacy Workshop within a few days of the riots. He approached the volunteers of Ideal Youth for Revolutionary Changes (IYRC) Organization, a grassroots NGO that rolls out various programmes for the upliftment and empowerment of youth, migrant workers, and women.  

Through the training, Sultan attempted to explain to the volunteers the dangers of misinformation, and the need to analyze the accuracy of any piece of information however trivial it may seem, and equipped them with the various factcheck tools to identify and debunk misinformation. The end goal, Sultan explains, was to

“train the marginalized communities and migrant workers on how to access the right information”.

Choosing IYRC was a well-thought-out decision as each volunteer could go out and take forward their learnings to the migrant workers, creating a ripple effect and exponentially increasing the impact of the training.

For Shabbu, a first-year student, the biggest takeaway from the training was the fact-check tools. “The FactShala workshop equipped me with many useful fact-check tools. Whenever you point out that someone might be wrong about anything, especially if it is a political or religious issue, they become resistant and immediately ask for proof. With the fact-check tools, I can now go on-ground and effectively explain to the people factually and with evidence why they are wrong or their belief is wrong”, said Shabbu post the workshop.

Manik Chand, a student volunteer from Delhi University, also participated in the workshop and learned to take a critical stance when reading a text message. He said, “Whenever you receive a text message or any kind of information online, you should take a moment to think about it, verify the source, dig a little deeper, and then form an opinion that is not just right for you but for others as well”.

By conducting FactShala’s workshop, Sultan Ahmad could effectively prevent the situation from spiraling down and restore normality. After the workshop, each volunteer went on-ground and made the people understand how to navigate their way out of online misinformation and be critical of the content they are consuming no matter what their views are pertaining to the situation at hand. In doing so, Sultan Ahmad along with the volunteers established a healthy information ecosystem in Kapashera.